London and the British Museum

We finally reached the third of the big three museums with Ancient Near Eastern collections that we had planned to visit. We spent large portions of two days in the museum. The museum is open every day of the week. Closing time is 5:30 p.m. every day except Friday when the time is 8:30 p.m. There is no required entry fee, but a request is made for a £5 (about $8.50) or more donation.

I have emphasized the crowds in the Pergamum Museum, and the Louvre. The same was true in the British Museum. The photo below was made a few years ago at the end of September. Once school is in session one should be able to find times without hugh crowds. Many galleries have natural light that comes in. Some photos are better with the natural light and others are better with the artificial light, depending on the glare on the case.

British Museum entrance on Great Russel Street, London. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

British Museum entrance on Great Russell Street, London. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The British Museum was founded in 1753 to house the collection of Sir Hans Sloane which had been left to the nation. It is now among the greatest museums of the world.

Each of the big three museums has a specialty depending on the areas where the country has done archaeological work. The Pergamum museum is loaded with material from Mesopotamia and Turkey. The Louvre has a fabulous collection from the Levant, especially Syria, and Iran (Persia). The British Museum is big on the Levant, Egypt and Mesopotamia. All three have nice Roman and Greek galleries.

I knew that the Cyrus Cylinder had been part of a traveling exhibit for a few years. When we got near the Ancient Iran Room I told my wife that I would make a quick run to see what was there. I was delighted to see the Cyrus Cylinder prominently displayed.

Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Cyrus Cylinder is important to Bible students because Cyrus is the Persian king who allowed the Judeans to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:  “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.’” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23 ESV; cf. Ezra 1:1-4).

Some artifacts that I had expected to see were not on display. Cases are changed and artifacts are moved around. Sometimes there will be a sign saying that the items is on loan, being photographed, or studied. In other instances there is no reference to the removed item. One significant item that I missed seeing in its usual place is the Babylonian Chronicle that gives the date of the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. Another missing item was the Standard of Ur.

A BBC report says that the 80,000 artifacts displayed in the British Museum amount to only 1% of the artifacts held by the Museum. On several occasions I have made inquiry about an artifact and been given a time when someone would be available to show it to me.

The British Museum web site provides information about planning a visit, and it also includes an online collection with photos.

8 responses to “London and the British Museum

  1. I have found the book helpful also. The review by A. D. Riddle may be read here:

  2. IMHO a very good book for visiting ALL of the above museums (and research/reference before and afterwards is Fant, Clyde E., and Mitchell G. Reddish. Lost Treasures of the Bible — Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

  3. Jon, Thanks for your contribution to this discussion. I am aware of the books by Mitchell and Masters, but have not seen the one by Edwards and Anderson. Hopefully I will get my materials updated, but they are available on the Scholarly page, under Museums, at the Biblical Studies Info Page.

  4. I have not made a count, but it might be a good project for someone.

  5. Absolutely. More about the Lachish reliefs in future posts.

  6. I strongly, strongly recommend getting three resources before visiting the Museum.

    First, simple and brief but hits some of the key highlights, Ferrell’s own guide on it. Wish I’d had it sooner. If you don’t have one of the books I list below, at least print this and take it with you, and hit the things he highlights.

    Second, get Peter Master’s book (it’s on Amazon), Heritage of Evidence in the British Museum. He takes you on a tour, and you could do a lot worse than to just follow his tour. This is, in my opinion, the best book for first time visitors. It is inexpensive. If you’ve never been, please buy it before going. You spend a lot of money to get there. You do not want to save £5 and waste half your day wandering and missing the things you really would have wanted to see.

    Third, Through the British Museum with the Bible, by Brian Edwards and Clive Anderson. This is also very good. If for any reason you can’t get a copy of Masters’ book, this is almost as good. I’m glad to have both.

    T.C. Mitchell wrote The Bible in the British Museum — Interpreting the Evidence. This is not written from the perspective of a person who believes in the accuracy or uniqueness of the Bible, but it still has some useful information. Just don’t assume his “interpreting the evidence” is worthwhile, but I have found the book worth having.

    I highlight some articles in my series that aren’t really covered in the books, so at the risk of tooting my own horn, I’m not an expert, but I’ve covered a few things that visitors to the museum might find interesting when they go. I intend to keep adding to the series. Mostly, the pictures I use are from the Museum’s own website (they gave me permission), so are much better quality than my own pictures.

    US taxpayers should consider, instead of donating at the door, making a tax free donation.

    I saw both the Royal Standard and the Babylonian Chronicle in July when I was there. The Museum’s website says the Royal Standard was due to go on tour sometime this year, and suggests it may not be back until 2016.

  7. I also follow the British Museum Blog. Today they posted an article titled: Teaching History with 100 Objects. I am sure that you could reference 100 great objects from the museum that help teach Bible History.

  8. Sweet.
    How about the Lachish reliefs?
    Surely a must see?

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