Ancient Israel is the second in a series of books designed to present highlights from the priceless collections of the Oriental Institute’s Museum while highlighting the history of each of the high civilizations represented in our eight permanent galleries. Not only are these objects extraordinary for their aesthetic appeal and historical importance, but they are also exceptionally precious because they were scientifically excavated and carefully recorded; as such, they form a uniquely valuable resource for scholars around the world.
The treasures in the Haas and Schwartz Megiddo Gallery mostly derive from the pioneering Oriental Institute excavations at Megiddo the site also known as Armageddon. Because of its central and strategic position along the vital route traversing ancient Israel, Megiddo was the nexus for numerous cultural influences from the entire eastern Mediterranean region. Excavations through the many stratigraphic layers of Megiddo brought to light a fascinating sequence of cultural contacts and the development of civilization from the Neolithic through the Iron Age, chronicling the origins of cities in this part of the Near East, the Canaanite cultures of the Bronze Age, and the origins of ancient Israel. The gallery showcases many treasures, large and small. The Megiddo ivories are one of the most precious collections of objects in the Oriental Institute Museum. The statues of Astarte and Ēl exemplify the religious beliefs of the Canaanites, while the horned altar evokes key themes in Israelite history and religion. One of the few objects in the gallery that does not derive from Megiddo is unique the only fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls on permanent display in an American museum. The Megiddo Gallery encapsulates the history of ancient Israel.
The region of the southern Levant (the lands today encompassed by modern Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories) has always served as an essential land bridge connecting east and west and serving as a conduit for the movement of people, goods, and ideas. During the Bronze Age, as significant civilizations developed in Egypt and Mesopotamia, trade routes were formed which crisscrossed the southern Levant. Among them was the Via Maris, known in Egyptian records as the Way of Horus, which followed a coastal route out of Egypt before turning eastward to continue toward Damascus and Aleppo. The ancient city of Megiddo (Tell el-Mutesellim) held one of the most strategic positions along this corridor. Megiddo guarded the entrance to the Wadi al-‘Arah, a critical pass through the Mount Carmel range that connects the Mediterranean coastal plain with the interior Jezreel Valley, the most massive valley in the region to bisect the hill country that dominates central Israel.
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