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This spring the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University introduced a new audio guide exploring points of connection between the museum's holdings and biblical texts. The project drew heavily on the contributions of Emory's resident biblical scholars, whose forebears were the first to collect and contribute antiquities for the institution. Throughout Emory's history, the relationship between the museum and these scholars has been complicated and colorful—one that mirrors the larger interaction of the fields of biblical studies and archaeology over the past century.

The Emory collection was born largely of the efforts of William Arthur Shelton, the first professor of Old Testament at Emory's Candler School of Theology. In 1920, with funds from John A. Manget, a Methodist layman from Atlanta, Shelton traveled to the Middle East and purchased a number of objects that would become the core of the Emory Museum. The collection included a wide range of Egyptian antiquities, including several mummies and coffins, and about one hundred cuneiform texts (see, e.g., a late Ptolemaic mummy, the 11th Dynasty coffin of Nebetit, and an Ur III economic text from Nippur). Shelton also brought home several items that he himself unearthed in Babylon—most remarkably, a dedicatory barrel cylinder of Nabopolassar.

From Shelton's retirement in 1930 through the early 1970s, the collection grew steadily as successive Candler professors of Old Testament supplemented the holdings with antiquities purchased in their own travels through the Middle East. These years also saw an influx of artifacts from several significant digs, including Kathleen Kenyon's excavations at Jericho and Jerusalem. In gratitude for Prof. Boone Bowen's participation in her 1952 campaign, she sent the museum numerous items from Jericho. In subsequent years, she sent additional objects to thank Emory for its annual $300 gift to her research fund.

The museum also received items from Edwin Link's 1960 underwater excavation of Caesarea Maritima in appreciation for Prof. Immanuel Ben-Dor's participation, and Crystal M. Bennett donated artifacts from Buseirah for Prof. Maxwell Miller's assistance on her campaign.

The Emory Museum, as it was then called, resided in the basement of Bishops Hall, the Candler School of Theology's main academic building. Beginning in the 1950s, Dr. B. W. Baker, an archaeology enthusiast and biologist at Emory, served nearly thirty years as a volunteer director of the museum. Dr. Baker personally guided thousands of Atlanta school children through the holdings, which were growing increasingly diverse during these years. Supplementing its central antiquities collection, the museum accessioned a variety of items, including stuffed and mounted animals, rocks and minerals—even a washing machine, the first one ever produced by the Maytag Company. Along with these eclectic acquisitions came two objects of particular interest to biblical scholars: a neatly woven circle of briars with a tag bearing the evocative description "crown of thorns" and a coarse crystal of salt glued unceremoniously to an index card above the typewritten phrase "Crystal Salt: Found near the shore of the Dead Sea and supposed to be a part of Lot's wife." Today, Carlos curators are quick to point out that these items can be viewed only by special appointment, having long since been consigned to the museum's storage shelves. Indeed, some debate remains among former faculty as to how these items came into the holdings and whether they were in fact ever displayed in the cabinets of Bishops Hall. In any case, the presence of these objects in the collection and indeed, the very location of the museum itself illustrate the primary function of the antiquities at the core of the museum. From its founding, the collection was intended to be used in biblical studies courses to assist in the training of Methodist clergy.

The renovations to Bishops Hall in the mid-1970s necessitated the relocation of the museum to the Old Law School Building, located directly across the quadrangle from the school of theology. The move loosened the ties to Candler's biblical studies faculty, as professors from the college departments of Art History and Anthropology—who now shared a building with the museum—began to assume the responsibility for the maintenance and development of the collection. When Atlanta businessman and philanthropist Michael C. Carlos funded the renovation of the Old Law School Building in 1981, fully half of the structure (now known as Carlos Hall) was devoted to displaying the museum's holdings. Carlos also earmarked funds for the development of the museum's fledgling Greco-Roman collection. At this time, with the neighboring Art History faculty serving as both teachers and curators, Art History professor Clark Poling became the first paid director of the museum, renamed the Emory Museum of Art and Archaeology.

In its new home, the significance of the museum's holdings for the disciplines of art history and archaeology came more clearly into view. Because of the leadership of faculty curators and the university administration, the museum was growing into an important center of research for these fields, while simultaneously becoming a valued educational resource for the entire Atlanta community. These trends continued and accelerated when Carlos funded the expansion of Carlos Hall into an adjoining structure along Emory's central quadrangle. Designed by renowned architect Michael Graves, the Michael C. Carlos Museum opened in 1993.

International recognition came to the Carlos with its acquisition and identification of the Mummy of Ramesses I. The mummy was one of several purchased in 1999 from the defunct Niagara Falls Museum and Daredevil Hall of Fame, where the mummies had laid near "freaks of nature" like a stuffed two-headed calf, as well as an array of specially outfitted barrels used to navigate the Falls. After positively identifying one of the Niagara Falls mummies as Ramesses I, museum staff began the unprecedented process of returning the mummy to Egypt as "a goodwill gesture from the people of Atlanta to the people of Egypt." Now Ramesses lies in the Luxor Museum—his long journey to Atlanta and back recently chronicled in the NOVA episode "The Mummy Who Would Be King."

Today, thanks to the generosity of Michael C. Carlos and the larger Atlanta community, as well as the publicity generated through the return of Ramesses, the museum is well-known as the largest collection of Classical and Near Eastern antiquities in the American Southeast. With over two dozen full-time staff, the Carlos Museum has an ambitious acquisitions agenda and a full slate of educational programs. Its Shelton-Manget collection—acquired in the nascence of the Candler School of Theology for use in its classrooms—indeed remains a valued aspect of the museum. However, since the 1970s, there has been surprisingly little interaction between the Carlos and Candler.

The histories of these two institutions bear witness to the complicated relationship between the fields of biblical scholarship and archaeology. Near Eastern archaeology, first an extension of biblical studies, has developed into its own increasingly independent discipline with a trajectory distinct from that of biblical scholarship. Quite understandably, the past century has seen a desire on the part of many archaeologists to uncouple their own pursuits from those of biblical scholars. So too, the Emory Museum, which began as pedagogical aid for Bible courses, has transformed into the Carlos Museum, an institution dedicated more broadly to the preservation of ancient cultures and to the education of local and regional communities.

Yet the audio guide has brought Emory's biblical scholars back to the museum. This project—generously funded by the Cousins Foundation—seeks to address a question asked by many of the museum's patrons, namely, how do these artifacts inform one's understanding of the biblical texts and the world from which they arose? For answers, the Carlos Museum looked largely to that institution that had given it birth eighty-five years ago. In all, a dozen Candler scholars contributed commentary for the audio guide.

Along with a narrator (and the occasional well-placed sound effect), the voices of these scholars are woven together to orient listeners to the museum's holdings and their relationship to the biblical texts. The effect is that of a walk through the museum with a team of biblical scholars at one's side. For example, at the cylinder of Nabopolassar, Carol Newsom describes the function of the inscription and why Nabopolassar would have buried it at the foundation of his palace wall. She also informs the listener that it was his famous son Nebuchadnezzar who sacked Jerusalem, an act amounting to the central tragedy of the Hebrew Bible. In another stop, Maxwell Miller uses pottery from Kenyon's Jericho excavations as a point of departure for describing some of the problems archaeology has posed to the biblical accounts of the conquest and settlement. In the Greco-Roman galleries, Carl Holladay describes an intricately carved marble funerary urn of a Roman slave. Holladay uses the object to compare modern and Greco-Roman views of the status of slaves, with particular attention to New Testament rhetoric about slavery.

To provide a better sense of the guide's content and tone, images of museum artifacts and audio files from the project appear below.

Click to hear comments by Prof. Carol A. Newsom, Candler School of Theology.

Click to hear comments by Prof. John Haralson Hayes, Candler School of Theology

Click to hear comments by Prof. Luke Timothy Johnson, Candler School of Theology

Click to hear comments by Prof. Gail R. O'Day, Candler School of Theology

After a thirty-year hiatus, the Candler faculty has returned to the museum to rediscover a rich and largely untapped resource for teaching and research. A course has been developed for Candler entitled "Through the Museum with the Bible: Biblical Text and Material Culture", which aims to equip ministers and other religious professionals with the savvy needed to address the intersection of archaeology and the Bible. Courses such as this are particularly timely since news of ossuaries, Hebrew inscriptions, and other artifacts has recently found its way into popular discourse. In a sense, this course renews the vision of Manget and Shelton that the museum's artifacts might be used in Candler classrooms. Yet the course necessarily begins from a more self-conscious understanding of the relationship between the two disciplines—a perspective hard-won through the many intervening years of biblical and archaeological research.

The audio guide has spun off several other opportunities for interaction among museum staff and biblical scholars. The museum has mobilized Emory's biblical scholars to advise and write for an exhibit from the Israel Museum entitled "The Cradle of Christianity" which will open at the Carlos in June 2007. Candler faculty have slated coursework to coincide with this extraordinary exhibition, which includes several first century ossuaries with Hebrew inscriptions, art from early synagogues and churches, a commemorative inscription bearing the name of Pontius Pilate, and a stone inscription from the Temple Mount reading "To the place of trumpeting." The signature piece of the exhibition is a large fragment from the Temple Scroll, one of the few Dead Sea Scrolls texts to travel outside of Israel. "The Cradle of Christianity" is currently on view at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Cleveland, and the Carlos is one of only three American museums scheduled to display this exhibit.

Finally, the Carlos Museum is forging new relationships with biblical scholars outside Emory as well. With funds from the Louisville Institute, the Society of Biblical Literature has joined with the Carlos Museum and the American Research Council in Egypt to sponsor a workshop at the museum on the topic of Early Christianity in Africa. Individual sessions targeting an audience of clergy and museum patrons will focus on Christianity's development within Greco-Roman and Egyptian religious contexts, ascetic traditions in Egypt, and the Gnostic texts that have captured the public's interest in recent years.

In sum, the audio guide has ushered in a new period of collaboration among Emory's biblical scholars and museum staff. Over the past thirty years, the Carlos has emerged from Candler's shadow and has asserted itself as an important center for archaeological research and public scholarship. No longer the step-child of the school of theology, the museum has found a new parity with Candler and, with it, opportunities for partnership that are paying rich dividends for the Carlos, Candler, the University, and the wider Atlanta community.

Joel M. LeMon, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. The author extends hearty thanks to Drs. Maxwell Miller, Peter Lacovara and James Laney who provided indispensable first-hand knowledge about the history and collections of the Carlos Museum. Special thanks also go to Elizabeth Hornor, Director of Education at the Carlos and to Stacey Gannon, the museum's Assistant Registrar.

All images used by permission from the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

If any Forum readers would like to suggest or write a similar feature about their campus, please contact the editor, Leonard Greenspoon, at

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Citation: Joel M. LeMon, " Through the Museum with the Bible," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited May 2006]. Online:


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