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June 13, 1986 - Image 108

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-06-13

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Friday, June 13, 1986


The Jewish News is •


Jerusalem's Fascinating
Rockefeller Museum


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For many, the only familiar
thing about the Rockefeller
Museum is the name in its
title. And yet the Rockefeller,
formerly the Palestinaian
Archaeological Museum, is the
oldest archaeological museum
in the land that is now called
Israel. Part of the reason for
the lack of limelight is its
illustrious, newer relative, The
Israel Museum; part is its loca-
tion in East Jerusalem; and
part may be ignorance of its
exciting history.
The museum was made pos-
sible by John D. Rockefeller
Jr. In a letter to the High Com-
missioner of the Government
of Palestine in October, 1927,
he pledged up to $2 million
toward the cost of the building,
equipping and endowing a
museum for local antiquities.
The Palestine government
donated the site, 10 acres of
land facing the northeast cor-
ner of the Old City walls.
Known at the time as The
Sheik's Vineyard, it had be-
longed to the Khalili family for
two and a half centuries. A
200-year old pine tree that the
sheik had brought as a seed-
ling from Hebron and that
Rockefeller specifically asked
be saved can still be found in
the grounds. Two hundred and
fifty olive trees, all 50 to 100
years old, were transplanted
from other parts of the site and
together with trees brought
from Bethlehem, they form a
surviving ring encircling the
museum grounds.
The designer of the museum
was Austen St. Barbe Harri-
son, a government architect of
16 years. Living in Jerusalem,
he had a feeling for the local
architecture and successfully
incorporated a number of
aspects into his design. The
building is made of local white
limestone specially chosen and
brought from a quarry near
Jericho. Above the main en-
trance is a large octagonal
tower built to withstand earth-
quakes and to serve as an
observation point for tourists.
Also in line with local style,
the museum is built around a
central rectangular courtyard,
containing a pool, bordered
by a lavender hedge. On the
arches of the cloisters sur-
rounding the pool are panels in
high relief done, "in situ," by
sculptor and letter artist Eric
Gill. The illustrations repre-
sent people from countries who
have influenced the area's
culture and history, such as
the Canaanites, Phoenicians
and Crusaders.
Unusual for the period, the
museum is only one story. The
exhibition galleries are ar-
ranged around the central
courtyard with octagonal
rooms, now used for special ex-
hibits, at the four corners.
They provide a visual sum-
mary of the pre-history and
history of the country. To

make the material easily com-
prehensible to lay people, the
finds are arranged chrono-
logically and not by excavation
site, as is sometimes done.
The archaeological exhibits
start with remains dating from
Palaeolithic times (500,000
BCE to 10,000 BCE), with a
skeleton from a cave on Mt.
Carmel from the tenth mil-
lenium BCE. Ossuaries and
pottery from the Neolithic
period, 5,000 to 3,000 BCE,
follow. Pottery, seals, pen-
dants, jewelry from the Early
Bronze period through the
Iron Age, Roman and Hellen-
istic periods fill the glass
display cases.
Rooms at the corner of each
North and South gallery house
special displays; architectural
decorative fragments from
Hisham's Palace near Jericho
from the first half of the eighth
century CE; lintels from the
Church of the Holy Sepul-
cher, carved in marble by
Crusaders showing scenes
from the life of Jesus; carved
wood panels from the El Aqsa
mosque in Jerusalem; and
mosaic tile synagogue inscrip-
tions from all over the country.
The current special temporary
exhibit, "From the Depths of
the Sea," shows cargoes of an-
cient wrecks found using the
relatively new techniques of
underwater archaeology.
The building also has rooms
for collecting, sorting, repair-
ing and photographing the ob-
jects on display and a records
office, library and lecture hall.
The galleries are run by The
Israel Museum and the rest of
the building space is taken up
by offices of the Department of
Antiquities, part of the Min-
istry of Culture and Education.
Throughout the building,
words marking exits, cloak-
rooms, halls and galleries are
engraved in the walls in three
languages — Arabic, Hebrew
and English. During Jordanian
rule, the Hebrew was plastered
over but today the printing --
even Government of Pales-
tine, on one of the entrances —
is clearly visible.
Since its creation, the mu-
seum has been witness to
many political changes, and
with its facade pockmarked by
bullet holes, it has not re-
mained unscathed. Initially, it
was part of the Department of
Antiquities of the British
School of Archaeology in Jer-
usalem and housed under its
roof. The department had been
charged with establishing a
museum, the object of which,
according to its keeper, J.H.
Iliffe in 1930, was "the collec-
tion, conservation arid preser-
vation of knowledge concern-
ing the past of man in Pales-
tine whether by books, written
documents and records, or the
actual remains of his handi-
In June 1930, the museum's


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