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A Roman Fenestrated Bowl

September 6, 2018



During the final season of the Heshbon Expedition in 1976, archaeologists carefully excavated an extensive tomb (F.27) dated to the late Roman period (ca. A.D. 135-195).  The tomb was part of the larger Esbus (Hisban) necropolis (Waterhouse 1998: 64-70).  The excavation team wisely saved all of the material associated with the tomb, including broken pieces of pottery.  Thirteen years later, Horn Museum staff member Ralph Hendrix sorted through the many potsherds from this tomb (see the Institute of Archaeology Horn Archaeological Museum Newsletter Vol. 9/3-4 [Summer/Autumn 1988], p. 7; Vol. 10/2-3 [Spring/Summer 1989], p. 3; Vol. 18/3 [Summer 1997], p. 3; and Vol. 38/2 [Spring 2017], pp. 2-3).  Hendrix noticed some unique incised vertical posts among the ceramic fragments.  Enamored by these pieces, he began to collect other sherds belonging to this vessel from various loci, ultimately reconstructing 95% of a rare fenestrated bowl from 64 pottery fragments (see the Institute of Archaeology Horn Archaeological Museum Newsletter Vol. 10/4 [Fall 1989], pp. 1-2; Hendrix 2009).  Clearly, someone smashed this vase in antiquity since Hendrix collected fragments from five different loci or distinct areas in the tomb.  Without his painstaking work, this bowl would still be an indistinguishable collection of pottery fragments in the Hisban (Heshbon) potsherd collection.


Relevance to the Biblical Account


While the tomb dates to the late second century, the bowl seems to date earlier and the deceased family probably deposited it with their departed loved one as a favored heirloom piece that may itself date around the turn of the era (Hendrix 2009: 94-95).  Hendrix also suggested that this bowl exhibits both Roman and Nabataean influences and may well be a one of a kind vessel that a local potter created specifically for the owner.  The turn of the era dating, a reasonably close parallel in form from Qumran and Nabataean styling are all significant and seem to point to a period when Esbus (Hisban) fell under Nabataean control after the death of Herod the Great (ca. 4 B.C.).  If true, the bowl would be contemporary to the life of Jesus.  Even if dated earlier in the first century B.C., the bowl was certainly in use during Christ’s life and ministry.  The similarity in form with the Qumran bowl offer tantalizing possibilities as well, but any further suggestions would be merely conjectural.


Physical Description


The fenestrated bowl measures 27.3 cm in diameter, 80.3 cm in circumference and between 19.0 and 19.6 cm in height.  The rim is everted (outward flaring) and thickens towards the top.  The inner and outer surfaces have a faint red slip.  The fenestrated middle section has 13 posts and windows, measuring about 7.0 cm high and 3.0 cm wide.  Each post has three deep angular cuts forming four angular ridges.  Remnants of red slip exist on the outer, but not inner surfaces.  The elegant split ring base, measuring about 2.0 cm in height shows only slight indications of red slip (Hendrix 2009: 93).




Even when dismissing the fenestrations, the bowl’s form coupled with a split ring base is very unusual.  Few parallels among Roman period bowls exist (FARLI 2017; Homès-Fredericq and Franken 1986: 217; Lapp 1961: 172-80; Loffreda 2003: 57-72).  While the Roman period pottery corpus from Hisban does not reveal close parallels, the flaring ring bases of what are assumed to be small juglets share similarities (Gerber 2012: 268-70, Figure 3.23:16-21).  Apparently, the closest parallel to this bowl is from Qumran, dated between 50 B.C. and A.D. 68 by Lapp (1961: 175).  A very small bowl found at Sadaqa (Hendrix; Drey; and Storfjell 1996: 220-21, No. 312) shares strong similarities in form as well.





Gerber, Yvonne

2012    The Classical Periods.  Pp. 173-503 in Hesban 11.  Ceramic Finds:  Typological and                  Technological Studies of the Pottery Remains from Tell Hesban and Vicinity, edited by              James A. Sauer and Larry G. Herr.  Berrien Springs:  Institute of Archaeology,                            Andrews University.


Hendrix, Ralph E.

2009    An Early Roman Fenestrated Bowl from Hesban.  Pp. 91-97 in Hesban 12.  Small                      Finds:  Studies of Bone, Iron, Glass, Figurines, and Stone Objects from Tell Hesban                    and Vicinity, edited by Paul J. Ray, Jr.  Berrien Springs:  Institute of Archaeology,                        Andrews University.


Hendrix, Ralph E.; Drey, Philip R.; and Storfjell, J. Bjørnar

1996    Ancient Pottery of Transjordan:  An Introduction Utilizing Published Whole Forms.                    Late Neolithic through Late Islamic.  Berrien Springs:  the Institute of                                          Archaeology/Siegfried H. Horn Archaeological Museum, Andrews University.


Homès-Fredericq, D., and Franken, H. J.

1986    Pottery and Potters—Past and Present:  7000 Years of Ceramic Art in Jordan.                           Tübingen:  Attempto.


Lapp, Paul W.

1961    Palestinian Ceramic Chronology 200 B.C.—A.D. 70.  American Schools of Oriental                      Research Publications of the Jerusalem School, Archaeology 3.  New Haven:                              American Schools of Oriental Research.


Loffreda, Stanislao

2002    Holy Land Pottery at the Time of Jesus:  Early Roman Period 63 BC-70 AD.  Studium                Biblicum Franciscanum Museum 15.  Jerusalem:  Franciscan.


FARLI (The Foundation for Archaeological Research of the Land of Israel)

            2017    Ancient Pottery Database.


Waterhouse, S. Douglas

1998    Hesban 10.  The Necropolis of Hesban:  A Typology of Tombs.  Berrien Springs:                          Institute of Archaeology, Andrews University.

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