Sunday, December 02, 2007

Tale of Two Museums

I ended up spending about half an hour chatting with Profs. McCarter & Tappy & also my friend, Robin DeWitt Knauth. On the way out of the Zayit session--the final one of the day, I also saw Prof. Collins again for a minute, & told him I regretted not attending his lecture. I asked how things went (knowing that scholars generally ain't fond of people promoting evidence that supports the historicity of the Bible). He said it went well, but Eric Cline hit him with a "zinger" during the Q&A. For those of us on his TeHEP (Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project) mailinglist, he described it in detail, & I'd encourage everyone interested in Biblical Sodom, or Jordanian excavations in general, to subscribe.

As I mentioned in the first part of this series on my day at the ASOR conference, I had originally parked in the wrong lot, & was happy that the attendant didn't charge me for the mistake. So as I left at the end of the day, I didn't mind paying the $20, but this other attendant felt compelled to inform me that I could've parked for free on the street 100 feet away from where I was parked. So in a hundred years or so, the next time ASOR holds its annual conference at this Sheraton in San Diego, remember that tip. By then the prices will have risen to about $2,000 & you'll thank me!

There were only 2 lectures I really would've loved to have attended on Friday (Nov. 16th)--the one by Yuval Goren I described in Part 8 of this series, & another by Oded Lipschits: "Royal Landscape and Royal Architecture: Viewing Ramat Rahel from Afar". But I decided to stay home, catch up on errands, & begin blogging since I had already heard one lecture by him, & was planning to attend a 2nd (& did) on Monday (Nov. 19th). So just for the record, I'd like to include the abstract here:

"Situated 819 meters above sea level, the site of Ramat Rahel is located on one of Jerusalem's highest mountain peaks. Excavations at the site showed that during the 7th-5th centuries BCE it was home to a royal and administrative center. The architecture of the site during this era stands out as one of the most notable examples of royal architecture in ancient Israel. Previous studies explored Ramat Rahel from within and dealt with political and economic aspects as they can be shown by analyzing the architecture. The aim of this paper will be to understand Ramat Rahel by viewing it from the outside, utilizing the knowledge, ideology and theology of society in Jerusalem. Employing contemporary literary sources we shall ask what was the image of the royal edifice in the Jerusalem landscape? Consequently what was the role played by the architecture of Ramat Rahel as it was viewed by the different sectors of the local society, be they local villagers in the Rephaim valley, simple city dwellers or the elite of Judean society? As we present different perspectives on viewing Ramat Rahel our analysis will strive to decode the symbolic massages embedded in the architecture of Ramat Rahel and thus provide a better understanding of the political landscape of Jerusalem during the Iron II-Persian periods."

The SBL conference began full-swing on Saturday (Nov. 17th). Here are the total number of sessions for each day:
  • Thu: 7

  • Fri: 87

  • Sat: 197

  • Sun: 213

  • Mon: 150

  • Tue: 19

That gives you an idea of how massive the thing was overall! Truly something for everyone! There were 6 lectures that interested me scheduled during the 4:00-6:30 window, but only a few earlier in the day. So I decided that this would be a good opportunity for me to visit 2 museums I've been wanting to check out. Jodi Magness was one of the people I very much wanted to see that day, & she was scheduled to give 2 papers, one from 2:15-2:35, & another from 4:00-4:35. I figured that if the museums didn't work out, I'd be able to catch her earlier paper, & if the museums turned out good (or slow), I'd still be able to catch her 4:00 one.

My first stop was the Museum of Creation & Earth History at the Institute for Creation Research in Santee, just northeast of San Diego. It was not a huge facility, but it definitely contained a huge amount of information, & many excellent exhibits. Unlike art museums designed to be casually browsed, each display at ICR entices you to think, & that's always a good thing!

The first part stepped through the 6 creation days, & consisted mainly of placards & posters--flat wall displays. For the 6th day, you can see a photo of the room containing some live reptiles & birds. On the opposite wall not shown in the photo is a magnificent butterfly collection--hundreds of them--plus many other insects. Naturally, my eyes dwelt the most on a large variety of scarabs & beetles. A touch-screen DVD played continuously, & I spent several minutes watching bombardier beetles in slow motion, & also my favorite critters--beavers (note to strangers that I'm an engineer).

At this point, I could tell that it was going to take a while if I proceeded at the same pace, so I kicked it up a notch going through the room covering the Grand Canyon & Mt. St. Helens. Here you could see numerous similarities stressing that the former probably occurred in a relatively short time like the latter (not slowly over millions of years).

Another room contained numerous replicas of famous artifacts like the Rosetta Stone all the way back to cuneiform tablets (along with this nice scale model of a ziggurat). As I was wondering where they got these terrific items, since I know they're hard to find, my eyeballs landed on the same M2D replica I had seen at the Spertus Museum in Chicago, cast from one found at Tell Erani in the late 1950s by Shemuel Yeivin, & published as a drawing in all subsequent editions of Zev Vilnay's "Guide to Israel". Near the LMLK handle was a rare replica of an YRSLM-star handle!

Not having any paper, writing material, or camera, I knew I'd have to copy the placards for the LMLK Research site, so I moved even faster past numerous other interesting displays on genetics & the hall of scientists so I could borrow something from the friendly lady at the museum's entrance. When I asked her who could tell me more about where the replicas came from, just by coincidence, she said, "Cindy Carlson, & you're lucky because she's right over there!"

Lucky? Shoot--I was ecstatic! (I've experienced much frustration trying to contact & communicate with other museum curators.) She turned out to be very helpful, & informed me that the replicas came from the collection of Dr. Clifford Wilson, who hosts the radio show, "The Stones Cry Out".

Well, she said she'd be happy to E-mail the placard text to me, & voila--I integrated it into the LMLK site today. All in all it was a terrific 90 minutes, & I'd encourage everyone who visits the San Diego region to visit it, & plan on spending at least 2 hours to skim its surface. They have many free brochures scattered throughout the museum pertinent to each exhibit. You can find the same literature on their website, but sometimes it's difficult to find something you're not looking for, so the nice thing about the museum is that as you're focused on a particular display that interests you, you can immediately take time to read more in the brochure, or take it home with you. They also have a fully stocked gift shop where you can buy books & DVDs.

It only took another half-hour to arrive at Balboa Park--a cluster of museums, parks, & cultural stuff in the heart of San Diego. For a Saturday afternoon, I was shocked to find that I could drive right up & find a parking spot practically on the doorstep of one of the museums. It wasn't the one I wanted, of course, but I had a pleasant walk--the weather was near perfection--up to the Natural History Museum to see the limited engagement of the Dead Sea Scrolls, featuring the copper scroll & the oldest known copy of the Ten Commandments.

I knew ahead of time that it might be crowded or even sold out, but I decided to wing it anyway since my main focus was the SBL conference. Sure enough, when I approached the ticketing area at 1:00 in the afternoon, the lady told me it was sold out for the next 2 hours. Naturally, I didn't argue or cause a commotion (because I'm such a gentle-spirited lad), but as I walked back to my car (& the weather was still lovely--no sudden storm clouds like in the movies), it really made me mad that the people in charge of the exhibit didn't accommodate people like myself. It seems so stupid to turn away someone who wants to pay to just look at your stuff! I can understand forcing attendees to buy tickets for scheduled times to regulate attendance, but why not allow others like myself to buy higher-priced tickets for any timeslot? Most tourists would come back another time, or browse one of the many other attractions for the 2 hours, so why not make an exception?

Tickets are $28 during peak hours. I would gladly have paid double ($56); I calculated that it would cost me $70 to make a return trip ($30 for fuel & $40 of minimum-wage drive-time). Plus I'm skinny, so I don't take up that much space! The concept behind forcing people to buy tickets is to limit the amount of people at the exhibit, but they openly admit that once inside, you can stay there all day (obviously most people won't), so it's really not about space limitations. Anyway, I'm not gonna dwell on it, because I certainly don't expect them to bend their rules over one oddball, but the bottom line is that they missed out on my $56.

By the way, ICR's museum has free admission, though I've been a regular financial supporter of theirs via a portion of my tithes for over a year now. I had also received a free copy of the Near Eastern Archaeology journal from September 2000 featuring "Qumran & the Dead Sea Scrolls" at the ASOR conference, so as the old hymn says, "It is well with my soul..."

I further pacified myself by focusing on Jodi Magness since I would now be able to enjoy a double-dose of her!

G.M. Grena

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