A clay figurine of an ancient Canaanite fertility goddess mentioned more than 40 times in the Bible has joined the largest teaching collection of ancient Near Eastern ceramics in North America.
The figure, thought to be the goddess Asherah, is on loan to the Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum in Hackman Hall at Southern Adventist University from a research foundation. It is thought to date to the 7th or 8th century B.C.
“She will be a neat addition,” said Dr. Michael G. Hasel, professor of Near Eastern studies and archaeology and director of the Institute of Archaeology.
Southern Adventist University is one of only two schools in the country where students can receive an undergraduate degree in biblical archaeology.
The pinkish mold-made cast is about 6 inches tall and has a pillar-like base.
Of the 800 to 1,000 such figurines known to exist, 96 percent were found in what was the kingdom of Judah, which is in today’s Israel, according to Dr. Hasel. Of the 96 percent, more than half of those were found around Jerusalem, he said.
Their location is significant, he said, because the area was thought to be largely monotheistic.
The museum has around 200 objects in its display, called “Vessels in Time: A Journey Into the Biblical World.” Presented chronologically and in themes, it also includes videos, maps, photographs, drawings and a diorama.
In total, the collection has close to 600 artifacts, from Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, Syria-Palestine, Greece, Cyprus and Anatolia, Dr. Hasel said.
Most of the items came from the collection of Dr. William G. Dever, a retired archaeologist and professor at the University of Arizona. He unearthed many of them during digs in Israel between 1967 and 1975.
Following his retirement, when the Arizona school’s program closed and the building that housed it was torn down, he gave the items to Dr. Hasel, who had been a doctoral student under him.
Today, the Wood museum’s curator said a collection such as Dr. Dever had could not be removed from Israel because of 1978 laws set by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Dr. Hasel said the museum will take possession this spring of the retired professor’s entire library and around 15,000 slides.
The Wood museum’s collection, which is valued at around $250,000 but which its director considers “invaluable” because it couldn’t be replaced, dates from around 3200 B.C. to 450 A.D.
“What makes the collection strong,” Dr. Hasel said, “is that we have a fairly complete typology of the many strains of pottery over that time.”
Justo E. Morales, a Southern Adventist University graduate who is coordinator of the museum, said the sherds — rims, bases and handles of ancient pottery — are perfect for student study.
“Once you’re in the field, sherds are everywhere,” he said. With the collection, “students learn how to identify time periods and how to differentiate among them.”
The museum, free of charge and open since 2004, has seen up to 4,000 visitors a year. Officials hope to increase that number with changing exhibits such as one on biblical coins expected to open in the fall.
The university’s Institute of Archaeology also offers regular lectures and use of its noncirculating library for research.
“This is not for ourselves,” Dr. Hasel said. “This is for outreach to the community.”
IF YOU GO
What: Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum.
When: 2-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; 9-11 a.m. and 1-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 9-11 a.m. Fridays.
Where: Hackman Hall, Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tenn.
Admission: Free. Phone: 236-2030.
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...