Facts and artifacts

30th volume of ‘Eretz-Israel,’ displays rich heritage of Canaanite, Israeli works of art.

Prof. Netzer, artifact (photo credit: Reuters)
Prof. Netzer, artifact
(photo credit: Reuters)
The special exhibition “The Art of the Ancient Near East” (September-October, 2010), held at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, failed to mention Canaan or Israel. I admired the impressive sculptures of gods and kings, and other superb works of the art of Sumer, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt and the Persian Empire, but I looked in vain for anything from home. The reason might have been the biblical commandment: “Thou shalt not make any graven images” (Deuteronomy 5:8). And yet the contents of the 30 volumes of Eretz-Israel prove without doubt that the Metropolitan curators missed, for unknown reasons, what could have been the most meaningful part of their exhibition.
The 30th volume of Eretz-Israel, like many previous issues, proves that not only the huge, Ramses-like sculptures, but small items like the delicate Hebrew stamp seals testify to ancient Israel’s artistic endeavors. One small figurine, 30 cm. in height, of a king, found at Hazor, once covered with gold by an unknown artist, is an excellent example of Canaanite art. The volume’s 38 articles in Hebrew (with English summaries), 10 articles in English and two in French, with 616 illustrations on the Bronze and Iron ages, display the rich heritage of the past Canaanite and Israeli works of art, many of them important for our better understanding of the Bible.
Let us, for instance, refer to the article by Prof. Othmar Keel: “New Glyptic evidence in relation to some Biblical concepts,” in which he deals with the cult of the bull in ancient Israel. The discovery of a small bronze bull in Samaria, and a number of small stamp seals bearing images of bulls (with a god figure represented above), remind us of “God, who brings them out of Egypt, is like the horns of a wild bull for them” (Numbers 23:22), or the “Bull of Jacob” (Genesis 49:24, Psalm 132:2, 5, Isaiah 49:26, and 60:16). The stamp seals may be tiny in size, but they are precious keys to help us learn both about our past and mankind’s progress.
THE 30TH VOLUME of Eretz-Israel, edited by Joseph Aviram, Seymour Gitin, Amihai Mazar, Nadav Na’aman, Ephraim Stern and Sharon Zukerman is dedicated to one of our most distinguished veteran archeologists.
Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor, one of the founders of the Hazor National Park and an archeological surveyor of Jezreel Valley, excavated at Masada, Tel Yarmut, Azor, Athienou in Cyprus, Yokne’am, Hazor and many other sites. He is still active in the Israel Exploration Society and other archaeological bodies, while his book The Archaeology of Ancient Israel (1992) is a basic resource for the teaching of this subject.
The volume’s editors, his colleagues and associates abroad pay a warm tribute to Prof. Ben-Tor. They dedicate to him 14 of their English and French studies, while the Hebrew section contains 40 research papers, all conducted by his grateful students.
Each essay contributes to our better understanding of the origins of Israel, its development, of our neighbors and their culture. To quote only a few, Prof. William G. Dever of the University of Arizona writes on “Earliest Israel: God’s warriors, revolting peasants, or nomadic hordes?” Prof. Joseph Maran writes on the “Evidence for Levantine Religious Practice in the Late Bronze Age Sanctuary of Phylacopi on Melos?” Prof. Pierre de Miroschedji writes on “At the Origin of Canaanite Cult and Religion; The Early Bronze Age Fertility Ritual in Palestine.”
Aren M. Maeir of Bar-Ilan University and Louise A. Hitchcock of the University of Melbourne search for the origins of the Philistine hearth, an ethnic marker of Philistine identity and an indicator of Aegean migration to Philistia.
Ben-Tor’s former pupils are today the vanguard of Israel’s archeological research. They share with us, in Hebrew, with English summaries, articles on a wide variety of subjects, published for the first time, illustrated by 616 photographs of ivory and bronze objects, ceremonial basins, wine presses, houses and households, jars and jar handles and incised potsherds, all found in Israel in recent excavations.
Among the 38 Hebrew studies is by Tallay Ornan of the Hebrew University. It contains a description of a Caananite king found at Hazor (mentioned above), a human figure wearing a rolled-hem dress and a high oval hat, known from other artifacts typical of Middle Bronze Age rulers. Gold spots indicate that he was once covered with gold. Another statue, identified as Ba’al Hadad, and found in another corner of the same room of the royal palace shows that both enjoyed the same status. The art of carving and sculpting in basalt flourished at Hazor.
Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University writes on houses and households in settlements along the Yarkon River and on Israel during the Iron Age I: its society, economy and identity. Raphael Greenberg and Sarit Paz of Tel Aviv University describe the streets of Beit Yerah. David Ben-Shlomo of the Hebrew University comments on Egyptian-style scenes on the Iron Age I ivories from the southern Levant. Zvi Greenhut writes on offerings to God: the association of cultic buildings and grain in the Iron Age. Yehuda Dagan describes the Judean Shephelah in the early Bronze Age and analyzes the settlement patterns in various phases.
Lilly Gershuny describes a pair of bird-shaped vases from the Favissa of the Middle Bronze Age found at the Hazor’s Temple.
Nimrod Getzov writes on the “Ta’anach wine press – evidence of the Midde Bronze Age wine industry in the Jezreel Valley.” Ronny Reich writes on the origins and the date of the building at Ayelet Hashahar and building 3002 at Hazor. Miriam Tadmor investigates the identity of the figurine found at Revadim: a goddess, a wet-nurse or a child-bearing woman? Ruhama Bronfil considers the problem of coming before the king on the basis of a ceremonial basin found in Hazor’s throne room. The unique basalt tripod basin, attached to a human figure represented in her view a further link in the cultural, religious and ceremonial world of the royal house of Canaanite Hazor. Emanuel Eisenberg comments on the ancient fortifications of Hebron, including the “Cyclopean Wall.”
Each paper, and I quoted only a few, is accompanied by photographs, bibliography and explanations and adds another step to our knowledge of the ancient world.
The Israel Exploration Society has throughout the years offered both the Israeli and foreign public viable proof of the everlasting Jewish spirit and scholarship.
Its Exploration Journal is published twice a year.The present 30th volume of Eretz-Israel is a nicely printed and bound addition to our national library, tangible proof of the rich, ancient Jewish cultural and artistic heritage. The next issue, the Centennial Eretz-Israel volume, is now in preparation.