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Incense Altar 2 (Tel Halaf, BM)

Incense Burner from Tel Halaf

This elaborately carved tripod vessel may have served as an incense burner, as evidence of burning substance was found in the bowl. It comes from a royal tomb of the tenth or ninth century BCE at Tel Halaf (ancient Guzana). Tel Halaf was an important Aramean site that became a vassal of the Neo-Assyrian empire in the early ninth century and was assimilated fully into the Neo-Assyrian empire by the end of that century. The sides of the vessel are decorated with carvings of bulls, a winged quadruped, and a man shooting a bird with a bow and arrow. The legs of the tripod are decorated with incised rosettes. Another example of an incense burner may be found here.

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Statuette of the God Ba'al

Ba'al—literally 'lord'—was a storm and fertility god widely known and worshipped in ancient Canaan, as recorded in biblical and non-biblical texts. He appears regularly in the Ugaritic texts from Ras Shamra and in numerous biblical texts, such as 1 Kings 18; Hosea 2:16–20; 2 Kings 11:17; 23:4–5; Zephaniah 1:4; and Jeremiah 2:8; 19:5, where he is a frequent object of the authors' ire, as they argue that the Israelites should worship Yhwh alone.This statuette of the god Ba'al is made of bronze and plated with gold. The deity is seated and holding an unidentified object in its left hand, while the right hand is missing. The facial features of the god are outlined with a black inlay and the left ear is pierced with an earring (missing from the right ear). The god is wearing a conical headdress and a long robe. The statuette was found in debris during the excavation of a Temple at Megiddo. The excavators dated it to Late Bronze Age layers. Although the original throne of the god and small parts of the statuette are missing, on the whole it is remarkably well preserved. 

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Goddess Figurine from Megiddo

Many different goddesses were worshipped throughout the ancient Levant. This figurine of a goddess was excavated from a house at Megiddo which seems to have been part of a larger compound. The goddess is wearing a headress, a collar and a long robe, and has bracelets on her wrists. The figurine's edges are neatly trimmed, and her features are outlined with hatching.The many goddess of the ancient Near East were often depicted similarly by artists, which makes it difficult to identify which goddess is represented by a particular figurine. Candidates for this figurine include Athirat, Anat, Astarte, Qudshu, Ishtar and Asherah. Goddess worship is attested throughout Israel’s history, with the biblical texts' authors engaged in a seemingly futile effort to persuade their audience to stop such practices. The Bible condemns of worship of the “Ashtartes” (for example, Judges 10:6; 1 Samuel 12:10) and worship of Asherah (for example, Judges 3:7; 1 Kings 18:19; Jeremiah 17:2). Goddess worship is connected several times with Jerusalem; King Solomon is said to have set up a temple for Ashtarte which was later destroyed by King Josiah (1 Kings 11:5-7; 2 Kings 23:13), while the goddess Asherah seems to have had a role in the Jerusalemite cult (1 Kings 15:13; 2 Kings 21:7; 23:4, 6, 7). The book of Jeremiah also attests to a cult of the “Queen of Heaven”, worshipped in the streets of Judah and Jerusalem (Jeremiah 7:17-19; 44:15-19).

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Offering Stand from Megiddo

This two-part cult stand from Megiddo is unusually well preserved. Often only one part of two-part stands survive. The offering stand is conical, made of clay, and yellow in colour, with a red wash on the bottom part of the stand up to the ridge above the window and on the bowl. The bowl and the upper part of the stand are encircled with leaves, and those on the stand have a red line decoration. The bowl would have been joined to the stand by a pin going through the hole visible on the neck of the stand. The inside of the bowl was discoloured by fire. The offering stand was found in an area with only fragmentary architectural remains, but a wealth of domestic finds, such as ovens, silos, mortars, pottery, and evidence of textile and (bronze) metal work. As there was no evidence of a temple in the area where the stand was found, it is most likely an example of domestic cultic practice. A variety of offerings could have been placed in the bowl, including liquids for libations, grains or food offerings, or incense. The discolouration by fire suggests incense or some kind of offering by burning is likely. Without an inscription on the stand it is impossible to identify which deity was venerated through its use, but the leaves probably point to a fertility deity linked with agriculture. Offering stands of various types, shapes and sizes have been found from all over the Levant; they seem to have been a normal part of cultic practice, whether used more officially in temples or as part of daily life in the domestic sphere.See also the Altar from Tel Rehov, the Horned Incense Altar from Megiddo and the Musicians Cult Stand from Ashdod.

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Horned Incense Altar from Megiddo

This altar was one of three limestone altars found in the vicinity of a storeroom in Megiddo. This one is carved from a single block of stone, has horns at the top four corners and tapers toward the bottom of the stand. It is partially discoloured by fire. These altars are usually interpreted as incense altars, because they are too small for animal sacrifice, although grains or other small offerings may also have been burnt on them. The horns may symbolize the divine, or indicate that the altars are imitations of architectural structures (towers), or they may have been intended to hold the bowl or vessel in which the offerings were burnt. Quite possibly they are a combination of all three. Altars such as these are predominantly known in the western ancient Near East, and are especially common in Israel and Judah between the eighth and fifth centuries BCE. They could have been used to make offerings to any deity, as incense and burnt offerings were part of everyday cultic activity. The Bible attests to incense being burnt to Yhwh (e.g. Exodus 30; Leviticus 16; 1 Kings 9), as well as to other gods (e.g. 1 Kings 11:8; Hosea 2:13). Both Zephaniah (1:4-5) and Jeremiah (19:13) attest that the people of Jerusalem were burning offerings, usually identified as incense, on the rooftops of their houses, and a small incense altar like the one above was found in a rooftop collapse at Ashkelon. Two incense altars have been found in Iron IIC contexts in the City of David excavations and can be seen in the Israel Museum. The small size of these altars and the fact that they are often found in domestic or industrial contexts suggests that they were part of popular religious practice, perhaps mirroring some of the rituals which took place in the larger temples. They are part of a wider architecture of ritual which includes the Altar from Tel Rehov, the Offering Stand from Jerusalem and the Musicians Cult Stand from Ashdod.

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Eye of Horus Amulet from Megiddo

This eye of Horus amulet is one of a number of similar amulets found at Megiddo. This one is small, made of faience (glazed ceramic), and covered in a blue glaze. It was pierced through horizontally, so may have been hung on a cord and worn as a necklace or accessory. It was found just outside of a building in an area mainly made up of residential houses, in a layer of material dated to around 780–650 BCE. Amulets were thought to be powerful symbols of protection, and their appearance at Megiddo testifies especially to the influence of Egyptian beliefs there. Many more amulets of a wide variety of different types have been found all over the Levant, attesting to the intermingling of religious belief and daily life.

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Crescent Moon Amulet from Megiddo

This small, crescent shaped amulet was excavated in an Iron Age II room in a domestic building at Megiddo. The two holes at either end of the crescent suggest it would have hung from a cord or chain and been worn by its owner. The moon had always been important in ancient Near Eastern religion, but between the ninth and sixth centuries BCE it gained even greater popularity through the Aramean cult of the moon god Sin and the increasing popularity of astral cults across the ancient Near East. The moon was connected with agriculture and fertility and played an important part in religious festivals, including in Israel (see, for example, 1 Samuel 20:5, 24; Isaiah 1:13-14; Hosea 2:13; Ezekiel 45:17; 46:1, 3; Psalm 81:3). The crescent moon was celebrated as a symbol of redemption, as the small crescent moon rose from the days of darkness that form part of the lunar cycle. Although some texts in the Bible associate the moon with Yahwistic religious activity in a legitimate way (for example, Ezekiel 46), others polemicize against the astral worship that became popular in Judah in the seventh century BCE (Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:3; Jeremiah 8:2; 2 Kings 23:5). Jeremiah 8:1 announces judgement upon the “inhabitants of Jerusalem” for having worshipped the sun, moon, and the host of heaven, while 2 Kings 23:5 says that the kings of Judah had appointed special priests to make offerings to the sun, moon, stars, and constellations in the high places around Jerusalem. Both Jeremiah and 2 Kings associate astral worship, including worship of the moon, with the upper echelons of Jerusalemite society, accusing even the kings of engaging in these activities. Although the difference between “legitimate” (Psalm 81:3; 1 Samuel 20; Ezekiel 46) and “non-legitimate” (Deuteronomy 17:3; Jeremiah 8:1-2; 2 Kings 23:5) ritual practices involving the moon is unclear, the moon had a longstanding and important place in Israelite and ancient Near Eastern religious beliefs, at both official and popular levels.

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Figurine of the god Resheph from Megiddo

This bronze, anthropomorphic (human-shaped) figurine was one of several found at Megiddo. It comes from a context dated to the eleventh or tenth century BCE, probably domestic in usage. The figure holds a club or mace in its right hand, poised to strike, as is common with depictions of 'smiting' deities such as Resheph and Ba’al. The figurine wears a headdress and a knee-length robe, decorated with incised lines. Resheph is a Canaanite god who was particularly prominent in Syria in the second millennium BCE. He was a warrior-god, associated with bringing violent plague and disease. He was previously thought to have connections with the underworld, but this has been recently called into question. Although Resheph was better known in the second millennium than in the first millennium, he appears eight times in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 33:24 and Habakkuk 3:5, he appears as part of Yhwh’s entourage, as Yhwh marches with his military might. In other references, however, 'resheph' no longer seems to refer to a deity: in Psalm 76:4 it seems to mean 'arrow', while in Psalm 78:48 it seem to mean 'fiery thunderbolt'. Notably, although the Bible seems to be aware of Resheph as a deity, there are no references to the people of Israel bringing offerings to him. The Resheph cult should thus be considered as an example of an cult practiced in the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages that began to be replaced by other cults in the later Iron Age. One cult supplanting Resheph was, as Deuteronomy 33:24 and Habakkuk 3:5 attest, the cult of Yhwh.

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Kernos from Megiddo

This vessel is a very well preserved kernos ring from Megiddo. The term kernos (plural kernoi) is borrowed from Greek archaeology and refers to a pottery ring with small vessels for holding offerings. As the borrowed terminology suggests, kernoi may have originated in Cyprus or elsewhere in the Aegean, and been brought to the southern Levant by traders or immigrants. Although fragments of four others were found in Megiddo, this example is the most intact. It is made of baked clay and originally featured eight attachments, of which seven have survived. These include a cup, two doves, two pomegranates, one jar and an animal previously thought to be a gazelle but more recently identified as a bull. The prevailing view is that kernoi were ritual vessels, perhaps used for pouring libations. The liquid (likely wine, oil, or milk) could be poured into one of the attached vessels and would run around the hollow ring at the base and fill up the other attachments, which could either be drunk from or used to pour out the liquid. Libation rituals are widely known in the Hebrew Bible and seem to have been a part of daily religious life that anyone could enact anywhere. An example from Jeremiah 19:13, announces judgement on the inhabitants of Jerusalem because they have poured out libations to 'other gods' (that is, gods other than Yhwh) on the roofs of their houses. Jeremiah 7:18 similarly accuses the people of Judah and Jerusalem of pouring libations to the 'Queen of Heaven'. These texts suggest that libation rituals were widespread in late seventh century Jerusalem and Judah. Another example of a kernos is the Tell el-Hammah Kernos.

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Seal from Megiddo depicting cosmological battle

This cylinder seal came from the Megiddo water system. This makes a precise date impossible, but the imagery is typically Neo-Assyrian, from the late tenth to the late seventh century BCE. It is approximately 4cm high and is made of olivine, a mineral composition typically found in dark igneous rocks like basalt. It is slightly worn, blurring the image somewhat, but the main features can still be seen. This seal has seven stars in the upper left, probably signifying the Pleiades, and the star of the goddess Ishtar on the far left side. A bearded figure is on the far right, fighting a winged dragon in the centre. Another dragon lies face-down on the ground under the deity’s foot, symbolising its defeat. The deity may already have defeated one dragon and be in the midst of battling a second, or the seal may simultaneously show the battle and its outcome, emphasising that the deity is ultimately victorious. It may depict the god Bel (Marduk) fighting the dragon, although it also resembles a seal from Emar, in which Ninurta fights the Anzu bird—or it could be the chief deity of the Neo-Assyrian pantheon Ashur.In the second and early first millennia seals often had religious motifs; over time more and more text appears on the seals and in the Levant with aniconic (non-pictorial) seals eventually replace seals with text almost entirely. When a document was sealed with cultic imagery it may have been meant that the god(s) witnessed the sealing of the document and its contents, lending a divine imprimatur to the details and emphasising that they should be carried out exactly. Alternatively, such seals may have symbolised the owner’s devotion to the deity, or been used for a specific function such as signalling that the document was a certain kind of communication, involving a person or temple connected with the deity.

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Cult stand from Ta'anach

This clay cult stand was found in a cistern at Ta’anach, protected by layer of silt. Its exact purpose is unclear: no traces of incense or burning were found on it. Some have claimed it functioned as a pedestal for a deity.  The bottom tier features a nude female stretching her arms out to two lions which flank her on either side. The faces of the lions can be seen on the front of the stand and their bodies on the sides. The lower middle tier features two creatures on either side, directly above the lions, and have been identified as 'cherubim' (subordinate divine beings). There is no figure between the creatures, which seems to have been deliberate. The upper middle tier also features lions, on either side of a tree flanked by two ibex. The top tier displays a side-view of a quadruped, perhaps a calf or a horse, with a winged sun disk above it. Volute columns appear on either side of the quadruped and winged sun disk, and a winged griffin or sphinx appears on the side of the stand. Each tier is thought to represent a temple. It is widely recognised that the bottom and upper middle tiers depict a goddess, probably Asherah. The identity of the deity represented by the empty lower middle tier is unclear. Some have suggested that it is an early representation of Yhwh, who was not supposed to be depicted pictorially, but it is inevitably difficult to identify a deity who is not there. The sun disk of the top tier suggests a sun-god; this might also be Yhwh, but a range of other deities could also be identified with a sun disk. If the upper tier and the lower middle tier should be identified with Yhwh, then this cult stand is an early example of Yhwh and Asherah depicted together, as they are at Kuntillet ‘Arjud, Khirbet el-Qom, and in the Bible, where a/the Asherah often appears in Yhwh’s temple (for example, 2 Kings 23:4-6).

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Reconstruction of the Shrine of the Temple at Arad

Arad is famous as royal Judean fortress, outside Jerusalem, that housed a temple of Yhwh. Although debate continues as to the exact date of its construction and subsequent phases of its use, the identification of the temple as dedicated to Yhwh is not in doubt.The shrine, a reconstruction of which is shown here, was situated at the far end of the temple and only accessible by going through the temple. This has led to the shrine being described as a 'holy of holies', or the most sacred space within the temple complex. It is unclear who would have had access to the shrine, but it would probably have been only the priests. The entrance to the shrine is flanked by two small limestone incense altars. Inside was a small platform and a smooth stele, or massebah ('standing stone'). The incense altars had been laid on their sides—that is, put out of use—but still had traces of incense on them when they were found. The main space of the temple contained a large altar; two offering bowls were found by its base. The Arad temple and shrine were put out of use around the end of the eighth century BCE, drawing comparisons with King Hezekiah’s reform (2 Kings 18:1-4). Scholars remain divided on the exact dates and the interpretation of these events.An ostracon—a pottery sherd with ink writing—also found at the site refers to an unidentified person 'in the house of Yhwh'. The letter was written by a subordinate to one 'my Lord Eliashib' sometime in the late seventh or early sixth centuries BCE. Because the ostracon post-dates the activity of the temple at Arad, this 'house of Yhwh' is usually understood be the Jerusalem Temple.

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Musical Instruments: Flute, Rattle, and Conch Trumpet

In ancient times as in modern, both religious and non-religious life often involved music. Several ancient instruments are shown above. The flute above is made of bone, with incised decoration at the top and bottom. It was found at En-Gedi, near the Dead Sea. It is one of several similar flutes known as 'Megiddo-type flutes', named after a famous example from Megiddo. These flutes tend to be between 7 and 12cm long, are generally made of bird or goat bones, and have a hole in the center. They produce a shrill tone and have been found in a variety of contexts. There is no specific information known about their use; they may have been children’s toys, cultic instruments, domestic instruments, or even amulets. The rattle is made of pottery and decorated with painted red lines. It was found with another rattle under a layer of ash at Hazor, in a large house that had suffered a violent destruction. Similar rattles have been found in tombs in Samaria. The conch trumpet is made from a large shell (Charonia tritonis), with the point snapped off to form a mouthpiece and a small hole pierced near the end. It was found inside a casemate wall at Hazor, where it may have been used as a signal-horn. Conch trumpets are known in the Levant from the third millennium BCE. Almost all were found within areas connected with the Phoenician or Philistine cultural spheres—as one would expect, given they are made from sea-shells!Musical activity is also attested by the figurine of a double flute player and the cult stand from Ashdod with musicians on it.

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Kernos from Tell el-Hammah

This kernos—a pottery ring with small vessels for holding offerings—consists of a hollow ring with five attached recepticals: two pomegranates, one jar, one cup, and one zoomorphic model that might be a bull or a calf. The kernos was found at Tell el-Hammah in a large room in the western complex, dated to the tenth or ninth centuries BCE. The exact function of the room is unclear, but the kernos was part of a rich assemblage of finds, including several figurines, a multi-handled krater (a very large vase) decorated with animal appliques, a cat amulet, astragali (small joint bones), and a censer lid. The term kernos (plural: kernoi) is borrowed from Greek archaeology, and there have been several suggestions that the kernoi found in Israel may have originated in the Aegean. Vessels like this one and the Megiddo Kernos were used for the ritual pouring of libation or drink offerings. Liquid—probably wine, oil, or milk—would be poured into the pomegranates, jar, or cup and then flow around the hollow ring at the base, so that it could either be poured out of the nostrils of the animal, or drunk from the cup itself. The circulation of the liquid perhaps symbolised the fertility of the earth, as it flowed through objects symbolizing animals, birds and plants. Libation rituals are widely known in the Hebrew Bible and seem to have been a part of daily religious life that anyone could enact in any location.

Model Shrine (Yavneh)

Model Shrines from Yavneh

These two models shrines come from a pit used for the disposal of cultic items at Yavneh. The pit was uncovered by accident in 2002, during the development of a garden. In the pit excavators found an unprecedented number of cult stands, as well as numerous bowls, chalices, fire pans, and an altar. Many of these items were identified as having had religious significance because they were all broken and thrown into the pit together in a relatively short space of time during the mid ninth and early eigth centuries BCE. The two shrines shown here are examples of a wide assemblage of mostly rectangular pottery models found at Yavneh. The roofs tend to be open, with strips of pottery across them, perhaps representing wooden beams. The figures in the openings were made separately and feature humans and animals. The excavators called these models 'cult stands', although their function is unclear. Unlike some cult stands, the top of these models could not have supported any weight, either to burn incense or to bear a statue of a deity. Notably, no evidence of burning was found on the models, in contrast to many of the other items in the repository. Although they are shaped like buildings, the models do not resemble any known building styles. They seem to have functioned simply as models, perhaps meant to be dedicated to the gods as votive offerings by being placed within temples. Though the figures that adorn the openings and sides of the models are probably deities of some kind, it is impossible to know which gods were venerated through the use of these models.See also the Model Shrine from Megiddo.