A grand opening for the Linda Byrd Smith Museum of Biblical Archaeology took place during Spring Sing weekend, April 13-16. The museum is located on the first floor of the McInteer Center for Bible and World Missions.
“We live in a time when people assume the Bible is fairytales, but the truth is, the Bible is grounded in history, historical events and cultural context,” said Dr. Monte Cox, dean of the College of Bible and Ministry. “We don’t believe what we believe because archaeology has proven it, but there are so many times when skeptics question some biblical fact and then archaeology affirms it.”
Dr. Dale Manor, museum coordinator, is the field director for the Tel Beth-Shemesh dig site in Israel. For more than 20 years, he has collected artifacts and replicas from Israel.
“I look for artifacts that enrich the understanding of the larger cultural setting,” Manor said. “Clearly the Bible is a narrative focusing on a particular point, but it unfolds within the lives and culture of people, and in my opinion, the more we know about that culture and those lives, the more we recognize that we are more alike than we are different from the standpoint of our passions, frustrations, and trying to figure out what life is all about.”
Linda Byrd Smith (’67) donated the initial funds to begin the museum. She teaches Bible classes for Arkansas jails and prisons, her home church, and other religious organizations. Smith has also produced videos for the Center for Christian Broadcasting about women in the Bible. Several weekends a year, she helps lead women’s retreats and conferences.
“As I taught classes about Bible history, it was clear that an understanding of the culture of the time helped us to understand God’s message,” Smith said. “I’ve always been fascinated with history of our country and the world but even more fascinated with ‘His-story’ — God’s story — and how it gives meaning to our stories.”
Smith said she visited Manor one day to borrow some of his artifacts for upcoming presentations when she noticed the other artifacts and replicas that he kept in his office. She wished others could see them as well and mentioned the idea of displaying the pieces on campus. Smith said she mentioned the idea to Cox, President Bruce McLarty and architect Mike Steelman, and she started asking other professors if they would contribute their archaeological findings.
“Dr. Manor was so willing to help organize the effort, and now I‘m excited it’s happening,” Smith said. “As he talks about his work in Beth-Shemesh— his research in archaeology — the Bible comes alive.”
In addition to providing assistance for building plans by Steelman, who has designed several campus buildings on, Megan Valentine (’11), a curator and registrar at the Alexandria Museum of Art, is the curatorial consultant for the archeological museum. She has provided design and content advice.
Cox said the museum will be a resource for students to better understand their biblical studies.
“I think the museum is a nice add-on feature for when we are teaching something in the Old and New Testaments,” Cox said. “I think it will be a living resource for teachers to take their classes through there.”
According to Manor, dues from student archaeology club members were once taken in hopes for purchasing a display cabinet but now have been used for the new exhibit as well as an artifact from Barakat Antiquities in Jerusalem.
Junior Evan Pratt, an archaeology club member, is interested in ancient culture and said the archaeology museum will help students gain a better understanding.
“The museum is definitely an educational opportunity in that they can go and see the artifacts that were used by people from that time period could have affected their lives and way of thinking,” Pratt said. “If we see what their world consisted of and the objects they interacted with, we get a better understanding of how the biblical story is true in normal life and normal people and how the objects we interact with, the artifacts we have around us change our perspective on the world, ourselves and everything else.”