See also Art
ART, ARTS. Agreeable to the character of a Bible encyclopedia, this subject is limited to a survey of the processes and achievements of the Syro-Palestinian area of the OT and NT. Peripheral areas and times will be noted concerning their influence on this area. Primary concern is with painting, carving, engraving, sculpture, etc., and with the progression through the centuries of decorative themes and patterns, leaving the objects decorated to separate consideration (i.e., Architecture; Seals; Idols; Idolatry; Temple; House; Building, etc.), since these are the vehicles, not the art element itself.
I. Art before 3000 b.c.
Art in the Syro-Palestinian area did not have the support of a well-founded, native civilization by which to produce a significant art. However, in spite of this lack, three examples of preliterate, prehistoric art of startling character require consideration.
A. Linear art. At Teleilat Ghassul (c. 3600-3400 b.c.) was unearthed a splendid example of linear art in polychrome fresco, the central feature being a large, eight-armed design arranged around a circular center filled with an eight-pointed star. Encircling the star is a field containing stylized dragons with other figures of geometric character. A second fresco portrays a bird in extremely natural posture, an equal for which it is scarcely possible to find in Egypt. A third composition presents a group of three figures, the dress of one indicative of royalty, possibly a worship scene.
The star design suggests derivation from the painted pottery of Tel Halaf (see Haran) where similar designs were applied to the inside of shallow bowls and platters, indicating migration of the art form into the Jordan Valley.
B. Sculpture. Jericho has produced an example from c. 6500 b.c. of near sculpture (Garbini, The Ancient World, 70-71) for rewarding contemplation in a series of plastered skulls characterized by extremely sensitive modeling of the plaster in imitation of the planes of the face, reminiscent of oriental features. Formation of the eyes by cowrie shells adds the necessary touch of realism and indicates the perceptive imagination of this ancient artist. A slightly later painted terra cotta head was already indicative of a decadent trend but represented a unique occurrence of terra cotta as an art form.
From the Amuq Plain in Syria came a steatite figurine from the early part of the Neolithic Period (Woolley, Art of the Middle East, 104). It is remarkable for its quite literal character though of steatopygous form.
C. Carving. It should be noted that the earlier Natufians of Pal. were not unconscious respecting artistic endeavors and frequently adorned the bone handles of their sickles with carved animal heads (Albright, Archaeology of Palestine, pl. 10), c. 8000 b.c. Other artistic Natufian efforts are revealed in carved bone necklaces (Kenyon, Archaeology of the Holy Land, pl. 2c), a sing. arrangement in pairs of shapes like golf club heads, but beautiful in arrangement and form.
D. Pottery. It came to Jericho with the Pottery Neolithic A people (Kenyon, op. cit., 62) having a distinctive slip ware style of decoration of chevrons and triangles, with red slip burnished (i.e., polished), forming an attractively decorated ware of good contrast and quality.
These examples indicate an early and high level of artistic ability indicative of excellent creative thought in both real and abstract design. While a wealth of examples from the period has not been unearthed, meagerness should not be used to conclude that they were unproductive of pleasing art. What was lacking was an age which could provide the necessary leisure time for thought and achievement.
II. Art from 3000 b.c. to the Israelite conquest
The date of 3000 b.c. is taken as a demarcation, since it is generally accepted as the beginning of the historical period.
A. Influences in Syria. One of the earliest occupied sites along the Phoen. coast was Byblos. Its earliest contact with one of the greatest of the art worlds, in this case Egypt, occurred in the time of Snefru (third dynasty, c. 2615-2565 b.c.). Contact with Mesopotamia took place some three centuries later in the era of westward expansion under Sargon I (2360-2305 b.c.). After each initial contact, traffic both ways was regular and at times intense. However, having no central government, the Syro-Palestinian area could not produce a distinctive art form of its own; it remained basically an imitative area. Egypt’s influence in Syria is evidenced by the presence of vases with gold lids found in Byblos, the lids bearing cartouches of Thinite pharaohs. At Tel el-Judeideh, near Alalakh, were found six bronze statuettes from c. 2700 b.c., and Mesopotamian cylinder seals were found with them. The style of dress of the statuettes is distinctly Syro-Anatolian, but the presence of the seals indicates a casting process from Sumer, the lost wax method (Frankfort, Art and Architecture, 134). After 2000 b.c. a new life appeared in the area when the Amorites invaded the lands.
The primary motifs in twelfth-dynasty (1991-1786 b.c.) coastland Syro-Pal. were Egyp., as evidenced in art objects found in Byblos, both those made in Egypt and native copy works. This influence continued strongly down through the eighteenth dynasty and into the Ramesside Age (D. Harden, The Phoenicians, 180). Of lesser influence was Mesopotamia, evidenced by the glyptic art of cylinder and stamp seals, but showing a mixture of Egyp. tendencies. The shift toward Assyrian motifs in the first millennium b.c. points up the fact that art forms generally reflect the art of the stronger ruling power (cf. ibid.). When the Hittites were in control, Hitt. costumes and attributes were present. Hurrian domination is indicated by the prominent white-on-dark painted pottery.
About the beginning of the second millennium b.c., two silver figurines were produced, of grotesque shape and a completely local product, without evidence of Egyp. influence. Slightly later two copper statuettes appeared, one a standing god, another a seated goddess, showing Hurrian influence in Ugarit, under Hurrian control (Woolley, op. cit., 108). Both the silver and copper figures appear modeled in the round from the front, while from the side they show a flat back, necessitated for bending to produce the seated figure (ibid., 103). The flatness indicates that the figures were intended to be viewed from the front, a “convention.” The idols were provided with inlaid eyes, and indications are that the idols were gold-leafed. Headdresses are Hurrian.
Cretan influences are seen in the presence of Middle Minoan (early second millennium b.c.) polychrome pottery as indicated by spiral designs on a fragment of a silver bowl. It was in the 15th and 14th centuries b.c., however, when Mycenean influence became clearly evident in the presence of quantities of Mycenean pottery. It was in the latter half of this period that Egyp. influence appeared again with the re-establishment of its power up to the Euphrates. An example is a gold-encased copper statuette of Baal dating from the 15th cent. b.c. and like Byblian work. The gold dish and gold bowl from Ugarit of the 15-14th cent. b.c. represent an extremely skillful workmanship (Woolley, op. cit., 115). From the 14th cent. b.c. comes a stele of the weather god which revealed an imitation of the Egyp. motif of the king overcoming his enemies.
From the Early Bronze “obelisk” temple of Byblos a multitude of bronze figurines, both in the round and flat, demonstrate the capabilities of the smith, but are of low artistic quality. A gilt bronze statuette with left arm extended is capped with a Hurrian miter of divinity, having finely worked features but with flattened torso in obvious contrast to cruder attempts. The attitude of the body is otherwise Egyp. Certain other statuettes appear to be direct copies.
The arts of Phoenicia as a native skill are not distinguished in general, are notably inferior, and are characterized by a monotonous tedium due to uninspired copying. Rare originality is exhibited in the Ugarit gold dish, thus emphasizing the average efforts exhibited elsewhere, which indicate the existence of almost a pattern book of examples.
B. Sculpture. In Phoenicia sculpture cannot be known as other than crude. The silver figurine of Ugarit (Woolley, op. cit., 112) is illustrative. The statue of Idrimi of Alalakh (15th cent. b.c.) is primitively executed in angular squarish lines, with attenuated chin and glaring eyes reminiscent of Sumer. styles. An attempt to produce a standing figure in the Egypt. manner of the “colossus of Byblos” is disconcertingly primitive. The bust of King Yarim-lim of Alalakh (18th cent. b.c.) is, however, finely executed and shows evidence of use of the best technical knowledge of late Sumer. craftsmanship.
C. Carving. Cylinder seal carving in Syria reached a high degree of perfection and often surpassed its Mesopotamian models, indicating that the Amorites did not destroy completely the culture, though many mounds show destruction at the time of their advent.
Ivory carving came into great prominence in the latter half of the second millennium b.c. Chief examples come from Megiddo (Frankfort, ibid., pls. 148, 9) and Byblos (pl. 149), with the crested griffin being an import from Crete by the Aegeans. Other examples reveal Mesopotamian influences, while still others exhibit influence from Egyp. styles. Excellent taste and handicraft are exhibited, surpassing at times in line and form their inspirations, the artists meanwhile adapting and developing a style of their own.
D. Pottery. In Pal. proper at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, burnishing (smoothing of the surface) reached a high peak of finesse (Proto-Urban A, Tel el-Far’ah are earlier examples). Another method of decoration was the use of bands of red and brown, with veining in use in the N areas, designated grain wash, as if done by a coarse hair brush. In the S the bands were solid. In Syria at the beginning of the period, the Khirbet Kerak red-and-black burnished ware dominated the scene (Kenyon, op. cit., 124-129). At the Amorite invasion a new pottery characterized by incised patterns of straight and wavy lines appeared (ibid., 136). About 1600 b.c. a distinct break in pottery appeared (beginning the Middle Bronze period) with a progressive dissociation of pottery from Syrian forms as the truly native Phoen. styles began to develop. A prominent and widespread characteristic is the ubiquitous deep red slip, highly burnished, while in many cases others have a combed finish. In the Middle Bronze II era, however, distinct changes occurred. The burnished red slip had started to die out and a burnished cream slip appeared. In addition, there appeared the black background decorated with chalk filled punctures. The Late Bronze period ushered in a bichrome, black-and-red painted pottery distinguished by friezes divided into panels ornamented with birds and fishes (Albright, Archaeology of Palestine, 96, 98, Fig. 21), which reflected Hurrian influence. In the latter half of the period, Mycenean pottery with its distinctive polychrome banded ware and pilgrim flask “target” pattern helped to date the era (1400-1230 b.c.) (ibid., 100, Fig. 22).
III. Israelite era to the Exile
This begins, according to archeologists (Kenyon, op. cit., 206), in the 13th cent. b.c. Within the period 1400-1200 b.c. no complete break in the Palestinian culture appeared (ibid., 209). However, when Late Bronze I moved into Late Bronze II (c. 1480 b.c.) there was a deterioration, but no break. On the other hand, destruction did tell its story during this period. For instance, Megiddo VIII terminated about 1350 b.c., according to destructive signs, and VI was divided by destruction, but the culture continued (Kenyon, 215); these signs were not necessarily indicative of Israelite conquest (ibid., 212ff.). From the 14th cent. onward destruction overtook many cities and general decline of culture followed.
A. Influence of the second commandment. It has been held by some that the second commandment (
B. Art in Israel.
1. Before the Temple. Stimuli in Israel during the pre-monarchical period were not toward development of artistic achievement, for the period was characterized by disintegrative forces, for every man did what was right in his own eyes. For a distinctive art to develop there must be a central government under whose auspices leisure time may encourage meditation or the development of an art form, which Israel did not have. This occurred only briefly in the era of David and Solomon.
2. After the Temple. In the era after the Temple, except for the ivory carvings of Samaria, artistic endeavor was still lacking in Israel (Judah and Israel), due to the fact that the labor lavished on the Temple and the palaces of the kings of Israel and Judah apparently drained the artistic and technological capabilities of the Hebrews (see Architecture for the post-Solomonic period). Leaving the Temple to separate consideration, a survey of Israelite art to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 b.c. is next for consideration.
The era of Solomon was filled with the Temple, his house of the forest, building of store cities and the outpost of Palmyra (Biblical Tadmor,
From ancient Qarnain (
One feature of monumental art lacking in Israel was the statue of the kind at, or carved on, the city gate, found frequently on Syro-Hitt. art and at Assyrian palaces, the famous bull colossi. Only the head from Megiddo, in frontal style with large staring eyes, approached this sort of representation, and beyond this, little has appeared (Roth, 98).
Of the plastic arts, denunciatory passages in the Prophets describe them as sheet overlays of gold or silver nailed to a wooden base (
For glyptic art, inspiration came from two directions. Down to the time of Ahab, seals had been mainly a “blob” type, but improvements came at this time in their content and execution. One source of inspiration was from N Syria, as represented in the well-known lion “seal of Shema, servant of Jeroboam.” The treatment of mane and belly hair, open mouth and well defined body muscles betray N Syrian styles, derived from Assyrian examples.
The second source of inspiration is evidenced in the reproduction of seals with Phoen. motifs and characteristic treatment where strong Egyp. influence is discernible through Phoen. techniques.
Judean seals improved on these sources to the extent of elegance of representation and style of script used, as is shown on the Ya’azanyahu seal from Tel en-Nasbeh (Roth, 107).
C. Temple decoration. See Jerusalem Temple, for a description of the architectural features of Solomon’s Temple. Carved wood liners of the interior walls were accented with gold leaf and the doors were similarly treated. Some concept of the character of the carving may be gained from consideration of the Samarian ivories of the next cent. With Egyp. influences strong in Phoenicia, one could look for a tendency to the low relief characteristic of much of the monumental decorative style of Egypt. Carving in wood and overlaying with gold was characteristic Phoen. art (Roth, 85).
D. Carving. As the crude terra cotta figurines displayed the poor man’s art, the rich man’s art was particularly the carved ivory inlays, esp. those from Samaria. Of the two royal courts, Jersualem and Samaria, only the “ivory house” of Ahab in Samaria (
Motifs were varied, being of two classes. One is designated Syrian. Examples include two female sphinxes on either side of a sacred tree, the faces wholly Syrian in style; an unguent vase showing a female with Asiatic features; a woman’s head with coiffure and circular crown was wholly Syrian. A second class was designated Phoen., an example being “the woman at the window” (Harden, The Phoenicians, 61) who had an Egyp. wig. This example from Arslan Tash, N Syria, is paralleled by another from the same, depicting a female with attributes of the Egyp. goddess Isis. The feature of embodying Egyp. elements but done in a manner inferior to better Egyp. models betrayed them as Phoen. They were fashioned by Phoen. craftsmen or were booty carried off by the Assyrians.
Over the hundred years from the late 9th to the 8th cent. a large repertory of motifs developed, and even something of outstanding character developed, e.g., the lioness attacking a young Negro, a lapis-inlaid ivory from Nimrod. In general the artist was in complete command of his medium and exhibited a better-than-ordinary sense of composition. Certain characteristics of technique and form in the examples of the Syrian and Phoen. ivories reflect the techniques of some of the 14th and 13th cent. b.c. Mycenean work which became known to Syria through the Ugarit gateway.
E. Pottery. Hebrew pottery in the monarchical period developed little by way of decoration other than a simple geometric design. While seals did carry artistic designs, pottery did not, perhaps because the seal carver may have been a foreigner while the potter was a native Heb. working under a strong restraint imposed by a faulty interpretation of the second commandment. A few decorative examples have survived, however. Tel Qasileh furnishes the illustration of a spirited, shaggy horse, and Lachish yields a pot bearing an incised drawing of two rather crude but graceful gazelles nibbling at a lotus flower (Roth, 110), the sacred tree motif from an earlier era.
A remarkable experiment outside the Heb. area was shown in the Philistine anthropoid coffins. These were cylinders of baked clay, with a lid formed at the area of the head and shoulders (BA, XXII, 55, 61) and a face modeled on it. Those from Beth Shan show a certain stylization but a rather crude artistic execution. From the pottery found with these and the sarcophagi in other areas, the users were the Philistines who came from the Aegean, revealed by the style of decorations of their characteristic pottery (BA, XXII, 62), thus showing the entrance of this decorative influence into the Heb. cultural periphery, but which the latter never adopted.
F. Painting. Ezekiel (23:14,
IV. Jewish art
A. Influence of the Exile. Data on the art of Israel in the Pers. era is meagre; information from the Bible does little to suggest style during this era. The struggle to erect a viable state, though a vassal one, absorbed their energy. Attempts to decorate show through, almost incidentally, in the scathing remarks of Haggai (
Other influences began to be felt, a forerunner of later events. Greek trading posts in increasing numbers were established along the coast, and distinctive Gr. pottery began to appear as far inland as Tel en-Nasbeh. This “invasion” of Gr. culture reached its climax under Alexander, but the collision with Jewish attitudes did not occur for another 150 years.
An example of Ptolemaic decorative art is seen in the Tobiad palace at Araq-el-Amir in Trans-Jordan (Roth, 123), distinguished by the use of the Gr. Doric order entablature with Corinthian columns and a shorter second story decorated with the monumental lions reminiscent of Assyrian styles.
B. Maccabean-Hasmonean era. Typical Hasmonean decoration may be seen on the base of the Temple candelabra depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome; the dragons have animal faces while the prototype of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma has human faces. Josephus testified that the table of shewbread had typical Gr. legs, i.e., ending in lion paws (Roth, 126).
Coins of the period show a crudeness which later gave way in the 4th cent. a.d. to designs quite like the Attic standards for artistic achievement. In the Hasmonean era occurred a sudden shift from human representation to ritual symbols, and plants as fruit motifs. Among the first were coins depicting the Temple and the Ark within (A. Muehsam, Coin and Temple, plates Vff.).
C. New Testament period. Herod was a Hellenized Edomite fully committed to the values and propagation of Gr. culture. The art of the period was characterized by the introduction of the human form into art expression in Judean and Palestinian areas and even of figures from the repertory of Gr. and Rom. divinities. One school of Rabbinic thought, that of Hillel the elder, did not object to the use of human figures for ornamental purposes. Grecian architectural forms began to be used on sepulchres (Roth, 199ff.). Josephus recorded that the royal porticoes of Herod’s Temple used the Corinthian style columns as its principal decorative motif (see Jerusalem Temple). A fragment of stucco decorative work of the vault of the Hulda Gate passage from Ophel to the Temple area shows a series of squares with varied patterns associated with rosettes and grapevines.
Herod built numerous other architectural monuments in Judea, one of the best being at Caesarea, the remains suggesting the ornamentation to be the classic Gr. system. His palace complex at Masada featured structures on several levels, one being the Corinthian column characteristic of the royal portico. Josephus’ description of Herod’s palace in Jerusalem (War. V. iv. 4) indicated the blending of eastern and western influences.
D. Principles of style. These are determined from decorative elements found on tombs, sarcophagi, and ossuaries. One example is the floral decoration of the tympanum of the cave of Jehoshaphat in Jerusalem. Freedom and stylization combine in a single example. The tympanum of the tombs of the Sanhedrin differs in that the whole area was filled, indicating a horror vacuity but excellent technical execution in incised high relief, a system exclusively Judean of the period. Ossuaries of the next era, the 1st cent. a.d., perpetuated this style, and it reflected carving in wood. In all cases the pattern was geometrical or floral as in the use of the acanthus leaf. Another expression was the shift from the strictly geometrical pattern of petals arranged daisy-like inside a circle to a pattern with the petals carved so that the tips all pointed in the same direction around the circle, somewhat tangential to it, showing an imaginative adaptation of the oriental “whirling wheel.” Thus there arose an ability to take several elements and easily and pleasingly transform them into a single compositional group. Coupled with it is the display of such themes on a plain, unadorned background, the better to emphasize the design, in contrast to the oriental mode of using an entire surface between borders.
Syria-Palestine did not produce a particularly enduring art at any age. Lying as it did between two great political powers of Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was robbed of the economic basis for enduring productions. Where given an opportunity, however, distinctive examples were produced, but lacking the economic base of long-term political quietude, stopped short of intimated perfection. Israel’s debacle in a.d. 70 similarly brought an end to a flowering art form.
Bibliography H. A. Groenwegen, Arrest and Movement (1951); H. Frankfort, Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient (1959); G. E. Wright, “Philistine Coffins and Mercenaries,” BA, XXII (Sept., 1959); Jewish Art, ed. C. Roth (1961); L. Woolley, The Art of the Middle East (1961); S. Moscati, Historic Art of the Ancient Near East (1963); S. Lloyd, The Art of the Ancient Near East (1965); W. S. Smith, Interconnections in the Ancient Near East (1965); Garbini, The Ancient World (1966); K. Kenyon, Amorites and Canaanites (1966); G. E. Wright, “Fresh Evidence for the Philistine Story,” BA, XXIX (Sept., 1966).