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Kuntillet Ajrud: The Ancient Fortress that puzzles archaeologists

Kuntillet Ajrud: The Ancient Fortress that puzzles archaeologists


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In the Sinah desert stands Kuntillet Ajrud, a remote settlement that was found in 1975 by the archaeologist Ze’ev Meshel of the University of Tel Aviv. The settlement is dated to the 8 th century BC and is suggested to be one of the border fortresses built by King Solomon. The name of the fortress in Arabic, means ‘Hill of the Water-Source’.

Two major buildings were found preserved at Kuntillet Ajrud. The largest one contained numerous inscriptions—of early Hebrew and Phoenician writings—and paintings on the walls, door posts, pottery and stone jars, as well as numerous drawings of men, animals and gods. It is interesting to note that in addition to Yahweh (the God of the Bible) being mentioned in the inscriptions, the Canaanite gods, El and Baal, were also worshipped. It was only later that Baal was ‘transformed’ to a demon and was considered evil in the scriptures.

Even if it has been proposed that Kuntillet Ajrud was used as a fortress, the actual nature and function of the place is not clear. Various remains that were found, including the inscriptions, suggest that it also served as a kind of religious center, with one phrase of particular importance creating debate amongst archaeologists: “I have blessed you to Yahweh of Shomron (Samaria) and to His Asherah”. Asherah was a Semitic mother goddess. The question has therefore been debated among scholars as to whether she may have been the wife of God? Asherah was known to be the consort of the god El, however it seems that she disappears at some point from Phoenician/Canaanite inscriptions.

Under that inscription is a drawing of two figures, possibly God and Asherah, and one that resembles the Egyptian god Bes, which is a collective name for a group of dwarf deities. A few scholars have suggested that the drawings were added after the initial inscriptions and may not be related, but both of the drawings are very interesting in terms of how they present the God and his possible wife—if that is their purpose, of course.

Another inscription found on the walls says the following:

“When God shines forth … Yahweh … The mountains will melt, the hills will crush … The Holy One over the gods … Prepare to bless Ba‘al on a day of war … to the name of El on a day of war”

Kuntillet Ajrud baffles archaeologists—especially biblical archaeologists—because of the complexity of early Israelite worship and the mixing of the god of the Bible with many different deities, showing a different ‘face’ of the god and a gradual movement towards monotheistic worship without any other ‘interferences’. The controversial inscriptions at Kuntillet Ajrud serve to shake the foundations of monotheism.

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    Kuntillet Ajrud: The Ancient Fortress that puzzles archaeologists - History

    Is the Bible supported by modern archaeology?

    Introduction

    Several of the "New Atheist" school of writers dismiss the Bible as without scientific foundation. Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion dismisses much of the Bible as fiction [Dawkins2006]. Similarly, Christopher Hitchens, in his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, asserts that modern archaeology has disproved most of older biblical history, saying "none of the religious myths has any truth to it, or in it" [Hitchens2006, pg. 102]. Hitchens subsequently qualifies this statement to refer mainly to the Exodus and pre-Exodus stories, but he also remains highly skeptical about the historicity of much of the rest of the Old Testament. Chris Sosa extends this to the New Testament: "The Jesus of Christianity is clearly a mythological figure" [Sosa2014].

    In part, these writers reflect the thinking of the "minimalist" or "Copenhagen" approach to biblical scholarship that was popular during the 1990s and the 2000s. This school of thought has argued, for example, that essentially all of the Old Testament prior to the Babylonian captivity in 586 BCE is fictional. A similarly "minimalist" school of thought has argued that Jesus of Nazareth was not a historical person -- all of the teachings and activities ascribed to him are completely legendary. Theologian Robert Price, for instance, argues that Jesus did not exist -- "he was mythic all the way down" [Price2012, pg. 17]. Similarly, George Wells argues that the accounts of Jesus are better explained as Jewish "wisdom literature" [Wells1996, pg. xxvii].

    Part of the disagreement here stems from differing approaches to the Bible and biblical history. It is true that many leading creationist and intelligent design writers, among others, espouse the "literal-inerrant" approach to biblical scholarship. However, the majority of mainstream Judeo-Christian denominations and biblical scholars (including many denominations that hold the Bible to be the word of God), agree that the literal-inerrant approach is not a productive way to view the Bible. There are simply too many difficulties with this approach, such as translation errors, missing books and passages, internal discrepancies and others (see Bible-inerrant). Only a rather small minority of faith traditions holds to such a rigid, idealistic view of the Bible. Other denominations espouse a more flexible approach to the Bible that acknowledges the human element in the Bible along with the divine.

    Questionable and fraudulent archaeological claims

    1. Noah's ark. Claims that remnants of Noah's ark have been found have been repeatedly refuted. See, for example: [Cline2009, pg. 75].
    2. Inscribed pomegranate. In 1979, an archaeologist announced the discovery of the inscription "Belonging to the Tem[ple of the Lor]d [Yahweh], holy to the priests," but this was later found to be a recent forgery [Cline2009, pg. 117].
    3. Jehoash tablet. Also in 2002, a Jerusalem researcher announced the discovery of a black stone mentioning of Jehoash, a king who ruled in Judah from 836 to 798 BCE, but subsequent analysis found that the lettering and patina were artificially created [Cline2009, pg. 123-125].
    4. James ossuary. In 2002, an Israeli antiquities collector announced the discovery of a chalk box with the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," but this was shown to be a recent forgery [James2014].
    5. Tomb with bones of Jesus' family. In 2007, the announcement of the finding of a tomb with the bones of Jesus' family was subsequently rejected by knowledgeable archaeologists [Rollston2007].
    6. Gospel of Jesus' Wife. In 2012, a scholar announced the discovery of the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife," but this has been criticized by scholars at the least, additional analysis will be required [Goodstein2014].
    7. The Nazareth tablet. In 2020, a scientific analysis of the "Nazareth tablet," which contains an inscription suggestive that it represented official first century reaction to news that Jesus' body had gone missing from its tomb, and which had been thought by many to be the oldest physical artifact connected to Christianity, was shown to have been fashioned from marble mined a quarry on the Greek Island of Kos, and most likely was inscribed a decade or two before Jesus' death.

    Early Old Testament history

    The Exodus

    Many biblical scholars today favor a 13th century BCE setting for the Exodus (see, for instance, [Cline2007] [Coogan2001]), since indeed it was Seti I (reigned 1291-1278) who directed the construction of the cities Pithom and Rameses, as described in Exod. 1:11. Seti's son was Ramses II (reigned 1279-1212 BCE), which fits with the Exodus in 1250 BCE, although Merneptah (reigned 1213-1203 BCE) is also a possibility. This general reckoning also fits nicely with the Merneptah stele, an artifact found in Egypt, dated to 1207 BCE, which indicates that the nation of Israel was established in the Palestine area by this date (see below). There is still no clear archaeological evidence for Moses or the Exodus in Egyptian records, but on the other hand the Egyptians seldom mentioned setbacks or defeats in their records, so perhaps this is not surprising [Cline2007].

    With regards to the Exodus, Exod. 12:37 says that "about 600,000" Hebrew men (i.e., 2-3 million persons, including women and children) left Egypt in the Exodus. Exodus 38:26 and Num. 1:46 are more specific: 603,550 men. Such a huge proceeding should have left a significant body of evidence, yet none has been found. However, there are indications from other passages within the Old Testament itself that the actual number was much smaller. For example, counting Levi's male descendants through Moses, based on Exod. 6:16-20, gives just 21 men. Multiplying by 12 to estimate for the 12 sons of Jacob gives just 252 men through Moses' generation at the Exodus (even assuming they were all still alive at the Exodus), which is a far cry indeed from 600,000. Also, Exod. 1:15-17 says there were only two midwives for the Israelites this places an upper limit of about 5,000 on the size of the Hebrew nation at the time of the birth of Moses -- see Bible-inerrant. If there were only a few hundred or a few thousand Hebrews at the time, then the lack of solid archaeological evidence for their existence in Egypt and their journey through Sinai is not a major issue. See Bible chronology for further details.

    With regards to the story of the crossing of the Red Sea, as recounted in Exodus 14, it is worth mentioning a 2010 scientific study that suggested that "wind setdown," namely the drop in water level caused by wind stress acting on the surface of a body of water for an extended period of time, may have been the cause of the drying up of the sea where the ancient Hebrews crossed [McAlpine2010 Drews2010].

    In short, the Exodus period is highly problematic -- the biblical record is itself inconsistent, and there is little archaeological evidence one way or the other to corroborate this history.

    Post-Exodus Old Testament history

      Destruction of Hazor. Joshua 11:13-25 describes the destruction of the city of Hazor. In the 1950s, Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin found, at a site previously identified as Hazor, remains of a city dating to the 13th century BCE, which had been destroyed by fire [Cline2009, pg. 44].


    Ancient fortress in Bactria uncovered by archaeologists

    Credit: Nigora Dvurechenskaya

    Posted By: Dattatreya Mandal February 5, 2019

    Bactria, encompassing parts of modern-day Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, was counted among one of the easternmost provinces of the Achaemenid Persian Empire and the later Greek Seleucid Empire (one of the successor states that inherited Alexander the Great’s Empire). By circa 245 BC, its governor (satrap) Diodorus declared independence from the Seleucids to carve out the Bactrian Kingdom, which resulted in a syncretic realm that combined the elements and influence of Greeks, Sogdians, Indians, and even Indo-European nomads from the north. Pertaining to the latter, archaeologists from Russia and Uzbekistan have discovered an impressive border fortification system of Bactrian origin at Uzundar that played its crucial role in guarding the oases against the nomadic raids.

    Interestingly enough, the fate of Bactria as a Hellenistic Greek kingdom was cut short by the invasions of the very same nomads (like the Saka and the Yuezhi) by circa 2nd century BC. In any case, reverting to the northern fortress in question here, the structure actually harks back to the Seleucid period when Bactria was still an autonomous entity (as opposed to a fully independent kingdom), possibly dating from circa 295 – 290 BC, thus corresponding to the reign of Antiochus I.

    As for its layout, the fortification system at Uzundar boasted a diamond-shaped main quadrangular plan (compound) that enclosed the phylacterion (triangular citadel). This citadel was protected by double layered walls with an internal gallery about 30 ft wide, and extension walls, which were further strengthened with 13 rectangular bastion-towers, three of which were also outboards.

    Interestingly enough, with the advantage of GPS technology and terrain mapping, the archaeologists were able to discern the main access road and the existence of an external marketplace just outside the fortress compound. Pertaining to the latter, it is evident that the Uzundar fortress was an important military hub whose inhabitants/soldiers were accustomed to buying supplies from the market. Even more incredible is the possible discovery of a battlefield on the east side of the fortress – as is hypothesized by the findings of over 200 arrowheads and darts in the proximate area.

    Talking of battle, the Uzundar fortress did have its fair share of well-armored warriors. To that end, the archaeologists have found remnants of iron-clad plates and helmet segments. However, the researchers are still not certain of the type of helmets these soldiers used, with their conjecture entailing a pseudo-Attic or Melos design that permeated through the Alexandrian period. According to Nigora Dvurechenskaya, researcher at the Department of Classical Archaeology, Head of the Bactrian detachment of the Central Asian Archaeological Expedition –

    This findings are sensational: direct analogies are known from the Takhti-Sanga temple, but there they were bronze, and we found iron fragments in Uzundar. To date, there are only a few specimens and sculptures with which to compare these cheeks and determine their type. We also found fastening details, which provide important information on manufacturing technology, according to tradition, but to answer these questions requires lengthy research.

    And lastly, other than just weapons and armor, the researchers also came across ceramic objects and coins, with over 200 numismatic well-preserved specimens made of silver (drachmas) and copper (mites). These coins do allude to how Bactria as a region was pretty economically developed with its monetary circulation network.


    Kuntillet Ajrud: The Ancient Fortress that puzzles archaeologists - History

    Que sait-on du contexte géographique et historique de l’émergence d’un monothéïsme qui s’est impo. more Que sait-on du contexte géographique et historique de l’émergence d’un monothéïsme qui s’est imposé et étendu au point de créer des enjeux et d’autres monothéïsmes inspirés de cette réussite ?

    L’archéologie, par le biais des sites ouverts aux fouilles, les écritures retrouvées dans le Levant sud et les zones limitrophes telles que la Babylonie et l’Egypte, permettent de faire des parallèles aux textes bibliques.

    L’on sait désormais qu’il y a eu plusieurs tentatives de monothéïsmes plus ou moins abouties avec notamment Akhénaton au XIVème siècle av. JC. qui avait tenté de faire une religion d’état au seul culte d’Aton au détriment des autres dieux, les prêtres et prêtresses des autres cultes se retrouvaient alors sans activité, mais surtout, sans ressources, provoquant l’ire du clergé de presque la totalité du panthéon égyptien, excepté bien sûr, celui d’Aton…

    Akhénaton est également connu pour être un souverain pacifique qui négligea la guerre contre les Hittites à ses portes et son armée, si bien que les prêtres et prêtresses qui ne vénéraient pas (ou pas seulement )Aton se liguèrent avec l’armée pour renverser le souverain.
    Ses effigies furent systématiquement détruites, son nom effacé comme il était de coutume, et ses « disciples » envoyés en exil.

    Ces faits historiques dont nous avons désormais des sources, prévalent-ils à la légende de Moïse comme le souligne Sigmund Freud en 1939 ?

    L’on sait désormais que les fameux « rouleaux de la Torah » ont été miraculeusement découverts par son grand prêtre Helkias sous son Temple de Jérusalem à une période où il lui était nécessaire d’asseoir son pouvoir et de centraliser son culte à Jérusalem, justement.

    Il est par ailleurs décrit comme « le roi le plus sensible sensible à la loi de Moïse qui ait jamais gouverné » et ce n’est pas pour rien… Josias imposa son culte par la guerre et par la terreur.

    Dans le cadre du mazdéïsme et du zûrvanisme, religions dont il nous reste si peu à travers le zoroastrisme dont les Parsis cachent le dualisme pudiquement derrière nos religions sémitiques (l’Islam pour l’Iran) encore aujourd’hui, le yézidisme, le yârsanisme, sont aussi issus du mazdéïsme.
    Nous avons dans le mazdéïsme un principe tripartite transmis plus tardivement par Zoroastre au XIème siècle av.JC. :
    Spenta Manju est le principe de création du monde, de fertilité, d’abondance, sorte d’ »esprit saint » et bienveillant, en découle et se révèle Ahura Mazda, divinité de sagesse et Angra Manju, divinité courroucée associée à la foudre.
    Ahura Mazda devient peu à peu divinité unique après Zoroastre et l’Angra Manju devient figure du mal à combattre, un mauvais pendant à retrancher, sacrifier, l’Angra Manju, prototype du « bouc émissaire » des hébreux ?
    Spenta Manju est réintroduite en Zûrvan/Khavashîzag, chez les zervanistes comme divinité créatrice suprême, à la fois hors du temps et temporalité ultime.
    Elle engendre deux jumeaux :
    En premier l’Angra Manju puis Ahura Mazda, elle rejette ensuite le premier car il est « ténébreux et puant », ne le reconnaissant pas comme son fils, mais accepte le second qui est « lumineux et parfumé ».
    Pourtant, ils étaient nés parfaitement égaux.
    Angra Manju le courroucé règnera sur le monde puisqu’il est né en premier et y portera sa haine.
    Ahura Mazda, reconnu par la divinité suprême règnera sur les cieux et apportera la lumière.

    Peut on y voir un prototype du mythe de Caïn et d’Abel chez les hébreux ?

    Il est intéressant d’observer que dans ces trois ébauches de monothéïsmes, à savoir le culte d’Aton comme dieu unique dans l’Egypte d’Akhénaton au XIVème siècle av. JC. , celui du seul Ahura Mazda chez les zoroastriens du XI siècle av. JC. , puis le tardif monothéïsme yahwite que l’on peut situer au VIIème siècle av. JC. , seul ce dernier a perduré comme « prototype » de religion monothéïste dominante à ce jour, étudions donc le contexte d’une religion qui a si bien réussi.


    A strange drawing found in Sinai could undermine our entire idea of Judaism

    Is that a 3,000-year-old picture of god, his penis and his wife depicted by early Jews at Kuntillet Ajrud?

    More than four decades after its excavation wound down, a small hill in the Sinai Desert continues to bedevil archaeologists. The extraordinary discoveries made at Kuntillet Ajrud, an otherwise nondescript slope in the northern Sinai, seem to undermine one of the foundations of Judaism as we know it.

    Then, it seems, “the Lord our God” wasn’t “one God.” He may have even had a wife, going by the completely unique “portrait” of the Jewish deity that archaeologists found at the site, which may well be the only existing depiction of YHWH.

    Kuntillet Ajrud got its name, meaning “the isolated hill of the water sources,” from wells at the foot of the hill. It is a remote spot in the heart of the desert, far from any town or or trade route. But for a short time around 3,000 years ago, it served as a small way station.
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    Dozens of drawings and inscriptions, resembling nothing whatever found anywhere else in our region, survived from that period, which seems to have lasted no longer than two or three decades. Egypt gained the artifacts with the peace treaty with Israel 25 years ago, but the release of the report on the excavation six years ago and a book about the site two years ago have kept the argument over the exceptional findings from the hill in Sinai alive.
    Kuntillet Ajrud
    Kuntillet Ajrud

    The hill lies 50 kilometers south of Kadesh Barnea and 15 kilometers west of the ancient Darb el-Ghazza route, which led from Gaza to the Read Sea’s Gulf of Eilat. Its unique qualities were first noticed in 1870 by the British explorer Edward Palmer who discovered a fragment of a clay jar, a pithos, marked with the Hebrew letter aleph.
    Kuntillet Ajrud.

    Later, in 1902, a Czech orientalist and explorer, Alois Musil, was attacked by local Bedouins who claimed that he was defiling a holy site. Exploration would only resume in 1975, by the Tel Aviv University archaeologist Ze’ev Meshel, as part of a collaboration between the university and the Israel Exploration Society.

    The excavation showed that Kuntillat Ajrud was what’s called a “single-layer site,” meaning, it had been occupied for just one period, which the excavators dated to the late ninth century or early eighth century B.C.E.

    Meshel estimated that it had been occupied very briefy, 25 years at most. Structure-wise, the excavators only found two fairly simple, unimpressive structures. The wonder lay in the drawings and inscriptions.
    Ancient Hebrew writing on the rim of a bowl found at Kuntillet Ajrud, dating to about 3,000 years ago

    At first the archaeologists thought that the place was a military fortress. Other fortresses from the First Temple period had been found in the Negev. But no evidence that there had been a military presence was found, and in the third excavation season, Meshel decided that the structures weren’t that sort.
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    Nor would Kuntillet Ajrud have been suitable as an inn for travelers: it was too small and was off the beaten track. Nor did it seem to match any of the criteria of a trade station.
    Ancient Hebrew writing found at Kuntillet Ajrud

    The first hint at the true character of Kuntillet Ajrud was the discovery of pottery fragments inscribed with ancient Hebrew letters: quf, quf resh, aleph and yud.

    Analysis of the clay from which the pithos (pottery jars) was intriguing. The pots were made of hawar motza, clay only found by Jerusalem. In other words, the jars had been made in area of Jerusalem, which was certainly far away.

    Among the inscriptions were a blessing and religious texts. That and the origin of the clay suggested to Meshel that the residents were priests and Levites, who were supported by tithes collected in the Temple in Jerusalem.
    Animal images found at Kuntillet Ajrud

    In line with the spirit of this interpretation, he also interpreted the letters on the dishes: quf as standing for kodesh (holy), quf-resh as the first two letters in the word korban (sacrifice), and aleph for a korban asham (guilt offering).

    The letter yud, Meshel suggests, may represent a vessel that had been used to continued tithes, though he himself casts doubt on that theory: “In First Temple times, they used Egyptian numbers,” he points out.

    Another inscription found there argues that the hill had been peopled by a literate elite and even hints at the presence of a school. One vessel contains the Hebrew alphabet twice — one in the crisp, competent handwriting of a well-trained scribe and another in what researchers suspect was the hesitant handwriting of a student.

    If all this is true, what was a small group of priests and Levites doing in the middle of the desert?

    When King Yoash conquered Judah
    Depiction of god and his wife? Found at Kuntillet Ajrud

    Meshel thinks the people dwelling at the site were providing an essential service: writing blessings. But from who, for who? The story gets even more complicated when one examines the site through the lens of geopolitics.

    At the time the hill was occupied, the kingdom of Israel existed in the north, ruled from Samaria. The kingdom of Judah existed in the south and had its capital in Jerusalem.

    However, the names and inscriptions found at Kuntillat Ajrud seem to be Israelite, not Judahite. It seems to have been an Israelite site — far, far to the south of Israel and even south of the Judah border.
    Reconstruction of what may be the image of King Yoash, possibly the only known contemporary portrait of a Judahite king. Found at Kuntillet Ajrud

    Why would one kingdom maintain a religious site at the far end of another kingdom?

    Meshel thinks the Israelite presence in or beyond the Judean kingdom, and the fact that Jerusalem (the capital of Judah) provisioned this way station of the rival kingdom, indicates that at the time the kingdom of Israel was, or was turning into, a regional power.

    Judah was a vassal state subject to the more powerful northern kingdom, he thinks.

    As for why Judahite Jerusalem would provision this Israelite-manned hilltop in the middle of nowhere, Meshel suspects it all comes down to Kuntillat Ajrud having been founded by none other than King Yoash of Israel.

    “The bible says that war broke out between Amatzia, king of Judah, and Yoash, king of Israel,” he says. Thus the Israelite king Yoash gained control of Judah.

    It would have been convenient for Yoash to provision Kuntillat Ajrud from the Temple in Judah. Why would he have sent up north to bring supplies for it from Israel, Meshel asks rhetorically.

    If indeed Meshel is right and King Yoash founded the site, he may be the figure drawn on plaster at the entrance of the building.

    The drawing, possibly of the king, was restored by Prof. Pirhiya Bar based on similar drawings from the ancient east, in which the royal figure holds a lotus flower. It is a reasonable possibility that the figure depicted at Kuntillet Ajrud was a ruler or king, and if so, then it is the only contemporary visual description we have of a king from biblical times.

    “I told myself look at the luck I had, finding the only drawing of a king from the First Temple period,” says Meshel.

    A picture of God, and is that his tail

    Kuntillet Ajrud also brought images of animals, humans and what seems to be gods.
    Kuntillet Ajrud

    The one causing the controversy shows a man and a women, drawn naively, with crowned heads and holding hands. The man has either a tail or a large penis, and above him the blessing “Yahweh and his Asherah” is written.

    Could the couple on the pithos be a rendering of God and his wife Asherah, the only one ever found?

    Dr. Yigal Bin Nun, a researcher and author of “A Brief History of YHWH.” has no doubt. “If you want to step away from reality then you can say this or that, but if you look at it as it is you can’t ignore the truth,” he says.

    Among the detractors are Prof. Tallay Ornan, who has studied the images at the site, and Prof. Shmuel Ahituv, an acclaimed ancient inscriptions researcher. Both contributed to a book on the topic together with Meshel and Esther Eshel, published last year.

    They think these figures show the minor Egyptian deity Bes, not YHWH, the Jewish god.

    “Bes is a dwarf who was the deity of witches,” Ahituv says, adding that in his view, the picture shown wouldn’t befit a major divinity.

    Defending the picture as that of YHWH, Ben Nun an Israelite religious site on the border of Judah, under the political auspices of Assyria, would be unlikely to hail Bes, or any Egyptian god or symbol. Egypt was considered hostile. “The Bes explanation is completely illogical,” Ben Nun says.

    Furthermore, it’s hard to make sense of the writing “YHWH and his Asherah” without suspecting that this god, at least according to the people on this hill, was married.

    God of the south and god of the north

    Other phrases found at the site also challenge the known pantheon of Israelite faith. “Yahweh of Teman and his Asherah” and “Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah,” for example, were also found inscribed at the site.

    These are doubly outrageous. If God is one, then how can there be god for the north (Shomron) and for the south (Yemen, still called Teman in Hebrew)?

    To make matters worse, does the word “Asherah,” formulated as “his Asherah”, hint that the gods of Israel had a wife? If so, where has she gone?

    For Meshel, the site’s main researcher, the issue remains unresolved.

    He and Ben Nun suspect the site brings insight to the beliefs of the people living here 3,000 years ago. They did not worship a single al-powerful deity: they were devoted to a pantheon of gods.

    It has also long been known that households with Jewish hallmarks, certainly in the First Temple era and later too, also had images of other gods, a.k.a, figurines.

    If anything the discoveries at Kuntillet Ajrud indicate that in the late ninth century B.C.E. or the early eighth, the idea of a single deity had not yet consolidated, suggests Meshel. “In this religious reality YHWH is local, for the city, the village, for Shomron and for Teman (Yemen).”

    The sheer fact that Kuntillet Ajrud was so far-flung is what enabled it to survive, Meshel further claims – albeit not for long.

    Come the seventh century B.C.E., Josiah King of Judah spearheaded a profound religious reformation, that included centralizing ritual sacrifice in Jerusalem and destroying competing sites.

    By that time, Kuntillet Ajrud was long since abandoned. Meshel suspects the kingdom simply forgot about it.

    Ahituv rejects this whole analysis and thinks that Ashera referred to a tree. Or maybe a thing or place. But not an independent female divinity.

    “If you look at the Bible you can see that there is no sacrifice for Ashera – but rather the ashera is chopped down ahead of war,” he says. “It may be a tree but it was not an independent being.”

    Regarding the varying names of Jehovah, Ahituv says these are different manifestations of the same god, “its like there are different manifestations of the Holy Mary in different places and everyone knows it’s the same Mary.”

    Meshel does not agree: “If you read the phrase as is, clearly the meaning is that she is his partner.”

    “The Bible reads: Ashera pesel (Ashera statue) — the statue had to represent someone. We can’t just say it was a log,” Ben Nun bolsters the point. Some also believe the early Jews worshipped trees.

    This argument is bound to continue even though access to the actual findings is impossible. As part of the deal with Egypt, all archaeological findings were returned to Cairo in 1993. They have not been shown to the public since then. Meshel fears Kuntillet Ajrud will be forgotten again.

    More than four decades after its excavation wound down, a small hill in the Sinai Desert continues to bedevil archaeologists. The extraordinary discoveries made at Kuntillet Ajrud, an otherwise nondescript slope in the northern Sinai, seem to undermine one of the foundations of Judaism as we know it.

    Then, it seems, “the Lord our God” wasn’t “one God.” He may have even had a wife, going by the completely unique “portrait” of the Jewish deity that archaeologists found at the site, which may well be the only existing depiction of YHWH.

    Kuntillet Ajrud got its name, meaning “the isolated hill of the water sources,” from wells at the foot of the hill. It is a remote spot in the heart of the desert, far from any town or or trade route. But for a short time around 3,000 years ago, it served as a small way station.
    quick newsletter registration

    Breaking news and analyses straight to your inbox
    Click Here

    Dozens of drawings and inscriptions, resembling nothing whatever found anywhere else in our region, survived from that period, which seems to have lasted no longer than two or three decades. Egypt gained the artifacts with the peace treaty with Israel 25 years ago, but the release of the report on the excavation six years ago and a book about the site two years ago have kept the argument over the exceptional findings from the hill in Sinai alive.
    Kuntillet Ajrud

    The hill lies 50 kilometers south of Kadesh Barnea and 15 kilometers west of the ancient Darb el-Ghazza route, which led from Gaza to the Read Sea’s Gulf of Eilat. Its unique qualities were first noticed in 1870 by the British explorer Edward Palmer who discovered a fragment of a clay jar, a pithos, marked with the Hebrew letter aleph.
    Kuntillet Ajrud.

    Later, in 1902, a Czech orientalist and explorer, Alois Musil, was attacked by local Bedouins who claimed that he was defiling a holy site. Exploration would only resume in 1975, by the Tel Aviv University archaeologist Ze’ev Meshel, as part of a collaboration between the university and the Israel Exploration Society.

    The excavation showed that Kuntillat Ajrud was what’s called a “single-layer site,” meaning, it had been occupied for just one period, which the excavators dated to the late ninth century or early eighth century B.C.E.

    Meshel estimated that it had been occupied very briefy, 25 years at most. Structure-wise, the excavators only found two fairly simple, unimpressive structures. The wonder lay in the drawings and inscriptions.
    Ancient Hebrew writing on the rim of a bowl found at Kuntillet Ajrud, dating to about 3,000 years ago

    Clay from Jerusalem

    At first the archaeologists thought that the place was a military fortress. Other fortresses from the First Temple period had been found in the Negev. But no evidence that there had been a military presence was found, and in the third excavation season, Meshel decided that the structures weren’t that sort.
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    Nor would Kuntillet Ajrud have been suitable as an inn for travelers: it was too small and was off the beaten track. Nor did it seem to match any of the criteria of a trade station.
    Ancient Hebrew writing found at Kuntillet Ajrud

    The first hint at the true character of Kuntillet Ajrud was the discovery of pottery fragments inscribed with ancient Hebrew letters: quf, quf resh, aleph and yud.

    Analysis of the clay from which the pithos (pottery jars) was intriguing. The pots were made of hawar motza, clay only found by Jerusalem. In other words, the jars had been made in area of Jerusalem, which was certainly far away.

    Among the inscriptions were a blessing and religious texts. That and the origin of the clay suggested to Meshel that the residents were priests and Levites, who were supported by tithes collected in the Temple in Jerusalem.
    Animal images found at Kuntillet Ajrud

    In line with the spirit of this interpretation, he also interpreted the letters on the dishes: quf as standing for kodesh (holy), quf-resh as the first two letters in the word korban (sacrifice), and aleph for a korban asham (guilt offering).

    The letter yud, Meshel suggests, may represent a vessel that had been used to continued tithes, though he himself casts doubt on that theory: “In First Temple times, they used Egyptian numbers,” he points out.

    Another inscription found there argues that the hill had been peopled by a literate elite and even hints at the presence of a school. One vessel contains the Hebrew alphabet twice — one in the crisp, competent handwriting of a well-trained scribe and another in what researchers suspect was the hesitant handwriting of a student.

    If all this is true, what was a small group of priests and Levites doing in the middle of the desert?

    When King Yoash conquered Judah
    Depiction of god and his wife? Found at Kuntillet Ajrud

    Meshel thinks the people dwelling at the site were providing an essential service: writing blessings. But from who, for who? The story gets even more complicated when one examines the site through the lens of geopolitics.

    At the time the hill was occupied, the kingdom of Israel existed in the north, ruled from Samaria. The kingdom of Judah existed in the south and had its capital in Jerusalem.

    However, the names and inscriptions found at Kuntillat Ajrud seem to be Israelite, not Judahite. It seems to have been an Israelite site — far, far to the south of Israel and even south of the Judah border.
    Reconstruction of what may be the image of King Yoash, possibly the only known contemporary portrait of a Judahite king. Found at Kuntillet Ajrud

    Why would one kingdom maintain a religious site at the far end of another kingdom?

    Meshel thinks the Israelite presence in or beyond the Judean kingdom, and the fact that Jerusalem (the capital of Judah) provisioned this way station of the rival kingdom, indicates that at the time the kingdom of Israel was, or was turning into, a regional power.

    Judah was a vassal state subject to the more powerful northern kingdom, he thinks.

    As for why Judahite Jerusalem would provision this Israelite-manned hilltop in the middle of nowhere, Meshel suspects it all comes down to Kuntillat Ajrud having been founded by none other than King Yoash of Israel.

    “The bible says that war broke out between Amatzia, king of Judah, and Yoash, king of Israel,” he says. Thus the Israelite king Yoash gained control of Judah.

    It would have been convenient for Yoash to provision Kuntillat Ajrud from the Temple in Judah. Why would he have sent up north to bring supplies for it from Israel, Meshel asks rhetorically.

    If indeed Meshel is right and King Yoash founded the site, he may be the figure drawn on plaster at the entrance of the building.

    The drawing, possibly of the king, was restored by Prof. Pirhiya Bar based on similar drawings from the ancient east, in which the royal figure holds a lotus flower. It is a reasonable possibility that the figure depicted at Kuntillet Ajrud was a ruler or king, and if so, then it is the only contemporary visual description we have of a king from biblical times.

    “I told myself look at the luck I had, finding the only drawing of a king from the First Temple period,” says Meshel.

    A picture of God, and is that his tail

    Kuntillet Ajrud also brought images of animals, humans and what seems to be gods.
    Kuntillet Ajrud

    The one causing the controversy shows a man and a women, drawn naively, with crowned heads and holding hands. The man has either a tail or a large penis, and above him the blessing “Yahweh and his Asherah” is written.

    Could the couple on the pithos be a rendering of God and his wife Asherah, the only one ever found?

    Dr. Yigal Bin Nun, a researcher and author of “A Brief History of YHWH.” has no doubt. “If you want to step away from reality then you can say this or that, but if you look at it as it is you can’t ignore the truth,” he says.

    Among the detractors are Prof. Tallay Ornan, who has studied the images at the site, and Prof. Shmuel Ahituv, an acclaimed ancient inscriptions researcher. Both contributed to a book on the topic together with Meshel and Esther Eshel, published last year.

    They think these figures show the minor Egyptian deity Bes, not YHWH, the Jewish god.

    “Bes is a dwarf who was the deity of witches,” Ahituv says, adding that in his view, the picture shown wouldn’t befit a major divinity.

    Defending the picture as that of YHWH, Ben Nun an Israelite religious site on the border of Judah, under the political auspices of Assyria, would be unlikely to hail Bes, or any Egyptian god or symbol. Egypt was considered hostile. “The Bes explanation is completely illogical,” Ben Nun says.

    Furthermore, it’s hard to make sense of the writing “YHWH and his Asherah” without suspecting that this god, at least according to the people on this hill, was married.

    God of the south and god of the north

    Other phrases found at the site also challenge the known pantheon of Israelite faith. “Yahweh of Teman and his Asherah” and “Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah,” for example, were also found inscribed at the site.

    These are doubly outrageous. If God is one, then how can there be god for the north (Shomron) and for the south (Yemen, still called Teman in Hebrew)?

    To make matters worse, does the word “Asherah,” formulated as “his Asherah”, hint that the gods of Israel had a wife? If so, where has she gone?

    For Meshel, the site’s main researcher, the issue remains unresolved.

    He and Ben Nun suspect the site brings insight to the beliefs of the people living here 3,000 years ago. They did not worship a single al-powerful deity: they were devoted to a pantheon of gods.

    It has also long been known that households with Jewish hallmarks, certainly in the First Temple era and later too, also had images of other gods, a.k.a, figurines.

    If anything the discoveries at Kuntillet Ajrud indicate that in the late ninth century B.C.E. or the early eighth, the idea of a single deity had not yet consolidated, suggests Meshel. “In this religious reality YHWH is local, for the city, the village, for Shomron and for Teman (Yemen).”

    The sheer fact that Kuntillet Ajrud was so far-flung is what enabled it to survive, Meshel further claims – albeit not for long.

    Come the seventh century B.C.E., Josiah King of Judah spearheaded a profound religious reformation, that included centralizing ritual sacrifice in Jerusalem and destroying competing sites.

    By that time, Kuntillet Ajrud was long since abandoned. Meshel suspects the kingdom simply forgot about it.

    Ahituv rejects this whole analysis and thinks that Ashera referred to a tree. Or maybe a thing or place. But not an independent female divinity.

    “If you look at the Bible you can see that there is no sacrifice for Ashera – but rather the ashera is chopped down ahead of war,” he says. “It may be a tree but it was not an independent being.”

    Regarding the varying names of Jehovah, Ahituv says these are different manifestations of the same god, “its like there are different manifestations of the Holy Mary in different places and everyone knows it’s the same Mary.”

    Meshel does not agree: “If you read the phrase as is, clearly the meaning is that she is his partner.”

    “The Bible reads: Ashera pesel (Ashera statue) — the statue had to represent someone. We can’t just say it was a log,” Ben Nun bolsters the point. Some also believe the early Jews worshipped trees.

    This argument is bound to continue even though access to the actual findings is impossible. As part of the deal with Egypt, all archaeological findings were returned to Cairo in 1993. They have not been shown to the public since then. Meshel fears Kuntillet Ajrud will be forgotten again.


    Continued: Notes on “Civilizations of the Ancient Near East”

    This is a continuation of my current project. Click here for the first post which outlines the project.

    Palaces and Temples in Canaan and Ancient Israel (Vol. 1-2, William G. Dever, 605-614).

    • Utilizes the terms “Syria” and “Palestine” to avoid ethnic and time-bound terms (605).
    • For my purposes, I am not too interested in palaces.
    • Temples
      • Easier to identify because they held to a stereotypical style (607).
      • Smaller sanctuaries and private shrines often remain enigmatic (607).
      • Main ways to think of this region’s temples:
        • Houses for the gods
        • consecrated for sacred usage
        • run by priests
        • worship consisted of offering gifts, like food and drink.
          • Often times, the gods were related to aspects of fertility.
          • Temple at En-gedi on a hill top with pits for offerings and an open area.
          • Later temples were constructed atop this site.
          • Four basic types
            • Two long room types
              • In these, they may have served both a religious and administrative function.
              • Three-room, tripartite temple became standard.
                • I should look up pictures of these Temples and show this aspect of religion visually. Material culture is good.
                • Small sanctuaries with one or two rooms, plus a side room.
                • Bench around wall central altar on back wall for worshippers.
                • See for reference Amenhotep III Stratum VII and Sety I Stratum VI temples at Beth She’an, Tel Mevorakh Stratum VIII temple, and three temples at Lachish “Faosse Temples”
                • At Hazor, the “Stelae Temple” of Area C has ten basalt standing stones. See also “Summit Temple at Lachish and Dayr ‘Alla in the Jordan valley.
                • This is the most relevant for my writing. The previous data offers the historical and archaeological heritage of ancient Israelite temples.
                • Best preserved Philistine temple is Strata XII-X, 12th-10th century, at Tell Qasile.
                • Similar to bench temples in the Late Bronze Age however, these ones had Aegean features, like votive offerings in large storeroom behind the altar. Also, a large outer court.
                • Israelite temples
                  • Dan on the border of Palestine
                    • Open air sacrificial podium
                    • adjacent two room temple with altars.
                    • Among finds were male and female figurines, incense stands, miniature altars, incense offering shovels.
                    • Dates to 10th to 8th century and reflects 1 Kings 12:31, the period in which Jereboam ruled.
                    • Same period as the Dan temple
                    • tripartite structure
                    • large sacrificial altar in open forecourt
                    • smaller altars in inner chambers
                    • Incense stands
                    • bronze lion
                    • “two shallow plate sinscribed with an abbreviated Hebrew formula that probably means “sanctificed for the priests” (1-2.611).
                    • These were not temples rather, ‘private shrines for family use” (611).
                    • Short list
                      • Shrine 2081 at Megiddo, “cult building” at Taanach, Tell al-Far’a gateway shrine, “Cult Room 49” at Lachish.
                      • The aforementioned are all dated to the 10th century BCE.
                      • Dever says 8th century however, I have an article which, based on Carbon Dating, suggests that Kuntillet Ajrud can be dated back to the 10th century BCE. Thus, it would match with the Short list provided.
                      • Inscribed stone votive bowl
                        • What does this mean and what was inscribed on it?
                        • Blessing formulas relate to El, Baal, Yahweh, and Aherah.
                        • Still, though, it is primarily Israelite-Judean.
                        • Dated the seventh century.
                        • Edomite
                          • Many terra-cottta deity representations.
                          • My thought: Based on the existence of many other temples through Palestine in the 10th century, Solomon’s Temple is not implausible to imagine. Although, it may not have been as grand as 1 Kings 6-7 describes it.
                          • palace-temple combinations from the 9th-8th centuries
                            • Zincirli and Tell Halaf in Syria
                            • These complexes support the possibility of a palace-temple complex constructed by Solomon.
                            • King appointed priests, at least for the main place of worship
                            • King also acted as a religious official.
                            • Offerings to gods were often claimed by the kings.
                            • “royal and priestly structures served a crucial social role in both centralizing and legitimizing national ideology” (612).
                              • While I completely agree with this, I do think that it needs to be nuanced. What distinguishes palace-temple complexes, and the god-king-priest relationship therein, in a West Semitic context from an East Semitic context? While there is overlap, I think that Sanders’ book may help to clarify this issue. It will help me to localize Israelite-Judean religion.
                              • Temples indicated signs of wealth among Canaanite, Judean, and Israelite rulers.
                                • Less than Egypt or Mesopotamia, of course.
                                • For actual religious practice, it is tough.
                                • By looking at what was offered, though, we can understand what sort of things were given as offering to the gods, or god.
                                • Object recovered at Tel Mevorakh (Strata XI-X, c. 1400-1200) were divided into three categories
                                  • votives or costly gifts
                                  • vessels for food and drink offerings.
                                    • Like stone cup, mortar, mini libation table.
                                    • Like snake figure, dagger, arrowheads
                                    • Likely to El, Asherah, Ball, or ‘Anat by this period Yahweh is not a deity in the region.
                                    • Still, these offerings from a LBA help us to understand what constituted religious worship in the heritage of ancient Judean-Israel religion.

                                    Brief notes on Legal and Social Institutions in Canaan and Ancient Israeli, by Hector Avalos

                                    • Priests often served as judges (622).
                                    • Priests usually inherited their position (623).
                                    • There were very structured temple hierarchies (623).
                                      • This is shared in Phoenician and Hebrew texts (623).
                                      • Each one expresses the hierarchies in a different way (623).

                                      Brief notes on Ahab of Israel and Jehoshaphat of Judah by Joseph Blenkinsopp


                                      Ancient Egyptian fortress built by Ramses II reveals its secrets

                                      An ancient Egyptian fortress built by the Pharaoh Ramses II is revealing its secrets to archaeologists.

                                      Researchers discovered the remains of two new buildings at the fortress site in Beheira Governorate northwest of Cairo, Egypt Today reports.

                                      The circular-shaped buildings were used as stores, according to a Facebook post by Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. Animal bones were found within the silos.

                                      Ancient pottery was also discovered during the excavation, as well as pottery kilns. Officials note that ancient Egyptians roasted grain to remove insects.

                                      Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great, ruled Egypt from 1279 B.C. to 1213 B.C. He is credited with expanding Egypt's reach as far as modern Syria to the east and Sudan to the south.

                                      Egypt continues to reveal fresh details of its rich history. Archaeologists recently uncovered an ancient cemetery near the famous Giza pyramids just outside Cairo.

                                      In a separate project, experts uncovered the 2,500-year-old remains of a powerful high priest in dramatic fashion.

                                      Illustration of King of Egypt Ramses II (aka Rameses) riding in a chariot with lions, being restrained by servants, walking beside him. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

                                      The secrets of a mysterious “Tomb of the Warriors” were also recently revealed in a PBS documentary, and solving an ancient puzzle, archaeologists discovered the wreck of an extremely rare vessel that traveled the Nile around 2,500 years ago.

                                      In another project, archaeologists recently found a large ram-headed sphinx that is linked to King Tutankhamun’s grandfather. In other projects, a teenage girl’s skeleton was discovered in a mysterious grave near the Meidum pyramid, south of Cairo.

                                      In April, experts announced the discovery of dozens of mummies in ancient desert burial chambers. Archaeologists also recently explained the strange brown spots on some of the paintings in King Tutankhamun’s tomb.

                                      In January, archaeologists announced the discovery of ancient tombs in the Nile Delta north of Cairo. In a separate project, two ancient tombs dating back to the Roman period were uncovered in Egypt’s Western Desert.

                                      In another project, archaeologists discovered a stunning sphinx statue at an ancient temple in southern Egypt.

                                      Last summer, experts unlocked the secrets of a mysterious ancient ‘cursed’ black granite sarcophagus. The massive coffin, which was excavated in the city of Alexandria, was found to contain three skeletons and gold sheets with the remains.

                                      Archaeologists also found the oldest solid cheese in the tomb of Ptahmes, mayor of the ancient city of Memphis.

                                      A mummy buried in southern Egypt more than 5,000 years ago has also revealed its grisly secrets, shedding new light on prehistoric embalming practices.

                                      Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers


                                      Religion at Kuntillet ʿAjrud

                                      (3) klbbh “[Message of PN 1 , say to PN 2 : I bless you ]by Yahweh of the Teman and by his ʾasherah. [-------]whatever he asks from a man, he will give generously. In addition, if he petitions, then Yahwe(h) will give to him according to his desire”. Now here it becomes clear that we have a practice letter and after the formal opening, the second part (lines 2–3) forms the body of the scribal exercise. This type of exercise is not unusual in the near east. We have a remarkably similar student exercise at Ugarit ( KTU 5.9), which is a letter that begins with a formal introduction then proceeds in the body to include a “reciprocal formula” and then gives a humorous grammatical exercise of the verb ytn “to give” (Schniedewind forthcoming, chp. 5). Parallels to this reciprocal formula can be found in a variety of places. For example, in a Samʾalian Inscription, we find, wmz ʾšʾl mn ʾlhy ytn ly “And whatever I shall ask from my god, may he give to me” ( KAI 214:4), and later in the same inscription, wmh ʾšʾl mn ʾlhy mt ytnw ly “and whatever I shall ask from my god, surely he shall give me” (ll. 12–13). Scholars have also suggested several biblical correlates for Kuntillet ʿAjrud inscription, including: Ps 20:5 ytn lk klbbk “He shall give to you according to your desire” (also see Ps 37:21, 26 112:5). In sum, reciprocal-type formulas can be adduced in a variety of texts from a variety of places.


                                      Archaeology discovery: Ancient fortress matching a biblical structure found

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                                      Christianity ‘turned to archaeology to promote bible’ says expert

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                                      Measuring 60ft (19m) square, the two-story citadel had watchtowers in each corner and a courtyard paved with stone slabs and columns at its heart. Researchers date the structure to the 12th-century BC - an era described in Book of Judges as was plagued by warfare. The team believes the structure was built by the Canaanites and they were potentially assisted by their Egyptian overlords to fend off invading Philistines.

                                      Trending

                                      A hoard of pottery vessels, including ones probably used for religious rites, were discovered inside rooms arranged on both sides of the courtyard.

                                      Archaeology experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) uncovered the remains of the Canaanite fortification, situated 35 miles from Tel Aviv.

                                      Canaan was ruled by Egypt at that time and design elements and pottery fragments found at the site suggest Egyptian influence.

                                      A massive threshold was found intact at the entrance, carved from a single stone and weighing some three tons.

                                      xperts have discovered an ancient fortress in southern Israel (Image: IAA)

                                      READ MORE

                                      IAA archaeologists Saar Ganor and Itamar Weissbein said: &ldquoThe fortress we found provides a glimpse into the geopolitical reality described in the Book of Judges, in which the Canaanites, Israelites and Philistines are fighting each other.

                                      &ldquoIn this period, the land of Canaan was ruled by the Egyptians and its inhabitants were under their custody.&rdquo

                                      The citadel follows the design of Egyptian 'governor's houses' and some of the pottery found at the site imitates the style of Egyptian bowls.

                                      The Egyptians left Canaan in the middle of the 12th century BC.

                                      Two tiny Canaanite figures found in a 3,200-year-old temple in Israel (Image: Tal Rovgosovski)

                                      Without their protection, the Canaanites descended into territorial battles with the Israelites and Philistines and many of their strongholds and cities collapsed.

                                      The researchers added: &ldquoThe Israelites settled in unfortified communities on the central mountain ridge, while the Philistines gained great power in the southern coastal plain where they established large cities in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron and Gat.&rdquo

                                      The fortress' strategic location would have given it a good view of the main road that passed along Nahal Guvrin, a ravine connecting the coastal plain to the Judaean plain.

                                      The ruins were excavated with student volunteers from the Eretz Israel Dept. at the multidisciplinary school in Beer Sheva and from the Nachshon pre-military preparatory school.


                                      Watch the video: Ancient Greek Technology Αρχαία Ελληνική Τεχνολογία (October 2022).

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