A “portrait” uncovered decades ago from a 3,000 year old archeological site in the Sinai Desert provides evidence that early Jewish worshippers didn’t share the monotheistic beliefs of their descendants, according to Nir Hasson, who wrote a fascinating piece on the subject for Haaretz. What’s more, according to one archaeologist interviewed by Hasson, the findings suggest that these early Jews may even have believed that YHWH, the Jewish God, was married.
The origins of Kuntillet Ajrud, the archeological site in the Sinai where these contentious relics were found, are mysterious. Experts have debated whether the site served as an inn, a military fortress, or a trade station, while one archaeologist Hasson interviewed feels strongly that it was a religious site that contained a school. There is consensus that it dates from the period of the first temple.
In the 1970s, and 80’s, archaeologists recovered countless priceless artifacts at the site, including an archaic drawing that may or may not depict King Yoash of the ancient Kingdom of Israel, and pottery jars inlaid with ancient Hebrew writing.
By far the most controversial object found, however, is a simplistic depiction of a man and a woman that, according to Hasson, “seems to undermine one of the foundations of Judaism as we know it.” The image shows the couple “drawn naively, with crowned heads holding hands.” Above them is written, “Yahweh and his Asherah.” Strangely, YHWH is depicted with either a tail or a very large penis.
YHWH’s endowment aside, the image and its accompanying text seems to offer tantalizing clues to the nature of belief in ancient Israel. As Hasson writes, “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.” Other inscriptions at the site complicate things further: Archaeologists found the sentences “Yahweh and Teman and his Asherah” and “Yahweh of Samaria and his Aserah,” leading to theories that ancient Israelites’ faith was polytheistic.
Hasson reports that Kuntillet Ajrud has “bedeviled archaeologists” for decades — even though excavation there “wound down four decades ago.” A peace treaty between Israel and Egypt led to the latter country receiving the artifacts uncovered from the site 25 years ago. Even though excavation of the site has long since ended, as Hasson notes, an Egyptian government report about the artifacts released six years ago, and a book about the site released two years ago, have “kept the argument over the findings from the hill in Sinai alive.”