Biblical Archaeology Review 31:6, November/December 2005

The Untouchables: Scholars Fear to Publish Ancient House Shrine

By Hershel Shanks

To encounter ancient Near Eastern religion, one can hardly do better than to begin with the clay model house shrines that appear as early as the third millennium B.C. and continue through the Biblical period.

An especially instructive one is said to have come from northern Palestine, either east or west of the Jordan River, dating about the tenth or ninth century B.C., the heart of the Biblical period.1 The three well-known scholars who studied it call this house shrine “outstanding” for its “exceptionally rich iconographic detail ... warranting the prompt publication of this remarkable object.”

Paradoxically, although it is iconographically rich, the object itself is of low quality. It is badly fired, with a thick black core. The clay is poorly levigated (smoothed) and has little holes created by straw (or other organic material) that was in the clay mix. The clay also has little white and gray inclusions.

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