Daniel Looked on These Lions

The Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures

If you visit the prestigious Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, you’ll discover one of the nicer neighborhoods of the city. You may walk past a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, or the former home of the Obamas. You’ll probably come across the University of Chicago, and if you do, you may walk past the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures (ISAC)], formerly named The Oriental Institute. But you may have a hard time believing what’s inside the walls of this small museum.

We visited last week. I took this picture of Char standing beneath two panels with striding lions taken from the Processional Way in Babylon, dating from Nebuchadnezzar II’s reign (604 - 562 BC).

Striding Lions
Striding Lions from ancient Babylon

These are the lions described in a book in my library, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Manners & Customs:

The great Ishtar Gate, probably over seventy feet high, led into Procession Way on the north… In the original arrangement, a section of paved road over two hundred yards long led into the Ishtar Gate. On either side of the roadway lions (sixty on each side), symbols of Ishtar, in molded glazed brick, in red, white, and yellow, lined the walls…
Anyone who walks through this part of the museum can imagine himself as Daniel or Ezekiel walking into Babylon to meet Nebuchadnezzar.

But that’s just the beginning.

You have The Sennacherib Prism, dating to 689 BC, in which Sennacherib describes besieging Jerusalem in 701 BC (recounted in 2 Kings 18-19 and Isaiah 36-37). Sennacherib had multiple copies made; three survive, and this is one of them.

Sennacherib Prism
Sennacherib Prism

One of the larger displays is that of the part of the interior of a palace courtyard of the Assyrian king Sargon II (721–705 BCE), who is mentioned in Isaiah 20:1.

palace courtyard of the Assyrian king Sargon II
palace courtyard of the Assyrian king Sargon II

Side panels show Assyrian dignitaries, including crown prince Sennacherib, Sargon II’s son, who is mentioned 15 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.

panel showing Sennacherib of Assyria

There’s so much in this small museum: a tablet containing the Epic of Gilgamesh (1800-1600 BC), signets like the one described in Genesis 38:18, and two Canaanite gods (probably El and Baal) from 1400-1200 BC — the same gods that the Bible frequently warns against.

Canaanite gods
Canaanite gods

The Megiddo collection contains many artifacts from the time of Solomon, including a four-horned altar. It also contains a fragment of a Dead Sea Scroll, the only fragment on permanent display in the United States.

The Egyptian collection is unbelievable, beginning with a colossal 16-foot statue of King Tut dating from his reign (1355-1346 BC). The Persian collection contains many artifacts, some dating to the reign of Xerxes I, commonly identified as Ahasuerus, the king in the story of Esther. Many of these artifacts come from the time of Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah. For instance, the colossal bull head, dating from this time, weighs around 10 tons, and was one of two guardian bulls that flanked the portico of the Hundred-Column Hall at Persepolis.

Colossul Bull Head
Colossal bull head from Persia

Char and I spent a couple of hours working our way through the museum, but we hope to return. It’s staggering to be able to see a collection like this, and to see items that people like Daniel might have seen.

If you’re ever in Chicago, and you’re interested in biblical history and archeology, visit the Institute. It’s one of the world’s most valuable collections of ancient artifacts, and we loved it.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada