Photo by Hans M. Cramer, The Hague, Holland

While his children look on, Jacob urges his family to gather their idols and bury them in the ground. In this 17th-century painting, “Jacob Buries the Idols,” by Haarlem-born artist Jan Symonsz Pynas, Jacob looks more like a Dutch burgher than an ancient patriarch (despite his eastern-style turban); the idols (compare with photos of idols) look like children’s dolls and Greco-Roman statuary.

In the biblical tale, Jacob instructs his household, “Rid yourselves of the alien gods in your midst, purify yourselves, and change your clothes” (Genesis 35:2). The story continues, “They gave Jacob all their alien gods and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob buried them under the terebinth near Shechem” (Genesis 35:4). Scholars have long asked why the family’s earrings were buried. But Victor Hurowitz, author of the accompanying article, says that a more appropriate question is not why earrings, but whose earrings? Hurowitz’s survey of ancient Near Eastern figurines suggests that the earrings buried under the terebinth may have been those worn by the idols, rather than the idols’ owners. The painting, once displayed in Germany, is currently in a private collection in Holland.