When we think of what of the past of what is modern day Israel, it is not without reason we tend to think of it as the cradle of the Abrahamic religions. After all, all three consider or have considered the place a holy land – albeit be it for different reasons. But this is not a post about religious doctrines. No, this is a post about hands. Yes, hands!
This is an ivory hand on display at the British Museum. It is from 1200 to 1400 BC, and found at the site of Lachish. It was part of a composite statue, the majority of which would have probably been in wood but with the important features carved in ivory. Other than the hand, in this particular instance an eye was indeed found in conjunction. The people inhabiting the region at the time, the Canaanites, revered a pantheon of deities such as Ell, Baal, and Astarte. It is not known which deity the hand and eye could be meant to represent, though.
What strikes me as curious is the fact that they took such care and expended so much effort on the hands of this statue. My thoughts immediately jump to the plethora of rude gestures of various modern day cultures. But even insults aside, we humans seem to get very passionate when it comes to our hands and there is a tradition of certain body parts being more important extending even into the Islamic period. The Hamsa (seen below), or the hand of Fatima as it is also known, is used even today as a popular talisman for protection throughout the Middle East.
Here is where the creative writer in me wants to run off into the fictitious past of my imagination. Either that or my inner two-year old is feeling exceptionally mischievous today. I wonder, I really do, what kind of gestures the Canaanites would have found offensive. How would they react to a thumbs up as they venerated their dead relatives? What if a person could get flogged for not giving the gods the middle finger while presenting them with offerings?
I better stop right there, before my imagination takes me all the way down this particular rabbit hole…
Lastly, the truly fascinating thing about this item – this ivory hand – is the longevity of what it could have symbolised. What I mean by that is the cultural significance of the hand and that we can still see faint traces of the ancient among the living. This is why history is so fascinating! It lives and it breathes!
About: I have intentionally written this post a little tongue-in-cheek because I am still in a rough place emotionally – and using humour was the easiest way to cope and finish the assignment this post was intended for. Thank you for reading.