David Harris

Silver Incense Altar

Elaborately decorated on its upper part, this small, 3.3-inch-square altar rests on an austere architectural-style base resembling a city or temple wall. On each face, surrounding a central circle, four pointed petals separated by palmettes extend to the corners of a square. Rosettes occupy the upper register of the altar. Traces of gilding appear on this piece, which comes from the Persian empire (538–332 B.C.E.). Burning incense, part of many ancient worship ceremonies, may have led Jeremiah to cry out to the people of Judah: “For your gods have become as many as your towns, O Judah, and you have set up as many altars to shame as there are streets in Jerusalem—altars for sacrifice to Baal” (Jeremiah 11:13).