The Museum's 1920s excavation at Beth Shean, Israel. Removal of the "Lion and Dog" stone panel (14th century BCE), with the tel in the background. (insets from left) Shrine house. Beth Shean, Israel. Iron Age (c.11th century BCE). Probably used as a stand to support a vessel in which incense was burned, this shrine house is modeled in the form of a two-story temple building. The man in the window may represent a worshipper, priest, or Canaanite god. Naturalistic coffin lid. Northern Cemetery, Beth shean, Israel. Early Iron Age (c.1175 BCE). Sarcophagi discovered at Beth Shean, influenced by Egyptian burial customs, are decorated with human faces in realistic or grotesque styles (see page 43).


The Bible's People (continued)

   After the dig concluded, there were no other excavations until 1956, when a professor of religious thought, Dr. James B. Pritchard, Gr'42, Hon'91, who had done his doctorate at Penn but was employed by the Church Divinity School at Berkeley, began directing an excavation at a site near Jerusalem called el-Jib. Pritchard identified the area as Gibeon, which is mentioned in biblical narratives. (See the Book of Joshua, Chapter 10: "Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities..." To frighten the Amorites, who threaten the city, Joshua orders the sun to stand still.) Here, Pritchard found a winery with underground rock-cut vaults, which kept the wine cool, and jugs with inscribed handles identifying the vineyard's owner and actually naming the site. The subterranean complex, moreover, indicated industrial-scale wine production (about 25,000 gallons), which was unusual in the period. The Gibeon dig lasted until 1962.
   In 1964, Pritchard went to Tel Es-Sa'idiyeh in the Bekah Valley, on the east bank of the central Jordan Valley. Sarcophagi found there showed how itinerant craftsmen from different cultures had intermingled during the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages. Here, the artifacts challenged the Bible's emphasis on strongly defined -- and separate -- cultures. A mask sealing a clay sarcophagus, for example, is reminiscent of Egyptian material. The objects buried with the coffins, though, show a mix of local Canaanite pottery and imported objects from Greece and Egypt. The man who was laid to rest, archaeologists theorize, was probably not an Egyptian because the bulk of the objects were local, which would be unusual for an Egyptian. Rather, he was likely a Canaanite in the employ of Egyptians or possibly a Philistine, as indicated by the headdress, which is feathered -- an image that in Egyptian reliefs represents seafaring peoples.
   "The Bible wasn't necessarily denying that different people mixed," observes co-curator Bregstein, "but it was looking to create an Us versus Them mentality, which is something we still do." Even so, Routledge adds, the Bible itself shows influences in books like Psalms, where poetic styles imitate Egyptian verse of the same period.
   The 1967 War ended the dig and put the Jordan Valley off-limits, so in 1970 Pritchard went to Sarafand, Lebanon, to the site of ancient Sarepta, a Phoenician city. While evidence of the peripatetic Phoenicians was scattered from the Levant to Spain, little until then had been found in their heartland in what is now Lebanon. In Sarepta, Pritchard discovered workshops, the remains of a shrine, and inscriptions that named the city. That excavation ended with the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1974. (One powerful resemblance between ancient and modern history in the region is, sadly, conflict.) The last dig, headed by Dr. Patrick McGovern, Gr'80, an archaeologist who trained under Professor Pritchard, occurred in the Baq'ah Valley near Amman, Jordan, from 1981 until 1987.
   Between the Beth Shean and the other excavations, there were many methodological and historical changes. Earlier in the century, archaeologists tended to dig as much and as widely as they could and hunted for the best preserved objects. Their successors learned how to get more information with less digging. They paid more attention to fragments and took a wider variety of samples, including soil samples and seeds. You could say they had also acquired a greater respect for the future, leaving material for the next generation, confident that methods and techniques will improve over time.
   More germane to the Museum exhibit, however, antiquity export laws had changed. At Beth Shean, the excavators were allowed to keep half of what they found. In contrast, by the 1970s export restrictions on antiquities had become so tight that only sample studies were permitted to leave. Consequently, the exhibit's best pieces are from the earliest dig. Even unspectacular pieces reveal more information because, as Bregstein notes, "you can line up five objects and see how they relate to one another."
   Until now, the public has had little opportunity to glimpse the trove of material. Some artifacts were on display in what was intended as a temporary exhibit in the Museum, and others from Haverford's Beth Shemesh excavation were on show in a Haverford library. The greater part of the collection was stored in the Museum basement. In the early 1990s, a visiting professor from Israel, Eliezer Oren proposed building a permanent gallery. In 1993, the Museum got grants for an exhibit, and it followed up by endowing the Pritchard Assistant Curatorship, which it filled in 1996 with the arrival of Routledge, a Toronto native, who along with Bregstein selected pieces and conceived of the gallery's design.
   At 1,800 square feet, the new gallery is spacious but obviously could not accommodate the entire catalogue. In choosing which objects to include, Routledge and Bregstein used two essential criteria. An artifact had to be extraordinary, or unique in terms of the archaeology of the area, or it had to be typical of a particular time and place. "We chose things that would tell a story," says Routledge.
   Instead of following a chronological path, the exhibit follows its unifying theme of personal identity, with sections dealing with various aspects of society, including politics and religion, domestic life, trade and commerce, death and burial, and the roles of different groups of people like women and the elderly.
   Each section contains objects from a range of periods and many features are intended to provoke questions that visitors are not likely to have considered before. How, for example, did the Phoenicians, whom Homer and the Bible record as great craftsmen and traders and who sailed all the way from their original home in Lebanon to Spain, conduct international trade before there was even such a thing as coins or any sort of monetary standard? Since the Bronze Age represented the beginning of the city-state -- little fiefdoms controlled by powerful families or small elites -- what kind of contact did different peoples have with one another? And still more basic: how did these people make bread and clothes and houses, or even name their children? The questions raised in the gender section deal with how women's roles were defined in a patriarchal society.


November/December Contents | Gazette Home
Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 10/28/98