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Mrs God

21 November 2013

Sean Kingsley in World Current Archaeology 62 – see www.world-archaeology.com (story not on site at moment as this is the December 2013 edition), uses the term Mrs God for Asherah, former consort of YHWH (god of Israel), in a report on a remarkable temple found on the borders of Sinai with Judah some 40 miles NW of modern Eilat. Asherah was the traditional Canaanite mother-goddess (see also William G Dever, Did God have a Wife?) and it was more normal for her to be attached to El or Baal. The Canaanite religion survived amongst the Phoenicians but the evidence from this excavation appears to be that it survived in Israel too, until the 7th century reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah. The temple has been dated to the 8th century BC and Iron Age II and provides clues to the pre-Deuteronomic religion practised in Israel. Kuntillet 'Ajrud is an important place as not only YHWH of Shomron (apparently, Samaria) and Asherah are recorded but so too was El and Baal (see also 'Kuntillet 'Ajrud (Hovet Teman); an Iron Age II religious site on the Judah Sinai border' by Ze'er Meshel, Israel Exloration Society, ISBN … 978 965221088). The findings are not contradicted by the Bible if we assume the Deuteronomist Reform in the reign of Josiah, or the Hezekiah reforms, were designed to get rid of the Canaanite religion altogether, even if that religion may have been that practised by Moses and Aaron. It is a moot point if Asherah was disposed of at the same time.

The excavators uncovered a staggering collection of pomegranites, baskets, human hair, pieces of priestly robes, and various other artifacts of life in the period. The walls were decorated with lotus leaves, animals, seated gods and inscribed blessings. Around 50 inscriptions were found – most of them in Hebrew. There were 5 in Phoenician which provides a clue to the presence of El and Baal at the site, on a trade route used by both Hebrews and Phoenicians. Amongst the debris on the floor were two figures of humans with bull's heads, painted on a jar. They appear to depict humans dressed in animal skins and a bull's headdress. To the left sits a woman strumming a lyre – assumed to be Asherah. Clearly, this was graven imagery, which was later sternly forbidden in the Deuteronomist Reform.

The C14 dates from the site are 820-795 to 745BC, and during this time religion must have been polytheistic in that Baal and El sit alongside YHWH. It also shows clearly that Canaanites had not been ethnically cleansed in the conquest by Joshua – and remained the dominant part of the population. The conquest narrative has to be looked at in a different context. It doesn't mark a dividing line between Canaanites and Israelites, as the latter appear to have lived alongside the former for a considerable period of time. The conquest narrative may actually represent a humanisation of an event – a conquest of human habitations (towns and cities) by God or by the agents of God (rather than a hotch potch army of ex slaves).

The site was occupied for just 50 years (or that part that has been excavated) and the excavators think it was built in the reign of Joash and was administered by the northern kingdom if only because of the reference to YHWH of Shomron. Revisionists might like to explore if a connection exists with any other period as Velikovsky identified Sumur with Samaria (even though Sumur was obviously located on the coast). How would Shomron appear in the EA archive?

None of the pottery is local – it does not have any connection with Negev wares. Most interesting is the depiction of YHWH with the head of a bull (themes discussed in some SIS articles and in the pages of Kronos and Aeon). The piece ends up by saying YHWH came into existence as a Sun god. We may logically amend that to 'a sun like' god. The author quotes the Book of Kings where Josiah 'removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the Sun, at the entrance to their House of the Lord …' and 'burned the chariots of the Sun with fire.' In Ezekiel, he claims, there is a vision of YHWH appearing as something like glowing amber, something that looked like fire enclosed all around …' and ' this was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord'.

The high place of Kuntillet 'Ajrud lies amid a remarkable concentration of 142 standing stones, scattered between the Negev and the Sinai and outnumbering other examples elsewhere in the Near East. Unlike those of Canaanite Syria, the Lebanon and central Israel, which are aligned in a variety of directions, these standing stones in the desert all have a focus towards the rising Sun (which he claims is similar to the orientation of the temple of Solomon). Some of these standing stones appear to have been set up in the 11th and 10th centuries BC, in the period shortly peceding David and Solomon. The author appears to have inserted his own opinion of the nature of YHWH at this point but ignoring that, a good piece to read (and it will appear online in due course). 

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