Monday, October 23, 2006

The Oriental Institute in Chicago -- a real treasure trove

Now that we're back from our Chicago excursion, I wanted to take a few posts to process the experience. Yes, it was a pleasure trip -- but my idea of fun is widely regarded by most as eccentric and goofy.

And so it begins -- we checked into our hotel and hopped a bus to Chicago's Hyde Park, where the Oriental Institute is located. I didn't realize that Hyde Park was also home to McCormick Theological Seminary and Chicago Seminary -- among other places.

Why this interest in The Oriental Institute? It is a branch of the University of Chicago dedicated to studies of ancient Near Eastern civilizations -- such as Ancient Assyria, Egypt, Israel, Persia, and Cush. Since all these locales are pretty important to the Bible, I thought that it would be a great place to pay a visit. I was going mainly to check out their exhibit on Egypt, since that is my current area of extracurricular study....I found a lot more than I bargained for.

After going through a modest collection of prehistoric artifacts, I found myself walking straight into the Assyrian gallery, the centerpiece of which are three massive bas-relief slabs from the palace of Sargon II (who incorporated Israel into the Assyrian orbit as a vassal state. His son is the Sennacharib who invaded Israel in II Kings 18). Central to this exhibit is a massive winged lion with a human head -- it took my breath with its immensity and majesty.

Then, I hurried through the Israel exhibit on Megiddo. I figured I'd be back someday -- our time was limited and I really wanted to see the Egyptian gallery. Right in the doorway of the Egyptian gallery was a huge statue of King Tutankhamen, towering over the entire exhibit. Again, impressive and breathtaking.

The Egyptian exhibit was detailed and informative. In addition to the customary museum work on funeary practices, the exhibit showed lots of detail on writing instruments, musical instruments, items of daily life (such as beds, furntiture, linens, etc), and various professions. They did a terriffic job of laying out lots of material in limited space. Easily the best Egyptian exhibit I've seen in North America.

The Persian Exhibit had more massive pieces -- huge carvings of a bull's head and of a Persian sphynx. I finally began to consider that all this majesty was to a purpose. The buildings of the ancients (not unlike the buildings of today) were created to impress -- as the common person walked by the palace or the courts of justice, they were supposed to be in awe of the power of the king. All these structures served to stir admiration, wonder, and fear at the might of the potentate who brought these buildings into existence. This is the kind of awe that scripture talks about when it talks about the fear of the Lord -- only more so.

All told, we spent about an hour and a half in the museum (we had to get back to the hotel to get ready for the show that evening -- more on that tomorrow). It's one great resource for those interested in culture in the ancient world. I'd heartily recommend it.

Soli Deo Gloria