Exquisite figurative and functional artifacts illuminate the complex crossroads of cultures and religions that characterized the ancient Eastern Mediterranean region.
Sixty years ago Gustav Jeeninga, professor of religious studies and archaeology at Anderson University, established a museum on the Anderson, Indiana, campus to house his collection of original artifacts from the ancient Near East. Since then, additional artifacts have been added to the core collection that Jeeninga purchased and donated to the school; in 2019 the museum relocated from the basement of Anderson’s School of Theology to a new site in the university’s York Performance Hall.
“The new site provides some significant advantages, including improved climate control and greater visibility,” said David Murphy, professor of history at Anderson and curator of the museum. “The collection is now visible to everyone who visits the campus for any of the school’s many musical events.”
Before a show or during intermission, visitors can stroll through 4,000 years of history of the ancient Levant, a region that includes the modern states of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. The 362 artifacts on display include cookware, funerary objects, idols, lamps, weapons, and ancient texts, some from as early as the Bronze Age and others from as late as the region’s Roman occupation. Many more objects of lesser visual interest—neolithic stone implements, coins, arrow- and spearheads, and more — are in storage and can be accessed for research; Anderson students enrolled in Biblical studies, art history, drawing, Western civilization, and other classes make good use of the fascinating collection, Murphy noted.
These material remains illuminate ongoing archaeological research into the complicated cultural, economic, and political traditions that shaped the Near Eastern context of Biblical history, from the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Hellenistic, Roman, and Israelite periods.
“Taken together, these objects highlight the complex intersection of cultures in which early Christianity developed,” Murphy said. “The Jeeninga collection is a unique resource in central Indiana, gathering a rich range of striking objects in a variety that is unusual for a collection of such comparatively modest dimensions.”