I love how they conceal and reveal at one time. That’s why I was fascinated to read about a new exhibit in Jerusalem. The headlines are circling the world, right now.
Twelve stone masks, 9000 years old, offer a glimpse into ancient communal rituals. The Israel Museum is hosting the 7-month exhibit, and Director James Snyder says these objects predate “the theology that becomes Judaism, Christianity and then Islam. To feel that there is a kind of connection, that this is all part of a continuous story, is … thrilling.”
I’m not alone in my awe at this story, finally going public in this exhibition after a decade of research into these masks. The Archaeology News Network reports: “Originating from the Judean Hills and nearby Judean Desert, the twelve masks on view each share striking stylistic features. Large eye holes and gaping mouths create the expression of a human skull. … The masks are believed to have represented the spirits of dead ancestors, used in religious and social ceremonies and in rites of healing and magic. By recreating human images for cultic purposes, the early agricultural societies of Neolithic times may have been expressing their increasing mastery of the natural world and reflecting their growing understanding of the nature of existence.”
In other words, that’s ancient spirituality emerging into what we call “religion” today. These masks were created even before the invention of writing. They were created at a turning point in history when humans in the Fertile Crescent abandoned the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and became farmers. The Jerusalem region was a center of this agricultural revolution.
“It’s the most important revolution that ever happened,” said Debby Hershman, exhibit curator.
Agricultural communities needed to reinforce societal bonds to maintain their connection to the land and each other, so they began performing ritualistic rites.
Hershman calls the people who made these masks: “founders of civilization.”
Does that bring you the shivers it brings me?
Hope to see you in Jerusalem!
Thanks to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Daniel Estrin of AP, and Eva Lindner of The Jerusalem Post for their stories. This truly is global news. Headlines in our graphic, today, come from reports in The Jerusalem Post, Canada’s CBC network, the Associated Press Big Story website and the UK’s Daily Mail.