Dr. Uzi Avner served as the District Archaeologist of the Southern Negev for the Israel Antiquities Authority from 1977 to 1999. Since then he has been teaching desert archaeology at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and at Ben-Gurion University, Eilat. His research, under the Dead Sea-Arava Research Centre, focuses on the archaeology of the southern Negev and the Sinai deserts, a field in which he has published and lectured on extensively both in Israel and abroad. He has devoted the last 35 years to the study of ancient desert societies, and to the protection, preservation and conservation of desert archaeology and environment. In 2003, his dissertation “Studies in the Material and Spiritual Culture of the Negev and Sinai Populations” was awarded Summa Cum Laude by the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Currently, he is engaged in fieldwork, teaching, publishing and lecturing in Israel and abroad. His research areas include: ancient desert agriculture (6000 BCE to 1100 CE), ancient copper mining and production in the Araba (4500 BCE to 1100 CE), desert hunting societies (ca. 4000 BCE), ancient desert road systems (ca. 7000 BC), the Nabataeans in the Negev and Sinai, desert cult sites and desert rock art.
Bible Fest XVII, November 21 – 23, 2014
The Symbolic Role of the Ibex in Near East Rock Carvings
The desert area of the Negev, Sinai and southern Jordan contains many thousands of rock carvings from various periods, but often their meanings are obscure. However, with the ever-increasing recording of new carvings, the repetition of several themes have surfaced, leading to possible interpretations. Most dominant in the Near Eastern deserts, and even far beyond, is the male ibex (females are extremely rare). It often recurs with dogs or other predators, snakes, feet or sandals and raised-armed human figures (“orante”) as well as some other elements. The ibex is also dominant in other kinds of art in the ancient Near East and beyond. Based on the frequent occurrences of the ibex over the ages and across large geographical areas, it seems to have had some symbolic role. Consistent repetition of the ibex, along with the aforementioned elements, suggests that it represented a young god. Since some ibexes are also depicted as mirrored images, or as killed by dogs, predators or hunters, they may have symbolized a god that dies and is resurrected every year, such as Dumuzi, Ba‘al, Osiris and Adonis. This interpretation, supported by ancient mythologies, may have an affect on the basic approach to rock-art in general.
Bible Fest XVI, November 22 – 24, 2013
The Role of the Desert in the Formation of Ancient Israel
Scholars have suggested several theories as to the formation of ancient Israel in addition to the Biblical narrative. Although opinions differ, today it is widely accepted that ancient Israel was the product of a long and complex process involving several different ethnic groups from north, east and south as well as groups from Egypt and those from Canaan itself. Naturally, each group attempted to influence the culture of the forming nation. A close examination of the Bible and Iron Age Israel demonstrates that the desert played an important role in Israelite culture, far more than that expected from 40 years of wandering following the exodus from Egypt. Social frames (tribes), social values, ethics and laws actually originated in the desert. Moreover, the Israelite religion contained many desert characteristics. The Israelite God, YHWEH, is a desert God, and not only in the Judeo-Christian texts. His name is also associated with the desert in Egyptian inscriptions of the Late Kingdom prior to the Exodus. An examination of these topics demonstrates the profound role played by the desert in the creation of the Israelite culture.