It all started in 1965 when the Sligonian published a request for funds to help complete the anticipated museum of biblical artifacts for the Department of Religion. Perhaps it had been in the works for several years before, but this was a final call for the dream to become a reality. Dr. Leslie Hardinge, the soon to be curator of the museum, had purchased several replicas of significant and ancient artifacts from the British Museum in London, England with the help of the administration to be showcased in their own Museum of Biblical Antiquities.
One noticeable treasure that he acquired was the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser – still featured today in the front lobby of H.M.S. Richards Hall. Measuring at three feet by seven feet, the statue displays what is thought to be the earliest depiction of a biblical figure – a scene of Jehu, an Israelite king, kneeling at the feet of the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser the III. This artifact comes from the second half of the ninth century B.C.
The museum was located in the basement of the Department of Religion. At the time of the article, the room was bare except for a few signs of construction. However, over the course of that year, display cases and tables were purchased to showcase the importance of these ancient items.
In 1966, a faculty member anonymously donated a set of two tablets of white Vermont marble engraved with the Ten Commandments to the museum. Hand-chiseled, a permanent black dye was infused in each commandment except for the fourth commandment – “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” – which was given distinctive emphasis in gold lettering. Currently, these tablets are still on display in the room where the museum was located, now a conference room in the basement of the Religion building.
Another artifact added to the museum around the same time was a five by six-foot reproduction wall done in bas-relief discovered in Nineveh. The pieces of the Lachish relief portray the scene of one of the Lachish people paying tribute to King Sennacherib, an Assyrian king who reigned victorious over the kingdom of Judah during the siege of Lachish – as told in scripture (Isaiah 36: 1-2). These pieces are now stored in Richards Hall.
There is a reproduction of the Rosetta Stone, also on display in the lobby of the building, which was crucial in helping to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Discovered during Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt in 1799, it was not till twenty years after its discovery that French scholar, Jean-François Champollion, was able to decipher the ancient hieroglyphs. The Rosetta Stone features three versions of the same text (from top to bottom): Egyptian hieroglyphs, demotic Egyptian, and ancient Greek – using ancient Greek as the starting point for translation of the symbols.
Around twenty years ago, it was decided that the former museum be converted into a conference room. Thus, many of the artifacts on display were either relocated to the front lobby of Richards Hall or put in storage. Some of the objects previously mentioned have remained on display along with others, like the reproduction of the pharaoh head of Ramses the II, who was raised beside and fought against Moses from the Old Testament, and a large tablet of cuneiform text, one of the oldest writing systems in Earth’s existence. However, several other fascinating pieces of history remain locked away or, perhaps, lost in storage, or are glanced over with no relevance to their antiquity, each with their own story to share.
In treasuring these replicas of ancient and Biblical times not only are we celebrating the existence of life, but we are amending the presence of God throughout history. Therefore, although the physical Museum of Biblical Antiquities no longer remains, its contents have preserved. Those and others that are uncovered over time will also serve as a reminder of the stories and events long past, yet still beholden to our present and future in Christ.
by Shannon Smith
Intern, Integrated Marketing and Communications