Recently I visited a relatively small, but very good museum Bibleworld in Rotorua, New Zealand. It is one of the few places in New Zealand, where people can get information about Ancient Israel. While Bibleworld has several artefacts from New Testament times and the Ancient Near East, its particular strength is in the many models that allow visitors to visualize life in Ancient Israel and Roman Judea.
The museum starts with the Bronze Age, with a model of tent-life in the times of Abraham. This is based very much on modern Bedouin tent life. In addition several Late Bronze artefacts are on display, such as the typical lamps. A model of the Tabernacle gives an impression of the sanctuary.
A model of a row of Iron Age four-room houses depicts city life. The elaborate model of an Iron Age city under siege gives a good idea of ancient warfare. It is clearly based on the depiction of Lachish in Assyrian reliefs found at the palace of Sennacherib.
Other Old Testament models include an overview of Jerusalem and a kit-set model of the Jerusalem Temple.
The model of New Testament Jerusalem is more elaborate and detailed, also clearly reflecting the greater knowledge about the city in that time period. A good model of Herod’s temple is on display. A model of a 1st century tomb, both as seen from the inside and the outside, gives a good overview of burial practices. The model of a typical 1st century Galilean house apparently was the start of model-making at the museum and has progressed further.An exhibit of life-size mannequins in the uniforms of Roman soldiers shows the occupying force in Judea at the time of Jesus.
A large 3D map of Israel with important locations indicated by lamps gives an oversight of the Holy Land. There are dress-up clothes, toys for children, many informative signs, games, many more little treasures and even some locusts. There are also many replicas of famous inscriptions.
I was impressed by the amount of research that had gone into the models and clearly all the signage. The curators have a knack of sorting through the wealth of information available on Ancient Israel and presenting that information, which gives a good impression of the times. The museum does not dwell on the sensational, but rather shows that the background history of the Bible is real, that its stories do not take place in a mythical realm, but the real world, even though life at that time was very different from the life we know now.
While Bibleworld is not a big museum, an interested visitor should plan to spend well over an hour here and will come away with a good appreciation of the setting of the Bible.