Puzzling Finds from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud

A drawing of God labeled “Yahweh and his Asherah” or the Egyptian god Bes?

This article was originally published in October 2012. It has been updated.—Ed.


 

“Yahweh and his Asherah” is written across the top of this eighth-century B.C. drawing on a ceramic pithos, or storage jar, from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud in the eastern Sinai. Some scholars have theorized that these figures resembling the Egyptian god Bes (on the left in the photo above) are in fact a drawing of God and his consort. Others, however, have interpreted both figures as male. The recently published Kuntillet ‘Ajrud excavation report sheds some light on this enigmatic fragment, but many questions remain. Photo courtesy Dr. Ze’ev Meshel and Avraham Hai/Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology.

Everything about it has been difficult. Located in the Sinai desert about 10 miles west of the ancient Gaza Road (Darb Ghazza, in Arabic) as it passes through Bedouin territory separating the Negev from Egypt, Kuntillet ‘Ajrud is remote and isolated from any other settlement. In 1975, Tel Aviv University archaeologist Ze’ev Meshel and a band of nine volunteers, mostly from kibbutzim and a few colleagues as staff, decided to excavate at the site.

The finds from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud were fantastic. The zingers were two large pithoi, or storage jars, that weighed about 30 pounds each. The now-reconstructed pithoi are painted with deities, humans, animals and symbols, and feature a number of inscriptions, including three that refer to Yahweh and his asherah or Asherah, depending on your interpretation. Asherah is a pagan goddess. Was she God’s wife?

Below an inscription on one of the pithoi (referring to Yahweh and his asherah) are drawings of two figures easily and unquestionably identifiable as the Egyptian god Bes, in fact a collective name for a group of dwarf deities. Is this meant to be a drawing of God (i.e., Yahweh) with his consort Asherah? The scholar who published the chapter about the drawings doesn’t think so. She interprets it as two male deities—probably just the Egyptian god Bes—and not as a drawing of God and his goddess wife. Other scholars disagree, but this much is clear: The drawing was added to the pithos after the inscription was written, so the two may be completely unrelated.
 


 
Ze’ev Meshel’s Kuntillet ‘Ajrud: An Iron Age II Religious Site on the Judah-Sinai Border is available for purchase in the BAS store. Click here for more information.
 

 
Why has it taken nearly four decades to publish this final report? One reason is that everything about Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and its finds is so darn difficult to interpret—or even to see. The recently published report is a superb volume, and the discussion and interpretation will surely continue far beyond its pages.
——————

To learn more about the site and finds at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, including the fragment with the two figures of the Egyptian god Bes that may be a drawing of God labeled “Yahweh and his Asherah,” read BAR editor Hershel Shanks’s review article The Persisting Uncertainties of Kuntillet ‘Ajrud in the November/December 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
 

 
Did Judean pillar figurines represent Asherah? Learn more in Bible History Daily.
 

 

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  1. Ric says

    Could a major problem in the difficulty in interpretation due to current Bible Chronology?

  2. Joel says

    The Bible itself never links Jehovah (Yahweh) with the false god, Asherah. In fact, the Bible repeatedly contrasts Jehovah with Baal and Asherah as in Judges 3:7. However, the Israelites often returned to pagan rituals and worshiping false gods, even shortly after leaving Egypt. It is likely that they, in a polytheistic way, tried to combine worship of Jehovah with Asherah, perhaps even before the Exodus. Perhaps this piece of jar was owned by one of these pagan Israelites who left Egypt and was wondering there during the forty years of wandering. We may never know.

  3. Kevin says

    Shechinah, God’s female manifestation, came to be interpreted as God’s Queen as separated from God by some cultures in the form of Ashera. The practice was not permitted by mainstream Judaism as enforced from the time of Moses. The practice predates Moses and explains the adoption of similar female god images by many other cultures…

  4. Paul says

    Though the bible doesn’t explicitly refer to Asherah as Yahweh’s wife there is another reference from the territory of Judah, if I may quote from the May/June 1994 issue of BAR, p.54; “Another inscription similar to those from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and from the same period was found in a tomb at Khirbet el-Kom, eight miles west of Hebron. In this inscription, carved into a wall of the tomb, someone is blessed ‘by Yahweh’ and ‘by his Asherah.’ Rather than the numerous drawings on the pithoi from Kuntillet Ajrud, only one image-of a hand-accompanies the Khirbet el-Kom inscription.” Since we know there were priests at Kuntillet Ajrud blessing travelers, it is worth mentioning that the priestly tradition of raising the hands while blessing may have its antecedence in pagan ritual. It is in the same period that this desert outpost functioned, in the reign of Joash (802-787 B.C.E.) that Zakir the king of Hammath mentions in an inscription; “I lifted up my hand to Ba’alshamayn (lord of heaven), and Ba’alshamaym heard me. Ba’alshamaym [spoke] to me through seers and through diviners.” (ANET p.501) It mentions him lifting his hand (singular) which is consistant with Leviticus 9:22, “Aaron raised his hands” which is written in Hebrew (J.P.S. Bible) as “Aaron raised his hand”. The goal is to elevate the right hand which symbolizes the attribute of mercy over the left hand, the attribute of judgment (Matt, The Zohar vol. 4, p.369).

  5. Rose says

    The Hebrew word ‘Baal’ can be ‘marriage’, ‘wife’, ‘husband’, ‘master’, ‘lord’, and ‘owner’. Sarah was a baal of baal בעלת בעל in Genesis 20

    Of course marriage and ownership would be just the attributes a tribal LORD like Jehavoc would get upset about. The LORD was called Baali (my Baal) in this passage

    Hosea 2:16
    And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali.

    shalom,
    Rose

  6. Mark says

    For most of the Israelites existance, they fell into worship of other gods. So it should not come as a surprise to bible scholars that worship of Jehovah would be adulterated with other gods.

  7. Michael F. says

    Quick answer: This isn’t too hard to figure out. Yahweh is the moon god (Sin). This is why the most powerful god of that age is never mentioned in the Bible, because he was the god of the Bible. Asherah = Ishtar the consort of Sin. When the OT was being written, the worship of the goddess was being blamed for the destruction of cities, which in the Bible are Sodom etc. Ishum who would become Abraham in the bible pleads to Irra not to destroy any more cities. Hence the goddes was left out same as she was left out in the original Gilgamesh. (On Earth as it is in Heaven: The Cosmic Roots of the Bible.)

  8. Rose says

    Pharaoh Maaibre was the first Hyksos Pharaoh, hundreds of his seals have been found. He was followed by the Pharaoh Yakub. Maaibre is aaibreM.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheshi
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakubher

    Yes Abraham worshipped a female deity like Inanna. The name or word translated as Almighty in the Old Testament is שדי. ‘breast’. Call her Venus or Aphrodite, Isis, Artemis, Ashtaroth, call her Wormwood, either way the Almighty is Diana, the many breasted one.

    Sarah made Abraham go against his will.
    For he sent his son Ishmael over the hill!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ArtemisEphesus.jpg

    Genesis 49:25
    Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:

    Exodus 6:3
    And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.

    Peace,
    Rose

  9. Rose says

    People assume the boarder of modern Israel is the same boarder as ancient Israel. This was never the case, modern Israel is just a portion of ancient Israel. The Bible puts Kuntillet ‘Ajrud in ancient Israel.
    ;-)
    Rose

    Genesis 15:18
    In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

    Joshua 18
    19 And the border passed along to the side of Bethhoglah northward: and the outgoings of the border were at the north bay of the salt sea at the south end of Jordan: this was the south coast.
    20 And Jordan was the border of it on the east side. This was the inheritance of the children of Benjamin, by the coasts thereof round about, according to their families. (modern Eilat, Israel)

  10. Krzysztof says

    Thanks for excellent linguistics data. Can someone help me to find when exactly Exodus 3:14 (I am who I am) was written? The same as II Isaiah? IT explains the essence of the name of God/Jahwe: the relation of historical events to the Hand Unvisible governing history. It came quite late after “Abraham”@”Moses”

  11. Rose says

    The word Hebrew word translated as ‘Almighty’ (God of Abraham) is the identical Hebrew word as ‘breast’
    .
    Genesis 49:25
    Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:

    Abraham worshipped a female deity much like Inanna. After all Sarah was his master and made him act against his will. Depending on the language used she could be Isis, Aphrodite, Venus, Artemis, Wromwood or Diana (the many breasted one).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Statue_of_Artemis_Ephesus.jpg

    Abraham was most likely the first Pharaoh of the Hyksos named Maaibre Sheshi.

    Maaibre being aaibreM.

    He was followed by the Pharaoh Yaqub-Har
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheshi

    peace,
    Rose

  12. Rick says

    @Joel, I think you’re missing the point here. You don’t use the Bible as proof. To archaeologists, the Bible is just another archaeological artifact, like arrowheads, tomb inscriptions or the Qumran scrolls.

    You don’t just say “This is wrong because the Bible says so”; putting things into perspective, it could be just as well “The Bible is wrong because this artifact says so”. There’s no place for dogma in scholarly archaeology.

  13. Paul says

    This archaelogical find reveals that Yahweh was also associated with geographical areas; Shomron (Samaria) and Teman. In the current issue of BAR, (p.34) the notion that Yahweh had various local manifestations gave rise to the recitation of the Shema; “Hear O Israel, the Lord (Yahweh) our God, the Lord (Yahweh) is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4, Mark 12:29).Perhaps at some point “Yahweh of Shomron” lost its significance and was replaced in the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24 with the word “protect” which in hebrew is similar to “Shomron”. Though Yahweh differed from place to place it is clear that at one time He was associated with the name of the goddess Asherah in unity. I’m reminded of passage from “The Second Treatise of the Great Seth”, a Cristian Gnostic work. It speaks of a wedding of truth in paragraph 67, “But this is not, nor will it happen among us in any region or place in division and breach of peace, but (in) union and a mixture of love, all of which are perfected in the one who is”.

  14. Francis says

    Paul @11 in Numbers 6:24 it says yevarekcha adonai we-yishmerekcha, and it is clearly a note of blessing thus translatable: may adonai bless you and keep you. Remember that the kcha at the end of the verb shamar is a pronoun. I read with pleasure the things you write but on this question you might not be all that right.

  15. Paul says

    Thank you Francis .In my rush to impress people that I know something (though I don’t know hebrew) I neglected to explain that it is the root of the word “Shomron”; shamar, which means “keep, watch, preserve”.

  16. Jeremy says

    Rick@10.
    “You don’t use the Bible as proof. ”
    If this was NAT GEO, I would agree with you. But this is BIBLE History Daily by the BIBLE archaeological Society. Thus, shouldn’t we take the biblical perspective on these things? Either what’s dug up validates the bible, shedding more light on the scriptures, or it doesn’t, conflicting with the scriptures.

  17. n says

    jeremy you said it exactly!!!! its whats this is all about….. the BIBLE… keep on track people keep on track

  18. jeff says

    To # 10. The Ancient Hebrew Learning Center(ahlc global) will answere your question here. It will also inform you that your statement “the essence of god” is incorrect teaching. This is not the essence of God, it is his name”Ehyeh”. If you read tanach with unicode and follow along with kjv you will see why. God repeatedly gave Moses his name and told him this is what I am to be called for ll generations to come. Israel did not worship Ehyeh though and instead worshipped Baals(yhwy/jehova). The hebrew lexicon will clearly lay this out to you if studied. Search these ref#’s:452 to start. You will see definition is God of jehova. This would refer to El(eliyah,eliyon etc.) Jehova is one of the sons of eliyon along with molech, marduk, chemosh, dagon etc. These are canaanite /phoenecian gods from a canaanite /phoenecian religion. Israelites were polytheists and jehova was assigned the nation of israel(psalm 82, deuteronomy 32:8-9) read this in tanach as well. All this is well known and proven but the christian church teaches much false doctrine. Look at roman catholic church for example, the pagan god symbolism is everywhere. The different sects of christianity teach that yhwy/jehova is the father Christ spoke of. Incorrect, Ehyeh is the creator. Ehyeh-Shua translated: I Am Saves. Then look up 1167,1168,1942,1943,3050,3068,136,137,138 and I could give to you many more if this is not enough for you. Clearly tells you that jehova is national jewish god. Baal of judah. Canaanite / phoenician deity etc. These are the definitions given. Not my opinions. Good luck and may you find and continue to seek truth. Jeff

  19. Catholic says

    Note on the Shechinah and Asherah: The former can only be properly alluded to tangential terms e.g. The oaks of Mamre or “the place where Yahweh appeared to Abraham” (Gen 18:1). On the other hand Deut. 16:21 states that Yahweh hated Asherim whether rendered as poles (“Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the Lord your God”) or as living trees (“You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your God which you shall make”). In fact the Israelites often departed from this ideal. For example, King Manasseh placed an Asherah pole in the Holy Temple (2 Kings 21:7). King Josiah’s reforms in the late 7th century BC included the destruction of many Asherah poles (2 Kings 23).

  20. hearthstone says

    Hey would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re working with?
    I’m looking to start my own blog soon but
    I’m having a difficult time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique.
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  21. David says

    why is an inscription on an object of antiquity automatically assumed to be the truth? God is spirit, and as such has no need or desire for man’s physical realities.

  22. Arty says

    One of the things i find fascinating or astonishing about the ancient Israelites is how often they often they allowed themselves as a nation to wander away from their one true god. However, they were famous for having just one god, so perhaps they imagined that one was not enough.

Continuing the Discussion

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  3. No other gods… | olem linked to this post on November 22, 2013

    [...] similar interpretation is apparently also given in the final excavation [...]


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