During the twentieth century, a number of archeological discoveries in the land of Israel have greatly increased knowledge of ancient Israel, culture and lifestyles. Through the display of ancient scrolls, objects and artifacts, the story of two of the world’s most influential religions unfolds in “The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story,” a new special exhibition at opening Dec. 12 and running through April 12 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
“In 2005, The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition evoked a remarkable response from tens of thousands of museum visitors,” said Joel A. Bartsch, president of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. “The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story” continues the journey begun in The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition and broadens the dialogue — beyond the fascinating Qumran community that created the Scrolls—and into the dawn of the Christian era. One particularly moving part of the exhibition includes the oldest known copy of the messianic prophecies from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah — one of the original Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran — displayed alongside the oldest known copy of the New Testament Book of Luke, including the earliest known version of the story of Christ’s nativity.”
Through original artifacts and rare manuscripts, this exclusive new exhibition explores the stories behind these often fragmented, yet clearly intertwined cultures, stories that evoke strong feelings that are still deeply held by people around the world.
“What makes this exhibition so compelling, however, are not the objects alone. It is the story we are telling that brings the objects to life,” said Matthias Henze, guest curator of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. “For example, an oil lamp remains just that – unless the visitor makes the connection that this object was used during the time the King Herod, who expanded the Second Temple complex in Jerusalem and is known from the New Testament for the notorious massacre of innocent babies.”
“The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story” explores the relationship between Judaism and Christianity through five sections, which are arranged in chronological order beginning with the Hellenistic Period, the late fourth century Before the Common Era (BCE).
More than 70 objects, including coins, oil lamps, juglets and amphorae—all showing the Greek influence on Jewish life after Alexander the Great conquered the Near East (332 BCE) — are featured in the first section. Next, the exhibition shifts to the Roman period, specifically King Herod, and includes glass objects; lamps; and some of the finest table ware of the time known as Terra Sigillata; as well as a large bath tub.
Then, the story turns from a historical period to the burial practices of the Jews who were living in or around Jerusalem. Here, visitors can view sixteen ossuaries, some with decorative carvings and others with inscriptions that allow visitors to reconstruct how the people who were buried in them related to one another. The fourth section chronicles the Judean Desert around the Dead Sea, the Jewish War against the Romans and the Roman army. Discover the story of the Roman occupation of Masada, including numerous objects that depict daily Jewish life, such as bowls and pots, a sandal and a comb.
Finally, exhibit concludes with an examination of the time before the Common Era – as it turns into the Christian era. At this point, the exhibition juxtaposes Jewish and Christian objects.
Most of the Jewish objects on display have the menorah on them, the earliest symbol of Judaism. The Christian objects consist of several New Testament manuscripts written on papyrus along with one of the original Dead Sea Scrolls and two oil lamps.
In addition visitors can view artifacts brought together specifically for this exhibit from Israel, Europe and North America: including excerpts from the Prophet Isaiah on loan from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; a manuscript of the Gospel of Luke from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris; as well as ancient manuscripts from the British Library in London, with a section of the Epistle to the Hebrews in which the author refers at some length to some of the major figures in the Old Testament, thus arguing for the deep roots of the Christian faith in Judaism; plus more.
“The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story” was organized by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Rice University in cooperation with The Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, The Biblioteque Nationale de France, The British Library, the École Biblique et Archéologique Française Couvent Saint-Étienne and The Special Collections Library at the University of Michigan.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science presentation of this special exhibition is made possible with support from Glen Rosenbaum, The Stanford and Joan Alexander Foundation, Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation, The Nathan J. Klein Fund, the Stein Family/Triple S Steel Supply, Vinson & Elkins, LLP, Weatherford International Ltd., and David and Bonnie Weekley.
Tickets for the special exhibition are now on sale; $18 for adults; $16 for children (3 – 11), seniors (62+), and college students with a valid ID; $12.50 Museum members; $5 school groups; and $14 for groups of 20 or more. Audio guides are available for $4 members and $6 non-members. For tickets, or more information, visit www.hmns.org or call 713-639-4629.