The Neighboring Cultures collection is devoted to antiquities from the various lands of the ancient Near East - Egypt, Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq), Iran, Syria, Cyprus, and Anatolia (Turkey), as well as Greece and Italy. It contains objects dating from the sixth millennium BCE to the sixth century CE. The collection, with its wide geographic and cultural diversity, serves to complement the picture that emerges from the main archaeological display, the focus of which is the antiquities of the land of Israel, thus shedding light on the links between ancient Israel and its neighbors.
Over six thousand years ago, two monumental civilizations – the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian - developed in the valleys of three great rivers, the Nile in Egypt, and the Tigris and Euphrates at the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent. These civilizations had a lasting and profound impact on all the cultures of the region, including those that flourished later in Greece and Italy. The land of Israel, a bridge between continents and cultures, was influenced by the material and cultural life of Mesopotamia and Egypt from the dawn of antiquity. The belief that humans were made of clay or dust, for instance, which appears in the Bible, “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return" (Gen. 3:19), first emerged in Mesopotamia and Egypt; the concept of divinities with human shape which also appears in the Bible, was dominant in Mesopotamian religions; and the biblical story of the flood derives from Mesopotamian epics. Even the Hebrew calendar has its origins in Babylonia, a striking example of the legacy of the ancient Near East.
During the Hellenistic period, Greek influence became prominent: Greek became the lingua franca for administration and international commerce and political and cultural institutions such as the polis and the gymnasium spread a new world view. Later on, during the Roman period, new technologies and decorative styles entered the land of Israel, affecting everyday life and Jewish visual motifs, with objects expressing an aesthetic tendency closer to the sensuality and views of beauty of the Classical world.
Islam arose in the Arabian Peninsula at the beginning of the seventh century CE. The prophet Muhammad, its founder, died in 632 CE, and within less than a century of his death his adherents had conquered the entire Middle East, spreading westward to Sicily, Spain, and North Africa, and later even reaching India and China in the East. During the long period of Islamic rule, the land of Israel underwent a process of Arabization – the population began to speak Arabic, and the cultural and artistic characteristics of the land were profoundly influenced by Islam. These features have been preserved until modern times.