The Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem recently unveiled a new exhibition, Finds Gone Astray, to great fanfare, but it has so many ethical and legal violations that it’s hard to know where to begin.
Last month, the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem unveiled a new exhibition, Finds Gone Astray, to great fanfare. The exhibition presents a heartwarming story: artifacts rescued when antiquities trafficking was thwarted over the last 50 years. The opening received extensive coverage in all the major Israeli news outlets. “Jerusalem Museum to Display Looted Near East Artifacts,” one headline read.
But, to those familiar with the Bible Lands Museum, the headline reads as something of a joke. The museum was founded by Elie Borowski to house his collection of unprovenanced antiquities. Borowski was an antiquities dealer and collector who was well known for his ties to the illegal antiquities trade. When the museum opened in 1992, his wife Batya — the museum’s co-founder and former director — openly admitted to the Baltimore Sun that the museum’s collection was stolen: “You’re right. It’s stolen.” Her defense was that the Borowskis hadn’t stolen the artifacts themselves, but instead had “saved and preserved so much of our history and heritage” by their collecting activities — “our” heritage, as if they bought (and then profited from) those stolen antiquities for us.
Despite this shady history, the museum has a quasi-official status in Israel.