October 28, 2010 | Issue 31

New Archaeological Discovery In Israel A Real Headturner

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — [TheKnish.com] The archaeological world was buzzing this week, following the announcement of new archaeological finds that shed light on life in the Holy Land during the Biblical Era. At a press conference in Jerusalem, noted archaeologist Dr. Yerachmiel “Flatbush” Schwartz of the Yeshivas Ner Yisroel’s Institute for Biblical Archaeology unveiled three limestone statues bearing the same shape and dimensions as modern Styrofoam heads found at Tel (archaeological mound) Bayis VeGan in Western Jerusalem, in a layer dating to the seventh century BCE, coinciding with the mid-to-late First Temple era.

According to Schwartz, the limestone “heads” are evidence of wig use among First Temple Israelites. “This shows that the contemporary practice of women wearing sheitels is consistent with religious customs in effect in Bayis Rishon,” said Schwartz. "However," noted Schwartz, "it is unclear from the physical evidence whether the wigs themselves were made from natural hair or from artificial substitutes. Unfortunately, no wigs have been preserved in the archaeological record, although we did find secondary evidence of hairspray.”

Schwartz explained that there is no way to know who the owner or owners of the limestone heads were, but speculated that they were Israelite monotheists who followed the strictures outlined in Numbers, Chapter 5. He also believes that the wigs in use were either from local or European sources, since he considers it “highly unlikely” that a religious woman in the First Temple era would wear an Indian hair wig, since there is no reference to such wigs in either the Bible, contemporary Assyrian, Ugaritic or Egyptian documents, Josephus, The Tanya, The Jewish Press, or Vos Iz Neias.

Schwartz also characterized the attribution to the First Temple era of a nylon wig that recently surfaced on the antiquities market as “highly speculative”. “We really need to find physical evidence ‘in situ’ in a structured archaeological context in order to have confidence in its dating.” Schwartz is not the only scholar questioning the historical importance of the wig. The wig is purported to have been in the hands of private collectors for several years, and its significance was only recognized after it was discovered at the bottom of the clearance pile at Shaindel’s Sheitel Emporium on 18th Avenue.

While the authenticity of Schwartz’s recent find is not being questioned, debate has already begun on his interpretation of the relics. Dr. Yirmiyahu Liebovitz of the Ponovitch Yeshiva Center for the Study of Ancient Israel suggests that the limestone heads had a very different use. “The heads have a wider base than typical modern styrofoam heads used for storing and fashioning sheitels, suggesting that they were used to hold items of greater mass.” He believes that the limestone heads were used to hold men’s hats, possibly flat, wide brimmed hats made of animal fur. “Modern anthropologists have observed styrofoam heads used for that purpose in various communities,” noted Liebowitz.

For “Flatbush” Schwartz, the recent finding is only the latest in an illustrious career as a Biblical Archaeologist and Rosh Yeshiva. His identification in 2005 of a ceramic water pot from the era of the United Monarchy of King Solomon (10th century BCE) with a built in filter for eliminating microscopic crustaceans is currently on display in the Yeshivas Ner Yisroel Museum. His more controversial interpretation of a pile of pot shards as a kiddush cup and “pisher” fountain cup dispenser remains in academic dispute.


Pencil Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein is a part time free-lance journalist and the full time Rosheshiva (dean) of Yeshiva Chipass Emmess. His blog is located at http://rabbi-pinky.blogspot.com. He is the author of The Collected Writing of Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein and Igrois Pinky: http://stores.lulu.com/rapas. Rabbi Schmeckelstein is currently developing a sitcom that he will co-star in along with Bristol Palin. He may be reached at NPOJ8@Yahoo.Com


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