The Israel Museum is Israel’s largest cultural institution and one of the world’s leading museums in art and archaeology.
The focus of the museum is on the art, Judaica and ancient artifacts of the Land of Israel and beyond.
It features the most extensive holdings of Biblical and Holy Land archaeology in the world.
The Museum houses works dating from prehistory to the present day in its Archaeology, Fine Arts, and Jewish Art wings.
- Supreme Court of Israel
- Bible Lands Museum
- National Library of Israel
- Jerusalem Botanical Gardens
- Wohl Rose Gardens
- Jerusalem Bird Observatory
Shrine of The Book
The Shrine of the Book was built for the first seven scrolls discovered at Qumran in 1947.
The unique white dome symbolizes the lids of the jars in which the first scrolls were found.
The contrast between the white dome and the black wall alongside it also has meaning.
It is supposed to alludes to tension between the “Sons of Light” – which the Judean Desert sectarians called themselves – and the “Sons of Darkness” – which is what they called everyone else (Jews and gentiles alike).
The corridor leading into the Shrine resembles a cave, to recall the site where the ancient manuscripts were discovered.
The upper galleries is dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls which are the oldest extant biblical manuscripts.
The lower galleries exhibit the Aleppo Codex.
The Aleppo Codex is the most accurate manuscript of the Masoretic text and the closest to the text of the printed Hebrew Bibles used today.
Next to the Shrine of the Book is the Model of Jerusalem in the second Temple period which recreates the city at the height of its glory.
The proximity of the model to the Shrine of the Book is intended to create a continuum.
The Model and the Shrine of The Book represent the full spectrum of the various groups and currents that comprised Jewish society at the end of the Second Temple period.
The Model reflects the social, economic, and political elite.
While The Shrine of the Book contains the Dead Sea Scrolls from the separatist group who rejected a life of luxury in the city.
Their literature and spiritual world are reflected , on display in the Shrine of the Book.
Dead Sea Scrolls
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls represents a turning point in the study of the history of the Jewish people in ancient times.
These ancient manuscripts that were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea.
Thanks to these scrolls, our knowledge of Jewish society in the Land of Israel during the Hellenistic and Roman periods has been greatly enriched.
They are about two thousand years old.
Most of the Hebrew and Aramaic scrolls were written in square script which was common during the Second Temple period.
A few scrolls, however, were written in ancient Hebrew script.
A very small number in Greek, and even less in a secret writing used for texts that the sectarians wanted to conceal.
The most of the scrolls survived as fragments and only a handful were found intact.
However, scholars have managed to reconstruct from the fragments approximately 950 different manuscripts of various lengths.
The manuscripts fall into three major categories: biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian.
The biblical manuscripts are about two hundred copies of books of the Hebrew Bible, and are the earliest the biblical text found in the world.
All the books of the Hebrew Bible, except for Nehemiah and Esther, were discovered here.
In some cases, several copies of the same book were found (there are thirty copies of Deuteronomy), while in others, only one copy came to light (like Ezra).
They also found scrolls with a Greek translation (Exodus, Leviticus) and an Aramaic translation (Leviticus, Job).
The apocryphal manuscripts are works that were not included in the Jewish biblical canon.
Until now, these works were only been known in translation or were completely unknown all together.
There were many works of the Second Temple period which, for religious and other reasons, were forbidden to be read (in public?) and were therefore not preserved by the Jews.
Ironically, many of these works were preserved by Christians.
Apocryphal books, such as Judith, were preserved in Greek in the Septuagint translation of the Bible.
The sectarian manuscripts are a wide variety of literary genres: biblical commentary, religious-legal writings, liturgical texts, and apocalyptic compositions.
Most scholars believe that the scrolls were the library of the sect that lived at Qumran.
However, it appears that the members of the sect wrote only part of the scrolls themselves. The remainder were composed or copied elsewhere.
The “Aleppo Codex,” considered the most accurate manuscript of the Masoretic text.
Its text is practically identical to the pre-Masoretic version of the biblical text preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It also matched the scroll fragments found at Masada and the vicinity and the biblical fragments discovered in the Cairo Genizah.
It is also the closest to the text of the printed Hebrew Bibles used today.
It comprised all twenty-four books of the Bible and contains traditions of pronunciation, spelling, punctuation, and cantillation handed down through the generations.
It was written in Tiberias in the early 900’s C.E by scribe-scholars known as the “Masoretes.”
Professor Umberto Cassuto (my friends great great grandfather) visited Aleppo in 1943, and was one of the last to see the Aleppo Index complete.
He copied it’s a statement at the end of the manuscript stating it’s authorship .
It stated that the manuscript was copied in the land of Israel by a scribe named Solomon ben Buya‘a and the vocalization, cantillation marks, and masoretic comments were added by Aaron ben Asher.
Solomon ben Buya‘a was a scribe from a well-known family of scribes who specialized in copying biblical manuscripts.
While Aaron ben Asher was the last of the Masoretes.
The manuscript was written in Tiberias.
We do not know who commissioned the Aleppo Codex.
However, we know from the colophon that it was purchased, about 100 years later after its completion, by a wealthy Karaite of Basra, Iraq who donated it to the Karaite synagogue in Jerusalem.
In the late 11th century CE it was smuggled out of the country – either by Seljuks in 1071 or by Crusaders 1099 – and offered for sale in Egypt.
It was bought by the local Jews and deposited in the synagogue of the Jerusalem Jews in ancient Cairo.
There, Maimonides used it when he formulated the laws relating to Torah scrolls in his legal code, the Mishneh Torah.
He said “everyone relied on it, because it had been corrected by Ben Asher himself, who worked on its details closely for many years and corrected it many times whenever it was being copied.”
At the end of the 14th century, the Codex was brought from Egypt to Aleppo, Syria, the Central Synagogue of Aleppo.
It was kept inn a metal chest sealed with a double lock as the Jews of Aleppo saw the Codex as the most important manuscript in their possession.
On December 1, 1947, two days after the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution to establish the State of Israel, anti-Jewish riots broke out in Arab countries.
The ancient Aleppo synagogue was also targeted and torched.
There it was kept for five centuries in, until the synagogue was torched during anti-Jewish riots in 1947.
After that it disappeared until 1958 when it was smuggled back to Jerusalem.
Some time after arrival, it was found that parts of the codex had been lost.
The Codex originally contained between 480 and 490 leaves, but, unfortunately, the Israel Museum has only 295 leaves.
Considerable efforts were made to locate the lost parts.
However only one complete page, with a passage from the Book of Chronicles, was discovered in NY in 1981.
Also, a small fragment of a page from Exodus was kept as an amulet in the wallet of a member of the Aleppine community in New York.
The Model of Jerusalem
The Model of Jerusalem in the second Temple period was dedicated in 1966 in the Holy Land Hotel grounds in Jerusalem’s Bayit Vegan neighborhood.
Hans Kroch, the hotel owner, had commissioned the building of the model, in memory of his son Jacob who fell in the War of Independence, in the battle over Kibbutz Nitsanim, where he lived.
Its significance was immediately recognized by researchers and students and alike, was to become a popular attraction for both Israelis and international tourists.
When the time came to move the model elsewhere, the Israel Museum was deemed the most appropriate site.
The Second Temple Jerusalem Model recreates the city of 66 CE at the height of its glory when the city stretched over some 450 acres.
The model, measuring some 1,000 square meters, was created by Professor Avi-Yonah, a leading scholar specializing in ancient Jerusalem.
Avi-Yona’s reconstruction is based on descriptions from Jewish sources. He also relied on archaeological finds from Jerusalem and from other Roman cities.
However, in 2015 there were new discovery of the ancient walls of Jerusalem revealing it was even bigger.
A close look reveals the uniquely Jewish character of Jerusalem.
First, there is only one sacred precinct – the Temple Mount – with a single temple, to one God.
Second, the city has no sculptures, or reliefs depicting human figures and animals, in accordance with the second of the Ten Commandment: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
The city as it replicated in the model did not last for long.
In 66 CE the Great Revolt against the Romans broke out, and in 70 CE, after five years of fighting, the city was destroyed and the Temple burnt down.
Jewish Art and Life
The Wing for Jewish Art and Life presents the religious and secular material culture of Jewish communities worldwide, spanning from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Most of the objects on display were used by Jews from various parts of the world, such as North Africa, Central Asia, Europe, and Israel.
Their artistic styles, materials, and different uses reveal both similarities and differences among the traditions, and customs of the various Jewish communities.
This comparative display explores the objects’ history, and the social context in which they were used.
The Rhythm of Life: Birth, Marriage, and Death
The gallery presents objects from different communities which used for major life passages, from birth to death.
Aiming to highlight the coexistence of joy and sadness, life and death, memory and hope at each of these junctures in the life cycle.
Illuminating the Script
This galleries displays rare illuminated Hebrew manuscripts from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
They shed light on their artistic importance and their central role in the history of the Hebrew book.
The Synagogue Route: Holiness and Beauty
These galleries display four interiors of synagogues from Europe, Asia, and America.
Each, is with its own architectural style and decoration, are displayed with Torah scroll ornaments and Torah arks from Jewish communities around the world.
The Cycle of the Jewish Year
The sanctity of the Sabbath, and the traditional celebration of religious holidays, as well as the new commemoration of special days in the State of Israel, have given rise to a wealth of finely crafted objects and imaginative artworks.
Costume and Jewelry: A Matter of Identity
Unique examples of Jewish dress and jewelry reflect Jewish identities from East and West, and influenced by the laws and customs of each individual local community.
The archaeological wing is dedicated to serving as primary showcase to the rich and fascinating local archaeological heritage.
On display here is considered among the world’s leading collections of its kind, for its scope and quality.
The galleries devoted to Neighboring Cultures: Egypt, the Ancient Near East, Greece, Italy, and the Islamic Near East.
They tell the story of the civilizations which left deep imprints on the land of ancient Israel over the centuries.
The exhibition also showcases thematic galleries: Early Hebrew Writing, Coins in Context, and Glass Through the Ages, which shed light on some of the important achievements of local culture.
All these offer the visitor a comprehensive overview of the history of the region and an extraordinary experience.
Most of the objects on display were found in local archaeological excavations and loaned to the Museum by the Israel Antiquities Authority and other sources.
Archaeology of The Land of Israel
The land of Israel has been the home of peoples of different cultures and beliefs for some one and a half million years.
It is to these people and their cultures that the exhibition galleries are dedicated, showcasing the rich and fascinating local archaeological heritage.
The exhibits date back from 1.5 million years ago to 1516 CE.
These collections include:
The Dawn of Civilization, Chalcolithic, The Land of Canaan, Israel and the Bible, Greeks Romans and Jews, Under Roman Rule, The Holy Land, and Muslims and Crusaders.
Since ancient times neighboring cultures exerted their influence on the land of Israel, located at the crossroads between them.
The galleries, devoted to the neighboring cultures, offer the visitor a broad historical and cultural overview of the region, revealing the fascinating range of relations between the Land of Israel, and its neighbors.
These collections include:
Egypt of the Pharaohs, Ancient Near East, The Greek World, The Peoples of Italy, and Islamic Near East.
The Thematic Collections showcase galleries which shed light on some of the important achievements of local culture.
Early Hebrew Writing, Coins in Context, and Glass Through the Ages,
The Fine Arts Wing displays works of art from across the ages in Western and non-Western cultures.
The wing has been reorganized to highlight connections among works from its diverse curatorial collections, which include:
Israeli Art, European Art, Modern Art, Contemporary Art, the Arts of Africa Oceania and the Americas, Asian Art, Photography, Design and Architecture, and Prints and Drawings.
Installations are organized to underscore visual affinities and shared themes and to inspire new insight into the arts of different times and places, as well as an appreciation of the common threads of human culture.