ANDERSON – As director of the Gustav Jeeninga Museum of Bible and Near Eastern Studies at Anderson University, David Murphy has fielded inquiries from scholars from throughout the world who are interested in the clay pots from Bab Edh-Dhra in what is now Jordan.
“I get inquiries about this collection from Australia, people who have other parts of this collection,” the history professor said.
For those who actually wanted to see the pots acquired by the university in the 1950s, they would have to be accompanied to the basement of the School of Theology.
“It was not as visible. You had to really know where it was,” Murphy said. “Now, everyone who is here for those things can see this collection right here.”
Thanks to the opening of the new 750-square-foot contemporary gallery space at York Performance Hall that houses the university’s assortment of ancient artifacts, not only scholars can be exposed to the crown jewel of the university’s archaeological collection. The space is open to the public from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays and by appointment.
“I think it’s something that is going to enhance the community in a very meaningful way,” Murphy said. “You don’t have to be a historian to be interested in these kinds of things.”
Museum officials said they hope eventually to offer biblical archaeology courses based on the collection, which includes a Greek kylix or handled drinking bowl from 500 BC, pieces of Egyptian papyrus and glass vessels from as early as 400 AD.
Students are creating materials so visitors can conduct self-guided tours. They also are creating a Wikipedia page for it.
Though AU does not have an archaeology program, many of the objects contained in the collection are gifts from AU students and graduates participating in digs and other research in Palestine and other areas of the Near East. Many are originals, but the collection also contains replicas of major artifacts, including the Siloam Inscription housed by the Istanbul Museum; Hammurabi’s Code and Mesha Stele housed at the Louvre in Paris; and The Rosetta Stone housed at the British Museum.
The display of about 360 of more than 1,000 objects from a variety of cultures mentioned in the Bible, including Romans, Egyptians, Babylonians, Hittites and Israelites, is intended to help make visitors aware of the often unintentional give and take between the many civilizations of the Middle East, Murphy said.
“What we tried to do is group them in ways that shows cultural interactions,” he said. “It shows the sort of mix of influence out of which Christianity arose. It does help them better understand the origins of the Christian faith tradition.”
Tai Lipan, director of university galleries and permanent collections, worked with students since last spring in creating the space. She said one important element in creating the museum was to not lose anything and building past scholarship.
“It’s not going to be a sort of finished, static project,” the assistant professor of art said.
Lipan said many objects did not necessarily fit the context of the displayed collection, but university officials want to make sure they are accessible.
“I’m not a fan of storing things,” she said. “There will be nothing that we own that isn’t viewable. ”
Graphic design major Sloan Pedersen, 21, of Muncie, and visual communication and public relations double major Caroline States, 20, of Anderson, helped put together the exhibits.
Among the challenges were figuring out sizing and spacing for labeling, requiring the students to take measurements multiple times.
Though they have yet to get a real start on their careers, the students already have made a permanent mark.
“There was the problems of a long span of time and geography and trying to arrange things to make sense,” States said. “Chronologically might not work because they are from different areas, and geographically might not work because they are from different times.”
“It’s crazy. I wouldn’t have expected to have an experience like this while in school,” said Pedersen, a senior. “The work we did in school is never actually ‘made.’ This is actually a real thing.”
Pederson has her eye on becoming a residential interior designer following graduation. She said working on the exhibit makes her more well-rounded as a designer.
“That’s why getting involved with this space is so incredible for me,” she said. “It’s really cool to think about my work is still going to be in the school once I’m gone.”
Pederson said she also has more of an appreciation for what goes into exhibits when she walks into other facilities.
“You would never think about how much work goes into a museum.”