Review of Avigad, Nahman. “An Inscribed Pomegranate from the ‘House of the Lord.’”

Avigad, Nahman.  “An Inscribed Pomegranate from the ‘House of the Lord.’” The Biblical Archaeologist 53 (September 1990): 157-66. [Israel/Solomon/Furnishings/Symbolism]

In 1988 the Israel Museum with the help of an anonymous donor purchased a small “thumb-sized” pomegranate carved in ivory bearing a partial ancient Hebrew inscription.  The inscription was translated by the first publisher as “Belonging to the Temple of the Lord Yahweh, holy to the priests.”  If genuine, it purports to be the only archaeological find known to that time associated with Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.  Because of its questionable provenance, some questioned its authenticity.

Nahman Avigad, who accepts its authenticity, wrote this article to give his reasons for accepting it as authentic, and to bring it to the attention of a wider audience.  After giving a brief history of the object and how it came into the possession of the Israel Museum, he then described the small but elegant object.  It had a small hole in the bottom, which Avigad suggests was used to place it on a stick or sceptre.  Next he turns to the inscription and discusses his reasons for accepting it as authentic and as an Eighth Century script.  Among several avenues of evidence, for Avigad the palaeographic evidence left no doubt.  He also generally agreed with Lemaire the first publisher, regarding the reconstruction of the missing part of the inscription.   Reference to the House of the Lord” Avigad argues, was most likely to the Jerusalem Temple.

Finally, he turns to the question of the use of the object by priests in the temple.  There is nothing in the Bible that provides an answer, nor in any other ancient Near Eastern text so far as is known.  However, there are a number of other similar pomegranate scepters which have been found in various excavations, several of which were in Temple related contexts.  Seal impressions and wall decorations show the widespread usage of the pomegranate.  Avigad is left to speculate that there was some unnamed and unspecified ritual in the Temple wherein the scepters were used.  One possibility is the festival of the Firstfruits.  Rituals and/or ceremonies tied to this festival are not elaborated upon in the Bible

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