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A Semitic Museum.


The lack of a Semitic museum in Harvard-a lack that some of us have long felt-now seems likely to be supplied. A beginning has been made by the generous gift of ten thousand dollars by Mr. Jacob Schiff of New York; we may hope that this gift will be followed by others till a sufficient sum shall have been raised to tablish a museum on a satisfactory basis.

It is intended that the museum, when established, shall contain all the material necessary for the thorough study of Semitic literature and archaeology. This material includes cuneiform inscriptions on bricks, cylinders, seals, and monuments, either original or in the form of casts; Phoenician coins and inscriptions; Syriac inscriptions and manuscripts; Hebrew coins and manuscripts, together with facsimiles of the Siloam inscription and of that of the Moabite stone (this last the oldest known writing in the Phoenician character); Arabic coins and manuscripts; Sabean inscriptions; Etheopic manuscripts; specimens of the fauna and flora of Semitic lands; and a work library and study rooms. This apparatus, while designed primarily for the use of members of the university, will be offered to all students, and will be, as far as the conditions allow, open to the public.

Such a collection will be of the greatest service to the university. The great role which the Semitic peoples have played in the history of civilization makes the study of their career a necessary part of a university programme. It is becoming more and more evident that neither ancient nor modern culture can be properly understood without a careful estimate of the Semitic element. The significance of Semitic religious ideas is familiar to us; however we may explain it, the fact remains remarkable that the three monotheistic religions of the world, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are of Semitic origin and that they today (if we except Confucianism in China). control the progressive nations of the earth. To understand the beginnings of Greek art we must go in part to Babylonia and Assyria. Our alphabet came from a Semitic community. The Phoenicians were the intermediaries between the peoples of the ancient world, the founders of ocean commerce, the bearers of culture from the Euphrates valley to the Pillars of Hercules. The Syrians introduced the Arabs to the study of Greek science and philosophy; the Arabs in their turn planted schools of philosophy in Spain which became centers of illumination for medieval Europe. The Jews have been in the front rank of commerce and culture ever since they were driven from their land by the Romans in the first century of the era; they have shown, as they have shown today a surprising power of accepting and pushing the ideas of the people among whom they dwell. It is by the combination and interaction of great national cultures that the civilization of the world has advanced; Christianity itself shows a fusion of Jewish, Greek, and Roman ideas. Each element of civilization must have its due recognition.

There remains yet much to be done in the investigation of Semitic thought; the history is to be cleared up, and the literature to be expounded and made intelligible to the modern mind. No small part of the poetry of the Hebrews and Arabs is a sealed book to us though it undoubtedly contains much material that has aesthetic as well as archaeological value. The study of all this mass of history and literature, archaeology and religion is the proper function of a university. The co-existence in a great institution of learning of a number of specialists in various departments and the presence of a broad spirit of scholarship are the conditions which may be expected to insure success in the prosecution of so large a field of study. It may be hoped that the establishment of a Museum in Harvard University will give a decided impulse to these investigations both here and elsewhere. We count it one of the greatest privileges that we have unbounded freedom of thought; our studies need be limited only by our material, With such a collection as we hope to have there is no reason why Harvard should not become an important centre of Semitic science.

We have already a small collection of cuneiform inscriptions (the gift of Mr. Salisbury of Worcester to the Divinity School) a few plaster cuts of tablets and a cast of the famous black obelisk of the British Museum (in Sever 9). It is intended to begin immediately to add to the stock. By permission of the directors the collection will be deposited for the present in the new part of the Peabody Museum on the second floor.

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