A goblet that never lacks wine

7 1 How beautiful your sandaled feet,
O prince’s daughter!
Your graceful legs are like jewels,
the work of an artist’s hands.
2 Your navel is a rounded goblet
that never lacks blended wine.
Your waist is a mound of wheat
encircled by lilies.
Song of Songs 7:1-2

A ceramic vessel used to describe your beloved must be pretty special. Here the navel of a woman is compared with a vessel that’s normally used to drink wine. It is an open vessel, so the translation goblet might be good. In Hebrew the word is אגן (‘aggan). Apart from this poetical reference it is also found in some more prosaic contexts.

Moses uses it for the blood of sacrificed bulls:

5 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar.
Exodus 24:5-6

From this reference an אגן (aggan) could be any bowl, large or small. Did it have a ceremonial shape or was it just a standard household vessel?

The last reference I already discussed in this post. When Isaiah describes Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, he refers to some well-known ceramic vessels to depict the importance of Eliakim within his family.

All the glory of his family will hang on him; its offspring and offshoots – all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to the jars. Isaiah 22:24

It is a poetic way of saying from the smallest to the greatest. The greatest vessel is a wine jar, a נבל (nebel), while the smallest is the אגן (‘aggan). Clearly, the אגן (‘aggan) can’t have been a large for it to be used as the the very definition of small pottery. Therefore I’m not really happy with the suggestion of a krater.

A krater is quite large and not really suitable for serving wine, nor is it one of the smaller ceramic vessels.

My pick for an אגן (‘aggan) would be a chalice. While it is not as small as some bowls or juglets, it is one of the smaller ceramic vessels. It has been found in both ritual and normal household contexts. And its form is one of the more artistic.
Here is a chalice as found at Khirbet Qeiyafa. It is from the early Iron Age. Later on these chalices were not quite as common; the references in Isaiah and Song of Songs may not be quite as fitting therefore.

An all alternative suggestion may be a small bowl. These were not very deep, but often had carinated sides, so that they could be easily used for drinking.

This entry was posted in Archaeology, Bible, excavations and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A goblet that never lacks wine

  1. Pingback: My cup runneth over | Imagining the past: Archaeology and the Bible

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