Dr. Z. Meshel and A. Hai

WHERE ARE “YAHWEH AND HIS ASHERAH”? As part of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, Israel returned to Egypt boxes of antiquities that Israeli archaeologist Ze’ev Meshel had excavated from the eastern Sinai site of Kuntillet ‘Ajrud in the mid-1970s. Among these were two pithos drawings that had significant implications for ancient Israelite religion. One bears an inscription invoking “Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah” or “asherah.” Yahweh of Samaria refers to the northern title of the Israelite God. Asherah (with a capital “A”) is a well-known Canaanite goddess, who some scholars subsequently understood to be God’s consort in popular Israelite religion; with a lowercase “a” it is a wooden symbol of Yahweh. Below the inscription is a drawing of two bovine figures, as well as a seated woman with a lyre. There is debate over which (if any) of these figures represent Yahweh and Asherah. There is little doubt, however, about the symbolism in the other drawing from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (shown here). Here a flowering tree, flanked by two ibexes, atop a striding lion is clear iconography referring to the goddess Asherah.

These artifacts had been unseen since they were returned to Egypt. Following a break-in at a Sinai storage facility amid the recent unrest in Egypt, 30 truckloads of antiquities, including “Sinai artifacts that were retrieved from Israel,” were moved to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo for safekeeping.