• A photo of a display in the archaeology museum.

    Museum of Archaeology opens on campus

    The Linda Byrd Smith Museum of Biblical Archaeology was dedicated April 13, 2017.

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  • A photo of a display in the archaeology museum.

    Enrich your biblical understanding.

    The museum is home to more than 100 artifacts.

  • A photo of a display in the archaeology museum.

    Grasp deeper meaning of God's word.

    The museum is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. or by appointment.

Linda Byrd Smith Museum of Biblical Archaeology

Welcome to the Linda Byrd Smith Museum of Biblical Archaeology. With more than 100 artifacts displayed, the museum can be used as a resource for students to provide context and help them better understand their biblical studies. The museum has 10 sections that showcase items such as storage jars, perfume bottles, coins, weapons, wine skins and other artifacts from daily life in the ancient world. Other displays include excavation tools, explanations of ceramic typology and carbon dating, and a timeline from 2000 B.C. to 700 A.D.

Linda Byrd Smith (’67) donated the initial funds to begin the museum. She teaches Bible classes for Arkansas jails and prisons, her home church, and other religious organizations. Smith has also produced videos for the Center for Christian Broadcasting about women in the Bible.

Wine skin/water skin (1)

Most students of the Bible likely remember Jesus’ reference to wineskins:  “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins.  If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed.  But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matt. 9:17 ESV; cf. Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37-38).  The issue is that as new wine ferments it creates gasses which stretch the skin to extreme limits.  If it is an old wineskin, the first batch of wine will have stretched the skin’s elasticity to its limit permitting little additional expansion—thus the new wine’s fermentation exceeds the limits of the old wineskin’s elasticity, rupturing the vessel.

There are quite a few other references to skins in the Bible and most of them refer to skins as containers for wine.  After listening to the futile efforts of Job’s friends to respond suitably to Job’s plight, Elihu compared his frustration to keep silent to a distended wine skin ready to burst (Job 32:19).  The Gibeonites’ deceived the Israelites by using old, worn-out wine skins that were patched (Josh. 9:4, 13; note the patches on the goatskin in the case!).  Nehemiah referred to the large quantity of wine that supplied his daily court (Neh. 5:18) although he declared that he did not demand this from the subjects of Judea.  Interestingly, the ruins in Persian Persepolis portray servants bearing wineskins to the royal court (photo 1; Cincinnati), indicating that these were not necessarily vessels relegated to the poor!

Tablet with image of attendant kneeling holding wineskin

Evidence of the value attached to water skins and wine skins is the preservation of an alabaster model of a skin vessel in the Early Bronze Age II-III temple and sanctuary at Ai (photo 2; Rockefeller Museum).  The vessel is poorly preserved but the folded rear legs and the neck with its closing rope are still distinct.  William Flinders Petrie had found a similar “model waterskin” at 3d millennium BC Egypt (Amiran 1970: 174-77).  The degree of work involved to manufacture such a vessel and to produce a full-size version in alabaster speaks to the value placed upon the objects.

White alabaster wine skin

Goats were probably the most prevalent animals whose skin would be used to make wine and water skins.  If properly removed (peeled off from the rear to the head) they would be suitable containers to carry a liquid.  The rear of the animal would be sewn shut and the legs tied closed; the neck would remain as the opening through which to fill and drain the skin.  Furthermore goat skins would generally be large enough to hold a reasonable amount of liquid, but not too large to be bulky and difficult to carry.  Skins have been used until quite modern times as containers for water in Middle and Near Eastern countries as well as parts of Africa (see photo 3 of man carrying a skin on his back as if a backpack [Mahmoud]).  The sample in our museum is probably about 100 years old.  One photo shows goat skins being processed at Hebron sometime between 1898 and 1914 (photo 4; Lib of Congress, Bolen).  One portrayal of the use of water skins is in the epic movie Lawrence of Arabia (1962), starring Peter O’Toole and set in the context of World War I roughly the date of our example in the photograph.

two men, one is sitting and one is standing wearing a water skin on his back

The first reference to skins as vessels in the Bible appears when Hagar and Ishmael were expelled from Abraham’s household and their water skin had run out.  Hagar feared for their lives without water (Gen. 21:14), but the Lord directed her to a nearby well where she filled the skin (21:19).

hundreds of water skins laid out in rows to dry

Milk was also stored and churned in skins. When Sisera fled from the battle field and sought refuge in Jael’s tent, she opened a skin of milk and gave him its contents (Judg. 4:19).  Evidence of processing milk into a yogurt-type product dates at least as far back as the Chalcolithic period as shown in the discovery of ceramic churns which mimicked animal skins (photo 5; Israel Museum).  Anthropological studies reveal that skins were often used to churn milk into a yogurt-like drink that was part of the diet of antiquity; this “technological” discovery enhanced the ability of people to store and market goods (Grigson 1995: 266).  The narrative of Abraham serving his three guests curds and milk (Gen. 18:8) implies the use of a skin to produce the curds, which basically was the yogurt-like drink (see also King and Stager 2001: 103).

brown container that holds milk

Amiran, Ruth.  1970.  “The Egyptian Alabaster Vessels from Ai.”  Israel Exploration Journal 20/3-4: 170-79.

Cincinnati Art Museum.  Photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons.

Grigson, Caroline.  1995.  “Plough and Pasture in the Early Economy of the Southern Levant.”

Pp. 245-68 in The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land.  Ed. T. E. Levy.  New York:  Facts on   File.

Israel Museum, courtesy of (Photo by D. Manor).

King, Philip J. and Lawrence E. Stager.  2001.  Life in Biblical Israel.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-matpc-06775/www.LifeintheHolyLand.com; with permission of Todd Bolen.

Mahmoud Abu Eid. Photo gift from Mahmoud of the Oriental Museum, Jerusalem—Old City; 37 King David Street.

Tell el-Yahudiyeh Juglet (2)

These juglets have very distinctive forms in that they usually have a double handle and punctiliated geometric patterns on their bodies.  Originally the vessels had white paint in the impressions, dramatizing the contrast with the body of the vessel.  The name derives from a site in Egypt, known as Tell el-Yahudiyeh where the vessel design was first identified.  The term Tell el-Yahudiyeh means “Mound of the Jews,” although it is an anachronism to apply the term to the Middle Bronze Age remains.  The term probably has some credence for the Exilic period when there was a Jewish temple/shrine at the site.  William Flinders Petrie identified the Middle Bronze Age site with the Hyksos who were Canaanites who for a while took control of the northern Delta region of Egypt during what is identified as the XV Dynasty (ca. 1650-1550 B.C.).  The vessel design originated in Canaan and eventually found its way to Egypt through trade and migration.

Baines, John and Jaromir Malek.  Ancient Egypt.  The Cultural Atlas of the World.  Oxford:  Andromeda,  1990 (p. 174).

Holladay, John S., Jr.  2001.  Yahudiyya, Tell el-.  Pp. 527-29 in Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. 3.  Ed. D. B. Redford.  New York:  Oxford, 2001

Sparks, Rachael Thyrza, ed.  2007.  A Future for the Past:  Petrie’s Palestinian Collection.  London:  Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 2007 (pp. 84-85).

Perfume/Kohl bottle (3)

This small vessel was a luxury item in the ancient world and dates from the Middle Bronze Age.  Its design and manufacture find their origins in Egypt where they held ointments, perfume, or kohl.  Kohl was the black substance that the Egyptians used around their eyes.  Kohl was not just for beauty purposes, but it reduced the sun’s glare as well as ward off pesky insects from the eyes.  The coating on the vessel is faience, an early form of glaze that used crushed silica or quartz; when fired it becomes semi-glossy.

Travel between Egypt and Canaan was fairly open during the Middle Bronze Age, as evidenced by the famous Beni Hasan Tomb painting which shows a group of Canaanites traveling to Egypt, partly to market kohl.  The Bible indicates a similar openness as Abraham and his family moved to Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan (Gen. 12:10).  This was one of the occasions when Abram presented Sarai as his sister and she was taken into the Pharaoh’s harem.  It is probable that among the gifts bestowed upon Sarai would have been faience items similar to this one.

The Bible refers to painting the eyes, using the word kohl, although it is much later than the Patriarchs.  The occasion was in a tirade against Israel and Judah and their unfaithfulness with other countries and gods:  “For them you bathed yourself, painted your eyes, and adorned yourself with ornaments” (Ezek. 23:40).  The verb “paint” is the word kohl (ljk). There is no evidence that they would have used a vessel of this type in that period, but it shows the prevalence of kohl in the ancient world.

Carinated bowl (4)

The term “carination” refers to the sharp ridge bend in the side of the vessel.  Carinated bowls were quite common in the Middle Bronze Age—the likely period when Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived.  There were several versions of these vessels which typically developed through time as is the usual case with ceramic typology (see the chart elsewhere in the museum).

What is sobering is the probable role of a vessel of this nature when Esau came in from the field, famished with hunger and asked for a bowl of Jacob’s “red stew” (Gen. 25:30, ESV).  Jacob manipulated the situation to his advantage by proposing that Esau trade his birthright for the stew.  Esau agreed and so began his reputation as an irreligious person who sold his inheritance for a single meal (cf. Heb. 12:16; some versions describe him as “unholy” [ESV] or “profane” [KJV]).  It is sobering to think that one would be so short-sighted to sell his inheritance for such a relatively paltry commodity.

Sumerian law code (5)

This is a resin reproduction of a law code tablet dating from ca. 1860 B.C.  It was discovered in Nippur in modern Iraq during an excavation sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania.  It is written in Sumerian using cuneiform as the style of writing.  Cuneiform means “wedge-shaped,” and refers to the impressions left in the clay which express syllables or alphabetic letters (depending on the language; e.g., Ugaritic which was an alphabetic cuneiform).

This example preserves the Laws of Lipit-Ishtar who ruled in the first dynasty of Isin (ca. 1934-1924 B.C.).  While it has often been said that Hammurabi’s Code is the first law code, a number of law codes have been discovered that predate Hammurabi, among which is this one.  Admittedly, Hammurabi’s Code is much larger, but law codes predated him by centuries.  Examples of others have been discovered dating from as early as 2100 B.C. (the laws of Ur-Nammu).  It is thought that this small example was a writing exercise for school practice.

— Data from Barry Eichler and Carole Linderman and a brochure that came with the artifact from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. www.museum.upenn.edu

Sumerian clay cone inscription (6)

This clay cone dates to ca. 1950 B.C., probably from the temenos wall area of the temple of Gula, at Isin in modern Iraq.  The following collation was produced in 2006 by Professor John D. Fortner, retired Professor of Hebrew Bible.

Ishme-Dagan,                                     (and) its work force from corvee

powerful male,                                    he remitted

king of Isin,                                        the great wall of Isin

king of the four world corners,              he built.

when (for) Nippur                                That wall (which)

the city beloved                                   he built,

〈by〉 Enlil                                         “Ishme-Dagan beside Enlil is the great arm of Anu"

its tribute                                            is its name.

he cancelled;

Essentially it is a commemorative inscription put into the structure of the wall to extol the greatness of the king, Ishme-Dagan, who granted release from taxes and military service while the people were building the temple.

Duckbill axe (7)

The term “duckbill” applies for its obvious similarity—we do not know what the people of antiquity called it.  The weapon, which was a natural typological development out of the earlier sequence of copper axes, was the last in the line of these designs and yet the first that was made out of bronze.  It clearly was not used to chop down trees, but was a weapon.  The famous Beni Hasan tomb painting in Egypt depicts a group of Canaanites migrating to Egypt and the last person in the line of Canaanites is shown carrying one of these axes.  It would have been very effective as a weapon and was a classic advance in technology as people learned how to work with bronze.  The date of the tomb painting, and hence the time period of the “duckbill” axe, is to sometime in the 20th century B.C.

Cylinder seal (8)

Cylinder seals were used by people in ancient times as identity stamps.  The seal would be rolled in a soft substance (e.g., clay), leaving an impression that was uniquely associated with the person who owned it.  The owner usually carried the seal attached to a toggle pin (to which this one is attached) which then served as a sort of clasp/button on the garment (as shown on the drawing with the display).  It is clear that seals were typically only associated with people of influence and wealth—the cost to produce the fine detail inscriptions and drawings was prohibitive.

It was almost certainly one of these that served as the point of tension in the story of Tamar and Judah in Genesis 38.  Judah’s son, Er, had married Tamar, but the Lord was angry with him and killed him.  Since Levirate marriage was the custom, Er’s brother, Onan was to marry her and raise up children in the name of Er.  Onan, however, refused to comply with the law and he, too, was killed.  That left Judah’s third son, Shelah, as the one to perform the rights of the brother-in-law.  He, however, was too young.  But when it was clear to Tamar that Judah was not honoring the law, she dressed as a prostitute and negotiated with Judah to have relations with him.  Since he did not have anything to pay her, she asked for his seal, the cord and his staff to be held as security until he could send suitable payment.  The seal and the cord refers to a cylinder seal and the accompanying cord and toggle pin.

After she had secured the seal, cord and staff, she left, not waiting for the “suitable” payment.  When it was discovered that she was pregnant, Judah declared that she should be executed.  At that time she produced the seal, cord and staff declaring that the one to whom these belonged was the father.  Judah’s guilt was revealed—the seal was as good as his signature.

Half-Shekel Temple Tax (9)

The Law of Moses required that when a census would occur, each adult male was to give to the Temple a half-shekel (Exodus 30:12-14).  Eventually this tradition became an annual tax.  In addition, Mosaic law recognized the logistical challenge to take sheep, goats, grain, and cattle long distances to sacrifice in Jerusalem, so the Lord permitted his subjects to sell the goods and take the money to Jerusalem to exchange for the required elements (Deuteronomy 14:22-26).  By the first century, the Temple authorities had implemented quality control requirements, restricting the currency they would accept.  The money changers whom Jesus drove out of the Temple precinct were part of this system (cf. Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:13-16)—not only would they convert money back to animals, but they would be part of the quality control to convert foreign currency to the only accepted currency—the Tyrian shekel.  The Tyrian shekel was originally minted in Tyre and was a purer silver content—94 percent!  The irony of requiring this coin for the temple tax and exchange is that the coin preserved the profile image of a Greek god—Melqaart/Heracles—on one side and an eagle on the reverse—both of which would be graven images seemingly in violation of the Decalogue’s prohibition of graven images (cf. Exodus 20:3-4).

Normally the half-shekel would be the fee for the temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27), but when Peter was challenged regarding whether Jesus would pay the tax or not, Jesus directed Peter to go fish and in the fish’s mouth would be the full shekel  with which to pay the tax for himself and Peter.

The silver shekel and half-shekels were likely also the currency given to Judas as the betrayal money since it came out of the temple treasury (cf. Matthew 27:3-6).

Betlyon, John W.  “Coinage.”  Pp. 1076-89 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1.  Ed. D. N. Freedman.  New York:  Doubleday, 1992.

Franz, Gordon.  “The Tyrian Shekel and the Temple of Jerusalem.”  Bible and Spade. 2002.

Perkin, H. W.  “Money.”  Pp. 402-09 in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, vol. 3.  Ed. G. W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1986.

Denarius (10)

The denarius was worth the equivalent of ten (10) asses/donkeys (Bilkes [2009]: 136), which would have represented a sizable degree of wealth in the first century.  During the first century A.D., this silver coin constituted the normal day’s salary for the common laborer (Betlyon [1992]: 1086).  While there were several denarii issued by the Roman government and most all of them depicted the emperor, this version shows Tiberius Caesar on one side and on the other side is a portrayal of his seated mother, Livia who was Caesar Augustus’ wife.

There were several versions of the denarius in circulation at the time of Jesus, but the one issued by Tiberius (dating from 14-37 A.D.) would have easily spanned the time frame of his ministry.  It is for this reason that most scholars are inclined to identify this version of the denarius as the one Jesus used in his famous dictum after asking whose inscription was on it:  “…render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

An understanding of the general value of the denarius as a day’s wages dramatizes its significance in a number of events in the New Testament narrative.  Among them is the episode when Judas objected when Mary anointed Jesus with the nard and he argued:  “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:5).  The value of the nard was extraordinary for a common person, and while it could have helped alleviate the suffering of many poor people, Judas’ lust for the wealth was his dominant concern (John 12:6).

Betlyon, John W.  “Coinage.”  Pp. 1076-89 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1.  Ed. D. N. Freedman.  New York:  Doubleday, 1992.

Bilkes, Gerald M.  “Money, Coins.”  Pp. 130-37 in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4.  Ed. K. D. Sakenfeld.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2009.

Widow’s Mites (11)

The term “Widow’s Mite” applies to the two copper/bronze coins that the widow deposited into the treasury of the Temple and which prompted Jesus to commend her generosity (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4).  The Greek word transliterates to lepton (sing.; lepta, pl.) and means “small” or “thin” (Liddell and Scott [1968]: 1039-40), and alludes to its minimal value in the economic structure.  The value of the coin was approximately 1/128 that of the denarius (cf. Schmidt [1992]: 805)—or to put it another way, since the denarius was considered the equivalent of a day’s wages for a common laborer, the lepton would equate to about six minutes of work (on the basis of a twelve hour work day).  The traditional identification has derived from those issued by Alexander Jannaeus, of the Hasmonean period who “reigned” from ca. 103-76 B.C.  If the Alexander Jannaeus coins are the ones under consideration in the story of the widow, one side depicts an anchor and the other an eight-spoked wheel or eight-ray star (it is not clear which is meant).

Alternatively, her contribution could have been a combination of any of the lepta that would have been in circulation during Jesus’ ministry.  Hence, they could have included not only the Alexander Jannaeus examples, but also those issued by Coponius, Ambibulus, Gratus, or Pilate himself (examples for some of whom are in the display case).

In Jesus’ parable of the workers (Matthew 20:1-15), the people who were hired the 11th hour would have expected to be paid about ten (10) of these coins, but instead were generously given a full denarius!

Liddell, H. G. and R. Scott.  A Greek-English Lexicon with Supplement.  Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1968.

Schmidt, T. E. “Taxes.”  Pp. 804-07 in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels.  Eds. J. B. Green, S. McKnight, and I. H. Marshall.  Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Treasure Hidden in a Field (12)

Banks, as repositories of wealth from which the average person could draw, were unknown in the ancient world, plus there was the danger of unscrupulous personnel.  The tendency, then, was either to carry the wealth with you in some fashion or hide it.  To bury a treasure in a field was one of those tactics.  Jesus used that tradition in one of his parables as he discussed the kingdom:  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

This is similar to the practice utilized by the Dead Sea Scroll community who put their valuable manuscripts into clay jars and hid them in the caves above Qumran, expecting to return to the area and retrieve them.  This was their version of the “treasure in jars of clay” similar to what Paul said of the gospel message:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).  In these practices, the contents of the vessels was perceived as far more valuable than the container.

This practice of burying one’s valuables was a common strategy and museums often show examples of earthen vessels which have been plowed up or otherwise discovered in which bits of silver and/or gold had been preserved—and long forgotten (photo #1).  The practice is well-known to the Arabic population in the Middle East as well as elsewhere.  One problem that archaeologists had in the early years of excavation focused on this tradition.  Many times when a worker would uncover a complete vessel, he would bust it open to see if it had gold and/or silver inside.  Archaeologists certainly understand the value of the gold and silver, but the intact vessel also preserves great value as well!  While we have glue to restore vessels, we would prefer not to have to use it!

Photo #1:  A collection from 11th century B.C. Dor; Courtesy of Israel Museum; photo by D. W. Manor

Coin of Constantine the Great (13)

While technically not an artifact of Biblical Archaeology, this coin was issued by Constantine the Great (died 337 A.D.) who was the Roman leader who in 313 A.D. legalized Christianity, thus permitting the Gospel to be spread more openly.

Tesserae/Tessera (14)

Tesserae are the small stones that are used to make mosaics.  Different colors of stone would be chosen to represent the various patterns, whether geometric or of scenes.  The smaller the stones the more detail and crispness tends to characterize the piece of art.  The size of the stones might be compared to the number of pixels per inch on your computer screen—the lower the number, the less well-defined the image; the higher the number, the more detail you can have.  Of course, the higher the number, the greater the labor intensity to produce the mosaic.  As you might suspect, typically only the elite could afford to have mosaics as their floors.  Many of the mosaics in the biblical world are extremely elaborate and colorful.  Some are geometric designs, others are elaborate scenes of nature or other designs.  Among the most elaborate are those at Sepphoris, a town about four miles (six kilometers) northwest of Nazareth.  A famous mosaic from Sepphoris has been dubbed “The ‘Mona Lisa’ of the Galilee” from the house of Dionysos and dates from the 3rd century A.D.  The depiction of the woman is part of a larger mosaic measuring 7.0 x 5.5 meters (ca. 23 x 18 feet) and consisting of 1.5 million stones of in twenty-three colors (photo 1).

worn piece of a mosaic painting

Kondoleon, Christine and Lucille A. Roussin.  “Mosaics.”  Pp. 50-55 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 4.  Ed. E. M. Meyers.  New York:  Oxford University, 1997.

Meyers, Carol L. and Eric M. Meyers.  “Sepphoris.”  Pp. 527-36 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 4.  Ed. E. M. Meyers.  New York:  Oxford University, 1997.

Meyers, Eric M.; Ehud Netzer, and Carol L. Meyers.  “Artistry in Stone:  The Mosaics of Ancient Sepphoris,”  Biblical Archaeologist 50/4 (1987): 223-31.

Stone Cup (15)

During the first century B.C. into first century A.D., stone vessels became particularly popular.  It appears that the rationale for their development was a response to Levitical legislation dealing with kosher laws.  Leviticus 11 discusses various means by which vessels could become unclean; among them would be if a dead rat, mouse, lizard, or gecko were to fall on an item.  If the item were made of wood, cloth, or leather, it was to be washed and would remain unclean until the evening after which it could be used.  If any of these were to fall on a ceramic vessel, the vessel was to be broken (Leviticus 11:29-34).  The rabbis observed that the legislation says nothing about stone vessels, so they inferred that these were exempt at least from the decree of breakage.  (Metal objects apparently were also exempt from destruction; cf. Numbers 31:21-24).

The reference to the six stone water jars at the wedding feast in Cana probably alludes to this ideological practice.  The text explicitly notes that the jars were “there for the Jewish rites of purification” (John 2:6; ESV).  An example of four large jars appears in photo #1.

Recent excavations at a site near Nazareth have uncovered a cave where some of these ritual vessels were produced.  The cave yielded “numerous remains of stone vessels in various stages of production,” (Arutz Sheva).

Arutz Sheva Staff.  “Excavations in Galilee reveal 2,000 year-old stone factory.”  Arutz Sheva, on-line publication.  21 Aug. 2016.  www.israelnatonalnews.com/News/News.aspx/216697

Yonatan Adler.  “Jewish Purity Practices in Roman Judea:  The Evidence of Archaeology.”  The Ancient Near East Today 5/2 (2017):  on-line publication:  asorblog.org/jewish-purity-practices-roman-judea-evidence-archaeology

Photo #1:  Courtesy of Israel Museum; photo by D. W. Manor

Sundial (16)

This reproduces an artifact that probably belonged to a priest associated with Herod’s temple in Jerusalem.  It was discovered in the pile of debris beneath the retaining walls of the Herodian Temple.  It is a “pocket-watch” which the owner could use to align with a designated place on the wall to determine the time of day.  It was probably used to determine the times of prayer.  The New Testament mentions the “hour of prayer” when Peter and John were going to the Temple to pray (Acts 3:1).  This determination would have been particularly important for a priest. The incised portrayal of a menorah on the back of the sun-dial implies its use by priests who were supposed to be the only ones authorized to use it.

The two indentations are thought to permit one properly to align the dial.  The description in the Biblical Archaeology Review states that “the dial’s face is carefully calibrated for Jerusalem” (Levy 1998: 20).

Levy, Abraham.  “Bad Timing:  Time to Get a New Theory.”  Biblical Archaeology Review 24/4 (1998): 18-23.

Judean pillar figurines (17)

These figurines typically take two basic forms.  The bodies of both forms consist of the pillar and its anatomical features; the differences are in how the head is portrayed.  The exemplar on display is what is called a “molded head” since the face and head were made in a mold and then attached to the body.  Some of the examples of the molded face forms preserve flecks of paint implying an element of sophistication.  The other form (not on display) has the same body but the head is called a “pinch-face” or “bird-face” figurine since all that exists to represent the face is a pinched head to show the face extending forward (photo 1).  The probable reasons for the differences is economic—the pinch face could be produced much more easily than the one requiring a mold.

Scholars consistently believe that these were used in some kind of religious/ceremonial function, the details of which are open to argument.  Darby (404-05) basically argues that they were used as elements of a kind of magic in the healing arts.  Manor (1995: 226-96) and Never (2005: 176-94) argue that they represented small, domestic versions of Asherah, the goddess frequently condemned in the Hebrew Bible (cf. e.g., Deut. 16:21; Judg. 6:25; 1 Kgs. 15:13; 2 Kgs 17:16 et al.).  Most of the pillar figurines date to the 7th century B.C. and particularly to the end of the century basically contemporary with the reign of Josiah, who attempted to eradicate the worship of Asherah (2 Kgs. 23:1-15).  He attempted to eliminate the use of household gods and idols; it is probable that these are examples of that attention.

Darby, Erin.  Interpreting Judean Pillar Figurines.  Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe, 69.  Tübingen:  Mohr Siebeck, 2014.  represents appeal for healing (pp. 404-05)

Dever, William G.  Did God Have a Wife?  Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel.  Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005.  Pp. 176-94 (194).

Manor, Dale W.  An Archaeological Commentary on the Josianic Reforms.  Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Arizona.  Ann Arbor:  UMI Dissertation Services, 1995.  Pp. 226-96.

Copper Serpent (18)

This full-size replica is of a copper serpent that was found inside a shrine at the site of Timna’ just north of the Gulf of Eilat.  The area was known for its copper mining, and the shrine dates to the early 12th century B.C.  The excavators postulated that the occupants were Midianites who worked the site (Rothenberg 1972: 183-84).  The time frame is fairly closely connected with the time of the Judges of the Bible and perhaps just after the Exodus.

Geographically, the area around Timna’ was where the Bible narrates that the Israelites complained about their plight in the wilderness (and it is a wilderness!!!) and God sent poisonous serpents into the camp to bite the people (Numbers 21:6-9).  God then directed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent to serve as a focal point for people to be healed.  The Timna’ shrine went out of use by the middle of the 12th century.

Small copper/bronze serpents were fairly widely distributed in ancient Canaan (photo #1).  Among other locations, examples have been found at Hazor (Yadin et al. 1960:117, pl. 181), Megiddo (Loud 1948: pl. 240, no. 1), and Mevorakh (Stern 1984: 22, fig. 3.1, pl. 31.1).  It is not clear to whom or how these serpents were used.  One theory is that they were associated with fertility; another suggests association with healing (hence the caduceus as a symbol of healing; photo #2).  In the episode with Moses, the serpents brought death and the bronze serpent was a focal point for healing.  Apparently the Israelites enshrined the bronze serpent, because Hezekiah made it part of his religious purge several hundred years later (cf. 2 Kings 18:4), when it was named Nehushtan.

The etymology of the term nehushtan is ambiguous; it could derive from a root word meaning “copper” or it could derive from a root word meaning “snake” (Brown, Driver, Briggs 1972: 639).  Either source would work.

Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, eds.  A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament.  Oxford:  The Clarendon Press, 1972.

Loud, Gordon, ed.  Megiddo II:  Seasons of 1935-1939: Plates.  Chicago:  The University of Chicago, 1948.

Manor, Dale W.  “Timna’.”  Pp. 553-56 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 6.  Ed. D. N. Freedman.  New York:  Doubleday, 1992.

Stern, Ephraim.  Excavations at Tel Mevorakh (1973-1976).  Qedem 18.  Jerusalem:  The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Yadin, Yigal et al.  Hazor II:  An Account of the Second Season of Excavations 1956.  Jerusalem:  The Magnes Press The Hebrew University, 1960.

Bird-shaped cult bowl (19)

This reproduction is of an artifact (photo 1) that was uncovered in a Philistine Temple (Temple 131) at the site of Tell Qasile, on the grounds adjacent to the Eretz-Israel Museum near Tel Aviv, Israel.  The temple originally stood in the late 11th-early 10th centuries B.C. (i.e., ca. 1025-950 B.C.).  The ritual bowl was found in a building which preserved numerous vessels of clearly ritual character.  Regretfully, we are unable to determine exactly how the vessel was used.  The base of the vessel was broken off, but compared with similar bird-shaped vessels in the room, it probably had a stem extending below the bottom which would have fit inside a special stand in the room.   It likely was used to receive liquid offerings of some kind; quite a number of other vessels in the room were designed clearly for ceremonies that involved liquids.

Bowl shaped like a bird

Eretz-Israel Museum, courtesy of (photo by D. Manor)

Mazar, Amihai.  Excavations at Tell Qasile, Part 1:  The Philistine Sanctuary:  Architecture and Cult Objects.  Qedem 12.  Jerusalem:  Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1980.

Horse-and-rider figurines (20)

The reforms of Josiah describe removing the “horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun” that were become associated with the Temple complex in Jerusalem (2 Kgs. 23:11).  The time frame for the preponderance of these figurines is toward the end of the 7th century BC and it is tempting to associate them with Josiah’s reforms. While this animal looks more like a dog than a horse, the fact that the person is on its back bridling the animal indicates implies a horse.  The clay disk between the ears probably represents the sun.  Likely these models were miniature representations of the activities and rituals in the Temple, perhaps to serve as domestic focal points of worship (alongside the pillar figurines?).  Dever (1994: 152-53) has associated these figurines with the solar deities.

Dever, William G.  “The Silence of the Text:  An Archaeological Commentary on 2 Kings 23.”  Pp. 143-68 in Scripture and Other Artifacts:  Essays on the Bible and Archaeology in Honor of Philip J. King.  Eds. M. D. Coogan, J. C. Exum, L. E. Stager.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox, 1994.

Rattle (21)

Rattles occur with some frequency in the archaeological record, but usually in either tomb or ritual contexts.  They thus may have been associated with ritual and/or music.  There is no particular reason simply to associate them with infants or children.  Their presence in tombs likely were issues of divination as people would use them to drive away perceived spirits that they thought might be looming in the tombs.  Alternatively, we have examples of rattles on ritual items, among which is a unique ritual scepter (photo 1) that was used in an Edomite worship site of Qitmit located southwest of the Dead Sea (note the rattle shape at the top of the head of the face).

While the date of the museum example is unknown, these items may have been part of the Josianic reform as he sought to eradicate divination (2 Kgs. 23:24) which was often associated with mediums and necromancers (Manor 1995: 351-52).

Stone statue that is a head with three horns

Israel Museum, photo courtesy of (photo by D. Manor).

Manor, Dale W.  An Archaeological Commentary on the Josianic Reforms.  Ph.D. dissertation, University of Arizona.  Ann Arbor:  UMI Dissertation Services, 1995.

Pomegranate (22)

Models of pomegranates often appear in ritual contexts.  Mosaic legislation required that the hem of the High Priest’s garment be decorated with alternating bells and pomegranates made of blue, purple, and scarlet yarns (Exo.28:33-34; 39:24-26).  Images of the pomegranate later became part of the Solomonic Temple as well (1 Kgs. 7:18-20, 42).  Pomegranates were among the fruits the spies brought back from their mission as testimony of the productivity of Canaan (Num. 13:23).  The Hebrew word for pomegranate is rimmon which appears a number of times in the Old Testament as place names, implying the prevalence of pomegranate trees in the vicinity (cf. Josh. 15:32; 19:7; Judg. 20:45-47).  Pomegranates grow on small trees in the warmer areas of Canaan (photo 1).

In many cultures pomegranates represented fertility and productivity since they are so rich in seeds.  They are among the many metaphors by which the lovers in the Song of Songs describe each other (Song of Songs 4:3, 13; 6:7). 

The pomegranate is a versatile product, not only yielding a tasty, healthful red fruit drink from pressing the seeds, but it was used to flavor wines as well (cf. Song of Songs 8:2).  Its flowers, bark and rind can be used to produce a red dye particularly effective on leathers (cf. perhaps used to produce the “ram skins dyed red” in the NIV; Exo. 25:5; cf. Props 2006: 374 contra ESV rendering).  Medicinal uses of the plant would be treatment of tapeworm, diarrhea, and skin ailments (Jacob and Jacob 1992: 808).

Tree with pomegranates hanging from it

Jacob, Irene and Walter Jacob.  “Flora.”  Pp. 803-17 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2.  Ed. D. N. Freedman.  New York:  Doubleday, 1992.

Propp, William C. H.  Exodus 19-40.  Anchor Bible 2A.  New York:  Doubleday, 2006.

Ashdoda (23)

The original of this unique piece was discovered in the excavations at Ashdod in modern Israel.  The site had been one of the Philistine Pentapolis cities which included Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, Gath, and Ekron (cf. references in Josh. 13:3).  The piece was found in a cultic/ritual context of what appeared to be a temple dating from the 12th century B.C. (Dothan, M. 1971a: 161; 1971b: 192-93).  The design of the Ashdoda reflects strong Mycenaean influences and looks very similar to pieces discovered scattered throughout the ancient Mycenaean world in and near the mainland of modern Greece.  This, along with other lines of evidence, prompt many to infer connections of the Philistines with the Mycenaean world.

The Ashdoda probably represents an adaptation of a Mycenaean female deity and throne (Dothan, T. 1982: 234-37).

Dothan, Moshe.  Ashdod II-III:  The Second and Third Seasons of Excavations 1963, 1965, Soundings in 1967.  Text.  Atiqot IX-X.  Jerusalem:  Department of Antiquities, 1971a.

Dothan, Moshe.  Ashdod II-III:  The Second and Third Seasons of Excavations 1963, 1965, Soundings in 1967.  Figures and Plates.  Atiqot IX-X.  Jerusalem:  Department of Antiquities, 1971b.

Dothan, Trude.  The Philistines and Their Material Culture.  Jerusalem:  Israel Exploration Society, 1982.

Chalice (25)

Many people refer to these as “fruit bowls,” but their presence in ritual contexts in the ancient world tends to imply something more lofty.  Admittedly we do not know for sure how they were used, their presence in ritual settings associates them with religious practice in some way.  One postulate is that they were containers in which to burn incense; another, and more likely theory, argues that they were more formalized drinking vessels (people in the ancient biblical world were more inclined to drink wine from bowls rather than cups in the sense that we think of them; cf. Amos 6:6).  Chalices would be more formal portrayals of bowls.  The Bible refers to “drink offerings” which many times and these often consisted of about a quart (biblical hin) of wine (cf. Exodus 25:29;  Leviticus 23:13 et al.).

A famous Assyrian relief shows Assurbanipal and his wife drinking from bowls while they recline  in their garden after the victory over the king of Elam (cf. Pritchard 1969: fig. 451).  Another, later example made of bronze dates from the 4th century B.C. and had an inscription in which the cup is dedicated to Shamash—a common Mesopotamian deity (Avigad and Greenfield 1982).

Avigad, N. and J. C. Greenfield.  “A Bronze phials with a Phoenician Dedicatory Inscription.”  Israel Exploration Journal 32/2-3 (1982): 118-28.

Pritchard, James B.  The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament.  2d edition with Supplement.  Princeton:  Princeton University, 1969.

Mycenaean Psi Figurine (26)

These artifacts date to seem to what biblical archaeologists would define as the Late Bronze Age (as far as the land of Canaan is concerned).  They seem to originate from the ancient Mycenaean world (e.g., ancient Greece).  There are several forms of them:  this one is known as a Psi figurine and the other predominant form that appears in Canaan is the Phi figurine (photo #1).  These names reflect the stylized similarity to the Greek letters phi and psi.  We should not infer that the people of antiquity referred to them by these names.  The presence of similar artifacts in Canaan tend to cluster in sites where the Sea Peoples settled, of whom the Philistines were a part.  You might notice the similarity of the stylistic design of the Psi Figurine with the Ashdoda.

The functions of the Psi and Phi figurines remain problematic, but the preponderance of them, at least in the Mycenaean world, seem to be associated with boundary rituals—whether physical (buildings and doorways) or spiritual (e.g., burials).  That does not preclude their use in other settings as well.  Several sites in ancient Canaan have yielded examples of these including one found at Beth-Shemesh (photo #2).  It was found in debris so it was impossible to determine a contextual setting for it.

Tsonou-Herbst, Ioulia Nikalaou.  A Contextual Analysis of Mycenaean Terracotta Figurines.  Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation.  University of Cincinnati, 2002.

Photo #1:  Courtesy of Delphi Museum; photo by D. W. Manor

Photo #2:  figurine from Tell Beth-Shemesh Excavation Project; photo by D. W. Manor

Canaanite God El (27)

This “reproduction” is similar to the artifact that was found in the excavations at Megiddo in the debris associated with the Stratum VII Late Bronze Age Temple.  The portrayal is of El, the chief Canaanite god.  In the literature of Ugarit, which was contemporary with the Late Bronze Age, El was the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon, although he had basically relinquished most of his responsibilities to Baal, the storm god, while still retaining supreme authority.  El was often portrayed as a beneficent god, sitting with his hand raised in a poise of blessing.  Baal, on the other hand, was more often portrayed with a raised arm holding something to throw or with which to smite.  The Megiddo version is in the University of Chicago Oriental Institute Museum and shows El sitting with a high conical hat, his hands extended and holding a feather (?) in his left hand.

While somewhat peripheral in the contentions in the Bible, since El was another god, he was a rival to Yahweh of Israel, and hence one whom the Israelites were not to worship.  The portrayal of such a god as an object of worship was also in violation of the Ten Commandments (cf. Exodus 20:3-4).

Day, John.  “Baal (Deity).”  Pp. 545-49 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1.  Ed. D. N. Freedman.  New York:  Doubleday, 1992.

Loud, Gordon.  Megiddo II:  Seasons of 1935-39, Text.  University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications, LXII.  Chicago:  University of Chicago, 1948. (p. 105).

Loud, Gordon.  Megiddo II:  Seasons of 1935-39, Plates.  University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications, LXII.  Chicago:  University of Chicago, 1948. (pl.  237, 238).

Rose, Martin.  “Names of God in the OT.”  Pp. 1001-11 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4.  Ed. D. N. Freedman.  New York:  Doubleday, 1992.

lemelek (Klml) Storage Jar and Handle (28)

While these are separate items, they relate to one another.  The fragmentary jar is the bottom part of a storage jar.  Obviously, the neck and handles are missing; there would normally have been four handles, an example of which appears on the shelf with it (but this handle was not originally part of this jar).  The handles of the jar were often stamped with a seal impression which read lemelek across the top of the impression, then there was the portrayal of a scarab, beneath which was another Hebrew word naming one of four towns in Judah—Hebron, Socoh, Ziph, or a town whose consonants are mmst (we know neither where this site was, nor exactly how to pronounce its name).  Regretfully, this example of a stamp impression is badly marred, having been double stamped which obscured the inscription and image.  You may see the obscured image of the scarab with its wings spread.  Photo #1 shows a clearer example of one of these impressions (photo #1); the town mentioned at the bottom is Socoh.  Photo #2 shows an example of the entire vessel—you can see the impression on the handle (photo #2).

These items were produced as a direct result of Hezekiah’s decrees.  With the advance of Sennacherib and the Assyrians (2 Chronicles 32:1-5) we can infer that part of the rationale for these vessels was to try to protect Judah against their threats. The Bible notes that Hezekiah built storehouses and stockpiled grain, wine, and oil (2 Chronicles 32:27-30), and while the passage implies that some of this was for his royal use, we may infer that some of it was for the welfare of his subjects.  Hundreds of examples of such storage jars and stamp impressions have been found widely scattered in Judah, but mainly in the perimeter towns that would have served as the border cities.

Photo #1:  stamp impression courtesy of Tel Beth-Shemesh Excavation Project; photo by D. W. Manor

Photo #2:  storage jar courtesy of Israel Museum; photo by D. W. Manor

Storage Jar with Draining Cradle (30)

This storage jar dates to the Early Bronze Age I-II (3200-2800 B.C.) and was designed to hold liquid—almost certainly olive oil.  Olive oil was a very versatile product being used as a fuel source for light, for cooking, for ritual, for medicine, and for commerce.  The small protrusion on the shoulder of the vessel has a drain hole in it.  The people would use a small vessel, such as the one at the base of the storage jar with which to dip out the liquid.  They would then return the small vessel to the cradle to permit the oil which was on the outside of the dipper vessel to drain back down into the main body of the storage jar.

(The small vessel at the base of the storage jar is from an earlier period, but is used here as an example of the size that might be involved).

Sling and Stones (31)

The sling was a formidable weapon in antiquity and still can be.  Unfortunately we tend to minimize the power of these weapons when we assume that the stones were about the size of marbles.  On the contrary, evidence indicates their potential size at least up to tennis balls!  In addition, a good sling-thrower can throw a stone upwards of 200 meters (Korfmann 1973: 37).  Interestingly, on the Lachish Reliefs which show Sennacherib’s siege of Lachish, the slingthrowers are behind the archers (cf. Korfmann 1973: 36).  Korfmann also notes that the projectile could be thrown at a speed upward of 100 km per hour (= 60 mph; 1973: 40).

The implications of this range could change one’s perceptions of the encounter between David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17).  We usually envision the encounter of the two as only about 20 yards or so from each other.  While we cannot deny that, David could very easily have been well out of range of Goliath’s javelin throw.  In addition, the possible size of the projectile striking Goliath’s forehead would have created severe skull fractures (the text states that the stone sank into his forehead; 17:49)!

The lead example at the front of the case, is a reproduction of half of a lead sling bullet that was found from 4th century B.C. Athens.  The weight of the full bullet was almost four (4) ounces!  It preserved an inscription that reads:  “Take [this].”

British Museum.  “Sling-shot.”  4th century B.C.  Weight of original:  105.16 grams.  Museum number:  1851,0507.11

Korfmann, Manfred.  “The Sling as a Weapon.”  Scientific American 229/4 (1973): 35-42.

Cosmetic Palette (32)

This is carved out of stone.  Its function as a cosmetic palette is the consensus of the scholarly world, but the conclusion lacks definite proof.  If it functioned as a cosmetic palette, the person would put the raw material for the make-up in the central depression and grind it to powder.  Then the powder would be mixed with an oil or animal fat to provide a liquidity.  Kohl (the black makeup) was common, especially around the eyes.  One significant value of the black make-up was to reduce the sun’s glare.  But it quickly was appreciated as a means to enhance the beauty of the eyes.  It also provided a medical benefit in that it helped repel flies that were not only nuisances, but also could transmit disease.

The Bible mentions painting the eyes three times:  one was when Jezebel painted her eyes just as Jehu arrived (2 Kings 9:30); a second appears in an indictment in Jeremiah (4:30); a third is in Ezekiel in a similar context of condemnation (Ezekiel 23:40).  We should not necessarily infer that painting the eyes was necessarily evil, but the contexts of these last two passages imply that the effort deliberately done to align with ways contrary to God’s expectations.

Other colors could have been processed in such receptacles.  We have discovered red and yellow ochre in the excavations at Tel Beth-Shemesh.  Other colors would include white lead and green (probably from copper ore).

Dayagi-Mendels, Michal.  “Cosmetics.”  Pp. 67-69 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 2.  Ed. E. M. Meyers.  New York:  Oxford University, 1997.

“The Eyes Have It.”  Odyssey 6/6 (2003): 64.

Thompson, Henry O.  “Cosmetic Palettes.”  Levant 4 (1972): 148-50.

“Tear” Vial (33)

These are thought by many to be containers in which the mourners of the deceased would collect tears and leave the vessel in the chamber as tokens of their grief at the deceased’s passing.  Many have argued that the reference in Psalm 56:8 is to this practice, applied metaphorically:  “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.  Are they not in your book?” (ESV).  This translation, however, is flawed in that the Hebrew word—no’d (dan) rendered “bottle” actually refers to an animal skin vessel.  While it might still allude to the practice (as if the tears have cascaded so profusely as to require such a large vessel), the probability is that the reference in Psalms did not refer to collecting tears.  (An alternative is to consider that the phrase parallels the reference to “book” and that the Lord has kept track of the psalmist’s mourning, hence the NIV rendering:  “Record my lament;  list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?”)  That said, there is some evidence that in later cultures the practice of collecting tears on behalf of the deceased may have occurred, regretfully it is still difficult, however, to determine for sure whether this was done in the Greco-Roman world or not.  It is just as likely that the vessel was used for perfumes of some kind in the burial procedure.

Lutz, Tom.  Crying:  The Natural and Cultural History of Tears.  New York:  W. W. Norton, 1999. (p. 303).

Millard, Alan.  Discoveries from the Time of Jesus.  Oxford:  Lion Publishing, 1990. (p. 19)

Wilson, Mark R. and Edwin M. Yamauchi.  “Mourning and Weeping.”  Pp. 388-417 in Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity, vol. 3.  Ed. E. M. Yamauchi and M. R. Wilson.  Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson, 2016. (p. 394).

Mudbrick with Mason Mark (34)

This is about half of a fairly standard sized mudbrick.  (Photo #1 shows a wall from the 14th century B.C. Beth-Shemesh).  The building material is fairly easy to make, consisting of mud mixed with straw that helps reduce the shrinkage of the mud as it dries.   The mixture is dumped into a rectangular mold (referred to in Nahum 3:14*), which is then removed and the brick dries in the sun.  The straw also improves the insulation capacity of the bricks, forming dead air pockets in the product.  The provision of straw, of course, was one of the points of that Pharaoh withheld in his attempt to punish Israel.  The Israelites were forced to search elsewhere to secure the needed straw (cf. Exodus 5).

The Exodus narrative refers to the required quota of bricks per day (cf. Exodus 5:19).  This is probably the function of the mason mark.  The mason mark on the brick in the museum consists of two parallel lines formed with the fingers and dragged across and into the wet brick before drying the brick.  The mason mark in the photo shows a three-line mason mark (photo #2).  The mason mark was probably the means by which the worker could identify the number of bricks he had made.  When he met the quota, he likely would be freed from his obligation—at least for the day.

*The Hebrew word in Nahum derives from an Aramaic term meaning “rectangle” referring to the wooden mold used to form the bricks (see Koehler and Baumgartner 1995: 587).

Herzog, Ze’ev.  “Building Materials and Techniques:  An Overview.”  Pp. 360-63 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 1.  Ed. E. M. Meyers.  New York:  Oxford University, 1997.

Rosen, Arlene Miller.  Cities of Clay:  The Geoarcheology of Tells.  Chicago:  The University of Chicago, 1986.

Photo #1:  mudbrick wall from Tel Beth-Shemesh Excavation Project; photo by D. W. Manor

Photo #2:  mudbrick with mason mark from Tel Beth-Shemesh Excavation Project; photo by D. W. Manor

Cooking Juglet (35)

The black sooted exterior of this vessel reflects its direct contact with coals—this vessel was used when cooking.  It is probably what the Hebrew Bible refers to as a parur (rwrp).  The vessel was used to cook a soup or gruel type food (King and Stager 2001: 65) and this is implied in Numbers 11:8 when Israel gathered the manna and might boil it in a pot (Heb. parur).  The same word appears in the Gideon story when he prepared the broth to present to the angel of the Lord (Judges 6:19).  The only other place the word appears in the Hebrew Bible is in 1 Samuel 2:14 where Samuel’s sons abuse their roles as priests (this passage implies a larger version of the pot).  Mazar concedes, however, that the vessel may have been used for other purposes as well (2015: 16; cf. Plate

Interestingly, the time frame of the use of the words in the Hebrew Bible coincides well with the life of the vessel in its use archaeologically.  Both lines of evidence (at this point) dovetail into the latter part of the Late Bronze II and into the Iron Age I periods.  After this, we tend not to find these one-handled cooking jugs nor does the word appear in the Hebrew Bible to refer to vessels after this period.

King, Philip J. and Lawrence E. Stager.  Life in Biblical Israel.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox, 2001.

Mazar, Amihai.  “Iron Age I:  Northern Coastal Plain, Galilee, Samaria, Jezreel Valley, Judah, and Negev.”  Pp. 5-70 in The Ancient Pottery of Israel and Its Neighbors from the Iron Age through the Hellenistic Period.  Ed. S. Gitin.  Jerusalem:  Israel Exploration Society, 2015.

Rider-and-Saddle Grinding Stones (36)

These are both fragments of basalt which were used to grind grain.  The “rider” is the upper stone which the people would pass over the lower stone, which we refer to as the “saddle” (in Native American cultures these are called the “mano" and “metate” respectively).  The grain would be placed on the saddle and ground with the “rider.”  Basalt was an ideal stone for this procedure since it was very hard and thus reduced the amount of stone grit that would become part of the flour.  In addition the porosity of the stone would tend to help hold the grain in place when it was being ground.

The sizes of the “saddle” tend to range from eighteen inches to three feet long and about a foot to a eighteen inches wide (photo #1 is of a “saddle” from Beth-Shemesh).  The rider would be a stone small enough to grip in the palm and retain control over it while passing it back and forth over the grain resting on the saddle.

The Bible typically refers to the stones as the millstone and the upper millstone.  These were indispensable to one’s survival and the Bible legislates against appropriating them as collateral:  “No one shall take a mill or an upper millstone in pledge, for that would be taking a life in pledge” (Deuteronomy 24:6; ESV).

An upper millstone (i.e., the “rider”) was the “weapon” that a woman used to crush Abimelech’s head when he was besieging the people of Thebez (Judges 9:53).  Joab later anticipated that David would allude to this incident when he engineered the murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 11:21).  Apparently the incident had become a cautionary tactic of war!

The excavators at Tall al-‘Umayri tested the destructive capability of a millstone using a watermelon as their target.  They collected six upper millstones which had weights ranging from 4-9 pounds.  They threw the basalt stone at the watermelon down slope and state:  “The first participant, Gina, hit Abimelech dead-on.  With the damage she did, if she had hit a warrior rather than a watermelon, he would not have been able to ask his armor bearer to finish him off!” (Herr and Boyd 2002: 37).

Herr, Denise Dick and Mary Petrina Boyd.  “A Watermelon Named Abimelech.”  Biblical Archaeology Review 28/1 (2002):  34-37, 62.

Photo #1:  saddle millstone in situ courtesy of Tel Beth-Shemesh Excavation Project; photo by D. W. Manor

Wax Writing Slate (37)

This reproduces a wooden writing board that was discovered in a well in Nimrud from eighth century B.C. Assyria.  A collection of writing boards were discovered—most of them ivory, but among them was a walnut tablet as well.  The discovery was fortuitous in that the tablets were embedded in an anaerobic context which preserved not only the wood, but also some of the bees wax that served at the vehicle of recording; the wax still preserved some of the cuneiform writing (Mallowan 1966: 151-53). 

Portrayals of writing occur on some artwork from Assyria and elsewhere and Mallowan argues that some of those portrayals probably show depictions of collections of hinged wax writing slates (Mallowan 1966: 158).  Pritchard has two artists’ renderings of similar scenes (Pritchard 1969: 74); both examples show two individuals writing and the description suggests that one of the people was shown writing on skin or papyrus while the other was using a stylus to write on clay tablets.  Given Mallowan’s discussion, it is likely that the portrayal with the stylus depicts writing on wax tablets from which the text would then be transferred to the more permanent clay medium.  Whitt notes that one of the values of the wax medium is that the tablets could easily be reused by smoothing the wax.  He further notes that “Writing boards were often used for writing memoranda and drafts of documents” (Whitt 1995: 2392-93).

I am indebted to Mr. Gaston of Melbourne, Arkansas for carving out the interior depression of the walnut tablet to receive the bees wax.

Thanks to Dr. Daniel Oden who applied the cuneiform characters of the beginning of Enuma Elish on the tablet.

Mallowan, M. E. L. Nimrud and Its Remains, vol. 1.  New York:  Dodd, Mead & Company, 1966.

Pritchard, James B. ed. The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament.  2d edition with Supplement.  Princeton:  Princeton University, 1969.

Whitt, William D.  “The Story of the Semitic Alphabet.”  Pp. 2379-97 in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, vol. 4.  Ed. J. M. Sasson.  New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995.

Tel Dan Inscription (38)

This very important inscription (reproduction) is from Tel Dan, a site which sometimes serves to identify the most northerly of Israel’s territory (e.g., the occasional phrase “from Dan to Beersheba,” Jdg 20:1; 1 Sam 3:20; 2 Sam 3:10; 2 Sam 17:11; 1 Sam 24:2; etc.). Until the discovery of this inscription, a number of scholars had developed a skeptical view of the historical value of the biblical narrative and had begun to argue that there never was a person by the name of David or Solomon. With this discovery, that argument tended to be deflated (however, many scholars remain skeptical of the Bible’s historical value).

The inscription is written in Aramaic and records the victory of a foreign king over a “king of Israel” and a king of “the house of David.” This would be the earliest reference to David outside of the Bible that has been firmly identified in the archaeological record (however, see below). The reference to “house of David” implies a dynastic succession, which the Bible certainly narrates as the case for Judah (cf. 2 Sam. 7:10-16). The inscription implies that there was an alliance of the two Israelite kings against whom the foreign king fought and over whom he was victorious. Regretfully, the full names of none of the participants are preserved on the inscription fragments, however, parts of the names of the kings of Israel and Judah apparently exist.

The fragment of what is likely the name of the king of Israel ends with the letters “—rm” (ancient Hebrew and Aramaic do not show the vowels). The only king of Israel who appears in the biblical text with a name that ends thus is “Joram [or Jehoram], son of Ahab” (his name is spelled “Jehoram” in 2 Kgs 1:17; 3:1, but he appears as “Joram” in 2 Kgs 8:16). The name of the person who appears to be the king of Judah (i.e., of the “house of David”) ends with “—yhw,” and almost certainly refers to Ahaziah, king of Judah (spelled in Hebrew ’hzyhw; Younger, 293). The Bible indicates that Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah fought against Hazael king of Syria (2 Kgs 8:25-29), so we may infer that the Aramaic king against whom Joram and Ahaziah fought was Hazael. Thus, the date of the inscription appears to derive from ca. 840 B.C.—only about 110 years after the death of Solomon, David’s son. This date would be within the span of the lives of some grandchildren of people who had been children at the end of Solomon’s reign.

A few scholars have vehemently resisted the reading of “House of David,” even to the point of arguing that the inscription is a recent fabrication (Lemche in Lemche, Thompson, Dever, and McCarter, 36-37). The majority of scholars—even skeptical scholars—appear now to concede that David and Solomon were real historical personalities.


Biran, Avraham and Joseph Naveh. “An Aramaic Stele Fragment from Tel Dan.” Israel Exploration Journal 43.2-3 (1993): 81-98.

Biran, Avraham and Joseph Naveh. “The Tel Dan Inscription: A New Fragment.” Israel Exploration Journal 45.1 (1995): 1-18.

Lemche, Niels Peter, Thomas Thompson, William Dever, P. Kyle McCarter. “Face to Face: Biblical Minimalists Meet Their Challengers.” Biblical Archaeology Review 23.4 (1997): 26-42, 66.

Younger, K. Lawson, Jr. “The Tel Dan Inscription and the Deaths of Joram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah.” Pp. 293-98 in Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts. Eds. J. S. Greer, J. W. Hilber, and J. H. Walton. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018.

Hezekiah’s Tunnel Inscription (39)

This artifact reproduces the inscription that originally was near the southern end of what we usually refer to as Hezekiah’s Tunnel. The construction of this tunnel was part of the defensive measures that Hezekiah initiated to try to secure the water supply of Jerusalem against the juggernaut of Sennacherib’s Assyrian threat (ca. 701 BC). The tunnel is only referred to in passing in two epitaphs of Hezekiah and in a brief allusion in Isaiah. One epitaph reads: “The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah and all his might and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?” (2 Kgs. 20:20; ESV). The other epitaph appears in Chronicles (not the book alluded to in the Kings passage) and is more cryptic: “This same Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David” (2 Chr. 32:30). Isaiah’s remark is: “You collected the waters of the lower pool, …You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool” (Isa. 22:9-10).

Hezekiah and his officers had recognized that Jerusalem’s water system was a vulnerable point for the town—it had been the means by which David had earlier captured the town from the Jebusites (2 Sam. 5:5-10; 1 Chr. 11:4-9). They thus determined to secure the water system and block easy access to it (cf. 2 Chr. 32:2-5). They dug a tunnel from the Gihon spring (which basically lay outside the city of Jerusalem) through the spur of land on which the city rested and routed the waters to a new reservoir inside the city which they protected with a fortification wall (the pool eventually became known as the “pool of Siloam;” cf. John 9:7).

The inscription was carved into the eastern wall of the tunnel not far from the pool of Siloam and recorded the strategy by which the workers dug. Workers began at opposite ends of the tunnel’s intended route and dug toward each other. Eventually they intersected near the middle. The inscription states that the distance was ca. 1200 cubits (= ca. 1750 feet). The descent of the tunnel is “a 0.06% average slope with the height differential between the spring and exit being a very moderate gradient (≈0.32 m)” (Younger 145).

The inscription apparently was “discovered” by Jacob Eliahu and a friend in 1880 while they were exploring the tunnel. Bertha Spafford Vester, daughter of Horatio Spafford (of “It is Well With My Soul” fame) knew the lad and wrote about the exploration and discovery in her record of her family’s mission work in Palestine. According to her, someone removed the inscription from the wall of the tunnel and soon after, the Ottoman Turkish authorities managed to retrieve the remnants of the inscription and shuttled it off to the Istanbul Museum where it is now on display (Vester, chapter 8).


Reich, Ronny and Eli Shukron. “Jerusalem: The Gihon Spring and Eastern Slope of the City of David.” Pp. 1801-07 in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 5: Supplementary Volume. Ed. E. Stern. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2008.

Shiloh, Yigal. “Jerusalem: The Water-Supply Systems.” Pp. 709-12 in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, v. 2. Ed. E. Stern. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Vester, Bertha Spafford. Our Jerusalem. n.p.: Read Books Ltd., 2011 (on Google books.com), original composition in 1950.

Younger, Jr., K. Lawson. “Hebrew Inscriptions: The Siloam tunnel Inscription (2.28).” The Context of Scripture, 4 vols. Eds. William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, Jr. Leiden: Brill, 2000. 2: 145-46.

Gilgamesh Flood Epic, Tablet XI (40)

From 1846-1851, Austen Henry Layard on behalf of the British worked at Kuyunjik, which was part of ancient Nineveh. Upon Layard’s departure, his assistant, Hormuzd Rassam, continued the excavations at Kuyunjik and eventually discovered the library of Assurbanipal (668-627 BC) eventually consisting of some 24,000 cuneiform tablets among which was the Mesopotamian flood story of Gilgamesh. The cache of tablets took a long time to translate, especially since the decipherment of Akkadian was still in its formative stages.

In Britain, however, a young man, named George Smith and who had no formal training in cuneiform texts, became fervently interested in the discoveries and taught himself Akkadian. He eventually ingratiated himself to the British Museum personnel, who employed him in about 1862 to work on piecing together the broken fragments that the excavation project had shipped back to England. By 1866 his talents had proven themselves to the extent that the museum appointed him to the Department of Oriental Antiquities to help with the publication of the texts. While engaged in this effort, he identified and translated what we call tablet XI of the Gilgamesh Flood story and read it to the Society of Biblical Archaeology in London on December 3, 1872.

Understandably, his reading elicited considerable excitement. One of the problems he encountered in his work, however, was that some of the text was missing. Smith was provided funds then to go to Nineveh and excavate in the hope of finding the missing part. He left for Mesopotamia in 1873 and dug at Nineveh in 1873 and 1874. During these two efforts he indeed found the part of the tablet he was looking for!

The full-size reproduction that is on display is of tablet XI of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Scholars tend to think that there were twelve tablets, but that the last one is sort of an appendix. Tablet XI is the one that deals with the flood story and caused the sensation when it was deciphered in the 1800s in the midst of an increasingly skeptical climate that was beginning to undermine peoples’ confidence in the Bible (this largely coincided with the popularization of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species [1859] and Julius Wellhausen’s Prolegomena of the History of Israel [English 1885]). As one might suspect, the reactions to the discovery elicited positive excitement in the hearts of many Bible believers, while at the same time could be viewed as a background for a more skeptical view of Scripture.

Tablet XI reflects some aspects of similarity to the Flood story in the Bible, but comparison of the two shows significant differences in the story lines. The flood story is only a small portion of a much larger storyline about Gilgamesh. Furthermore, the Gilgamesh texts tablets that now have been identified range over a span of about a thousand years, with some significant variations between them; there were the earlier Sumerian and Akkadian versions that eventually became the “Old Babylonian Version” (ca. early 2nd millennium BC) eventually to yield to the so-called “Standard Version” (from the late 2nd millennium BC). The text of the latter derives mainly from Assurbanipal’s library of the 7th century BC. Essentially none of the storylines are complete and much textual critical work has been done often piecing together somewhat disparate sources to try to come up with a coherent narrative.

The Gilgamesh story enjoyed a wide audience. The excavations at Megiddo have yielded a fragment of the story, dating from the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1450-1350 BC).

For translations of the text, I would refer the reader to the work either of Foster (which is only part of tablet XI) or Speiser (which translates tablets I-XII, some of which come from the Old Babylonian texts).


Aharoni, Yohanan. “Megiddo.” Pp. 1003-12 in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 3. Ed. E. Stern. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992 (p. 1011).

Foster, Benjamin R. “Gilgamesh (1.132).” Pp. 458-60 in The Context of Scripture, vol. 1. Eds. W. W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, Jr. Leiden: Brill, 1997.

Hoberman, Barry. “BA Portrait: George Smith (1840-1876)—Pioneer Assyriologist.” Biblical Archaeologist 46.1 (1983): 41-42.

Moorey, P. R. S. A Century of Biblical Archaeology. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1991 (pp. 11-12).

Moran, William. “The Gilgamesh Epic: A Masterpiece from Ancient Mesopotamia.” Pp. 2327-36 in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, vol. 4. Ed. J. M. Sasson. New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1995.

Schoville, Keith N. Biblical Archaeology in Focus. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978. (p. 199).

Speiser, E. A. “Epic of Gilgamesh.” Pp. 72-99 in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 3d ed. with Supplement. Ed. J. B. Pritchard. Princeton: Princeton, 1969.

Stronach, David and Kim Codella. “Nineveh.” Pp. 144-48 in Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 4. Ed. E. M. Meyers. New York: Oxford, 1997.

Cyrus Cylinder (41)

The decree on the Cyrus Cylinder has been called “The First Bill of Human Rights” (Curtis 16), since it granted essentially the liberation of all the captive peoples that the Babylonians had conquered. Not only were they permitted to return to their homes, but Cyrus also decreed the repatriation of the temple implements that the Babylonians had appropriated (you may read full translations of the decree in Oppenheim [1969] 315-16 or Cogan 314-16). The decree on this preserved cylinder is somewhat generic, but the Bible refers to its sentiments as tailored to the Hebrews in Chronicles (2 Chr. 36:23) and Ezra (1:2-4; 6:3-5), which raises the question whether there was a decree specifically for the Hebrews or not. Given the reference in Ezra 6 to a scroll that was found in the archives in Ecbatana it appears that there may have been decrees delivered to various ethnic/cultural groups rather than simply a generic decree.

The cylinder commemorated Cyrus the Great’s capture of Babylon in 539 BC. The Babylonian king, Nabonidus, had neglected the worship and responsibilities that he was to oversee in the adoration of Marduk the chief deity of Babylon. Instead, Nabonidus had begun to emphasize the worship of Sin—the Babylonian moon god. Because of Nabonidus’ neglect of his religious responsibilities he was viewed by many as essentially an apostate. The Cyrus cylinder claims that Marduk raised up Cyrus to reign and to capture Babylon and reinstitute proper worship of Marduk. Because of Marduk’s blessings, Cyrus was permitted to capture Babylon without conflict. The Babylonian Chronicle corroborates the claim of an absence of battle against the city (Millard 468). Because of Cyrus’ victory and the restoration of Marduk’s position, Cyrus was viewed as a sort of savior. Isaiah tends to depict Cyrus in this fashion as one who fulfilled the will of the LORD (cf. Isa. 44:28-45:5).

Scholars have concluded that the transition to Cyrus’ rule indeed was fairly free of social disruption. Charpin (826) notes that “there is no interruption of family archives, which attest to very few changes.” Cyrus’ earlier campaign against Croesus of Lydia similarly had reflected a kindness and respect of the defeated king and his subjects (Saggs 137-38).

The actual artifact (of which this is a full-size replica) was discovered by Hormuzd Rassam in 1879 in the vicinity of Babylon’s Marduk Temple (Yamauchi 77, 87)—the Temple which Cyrus restored to its place of honor among the Babylonians. It is not clear exactly how the inscription was displayed (or if it was—the excavation details are vague), but Curtis (33-35) argues reasonably that it was a foundation deposit. As one might infer, foundation deposits were not intended for public display but were dedicated to the deity (in this case Marduk) lauding the accomplishments of the king and they were designed to be read by later kings who might either rebuild or embellish the temple complexes (Oppenheim [1977] 148).


Charpin, Dominique. “The History of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Overview.” Pp. 807-29 in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, vol. 2. Ed. J. M. Sasson. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995.

Cogan, Mordechai, “Achaemenid Inscriptions: Cyrus Cylinder (2.124).” Pp. 314-16 in The Context of Scripture, vol. 2. Eds. W. W. Hallo and K. L. Younger, Jr. Leiden: Brill, 2000.

Curtis, John. The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia. London: Trustees of the British Museum, 2013.

Millard, Alan. “The Babylonian Chronicle (1.137).” Pp. 467-68 in The Context of Scripture, vol. 1. Eds. W. W. Hallo and K. L. Younger, Jr. Leiden: Brill, 1997.

Oppenheim, A. Leo, “Cyrus (557-529).” Pp. 314-15 in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3d ed. with Supplement. Ed. J. B. Pritchard. Princeton: Princeton, 1969.

Oppenheim, A. Leo. Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. Rev. by E. Reinter. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1977.

Saggs, H. W. F. The Greatness that Was Babylon. Fully rev. and updated. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1988.

Yamauchi, Edwin M. Persia and the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996.

Mesad Hashavyahu Inscription (42)

This ostracon (in archaeology, an ostracon is a piece of pottery that has writing on it) preserves an early plea for social justice. It dates from roughly the time of Josiah (ca. 640-609 BC) and comes from the site of Mesad Hashavyahu, about nine miles south of Joppa. It records the plea of a field worker who has written to the local authorities with a complaint—at the end of a work day the custodian of the field refused to return his garment. It appears that there may have been a dispute about the quota of productivity, and perhaps that was what prompted the field supervisor to confiscate the worker’s garment (see Pardee for a translation of the text and a brief historical setting).

While the ostracon does not make a specific appeal to Hebrew Law, the impropriety of one to confiscate a worker’s “garment,” finds legislation in the Torah. Both Exodus 22:25-26 and Deuteronomy 24:12-15, 17 demand that people consider the needs of those who are less fortunate. Amos 2:8 similarly indicts the Israelite elite who would appropriate garments taken in pledge, using them essentially as mattresses in false worship. The ostracon appears to have been written in a social world in which it should have generally been understood that this misappropriation of one’s personal garment was a violation of basic moral propriety.


Pardee, Dennis, “Hebrew Letters: The Mesad Hashavyahu (Yavneh Yam) Ostracon (3.41).” Pp. 77-78 in The Context of Scripture, vol. 3. Eds. W. W. Hallo and K. L. Younger, Jr. Leiden: Brill, 2002.

Love Poem from Babylon (43)

This ceramic replica comes from the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. The artifact was among the collection of tablets that Layard found in his excavations at Nimrud. It remained in the Istanbul Museum (artifact no. 2461) until 1951 when Samuel Noah Kramer was rummaging through the collection and noticed it. Part of what caught his eye was “its state of preservation” (Kramer 299). The poem was written to celebrate the beauty and love between a bride and the king SHU-SIN, who ruled in the 20th century BC. It appears to be part of a New Year festival celebration (anonymous, from descriptive flyer with artifact).

The poem resonates with sentiments reminiscent of the Song of Songs in the Bible (but significantly predates the Song of Songs) and translates in part as follows (from Kramer 300-01)

“Bridegroom, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet,
Lion, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet

“You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you,
Bridegroom, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber.
You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you,
Lion, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber.

"Bridegroom, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savory than honey,
In the bed chamber, honey filled,
Let us enjoy your goodly beauty,
Lion, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savory than honey.

“Bridegroom, you have taken your pleasure of me,
Tell my mother, she will give you delicacies.
My father, he will give you gifts.

“Your spirit, I know where to cheer your spirit,
Bridegroom, sleep in our house until dawn,
Your heart, I know where to gladden your heart,
Lion, Sleep in our house until dawn.

You, because you love me,
Give me pray of your caresses,
My lord god, my lord protector,
My Shu-Sin, who gladdens Enlil’s heart,
Give me pray of your caresses.


Anonymous, “The Oldest Love Poem.” Istanbul Archaeological Museums. Flyer that accompanied the artifact from the gift shop at Istanbul Museum.

Kramer, Samuel Noah. History Begins at Sumer. 2d ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 1961.

Neo-Babylonian Document Grating Freedom to a Slave (44)

This is an almost full-size ceramic reproduction of an Akkadian tablet from the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute (object no. A 32099; it was acquired by the Oriental Institute in 1961 from the Haverford College; its provenience is unknown). It is a witnessed document from one named Shamash-zer-ibni who grants freedom to a slave woman named Laqiptu and her children. The tablet calls down various curses from the gods Marduk, Zarpanitu, Nabu, Sin, Shamash, Dilbat, and Ishtar, should anyone attempt to curtail her granted freedom. The tablet is dated to the 7th day of Nisan in the second year of Amel-Marduk, king of Babylon (a date that would convert to April 1, 560 BC). Amel-Marduk is known in the Hebrew Bible as Evil-Merodach and is the king who liberated Jehoiachin from his prison in exile (cf. 2 Kgs 25:27-30; Jer. 52:31-34). The range of Amel-Marduk’s reign was from 562-560 BC.

(The data for this description are condensed from the flyer that came with the artifact when purchased from The Suq—the giftshop of the Oriental Institute. The flyer was written by J. A. Brinkman of the Oriental Institute).

Pictographic Writing (45)

This reproduction shows part of the very early development of writing in Mesopotamia. Most scholars believe that the early steps toward writing began with the need to record economic and statistical transactions. Eventually that morphed into drawing pictures to represent the ideas that the pictures depicted (i.e., ideograms). Then the pictures evolved into other representations—whether syllables or phonemes.

This example is a full-size resin reproduction of the tablet in the University of Pennsylvania Museum (artifact no. B16105) which was purchased by J. H. Haynes in 1896 when he was excavating Nippur in Mesopotamia (Barton 4; ca. 112 miles SW of Bagdad). The inscription is on a soft black stone, although its execution mimics a clay tablet. It is thought to date to the end of the 4th millennium BC (Pritchard, photo/item 242, pp. 76, 277).

Barton (5) translates the pictographic inscription to be a record of efforts to eradicate locusts and caterpillars from land parcels. It ends with a statement of success: “he made it bright,” alluding to the final “ceremonial purification of the field” (Barton 5).


Barton, George A. “One of the Oldest Babylonian Tablets in the World.” The Museum Journal [Philadelphia] 3.1 (1912): 4-6.

Pritchard, James B., ed. The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament. 2d ed. with Supplement. Princeton: Princeton, 1969.

Beer Receipt (46)

This is a full-size resin replica of a tablet from the University of Pennsylvania collection (UM 29-13-889; CDLI #: P255761).  Writing appears on both sides—six on one side and four on the other.  It is from the Mesopotamian site of Nippur (ca. 112 miles SW of Bagdad) and dated from ca. 1400-1100 BC.  The text is written in Akkadian and is a receipt for the purchase of beer, pots, and spices.

Heel Bone with Nail (47)

This reproduces the only piece of evidence of a crucifixion ever identified in the Mediterranean basin.*  It was discovered in 1968 in an ossuary in a tomb which would have been north of the first century city of Jerusalem.

The crucifixion evidence consists of a nail which penetrated the right heel bone (calcaneum), thus attaching the individual to the central post of the cross.

The end of the nail is thought to have bent when it struck a hard knot in the wood.  The piercing end of the nail preserved fragments of the central post which was of olive wood.  On the outside of the nail, next to its head was a wooden washer, apparently to make it harder for the victim to remove his foot from the nail.

The badly corroded look of the bone and nail was the result of the bones having been immersed in liquid inside the ossuary.

Additional osteological studies on the skeleton that was in the ossuary indicate that the victim’s lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) were shattered, probably to accelerate the execution (cf. John 19:32).

Additionally sobering is the fact that the ossuary containing the bones held the remains of two individuals—an adult male (24-28 years old) and a child (3-4 years old).  The exterior of the ossuary preserved an inscription, probably referring to the adult male whose name was Jehohanan.

  1. Haas. “Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar. Israel Exploration Journal 20/1-2 (1970): 38-59.
  1. Naveh. “The Ossuary Inscriptions from Giv’at ha-Mivtar.” Israel Exploration Journal 20/1-2 (1970): 33-37.

Vassilios Tzaferis.  “Crucifixion—the Archaeological Evidence.”  Biblical Archaeology Review 11/1 (1985): 44-53.

*The collection of bones from the tomb have been ceremonially reburied and are no longer available for study.

Position of Foot (48)

The replica of the archaeological artifact from the crucifixion indicates a different position of attachment to the cross than is traditional presented.  Most portrayals of the crucifixion show the nails penetrating through the metatarsals (e.g., the long bones in the main part of the foot between the ankle and the toes) with the feet crossed on the front of the vertical post.  Tzaferis indicates that “The earliest Christian representation of the crucifixion dates to the late fifth or early sixth centuries A.D., i.e., about 200 years after crucifixion was legally abolished by the emperor Constantine the Great” (1985: 52 note), hence it was probably on the basis of tradition that the portrayal developed.

This artifact, however, indicates that the nail pierced the calcaneus (heel bone) of the victim and implies that he was attached to the cross with each foot opposite the other straddling the post.  An objection that one might pose to this procedure is the fact that the Bible affirms that “Not one of his bones will be broken” (John 19:36 ESV).  Discussions with some osteological physicians, have revealed that a nail piercing the calcaneus would not shatter the bone (as indicated on this sample) and would be a very effective means to hold the weight of the person.  It may be the case that the prophetic statement was more designed to address the tendency of the Romans to shatter the fibula and tibia (as was the case with the victim of this crucifixion) as the text of John indicates happened with the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus (John 19:31-33).

That said, one should be cautious about demanding a uniform strategy for crucifixion.  Josephus commented on the Roman crucifixions in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  Given the number of crucifixions and the attitudes of the soldiers… “The soldiers out of rage and hatred amused themselves by nailing their prisoners in different postures; and so great was their number, that space could not be found for the crosses nor crosses for the bodies” (Josephus, Jewish Wars 5.451).

An intriguing statement, however, appears in Scripture perhaps to corroborate the nail through the heel as the means of crucifixion—God prophesied to Satan in the Garden (Gen. 3:15, ESV):*

            “I will put enmity between you and the woman,

                        and between your offspring and her offspring;

             he shall bruise your head,

                        and you shall bruise his heel.”

*I am indebted to Sotis Alexandris of Athens, Greece for this observation.

Tzaferis, Vassilios.  “Crucifixion—The Archaeological Evidence.”  Biblical Archaeology Review 11/1 (1985): 44-53.

Carved Ossuary (49)

Ossuaries were repositories for secondary burials.  The primary burial involved leaving the deceased in the tomb for about a year to wait for the body to decompose.  After the decomposition had occurred, the bones were gathered and most of them placed into an ossuary for more permanent storage.  The ossuary was carved out of a single piece of stone and an accompanying lid closed the contents.  Some ossuaries preserved the remains of multiple individuals.  Such burial practices were typical of wealthy individuals and probably would have been the standard procedure associated with Joseph of Arimathea (cf. Matt. 27:57), who took custody of the body of Jesus after the crucifixion.  Had Jesus not been raised from the dead, his remains would have found a similar treatment after a year.

Usually a tomb would eventually contain a number of ossuaries arranged in different ways.  The photo (photo 1) shows a collection of ossuaries in a tomb complex at a church ground on the slopes of Gethsemane.  Tzaferis indicates that ossuaries were often filled to the rim with bones of various people including women and children (1985: 47).  Bones of women were probably women associated with the family—wives, daughters, etc.

One of the ossuaries in the same tomb in which the crucified individual rested (described in item #47) had an inscription which read “Simon, the Temple Builder” (photo 2).  This inscription implies an element of pride that the family member had had a role in the construction of the Herodian Temple.

One of the more notable ossuaries in recent years was discovered in the 1990s; it had an inscription on the end of it that reads:  “Joseph the son of Caiaphas” (photo 3).  It is fairly well-accepted that this reference to Caiaphas is to the High Priest before whom part of Jesus’ trial occurred (cf. Matt. 26, 3, 57; although I know of no one who argues that the bones were those of Caiaphas—it was part of the Caiaphas family tomb).

The realization of the practice of reburying an individual in an ossuary after a year’s decomposition may help alleviate some tension that people often feel in the episode where the man volunteers to follow Jesus but requests:  “‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead’” (Matt. 8:21-22).  Jesus’ response seems cold and insensitive—after all Jesus would later go to mourn his friend, Lazarus’, passing (cf. John 11).  It may be that the person making the request in Matthew had in mind this secondary burial rather than the initial passing of his father, in which case, the death had occurred a year earlier (or so) when there would have been serious mourning.  In a sense, the secondary burial was a redundancy.

We are grateful to Mr. Page Thomas, of Dallas, Texas, for the donation of this ossuary.

Gordon Franz.  “Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead.”  Archaeology and Biblical Research 5/2 (1992) 54-58.

  1. Naveh. “The Ossuary Inscriptions from Giv’at ha-Mivtar.” Israel Exploration Journal 20/1-2 (1970): 33-37.

Oil Lamp (50)

These lamps are the typical size for lamps in the first centuries B.C. and A.D.  The fuel source was olive oil, which would be poured through the main opening on the top.  A wick protruded from the spout and the light emitted was about the same as a typical modern candle.  The volume of oil which these lamps held provided a flame for about 10 minutes before needing to refuel.

Various designs appeared on the lamps, ranging from plain to quite ornate.

For our modern world, this seems to be quite inefficient, but it is necessary to remember that with the advent of electricity, the cycle of activity has changed dramatically—we stay up much longer than people typically did in pre-industrial societies.  The ancient people (and actually not that long ago) usually retired for the evening an hour or so after sunset and usually rose about sunrise.  This cycle was very characteristic of people living and working in agriculturally based societies.

“Tear” Vial (51)

These are thought by many to be containers in which the mourners of the deceased would collect tears and leave the vessel in the chamber as tokens of their grief at the deceased’s passing. Many have argued that the reference in Psalm 56:8 is to this practice, applied metaphorically: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (ESV). This translation, however, is flawed in that the Hebrew word—no’d (dan) rendered “bottle” actually refers to an animal skin vessel. While it might still allude to the practice (as if the tears have cascaded so profusely as to require such a large vessel), the probability is that the reference in Psalms did not refer to collecting tears. (An alternative is to consider that the phrase parallels the reference to “book” and that the Lord has kept track of the psalmist’s mourning, hence the NIV rendering: “Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?”) That said, there is some evidence that in later cultures the practice of collecting tears on behalf of the deceased may have occurred, regretfully it is still difficult, however, to determine for sure whether this was done in the Greco-Roman world or not. It is just as likely that the vessel was used for perfumes of some kind in the burial procedure.


Lutz, Tom. Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. (p. 303).

Millard, Alan. Discoveries from the Time of Jesus. Oxford: Lion Publishing, 1990. (p. 19)

Wilson, Mark R. and Edwin M. Yamauchi. “Mourning and Weeping.” Pp. 388-417 in Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity, vol. 3. Ed. E. M. Yamauchi and M. R. Wilson. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2016. (p. 394).

Canopic Jars (52)

Canopic jars contained the mummified organs of the deceased. The headed vessels represented the sons of Horus each of whom was entrusted with an individual, yet vital organ that was necessary for the deceased to be awakened in the afterlife. The baboon-headed jar was protected by Hapy, and contained the lungs. The human-headed jar, protected by Imsety, contained the liver of the deceased. Kebehsenuef was the falcon-headed jar containing the intestines, while the jackal-headed jar depicted Duamutef and preserved the stomach. Ironically, the heart was not typically removed since the Egyptians believed it was the seat of the person. The brain was largely ignored in the entire procedure, having been removed through the nostrils and disposed of. While these are small versions, the Egyptians did eventually develop the belief that the vessels symbolized the custody and hence the miniaturization became a practice.


Aidan Dodson, “Canopic Jars and Chests.” Pp. 231-35 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. 1. Ed. D. B. Redford. New York: Oxford, 2001.

Horus (53)

Horus is usually represented in some form of a falcon and was “the first known national god, the god of kingship” (Meltzer, 119). In that role he served as the defender of the Egyptian king and his avenger, should something happen to the king. He was generally considered a son of Osiris and Isis, although there are mythological variations of this genealogical attribution. He was viewed as a sky god. This model is very similar to the much larger version that guards the entrance into the Ptolemaic Horus temple at Edfu (although earlier versions of the temple are evident at Edfu).


Sylvie Cauville, “Edfu.” Pp. 436-38 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. 1. E. D. B. Redford. New York: Oxford, 2001.

Edmund S. Meltzer, “Horus.” Pp. 119-22 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. 2. Ed. D. B. Redford. New York: Oxford, 2001.

Seated Scribe (54)

This small reproduction of a seated scribe portrays the value placed upon literacy in ancient Egypt. A number of documents and figurines show the high regard in which scribes were held. “The profession of scribe was considered so important that a special type of statue represented this official, sitting cross-legged, holding a papyrus open on his lap, with a reed pen ready to write and sometimes a palette slung over one shoulder” (Piacentinin, 191). Such statues are found in temples and tombs.


Patrizia Piacentini, “Scribes.” Pp. 187-92 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. 3. Ed. D. B. Redford. New York: Oxford, 2001.

Shabtis/Shawabtis/Ushebtis (55)

All three terms apply to essentially the same kind of object, but the term varies through the history of Egypt and sometimes with geographical limitations as well. These are funerary figurines that the family would bury with the deceased to serve him or her in the afterlife, usually providing agricultural assistance in the afterlife. Some tombs have been found with hundreds of these in the collection (e.g., Tutankhamun’s tomb had over four hundred!).


Donald B. Spanel, “Funerary Figurines.” Pp. 567- 70 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. 1. Ed. D. B. Redford. New York: Oxford, 2001.

Egyptian Necklace (56)

We believe this necklace is an actual antiquity, but the beads have recently been restrung. The material is either faience or frit (we have been unable to specify which, since the two are very similar in appearance). The beads would have been strung in a similar fashion to what is shown or may have been arranged differently to be part of a type of vest or collar.


Yvonne J. Markowitz, “Jewelry.” Pp. 201-07 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. 2. Ed. D. B. Redford. New York: Oxford, 2001.

Paul T. Nicholson, “Faience.” Pp. 491-96 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. 1. Ed. D. B. Redford. New York: Oxford, 2001.

Sennacherib’s Prism (57)

This artifact is a reproduction of an inscription authorized by Sennacherib, king of Assyria (704-681 BC), in which he narrates various conquests in Mesopotamia and Canaan. Among the peoples against whom he fought was Hezekiah, king of Judah, who tried to defend his country against the Assyrian onslaught. The confrontation between Hezekiah and Sennacherib is narrated in several places in the Bible (2 Kings 18-19; 2 Chronicles 32; and Isaiah 36-37).

On this Assyrian document, Sennacherib describes his campaign to Judah and his encounter with Hezekiah. He was unsuccessful in his effort to neutralize Hezekiah, but does say: Hezekiah “I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage” (Pritchard, 288)—a tacit admission that he did not fully defeat Hezekiah.

Three almost exact ancient copies of this prism exist. One is in the British Museum (of which this is a copy); another is in the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago; the third is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. This copy—the so-called Taylor Prism—is thought to have been found at the ancient site of Nineveh in 1830 before the site was excavated by either the French or British.


Pritchard, James B. (ed.). Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 3d edition with Supplement. Princeton: Princeton University, 1969.

Bilbil (58)

The bilbil is a unique vessel dating to the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1400-1300 B.C.). Its shape has intrigued scholars for years, but it has been suggested that the vessel was used to store and transport an opiate derivative dissolved in either honey or wine. If the vessel is held upside down, the unique shape somewhat replicates that of the poppy from which the opium comes (compare with the poppy pods in the display). Note the collar on the stem, coordinating with the painted white lines on the vessel. The white lines on the bulb represent incisions on the body of the plant by which the harvesters collect the latex, incising the bulb to permit the latex to ooze out (note the photograph on the back wall of the cabinet). Residue tests on some of these vessels have confirmed that at least some of them were used to store an opiate product.

The name of the vessel is modern, reflecting an onomatopoeia of the sound that a viscous liquid makes when poured from the narrow spout—bil, bil, bil, bil, bil…


Merrillees, Robert S. “Opium for the Masses: How the Ancients God High.” Odyssey 2/1 (winter) 1999: 20-29, 58.

Bunch of Hyssop (59)

Hyssop first appears in the Exodus story when God directed that those who would observe the Passover were to kill the lamb and smear its blood on the posts and lintels of the houses using a bunch of hyssop at the applicator (cf. Exodus 12:22).

Hyssop became a component in the cleansing and purifying ceremonies of the Israelites. The Bible decrees that when “lepers” observed the cleansing ceremonies, the offering included hyssop (Leviticus 14:4). In addition it was part of the liquid sprinkling when one needed to be cleansed after contact with the deceased (Numbers 19). It is likely against this background of contamination that David pleads with the Lord metaphorically to purge him with hyssop after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and conspired to have Uriah murdered (cf. Psalm 51:7).

When Jesus went to the cross, he was offered a mixture of sour wine and myrrh which was extended to him on a hyssop branch (John 19:29).

Mandrake (60)

The mandrake is related to the potato whose root depicts a human form, thus contributing to its perception as an aphrodisiac. The plant is slightly poisonous and imbibing it has a mild narcotic effect.


Jacob, Irene and Walter Jacob. “Flora.” Pp. 803-16 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2. Ed. D. N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Frankincense (61)

This granulated resin could be processed to produce a liquid as well. Being a product from southern Arabia (cf. Isaiah 60:6; Jeremiah 6:20), it was very expensive and thus its presentation at the birth of Jesus was a notable gift along with the gifts of myrrh and gold (Matthew 2:11). It was used for incense, perfumes, and ointment. It also has a antibacterial property. Frankincense was one component of the incense compound that regularly was burned in the tabernacle and temple (Exodus 30:34-38). Generally, the Old Testament sacrificial system required frankincense as part of the offerings (Leviticus 2). It was viewed as a metaphor for prayers (Psalm 141:2; cf. also Revelation 5:8).

In a less formal, yet romantic setting, frankincense appears frequently in the Song of Songs (3:6; 4:6, 14).

Myrrh (62)

Myrrh is mentioned numerous times in the Bible and was among some of the spices in the romance of the Song of Songs (3:6; 4:6, 14 et al.). Among other places, it was grown in the area of Gilead and was one of the commodities that the Ishmaelite caravan was taking to Egypt, when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:25).

Like frankincense, myrrh can be processed into a liquid and in that state it was a significant component of the anointing oil used to induct priests into their offices (Exodus 30:22-33).

In the New Testament, the wisemen gave myrrh as part of the three gifts at Jesus birth (Matthew 2:11). At his death it was offered as he was being crucified where it might have helped dull the pain of the torture (Mark 15:23), but he refused it. Joseph and Nicodemus used an extraordinary quantity of a mixture of aloes and myrrh when they prepared Jesus’ body for his burial (John 19:39).


Jacob, Irene and Walter Jacob. “Flora.” Pp. 803-17 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2. Ed. D. N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Carob (63)

Carob was used mainly as animal fodder and likely were the “pods” that the prodigal son fed on after exhausting his resources (cf. Luke 15:16). It is also known as “locust bean tree” and “St. John’s Bread” on the postulate that the “locusts” John the Baptist ate were carob pods. The pods grow on tree and yield a very consistently weighted seed that it became the standard for the “carat” weight.


Borowski, Oded. Agriculture in Iron Age Israel. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1987 (p. 131).

Jacob, Irene and Walter Jacob. “Flora.” Pp. 803-17 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2. Ed. D. N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Fig (64)

A proverbial fruit that is both highly nutritious and has medical properties, the fig was considered one of the proverbial blessings of the land of promise (cf. Deuteronomy 8:8). As evidence of the productivity of Canaan, the fig was among the produce that the spies brought to Kedesh (Numbers 13:23). God promised Israel that faithfulness would result in every man able to sit “under his vine and under his fig tree” (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4). Alternatively, God’s condemnation was emphasized with the destruction of the fig tree (Jeremiah 5:17).

Chick Pea (65)

The chick pea is a highly nutritious and versatile plant. The seeds may be eaten raw (although they are very hard), boiled, roasted, or made into a paste. Some have argued that the “sour wine” into which Ruth was invited to dip her bread (Ruth 2:14) was in reality what we would call hummus—the Hebrew word being very close to the modern Arabic word. It would also make more sense in the narration.

When viewed from a certain angle, the seed remarkably resembles a baby chick!


Kellerman, D. “hms.” Pp. 487-93 in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. 4. Eds. G. J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren. Trans. D. E. Green. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980.

Apis Bull Figurine (66)

The Apis bull was thought to be an animal who transported the deceased safely to Osiris, the god of the dead. In addition the Apis bull was part of the theology that guaranteed the flourishing of the bovine herd for the royal court as well as an affirmation of its legitimacy. The worship of the bull was concentrated in Memphis.


Hagen, Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagan. Egypt: People, Gods, Pharaohs. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2003. p. 144

Redford, Donald B. (ed.). “Bull Gods.” Pp. 29-34 in Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology. New York: Berkley Books a division of Penguin Books, 2003.

Nard/Spikenard (67)

When Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with a pound (ca. a soft-drink can volume) of nard the scent would have been overwhelming and almost stifling (John 12:3). Nard comes from the lower elevations of Nepal and hence it was an expensive perfume. This is part of the basis of Judas’ remark about selling the perfume for 300 denarii (a denarius was usually considered the salary of one day’s labor). The value of the perfume was accentuated by its storage in an alabaster jar.

The romance of the Song of Songs (1:12; 4:13-14) speaks of nard as part of the conversation.

Pomegranate (69)

The pomegranate was one of the stereotypical blessings of the land of promise (Deuteronomy 8:8). The fruit has a hard, leathery, husky rind, but the inside is packed with hundreds of seeds, each of which is encased in a gel-like sack, yielding a satisfying juice.

The rind could be used to produce a red dye, and a past from the rind was sometimes helpful with skin problems. It was also a treatment for tape worm.

The lovers in the Song of Songs refer to the fruit in their romantic exchanges (4:3; 6:7; 8:2).


Jacob, Irene and Walter Jacob. “Flora.” Pp. 803-17 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2. Ed. D. N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Medical Instruments (70)

While medical procedures are not commonly discussed in the Bible, the Greco-Roman world had a long tradition of rather sophisticated practices. The following identify the various pieces with some commentary (information taken from Dr. Rosa Proskynitopoulou of the National Archaeological Museum of Greece):

on the left…

a copper alloy spoon for applying medicines

a copper alloy knife handle with the blade missing. A small mouse is part of the decoration on the handle thus connecting the instrument with Asklepios.

from the top in the middle…

a double hook used to work on aneurysms, eye membranes, tonsils, and edges of wounds

a knife with a snake decoration on the handle (for larger cuts on the main torso)

spoon-shaped probe

needle to sew bandages and perhaps internal organs

a copper spatula probe to apply ointments and for examinations of various kinds

another spatula probe


on the right hand side…

a needle shaped probe for cleaning wounds and examinations and applying medicines

a tool to clasp and cut away flesh such as tumors

Wheat (71)

Remains have been found in ruins from the ancient world (e.g. Beth-Shemesh et al.). Wheat was one of the stereotypical features of the land of promise (cf. Deuteronomy 8:8). In addition to being the primary source of sustenance, it was often offered as part of the sacrifices in the form sometimes of leavened bread (Leviticus 7:14), but much more often as unleavened bread (Leviticus 8:2 et al.).

The versatility of wheat was also helpful. Not only was it the source of making bread, it was also a primary component in the production of beer. Its straw stalks and stems could be used effectively as fodder, animal bedding, and to make baskets. The stems were also often used in the construction of mud-brick.

Henna (72)

Henna was used as a hair dye and to provide coloration with skin decoration. In addition it was sometimes used in the process of mummification in Egypt. The Song of Songs refers to henna in 1:14 and 4:13. The blossom of the plant smell like roses, thus an appealing scent. The remainder of the plant can yield colors of yellow, orange, and red used for the various decorations.


Jacob, Irene and Walter Jacob. “Flora.” Pp. 803-17 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2. Ed. D. N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Precious Stones (73)

Precious stones were valued by the ancients just as much as today. Some of them, however, have diminished in value in our culture. Jewelry made of hematite is fairly common. Carnelian was used extensively in Egypt and Canaan; John notes that one of the foundations of the city of God is carnelian (21:20). Amethyst is described as part of the priestly breastplate (Exodus 28:19; 39:12) and as part of John’s vision of the city of God in Revelation (21:20). Turquoise is not mentioned in the Bible, but it was mined by the Egyptians in the Sinai Peninsula.

Jawbone of Donkey (74)

While this is not a typical weapon, it dramatizes Samson’s encounter with the Philistines when he seized the jawbone of a donkey and killed a thousand Philistines (Judges 15;14-17). The text notes that his was fresh and thus would have weighed a bit more as well as be less brittle. The section near the lower front teeth is very well suited as the handle and makes for a remarkable well-balanced “weapon!”

Interestingly, this example was purchased from Peru where it is used as a musical instrument!

Bull Image (75)

The Canaanite god, Baal, was often represented by a bull-calf, thus it served as a focal point for worship that violated God’s will. Aaron’s construction of the golden calf at Mt. Sinai was just on the heels of God’s prohibition against worshiping any other gods or making any graven image (cf. Exodus 32, with 20:3-4). Israel continued to be tempted to use bull-calves in their worship. This example is a reproduction of one that was found in the area that was allotted to Manasseh and dates from the time of the period of the Judges.

Hosea will much later will lambast the Israelites for their holding the calf in reverence (cf. Hosea 8:5-6; 10:5).


Mazar, Amihai. “The ‘Bull Site’—An Iron Age I Open Cult Place.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 247 (1982): 27-42.

Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (76)

This is a reproduction of the great Isaiah Scroll found in Cave I near the Dead Sea. It is open to 40:3 (after the break in the second line in the left column). The passage was a favorite of the Qumran community and records: “A voice cries in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”

The original scroll appears to have been produced in the latter part of the second century B.C.

This reproduction is made from the original photographs that John Trever made of the scroll immediately after it came to light. His photographs have been very helpful for the preservation of the text, since the original in Israel has deteriorated through time and a lack of appropriate care. Thus much of the image that you see in this copy is better than the original in its current condition.

Pilgrim Flask (77)

These vessels began to appear in the Late Bronze Age (1600-1200 BC) and continued through the Iron Age (1200-586 BC). They are not easy vessels to make in that they consist of two bowls that are put together and then sealed with an opening/spout at the top. Two handles then attach to the body of the vessel and to the neck of the spout (Amiran, 166). Traditionally, these were thought to be water canteens (Kelso, 30), but generally they are too fragile to be very functional for that kind of daily use. Mazar suggested that they were used for “perfumes or oils” (18). This postulate has recently been corroborated with residue studies that have identified the presence of “cinnamaldehyde,” the flavor that gives cinnamon its distinctiveness (Jarus, and “Traces”). Ten of the twenty-seven flasks that were studied yielded this result. Cinnamon is not a native plant of the Levantine coastal areas but was imported from southern India and/or Sri Lanka. Apparently the spice was transported dry and then mixed with a liquid and “bottled” in the pilgrim flasks. Jarus notes two scholars, Dvory Namdar and Ayelet Gilboa, who suggest that the cinnamon may have been used to flavor wines.

Trace analyses of other Late Bronze Age vessels transported in the eastern Levant into Egypt, have yielded evidence of pistacia resin, and either sesame or olive oil (these vessels were NOT pilgrim flasks, however, but amphora [e.g., storage jars]; Serpico).

The Bible notes the use of cinnamon as a component in the anointing oil associated with the tabernacle (and by extension the Temple of Solomon; cf. Exodus 30:23; the Hebrew word for the spice is qinneman). It, too, needed to be imported from either what is now Sri Lanka or southern India.


Amiran, Ruth. Ancient Pottery of the Holy Land. Jerusalem: Massada Press, 1969.

Jarus, Owen, “Evidence of 3,000-Year-Old Cinnamon Trade Found in Israel.” Live Science (20 August 2013). https://www.livescience.com/39011-cinnamon-trade-found-in-israel.html

Kelso, James L., and W. F. Albright. “The Ceramic Vocabulary of the Old Testament.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Supplementary Studies, no. 5/6, 1948, pp. 1–48. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20066597. Accessed 16 Sept. 2020.

Mazar, Amihai, “Iron Age I: Northern Coastal Plain, Galilee, Samaria, Jezreel Valley, Judah, and Negev.” Pp. 5-70 in The Ancient Pottery of Israel and Its Neighbors from the Iron Age through the Hellenistic Period. Ed. S. Gitin. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2015.

Serpico, Margaret, “The Canaanite Amphorae Project.” Amarna Project (https://www.amarnaproject.com/pages/recent_projects/material_culture/canaanite.shtml)

“Traces of Cinnamon Found in 3,000-Year-Old Vessels.” Archaeology on-line (22 August 2013). https://www.archaeology.org/news/1237-130822-israel-cinnamon-spice-trade

Pazuzu (78)

The Pazuzu image was a composite creature of the mythological world consisting of a scorpion body and tail with bird’s feet, a leonine head, and claw-like hands. Pazuzu was a Mesopotamian “demon” of the hot winds. Several of these have been found in excavations, and at least one example has an inscription on its back that reads: “I am the god Pazuzu, son of the god Hanbi, king of the evil wind-demons. It is I who rage mightily in the Mountain (of the Underworld) so that they come up. As to those winds which accompany them, the west wind is stationed at their front. The winds, their wings are broken” (Saggs, 260). The hot winds could be the source drought and/or storms, but another somewhat peculiar feature of Pazuzu that appears in the mythology is to counter the deathly influence of Lamashtu’s behavior against pregnant women and infants (Green, 1844; Farber, 1897). Somewhat ironically, even though Pazuzu was the demon in charge of the hot winds, he could also be the protector against them since, he had the power to curtail the winds’ effects (Green, 1844). The original of this reproduction is in the Oriental Institute of Chicago; its provenance is unknown.

Neither Pazuzu nor this piece is mentioned in the Bible, but the image reflects the belief systems of many of the cultures around Israel, which often affected Israel itself. Isaiah sarcastically lambasts the Israelites: “When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you! The wind will carry them off, a breath will take them away” (Isaiah 57:13). While Pazuzu may not be the focus of this indictment, in principle he easily fit the motif.

The Pazuzu image became part of pop-culture with the production of the horror movie, The Exorcist (1973).


Farber, Walter. “Witchcraft, Magic, and Divination in Ancient Mesopotamia.” Pp. 1895-1909 in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, vol. 3. Ed. J. M. Sasson. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995.

Green, Anthony. “Ancient Mesopotamian Religious Iconography.” Pp. 1837-55 in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, vol. 3. Ed. J. M. Sasson. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995.

Saggs, H. W. F. The Greatness that was Babylon. Fully rev. and updated. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1988.

Khopesh Sword (79)

Sometimes referred to in the literature as a “sickle sword,” the term khopesh is the Egyptian term applied to the sword and means “literally ‘the foreleg of an animal’” (Yadin, 79, 204). Its cutting edge was on the outer, convex curve making for an efficient hacking strategy. The Egyptians would usually depict the sword raised over the heads of the soldiers poised to hack the enemy. Thus Merneptah is depicted on the Hypostyle of Karnak as well as a soldier shown besieging Ashkelon. Ramses III appears on his funerary temple at Medinet Habu with the sword raised in his right hand while holding the hair of his enemies in the left ready to receive his devastating blow. The Hittites depict themselves in a relief from Yazilikaya near Boghazkoy carrying khopesh swords on their shoulders (dating from the Late Bronze Age as well). One of the ceremonial shields preserved in Tutankhamun’s tomb (ca. 1340 BC) shows him slaying two lions that he holds by their tails, while brandishing a khopesh sword (Silverman, 44-45).

Joshua’s successful conquest of Ai narrates that he signaled the troops lying in ambush using his outstretched “javelin" (NIV, NASB, ESB; the KJV and NKJV render the Hebrew word as “spear”). Many scholars believe that the signaling weapon was actually a khopesh, which would be contemporary with the Late Bronze Age period (see Molin; Boling and Wright, 240-41; Hess, 37-38). Yadin suggested that this sword is well-adapted to the hacking move implied in the frequently appearing phrase in Joshua: “he smote them with the edge of the sword” (79; cf. Josh 6:21; 8:24; 10:28 et al.). A downside of this interpretation is the fact that the phrase “edge of the sword” uses a different Hebrew word to render “sword.” Joshua 8 uses kidon, whereas the other references to “sword” in Joshua used the word hereb. Koehler-Baumgartner define kidon as “scimitar” (2: 472), which could describe a khopesh sword. King and Stager argue that the Hebrew does not necessarily differentiate the forms of the weapon (224).


Boling, Robert G. and G. Ernest Wright. Joshua. AB 6. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982.

Hess, Richard S. “Joshua.” Pp. 2-93 in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, vol. 2. Ed. J. H. Walton. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

King, Philip and Lawrence Stager. Life in Biblical Israel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.

Koehler, Ludwig and Walter Baumgartner. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, vol. 2. Leiden: Brill, 1995.

Molin, G. “What is a Kidon?” Journal of Semitic Studies 1.4 (1956): 334-37.

Silverman, David P. Fifty Wonders of Tutankhamun. New York: Crown Publishers, 1978.

Yadin, Yigael. The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands, vol. 1. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963.

Military Diploma (80)

The Romans had a policy to award military personnel retirement benefits. These, of course, varied with time. One criterion was that the person should have served honorably for at least twenty-five years. Beginning about AD 52, military diplomas were issued to personnel in the army who were non-Roman citizens. One benefits with these diplomas was that the person was granted citizenship as a Roman. Depending on the time period of the issuance, the diploma might also grant citizenship the man’s spouse and children.

The diploma consisted of two bronze plates. The text on the plates was very formulaic, but indicated the honorable discharge of the man from military service. The plates were then wired together through the two middle holes which then were twisted and sealed by seven witnesses whose names appear.

Philippi was a Roman Colony (Acts 16:12), which Octavian (Augustus) established as such in 42 BC, granting land privileges to retired military personnel (see Dio Cassius, Roman History 51.4.6), hence implying a dominant military presence at the town. During Augustus’ reign the retirement began to shift from land allotments to monetary dispersement (Dio Cassius, Roman History 54.25). Hence, the diplomas do not date back as early as the establishment of Philippi, but its establishment was among the precedents for the retirement practice.

This replica (a resin squeeze of the original) refers to the retirement of a “cavalryman, P. Veriburis, son of Dabonis of Dacia.” The text indicates that he retired in the sixteenth year (ca. AD 154) of the reign of Antoninus Pius (AD 138-161, who reigned between the tenures of Hadrian [who is mentioned on the plates] and Marcus Aurelius). Veriburis’ wife was also granted citizenship.


Chrissanthos, Stefan G. “Keeping Military Discipline.” Pp. 312-29 in The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World. Eds. B. Campbell and L. A. Tritle. New York: Oxford University, 2013 (page 325).

Watson, G. R. The Roman Soldier. Ithaca: Cornell, 1969 (pp. 136-40).

Dagger of Tutankhamun (81)

Two daggers were among the paraphernalia in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Both of them were actually with the mummy itself. They were probably ceremonial and not for practical use. There is a question of the origin of the daggers since the motifs associated with them are foreign to typical Egyptian motifs. Many believe that they probably came from the Hittite world, or the craftsman who made them (if in Egypt) was of foreign extraction. The replica on display here (a 3/4 scale replica) portrays the gold bladed dagger with floral designs on the handle with alternating bands of colored glass and semiprecious stones. The other dagger (not represented here) was quite unique in that the blade was of meteoric iron, from a time when iron was not mined or smelted.


Comelli, Daniella et al. “The meteoritic origin of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger blade,” Meteoritics and Planetary Science 51.7 (July 2016): 13-1-09.

Reeves, Nicholas. The Complete Tutankhamun: the King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure. London: Thames & Hudson, 1990. Pp. 177.

Silverman, David. Wonders of Tutankhamun. New York: Crown Publishers, 1978. Pp. 46-47.

Roman Centurion Helmet (82)

The centurion was the main officer in the rank and file of the Roman army. The term “centurion” derives from a word meaning one hundred, but usually the centurion commanded a group of eighty (80) men rather than one hundred (Kennedy, 790). Six groups called “centuries” made up a cohort of 480 men; ten cohorts made a Legion. The centurion was very much a professional soldier with quite a number of perks relative to those of lower rank, plus there were promotional options (while still being a centurion). While writing quite later than the emergence of first century Christianity, Vegetius (ca. AD 400) describes the character of a centurion:

“…a centurion is chosen for great strength and tall stature, as a man who hurls spears and javelins skillfully and strongly, has expert knowledge how to fight with the sword and rotate his shield and has learned the whole art of armatura, is alert, sober and agile, and more ready to do the things ordered of him than speak, keeps his soldiers in training, makes them practise their arms, and sees that they are well clothed and shod, and that the arms of all are burnished and bright,…” (Vegetius, De re Militari 2.14 “The troops of legionary cavalry,” as translated in Milner, 46).

Several centurions appear in the New Testament account—usually with neutral-to-favorable reflection. A centurion of Capernaum petitioned Jesus to heal his servant and requested that Jesus not enter his house since he considered himself unworthy. Jesus commended his faith as unequaled in Israel (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Luke’s account indicates the centurion’s kindness to the Jews in that he had at least helped in the construction of the synagogue in Capernaum (Luke 7:5), remains of which may still exist (Loffreda, 294-95). A centurion who watched over the crucifixion event was among the first to declare the deity of Jesus: “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54; cf. Mark 15:39) and affirm Jesus’ innocence (Luke 23:47).

For many, the most immediately notable of the New Testament centurions is Cornelius who was converted to Christ with the visit by Peter (Acts 10). Given how the narrative unfolds, it appears that Cornelius was familiar with the story of Jesus (cf. Acts 10:36-37).

Various centurions were involved in first ushering Paul to safety from the threats on his life in Jerusalem (Acts 22-24) and then ushered his transport to Rome after his appeal (Acts 27).

Very likely, Paul has one of these in mind when he advises the Christian to “take the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:17).


Campbell, Duncan B. “Part II: Arming Romans for Battle.” Pp. 419-37 in The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World. Eds. B. Campbell and L. A. Tritle. Oxford: Oxford University, 2013. Pp. 429-30, 432-33.

Kennedy, David. “Roman Army.” Pp. 789-98 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5. Ed. D. N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Loffreda, Stanislao. “Capernaum.” Pp. 291-95 in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 1. Ed. E. Stern. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993,

Milner, N. P., trans. Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science. 2d rev. ed. Liverpool: Liverpool University, 2001.

Egyptian War Trumpet (83)

The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb yielded two metal, flared trumpets. One was silver and the other was copper. The silver one measured ca. 23 inches and the copper one was ca. 20 inches. These would have been used to signal the army in the field.

The children of Israel were instructed to make two silver trumpets for use to direct the camp’s gathering and breaking (Numbers 10:2). The Hebrew word hatzotzirah refers to a “straight instrument used for signal calls” (Koehler, Baumgartner, 344). While one of their functions was to be in military engagements (Numbers 10:8-9; 31:6; Hosea 5:8), they were also used in some capacity in religious ceremony (Numbers 10:10; 1 Chronicles 15:24). The criteria to differentiate the use of the metal trumpets over the ram’s horn trumpets is unclear, since there were occasions when both types of instruments were used in similar settings. Both instruments are referred to in 2 Chronicles 15:14.

While it is unclear if the ones in the post-exilic period were the same as these, Josephus (3.291) describes them as follows: “In length a little short of a cubit, it is a narrow tube, slightly thicker than a flute, with a mouthpiece wide enough to admit the breath and a bell-shaped extremity such as trumpets have.” On the Triumphal Arch of Titus, the Romans depicted the trumpets as part of their spoils of war against the Jews (although the depiction shows them significantly longer than Josephus describes; see Fine, Schertz, and Sanders, 30, 34).

Paul alludes to a military signal with trumpets in 1 Corinthians 14:8: “And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?”

The Egyptian trumpets were first played in modern times in 1939 over the BBC (British Broadcasting System) from Cairo. A delightful recording of that event may be found on YouTube. T. G. H. James, former Keeper of the Egyptian Collection of the British Museum, engineered and narrates the event. youtube.com/watch?v=zr_olu7chEY (Its title is misspelled, and reads: “Trumpets of Tutnakhamun”). The video is just over fourteen minutes long with a very interesting backstory. The trumpets themselves begin to sound at about 10:52.


Fine, Steven, Peter J. Schertz, and Donald H. Sanders, “True Colors: Digital Reconstruction Restores Original Brilliance to the Arch of Titus.” Biblical Archaeology Review 43.3 (2017): 28-35, 60-61.

Koehler, Ludwig and Walter Baumgartner. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, vol. 1. Leiden: Brill, 1994.

Reeves, Nicholas. The Complete Tutankhamun: the King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure. London: Thames and Hudson, 1990. Pp. 164-65.

Shofar (84)

Shofar is the Hebrew word which basically means “trumpet” or “horn” (Koehler and Baumgartner, 1447-48), but in the Joshua narrative of the conquest of Jericho the horn is specifically identified as the horn of a ram (Joshua 6:4, 6, 8, 13). The instrument, apparently derived from various horned animals and was used in both religious contexts (Leviticus 25:9; Psalm 98:6 et al.) as well as battle situations (Judges 7:19-20; Nehemiah 4:18, 20; Jeremiah 4:19; Hosea 5:8). One should see the Jericho episode as a melding of religious and battle issues as the LORD and Israel dedicate the town as a perpetual offering to the LORD.

Regarding from what species the horns come, the Mishnah (“Rosh Hashanah” 3.2-4, dating from ca. 1st-2nd centuries AD) directs: “All shofars are valid save that of a cow, since it is a ‘horn’” (3.2). The shofar that was used for the Rosh Hashanah ceremony (i.e., the New Year celebration) was supposed to be “of the wild goat, straight…” (3:3), whereas those used on other occasions such as fasting days, were to be “ram’s horns, rounded [i.e., ‘curved’]…” (3.4). From these data, Lewis indicates (1443) that the “processed horn of one of the five species of animal—sheep, goat, mountain goat, antelope, and gazelle” was permissible.

The large example on display is from a Kudu antelope. A smaller species of Kudu lives in eastern Africa, hence nearer Egypt and Canaan, while a larger species lives in southern Africa. The smaller horn on display comes from a more common ram.


Danby, Herbert. The Mishnah. London: Oxford University, 1933.

Koehler, Ludwig and Walter Baumgartner. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, vol. 4. Leiden: Brill, 1999.

Lewis, Albert L. “Shofar.” Cols. 1442-47 in Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 14. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing, 1972.

Phaistos Disk (85)

The Phaistos Disk is so-called because of its discovery in the Minoan Palace of Phaistos on the island of Crete. The date of the artifact appears to be ca. 1700 BC and reflects a hieroglyphic form of what is thought to be writing. Exactly where this fits into the sequence of the development of writing remains a bit of a mystery, but it is clear that it did not enjoy wide popularity.

The writing was produced apparently using a collection of stamps that permitted a form of “printing.” Clearly the writing is laid out in a spiral formation, but it is not clear exactly from what location it began—from the middle outward or from the edge inward. The assumption is that the vertical lines in the circular maze represent word dividers. The form of writing does not conform to any of the developments that were in vogue in the Minoan world, but seem to have more of an affinity to some forms from ancient Lycia in the area of modern southwestern Turkey.

The decipherment of the inscription remains elusive and while various proposals have been made of what it says, the scholarly world has not come to a consensus.


Dow, Sterling. “The Linear Scripts and the Tablets as Historical Documents: Literacy in Minoan and Mycenaean Lands.” Pp. 582-608 in The Cambridge Ancient History: The Middle East and the Aegean Region c. 1800-1380 B.C., vol. II, pt 1. 3d ed. Eds. I. E. S. Edwards et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1980. Pp. 595-98.

Hutchinson, R. W. Prehistoric Crete. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1962. Pp. 66-70.

Artemis (Diana) of the Ephesians (86)

Artemis is a bit of an enigma in that she appears to be an amalgam of various goddesses (Martin, 465). The form she has in Ephesus appears to derive significantly from Phrygian Cybele. In Greece she was considered a virgin huntress goddess, but ironically she was also associated with childbirth and fertility. The Cybele representation carried with it the idea of a “mother goddess” (Clinton, 414). A quaint, but significant temple at Brauron (near Harding University’s overseas Greece campus) in Greece is dedicated to her where her worship primarily involved young girls who learned trades and prepared for puberty and marriage. Artemis was often associated also with wildlife—deer, bear, etc. The attendants at Brauron were dubbed “bears” (Mee and Spawforth, 111). While various rituals were involved, they were fairly innocuous given the tendency mistakenly to portray Artemis as a lustful deity.

Artemis of the Ephesians was manifest as a woman with multiple bulbous representations across her chest. There has been on-going debate as to what these represent, with proposals suggesting they were breasts, “ostrich eggs, steer testicles, grapes, nuts, and acorns” (Arnold, 414). Regardless, these are almost universally interpreted to be some kind of representation of fertility. Her association with the animal world is depicted on the image (with some variation depending on the specific artifact) in the portrayal of “lions, bulls, deer, rams, griffons and bees” (Erdemgil, 150).

While there is a lack of clarity of what exactly the “silver shrines of Artemis” were that Demetrius made (Acts 19:24), an inscription from the ancient world described a Roman official named C. Vibius Salutaris who presented a “silver image of Diana” to the theatre (Deissmann, 113), which sounds like it was miniature of the statue.

For Ephesus, Artemis’ worship constituted a significant religious as well as cultural, sociological, and economic dynamic. While other deities were worshiped, Artemis, however, was supreme as far as the Ephesians were concerned (Oster).

Artemis was widely recognized in the ancient world. Demetrius emphasized this point as he argued that Artemis was one “whom all Asia and the world worship” (Acts 19:27). His assessment was not an exaggeration. Pausanias, writing in the 2d century AD, described: “Among the people of Calydon, Artemis, who was worshipped by them above all the gods, had the title Laphria… But all cities worship Artemis of Ephesus, and individuals hold her in honor above all the gods. The reason, in my view, is the renown of the Amazons, who traditionally dedicated the image, also the extreme antiquity of this sanctuary. Three other points as well have contributed to her renown, the size of the temple, surpassing all buildings among men, the eminence of the city of the Ephesians and the renown of the goddess who dwells there” (Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.31.7-8). The pervasiveness of her worship is clear in that as early as 1896 AD, scholars knew of thirty-three sites from the ancient world where Artemis was venerated (Bruce, 399, n.59). A statue of Artemis was recovered from the ruins of the 2-3 century AD theater in Caesarea Maritima (Frova, 274; photo on 272).


Arnold, Clinton E. “Acts.” Pp. 218-503 in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, vol. 2. Ed. C. E. Arnold. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971.

Deissmann, Adolf. Light from the Ancient East: The New Testament Illustrated by Recently Discovered Texts of the Graeco-Roman World. Trans. L. R. M. Strachan. Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint 1978.

Erdemgil, Selahattin. Ephesus: Ruins and Museum. 16th ed. Istanbul: Net Turistik Yayinlar, 1989.

Frova, Antonio. “Caesarea: The Theater.” Pp. 273-74 in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 1. Ed. E. Stern. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Martin, Hubert M. Jr. “Artemis.” Pp. 464-65 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1. Ed. D. N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Mee, Christopher and Antony Spawforth. Greece: Oxford Archaeological Guides. New York: Oxford, 2001.

Oster, Richard, “The Ephesian Artemis as an Opponent of Early Christianity.” Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 19 (1976): 24-44.

Mycenaean Vaphio Cup (87)

This cup is one of a pair that are on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece. The cups came from a tholos (“bee hive”) tomb in Vaphio, Laconia, which is part of the Peloponnese peninsula. They date from the Late Helladic II period (ca. 1610-1490 BC = Late Bronze Age I in Canaan) and are made of gold. The cup is made in three parts, similar to our modern vacuum bottles, with an outer surface of repoussé artwork and an inner lining, also of gold. The inner lining folds over the upper edge of the outer surface. A handle was then attached to the vessel. This version depicts four relatively tame bulls which share the scene with a man. The other cup depicts (not portrayed) the attempt of a man to capture several wild bulls that attack and gore him as he tries to capture them.

When they were discovered, one cup rested at each hand of the deceased. Davis argues that the two vessels were made by different artisans and that the “quiet” scene (as in our example) was produced by a Minoan artist and that the more violent scene by a Mycenaean artist (472).


Davis, Ellen N. “The Vapheio Cups: One Minoan and One Mycenean?” The Art Bulletin 56.4 (1974): 472-87. www.jstor.org/stable/3049295 (accessed 9-17-2020)

Tarbell, Frank Bigelow. A History of Greek Art. New York: Macmillan, 1896 (reprint 1902).

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