Judean Pillar Figurines

Puzzling artifacts from Iron Age Judah

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2014. It has been updated.—Ed.


 
First discovered more than one hundred years ago, Judean pillar figurines continue to be poorly understood in scholarship today. Judean pillar figurines—abbreviated JPFs—were prevalent in Judah during the First Temple period (ca. 800–586 B.C.E.). These household objects, of which thousands have been found, are not present in Judah following the Babylonian conquest in 586 B.C.E.

jpfs

Two major types of Judean pillar figurines have been found. One type has a face that’s pinched to make two eyes (Left, Photo: Israel Museum, Jerusalem). The second type has a mold-made head with defined facial features and rows of curly hair (Right, Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art).

In “JPFs: More Questions than Answers” in the September/October 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Robert Deutsch provides an overview of these puzzling pillar figurines.

To begin, the name “Judean pillar figurine”—as these objects are universally called—is somewhat of a misnomer. The land in which these pillar figurines were found was called Judah, not Judea. The name Judea emerged when the southern Levant came under Roman rule beginning in the first century B.C.E. The adjective Judahite—to describe the people and material culture of Judah—is a recent designation. Deutsch believes these Iron Age pillar figurines in question are more accurately represented by the name “Judahite pillar figurines.” They are also called JPFs for simplicity.

JPFs are clay female figurines with heads rendered largely in two major types: those that are handmade and those that are mold-made. The handmade heads are fashioned in a rudimentary way, with their faces pinched to form two eyes. The heads made from molds display hairstyles resembling Egyptian wigs, with rows of curls, and defined facial features. A solid cylindrical pillar is used for the bodies of both types of JPFs. Both types also have oversized breasts, under which the arms curve.

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The form, function and symbolism of these pillar figurines have been heavily debated, with many questions still remaining. Archaeologist Raz Kletter, who is considered an authority on JPFs, believes the figurines represent Asherah—a Canaanite goddess whom some scholars contend was worshiped as God’s wife or consort. Others have suggested, however, that JPFs represent the goddesses Astarte or Anath. Further, were JPFs fertility goddesses? Good-luck charms? Toys? The scholarly community has not reached a consensus.

To learn more about JPFs, read the full article “JPFs: More Questions than Answers” by Robert Deutsch in the September/October 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

——————

BAS Library Members: Read “JPFs: More Questions than Answers” by Robert Deutsch in the September/October 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on August 21, 2014.
 


 

Learn more about Judean pillar figurines in the BAS Library:

Shmuel Ahituv, “Did God Have a Wife?” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2006.

Ephraim Stern, “Pagan Yahwism: The Folk Religion of Ancient Israel,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2001.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Asherah and the Asherim: Goddess or Cult Symbol?

Puzzling Finds from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud

Canaanite Worship? 3,400-Year-Old Figurine Found at Tel Rehov
 


 

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  • Cynthia says

    Yaweh…..& Ashera….sorry, auto spell ?

  • Cynthia says

    If you read the ancient Sumerian texts, and the Canaanite texts you will see that Yawet’s wife/consort was Ashera…who along with her priestesses supported the temple building project by weaving the linens and garments for the priests. At some point Asher advocated for Baal, her brother according to these texts, and Yawet…who is God of the Bible which has been revised so many times it’s ridiculous…and older versions of the Bible use the name Yawet. If you read Hosea 2 you will find the scorn if Yawet against the feminine blatantly obvious !! It was about this time Yawet ordered Jeremiah, or was it Elijah ? to cut down all the Ashera POLES which stood next to Yahweh’s alters in all shrines. And it was ordered the Israelites were not to worship at the “high places” anymore.

  • Regina says

    Wonderful
    To visualize each other’s
    Souls
    With Love, Art
    and
    Peace

  • LARRY says

    Something I find to be interesting is the similarity of the Judean Pillar Figures to those of the Sumerian Temple Figures. While they are not as refined as the Sumerian ones they are still similar.

    As some suggested they could represent a female idol, perhaps a food grinder, a child’s toy and more. I have not looked into the Judean Pillar Figures before but it would be interesting to know the context as to where they are typically found. Perhaps the location they were found could help solve the mystery.

    This might be a stretch yet here is a thought that came to my mind and ties in with the Sumerian Temple Figures. The Sumerian Temple Figures are noted for their eyes (typically big eyes) and hands folded in prayer just under the chest. Just a quick scan of various articles about Judean Pillar Figurines the eyes are often mentioned and just by looking at them one can see the position of the arms and hands.

    Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldees in Mesopotamia. Temple figures were very common in Mesopotamia. Perhaps the Sumerian votive figurine tradition continued to be practiced amongst Jewish women at that time.

    It is my understanding that Mosaic Law recognized women’s responsibility to be in the home as wives and mothers to the family, yet did not exclude women from religious service. Jewish women just weren’t allowed to participate as actively as men in regard to worship but they were allowed to observe the ceremonies they were not allowed to be a part of. The Jewish husbands were to be the spiritual leaders of their households and to intercede for their wives when it came to communicating with God. However, the Old Testament is filled with instances where women took it upon themselves to pray to God directly to open their womb and give them a child.

    Could it be possible that these Judean Pillar Figurines are actually votive statues expressing a religious vow, wish, or desire in regard to having children? And like their Sumerian Temple Figurine counterparts are in perpetual prayer in regard to this vow, wish, or desire?

    Just my two gerahs worth….

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