What is the connection between a rare blue stone from Afghanistan and Israel's national flag? What does it have to do with a mysterious snail that appears once every 70 years? And how do you present an exhibition on an abstract concept?
A new exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, in honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary year, traces the thread of the mysterious blue color, tekhelet, on its journey from the Mediterranean shores over 3,500 years ago through to the national colors of the State of Israel.
The sacred meaning of tekhelet took root in Jewish history when the Israelites were commanded to cover the Ark of the Covenant and Tabernacle utensils with tekhelet dyed cloths, and to tie tekhelet threads to the corners of their garments as a reminder of God and his commandments. The Bible mentions tekhelet alongside another luxurious color – argaman, the majestic purple, which was a prestigious color of great importance in the ancient world and a symbol of royalty and nobility. With the decline of the blue and purple dye industry, the skill required to produce these dyes was lost and forgotten for centuries. In recent generations, interest in the colors has revived after researchers traced the source of both tekhelet and argaman to murex snails indigenous to the Mediterranean Sea.
The exhibit presents the symbolism of the color blue in the context of the ancient civilizations, the sources of blue for both tekhelet and argaman, and due to their rarity, their imitations. It encompasses both the spiritual aspect as well as the mundane production processes with a rich historic display of archeological findings from the region.
The journey to the origins of the color blue begins with a semi-precious blue stone, lapis lazuli, which was imported from distant Afghanistan to the ancient Near East. The stone was prized for its heavenly color, and in Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Canaanite cultures it was associated with the sky, where the gods were believed to reside. The shimmering, deep blue stone was considered one of the world’s most desirable and precious materials. The Bible called lapis lazuli "sapphire" and it appears in the books of Exodus and Ezekiel in descriptions of God’s throne and footstool. In the Talmud, this sapphire stone (which is different from the mineral now called by this name) is linked to tekhelet, the prestigious color used to dye tzitzit (ritual fringes) threads and the fabrics of the tabernacle.
Due to the rarity and value of lapis lazuli, the ancients attempted to imitate it using artificial compounds such as Egyptian blue, faience and glass, all of which feature in jewelry and ritual objects displayed in the exhibition. Moreover, in search of bold and impressive dyes, the inhabitants of the ancient Mediterranean found a way to extract luxurious, fade-resistant pigments from the body of murex snails. Splendid dyes were manufactured by a complex process and applied to woolen textiles in hues ranging from blue to reddish purple –the biblical tekhelet and argaman.
Nobles and members of royal families flaunted fashionable garments of blue and purple as symbols of their eminence. According to the Greek historians, Cyrus king of Persia introduced purple garments to the royal wardrobe. The same mode of dress was later adopted by the Hellenistic kings and the Roman Caesars. Purple was considered the most prestigious dye in the Roman world, but Jewish sources attributed a greater importance to the tekhelet blue. In the descriptions of the Tabernacle and its utensils in the book of Exodus, tekhelet always appears before argaman (purple). It is recorded that the robe of the High Priest was "pure blue," and every Israelite was commanded to place a blue thread in the tassels (tzitzit) in the corners of their garments.
During the Roman period, when nobles and dignitaries wore tunics adorned with purple stripes, the Jews adopted similar styles. A four-cornered garment decorated with stripes and tassels known in Jewish sources as tallit was worn daily. With the decline of the blue and purple dye industry, the blue thread disappeared from the tassels, but the tallit, which had become a prayer shawl, was often decorated with blue stripes – a memento of the tekhelet thread that had once been part of the tzitzit. At the end of the 19th century, the leaders of the Zionist movement sought to create a flag that could express the identity and national aspirations of the Jewish people. The flag chosen was a white cloth with tekhelet blue stripes and a Star of David in its center. The tekhelet blue, which reminded every Jew of their connection to God, remained in the memory of the people and became an integral part of the national symbol of the State of Israel.
Out of the Blue showcases unique archeological and historical items of profound cultural significance. The exhibition will display for the first time two-thousand-year-old tekhelet and argaman dyed fragments of textiles found in the caves of the Judean Desert and Masada. Also on display:
a unique crown embedded with the rare lapis lazuli gemstone
the only known jar in the world that was painted entirely in purple, featuring royal inscriptions of Darius I, king of Persia, in four languages
fascinating archaeological evidence for the purple dye industry from Tel Shikmona and Tel Dor
rare prayer shawls and historic flags as Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary year.
Amanda Weiss, Director of the Bible Lands Museum says: "This special exhibition looks at the magnificence as well as the significance of the color blue in the ancient world, and ties the blue dyed threads mentioned in the Bible and extra-biblical texts, to the very design of the flag of the State of Israel today. BLMJ is proud to be the one Museum in the world that highlights the relevance and continuity of the roots of civilization in this region and their impact on our world today in a universal and non-sectarian way.”
From left to right: Amanda Weiss, Director, curators and Yehuda Kaplan and Yigal Bloch, Liora Barry, Deputy Director and curator Ori Meiri.
The exhibition displays important artifacts from the collection of the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem and objects generously lent by several museums and institutions in Israel, as well as by private collectors. This exhibition was made possible with the support and cooperation of The Elie and Batya Borowski Foundation, the American Friends of the BLMJ, the Lands of the Bible Archaeology Foundation, Canada, and the British Friends of the BLMJ, the Israel Antiquities Authority, private donors and with the support of the Israel Ministry of Culture and Sport, The Ministry of Education and the Municipality of Jerusalem.
The Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem - A Once in a Lifetime Experience
The Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem (BLMJ) is located on Museum Row, and the collection draws from the vast geographic area reaching from Afghanistan in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, from the Caucasian mountains in the north to Nubia (today's Sudan) in the south.
The collection dates from the dawn of civilization, focusing on the pre-historic era 6,000 years ago to the Byzantine Era, up until 1450 CE. Through interactive exhibitions, the museum also aims to draw parallels among the monotheistic religions and give visitors a better understanding of the ancient cultures in this region that gave birth to the Bible.
Founded by the late Dr. Elie Borowski and his wife Batya, the Bible Lands Museum's extensive collection helps visitors gain a more intimate understanding of the Bible by discovering the daily practices of people who lived during that period: how they cooked, how they worshiped, how they buried their dead, how they made weapons, and how they wore jewelry, among many other aspects.
BLMJ was opened to the public on May 11, 1992 and has since earned international acclaim as a universal center for cultural and educational programming. It leads innovative tours for school children, presents weekly lectures, and offers a variety of courses for adults. The Museum is a vibrant cultural institution offering creative programs for families and a rich array of activities throughout the year.
For more than 50 years, Dr. Elie Borowski, assembled a priceless collection of artifacts, which provide the core exhibition of the Museum. His dream was to create a universal institution where people of all faiths would come to learn about biblical history, the moral and ethical principles that are the foundation of the Judeo-Christian heritage.
The rare collection leads you on a journey through time, unlocking the key to the origins of writing, and revealing the daily lives and religious rituals of our ancestors. History unfolds through artifacts such as figurines, mosaics and more.
In honor of Israel’s 70th year of independence, the BLMJ is launching a new exhibition and an innovative multidisciplinary program, each offering fresh and up-to-date perspectives on the region and Israel — the Jewish nation and the start-up nation.
Out of the Blue | New Exhibition
The exhibition embarks on a journey which starts in the heavens, the abode of the divine yearned for by mankind throughout the generations. The quest for the heavenly blue leads us to the depths of the sea where we encounter an enigmatic creature – the source of the most brilliant and prestigious of colors. Winding our way through its shades and hues we follow the Tekhelet thread as it takes us from the secrets of the ancient dyers to the vibrant blue of Israel’s national flag. Opening: June 2018
Start Up Bible Nations | New Display
Expect the unexpected: An innovative look at the highlights of the Museum’s collections where you will discover some of the earliest entrepreneurial initiatives paired with modern Israeli innovations that are game changers in the world today.
Tours available from: May 2018
You are invited on a journey through time connecting the past, present, and future; from the days of the patriarchs through the formation of the Jewish people, all the way to the declaration of Israel's independence and growth as the world’s start-up nation.
The Museum is open 7 days a week!
Fully accessible for disabled
Guided tours in multiple languages including English, Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Russian, Hebrew and Arabic.
Special programs for families available
Tour lengths and topics vary according to the theme and the number of participants. Advance reservations are required and must be coordinated with the Museum.
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