Our Trip to the Oriental Institute
After a 20 minute drive in several cars, members of our church and some friends boarded a Metra train on into the city of Chicago which was about a 40 minute ride. After disembarking the train we walked about six blocks through a nice neighborhood to arrive at the Oriental Institute, a museum on the campus of the University of Chicago. We arrives at about the time it opened (10:00 AM). It has a fine collection of ancient artifacts, all from the areas where early Biblical history took place. Many of these have Biblical significance, and that was where our main interest was focused.
The many examples of artifacts we saw included pottery from Egypt during the time
that Abraham and Sarah traveled there (ca. 1900 B.C.) and visited the Pharaoh (Gen. 12:10-20). We also saw figurines and many other items from Egypt during the time of the Israel growing into a nation there and the exodus under Moses (Latter part of Book of Genesis and the Book of Exodus - ca. 1400-1300 BC). These included children's toys with which the Egyptian and Hebrew children would play, and also spear and arrow heads which would have tipped the weapons of the army Pharaoh sent out to chase down the Israelites.
We also looked at altars that the Canaanites were using to worship Baal and other gods as Joshua led Israel into Canaan and conquered it beginning with Jericho (Books of Joshua; see also Books of Judges, Kings and Chronicles; ca. 1200 BC - 600 BC). We saw some household Canaanite gods El and Baal. Sometimes even Israel would worship these instead of Jehovah! (Books of Joshua, Judges, Kings and Chronicles). We recall the Bible words concerning king Ahab and Jezebel; "Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him. It came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshiped him. So he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal which he built in Samaria."(1 Kings 16:30-32).
We also recall the contest between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal on mount Carmel; "Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." (1 Kings 18:21)
We saw an altar built during Solomon's reign at His fortress city of Megiddo. Though probably used in worship of Jehovah, it was not Scripturally correct to do so, God had designated Jerusalem for such activity. "Now Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places."
(1 Kings 3:3).
We saw a casting of the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III which shows the Assyrian king receiving tribute from King Jehu of Israel. Though this particular tribute is not mentioned in the Bible, the Biblical historical record does confirm that Israelite kings did this (2 Kings 17:3). Some think Jehu as an usurper, was trying to buy aid from Shalmaneser III to battle Hazael (2 Kings 10:31-ff; 823 BC).
We saw several artifacts, including massive statues that were a part of the retinue that stood guard at King Sargon II's palace. Sargon carried away many of Israel into Assyrian captivity. This was in accordance with the words of Isaiah, who was contemporary with Sargon, as well as other prophets back to Moses who had warned that if Israel committed idolatry that they would suffer captivity. (Isaiah 20:1) 722 BC.
We were very fortunate to see the six-sided clay prism used as a propaganda tool by Sennacherib, King of Assyria, son of Sargon. Israel had been conquered, and Sennacherib set his sites on Judah. The prism brags of his siege of Jerusalem and Hezekiah, the King of Judah. He claims to have "shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a bird in a cage." That was true until God delivered his people. It does not mention the failure to take the city nor why. (2 Ki. 18,19; 2 Chron. 32; Isaiah 36-37) 704-681 BC
As is the case with most propaganda, Sennacherib's scribes seek to put the best face on their failure to take Jerusalem. They claim complete victory and withdrawal. Greek historian Herodotus says they had to retreat due to a plague of rats destroying their weapons. The Bible says it was the angel of death sending plague on their troops and many thousands died. Sennacherib was later killed by two of his own sons as he worshipped in the shrine of his god Nisroch (2 Kings 19:37; Isa. 37:38).
The Processional Gate in Babylon was also known as the Ishtar gate. Daniel, Shadrach, Meschak and Abed-neggo would have been familiar with this gate, passing through it frequeuently as they served in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar. (Book of Daniel; ca. 600 BC). We weerre able to see one of the original mosaic lions gracing the entrance of the gate. Daniel would have seen these lions.
Babylon fell to the Persians under Cyrus who permitted a remnant of Jews to return home and rebuild Jerusalem, in fulfillment of prophecy. Darius, a successor of Cyrus as the Persian monarch, continued that policy. We saw a column came from the audience hall of his palace, as well as several other items. You might recall that it was he who was tricked into issuing a decree that resulted in the aged prophet Daniel, now serving in the Persian court, being thrown into the den of lions. (Daniel 6:15-ff. ca. 520 BC).
We also saw some artifacts taken from the palace of Xerxes who was Darius' son and successor. He is also called "Ahasuerus" in the Bible. The palace was located at Persepolis. (Ezra 5,6; 4:6; 522-465 BC). One of those artifacts was a huge "Man-bull" which was originally one of many used to support columns in a hall called "Tripylon" in Ancient Persia during the reign of Xerxes.. You might recall that it was he who was displeased with his queen, and replaced her with a new queen, a woman by the name of Esther. What did Xerxes' new queen, Esther, think as she walked past these monstrosities to see the king without a proper summons? She was risking all for her people. (Book of Esther) 486-485 BC.
If you are ever in the Chicago area, and wish to see some of the tourist attractions, this is one that, because of your interest in Biblical things, you will not want to miss. It is not on most "must see" lists like Daley Plaza or the Field Museum or Sears Tower and so forth. But interested Bible students will appreciate this wonderful opportunity. Photos are permitted, so bring your cameras! For a photo essay of our trip see the following web site:
and follow the link directing you to Our Trip to the Oriental Institute.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 12.8; August 2005