Found throughout the Levant, knee-high cylindrical cult stands were probably used to make offerings to deities—of burning incense, perhaps, or libations. But how do you tell an Edomite stand from a Philistine, or Judahite, one?
The ancient Near East boasts a bewildering variety of cult stands made of stone, bronze or clay, some dating as early as the Chalcolithic Age (4500–3300 B.C.E.). Clay cylindrical stands, such as the ones shown here, arrive on the scene much later, in the early Iron Age (1200–586 B.C.E.). In general, cult stands appear to have been associated with religious rites—though some scholars suggest that they may also have served as vessels for rare fragrant oils used to anoint the body.
Three of the stands shown here, including those at top and above, were found in a pit adjacent to the shrine at ‘En Hatzeva, which the excavators have tentatively identified as Edomite. Why only tentatively? Partly because similar cult stands have turned up at Canaanite, Philistine and Phoenician sites, among others.
A ninth/eighth-century B.C.E. stand, shown below, is from the Judean hills near Hebron. Like several of the ‘En 047Hatzeva stands, it is hollow, with fenestrations (windows); a gallery of human heads peer out from under the stand’s overhanging fringe.
Another stand (below) is from Ashdod, a Philistine city on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. Dating to the tenth century B.C.E., this stand has five musicians depicted in an open-work design; of the two musicians visible in the photo, the one at left beats a tambourine, while the one at right plays a double flute. In at least one instance, the Bible associates Philistine religion with music; the prophet-priest Samuel tells young Saul: “[A]t the place where the Philistine garrison is … you will meet a band of prophets coming down from the shrine with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre playing in front of them; they will be in a prophetic frenzy” (1 Samuel 10:5).
The cylindrical stands from ‘En Hatzeva share several features with stands found elsewhere: Some bear depictions of humans and animals (below), some are decorated with pomegranates, and all are hollow, sometimes with fenestrations.
Still, there are important differences between the stands from ‘En Hatzeva (and Qitmit, identified as Edomite) and those from other sites. ‘En Hatzeva’s cylindrical stands are much later, by a century or more, than any other stands of their type yet found: Most of these other “non-Edomite” cult stands date to the tenth century B.C.E., like the one from Ashdod.
Also, some of the ‘En Hatzeva (and Qitmit) stands bear a known Edomite decoration: The lower fringes of their bowl-shaped tops are modeled with projecting triangles, called denticulated fringe decoration. Similar triangles also ornament pottery found at Tell el-Kheleifeh and at Buseirah, a site east of the Arava in Edom proper. Some of the triangles on ‘En Hatzeva’s stands are pierced so that objects such as pomegranates could be hung from them.
What is clear is that ‘En Hatzeva’s cultic objects can be associated with those from Qitmit. Although similar cylindrical stands have been found elsewhere, clay anthropomorphic stands (such as the one on the cover of this issue) are unique to these two sites: If Qitmit is Edomite, so is ‘En Hatzeva.