n the Temple of Jerusalem and in synagogues throughout the ancient world, the fragrant smoke of incense filled the air. The high priest burned this aromatic blend of spices and gums on a special altar before the Holy of Holies. The smoke was intended to purify the air of the sanctuary and to please the deity. A costly offering, incense was considered the worthy gift of princes and heads of state. It also carried great spiritual significance hence the saying, ‘Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice,’ (Psalms 141:2). The mahta, or incense shovel, was employed in the ritual of burning and for removing the ashes afterwards. This splendid example, free from graven images, was almost certainly used in a synagogue of the Roman Period. The handle is in the form of a Corinthian column on top of an animal hoof. The rectangular pan has been decorated with scrolling and rosette motifs executed in raised relief on the exterior.
Ancient Near East