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Divine Sight, Divine Justice, and Eye-Stones in the Archaeological Record in the Hebrew Bible

Diana Edelman, Independent Scholar


In the Hebrew Bible, sight is an integral part of human and divine justice; A cluster of idioms expresses this understanding: ‘in the eyes of’ that expresses both a judgment made by the beholder and the formulation of an opinion from what is seen; eye-witness testimony is related to the idiom, ‘to have one’s eye open’; blindness as the perversion of justice is also related to the idioms, ‘to close or to hide the eyes.’ An additional expression is ‘to find grace in the eyes of’ another. A number of passages refer to God’s eyes and assume that the deity sees what transpires on earth in the light of day and is able to dispense justice accordingly. This same understanding is found of other ancient Near Eastern gods who dispensed justice. Eye-shaped stones were a regular part of Mesopotamian culture for almost 2000 years;they could symbolize the seeing capacity of a deity when used on divine clothing or appurtenances; they could be ritually activated to serve as ‘good luck charms’, and they could be offered as votive gifts to thank a deity for ‘watchingover’ a giver and saving his or her life or to remind one to watch over the giver and hear his or her requests. A few biblical texts seem to refer to such eye-stones: Zechariah 3-4; Proverbs 17:8; Ezekiel 1’; Exodus 28:11-12, 15-21; 39:6, 8-14; and Ezra 5:5.

Diana Edelman holds a PhD from the University of Chicago. Her work focuses on the history, archaeology and literature of the ancient Southern Levant, especially in the Iron Age and Persian period. She has authored or co-authored 3 books, edited or co-edited 10, volumes, and has contributed a number of articles to dictionaries and encyclopedias, refereed journals, and volumes of collected essays. Her latest project, co-edited with Ehud Ben Zvi and due out in early 2013 from Oxford University Press, is entitledRemembering Biblical Figures in the Late Persian and Early Hellenistic Periods: Social Memory and Imagination.

4pm, The Clore Centre, The British Museum 

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