Male Figurines from Ancient Judah Might Depict the God of the Bible


Megan Sauter
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 31, 2020)—In his article “The Face of Yahweh?” published in the Fall 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reveals the head of an anthropomorphic male figurine excavated from the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Kingdom of Judah. The head dates to the tenth century B.C.E.—the time of King David. Garfinkel believes that this figurine head represents a male deity. Given its location, it may even denote the Israelite God, Yahweh.

Garfinkel and his team recovered the clay figurine head from a large tenth-century B.C.E. building, which they have tentatively identified as a palace. Measuring about 2 inches tall, the head has prominent eyes, ears, and a nose. It has a flat top that is encircled by holes, possibly signifying a headdress. The figurine’s eyes and ears are both punctured, creating the eyes’ irises and ear piercings. As the only figurine uncovered from Qeiyafa from the early tenth century B.C.E., the figurine is significant.

Nearby, at the site of Moẓa, archaeologists uncovered two similar male figurine heads. Dated to the late tenth or early ninth century B.C.E., these measure about 1.2 and 1.4 inches tall. Like the head from Qeiyafa, they exhibit prominent eyes, ears, and noses. Their eyes have been punctured, and one has perforations on its jawline to represent a beard. They wear headdresses, as indicated by their flat tops with raised edges, and have strips of hair attached to their backs. Archaeologists found the heads, along with two horse figurines, in a courtyard outside a temple, located a mere 4 miles west of Jerusalem. Garfinkel believes the two Moẓa heads and two horse figurines are best interpreted together—as male figures mounted on horses. This type of figurine is called a horse-and-rider figurine.

Compared to other male anthropomorphic figurines from the second and first millennia B.C.E., the heads from Qeiyafa and Moẓa are unusually large. With their similar dating, size, modeling, and rudimentary facial features, as well as geographical proximity, the figurines from Qeiyafa and Moẓa may represent a new figurine type. Further, their iconography suggests that they depict a male deity.

In certain biblical texts, Yahweh is described as a rider on the clouds (e.g., Psalm 68:4) and a rider on a horse (e.g., Habakkuk 3:8). The Canaanite god Baal is also called a rider on the clouds in ancient texts—but not a rider on a horse. No figurine of Baal or another Canaanite god has the form of a rider on a horse. Thus, the new type of male figurine—found within the Kingdom of Judah and matching biblical descriptions of Yahweh—seems to represent the Israelite God.

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