Antiquities Authority shakes ancient masks and rattles

In honor of Purim, virtual exhibition brings ancient rituals to life.

February 24, 2010 01:32
1 minute read.
A ritual mask.

ritual mask. (photo credit: Antiques Authority)

While Purim revelers are busy preparing their costumes and masks for Sunday’s celebrations, the Antiquities Authority has presented a virtual exhibition on its Web site ( in honor of the holiday, featuring masks and rattles that were discovered in archeological excavations around the country.

Masks portraying humans and animals – the oldest is from the Stone Age and dates to about 6,500 BCE – are among the offerings.

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Many masks were used for ritual purposes such as rainmaking, curing disease and exorcising spirits and demons. Often such masks were in the image of deities or demons.

The use of rattles during the public readings of the Book of Esther is a symbolic expression of the battle against the Amalekites, the first people whom the Israelites fought as they wandered in the desert (Exodus 17:8-13). According to tradition, the 5th century BCE Persian vizier Haman, the main antagonist in Esther, was a descendant of the Amalekites.

Clay rattles that contain small stones or other materials for making noise were found in archeological excavations in the country. The rattles occur in a variety of shapes. Some are adorned with a painted or engraved decoration.

Most of the rattles were found in a cultic context or inside tombs, and therefore there are those who believe they were primarily used for ritual purposes. The frequency with which rattles occur in excavations throughout the country is explained by the fact that they are small objects that were relatively easy to manufacture and were used by the general population.

Some say the clay rattle was an important musical instrument in the religious practices of the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah during the First Temple period.

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