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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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