Biblical Archaeology Review 26:5, September/October 2000

Idol Pleasures

By Hershel Shanks

Perhaps it would be dangerous to mount an exhibit of idols in Jerusalem. So the Bible Lands Museum calls its latest exhibit “The Human Form Divine.” The show consists of nearly 200 figurines from the private collection of super-collector Elie Borowski, who, together with his wife Batya, created (and largely financed) this gem of a museum. Well into his 80s, Elie continues to serve as the museum’s majordomo.

What immediately strikes one in viewing the exhibit is the amazing variety of these figurines from a dozen cultures or more over a period of some ten thousand years. Yet all these diverse peoples felt the urge to create figurines such as these. Much scholarship is devoted to describing and classifying them. Then there is the speculation regarding the identities of the figurines—is a particular object a fertility figurine or perhaps a goddess like Asherah or a god like Reshef? But the hardest question is how these figures were used. Why did so many different peoples create these ubiquitous little figures? And what did they do with them?

Indeed, were they even idols? According to Borowski, some may have just been works of art, the result of a creative urge; others, he says unconvincingly, may have been toys.

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