Goddess face

The officious guards did not stop me taking photographs, only taking good ones. I held my camera furtively at waist height, and stood at angles where the guards I had observed could not see. But I want a record of this exhibition, which included a Hermaphroditus and some very feminine Dionysuses.

Some of these are Roman copies of Greek originals, some are modern copies, such as Athena:

Goddess Athene

Venus 1Venus 2

See how the light on one statue looks so different from different sides.

Goddess washing

You can see the discus thrower’s technique in the snap of his hips:

The discus thrower

A teacher commented on the vases depicting the Labours of Hercules: “See the blood spouting from his neck”. “How to engage teenage boys,” I commented, and she laughed.

The Bible as History

Even where the Bible appears to be giving a historical record, it is more concerned with theology. Consider the story of Omri in I Kings 16.

Omri came to power after the prophet Jehu predicted the destruction of the house of King Baasha because he worshiped idols and displeased the Lord. Baasha’s son Elah reigned for two years, but then his general Zimri murdered him and all his family, in accordance with Jehu’s words and because of the sins of Baasha and Elah. Omri laid siege to the capital, and Zimri committed suicide. Omri reigned for twelve years, and built Samaria, the capital of Israel, but sinned by worshipping worthless idols. His twelve year reign is worth just four verses, and his son Ahab follows him as King. Ahab’s reign fills the rest of the book, six more chapters, mostly concerned with the acts of the prophet Elijah.

Yet as well as the new capital, Omri may be responsible for other building, and Israel was known for generations after as the “House of Omri,” for example on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III. He was a far more significant King than I Kings would suggest. And while he reigned in the early ninth century BC, I Kings was written during the exile in Babylon, in the sixth century BC. It forms one book with II Kings and the books of Samuel, compiled by the compiler of Deuteronomy, and is concerned to show how Judah was exiled because of disobedience to the Lord. And while it gives precise detail of the names and dates of the Kings of Israel and Judah, those dates disagree with other sources.

I Kings minimises the achievements of Omri because he did not obey the Lord. In the world view of the Deuteronomist, kings who obey the Lord prosper, those who disobey do not.

I am fascinated to see a six-pointed star by the head of Jehu son of Omri on the Obelisk.

Of course the Bible is not history. Where it tells historical stories, these are inaccurate, and details are changed to make the theological points. The acts of prophets are more important than those of kings.

The Bible also contains poetry in praise of God, in Psalms and Lamentations and much of the Prophets; philosophy of life in the Wisdom literature; and stories, in Job and Jonah. No, Jonah was never swallowed by a sea creature and regurgitated onto a beach near where God wanted him to go. That does not detract from the value of the story.