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Author Topic: Fine Samaritan Oil Lamp from Caesarea Maritima  (Read 411 times)

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Offline v-drome

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Fine Samaritan Oil Lamp from Caesarea Maritima
« on: September 19, 2021, 06:10:43 am »
Hi, all.  Here is an intricately decorated Samaritan oil lamp from Caesarea Maritima.  I am curious about some of the features and meaning of the symbolism on the lamp.  The decoration is fairly symmetrical laterally, except for one panel, which on the left is a sort of "herring-bone" pattern, and on the right a column of three diamonds with central points.  Also, could the small seven branched menorah on each side be standing on something like a mountain top?  Any ideas on the significance of the motifs, or corrections to the description would be most appreciated.  I have been looking at the Adler Collection online as well as the excellent website by Strobilus2,     Thanks, again, V-drome.

Samaritan Oil Lamp
Early Byzantine Period 6-7th Century CE
Late Samaritan terracotta oil lamp, Adler type S.6, with
a long pear-shaped body, large round filler hole, and
trenched nozzle.  The handle is missing.  The shoulders
are richly decorated with menorahs, branches, and various
linear and geometric designs.  There is a thick buildup of
carbon in the nozzle.  The lamp sits horizontally level and
is stable at rest, however, the bottom is rounded and quite
uneven.  This has resulted in an observable lean to the right
and a corresponding lengthening of the soot marking on the left. 
Dimensions: 8.20 x 5.32 x 3.15cm.  Weight: 71.18gm.
Surface find from an agricultural trench near
Caesarea Maritima, 1973
(click for larger pics)

Offline Strobilus2

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Re: Fine Samaritan Oil Lamp from Caesarea Maritima
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2021, 10:42:59 pm »
Your meticulous summary is excellent and agrees with the literature on this type of lamp.

The decoration on lamps of this period found in Samaria and the surrounding regions varies enormously, to the extent that rarely are two examples absolutely identical. The designs tend to be very random and often assymetric geometrical motifs with occasional allusions to menorot and perhaps lulavs while avoiding any figural representation.

I suspect its main function was to be decorative while also providing a grip on lamps which became very slippery during use. While symbolism undoubtedly played an important part in the ancient world (witness the later obsessions of the Kabbalah), I do think there may be a temptation in the modern mind to read too much into artefacts which were basically functional. I doubt most of the random geometrical motifs have any deeper meaning than those on modern wallpaper or curtains.

I suspect the design beneath the seven-branched 'menorah' is merely a somewhat distorted version of the series of chevrons normally found under the other multi-branched 'menorot' (if that is really what they are rather than vague allusions) on these lamps - rather than Mount Gerizim or whatever.

The handles on these lamps are very rudimentary so its loss is not too important. Your lamp appears to have been varnished or waxed at some time but is an exceptionally nice example.

Thanks for your kind words about my website!

David Knell

Offline v-drome

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Re: Fine Samaritan Oil Lamp from Caesarea Maritima
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2021, 10:17:04 pm »
Thank you, David.  That shiny area on the bottom of the lamp was the only part sticking out of the soil when I found it.  I am guessing that it was naturally burnished, some how.  I have just one other intact lamp, which I will post soon as I also have some questions about it.  I think it is early Roman but I would love to hear your views on it.

Best regards, Jimi (V-drome)


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