Saturday, February 27, 2010

Traditional Life and Customs in the Holy Land

You may remember me commenting some time ago how Bible artists, who travelled to the Holy Land in the late 1800's - early 1900's to gather references for their Bible pictures, were "too heavily influenced by what they saw" and photographed. (See Margaret Tarrant and William Hole). Well, having now seen the newly released collection of photo's titled 'Traditional Life and Customs' available from, I can now understand the reasons why these artists illustrated exactly what they witnessed! For instance, when you look at how primitive the farming methods recorded in these photos are, it's hard to imagine how they could have changed from Bible times. This collection of picture cd's will be an excellent resource for Bible artists. Many thanks to Professor Todd Bolen for making them available.

The following description is taken from Todd Bolen's website:
Founded in 1881 by Horatio Spafford (author of the famous hymn, It is Well With My Soul), the American Colony in Jerusalem operated a thriving photographic enterprise for almost four decades. Their images document the land and its people, with a special emphasis on biblical and archaeological sites, inspirational scenes, and historic events. One of the photographers, G. Eric Matson, inherited the archive, adding to it his own later work through the “Matson Photo Service.” He eventually donated all the negatives to the U.S. Library of Congress, which has made them available to the public.

This CD includes more than 600 selected photographs of life practices of native people in Palestine in the early 20th century, including scenes of the agricultural cycle, locust plagues, shepherds, fishermen, religious observances, and home life. All of the images are included in pre-made PowerPoint® files for quick and easy use, as well as in high-resolution jpg format, suitable for projecting or printing. Quotations from 19th-century travelers give additional context to the photographs.

Sample picture. (click on picture for larger image).
Amongst other subjects, the collection includes:
Agricultural Life: Plowing, Sowing, Water, Vineyards, Locust Plague, Grain Harvest and Olive Harvest (185 photos total)
Home Life: Food Preparation, Women at Work, and Weddings (100 photos total)
Religious Life: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Samaritan (110 photos total)
Work Life: Clothes Making, Fishing, Pottery Making, Shepherds, Trades, and Travel (150 photos total)

For more information on this excellent collection click here. One final word of advice, artists should still use discretion when using early photos for reference as Arab style clothing will be predominantly seen in photos from this period, and there may be some buildings seen in the photos which show architectural features which were not found in Bible times.

Images © 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Tower of Babel

There are many weird and wonderful interpretations of the Tower of Babel that can be found in both picture books and paintings, so how do we go about finding out what the Tower of Babel actually looked like? The best way to find out is to look at the earliest examples of large-scale buildings found in roughly the same area. These are of course the Ziggurat's of Mesopotamia. Most biblical scholars and archaeologists agree that the Tower of Babel was most likely an early, if not the earliest, form of Ziggurat. Ziggurats were a type of tower which were commonly found in the Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian cities of Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia means "the land between two rivers" and was located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in present day Iraq.

The picture above is my drawing of a ziggurat before I added all the people busy in construction. Many Bible artists show the Tower of Babel towering up into the clouds, but the Bible does give the impression that the tower, due to Gods intervention, was left unfinished, as was the city. It's been suggested that the reason why there are no remains of such a sizable structure to be found today is because God frustrated their work in the very early stages.
As I was planning on showing the tower unfinished (at 3 levels), I also needed a way of showing how high the tower was intended to be when finished, (7 levels). The only way that I could think of doing this was to show the people gathered around a plan of the intended tower drawn onto a stretched animal skin, which we see in picture one. (left)

Ziggurats were huge stepped structures that were 2 to 7 tiers high, and usually found in the centre of a city. On the highest platform a temple was built to worship the various deities of the time. Because ziggurats were considered to be the dwelling place of a particular deity, only priests were permitted on them. The Mesopotamians believed that these ziggurat temples connected heaven and earth. The highest ziggurats went up to 300 feet high, which is equivalent to a 30 story office block today! They were built from mud bricks as there were few trees and little rock to quarry in the area. Unlike todays buildings, ziggurats were solid. The ancient architects did not have the know-how to build tall hollow structures, and so they filled them with earth. They were in effect man-made mountains! This is best seen in picture 3 which is an ariel view of the partly built ziggurat. The fact that ziggurats were solid would do away with the need for scaffolding which you do sometimes see in pictures of the tower of Babel.
Each flat terrace was paved with kiln-baked bricks. Some Bible artists have shown these flat terraces planted up with plants and trees. This is interesting because these ziggurats were like giant planters complete with drainage holes! You can see how the ancient architects later developed the idea of planting up these raised platforms in the hanging gardens of Babylon.The holes which look a little like windows in the walls of the ziggurat were there to allow water trapped inside to evaporate. The British archaeologist Leonard Woolley (1880-1969), who was well known for his excavations of the ziggurat at Ur, called these holes 'Weeper holes'.

Ziggurat Bricks
Ziggurats were built with two layers of brick. The inner layer was built of sun-dried bricks, and the outer layer was built of kiln-baked bricks which were less porous. The wooden brick molds seen in picture 2 are loosely based on the Egyptian ones that I've seen in Manchester museum. The bricks that were baked, to make them water resistant, were baked in dome shaped kilns made from, (yes you've guessed it), mud! These kilns had holes in the sides which dry twigs could be fed through to keep the fire going. When the bricks had cooled, they were removed from the dome and ready for use.
Bricks were also glazed in many different colors, I've chosen terra cotta and blue, but other colors were also available such as white and indigo. The temples constructed on the top tier were built entirely out of blue or indigo glazed bricks. The mortar used to hold the bricks together was bitumen (Gen 11:3). This was found in natural pits in Mesopotamia. In the photo on the right you can see a close up of the bricks and bitumen mortar used on the ziggurat at Ur. Bitumen or pitch was also used for other purposes during Bible times such as coating the outside of vessels. (See the Noah's Ark post).

There are 5 pictures in the 'Tower of Babel' set which can be viewed here. This brings our Bible picture count to 832!