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'House of Yhwh' ostracon from Arad

This ostracon—a pottery sherd with ink writing—was written by a subordinate to 'my Lord Eliashib' sometime in the late seventh or early sixth century BCE and was found at Arad. It reports that an unidentified person is 'in the House of Yhwh'. Because the Arad shrine was no longer in use at that time, it is usually understood as a rare extra-biblical reference to the Jerusalem temple. More than two hundred ostraca were found at Arad, dating over several centuries and providing a unique insight into the administrative activity at the fortress.

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Altar from Tel Rehov

This clay altar has two stories, with a roof that extends beyond the width of the altar and a slightly raised horn at each of the four corners. It is made from coarse clay and there is a certain roughness to its manufacture; the figures either side of the window are at different heights and the windows are asymmetrical. It is decorated with two molded figures flanking the lower windows, with an incised palm tree between. Each horn of the altar is incised with a palm frond and the space on the sides in between the horns is decorated with incised lines. The palm decoration is a symbol for an unidentified goddess. The altar shows signs of burning on the top, which indicates it was used for burning offerings at some point. The signs of burning on the sides are a result of the fire that destroyed the building it was found in. The altar was found along with a painted chalice and some other vessels close to an area that was devoted to producing honey and beeswax (an apiary). A number of clay cylinders bore traces of beeswax and were used as beehives. This apiary is the only one ever found in an excavation in the Levant. The altar and related objects found near the apiary are probably part of a 'cult corner' in this industrial area and, while the palm fronds on the altar indicate that a goddess is in view, they are also a symbol of fertility—an emphasis on which is to be expected given the apiary was dependent on the productivity of its bees. Another four horned altar of a similar, though finer, style was found at Megiddo, along with fragments of twelve others. These cult stands (see also this one from Jerusalem) were clearly popular among the inhabitants of the site in the tenth century BCE.

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Amulets with a blessing formula from Ketef Hinnom

This amulet is one of two that were found beneath the burial chamber of a rock-hewn tomb near Jerusalem, in a cave in Ketef Hinnom. The amulets probably date to the seventh or sixth centuries BCE. The amulets are made of thin, beaten silver, with inscriptions scratched on using a sharp tool. They were discovered rolled up, and were probably worn hung around the owner’s neck. Originally discovered in 1979, these amulets were re-photographed in 2004 by the West Semitic Research Project, allowing for more comprehensive translations. The amulets are particularly interesting for biblical scholars as they both contain a blessing in the name of Yhwh, which echoes the one found in the book of Numbers (6:24-26):'Yhwh bless you and keep you; Yhwh make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;Yhwh lift up his face upon you and give you peace.' The inscription on the amulet shown here (Amulet 2) reads: [top of inscription broken]May (s)he be blessed by Yhwh, the helper and the rebuker of [E]vil. May Yhwh bless you, may he keep you. May Yh[w]h make his face shine upon you and grant you p[ea]ce. The 2004 photographs of the amulets indicate that both amulets are intended to seek protection from evil, and thus have an apotropaic function (to protect the wearer from evil).

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Bull statuette from near Samaria

This bronze bull is a special find from a fairly remote open air cult site on the summit of a ridge in the northern part of the Samaria hills. The site is at least 6.5km away from the closest major city, though there were a number of small Iron Age settlements in the surrounding area. The site was only used for a short period of time in the twelfth century BCE before being abandoned, leaving little evidence of activity. The bull is bronze and would have had eyes made of a different material, pressed into the depressions in the face. The head is somewhat triangular and the legs have been made by looping the metal up over the back, creating a ridge. The tail is coiled on the right thigh, which is unusual; bulls were often depicted with the tail hanging between the back legs. The size of the object—quite large for a bronze figurine from Israel—suggests that it was itself a cult object, rather than a votive item brought as an offering. Bulls held an important position in ancient Levantine cult. They were associated with storm-gods, especially Hadad and Baal, but they could also symbolise other deities, including Yhwh. They represented the god's power and strength. Bulls are also sometimes used as pedestals for deities who stand on their backs; a bull figurine could thus represent the deity itself, or symbolise the presence of the deity. The golden calves in the biblical tradition provide a textual parallel to figurines such as this one; the golden calves may have been thought to represent Yhwh directly, or to symbolise his presence by serving as a pedestal for his invisible manifestation. The Megiddo Kernos in this collection may also attest to the cultic importance of the bull in early Iron Age society. 

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Chair model from Lachish

The miniature figural world of Judah included not only female figurines and horses (with or without rider), but also model furniture such as this chair and the couch from Beersheba. Little is known of the use and meaning of these figurines. However, the fact that they are found in both domestic and funerary contexts suggests that they must have formed part of daily life and its rituals. It should be remembered that furniture was probably owned only by those better off in society and was probably a status symbol. A chair, in particular, may be understood as a throne, and in this sense it may represent authority—the authority of a king or queen, or the authority of a male or female god. As the archaeological context does not shed any clearer light, however, these suggestions remain speculative.

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Clay figurines and models from Jerusalem and Judah

The variety of figurines found in Jerusalem and Judah are aprt of a general phenomenon and should not be studied in isolation. While the individual items and types are—of course—interesting, it is important to understand that they form part of a repertoire of figurines: a miniature world that includes female figurines, horses with and without riders, as well as furniture. Studies on figurines have tended to focus on specific types, but this risks isolating them from other kinds of figurines. Considering the female figurines alone, for example, it is easy to imagine them related to fertility ritual or female goddess. In reality they form a smaller part of the wider figurine repertoire. The majority of figurines are animals, which can generally be interpreted as horses; some appear with riders, others without. The use and meaning of the figurines is not very clear. Explanations range from cultic or apotropaic use, especially for the female figurines, to toys, usually with reference to the animals. Their archaeological context, which is primarily domestic and occasionally funerary, suggests that they were part of daily life. Whatever their immediate use, the repertoire provides a small window onto social meanings and identities that were represented and manipulated through the medium of clay figurines. 

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Clay Model Shrine from Megiddo

This clay model shrine, found at Megiddo, is one of a number of similar shrines found in the southern Levant over an extended period; others include the shrines found at Yavneh. The shrines are thought to be miniature representations of actual temples, in which the god or gods were thought to dwell and to be particularly accessible to their worshippers. Some shrines had small figurines of deities placed inside them, to symbolise the presence of the deity, while others appear to have been empty. This shrine was found in one of a series of rooms on the north side of a Late Bronze Age palace at Megiddo. The function of these rooms is unclear, but the room in which this particular shrine was found did not seem to have been a dedicated shrine or religious room, as such. Indeed, the exact purpose of such shrines is not clear although, on the basis of its shape and the decorations on the front, this one seems to have been an architectural model. The shrine stands at just over a metre tall and is square with the sides tapering toward the top. The clay is coarse, with a pink buff finish; the front of the shrine is decorated with red lines and caprids (sheep or goats) lining the upper windows. The head of an animal may be seen protruding from three of the four top corners.

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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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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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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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Female figurines from Jerusalem and Bethlehem and figurine and fragments from Lachish

Female figurines with prominent breasts and a moulded or pinched head on a solid pillar type base are common at Judean sites. For this reason figurines of this type have become known as Judean Pillar Figurines. They are well attested in Jerusalem, Lachish, and other sites in Judah.The figurines shown here are from Jerusalem (Jewish Quarter), Bethlehem, and Lachish. The fragments from Lachish remind us that most figurines are often found in a fragmentary state, having been broken and thrown away with common refuse in antiquity.  The meaning and use of these figurines is unclear. The figurines are clearly female, leading to suggestions that they are linked with fertility and childbearing, representing a goddess such as Asherah or Ashtarte or perhaps the women who worship the female deity. They differ, however, from the much clearer Late Bronze Age plaque figurines of such goddesses, insofar as these figurines lack any clear indicators that they are, indeed, goddesses. Some scholars have suggested that they might have had an apotropaic (for warding off evil) use. The figurines are found quite commonly in domestic contexts, and occasionally in funerary ones. This indicates that, whatever their specific use, they formed part of the daily life and rituals of ancient Judah and Jerusalem. They should not be isolated from the rest of Judah's figurine repertoire—most notably the horses and riders, as well as couches. They all formed part of a miniature world in which social meanings were represented and manipulated.

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Figurine of a double flute player from Tel Malhata

This item is a hollow pottery head and shoulders of a figurine playing a double flute, like one of the musicians from the cult stand from Ashdod. The figure has a large nose and protruding eyes, and the beard indicates it is male. The core was wheel-made with various other parts handmade and stuck onto the core. Originally it was painted in black and red. The figurine is one of a number of similar figurines found at Malhata. Only one other flute player appears in this assemblage (also male), but there are some female drummer figurines and a range of other anthropomorphic (human-shaped) and zoomorphic (animal-shaped) examples. As the body of the figurine is missing, it is unclear what the item was intended for. It may have been a small anthropomorphic figurine, part of a hollow cult stand, or perhaps part of a rattle with an anthropomorphic body. As the figure plays the flute it probably depicts a worshipper rather than a deity; musical instruments were often used in worship. Comparisons with other figurines from sites such as Horvat Qitmit suggest that it reflects Edomite cultural traditions, from the area of modern Jordan, and close interaction between Edomites and Judeans in the Negev region in the seventh century BCE. 

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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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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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Head of a Goddess from Horvat Qiṭmit

The three horns of this figurine identify it as the head of a deity. The lack of a beard suggests a goddess, while traces of paint indicate that the face was originally painted red and the hair and the handle were painted black. The facial features and hair were modelled around a hollow object and the features are slightly asymmetrical. The nose is prominent and the lips are incised in a small smile. The head comes from Horvat Qitmit, a site in the Judean Negev region. Horvat Qitmit seems to have been a purely cultic site; hundreds of fragments of figurines, cult stands, cultic vessels, and statues were found at the site, but no evidence of habitation was uncovered. A large number of burnt bones were uncovered in one of the building complexes. The site had two main complexes: a bamah (high place) complex and an altar complex. The bamah complex was the larger of the two and produced more cultic finds, including this head of a goddess. The style of the pottery and finds has led to the site’s interpretation as an Edomite shrine, located near a number of small Judean settlements that in part guarded a road running from Edom through the Beersheba valley into Judah. A number of the figurines, including this one, were not made in Edom but were made in the Edomite style from materials local to the region, as indicated by analysis of their chemical compositions. Whether the site was primarily used by Edomites, Judeans, or was open to anyone is not clear. The large number of figurines and cultic finds at Horvat Qitmit is in stark contrast to the small amount found at the Judean shrine at Arad, but the reasons for this contrast are not entirely clear. 

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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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Horse and rider figurines from Lachish and Judah and a horse figurine from Jerusalem

Fragments of figurines of four-legged animals are by far the most common figurine type in Judah and Jerusalem, and are part of a wider repertoire of clay figurines. The horse and rider figurine type is common through the southern Levant during this period, and survives well into the Persian period (539–333 BCE). The particular style shown here, with very simple modelling and a pinched head, is typical of Judah.Few figurines survive intact or nearly so; the ones that do survive generally come from tombs. The horse here comes from Cave I in Jerusalem and the horse with a rider—the head broken off in antiquity—is from Tomb 106 in Lachish. The two complete figurines are unprovenanced, but are probably from Judah. The exact meaning and use of these figurines remains unknown. They do however, open a window on the way social meaning was contructed and manipulated in ancient Judean society. Horses were used only by the royal family and the military. Horses and riders, therefore, are likely to represent military power, and their frequent presence in the figural repertoire suggest that military power was a significant concern for the inhabitants of Judah.

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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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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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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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Model couch from Beersheba

The figurine repertoire of Judah includes not only female figurines and horses (with or without rider), but also models of furniture, such chairs and this couch or bed. Little is known of the use and meaning of these figurines. However, the fact that they are found in both domestic and funerary contexts suggests that they must have formed part of daily life and its rituals. It should be remembered that furniture was probably owned only by the better off and was probably a status symbol. Some scholars also suggested that couches like this one should be associated with fertility and birth. This particular example in Beersheba was found with a female figurine. At present, far too little is known from secure archaeological contexts to provide a conclusive answer.

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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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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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Musicians Cult Stand from Ashdod

This cult stand depicts a musical ensemble made up of five figures playing different instruments. The figures are displayed around the base, with three four-legged animals above them. Four of the figures are modelled in the round and appear in small windows. One plays a flute, one the cymbals, one a lyre, and one a tambourine or drum. At least two of the four (the cymbal and tambourine players) are wearing hats or headdresses; the pointed chins on some may indicate beards. The fifth figure is larger than the other four and probably represents the leader of the group. The lead figure plays a double flute, like the one of the figurine from Tel Malhata, which held differently to that played by the smaller flute player. The stand comes from a group of buildings in Ashdod which produced numerous other fine cultic and domestic items. The unusual architecture of the buildings, combined with the finds, led to its identification as an official or elite building, part of which had a cultic function. The complex did not function as a temple and so attests to the close intertwining of daily life and cultic practice. The musicians are often thought to symbolise worshippers, but it has also been suggested that they could depict a wealthy family engaging in musical activities—perhaps the family to whom the stand belonged. Offerings or incense may have been placed in the dish at the top of the stand.See also the Altar from Tel Rehov, the Offering Stand from Jerusalem and the Horned Incense Altar from Megiddo.

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Offering bowl from Arad

The main room of the temple of Arad contained a large altar. Two offering bowls (one pictured above) were found by its base. Both bowls have inscriptions consisting of two incised letters: ק (qoph) and כ (kaph). These are thought to be abbreviations for קדשׁ כהנים (qdš khnm), meaning 'holy / set apart for the priests'.See also the reconstruction of the shrine at Arad.

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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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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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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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Sennacherib's South West Palace at Nineveh, portraying the capture of Lachish

This panel is part of a series of wall reliefs excavated from the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s (ruled 705–681 BCE) palace at Nineveh. The panels records the Assyrian siege and eventual capture of the city of Lachish. The panel shown here depicts Assyrian soldiers carrying away cultic items from the city. Lachish was one of the most important cities in Judah, perhaps second only to Jerusalem, and it played an important role in the administration and military strength of the kingdom. Sennacherib’s army's siege of Lachish is reported in 2 Kings 18–19 (cf. Isaiah 36–37). On the upper left hand side of the relief the besieged city of Lachish is shown, with archers and siege engines (perhaps spiked battering rams) attacking the walls. On the upper level there are various trees, which probably represent the journey to Assyria on which the deportees in the bottom two registers are embarking. In the middle register Neo-Assyrian soldiers can be seen carrying away the spoils of war. These include a chariot and shields and, to the right of those pulling the chariot, two figures are shown carrying incense stands or burners. These are cultic (religious) items that have been looted from the city, either from its main shrine or from private homes. Cultic items were a prized spoil of war, because they symbolised the defeat of the god associated with them, and the power of the god of the attacking forces.  A similar practice may be seen on one of Tiglath-pileser III's wall reliefs. The Bible does not record the Assyrians plunder of cultic items during Sennacherib's invasion (perhaps because Hezekiah was supposed to have destroyed them, according 2 Kings 18:4), but it does report that the Babylonians took cultic items away from the Temple of Yhwh when they attacked Jerusalem in 597 BCE and when they destroyed it in 586 BCE (2 Kings 24:13; 25:13–17).

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Silver Pendant from Ekron, depicting the Goddess Ishtar

This silver pendant depicts the goddess Ishtar standing on the back of a lion, beneath the symbols for the stars and the winged sun. Lower down is the symbol for the crescent moon. A worshipper stands with arms outstretched, facing the goddess and in between them is a small cult stand. The hands of the worshipper are facing the goddess in supplication. The iconography is reminiscent of Phoenician craftsmanship, rather than the Mesopotamian iconography expected of the Mesopotamian goddess. This together with the crude workmanship suggests that it was locally made, with Mesopotamian influence. The pendant was found in a silver hoard, hidden in the hole of a hewn, perforated, stone olive press. This hoard, along with five others, were sealed in a destruction layer dated to 604 BCE. The silver hoards are highly unusual for a Levantine city at this time and probably reflect the growing economic status and expanding needs of Ekron’s population. Ekron was located on the border between Philistine and Judean territory. In the seventh century BCE it flourished under Neo-Assyrian influence, becoming a major olive oil production centre. Prosperity came with cultural strings attached, however, as the pendant’s use of the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar suggests. A similar depiction of Ishtar on a pendant was found at Zinçirli, while seals depicting Ishtar have been found throughout Israel. Ishtar was widely venerated across the ancient Near East in the seventh century, with depictions of her most commonly found on personal items, such as seals or jewellery, rather than monumental inscriptions. During the period of Neo-Assyrian expansion between the ninth and seventh centuries BCE, the development of trade routes and exchange of peoples and goods across the ancient Near East meant that cultural and religious ideas and goods were exchanged at a notable rate, which led to a diversification of local cultures. As the pendant from Ekron attests, foreign religious and cultural ideas were present among Judah’s closest neighbours during the seventh century; it seems very likely that they were known also in Judah itself.

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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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Tablet mentioning Nabû-šarussu-ūkin (Nebusarsekim), the Chief Eunuch of Nebuchadnezzar II

This clay tablet dates from 595 BCE and describes the presentation of a gift of gold from Nebuchadnezzar II’s chief eunuch, Nabû-šarussu-ūkin, to the temple of Marduk, the chief god of Babylon. Measuring just 5.4 cm by 3.5 cm, the tablet was discovered in Sippar, close to Baghdad, in the 1870s CE, but its full significance for study of the Bible was not realised until 2007. The Neo-Babylonian administrative document, currently located at the British Museum, contains eleven lines of cuneiform text. From the perspective of biblical studies, its most interesting feature is that it may refer to a Babylonian royal official who is also named in Jeremiah 39.* If both texts refer to the same man, the cuneiform text may lend historical credence to other details contained in Jeremiah 39 concerning the siege of Jerusalem, fleshing out the picture of life under Babylonian rule. The full translation of the tablet reads: “(Regarding) 1.5 minas (0.75 kg) of gold, the property of Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, the chief eunuch, which he sent via Arad-Banitu the eunuch to [the temple] Esangila: Arad-Banitu has delivered [it] to Esangila. In the presence of Bel-usat, son of Alpaya, the royal bodyguard, [and of] Nadin, son of Marduk-zer-ibni. Month XI, day 18, year 10 [of] Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.” *The name should be Hebraized as Nebusarsekim, but some English translations, follow another manuscript traditions which divided up the list of Babylonian officials' names differently, putting the 'Nebu' part of the name with the previous one and resulting in officials called Nergal-sharezer, Samgar-nebo and Sarsechim, instead of Nergal-Sharezer of Samgar and Nebo-Sarsekim.