Biblical Archaeology Review 40:5, September/October 2014

JPFs: More Questions than Answers

By Robert Deutsch

Archaeology is full of puzzles, as BAR readers are well aware. I would like to discuss here some figurines that proliferated in Judah during the First Temple period; they have puzzled me for a long time. They are known as JPFs, and more than a thousand have been found to date.

Of course the first question is what JPF stands for. Here too there has been some development. What it stood for originally is better abandoned today. It originally stood for Judean Pillar Figurines. But the country in which JPFs have been found between about 800 and 586 B.C.E. (the date of the Babylonian destruction) was Judah, not Judea. It didn’t become Judea until later, after the Roman conquest in the first century C.E., as it appears on the “Judaea Capta” coins minted by Emperors Vespasian and Titus (69–81 C.E.). When the JPFs were first given the name, it was the scholarly habit to form the adjective of Judah as Judean. Largely as a result of BAR’s insistence, the people of Judah are now better referred to as Judahite. So we will refer to these figurines as Judahite Pillar Figurines—or simply JPFs.

All JPFs are female. They are “pillar” figurines because—from the neck down—they are mostly solid cylindrical pillars, flaring at the base. They all have oversized breasts with arms curved under the breasts, but there are no indications of fingers, legs or feet. Each is handmade of clay and about 6 inches high. In a few cases the clay pillars are hollow rather than solid.

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