About Erin Darby

Erin Darby

Dr. Erin Darby is an associate professor of Early Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies and the Faculty Director of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Prof. Darby is an expert in the archaeology of Israelite religion, with a specialty in figurines and other cultic objects. These are featured in her monograph, Interpreting Judean Pillar Figurines: Gender and Empire in Apotropaic Practice (Mohr Siebeck 2014) and a co-edited volume entitled Iron Age Terracotta Figurines from the Southern Levant in Context (Brill 2021), and many other publications. Her most recent work has focused on figurines and other ritual objects at shrine sites in the Negev Desert of southern Israel and in southern Jordan. Plus, she is an active field archaeologist and co-director of the ‘Ayn Gharandal Archaeological Project in the Wadi Arabah of southern Jordan.


Presenter at

St. Olaf College Summer Seminar, July 17 – 23, 2022
Picturing God(s) in Ancient Israel and the Hebrew Bible

1. The Missing Images of Ancient Israel: Scholars and the Popular Imagination
This session will explore the many reasons why people have assumed ancient Israel banned images. We will discuss how the supposed lack of images has been connected with monotheism, and we will interrogate the accuracy of that interpretation, asking whether this presumption says more about us than it does about the ancient Israelites.

2. The Bible Tells Me So? Monotheism and Aniconism in the Hebrew Bible
In this session, we will learn more about the biblical passages that have led many interpreters to connect bans against images with monotheism. As we examine key passages, we will ask how their date of composition, socio-historical setting, literary themes, and vocabulary might better inform the way
we reconstruct the role of images in ancient Israel.

3. It’s Complicated! Pantheons in the Ancient Levant
Using archaeology and the textual record, we will investigate our own assumptions about pantheons in the Iron Age Levant, including in ancient Israel. Images, inscriptions, and texts will help us better recognize the complexity of ancient religious belief, which will, in turn, require us to reimagine the role images might have played in a religiously diverse landscape.

4. Playing Hide and Seek with Aniconism in Ancient Near Eastern Art
This exploration of ancient Near Eastern art will focus on how gods are depicted…or not. Together, we will investigate how different levels of the pantheon are represented in objects across various cultures, with particular attention to the depiction of anthropomorphic features, miniaturization, abstraction, and negative space.

5. When Is an Idol Not an Idol? The Role of Material and Production in Ancient Israelite Images
Using the Bible and ritual texts from the ancient Near East, we will investigate the definition of the term “idol” and the way this term has been associated with excavated images in ancient Israel. By focusing on the materials from which “idols” are made and common production processes for elite cult objects, we will reconsider how we label images from ancient Israel.

6. Gods, Shrines, and Temples, Oh My!
Returning to the question of Israelite aniconic monotheism, we will use methods from the archaeology of ritual to examine the cultic infrastructure of ancient Israel and Judah. Beyond introductions to the various cultic sites, we will ask how archaeology can shed light on the level of religion to which these sites belong, the pantheons venerated at these sites, and how to compare these data with biblical depictions of Israelite religion.

7. Images and Popular Religion: The Curious Case of Judahite Pillar Figurines
In this session, we will examine modern concepts of “popular religion” in ancient Israel. Drawing upon all we have learned thus far, we will use the case of Judahite Pillar Figurines to test our assumptions about Judahite popular religion and its role in Judahite religious life as a whole. In so doing, we will investigate the way modern assumptions about women and depictions of the body have influenced our understanding of the past.

8. Everyday Ritual: Images on the Ground in Ancient Israel
Moving further into everyday practices, we will learn more about the use of images in the household religion of ancient Israel. Texts and artifacts will help us imagine the range of rituals taking place in the home, whether they are accepted our frowned upon in the public cult, and the larger rituals in which images may have played a role.

9. Images after Exile?
Until recently, reconstructions of Israelite monotheism emphasized the importance of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the exile in accelerating the development of image bans and monotheism in Israelite religion. We will review the archaeology and texts that have featured in this model, as well as mounting criticisms that complicate this picture.

10. Iconography Idolatry: Images, Ethics, and the Market Today
We will close our investigation by asking how our imagining of divine images and their role in ancient Israel and the Levant might have ethical implications. As we will see, not only do our reconstructions predetermine our depictions of peoples and cultures, but they also impact the modern antiquities trade and cultural resource management.


Bible & Archaeology Fest XXIV, October 16 – 17, 2021
En Ḥaẓeva (Tamar) at the Cross-Roads: Exploring the Edge of Empire

In this lecture, Robert and Erin Darby will take you on a tour through the Iron Age, Roman, and Byzantine forts at the site of ʽEn Ḥaẓeva in southern Israel. Despite having been excavated over many years, the site has yet to reach final publication, leaving much of the data inaccessible to either a scholarly or lay audience. Nevertheless, the site and an adjacent shrine have featured prominently in discussions of Judean and Edomite control of the Negev, Edomite religion, and ethnic and political identity. In the Roman period, Ḥaẓeva forms part of a chain of forts and bathhouses that dot the Wadi Aravah, controlling trade and troop movement in the region. The Darby’s will introduce you to the site and debates over its significance, while reviewing the current state of knowledge in the field.


Bible & Archaeology Fest XXII, November 22 – 24, 2019
Baptizing Soldiers on the Roman Frontier: The Early Christian Church Complex at ‘Ayn Gharandal, Jordan

In this lecture, Erin and Robert Darby will introduce the audience to the newly-excavated potential baptistry of the fourth century church at ‘Ayn Gharandal (Arieldela), Jordan. Although scholars have discussed the Christianization of the Roman military, no other sites in the region have produced evidence for a purpose-built church in a Roman military base during the fourth century. Evidence for fourth century baptistries is likewise elusive. After describing the church complex, Erin and Robert will discuss several important implications, including the possible ritual uses of the rooms in the church complex, potential sources for ritual officiants, and what the process of baptism at the site may have entailed.


Bible & Archaeology Fest XXI, November 16 – 18, 2018
Excavating the Gharandal Church: Soldiers, Pagans, and Christians in Arabia-Palaestina

In this lecture, Erin and Robert Darby will introduce the audience to the newly-excavated fourth century church at the Roman military site of ‘Ayn Gharandal (Arieldela), Jordan. Although scholars have discussed the Christianization of the Roman military, no other sites in the region have produced evidence for a purpose-built church in a Roman military base during the fourth century. In fact, the Gharandal Church is one of the few fourth century church buildings still standing in the Levant. After describing the church complex, Erin and Robert will discuss several important implications, including when in the fourth century the church may have been constructed, who commissioned the building, the extent of conversion to Christianity at the site, and the nature of Christian practice in this distant province of the Empire.