Ancient Near East Collection
The Ancient Near East collection, though small, contains a number of objects of significance to the history of religion. Smaller pieces include cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals with images of deities, and votive objects dedicated at shrines and temples. The cuneiform tablets, foundation cones, and a large foundation cylinder describing the rebuilding of the walls of Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar were digitally imaged in 2016 as part of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, an open access database of cuneiform texts in collections around the world.
Of special importance is a bronze cauldron attachment in the form of a siren (a mythological female bird-like creature) from the 8th century B.C. This attachment, together with three others like it, was originally fastened below the rim of the cauldron. Cauldrons like these were used to hold liquid refreshment during communal feasts. Nearly identical attachments were found on a cauldron in the burial place of the father of King Midas at the ancient Phrygian capital of Gordion in central Turkey (ca. 740 B.C.).
The Museum’s collection of five Neo-Assyrian palace reliefs are exhibited on the walls of the Ancient Near East gallery. One of the reliefs shows a barefooted kneeling figure with two pairs of wings touching the volutes of a stylized tree. These attributes, combined with a horned helmet, suggest that this is a supernatural being. Contemporary ritual texts describe similar figures as apkallē—small terracotta sculptures or plaques depicting protective spirits. An example of such a terracotta plaque is on exhibit in the gallery at Glencairn. These objects were buried under thresholds and in the corners of buildings to keep evil magic outside. In 2013 several of Glencairn's reliefs were included in an international project using state-of-the-art computer technology to create a 3D-reconstruction of the wall reliefs in the Northwest Palace of Assurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.)
The Ancient Near East gallery also features a scale model of the Tabernacle of Israel. Children from the Bryn Athyn Elementary School constructed this model in the 1920s under the supervision of Bishop George de Charms. De Charms and the students, with the help of skilled craftsmen, built the Tabernacle using the original materials and scale dimensions described in the text of Exodus in the Bible. The Tabernacle was a sacred tent that served as a portable place of worship for the Children of Israel while they wandered in the wilderness. It was divided into two rooms: the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. In the Most Holy Place, at the heart of the Tabernacle, was the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark contained the two stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments. The Ark was kept in the heart of the Tabernacle because the Ten Commandments were at the heart of Israel’s covenant with Jehovah.