Religion Trumps History at Oriental Institute Museum

Strange news about the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago, from Diana Muir at the History News Network:

Visitors can see the sixteen foot tall human-headed, winged, guardian bull from the palace of Sargon II, the astonishing giant head of a bull made of polished black that guarded the entrance to the Hundred-Column Hall at Persepolis, and an almost equally remarkable bit of Islamic propaganda – written by the museum staff and posted in the section on ancient Megiddo – in which history is rewritten and Mohammed actually travels to Jerusalem.

The alleged “propaganda” is a plaque, which can be seen at Paleojudaica. Muir objects to its claim that Islam “grew” in the Southern Levant, and the following:

The golden days of Israel and Judah ended at the hands of the Babylonians with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 586 B.C. and subsequent mass exile of the Israelites. Although many returned to the Southern Levant under the rule of the Persians (529-332BC), they would not soon regain their autonomy. [Muir leaves out the following sentence: The city of Megiddo faded from prominence after 332 BC]

But Israelite religion continued to develop.

This glosses over the entire Second Temple period, and one has to suspect that this is for ideological reasons concerning opposition to modern Israel. The plaque goes on to assert that:

…Six centuries later [after Christ], the Prophet Mohammed would visit Jerusalem where he would experience his Night Flight and Ascension to heaven.

Muhammad’s night journey to Jerusalem, of course, is a supernatural belief within Islam. Presenting it as historical fact in this context is as out-of-place as writing “Jerusalem was the place where Jesus rose again from the dead”.

However, Muir has an agenda of her own, and she apparently believes that ancient history should be put to the service of modern politics:

Since one of the strongest arguments that can be made by a national liberation movement is that the group claiming a right to sovereignty has a history of sovereignty, eliminating ancient Jewish kingdoms from the historical narrative reduces the historically based claim to legitimacy of the modern Jewish state, with real political implications.

Hardly. The “strongest argument” of a national liberation movement is that its goals represent the general will of a particular group, and that its aims do not include the oppression or dispossession of others. That’s the context in which to consider the rights and wrongs of the Israel-Palestinian conflict; events from thousands of years ago are neither here nor there. Unfortunately, neither Muir nor the plaque writer appear to understand this.

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