Height: 17.500 cm
Gift of Revd Joseph Barclay
Room 57-59: Ancient Levant
Israelite, about 7th century
From a tomb in Bethlehem, modern Palestinian Authority
The goddess Astarte?
While this example can be dated to about the seventh century BC, such figurines were manufactured throughout the Iron Age (about 1200-539 BC). Most examples are female, and male figures are only rarely found. The figurines may be related to a fertility cult associated with the goddess Astarte, an ancient Canaanite fertility goddess. In some cases the pillar is topped by a bird with outstretched wings.
Clay figurines have come to light in great numbers in all excavations in the southern Levant, but are most abundant in Jerusalem, where hundreds have been found. The few whole figurines that survive come, like this one, from tombs. Almost no complete examples have been found in houses. It is interesting that such figures continued to be made throughout the Iron Age, despite the religious proscriptions in the Old Testament against the worship - or even the representation - of gods other than Yahweh.
T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museu (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)
J.N. Tubb, Canaanites (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)