Biblical Archaeology Review 32:2, March/April 2006

Queries & Comments

Goddesses or Guards?

In discussing an ancient house shrine’s two female nude figures, Hershel Shanks (“Scholars Fear to Publish Ancient House Shrine,” 31:06) writes, presumably dependent upon the three anonymous scholars, “The figurines on the shrine are almost surely deities—or multiple copies of a single deity. They probably indicate the identity of the deity that was believed to dwell inside the shrine.” I confess, I have little experience with house shrines, but to me it seems that the figures are standing as ceremonial guards to the side of the entrance. The figurine of the deity would have been a separate figure, standing in the center of the shrine itself. You seem to suggest this, when you write elsewhere on page 22 that the shrine is, “Probably the home of a now missing statuette of a deity.” Is it “almost sure” that these figures on the outside are deities? Or could they, for example, be temple prostitutes/priestesses that are often associated with ancient Near Eastern fertility goddess worship? Of course they could be lesser deities that are honoring the primary deity, and of course, whoever they are, they can give us a clue to indicate the identity of the primary deity of the shrine.

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