Temple Objects from Yavneh

The cooperative project between Dr. Raz Kletter (Talinn) and Prof. Wolfgang Zwickel (Mainz) concerns the study of a rare trove of cultic vessels in an excavation in Yavneh, Israel, that will enable some preliminary conclusions concerning the origin of the Philistines. Beyond this, the objects offer clues about migration and acculturation processes.

The largest discovery of cultic objects of its kind was discovered in 2002 in Yavneh, south of Tel Aviv. Close to 2,000 objects were found, making it the largest trove in the history of Israel. The discovery offers numerous possibilities for investigations of religious history. The iconography of the trove’s ritual pedestals (125 in total and the only reconstructed findings to date) are easily categorized as Ancient Oriental; however, the forms themselves are very unusual for the Middle East. The aim of the ZIS project is to identify the origin of these items by means of concerted investigations. In the process, it will also be possible to thoroughly investigate the origins of the Philistines. In addition to questions about the movement of people in antiquity, the mixing of visual elements from both Ancient Orient and Philistine cultures, as well as acculturation in the new homeland play an important role in this investigation, which will be carried out by means of iconography. In the ancient world, opportunities to understand processes of migration and acculturation are rare because precise descriptions of many of the carrier groups are lacking. This is a case where these problems have a greater significance.

In 2002, a favissa (a repository pit for the burial of cultic objects) with more than 2,000 cultic vessels was discovered by Dr. Raz Kletter during a salvage excavation in Yavneh, in the region of the ancient Philistines, c. 25 km south of Tel Aviv and 8 km from the Mediterranean coast. There were approximately a thousand chalices, with partially burnt remains of organic materials, and roughly the same number of bowls, as well as 125 cultic stands or architectural models in the repository, which measures roughly 1.5 m deep and 2.1 m across. In more than a century of archaeological research in Palestine only about 30 architectural models have been found, which amply suggests the extraordinary significance of the Yavneh finds. Since then, the shrine has been displayed in an exhibition, which created considerable interest in the trade press. Using ceramics found in the favissa, the find was dated back to roughly tenth to eighth century B.C.E.—a period which until now has been scarcely understood in terms of research or archaeology in Philistine scholarship.

The IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) usually undertakes salvage excavations that are publicized in the shortest possible time period. This discovery, however, is so rich for cultural history and so unique that the excavator, Dr. Kletter, requested a cooperation between the curator of the Eretz Israel Musuem in Tel Aviv, Dr. Irit Ziffer, and the co-convenor of the ZIS research project, Dr. Wolfgang Zwickel, who is a specialist in the cultic history of Palestine.

An exhibition in the History Musuem of Pfalz (Historischen Museum der Pfalz) in southern Germany, in which the discovery at Yavneh will play a central role, is planned for 2009/2010.

Term of Project: January 2008-Ongoing
Research endowment funding 2008

Project Members:
Prof. Wolfgang Zwickel, Seminar für Altes Testament und Biblische Archäologie (Old Testament and Biblical Archaeology Seminary), Mainz University
Dr. Raz Kletter (formerly of the Israel Antiquities Authority IAA; now in Talinn)

Cooperation Partners:
Dr. Irit Ziffer, Curator, Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel

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