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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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.