When one day late in the autumn of 1943 Dr. Elie Borowski bought his first cylinders seal, he never suspected that he had set his feet on a path which would bring him to Jerusalem, to a museum built to house the work of a lifetime. That single seal is now one of the fourteen hundred seals and over four thousand objects in his collection.
Born in Warsaw 1913, Dr. Borowski studied at the Mir Yeshiva and went on to study for the rabbinate at the Collegio Rabbinico Italiano in Florence. At that time he became enamoured of the art and history of the ancient Near East and decided to devote his life to studying it. At the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome he learnd to read cuneiform and specialised in early Sumerian writings.
Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, while studying in Paris in August 1939, Dr. Borowski enlisted with a unit of Jewish volunteers of the French army to fight the Nazis. As a military internee in Switzerland, he worked part-time for the Museum of Art and History of Geneva.
The Geneva museum had a collection of Mesopotamian seals and some cuneiform tablets. He began to publish them, first in learned articles and then in his book, Cylindres et Chachets Orientaux. After receiving his doctoral degree from the University of Geneva, he was invited as a Lady Davis Fellow to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto as a research associate.
Devastated by the loss of his family during the Holocaust, Borowski felt there was no point in art and music, poetry and literature if they could not provide people with the moral courage to withstand injustice and barbarism. The need for an awakening of moral and spiritual values contained in the Bible gradually developed into a lifetime goal. He believed the most effective way to reach this goal was to assemble a collection of artefacts from the Lands of the Bible that would confirm and elucidate the riches of the biblical world with its ethics and spirituality.
His first acquisition in Geneva in 1943 set the tone of his collection: a cylinder seal engraved in ancient Hebrew letters with the name “Shallum”, which he thought referred to Shallum son of Yavesh, who had usurped the throne of the kingdom of Israel for a short time in 741 B.C.E.
Over the years, Borowski has put together a choice collection of objects. Each seal, relief or figurine documents some event or person, or interprets some story or custom of our ancient past.
In 1968, objects from this collection were shown in New York in an exhibition marking the twentieth anniversary of the State of Israel.
In 1976, the Lands of the Bible Archaeology Foundation was established in Toronto, and in 1979 the exhibition “Ladders to Heaven” was shown at the Royal Ontario Museum. A selection of objects was published in 1981 in a book entitled Ladders to Heaven, named after the cylinder seal (on display in the Sumerian Temple – Gallery 6) which depicts the gods climbing a ladder to build a tower, linking earth and heaven, like the ladder of Jacob’s vision in Genesis 28:2.
In 1982 Elie Borowski and Batya Gamiel Weiss were married. They devoted themselves entirely to the fulfillment of Elie’s dream, the establishment of the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem.
In 1985 the groundbreaking ceremony was held on the site where the museum stands today. On May 11, 1992 the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem opened for Israel and the world.
Elie and Batya Borowski are grateful to the many friends, supporters and the excellent team that make up the staff of the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, who have helped bring this museum to its realisation, and to all who continue to support its future.