Worldwide Exhibits on the Ancient Near East

In this section of the newsletter, we try to provide you with a current listing of interesting exhibits on the Ancient Near East. If you have any additions, please contact us and we’ll place them on the website.

The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago: ‘a Threatened Heritage’ (May 21, 2015 – Ongoing)

This exhibit is presented at a time when heritage is under threat as never before. In the Middle East and North Africa, political instability and conflict have displaced populations and added ever greater threats to archaeological sites, landscapes, and museums. Destruction and looting of archaeological sites is widespread around the world – not just in the Middle East. Urban growth and agricultural development are still the biggest global threats to archaeological heritage – a fact seldom covered in mainstream media. This exhibit documents threats to heritage and provides an outlook into possible ways to help prevent further losses and build a stronger future for the past. The exhibit is made up of a series of graphic panels interspersed throughout our permanent galleries, with a focus on Mesopotamia (Iraq and Syria), the Southern Levant, Egypt, and Nubia.

Curated by Jack Green with contributions from Akiva Sanders, Emily Hammer, Kiersten Neumann, Morag Kersel, Emily Teeter, Bruce Williams. With additional thanks to Gil Stein and McGuire Gibson.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: ‘Pattern, Color, Light. Architectural Ornament in the Near East (500–1000)’ (July 20, 2015 – January 3, 2016)

This exhibition features examples of architectural ornament from Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey that were found at sites ranging in date from approximately 500 to 1000. Few buildings from this period survive fully intact, but the pieces of walls, ceilings, and floors that remain shed light on the ingenious ways that artisans created sumptuous interiors and stately facades. Far from being mere embellishment, the decorative programs to which these pieces belonged were pivotal in creating memorable experiences for viewers, whether conveying the power of a patron or the depth of a religious concept.

Penn Museum, Philadelphia: ‘Sacred Writings: Extraordinary Texts of the Biblical World’ (August 15, 2015 – November 8, 2015)

In honor of the first visit by Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, the Penn Museum offers a special focus on the ancient Near East, Egypt, and the Bible Lands—with a limited-time-only display of rare artifacts from the collections of the University of Pennsylvania, on view August 15 through November 8, 2015.
A centerpiece exhibition, Sacred Writings: Extraordinary Texts of the Biblical World, highlights the many ways the Bible—and stories akin to those in the Bible—have been represented over time and across continents.

Treasures from the Penn Museum:
• One of the world’s oldest fragments of the gospel of Saint Matthew, written on papyrus and dating to the 3rd century CE, was once part of a codex (book). This fragment, written in ancient Greek, contains the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew (Ch 1. Verses 1-9, 12, 14-20), which begins with the lineage of Jesus, then describes how Mary became with child by the Holy Spirit.
• An ancient clay tablet in Sumerian cuneiform from the site of Nippur in Mesopotamia (now in Iraq), ca. 1650 BCE, contains the earliest version of the Mesopotamian flood story. A version of this tale becomes incorporated into the Epic of Gilgamesh, and tells of a flood that destroyed humankind; the story closely parallels the biblical story of Noah.
• Two folios from a richly decorated, illuminated Qur’an from Iran, copied and signed by its scribe in Hamadan in 1164. The copy is written with black ink in cursive Naskh Arabic script, and features the complete text of the Qur’an, with commentary in red script. The exhibited pages feature the Surah Nuh (Noah), with a mention of the Flood and Noah’s role as admonisher.
Treasures from the Penn Libraries’ Collections:
• An illuminated Latin Bible produced in Arras, France in the late 13th century.
• The first authorized Roman Catholic translation of the New Testament Bible into English, printed at Reims, France, through the efforts of English Catholic exiles, in 1582.
• The first complete Bible printed in the New World, a monumental translation of the Bible into the Native American Massachusett language, by Puritan missionary John Eliot, in 1663.
• A polyglot New Testament Bible compiled by German scholar Elias Hutter with side by side text in twelve languages—Syriac, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, Czech, Italian, Spanish, French, English, Danish, and Polish—printed in Nuremberg in 1599.
• A late 15th century Italian illustrated manuscript copy of Werner Rolevinck’s history of the world detailing events from the creation to the election of Pope Sixtus IV.
• An early 16th century Rabbinic Bible from the famed Hebrew printing house of Daniel Bomberg in Venice, Italy.
• A limited edition contemporary Bible from the Pennyroyal Caxton Press, 1999, designed and illustrated by Barry Moser.

National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen: ‘Classical and Near Eastern Antiquities’ (long term)

View artifacts from Danish excavations in the Near East – primarily from the ancient town of Hama in Syria, but also from Shilo in Palestine, home to the Ark of the Covenant according to the Old Testament, and, among other places, from Luristan in the rugged Zagros Mountains of western Iran.
Many other objects in the exhibition have come to the Museum over time as gifts, or have been bought or traded – for example, a small fragment of a relief brought home from Persepolis in Iran by the 18th century traveler, Carsten Niebuhr, or three stone reliefs brought back from the palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud, Iraq.