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Cult Basin, 10th-7th century BCE

This basalt basin from Ebla/Tell Mardikh (in northeastern Syria) Temple B1 stands 1.7 feet high and measures 2.9 feet across. The rectangular basin, divided into two compartments, rests on the backs of four lions facing in each of three directions. With heads and forepaws sculpted in high relief to protrude from the basin, the lions appear attentive or ready to pounce. A scene with soldiers and the king is carved in low relief on the upper portion of the basin. On either side, soldiers march towards the front with the central scene depicting a god seated before a table piled with loaves of bread. An unarmed figure, likely a king, stands before the god on the other side of the table. Based on similarities to three-dimensional animals carved on the 10th c. BC Ahiram sarcophagus and at the 10th c. Ain Dara temple, this basin likely dates to the 10th c. or sometime in the Iron II period (10-7th c.).

The Ebla cult basin and the Bible

Then he [Hiram of Tyre] made the tank of cast metal, 10 cubits across from brim to brim (about 15 feet), completely round; it was 5 cubits high (about 7.5 feet), and it measured 30 cubits in circumference (about 45 feet)….It stood upon 12 oxen- three facing north, three facing west, three facing south, and three facing east, with the tank resting upon them; their haunches were all turned inward… the tank he placed on the right side of the House (Temple) at the southeast [corner] (I Kings 7- 23, 25, 39 NJPS translation)

This Ebla stone basin fits the description of the “molten sea” or bronze basin that Hiram of Tyre cast for Solomon’s temple courtyard. Both the Jerusalem and Ebla basins held liquid and stood in a temple courtyard in front of the main structure. Each one rested on the backs of 12 animals facing out from the basin- three oxen facing in each of four directions in the Jerusalem example and four lions facing in each of three directions on the Ebla basin. The biggest difference between the two examples is in size. The Ebla stone basin stood a mere 1.7 feet high and measured 2.9 feet across as opposed to King Solomon’s bronze basin that allegedly stood 7.5 feet high and measured 15 feet in diameter. Perhaps the basin of exaggerated size was initially conceived of as serving the supra-human sized deity that resided in the temple (God’s throne measured over 15 feet high and 15 feet wide). The Kings account omits mentions of the basin’s function but 2 Chronicles 4- 6 notes that whereas the bronze lavers served to wash animal parts for the burnt offering the mammoth basin “served the priests for washing.” This 10th c. parallel to a basin that stood in Solomon’s temple courtyard increases the likelihood that the Kings account describes a 10th c. temple and courtyard objects and that the account dates from around that period rather than having been fabricated or significantly altered at a later date.

For additional readings see The Anchor Bible Dictionary entry for “Temple, Jerusalem”; V. Hurowitz, “Inside Solomon’s Temple” BR 10.2 (1994); and E. Bloch-Smith, “‘Who is the King of Glory?’ Solomon’s Temple and Its Symbolism” in M. Coogan, J. Exum, and L. Stager eds. Scripture and Other Artifacts- Essays on the Bible and Archaeology in Honor of Philip J. King.

Elizabeth Bloch-Smith

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