The Harvard Semitic Museum is in the process of renewal and revitalization. As we move forward, it first seems right to return to our roots and examine where we came from. This exhibition celebrates the vision of Professor David Gordon Lyon (1852–1935), the museum’s founder and first director. Lyon assembled a rich collection of antiquities from what we now call the Middle East, including the Holy Land. (The term “Semitic” refers to the related languages and cultures of the Ancient Near East: Israelites, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Arameans, Babylonians, Arabs, and many others.)
In 1889 Lyon established the Semitic Museum’s first galleries, and the present building was completed in 1903. A charismatic and tireless teacher, curator, and fundraiser, he traveled the world, developing a wide circle of colleagues and supporters to help him carry out his plans. To Lyon, this Museum was not merely a building to display artifacts, but rather a busy institution devoted to teaching, research, and publication of ancient Near Eastern history, languages, and cultures. For more than a century, Lyon’s legacy has inspired students, scholars, and the public to explore Semitic contributions to world civilization. Today the Museum has grown through its acquisitions and sponsored archaeological excavations to house more than 40,000 Near Eastern artifacts.