The Israel Museum and a First Glimpse of the Old City

This morning I woke up early to make sure that I would be able to get to the Israel Museum by the time that it opened at 10am. After getting up about 7:30 and taking a shower, I went down to get breakfast. It was a great buffet with a variety of eastern foods (cheese from sheep and goats; helva; salads and vegetables; fish) and breads, as well as some typically western items like eggs. There was no meat, presumably to prevent anyone from eating anything that wasn’t kosher. While you eat they have live piano music and you can have champagne and some good fresh fruit juices. I tried to eat a heavy breakfast in order to skip or postpone lunch in the hope of saving some money. It was really good and I am already looking forward to it again tomorrow. After a good breakfast I was ready to head out.

The first hurdle then became how to get to the museum. In keeping with Oriental tradition, especially in hotels of the moderate to expensive range, they told me to take a taxi. When I asked about how to get there by bus, they didn’t know. That was kind of frustrating, but I figured I’d give it a try. Then I reconsidered. I decided I would go ahead and take the taxi waiting at the hotel. At the reception desk, they told me that a taxi to the museum would cost about 35 Shekels. So I hopped into the cab and we were off. After telling the driver I wanted to go to the Israel Museum, he asked “Would you like to go to Bethlehem” on the (accurate) presumption that I was Christian. I thanked him and declined his offer. Once I got to the museum, the driver told me it would cost 60 Shekels. The meter still said 0, since he hadn’t bother to start it. I told him that at the hotel they told me it would cost about 35 Shekels, which he jovially laughed off as a silly error on their part, and then quickly agreed to take 50 (I think he saw the police eying us). I got a receipt and got out of the cab, excited to finally see this inscription that I have read so much about.

I had arrived there a little early and decided to use the remaining time to review some of the material in the Tel Dan Inscription (the reason that I am in Jerusalem right now) before I got to see the actual artifact. You see, this is displayed in the Israel Museum, which is under construction right now. In spite of this construction, I was informed that the Inscription was on display in another portion of the museum. Having reviewed the book by George Athas, I was ready to examine the questionable portions of the Inscription.

When the museum opened, I bought my ticket (you get to pay the same price even though most of the museum is closed for renovation) and headed in to get my audio guide and go right out to the model of Jerusalem, reconstructed as it appeared in 66 CE. Here’s a photo looking at the reconstruction from what would have been the Mount of Olives:

Clearly you can see the temple in the middle. Also, the giant Japanese women in the background. The city looks pretty sparsely populated in the north, which can be seem from all of the space on the right side of the photo. I was wondering how they came up with this reconstruction, and fortunately I was able to satisfy that thirst for knowledge. The sources used for this reconstruction were literary (the Gospels, the Mishnah, etc.), archaeological, and comparative (i.e. they compared it to other ancient medieval Mediterranean cities that they have unearthed. This variety of sources unfortunately makes the reliability of such a construction somewhat improbable (they can’t really dig much in Jerusalem and the Gospels aren’t always really clear on where things are located), but it was at least nice to see such an extensive attempt. What one must commend is well is their pursuit to continue to update the model as they find more information. This is truly worthy of praise. However, since this model wasn’t really the main reason of my visit, I quickly moved on to the next area: the Shrine of the Book.

The Shrine of the Book houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex (the oldest complete [at least it was complete until Arabs destroyed parts of it when Israel became a state in 1948] Hebrew manuscript of the Bible). The Dead Sea Scrolls are probably pretty well known by now, and I had seen them once before when they came through North Carolina. At any rate, it was nice to see the examples they have on display here. The only biblical texts they had on display were a copy of the Isaiah scroll and a portion of Leviticus as recounted in the Greek tradition of the Septuagint. The Aleppo Codex was on display and open to the Book of Job, but I didn’t take time to find out exactly which chapter and verse. Seeing such amazingly old materials is always very exciting for me and I was thrilled to take about an hour and really look into the material. They also had some small displays on making parchment and other such fun things. This picture is the rough of the dome where the scrolls are on display. It was shaped to look like one of the lids of the clay jars in which the scrolls were found. In this vein, the Isaiah scroll is displayed on a giant reconstructed scroll. The handle on the top of the “scroll” was probably 1.5m tall.

After that, it was off to the Youth Section, where I had been told the Tel Dan Inscription was on display. It was not. When I got there, the workers looked at me like I was crazy, and all said, “uh, didn’t they tell you at the desk that this section was closed?” When I told them what I wanted, they didn’t really seem to be of the opinion that what I sought was available at all. I really have to wonder what this is going to mean for my appointment on Tuesday, and if I will actually be able to see this thing or if the whole trip was for naught.

Basically what this meant is that my plans for the day were frustrated, so I hand nothing planned to do. Because of the great weather, I decided that I would try to head down to the Old City and spend some time there. After finally getting some instructions as to how I could get somewhere in the approximate area via bus, I was off. I got out at Ben Yehudah St. and walked east through a shopping district to Jaffa St. (which was entirely under construction) and then south to the Jaffa Gate into the Old City. Located there is a tourist information booth. Hoping that they could give me a map of the bus lines, I entered. After waiting for some unkempt American youths (who had even less of a clue what was going on than I did), I got the chance to ask about my bus routes. “It doesn’t exist,” the woman answered with a big smile. What a pisser. Oh well, to Hell with it. As soon as I entered the gate (even before I made it into the tourist information booth), I had been approached by a man who assured me that he wasn’t a tour guide, but would love to show me his shop. After I refused him three times, he left me alone. This lesson I learned in Turkey. You must remain hard, but the people here respond better to friendly, but firm, negative answers than they did in Turkey. I took off down David St., which is a shopping area not for the faint of heart. If you can’t deal with people grabbing you by the arm and trying to pull you into their shops, you shouldn’t go here. It is also crowded and somewhat dark, as the whole area is covered. It wasn’t as crowded as I had feared, but maybe that was because it was Sunday.

Most of what they are trying to sell you is outrageously overpriced (though they will negotiate quite a bit) and the materials range from fine hand-crafted wares, to stereotypical middle eastern products, to just mountains of old crap. After wandering aimlessly for a while, I decided that I would grab a bite to eat. While wandering around I did manage to run into some of the Nigerian pilgrims I had seen upon arrival here. Some of them seemed to have had some difficulty with the merchants in the Old City; I witnessed more than one episode where a woman went back to a salesman and berated him for his prices. A distinct curiosity there was also the fact that the Arab salesmen would refer to black customers as “my brother” or “my sister,” but I never once heard them say this to a white person (other than other Arabs).

I found a quaint little “restaurant” not far from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I didn’t ask to see their health certification, but I did get to see their feral cats. While I listened to a French woman bitch about the misery that must be French existence to a French couple, I enjoyed by humus with falafel and Arabic coffee. It was pretty good and quite fresh. Then I made an attempt to go to the Wailing Wall. After wandering around for a while and making some wrong turns, I found the main entrance and was told by the police that it was closed (I had previously heard the call to pray from the mosque, and had been afraid of this). They told me that I could either walk all the way back to where I had been when I was lost, or come back in the morning, on any morning. That was what I decided to do. Since I needed a toilet and wasn’t ready to risk a toilet in the Old City (I really don’t see the need to poo where Jesus pooed, although some of the pilgrims here might disagree with me on that point), I decided to take a cab back to the hotel. I got in one and he told me that it would cost 50 Shekels. I said, “why don’t we just rely on the meter?” Then he answered, 30 Shekels since it is rush hour and there is lots of traffic. I agreed (according to my tour book this is pretty much standard price for moving around the city) and we were off. He immediately asked if I was Christian and wanted to go to Bethlehem. That seems to be a kind of standard greeting in Arabic here. After just a few minutes I was back in my room, having disappointed the second driver of the day who wanted to take me to Bethlehem.

Since I will be on the road a bit tomorrow and doing loads of walking with my tour group, I decided not to do too much more wandering today. I have gotten a first taste of the city and will be back in the coming days. Now I will most likely do some work on the Tel Dan Inscription in preparation for Tuesdays appointment. I may still go to the sauna, which I discovered the hotel has, and maybe go down to the German Colony for dinner tonight. We’ll see what comes.

Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Unknown

     /  10/12/2009

    As usual, your love for the French shows no bounds. One day you and I are going to travel the Loup river, and I am going to force you to like rural French people.-Nicholas


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Welcome to my blog!

    I hope you find the material here both entertaining and informative. Or at least one of those two. Or neither. Welcome to my blog!
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Follow Jonathan Robker: Exegete, Critic, Cook on
  • Archive

  • Twitter Timeline

%d bloggers like this: