The Samaria Ivories (Amos 3)

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Illustration: A Samarian ivory stag

The reference to “houses adorned with ivory” in Amos 3:15 finds confirmation in the discovery of the Samarian Ivories, a collection of hundreds of pieces of artwork, including over 200 fragments uncovered in the rubbish heap of a building on the city’s acropolis. This “ivory building” is associated with the Israelite king Ahab (ca. 874-853 B.C.), who is said to have constructed a palace “inlaid with ivory” in Samaria (1 Kings 22:39). An alabaster jar found with the largest of the ivories and incised with the name of the Egyptian pharaoh Osorkon II (874-850 B.C.) is contemporary with Ahab. There are also other ivories discovered throughout Syria-Palestine and Mesopotamia that date to the same general period and resemble the Samarian artefacts in craftsmanship and style.

The artistic features of these ivories appear to have originated in Phoenicia, an area strongly influenced by Egyptian motifs and artwork. Characters from Egyptian mythology often appear in the collection, which also includes ivory plaques incised with Hebrew script – most likely inlays for palace furniture. These plaques could be related to the “beds inlaid with ivory” of which Amos spoke in 6:4.


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