Although they are Biblical artifacts found due to archaeological looting, house shrines enrich our understanding of ancient Israelite religion
Continuing our series on unprovenanced Biblical artifacts, that is, Bible artifacts found outside of a professional excavation, another example of these Biblical artifacts found in the Middle East are house shrines. Although the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) have banned the publication of articles and the presentation of papers about unprovenanced objects and Biblical artifacts in an attempt to curb archaeological looting and forgery of Bible artifacts found in Israel and Jordan, other scholars believe that Biblical artifacts found without a stratified context are by no means worthless and can tell us much about ancient Israelite religion.
These small clay house shrines abound on the antiquities market and in private collections, often the victims of archaeological looting, as are many Bible artifacts found on the market. Used from the third millennium B.C. through the Biblical period, the house shrines are thought to have originated in the Jordan River valley—mostly in Transjordan. Despite their numerous presence on the antiquities market (often via archaeological looting), only a few have come from professional excavations, including a couple from Israelite sites that can contribute to our understanding of ancient Israelite religion.*
Although the exact function of these house shrines is still unknown, they are rich with familiar iconography from ancient Israelite religion. From the tree-like columns to the lion bases and the doves perched atop the roofs, all of these are well-known symbols of the goddess Asherah and her counterparts from Biblical artifacts found in the ancient Near East. Some of the shrines even have female figures, which may represent the goddess herself or her worshipers. The house shrines suggest the strong presence of alternative popular beliefs in ancient Israelite religion, probably practiced in the home by a majority of the population, that went against the official Israelite monotheism and elite Temple-centered worship that the Biblical writers promoted.
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