Unique Hadrian exhibit at the Israel Museum

The Roman Emperor Hadrian (Publius Aelius Hadrianus) ruled the Empire from A.D. 117 to 138. Numerous statues of him are displayed in museums spread across the region. Most of them are made of stone, but there are three unique bronze statues of the Emperor. These are on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem until June. They come from the Israel Museum, the Louvre, and the British Museum.

Ilan Ben Zion says that Hadrian,

…was venerated by contemporary Roman historians as one of the Five Good Emperors: a just ruler, a peacemaker and great architect of the empire. The wall he famously constructed along the border with Scotland bears his name to this day. But in Jewish memory, Hadrian is best known as a brutal dictator who crushed the Bar Kochba revolt in 135, slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Jews, rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city, banned circumcision, and changed the name of Judaea to Palaestina. (The Times of Israel, Dec. 22, 2015)

I have seen all three of these pieces, but look forward to seeing them displayed together in the spring.

The most magnificent statue is the one of Hadrian discovered at Tel Shalem (Shalim) a few miles south of the Beth Shean (Beit She’an) in the Jordan Valley. Tel Shalem is thought to be the Salim mentioned in John 3:23.

Bronze statue of Hadrian discovered in a Roman army camp of the Sixth Roman Legion. He is portrayed as the supreme military commander. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bronze statue of Hadrian discovered in a Roman army camp of the Sixth Roman Legion at Tel Shalem. He is portrayed as the supreme military commander. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Only the head remains of the other two statues. The first of these was acquired by the Louvre in 1984.

Bust of Hadrian thought to have come from Egypt. Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bust of Hadrian thought to have come from Egypt. Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next bronze head comes from a larger than life-size statue that is thought to have stood in a public area of Roman London. It commemorates Hadrian’s visit to Britain in A.D. 122. It was found in the River Thames near London Bridge in 1834. This head is displayed in a room of Roman statues in the British Museum, but I have never known it to be open. I arranged to visit the room one time and have a photo but it is not as sharp as I prefer. This photo comes from Following Hadrian here. I refer you to that blog and Twitter feed for everything Hadrian.

Bronze Head of Hadrian. Following Hadrian.

Bronze head from a statue of the Emperor Hadrian, Romain Britain, British Museum
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Richard Batey writes about Hadrian’s relation to Jerusalem:

Hadrian visited Jerusalem in A.D. 129–130 and rebuilt the city on the plan of a Roman military camp. On the Temple Mount he erected a temple dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus and nearby a second temple honoring the goddess Aphrodite. Hadrian renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina, a designation that combined one of his names with Rome’s Capitoline triad: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Hadrian’s actions and policies provoked a second revolt by the Jews in A.D. 132. Led by Bar Kokhba, the Jewish troops succeeded in taking control of Jerusalem briefly but were soon (A.D. 135) crushed by the superior Roman army. After this decisive defeat it became a capital offense for a Jew to set foot in Jerusalem. (Batey, R. A. “Jerusalem.” Ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter. Dictionary of New Testament background: a compendium of contemporary biblical scholarship 2000 : 561. Print.)

Shmuel Browns, Israel Tour Guide, includes a beautiful photo of the Tel Shalem bust currently on display (outside the case?), and he presents another opinion about the rebuilding of the city. He also includes a list of some other things related to Hadrian that can be seen in and around Jerusalem. See his post here.

Information about the exhibit at the Israel Museum may be found here.

One response to “Unique Hadrian exhibit at the Israel Museum

  1. Thanks Ferrell. The bust of Hadrian is still “inside the case” at the Israel Museum exhibit, I just took the photo to minimize that it’s behind glass.

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