Ancient pomgranate from the Israel Museum
The rattle and its origin
The omni-presence of the rattle in all civilizations and cultures since ancient times intrigued H. Keijser. Just as the many different shapes and functions of the object.

Rattles are among the oldest toys in the world. They appear in pre-Columbian America, in Pharaoh's Egypt and even in the Hittite kingdom. It is thought that during the earliest civilizations rattles consisted of a dried fruit whose seeds sounded like little bells when shaken. So it is hardly surprising that the oldest known examples, made of earthenware and bronze, are in the shape of a gourd or pomegranate. Though a rattle was first and foremost a small toy used to distract the young child and calm it when teething, it was always believed that the object had also exorcising and protective powers. In times where infant mortality rate was very high, the rattle served as an amulet. Materials like coral, rock-crystal and wolf's tooth were used for rattles not only because of their beauty, but also because of the special, supernatural powers attributed to these costly materials. Wolf‘s tooth, for example, symbolized power. It was supposed to transfer power from the animal to the child and in that way protect it against danger. Coral was widely known as a defense against evil, while rock-crystal was reputed for its multiple healing powers. In other words, a rattle was much more than just a toy.

Although "pagan superstition" was fiercely opposed by the church, we see that after the Reformation the rattle, including repelling materials, bells and the motif of the pomegranate, found its way to the Calvinistic bourgeoisie. According to Keijser, this possibly related to the study of the Old Testament in these circles and the biblical origin of the rattle. Part of his study included the remarkable similarity between babyrattles and the Torah finials, also known as rimonim (pomegranates) which in Jewish tradition crown the sacred Torah scrolls. In the Bible, the pomegranate is repeatedly mentioned as one of the seven fruits with which the land of Israel is blessed (Deuteronomy 8: 8) and as an important motif in Jewish art in Biblical times. The motif of the pomegranate, interspersed with bells, adorned the lower seams of the garments of the High Priest to protect him as he entered the sanctuary of the Tabernacle (Exodus 28: 33-34), and pomegranates decorated the capitals of the Temple Columns (1 Kings 7:42). In addition, the pomegranate may also have served a ceremonial purpose in the Temple Service.

This pomegranate (see illustration) from the Israel Museum collection is made of ivory and 4,3 cm in height. A hole in the lower part lead to the conviction that this pomegranate was placed on a stave. The paleo-Hebrew inscription is not complete, but was reconstructed as: "Holy gift for the Priests of the House of God" which lead to the interpretation that possibly scepters in the shape of a pomegranate formed part of the rites of the Priests in the Temple of which this item would be the only surviving proof. Later research however doubted the authenticity of the inscription, while other scientitst declare it as authentic. For the 2008 report on the item: Click here

H. Keijsers legacy comprises decades of research and collecting. His research -which was not ready for publication when Keijser passed away- will be published by the Keijser foundation in the future.


Letter by H. Tuynman, former chairman of the Keijser Foundation.

Museum Sterkckhof, exhibition catalogue and press releases 2009. 

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