(photos)
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 weights.
   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.

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