A new exhibition which follows the thread of the mysterious blue color, tekhelet, from the Mediterranean shores over 3,500 years ago to the national colors of the State of Israel
O p e n i n g o n J u n e 1 s t , 2 0 1 8
What is the secret of tekhelet and argaman, two precious colors which have held great significance for generations and up to present day?
The quest to discover the origins of tekhelet blue begins with a semi-precious blue stone, lapis lazuli, which was imported from distant Afghanistan to the ancient Near East. The stone was prized for its heavenly color, and in Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Canaanite cultures it was associated with the sky, where the gods were believed to reside. The shimmering, deep blue stone was considered one of the world’s most desirable and precious materials. The Bible called lapis lazuli "sapphire" and it appears in the books of Exodus and Ezekiel in descriptions of God’s throne and footstool. In the Talmud, this sapphire stone (which is different from the mineral now called by this name) is linked to tekhelet, the prestigious color used to dye tzitzit (ritual tassel) threads and the fabrics of the tabernacle.
Due to the rarity and value of lapis lazuli, the ancients attempted to manufacture imitations of the material using artificial compounds such as Egyptian blue, faience and glass, all of which feature in jewelry and ritual objects displayed in the exhibition.
Moreover, in search of bold and impressive dyes, the inhabitants of the ancient Mediterranean found a way to extract luxurious, fade-resistant pigments from the body of murex snails. Splendid dyes were manufactured by a complex process, and applied to woolen textiles in hues ranging from blue to reddish purple – the biblical tekhelet and argaman.
Argaman (purple) was considered the most prestigious dye in the Roman world, but Jewish sources attributed a greater importance to the tekhelet blue. In the descriptions of the Tabernacle and its utensils in the book of Exodus, tekhelet always appears before argaman (purple). It is recorded that the robe of the High Priest was "pure blue," and every Israelite was commanded to place a blue thread in the tassels (tzitzit) in the corners of their garments.
In the Roman period, nobles often wore tunics with purple stripes, and the Jews adopted similar styles. A four-cornered garment with stripes and tassels, the tallit, was worn daily. With the decline of the blue and purple dye industry, the blue thread disappeared from the tassels, but the tallit, which had become a prayer shawl, was often decorated with blue stripes – a memento of the tekhelet thread that had once been part of the tzitzit. At the end of the 19th century, the leaders of the Zionist movement sought to create a flag that could express the identity and national aspirations of the Jewish people. The flag chosen was a white cloth with tekhelet blue stripes and a Star of David in its center. The tekhelet blue, which reminded every Jew of their connection to God, remained in the memory of the people and became an integral part of the national symbol of the State of Israel.
Out of the Blue showcases unique archeological and historical items of profound cultural significance. The exhibition will display for the first time two-thousand-year-old tekhelet and argaman dyed fragments of textiles found in the caves of the Judean Desert and Masada. Also on display: a unique crown embedded with the rare lapis lazuli gemstone, the only known jar in the world that was painted entirely in purple, featuring royal inscriptions of Darius I, king of Persia, in four languages, and fascinating archaeological evidence for the purple dye industry from Tel Shikmona and Tel Dor. Finally, visitors to the exhibition will see rare prayer shawls and historic flags as Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary year.
Amanda Weiss, Director of the Bible Lands Museum says:
"This special exhibition looks at the magnificence as well as the significance of the color Blue in the ancient world, and ties the blue dyed threads mentioned in the Bible and extra-biblical texts, to the very design of the flag of the State of Israel today. The BLMJ is proud to be the one Museum in the world that highlights the relevance and continuity of the roots of civilization in this region and their impact on our world today, in a universal and non-sectarian way".
Download the Exhibition brochure here.
Interview with Leora Berry, Deputy Director of the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, on i24news >>
Other coverages of OUT OF THE BLUE on International Media :
Jerusalem Post, Grapevine, May 24
Times of Israel, May 28, 2018
Jerusalem Post, June 1, 2018
i24news, Holy Land Uncovered
Diplomacy Israel, May 28
The Real Jerusalem Streets, June 6
Janglo, June 3
https://www.janglo.net/index.php?option=com_adsmanager&page=display&catid=92&tid=445888 (press release)
https://www.janglo.net/index.php?option=com_adsmanager&page=display&catid=99&tid=445972 (JNS article)
Baltimore Jewish Life, May 28, 2018
JNS News Agency, June 3 2018
Jewish Press, June 3, 2018
Jewish Voice NY, June 6
Jewish Independent, Canada, June 3, 2018
Breaking News Israel, May 31, 2018
https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/108710/tekhelet-special-edition-wine-named-after-the-mysterious-biblical-color/ (article featuring the special edition wine)
EFE Spanish News Agency, May 27, 2018
Aurora, May 28, 2018
IsraelNetz, June 4, 2018 (Germany)
Schai Israel Update (Germany)
https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B-6Vc31oJzrBNUpHeGhGeGV3RkUxMEtMOWFYTG9zdmduYk9J (pages 7-10)
Israel Travel News, May-June
http://itn.co.il/slideshow/?pid=773 (Page 10)
The exhibition displays important artifacts from the collection of the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem and objects generously lent by several museums and institutions in Israel, as well as by private collectors. This exhibition was made possible with the support and cooperation of the Israel Antiquities Authority, The Elie and Batya Borowski Foundation, the American Friends of the BLMJ, the Lands of the Bible Archaeology Foundation, Canada, and the British Friends of the BLMJ, private donors and with the support of the Israel Ministry of Culture and Sport, The Ministry of Education and the Municipality of Jerusalem.