Avraham Hai

Crude yet explict, this remarkable drawing from Kuntillet Ajrud, a ninth-century B.C. pilgrimage site or travelers way-station in Sinai, provides a rare window into an unusual aspect of ancient Israelite religion. This photo shows three figures drawn on what had been a storage jar; an inscription at top reads, “I have blessed you by Yahweh of Samaria and his asherah.” The figures are the subject of a fierce scholarly debate. Some have suggested that Yahweh is depicted at left, with his consort, the goddess Asherah, represented at either center or right. Others argue that both the left and center figures are the Egyptian god Bes in his typical arms-akimbo pose and topped by a feathered headdress. The figure at right, according to these scholars, is merely a lyre player.

When Israel gives this important find to Egypt, to whose culture it is marginal at best, will it be properly cared for? Will it even be accessible to the public?