Vessels in Time: A Journey Into the Biblical World
The Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum invites you to journey into the biblical world, where you will find ancient ceramic vessels with powerful stories to tell. Through their testimony we can journey back in time to the age of Abraham and David, Deborah and Esther, Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah—themselves vessels called to carry on the message to future generations. Archaeology has dramatically brought these people, places, and events of the biblical history to life, enabling us to touch the past and learn its lessons.
In the lobby, the picture of a camel caravan crossing the desert and a tile compass indicating true north invite you to experience these vessels of time as you journey into the biblical world.
The permanent exhibition is organized in chronological order. The objects date from the invention of writing and the first cities—from 3200 B.C. to the Roman Empire in the Byzantine Period in A.D. 450—a journey of more than 3,500 years of history. To make this journey possible, we chose to focus on only one aspect of ancient life for each period. The theme for each case was chosen based on a major characteristic of that time. Together they not only form a sequential movement through time, but also give glimpses of different aspects and their use as illustrated in more than 200 photographs and illustrations. Biblical passages connect the themes to known biblical events, emphasizing the authenticity of the biblical story.
The journey begins in the Early Bronze Age. The city of Ur characterized much of what was happening at this time. Urbanism was a major characteristic as city-states were established throughout Mesopotamia and Syria-Palestine. The dawn of urbanism gives way to monumental architecture, art, music, and trade. According to Genesis, this was a time when God called Abraham to leave the city of Ur—during the peak of its power in the Ur III period. Artifacts excavated at Ur demonstrate the rich background that urban inhabitants experienced in this culture. Archaeologists found that soon after this great renaissance, urbanism collapsed. There is no clear explanation of what happened or why the sudden collapse, but one reflects on the biblical story and the timeliness of God's call and Abraham's faith to follow it.
After the collapse of urbanism, there was a major shift from the city to pastoral and rural life. Ruralism in the Early Bronze IV period meant that many lived in tents, much like the Bedouins of today. Salvage excavations at the cemeteries of Jebel Qa'aqir, 'Ain Samiyah, and Khirbet el-Karmil south of Hebron uncovered hundreds of shaft tombs arranged in straight rows that were dug into the hillside. Most of the tombs contained multiple burials, indicating that they were family tombs. All 46 skeletons excavated at Jebel Qa'aqir were disarticulated, which meant that the bones were not in their proper order. Archaeologists have suggested that as families moved from the highlands into the lowlands in the summer months, the deceased were buried and their bones later returned to the family burial ground. The biblical phrase "to be gathered to one's fathers" is an echo of this practice of secondary burial.
The Middle Bronze Age ushered in a distinct material culture that had crystallized during this period in Canaan. City-states again emerged, boasting complex and massive fortifications, temples, and palaces. One Egyptian scene is taken from the tomb of Khnum-hotep at Beni Hassan and depicts trading Canaanites arriving in Egypt. Their distinct dress and facial features differentiate them from the Egyptians, who are dressed in white linen skirts. The women are wearing clothing over their left shoulders, presumably fastened with a toggle pin. The colorful clothing reminds us of the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors.
A shell plaque found at the city of Mari depicts a woman wearing a garment fastened with a toggle pin. Attached to the pin is a cord connecting to a cylinder seal used for identification and the sealing of documents.
New urban centers spawned major technological advances as the need for mass-produced goods grew. The fast wheel revolutionized pottery technology. Due to the centrifugal force, it was now possible to work the clay into more elaborate shapes that were thinner and more even and finished in appearance. Carination and sharper edges were now introduced, along with trumpet bases and stands. Metal smiths added tin to bronze for the first time. This “true bronze” enabled production of new, better, and stronger tools and weapons.
Canaan was a land bridge that tied major empires together. Merchants and armies crossed its territory to interact with distant polities. Extensive trade routes through its lands made Canaan a corridor of commerce that connected major cities from Mesopotamia to Egypt. Sea routes extended Canaan's international impact, and Canaanites undoubtedly traded grains, olive oil, and pottery for copper from Cyprus, tin from Anatolia and Afghanistan, and luxury ceramic wares from Cyprus and Greece. Using archaeological evidence, researchers can trace the extent of Canaan's economic influence and reconstruct major routes overland and by sea.
Some luxury ceramic wares from Cyprus include milk bowls, Bucchero ware pitchers, Bilbils, “white-shaved” dipper juglets, and Mycenaean wares.
The Late Bronze Age was a period in which several new nations emerged in Canaan: namely, the Israelites and the Philistines. The Israelites are first recognized by the Egyptians during the reign of Merneptah in 1209 B.C., when they are already located in Canaan. The Philistines are described as a people coming from the sea or the Aegean world. Ramses III shows them in ships fighting against the Egyptians and in ox carts moving over land. The Philistines settled the southern coastal plain, occupying five major cities: Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, Gaza, and Gath. Their vessels in both form and decoration display great similarities to Mycenaean wares, which may be indicators of their place of origin.
The beit ab, or “house of the father,” was the basis of Israelite society. The father ruled over his household, as the king did over the house of Israel, and God over the children of Israel. Under this arrangement the extended family lived together in one household, or family compound. Life revolved around agrarian activities that included animal husbandry and agriculture.
Weaving was an important aspect of life in Israel and was a skill passed on from mother to daughter from generation to generation. Most of the household cloth was woven from sheep's wool, though more durable goat hair was used for tenting and sackcloth. Raw wool was first spun into yarn with a hand-held spindle. The spindle was weighted with a ceramic weight called a “spindle whorl.” After being spun, the wool would be dyed and woven, using a loom, into cloth of various colors.
Olive oil played a part in almost every aspect of daily life in ancient Israel. It was used as the main source of dietary fat in food preparation, as fuel for lamps, and as a base for cosmetics, perfumes and ointments. It was also used in cultic settings where a priest or king was anointed. Olive trees and grapevines grew well in the hill country. Oil presses have been found at numerous sites, and this valuable commodity was exported throughout the Mediterranean world.
Oil from the first crushing, accomplished by rolling a stone over the olives on a flat rock-cut installation, produces virgin oil, which is extracted by pouring hot water over the crushed olives and skimming off the floating oil. Second-grade oil is produced by pressing the pulp with a beam press.
The united monarchy under David and Solomon ushered in a golden age of Israel’s history. David relocated Israel's capital to Jerusalem and under his son, Solomon, extravagant construction took place. The Temple was finished in his fourth year (966 B.C.) and was the crowning achievement of his building activity. The new Temple would be the center of Israel's worship and religion.
The description that the Temple was decorated in “cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers” (1 Kings 6:29) reflects the architecture of the period. Capitals found at Samaria, Megiddo, Hazor, and Ramat Rachel depict the drooping fronds of the palm tree's crown in a stylized manner. The columns beneath them were either square or round and could be understood as the trunk of the tree.
The word used for cherubim in biblical contexts is difficult to define. The cherubim are depicted as guardians to the holy realm of the divine. In Ezekiel's vision they are described with human and animal features, including the faces of a lion, ox, eagle, and man. They are described with wings and with the soles of a calf's foot. Some scholars have equated these cherubim with the composite creatures found in temple contexts in Cyprus, Phoenicia, and Israel. An ivory plaque from Nimrud depicts such a composite creature among open flowers and palm motifs.
Solomon's building achievements reached beyond Jerusalem throughout Israel. Three other cities were refortified under his reign, and archaeologists have found the foundations of these gates at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. The type of architecture reflects Phoenician influence as found in the biblical description.
The typical six-chambered gates of the 10th century were one of the most secure of the ancient world. Consisting of two towers and four pairs of opposing piers with ends facing each other like the lines of two forks, defenders could position themselves in the towers and in the rooms between the piers with a 6-to-1 firing ratio within the gate tower. But the gate in ancient Israel served several functions beyond fortification. The rooms at Gezer had benches along the walls where the elders of the city could sit and talk and watch people pass by. This is also the place where legal transactions took place, as described in the story recorded in Ruth 4:1-12, where Boaz goes to the city gate of Bethlehem to gather 10 elders to witness their agreement. It was also at the city gate that judgments were often made for the people by the king.
Following Solomon, the united kingdom was divided. Judah remained in the South with Rehoboam, Solomon's son, ruling in Jerusalem. The northern 10 tribes broke off and formed a new coalition. Jeroboam ruled from Samaria and established pagan centers of worship at Dan and Bethel. Beginning in the ninth century B.C., Assyria began a period of major expansion that culminated in the campaign of Sennacherib in 701 B.C. The campaign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib is one of the most widely recorded events in history. The descriptions in Isaiah, Kings, and Chronicles are confirmed by (1) pictorial reliefs of his siege against Lachish, found in Sennacherib's palace at Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria; (2) by several prisms written in cuneiform recording his campaigns against Judah; and (3) excavations at the city of Lachish, which uncovered hundreds of sling stones and arrowheads around the only siege ramp discovered in the ancient Near East.
During the final years of its history, Judah was again caught in the struggle between two dominating powers, Egypt and Babylon. The rise of Babylon reached a high point in 605 B.C. with Nebuchadnezzar's first campaign to Canaan against the city of Carchemish. In that year he defeated the Egyptian king Necho II. Coming to Judah, he captured nobles and young men for training in his service in Babylon in order to thwart any further rebellion in Jerusalem. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were carried into captivity under his first campaign.
Despite Jeremiah's strong warnings against aligning the nation with Egypt, Zedekiah ignored these warnings. As a reprisal, Nebuchadnezzar campaigned against Judah in 588 B.C. After a two-year siege, Jerusalem fell and the temple was destroyed. An era had come to an end.
The kingdom of Babylon, founded by Nabopolassar and established securely by his son, Nebuchadnezzar, became the dominating empire of the sixth century B.C. The capitol city, Babylon, was strategically located on the Euphrates River, which gave the city control of trade routes as well as river traffic. The heart of the city lay on the east bank. A city expansion of major proportions took place early in Nebuchadnezzar's reign when he annexed the west bank. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Babylon "was adorned in manner surpassing any city we are acquainted with." The kingdom of Babylon was the first of four kingdoms described in succession in the book of Daniel.
The claim made by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:30 was questioned during the 19th century. Babylon had existed for hundreds of years before his reign. How could he made such a bold claim? In 1899, excavations began at the ancient city of Babylon under the direction of Robert Koldeway. Thousands of clay bricks were inscribed with the monarch's name.
The Persian king Darius I initiated the construction of a new capitol at Susa and a splendid city at Persepolis. These centers were completed by his sons, Xerxes, known also in the book of Esther as Ahasuerus. The Apadana was the main audience chamber of Susa and Persepolis. The enormous structure was roofed with beams supported by 36 magnificent columns. Each column towered more than 65 feet into the air. Excavators believe that it could have accommodated 10,000 people. It was through this intimidating building that Esther and her handmaids approached the king, based on the details provided (Esther 5:1-3).
This 1/72 scale model was built and hand painted by Kenneth Olsen, one of the country's most skilled artists and model makers. Look carefully to find Xerxes seated upon the throne, and Esther and her handmaidens, exiting the Apadana.
The sweeping conquest of Alexander the Great brought East and West into contact. Learning and philosophy had reached a peak in Greece and would become a major force in the formation of the new empire. As a result of Alexander's conquest, Greek language was widely popularized and became a vehicle of unification until it was spoken throughout the Mediterranean world. Hellenistic thinking was expressed in the theater, arts, and artistic expression. For the first time a new pantheon of gods would come into contact with Judaism and Christianity.
The tremendous expansion of Alexander's empire also facilitated trade throughout the Mediterranean and the East. Rhodes was known for wine exports, and the amphora containing the wine have been found throughout the Hellenistic world. This Rhodian amphora handle identifies the name of the winery with a stamp.
Herod the Great ushered in a new era of building activity as fortresses, palaces, and roads were constructed with technological innovation and in stupendous proportion. However, his paranoia and obsession to retain power at all costs caused much intrigue in the royal palace. Incensed that Herod had appointed his close acquaintance, Hananel, to the high priesthood, Alexandra, the mother of the deceased high priest appealed to Cleopatra of Egypt and Mark Antony. But it was not long before Herod had the high priest drowned in his palace at Herodian and, after exonerating himself before Cleopatra and Mark Antony, also managed to arrange for the death of the boy's mother, Alexandra. Further suspicions drove him to have his wife, Miriamne, and later their two sons, Aristobulus and Alexander, killed. It is within this historical setting that Jesus Christ was born.
A major innovation of the Roman Empire was the development of the road system. The roads that spread throughout the extent of the empire were based on systematic planning and maintenance. This system not only allowed for the cohesion of Rome's many provinces, but provided the necessary means for the Christian church to expand its work as it fulfilled the gospel commission.
From cities like this one at Ephesus, where Paul spent more than three years, messengers traveled the Roman roads to spread the message of hope from city to city. A flame had been kindled that could not be extinguished.
Current Special Exhibition
Past Special Exhibitions
The Battle Over King David
The story of David and Goliath is one of the most memorable in the Bible. The setting for this legendary battle is the Valley of Elah in the Judean foothills. Today the Elah valley has become a battleground for a new controversy, this time concerning the historical accuracy of the Bible. Archaeological discoveries from biblical Sha’arayim, known as Khirbet Qeiyafa or the “Fortress of Elah,” are challenging skeptical scholars’ claims that there is no evidence for biblical David and his Kingdom. For the first time outside of the country of Israel, a sampling of these important artifacts is on display at Southern Adventist University’s Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum. The exhibition showcases ceramic, stone, and metal objects uncovered at the Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations from 2007 to 2011. Many of these pieces were uncovered by Southern Adventist University’s own excavation team who, in partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has been excavating the remains of this fortress-city since 2009. The objects are on loan from the collection of the National Treasures Department, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The theme of the exhibition highlighted the scholarly controversy over the historicity of the United Monarchy of Israel. According to some scholars, Saul, David, and Solomon were little more than tribal leaders who ruled a small chiefdom in the highlands of Judah. The biblical description of their kingdom is an exaggerated version of history invented by writers with a political agenda. In the last century, the so-called Solomonic gates were discovered at the biblical sites of Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. The Bible (1 Kings 9:15) credits Solomon with rebuilding the fortifications of these three cities. New fortifications uncovered at the Fortress of Elah have provided evidence of a kingdom in Judah during the reigns of Saul and David (c. 1020-980 BC). The exhibition opening was the culmination of a yearlong process to create the first museum exhibition to display the finds of the Khirbet Qeiyafa Archaeological Project. The project, which was started by professor Yosef Garfinkel (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and Saar Ganor (Israel Antiquities Authority) in 2007, received extensive media coverage since the oldest Hebrew inscription was found at the site in 2008. Documentary crews from National Geographic and the BBC visited the site in 2010 and major news outlets like CNN, Fox News, The New York Times, and the Huffington Post have released various stories as recently as this year. “We have the unique distinction to be the first museum in the world to share these important archaeological finds,” remarked Dr. Michael G. Hasel, curator. “The discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa have revolutionized our understanding of the biblical kingdom of Judah and now we have the privilege to share them with our community and the Seventh-day Adventist church."
Exhibition highlights included a collection of stamped and finger-impressed jar handles, stamp and scarab seals, and bronze and silver coins from the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods. Famous artifacts like the potsherd with the Hebrew inscription (Qeiyafa Ostracon) and a portable stone shrine found in 2011, that were not available for loan, were replicated for the exhibition. Also on display was a scaled model of one of the two gates that give the city its name (Sha’arayim means “two gates” in Hebrew). The special exhibition was free of charge and open to the public during regular museum hours (see our website for hours, directions, and other information). The exhibition was on display from November 2012 to May 2015.
Faces of Power: Ancient Coins of the Biblical World
Since their inception coins have been much more than just money. Ancient coins, like today’s currency, are symbols of power—monetary, political, and cultural power. Bearing the identifying image or emblem of the emperor who issued them, coins established his legitimacy as the supreme authority, advertised his image throughout his empire, and broadcasted his greatest accomplishments. Circulating farther and longer than the best newspaper, coins effectively carried their message long after their issuer was gone.
Under Julio-Claudian family rule, Rome reached a new pinnacle of power and prosperity—the Pax Romana. These emperors capitalized on the power of coins to portray an image or transmit an idea. Imperial portraiture on coins made the Julio-Claudians international celebrities. More than mere self-aggrandizement, coin iconography commemorated major events in history—military victories, building projects, official appointments, death, and deification. Coins became snapshots of history.
The exhibition featured a prominent display of coins from the Persian, Hellenistic/Greek, and Roman periods of antiquity, and was on display from October 2008 to May 2009.