Interactive Inscriptions at Ancient Temples


Megan Sauter
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 9, 2019)—Temples have been found throughout the ancient Near East. Although it is not possible to identify every ritual activity that took place at them, Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme of the University of Copenhagen has reconstructed some that may have occurred at the temple on Mount Gerizim. In her article “Reactivating Remembrance: Interactive Inscriptions from Mt. Gerizim” published in the July/August/September/October 2019 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, she investigates the inscriptions found at the Mount Gerizim temple, which featured in people’s worship at the temple.

Archaeological evidence shows that a temple was built on Mount Gerizim around 450 B.C.E. during the Persian period. The temple complex was expanded during the Hellenistic period around 200 B.C.E., and it functioned until the Maccabees destroyed it in 110 B.C.E. The Mount Gerizim temple once contained numerous inscriptions, many of which commemorate offerings. They name a gift that is offered to the deity, the giver, and his or her dependents. Of these dedicatory inscriptions, Gudme has identified about 50 that request a counter-gift of “good remembrance” from the deity. She explains that the dedicatory inscriptions would have been placed within the Mount Gerizim temple to remind the deity of the offering and the giver.

Although we do not know the original location of the inscriptions within the sanctuary, they would have been placed where visitors could see them. Gudme describes how later worshipers might have interacted with these inscriptions: “Even if visitors were unable to read and had no opportunity to have the inscriptions read for them, these inscriptions may have been culturally recognizable as objects that required an interactive response. If that is the case, then the inscriptions may have triggered visitors to the sanctuary to touch one or several of the inscriptions that they passed on their way and to mumble, ‘Remembered be,’ as they did so.” If this reconstruction is correct, it shows us what a ritual practice at the Mount Gerizim temple may have entailed: Worshipers read and/or echoed the inscriptions, repeatedly reminding the deity of the giver and his or her offering. Thus, the inscriptions featured in the worship of the giver and of later visitors.

Mount Gerizim is not the only place to have interactive inscriptions. Gudme identifies temples throughout the Eastern Mediterranean with dedicatory inscriptions that call on others to remember them positively before the deity. Such dedicatory inscriptions appear to have been common during the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

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