Gold wreaths from the PURE GOLD exhibition
Among the most exquisite and intriguing items on display in PURE GOLD, are gold wreaths from the Hellenistic period. Used for funerary or for ritual purposes such as dedications to the Greek gods and their temples, these wreathes were made to replicate different styles of leaves such as the olive and laurel. In Ancient Greece, many gods were identified with individual species of trees. The laurel wreath, pictured, was identified with the Greek god Apollo. Greek mythology relates that Apollo mocked Eros for playing with arrows, so Eros struck him with a golden arrow, which made Apollo fall in love with the nymph Daphne. Eros however, struck Daphne with a hate provoking arrow made from lead. Desperately in love, Apollo chased Daphne, but as he was about to reach her, she begged her father, the river god, for help and he turned her into a tree. Apollo made a wreath out of the leaves of the tree, and cried: “Since you cannot be my wife, you shall assuredly be my tree”.
A Banquet of Treasure
The Book of Esther, which is read during the Jewish holiday of Purim, is in fact the only source which explains the origins of this festival. Indeed, the behavior described in the text corresponds to the customs of this holiday; the excessive consumption of alcohol, a jovial atmosphere and the legitimacy to reverse normal forms of behavior which are expected during the rest of the year.
It is clear that the author of the Book of Esther was familiar with the Persian Kingdom and its culture. Echoes of the realistic elements in this book can be found in our Permanent Collection. The artifacts displayed in The Splendor of Persia Gallery (Gallery 16) include silver vessels and gold jewelry, which illustrate the wealth of this empire. Also on display are Persian administrative seals, similar to the one which King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) gave Mordechai. Note also the model of the grand audience hall, The Apadana, which stood in the ancient city of Susa. This was probably the audience hall in which Queen Esther courageously went to seek an audience with King Ahasuerus (Esther 5:1-2).
Gilded Mummy Mask, Linen and Plaster, Painted and Gilded, Egypt, Roman Imperial Period, Permanent Exhibition
"Bestow Dew and Rain for a Blessing upon the Face of the Earth"
The days of autumn carry our hopes and prayers for a rainy winter. This yearning for rain is a central characteristic of living in the land of Israel, both in present and ancient times. As such, it played a major role in the life and religion of the ancient inhabitants of Canaan. The biblical stories recalling Abraham and Jacob’s sons sojourning in Egypt reflect the reality of famine in the land of Canaan and the subsequent migration in search of food. It is therefore not surprising that the patriarchs travelled to Egypt, where food was largely plentiful thanks to the stable water source of the River Nile.
The Egyptians expressed this dramatic difference between Canaan and their own land in the Great Hymn to the Egyptian god, Aten; in which the analogy of the rain was the Nile descending from the sky: "A Nile in the sky for the foreigners… a Nile coming back from the underworld for Egypt"
This comparison is also attested in the Bible: "For the land whither thou goest in to possess it is not as the land of Egypt… a land of hills and valleys and drinketh water of the rain of heaven" (Deuteronomy 11:10-11).
As the people of Canaan were so dependent on rain it is therefore of little wonder that the chief god in the Canaanite pantheon was the storm god Ba'al. Pictured below is a statuette of Ba'al, wearing a pointed headdress and holding a spear in his raised hand.
Even today, the connection between Ba'al and rain is reflected in the Hebrew expression "Ba'al agriculture" which is the term for dry-land farming (farming based on rain-water irrigation).
With blessings for a rainy winter.
Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem
Figure of a smiting god,Syria, 1400 BCE, Permanent Exhibition
What is the first month according to the Jewish calendar? Is it Tishrei or Nissan? Surprisingly both answers are correct!
The Hebrew year begins with the month of Tishrei, which like the names of the other Hebrew months, originates from ancient Mesopotamia. During the Babylonian Exile the Jews adopted the local calendar together with its corresponding names. The name Tishrei derives from the Akkadian Tašrītu meaning "beginning". Yet, the Bible refers to this month as the “seventh month” (Leviticus 23:24). This confusing discrepancy reflects the fact that in the Ancient Near East there were two main calendar systems that existed in parallel. One began with the spring equinox and the other with the autumn equinox. In the Jewish tradition we find evidence of both calendar systems. On one hand, the Bible refers to the month of Aviv (spring) as "The first month of your year" (Exodus 12:2) however, in the Second Temple period, Tishrei was set as the new year for calculating calendar years (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1).