WOW! A Visit to the University of Chicago–the Oriental Institute’s Museum and the Goodspeed Library’s Special Collection

I’ve been having a lot of “this is so cool!” moments lately; on Thursday, I had two big ones (or about 100 little ones) in one day. I took a trip with Maywood Church’s college group, Contact, to the University of Chicago for two very, very cool experiences. The first was an all too brief whirlwind tour of the Oriental Institute Museum.  Phenomenal! I’ve really got to make sure to make this trip again at least twice. The entire tour is full of “wow” moments for anyone interested in getting to see first-hand some of the
things that biblical authors and characters may have also seen first-hand.

Lamassu Statue from the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute Courtesy of the Institute for Library and Museum Studies Website

Take, for example, the mammoth Lamassu (winged-bull) statue that guarded the entrance to the palace of Sargon II in Khorsabad was one of the most awe-inspiring things I’d ever seen.  Flanking the Lamassu were wall reliefs (also taken from Sargon’s palace) depicting in life-sized form various royalty paying homage to Sargon.  Sargon was the Assyrian King who conquered the Israelite city of Samaria in 722 BC, bringing the Northern Kingdom of Israel to an end and carrying off its citizens into exile.  I imagine Israelite captives that have lost everything they own and been forced to relocate to the capital of their conqueror watching in horrible awe as Sargon’s massive palace went up.  Maybe exiled Israelite nobility had to pay homage to Sargon himself, passing between two of these gargantuan beasts on the way into the throne room.  And then, there I am, in Chicago IL, close enough to touch this horrible monument of conquest.

A Bearded Man/Bull Composite Creature from Persepolis (Iran), not unlike the Assyrian Lamassu; from the Oriental Institute's web page

Then, there was the Persian section of the museum which contained a massive restored bull’s head, which would have served a similar “guardian” capacity as that of the Lamassu.  and some ornate stone slabs taken from the walls of King Xerxe’s Harem, among other things.  In the book of Esther, you’ll recall, a good deal of the action takes place in and around the Harem and Palace in Susa (one of the defacto capitals of Persia, since Persepolis was relatively remote).  These aren’t the actual artifacts from Susa, of course, but I imagine Mordecai waiting to hear from Esther while standing outside of a Harem with a wall like the one on display; or Esther having to muster the courage to go into the king’s inner chamber, surrounded by ornate architecture with massive statues–including two enormous and hideous composite creatures flanking the entry way to the throne room and glaring at Esther as if to say “Woe to you if you enter here uninvited!”

Bull's Head Guarding the Entrance to a Royal Hall at Persepolis (Iran); photo from the Oriental Institute's Website

The second part of our trip was almost just as cool for a Bibliophile such as a myself.  We got to see, by way of a private viewing, several ancient volumes (mostly Bibles) dating back as far as the 13th Century.  I was so excited to come back and blog about this part, complete with some amateur videos of the volumes, just as soon as I could obtain permission from the U of C libraries to post some materials on-line.  Imagine my dissapointment when I got on-line to request permission to share my photos, and I read the following on the website:  “Please allow 6 weeks for requests to be processed.”  Well, the good news may be that the documents we viewed are in the public domain, so no official permission forms may be necessary.  I’m just not certain how this works.  In any event, I won’t be posting on this part of the trip untill I found out.

So, has anyone out there been to the Oriental Institute’s Museum?  What did you think?  Please share your experiences for the benefit of others.  There is so much to see there!

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About hjimkeener

Education: B.A.: Moody Bible Institute GCTS: Knox Theological Seminary M.Div.: Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Ph.D.: Baylor University Ministry Experience: I have served as a Youth Minister, Associate Pastor of English Ministry, and a pulpit supply preacher. Teaching Experience: In addition to teaching in various volunteer and professional ministry settings, I have taught as a University Professor (Teaching Fellow; Baylor University) and as a Seminary Professor (El Seminario de la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Bolivia). I have also given lectures and sermons in Spanish.
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