The anthropoid pottery coffins from Deir el-Balach contain a wider variety of types than any other group of pottery coffins from Palestine or from Egypt, the home of the anthropoid coffin. The Deir el-Balach coffins differ greatly in style, technique, shape and workmanship. The more than 50 coffin lids are so varied that for a time, Prof. Dothan believed they might be portraits. Some were so distinctive, the archaeologists gave them names—the Judge, Baldy, the Death Mask. Some were fat, some were thin, some had stuck-up noses, some had dimples.

But further study has convinced Prof. Dothan that the faces were not intended as portraits. Almost all of them fall into distinct groups or series, with three or four faces in each series. Some are almost identical copies, indicating they came from the same hand or at least the same workshop.

The coffins themselves can be divided into two groups based on shape. Some have the head and shoulders delineated and others do not. The latter predominate at Deir el-Balach.

The faces on the lids can also be divided into two groups. In the first, the basic face is a mask, molded separately and then applied to the coffin lid, with ears, wig or beard added. This technique gives a naturalistic appearance, and at Deir el-Balach this technique is the more popular one.

In the second group, the details of the face are applied to the lid separately without an outline of the face. This results in a somewhat bizarre and even grotesque appearance.

Since they are not portraits, what was the purpose of the faces? No one knows for sure. Dr. Dothan suggests that these sometimes stylized, sometimes naturalistic faces were simply intended to keep the image of the deceased alive.

Archaeological Revolution to Continue

“Archaeology in its broadest sense is the only possible source of material evidence for additional illumination of the Biblical text. For that reason, Albright long ago described an “archaeological revolution” in the twentieth-century study of the Bible, a phrase not at all exaggerated. Albright suggested that the cumulative result of the first generation of exploration and excavation was that the Bible no longer projected from antiquity like a “lone fossil.” It can now be seen in its original setting, lost for centuries but increasingly reconstructed in detail through the evidence supplied by archaeology. There is no reason to believe that this revolution is exhausted; on the contrary, it has scarcely begun. With its growing precision in retrieving the empirical data and its increasing sophistication in interpreting it, modern archaeology has the potential for even greater illumination of the Bible.”

William G. Dever, formerly Director of the Albright School for Archaeological Research in Jerusalem and now Professor at the University of Arizona; from a forthcoming article on “Archaeology” in the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Supplement, scheduled for publication in late 1976 by Abingdon Press.