Puzzling Finds from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud

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

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in October 2012.—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.
 


 
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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.

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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.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Asherah and the Asherim: Goddess or Cult Symbol?

Judean Pillar Figurines
 


 

Posted in Biblical Artifacts, Biblical Sites & Places.

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  • Portia says

    Has anyone ever seen a male “god” give birth to any child or woman?

    Almost everyone knows by now that the Bible is not based on truth but on patriarchy.

    • Daniel says

      Really?
      How do You figure? What exactly do you mean by “everyone”? Do you mean the Obviously Atheist and biased secular so-called Scholars who “discover” tiny “clues” here or there from which they FABRICATE entire myths—all of which just happen to “disprove” the Bible???
      Are those the “everyone” you’re referring to?
      Because No serious Scholar, Christian or Secular, has ever made any such claims as you propose here and elsewhere…
      Your statement shows your lack of education on the subject, which makes me ask, why make such definite statements about something you know little about?

      **Are you very familiar with Biblical Hebrew?
      **Do you Know the Gender of the Proper Noun Yehovah (YHWH)?
      **Do you know the translation of Yehovah? How many times it appears in scripture?
      **What evidence exactly do you propose to support your inaccurate claim?

      The fact that you have no real, or personal experience with the contents of the Bible should be enough to convince you that statements like this are empty and baseless…
      Not based on truth, but on patriarchy???
      On what grounds?
      If you’re going to stand by your ignorant statement, I am going to have to ask you these questions to prove that you will come up wanting of any actual answer that goes beyond the all to common slants thrown around by sad Atheists nowadays…

    • Daniel says

      You want a serious answer to ‘Anyone ever seen a male ”god” give birth’ I would direct your attention to (Proverbs 8:22-36)… God’s VERY FIRST creation… The first of his spiritual Children, here symbolically named ‘Wisdom’…

      Pay special attention to verse 24: “When there were no deep waters, I was brought forth, AS WITH LABOR PAINS When there were no springs overflowing with water.”

      Familiarize yourself with the Hebrew language and read it that way as well…

      Read the entire 22-36 verses… it is the oldest occurrence recorded in the BIble, even before creation of the physical or spiritual worlds…

      ‘LIFE’

      Before Any concept, or color, space, star, existence of any kind… God created first LIFE (like himself).

      A Living Conscious, intelligent creature that according to verse 30 “”…WAS BESIDE HIM AS A MASTER WORKER. I WAS THE ONE he was especially fond of day by day; I rejoiced before him all the time””

      Jehovah God is the source of life, and the intelligence necessary to appreciate it… This is wonderful picture we get to see from verse 22-36 of God’s first creation, and how God worked through him to create all other things…

  • michael says

    Sometimes the goddess is playing a tambourine or holding a dove—a traditional emblem of goddesses in all periods throughout the ancient Near East. A few figurines, made in the Phoenician tradition, have a hollow, round body—a bell-shaped body, in scholarly jargon. Even rarer, but occasionally found, are figurines in the form of a plaque, flat on the back and impressed from a mold on the front.
    The Judahite figurines were originally painted in strong colors such as white, black and red, but the paint has survived on only a few. Eyes and hair were made especially prominent, and occasionally a necklace was added.
    Another surprising fact: Although these figurines have been found all over Judah, about half (405 out of 822, to be exact) were found in Jerusalem, many only a short distance from the Temple Mount.10
    Why are these female figures that are found all over judah & over 400 of them found in Jerusalem always ignored?
    http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=27&Issue=3&ArticleID=1

  • Dean says

    Could the passage from the Bible, Isaiah 11:12, be a reference to the structure found at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud?

    Isaiah 11:12 And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

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