Group outside Beth Shean expedition house,
December 1926. Dr. Alan Rowe, expedition director, is the second man standing
in from the right (arms folded). The man next to him (far right) is Gerald
Fitzgerald, who succeeded Rowe as field director. (insets from left) Plaque
figurine: Goddess with lotus flowers. Beth Shemesh, Israel. Bronze Age,
(c.1539-1175 BCE). This mold-made figurine features the Canaanite goddess
Astarte, the goddess of love and war (the Canaanite counterpart of the
Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar), holding a lotus plant in each hand. Judean
pillar figurine; detail of head. Beth Shemesh, Israel. Iron Age, (c.8th-7th
century BCE). Ceramic figurines were a prominent part of daily Israelite
religious practice. This depicts a goddess of fertility, Asherah,worshipped
probably by women. Stele with goddess and worshipper. Beth Shean, Israel.
Late Bronze Age, (c.1250 BCE). This limestone stela depicts a female worshipper
before the principal Canaanite deity (Astarte) or the Egyptian goddess
Hathor. Cylindrical stand fragment with portrait of Canaanite male. Beth
Shean, Israel. Late Bronze Age, (c. 1250 BCE). This cylindrical stand,
perhaps used in the Canaanite religious cult, features a careful rendering
of a bearded male wearing a high, fluted ≥feather≤ headdress. The headdress
may be related to the headgear of the Sea Peoples, of whom the best known
are the Philistines.
The Bible's People (continued)
The introductory section is about politics and bureaucracy.
The artifacts exhibited symbolize prestige and power, and include weapons
and warrior burials from the middle Bronze Age. There are door lintels
with titles and blessings in hieroglyphics, royal seals, standardized
The exhibit proceeds into a section on religion, particularly
Egyptian and Canaanite religions at Beth Shean and then in Canaan and
Israel in relation to the Bible. The period introduced the idea of a temple
as the house of a deity, and there is a feature on Solomon's Temple and
evidence of competing religions. "A lot of stuff is foreign to the
popular understanding of the Bible," Routledge comments. "We
don't have early manuscripts, so we have a text panel with photographs
of the Dead Sea Scrolls and amulets with Biblical quotes. They detail
the Bible as an object itself."
The full-scale house shows domestic life, and it is
followed by a section on technology and crafts, which covers agriculture,
wine- and olive-oil-making, jewelry and handicrafts, and pottery, and
ends with a feature on the Phoenicians that illustrates the extent to
which technology and craft skills gave them their identity.
In a section on trade and commerce, the exhibit shows
how people exchanged things before coins were introduced. A large interactive
map shows how objects came from different parts of the Middle East into
Canaan and Israel. Examples are on the map, with fragments that visitors
match to the regions. Another feature shows how craftsmen in one place
were influenced by designs brought in from others. Again, it points to
the extent of cultural interaction.
The section on personal identity features a series of
figurines depicting women. In one, a pregnant woman holds her belly and
appears to be smiling. Another is a nude. The late Bronze Age pieces are
called Astarte figurines after the Canaanite fertility goddess. Identifying
particular pieces depends on informed guesses. One piece may be Qudushu,
a goddess imported from Egypt. One may be Anat, a Canaanite goddess often
associated with hunting and warfare. In some figures, elements of all
three goddesses blend. Though the figures tend to have a fertility aspect,
the intention of their Bronze Age creators remains unclear. Were they
reenacting coitus, expressing fertility concerns, or even simply expressing
concern for changing seasons? Still, the naturalistic expressions do show
what women looked like, though it's impossible to know whether these particular
women were typical or ideals of beauty.
The curators wanted to raise the rather modern question
of gender roles. With archaeological evidence limited mainly to toiletry
articles, jewelry, and the figurines, the curators decided to present
text alongside those artifacts that would stir conversation. "We
don't solve the question but raise it," says Routledge. "We
ask critically just who is defining the roles, and of course we recognize
that these were strongly patriarchal societies."
The exhibit closes with a dramatic section on death
and highlights two types of burials. One, a communal or family burial,
dates from the Middle Bronze Age (1600 BCE) in Beth Shemesh and shows
how families used the tomb over a long period of time. As one person died,
he or she was put in with offering bowls and the tomb was sealed until
the next burial.
That burial is contrasted with a burial from Beth Shean
and dates to the Egyptian occupation around 800 BCE. A clay sarcophagus
with a mask cover (the mask is of a man's face) is mounted vertically.
On the wall next to it, the coffin is outlined with pottery that the deceased
would have been buried with. The effect is that you can see what the object
was and also how and what objects were buried with people.
For the Museum, the exhibit fits neatly with other Bronze
and Iron Age collections, including galleries on Egypt, Mesopotamia, and
the ancient Greek world. Every collection is of course tailored to its
strengths, and whereas the others have a great deal of material pertaining
to death, the Canaan and ancient Israel exhibit focuses more on daily
life in the periods.
In archaeology circles, word of the exhibit has been
received enthusiastically. Dr. Gitlin, who got his doctorate in archaeology
at Penn under Professor Pritchard's tutelage, says he heard about it this
summer. "It gives the public a chance to visualize and conceptualize
their general knowledge of the Bible in three-dimensional terms."
The curators wanted to make the biblical period relevant
to the average lay visitor. The Museum's audience consists of Philadelphia
school students, the Penn community, and a third, less defined group of
people who just like to go to museums. While tours can be arranged, most
visitors will experience the gallery on their own, so the curators tried
to use titles and lead sentences that summarize text panels. "Things
like the house provide opportunities for object lessons," Routledge
says. "I hope some tour groups, especially those with urban school
kids, won't be there just to learn about Canaan and ancient Israel but
to see what's involved in going from wheat to bread. How did you get clothing
when there were no stores? What role did animals play when you lived with
them all the time?"
"This isn't a gallery about biblical religion but
about the biblical way of life," adds Bregstein. "It's not an
archaeologist's perspective. The types of artifacts that get archaeologists
excited are not what enthuse the general public. I want people to come
away with what life was like."
Todd Pitock, C'87, is a writer whose work has appeared
in The Washington Post, The San Francisco Examiner, and The
Toronto Globe & Mail. He was formerly assistant editor of The Journal
of Israeli History, a Tel Aviv University publication.
November/December Contents | Gazette
Copyright 1998 The
Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 10/28/98