On Data and Its Interpretation

Yosef Garfinkel responds to critics of “The Face of Yahweh?”

I was pleased to see four reputable scholars dedicate such a long discussion[1] to refuting my putative interpretation of the cultic paraphernalia from Moẓa as those of figurines representing a rider on a horse.[2] In my iconographic analysis, which was based on similar artifacts from other sites, I further raised the question of whether the Moẓa figure is the image of the god worshiped in ancient Judah.

With prominent eyes, ears, and noses, these male figurine heads come from the site of Moẓa near Jerusalem. Dated to the late tenth or early ninth century B.C.E., they measure about 1.2 and 1.4 inches tall. Photo: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The authors of the critical response made two concluding points:

(1) “The finds from Qeiyafa and Moẓa provide a significant contribution to the study of cult and religion in Israel and Judah, especially during their formative period (tenth–ninth centuries B.C.E.).”

To this statement I wish to point out that neither here nor in the entire text do the authors say anything about the “significant contribution” of the new finds. In fact, they do not offer any alternative interpretation. They do not even raise some important questions, such as whom the figure depicts as a rider on a horse, or what these figurines are doing in the Judahite temple of Moẓa. In what context was the Second Commandment—“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4, NRSV)—formulated? Do the authors believe that the people of Judah had no graven images of their deity? In other words, they are simply saying, “There are four figurines, and we don’t know what they are.”

Likewise, the plan of the Moẓa temple was initially published without reference to its similarities to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, located only 4 miles away. This architectural resemblance was later pointed out in our study of Solomon’s palace and temple.[3]

Qeiyafa Figurine

This male figurine head comes from the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa, dated to the tenth century B.C.E. It is  2 inches tall. The head may represent a male deity, possibly even the God of the Bible. Photo: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority.

(2) “It is unfortunate that Garfinkel presents an unfounded and speculative identification as factual.”

A closer look at the title of my article will reveal that it ends with a large question mark. This is not how factual matters are presented, but rather a way of stimulating discussion of a new phenomenon. Unlike the authors, who wish that their response will “lay this issue to rest,” I am sure that we are only at the beginning of intensive scholarly discussion of the Moẓa temple and its cultic paraphernalia. The fact that some scholars do not offer any interpretation does not mean that other scholars should be afraid of dealing with these fascinating new finds.

Yosef Garfinkel
Institute of Archaeology
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

[1] Shua Kisilevitz, Ido Koch, Oded Lipschits, and David S. Vanderhooft, “Facing the Facts about the ‘Face of God’: A Critical Response to Yosef Garfinkel,” BAR, Winter 2020.

[2] Yosef Garfinkel, “The Face of Yahweh?” BAR, Fall 2020.

[3] Yosef Garfinkel and Madeleine Mumcuoglu, Solomon’s Temple and Palace: New Archaeological Discoveries (Jerusalem: Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem & Biblical Archaeology Society, 2016).

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