good books



Ask any knowledgeable Christian and you might get the impression that Biblical Archaeology is the be-all and end-all of the study of Archaeology. One might be forgiven for having such a perception because the impression is often given that there is nothing worth studying beyond the discovery of biblical artefacts. That is fortunately far from the truth.

The book I have picked to write about this week is: 

Sites. Nailing the Debate: Archaeology and Interpretation in Museums. Sydney: Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, 1996.

 Except for one blurred memory of a visit to the National Museum (now the History Museum) at the junction of Stamford Road and Fort Canning Road, I cannot remember visiting or enjoying a Museum during my childhood. Museums were equated with boring places, rather different from shopping arcades, swimming at the beach, or watching an action movie. Interestingly my first serious encounter with museums began when I started travelling. Usually at historic sites there would be a museum housing the exhibits found at that site. Not all museums contained artefacts: the Lace Museum at Nottingham, for example, displays a wide range of lace craft in a city famous for the most exquisite patterns of lace. Then there are Dolls Museum, and Stamp Museums, and even an Elvis Presley Museum. My first serious encounter with museums was when I spent a full year studying at the British Museum. To be more specific, I was researching at the British Library located in the historic Rotunda of the British Museum. During lunch and other breaks I found hours and hours joy browsing in the Egyptian Room, Bible Room, Graeco-Roman Room, and the rest of this premier Museum of Museums. From that point on I always make it a point when visitng a new place to ask if there is a museum: beyond the veneer of glittering neon lights or the dirt and grime, a good museum exposes the heart of a place and why people choose to stay, live and die in their place of abode.

When I visited the Museum of Sydney built on the site of the first Government House and located at the corner of Philip and Bridge Streets, I was struck by its simplicity and smallness. The site in 1788 was the house of Governor Phillip. It was exposed by archaeologists in the 1980’s. Urban archaeology, like maritime or underwater archaeology (e.g., Caesarea Maritima), has found a place as a sub-discipline of archaeology. There’s more to it the mere  conservation of a historic building (as in the case of the re-make of Raffles Hotel). At the core urban archaeology is historical archaeology attempting to isolate the separate components that come out of a certain period of time and integrating them again into a comprehensive and intelligible picture of life during that period of history. This “New Archaeology” has to fight with the commercial valuation of prime city sites eagerly snapped up by developers who want to build more skyscrapers, often resulting in a glut of office spaces.  

Recently the debate over whether or not to demolish the historic Changi Prison created a furore, resulting in the decision to preserve the front row of walls, complete with one of the turrets and even the main gate. Historical archaeology is still alive in history-hungry Singapore.

The frontage of the Museum of Sydney is surprisingly spacious and inviting. Steps take the visitor down to a totally exposed basement, separating the noisy city corner immediately from the strangely quiet and peaceful surroundings. Etched on the floor is the clear outline of the first Government House. To the right what was formerly a clump of trees was replaced by an exciting arrangement of poles representing the trees. As one moves in between the poles one hears the whistling of the wind and cleverly taped voices in the distance.

Entering the museum itself, one moves from floor to floor. At one end a glass wall with a huge cabinet dominates the longish room. Hologram figures of actors in period costumes appear when buttons are pressed inviting the visitor to explore certain aspects of city life in the earliest period of Sydney. There’s drama and action as actors play out the defining moments in the history of Sydney. The huge cabinet beckons the curious to pull out drawer after drawer and artefacts such as coins, stamps, historic documents, and even jewellery are exposed, well- secured under glass of course. It was an enthralling visit. One learns so much about the history of Sydney in just one visit.

Governor Philip’s house was the first meeting of the first settlers who colonised Australia. They were a motley group of convicts and soldiers who arrived at this far-flung corner of the world to begin a new life. The Museum of Sydney subtly hints that modern-day residents of this great city can also be imbued with the same spirit of enterprise, and daring as they face a vastly different world with clashing values and expectations. Together, hopefully, they can begin to forge a new entity out of this alchemy.                                   

(Reviewed by Dr Quek Swee Hwa)


Dr Quek Swee Hwa led Chapel on 3 Mar and spoke on the topic of ‘Be Holy and Loving’ from 1 Peter 1:13-25. Chapel Speaker on 17 Mar will be Dr Ng PC.


  1. It’s almost signed - the Sale and Purchase agreement for No. 31 Tanjong Pagar is in the hands of our lawyer and we are about to take over the ownership of this strategic site right smack in the commercial hub of the city. We walk by faith, not by sight. Looking at the figures before us we can see that we need to work hard to obtain the full sum needed. The move is not yet. We are in the midst of formulating the design for the various components of our new campus. Pray for us.

  2. Our operational expenses. In a few days’ time we will need to send out our usual Easter Appeal for the General Fund. Pray for this important area of our ongoing need. God loves a cheerful giver!

  3. Great news! In recognition of BGST’s Bible Lands Study Tours, the Embassy of Israel in Singapore has invited our Dean to be a member of the Singapore Board of the Bible Valley Project, a unique initiative by the Jewish National Fund and the State of Israel. 25,000 acres in the Judaen plain, inside the “green line” (a secure area) of Israel have been set aside for this project. “The area selected for the project is a continuous range of hills and valleys with natural groves and orchards, some of which are hundreds of years old, alongside newly-planted forests and groves, agricultural land, animal farming and ruins of ancient farming and irrigation systems. The area is rich in archaeological and material remains from the biblical period.” This site is southwest of Jerusalem adjacent to Beth Shemesh and encompasses several modern villages as well as the Philistine city, now Tel Gath and Tel Azekah. It is located in the Sorek valley and visitors will be treated to a Samson Walk, a David and Goliath Walk, and other exciting things. Bread produced in the villages, together with wine and olive oil will be branded and sold to visitors.

Course Commencing This Week:

Understanding the Book of Job

by Dr Philip Satterthwaite

 Job is one of the most challenging, dramatic and theologically profound books of the Old Testament. It is also one of the hardest books to understand. This intensive course covering only two Saturdays, 13 & 27 March 2.30-9.30pm, will offer a detailed analysis of the unfolding argument of the book, asking two questions: What do we learn about God? How does this book help us to respond to suffering?



Ms Grace Tan  7/3

Mr Liew Cheng San  7/3

Dr Lim Cheng Geok  8/3

Mr Sonny Tan  8/3

Ms Loh Hong Hong  9/3

Mr Ng Kai Seng  9/3

Prof. Lim Kian Guan  10/3

Ms Yap Foon Lyn  10/3

Ms Yvonne Heng  10/3

Mr Daniel Liu  10/3

Mr Matthew Yap  14/3

Top | Home | Library | Archives | Email
This page is updated on 11 Mar  2004. 
 © 2004