Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art

Permanent Collection


Early Bronze Age (Canaanite)
  • 3200-2200 BCE
  • Cultural contacts with Egypt, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Cyprus
  • Fortified towns

As the Bible says, and as archeology confirms, the Jewish people came from outside of Palestine -- outside of Israel -- as invaders. They displaced to a large degree the peoples that they found there -- the Canaanites were the most prominent. The Museum owns several pieces of pottery made in Canaan before Israel became the home of the Jewish people. The Canaanites of that era lived in city-states and had a trade-based economy; often Egypt or another larger Near Eastern power controlled these cities.

Middle Bronze Age (Age of the Patriarchs) (Canaanite)

On the right is a seated terra cotta figure from Syria, Middle Bronze Age.

  • 2250-1570 BCE
  • 2000 BCE -- Beginning of Jewish history; Abraham leaves Ur
  • Period of wanderings of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
  • 1700-1600 BCE -- Joseph in Pharaoh's Court; Hebrews migrate to Egypt
  • Pottery shaped by hand
Late Bronze Age
  • 1500-1400 BCE -- Egyptian rule
  • Canaan under Egyptian dominance
  • Hebrews enslaved in Egypt
  • 1200-1100 BCE -- Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt, wanderings in the Sinai Desert, Hebrews conquer Canaanites (Passover); giving of Law at Mt. Sinai
  • Beginning of alphabet in writing
  • Philistines invade Canaan

The Bible preserves the only record of Israel's origins and the wanderings of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through the land of Canaan. Most scholars place this biblical record at the period called the Middle Bronze Age. The immigration of the Hebrews into Egypt is usually placed between 1700 and 1600 B.C.E. The Egyptians conquest of Canaan and the Hebrew exodus from Egypt into Canaan occurred during the Late Bronze Age (1500 - 1200 B.C.E.). During the final years of the Late Bronze Age, the Philistines invaded Canaan.

The Miller Museum Collection contains pottery that illustrates the international influences which characterized the Canaanite cities of about 1500-1400 B.C.E. For instance, the vessel with the tall, chipped neck that is pictured above was made on the island of Cyprus about 1400 B.C.E., used to contain some sort of precious oil and exported to Palestine during that period.

Iron Age
  • 1150-586 BCE
  • King Saul--first King of the Jews
  • circa 1000 BCE--King David
  • 975 BCE--King Solomon
  • First Temple erected in Jerusalem
  • Jewish material culture becomes distinct
  • Hebrew Kingdom split
  • Israel (north) capital at Samaria
  • 772 BCE--north capital destroyed by Assyrians, population exiled, "lost" tribes
  • Judah (south) capital at Jerusalem
  • 586 BCE--conquered by Babylonians, First Temple destroyed

When the Hebrews came into Palestine, they replaced the Canaanite culture with their own and the Miller Museum also owns pieces of pottery that are artifacts used by ancient Hebrews after the Canaanites had been pushed out of most of Palestine. The shape of these vessels differs from earlier examples.

The biblical account of the conquest of Canaan makes it clear that it was a slow, gradual process. For a brief period, the Hebrews were dominated by the Philistines. At that time, the several Hebrew tribes became unified under their first king, Saul. King David, Saul's successor, finally defeated the Philistines. He succeeded in building a strong Hebrew nation, but the cultural zenith of the Hebrew kingdom was reached during the reign of Solomon, David's son (about 950 B.C.E.). It was under Solomon's rule that the First Temple was built.

After Solomon, the Hebrew kingdom divided. Israel, the Northern portion, was destroyed in 722 B.C.E. The Southern kingdom, Judah, survived until 586 B.C.E., when it was overrun by the Babylonian armies. Jerusalem was conquered, the First Temple destroyed and the Jews taken into captivity. This was a watershed event in Jewish history, resulting in the first major dispersion of Jewish people throughout that part of the Near East.

Persian to Roman Period
  • 500-300 BCE--Babylonian Empire conquered by Persians under Cyrus
  • Jews return to Jerusalem, rebuild Temple
  • 301-200 BCE--Jews ruled by Ptolemies, Egyptian-Greek

Upon the destruction of the First Temple, many Jews were taken into other places. The Persians allowed Jews who had been taken to Babylon to return and to build the Temple again. The beautiful bronze Persian goblet shown here come from that era; it is embossed with a scene of the King of Persia hunting lions. After centuries the Temple was eventually rebuilt in the Roman period.

Hellenistic Period
  • 198 BCE--Ptolemies overthrown by Seleucids, Syrian-Greeks
  • 167 BCE--Revolt against the Seleucids led by the Macabees (war lasted 25 years) Jews recapture Jerusalem and rededicate Temple
  • 63 BCE--Judea occupied by the Romans, becomes a Roman province
  • Second Temple enlarged and beautified by Herod (Dead Sea Scrolls from this period)
  • 66-73 CE--Second Temple destroyed in response to Jewish revolt
  • 132-135 CE--Jews dispersed from Judea; continued Jewish unrest

Greek rule of Ancient Israel first fell to the Ptolemies, an Egyptian dynasty of Greek origin. In the 3rd century B.C.E, control passed to the Syrian Selucids, also of Greek origin. They pressured the Jews to abandon their faith and way of life in favor of Greek customs and beliefs. In 167 B.C.E., a revolt led by the family of Judah Maccabee succeeded in establishing Jewish independence in Judea until it was occupied by the Romans in 37 B.C.E. The victory of the Maccabees is celebrated in the Jewish calendar with the festival of Chanukah.

Roman rule began as a tolerant occupation. During the reign of King Herod, the Second Temple was enlarged and beautified. Quickly, the Romans became oppressive and two desperate revolts broke out. In 73 C.E. (designating the Common Era, corresponding to A.D.) the Second Temple was destroyed and, in 135 C.E., Jews were expelled from Jerusalem.

The Romans attempted to obliterate the memory of Jewish life in Judea by changing the name of the territory to Palestine, recalling the ancient Philistines. Jews were allowed to enter Jerusalem one day a year, to pray at the ruins of the Second Temple.

Objects such as this bottle from the Roman period reflect the cosmopolitan influences of that time. By then, the Jewish people in Palestine had reconstituted their state and their independence, but they were, at least in a material sense, also the heirs of Greek and Roman culture. The pottery that they used reflected Greek and Roman tastes -- as well as their own local style. After the destruction of the Second Temple and the dispersion of the Jews, what kept the Jewish people together as a religious and ethnic group was their devotion to the Torah in particular.