On the first day of HMNS…a new exhibit debuts

Ring-oil lamp, 1st century B.C.E
On display in The Birth of Christianity:
A Jewish
Story
starting today.

The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story, a new special exhibition, makes its world premiere today, on the first day of HMNS. And that’s just the beginning – we’ve got 11 more days coming up, with great ideas for family fun this holiday season. You can check them all out now, at our spiffy new 12 Days of HMNS web site – or watch them roll out here until Christmas Eve.

For the first day of HMNS, we’re featuring our brand new exhibition, The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story – opening today. In the exhibit, you’ll embark on an adventure that spans the three centuries leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ, and the first decades after that – as the new religion of Christianity began to take shape.

Through a diverse array of artifacts, experience Jewish life during the reigns of Alexander the Great and the infamous King Herod. Return to the days of the Jewish War against the Romans and the stirring story of Masada, and learn the significance of Jewish burial customs. Finally, observe the dawn of the Christian Era. Along the way, marvel at ancient scrolls, objects and artifacts – such as one of the original Dead Sea Scrolls; original New Testament manuscripts, including an excerpt from the Gospel of Luke that contains the Christmas story; a large-scale, stone model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period; and much more.

We’ve also developed an optional audio guide to go along with the exhibit, that allows you to explore what you see in greater depth. The voice of Flavius Josephus, a 1st century Jewish historian who survived the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem and lived during the development of early Christianity, is your guide through the exhibit. You can hear a preview of the audio guide here.

And, in case you missed it in our earlier post – in the video below, you can see guest curator Matthias Henze discuss how the artifacts gathered in this premiere exhibition are “the closest we can get to the historical Jesus,” how important it is to understand the “Jewish roots of early Christianity;” and the many commonalities these two religious traditions share to this day.

Learn more about The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story:
Ancient artifacts are delicate – but they’re sometimes very heavy. See how the exhibit came together.
Take a preview Walk Through the Exhibition online.
Get a sneak-listen of the new audio guide, developed specially for this exhibition, and based on the latest archaeological evidence.

Building an exhibit-The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story

 Ossuary used in Jewish funeral practices
1st century B.C.E
On display in The Birth of Christianity:
A Jewish
Story
starting tomorrow.

Registrars have many duties and wear many hats but one of my favorite registration duties is condition reporting.  Which is exactly what it sounds like; I report what the condition is of an object. 

Last week, I had the privilege of working with the staff from the Hebrew University on the installation of our new exhibit, The Birth of Christianity:  A Jewish Story. As each crate was opened and its artifacts unpacked, HMNS Collections staff worked along side of the Hebrew University staff checking every detail of the artifacts to assure they had survived the long journey from Jerusalem intact and unchanged.  So I’ve really been up close and personal with a lot of antiquities lately.  (Ossuaries are even cooler when you can see the chisel marks.) 

Once we agreed that all was good, it was time for the objects to be moved into the cases for the duration of the exhibit.  The movement and positioning of high-value artifacts that are fragile or delicate or heavy or any combination of the three is a tricky thing, always left to professionals.  And that’s what I really want to tell you about: the guys.

Every museum has them, formally called exhibition preparators, more commonly (and affectionately) known as the exhibit guys.  You know that expression ‘jack of all trades, master of none’?  Yeah, that doesn’t apply to our guys.  If the exhibit designer and the curator want something to look just so, it’s the guys that make it happen.  They can build temporary walls and exhibit cases, paint ‘em any color; hang signage, labels, artwork; and wire up the electronic stuff too. They pretty much do it all and do it well.  I’ve been working with and watching them for years through many, many exhibit installations but the best is watching them handle the objects.

 These are bottles, plates, amphoriskos, beakers,
modiolus (measuring-cup) and unguentarium
created during the 1st century CE
On display in The Birth of Christianity:
A Jewish
Story
starting tomorrow.

For The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story, all the guys moved large heavy crates right where we needed them in the gallery.  I observed Carlos and Victor gently placing delicate Roman glass and slender metal implements into their exhibit case.  Glen, Mike, Carlos, and Victor lifted thousand year old stone ossuaries out of crates, onto tables where we examined them, then smoothly moved them to their exhibit platforms.  While all this movement of artifacts was going on they communicated verbally and visually.  Their physical movements were steady, exact, cautious, sure-footed, and rarely wasted.  Verbal communication was usually short and direct, mostly in English with a little Spanish thrown in.  However, the patter can become jokey and teasing once an object, crate, or case bonnet is secure and everyone relaxes for a minute or two.  Mike and Carlos are usually the instigators of this behavior.

 Some of “The Guys” lower a 2000 yr old bath tub
that weighs one and a half tons into the exhibit.
You can see it, starting tomorrow in
The Birth of Christianity:A Jewish Story.

In every exhibit, there’s at least one ‘hoo-boy-this-is- HEAVY’ object.  For this particular exhibit, it was the stone tub.  I haven’t a clue what its actual weight is, the Hebrew University staff and the guys could certainly tell you, but it needed some special equipment and handling by the guys. 

So, they brought in a gantry that they’ve rigged themselves.  It breaks down into a few large parts, a large long I-beam at top, triangular sides with wheels, so they can easily transport and assemble it where it’s needed.  There are also differently sized shackles and rope chains that are kept in a big wooden box Glen made.  Included in all this are straps of strong but lightweight material that can wrap around an object to steady it while being moved.  So the guys expertly got everything in place, always moving slowly and carefully.  The tub got lifted out of its crate and the gantry moved over to the exhibit platform.  Then oh so slowly, slowly, cautiously, gingerly the tub was lowered to its exact spot.  Well, ok, exact spot more or less.

That’s a really brief description of a process that took quite a bit of the morning.  Those of us not directly involved with the movement (like your truly) stood way the heck outta of the way but ready to rush in if needed.  The guys were doing their standard excellent job but we sorta held our breath from time to time anyway.  It’s not so much that a moment like that is tense as it is that everyone is really hyper-focused on what’s happening.  But it is a wonder to behold the guys in action, way more entertaining than most sports.  And I shake my head in amazement most every time I watch them.  Thanks guys!

Special thanks to Eydie Rojas for the installation photo.