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IAA 2007-579-Altar, Tel Rehov, Pottery, 10th century BCE small.tif

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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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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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.

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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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.

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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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.

IAA 1968-1182-Cult Stand with Musicians, Ashdod, Israelite Period, 11th cent. BCE.tif

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.

Reconstruction of the Holy of Holies from a sanctuary, Arad, 8th cent. BCE#1.tif

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.