Hershel Shanks

ON THE COVER: A broad massebah (sacred standing stone) was re-erected after it was found lying on its side at this burial ground in the southern Negev desert near Eilat. Uzi Avner, at upper right with his wife Rina (center) and BAR contributing editor Suzanne Singer (left), has been documenting such stones in the Negev and Sinai deserts for more than 20 years. Although some standing stones at burial sites appear to represent ancestral spirits, Avner believes stones that face east and have characteristic sizes and shapes, such as the one shown here, represent ancient deities and their abodes. The Bible reports that Jacob, Moses, Joshua and many others erected such stones to commemorate sacred occasions, seal a pact or guard territorial borders. In “Sacred Stones in the Desert,” Avner suggests that these stones offer insights not only about the desert inhabitants who erected them, but also about the origins of ancient Israelite religion.