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BLMJ Annual Review – 2019

The Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem tells the story of humanity through its unique collection of thousands of rare artifacts from the ancient near east – the lands of the Bible. We are delighted to be able to share this summary of our endeavors this year, which have taken us to new heights across a broad spectrum of activities.

Exhibitions and Curatorial Work

A new gallery space was initiated to meet the challenge of creating new exhibitions that spotlight an artifact, a new find or a topic of special interest.  "Focus Gallery" Adding a new gallery space to complement our other temporary exhibition areas,we are able to offer visitors a wide range of exhibitions throughout the year. Our first "Focus Gallery" exhibition was Highway Through History (March-August 2019) - a collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority and Netivei Israel (Israel Roads Authority). The exhibition presented highlights from recent salvage excavations at Tel Beit Shemesh in preparation for expansion of Route 38 near the city of Beit Shemesh. The impressive finds showed that, after the destruction of the seventh century BC town, a new Jewish settlement was established, which served as an important administrative and economic center of the kingdom of Judah. The exhibition sparked a fascinating discussion about the conflicting importance of heritage preservation and infrastructure development in contemporary Israel.

From left to right, clockwise:  Museum Director Amanda Weiss at the opening of the “Highway Through History” exhibition; Exhibition Curator Yehuda Kaplan; Artifacts from the exhibition. Photo:  David Saad

The special exhibition, Anchors Aweigh! (August-November 2019) presented maps, prints and photographs of Israel's seaports based on the private collection on loan to the Museum from Yossi Gilben.  The exhibition was enriched with a number of images from the Dan Kyram Collection, which was recently donated to the Museum by his family.  The images, from the 17th to the early 20th centuries, highlighted the vital strategic importance of the ports as points of contact between Jerusalem and Europe from the Crusader period until the modern era. Christian and Jewish pilgrims would visit the ruined ports on their way to the holy sites.

From left to right clockwise:Exhibition Curator Yehuda Kaplan, Museum Director Amanda Weiss and Yossi Gilban, Opening of “Anchors Aweigh” exhibition; Opening presentation by Amanda Weiss; A piece from the exhibition.  Photo:  Museum PR

The Glorious Martyr
exhibition opened in the Focus Gallery, in October. The exhibition contains a display of artifacts from a magnificent Byzantine church uncovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority in salvage excavations south of Ramat Beit Shemesh. An inscription found at the site mentions a "Glorious Martyr", in whose honor the church was built and whose remains were kept inside. Although the identity of the "Glorious Martyr" is unknown, it would seem that he was a well-known figure in the Christian world. The opening event of the exhibition—attended by huge crowds—also marked the inaugural evening of the annual Israel Antiquities Authority conference, "Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Environs". We were delighted to host representatives of the Armenian Patriarchate and a clerical A capella choir who presented several liturgical pieces to the audience.

From left to right clockwise: Opening presentation by Museum Director Amanda Weiss; Frontal view of The Glorious Martyr exhibition;   Finds from the Ramat Bet Shemesh excavations; A Capella Choir; Amanda Weiss with the Armenian Patriarch. Photo: David Saad

Educational Programs and Activities
The "Bible Advocacy" educational program has now been recognized by the Ministry of Education as a project that should be made accessible to all Israeli students, especially 10th graders, as part of an alternative syllabus. This initiative provides high-school students with the challenge of choosing a moment of dilemma within the Biblical text. A Biblical figure is placed “on trial,” conducted according to modern Israeli law, with students being part of either the prosecutorial team or the defense teams, or portraying the biblical characters as witnesses themselves..
Each team is advised by an actual high-level Israeli attorney or judge (who generously volunteer their valuable time to the project). 
Students are required to delve deeply into the biblical text and be fluent in its content as they formulate and defend their arguments. An actual judge ultimately renders a written verdict, which is then used as a basis for discussion.

This program makes the Bible a living, breathing text for the next generation.  Very often, artifacts from the Museum become part of the legal proceedings, and the trials themselves are held on the premises of the Museum. 
Approximately thirty volunteer lawyers and fifteen schools are participating in the launch of a pilot project outside the walls of a museum, in which high schools and the Leo Baeck Education Centre will “judge” Prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel in the coming year.

From left to right clockwise:  The "Bible Advocacy" educational program-Advocate Sassy Gez, Judge David Cheshin;Illustration of a museum classroom; Edith Kimchi, Director of Education, in a pilot project of virtual guiding of the Museum.  Photos, Museum PR, The Jewish Agency

Our unique program that connects ancient innovation with the modern State’s reputation as a start-up nation "Start Up (Bible) Nations" has now been recognized by the Ministry of Education and the Jewish Agency as a platform for management of twin relationships between schools in Israel and the Diaspora. Approximately ten schools from Israel, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have signed up to participate, and we are now in the process of developing online training sessions and a dedicated website.

Research activity

The museum promotes wide-ranging research activity involving leading scholars from Israel and around the world in the fields of the protection of heritage and local history from an archeological perspective. This year, the Museum has collaborated in hosting professional conferences, such as a conference marking the conclusion of conservation work at the Hasmonean palace near Jericho, led by the Israel Antiquities Authority's Conservation Administration. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority also held their annual National Parks Planning Conference at the Museum under the title Narritive and Archaeological Research - historical truth in the Bible.

In January, we hosted the annual conference of the Israeli Society for Assyriology and Near Eastern Studies, in which students and researchers from across Israel participated. The conference, on "Colors and Fabrics in the Ancient Near East", included lectures on various aspects of the theme, highlighting evidence from written sources, seals and archeological finds , and included a guest lecture by visiting scholar Dr. Timothy Clayden of Oxford University.

We partnered with PICO Kids after school programs – a Jerusalem based social entrepreneurship aimed at empowering children and youth in the fields of science and technology. The annual theme was extraterrestrial life, and the students received guidance on the concept of space in the ancient world, comparing the ancient attempts to track celestial movements to contemporary Israeli projects, such as miniature laboratories conducting scientific experiments outside the earth's atmosphere.

In February, we hosted the Annual General Meeting of the Israel Society for the Conservation and Preservation of Cultural Property, celebrating the 10th anniversary of its establishment with the theme, "Preservation in Israel: Past, Present, Future". The organization aims to establish and regulate standards for preservation of cultural property in Israel and to work towards the adoption of agreed professional ethical principles by promoting legal reform in the cultural sphere.

Courses and Lectures

Every year, the museum opens its doors to the general public on Wednesday evenings. Lectures are held for the general public delivered by leading academics on subjects with a close affinity to the museum’s collections and exhibitions.

Dozens of people took part in a new course in collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority - "Simple People and the Holy City." The course revealed the daily lives of common people who lived in Jerusalem through archaeological finds. The aim of the course was to make archeology, in general and with a specific focus on Jerusalem, accessible to the general public, and included tours to relevant sites in and Jerusalem.

During the year we held special monthly "Fridays in Focus" tours guided by members of the museum staff, on themes close to their hearts. It was a wonderful opportunity to experience the museum through particular exhibits and perspectives, and get to know the people behind the scenes of the museum's activities.

As part of a collaboration with various institutions, sculpture students from Kfar Saba were hosted by well-known sculptor Doron Dahan. On their first visit, students received instruction on the material culture of ancient Near Eastern peoples and were exposed to ancient sculpting methods and styles. They explored how perceptions and beliefs are reflected in artworks. Later on, each student selected an exhibit from the museum's galleries to take inspiration for a new, personal and contemporary work. For several days, the museum's galleries became a sculpture studio, connecting past and present.

Activities for families

Children’s Activities at Bible Lands Museum.  Photos:  Oded Entman, Yoni Kelberman, Shai Vazdias.

Thousands of families attended the theatrical tours, interactive activities and creative workshops during national holidays: a feast of Ahasuerus on Purim, "Pharoahmania" during Passover, the second annual festival of writing during Sukkot, a workshop for thousands of families at the residence of the President of Israel, and a journey following the Biblcial Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, on Hanukkah.

Due to popular demand, Theatrical Story Time at the Museum for 4-8 year-olds has expanded to two series during the year. Featuring the amazing storyteller Rivka Shabtai , who embarks on a unique journey in the museum galleries, where myths and legends come to life among the museum galleries, ancient myths and legends exhibits.

On Purim, the museum launched a new experience (AR / VR) technology, through which the visitor can see archaeological displays resurrected in an authentic ancient environment.

During the summer, we enriched the galleries with a number of independent activity stations for children and families. The stations included games, mosaic puzzles, coin making, costumes and more. For ages 5-10 we offered a new initiative featuring  interactive theatrical tours and a variety of magical workshops.

Cultural Events

Throughout the year, we have produced and hosted wide-ranging cultural events for the general public including art, music, dance and theater, with outstanding artists from Jerusalem and Israel, among others: The Performing Arts Festival. 4Her - Memory and Dream, created specifically for the performance space, included four dance performances by 4=four artists in four selected galleries, followed by a dream party. The festival's closing event, also hosted by the museum, was an evening of music directed by Hanna Patia, which began with music from the Bible Lands in the galleries and ended with a performance by the Firqat Alnor Orchestra. Special events for International Museum Day included the "Start Up Bible Lands" tour, select exhibits that came to life and activities for children and the whole family. The Jerusalem International Klezmer Festival featured talented musicians, who played melodies of Jewish villages in a variety of global styles. The Open House Festival was marked by a special tour by Museum Deputy Director Leora Berry on Museum Architecture in relation to Ancient World Architecture as revealed through selected displays. The "Have a Beer with Ramses" event took place as part of the Open Restaurants Festival.

Cultural events at the Museum. Photos:  Dan Debner, Museum PR.

We promote facilitation of events and conferences at the museum through professional producers and organizers, and companies that organize conferences. We are in close contact with the Jerusalem Conference Bureau, which promotes conference facilities to the international market. During the year, we hosted major events for: AIPAC Gala Donor Event, Canadian Hadassah-WIZO Women's Gala, International Plastic Surgeon Neurosurgery Association Conference, the ceremony of the Civil Service Commission "Award for Quality and Excellence" and more.

Telecommunications and Public Relations
We have gained wide exposure in all major media and newspaper outlets in Israel, as well as international media. This past year around 400 articles were published about the BLMJ in print, online and broadcast media. We appeared in some of the world's largest media bodies such as CNN, The New York Times, Times of Israel, i24 AP, AFP, Reuters, and the largest media bodies in Israel such as News 13, News 12, Haaretz, Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel Today, Globes, Mako, Maariv, Jerusalem Post, Kan 11, and many more.