Courtesy Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums

A richly painted Philistine pottery jug from Megiddo dates to the second half of the 11th century B.C., when Megiddo may have been under Philistine rule. It is decorated with a geometric pattern and an animal procession led by lyre player. The figures are painted in black and plum-red on white slip. Although a new type of lyre with a symmetrical superstructure was developed by the Philistines and the related Sea Peoples, the instrument shown here is the Semitic asymmetrical lyre. The four strings are probably not a realistic representation, nor are the other elements of the lyre—all have been stylized and simplified.

The jug’s shape is that of a Philistine “beer jug” which originally had a strainer-spout. A drawing of the decorative painting from the vase and an artist’s reconstruction of the vase allow us to envision it intact. The drawing of the whole vase shows its outside appearance on the left half and the vessel’s cross-section on the right half. Thus, the viewer can see the vase wall’s varying thickness as well as its outer appearance.

No evidence has yet been found to explain the meaning of this intriguing scene. This vessel is often called the “Orpheus” vase (referring to the Greek legend of Orpheus who charms the animals) but the legend is probably not represented here because none of the animals on the vase face the musician.

Megiddo, the site where this vessel was found, was probably conquered by King David, whose reign began about 1,000 B.C. So far, only the 12th century Megiddo ivory and this jug are close enough in time and location to King David’s reign to give us some idea of the lyre (kinnor) on which he played.