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The James L. Kelso Bible Lands Museum

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"Search for Sodom Declared Not to Be as Easy as It Sounds," ran the headline in The Sunday Oregonian on June 22, 1924. Finding the artifacts discovered during that archaeological dig is easier -- they're on display in the James L. Kelso Bible Lands Museum, in Highland Park.

"Being in the Middle East and seeing these things come out of the ground" really brought the Bible to life for M.G. Kyle, whose Sodom-quest was the first of a series of expeditions sponsored by the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, says curator Karen Bowden Cooper. Instead of the monumental bas reliefs visible at major museums, these two rooms bring the everyday to life, from the Bronze Age to the Byzantine. You don't have to be religious, or even know the difference between a sherd and a shard, to find this stuff fascinating.

In the many cases are an early Bronze-Age tool kit, kitchenware and a pitted rock "thought to be a board for an early version of the Egyptian game Senet," says the label. There are combs, beaded jewelry and female figurines, Egyptian scarabs, plaques of Astarte and a libation tray, bone dice, a bone flute and slingshot stones, still seemingly Intifada-ready.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is the number of tiny pots, of all shapes -- barrels, tubs, bowls, dipper juglets, stirrup jars and every shape in between, that must have held spices, perfumes, medicines -- all without childproof lids.

Israelite artifacts only appear for the first time in the Iron Age, beginning in 925 B.C. They apparently made some of the same artifacts as those who came before -- except now they came back into the sun broken and rusty. But here the historical aspect of the Bible does come to life, from the display of "Everyday objects from the Time of Jesus" to a stone with a inscription -- describing the drilling of a tunnel also mentioned in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.

In the end, it is the accumulated effort of first making, and later reconstructing, all those pots that impresses. As one of the museum's past curators, P.W. Lapp, wrote: "We cannot help thinking that the people ... were as much slaves to pots as are archaeologists."

The James L. Kelso Bible Lands Museum Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 616 N. Highland Ave., Highland Park. Free. 412-441-3304, x. 2278 or www.pts.edu/museum2.html

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