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Sinai YHWH Artifacts Resurface In Egypt

from the March 22, 2011 eNews issue
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The Egyptian revolution has provided more than just the impetus for the Libyans to oust Gaddafi. It has brought to light Hebrew artifacts from the Sinai, hidden away by the Egyptians for more than thirty years.

Israel took advantage of the time it held control of the Sinai to excavate important archeological sites. Tel Aviv University archeologist Ze'ev Meshel unearthed artifacts bearing the name of YHWH from the ruins of Kuntillet Ajrud, an ancient way station in the northern part of the peninsula. Then came heartbreak for the Israeli archeologists;  the1979 peace agreement included terms that required Israel to hand over the finds from the Sinai, and these important pieces of the past were hidden away in Egypt.

Ancient Writing:
After the children of Israel were taken captive into Babylon, they began to take on the writing and vocabulary of the Babylonians. The change in the Hebrew text of the Bible is quite distinct. The first month of the Hebrew calendar is called "Abib" during the time of Moses (Exd 34:18; Deu 16:1), but after the Babylonian captivity, it is called "Nisan" (Neh 2:1; Est 3:7). The actual lettering used by the Hebrews was changed to the Babylonian form.  This is important to appreciate.  A popular scholastic position contends that the Torah was not written down until the exile.  Yet, when the pre-exile Scriptures contain only the older vocabulary and none of the new, it presents evidence that the writing was indeed done prior to the Babylonian captivity.

Several of the artifacts from Kuntillet Ajrud bear on them inscriptions in paleo-Hebrew, the pre-Babylonian form of Hebrew. They also include references to YHWH, the name of the God of Moses. One of the finds Ze'ev Meshel discovered in the 1970s was a 400-pound stone bowl on which was written in paleo-Hebrew, "(Belonging) to Ovadiah, son of Adnah, may he be blessed by Yahwe[h]."

Other inscriptions demonstrate the syncretism that the prophets so constantly spoke against. Ze'ev Meshel also had excavated two tall storage vessels with one inscription that refers to "Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah."  Another inscription refers to "Yahweh of Teman and his Asherah." Still other inscriptions refer to Ba'al.

Yahweh v. Asherah
Francesca Stavrakopoulou, a senior lecturer in the department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter, focuses on Israel's preoccupation with the asherah poles and the Canaanite fertility religions.  She goes on to make the case that these sorts of inscriptions show that Yahweh had a wife.

"Here was evidence that presented Yahweh and Asherah as a divine pair. And now a handful of similar inscriptions have since been found, all of which help to strengthen the case that the God of the Bible once had a wife," says Stavrakopoulou.

Edward Wright, president of both The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and The Albright Institute for Archaeological Research believes that the fact of God's wife was kicked out by male chauvinism.

"Asherah was not entirely edited out of the Bible by its male editors," he added. "Traces of her remain, and based on those traces, archaeological evidence and references to her in texts from nations bordering Israel and Judah, we can reconstruct her role in the religions of the Southern Levant."

Asherah was not edited out of the Bible at all, contrary to what Wright argues.  The fertilty goddess is mentioned 40 times in the Hebrew, and Yahweh made clear from Exodus that the Israelites were to get rid of the Canaanites' asherah poles. (The Hebrew word "asherah" is translated "grove" in the King James.) Apparently Yahweh didn't want Asherah for His wife.

"But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves. For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;" (Exd 34:13-15).

Archeologists often note that there was a mixture of religious traditions in ancient Israel, and that's no surprise; the Bible tells us just that. The LORD told the Israelites to cut down the asherah of the Canaanites, and yet the Israelites did not fully do so. In fact, many began to worship the very gods of the people God had sent them to destroy. During the time of the Judges, Yahweh told Gideon to cut down his father's asherah and to throw down his altar of Baal.

"But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire." (Deut 7:5)

"And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him [Gideon], Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove, that is by it: (Judges 6:25)

Sadly, the Israelites were still provoking Yahweh to anger by worshiping the "queen of heaven" during the time of Jeremiah (Jer 7:18; 44:17-25).

Troubling as they are theologically, syncretistic inscriptions like those on the storage vessels confirm the Bible's account of the nation's poor spiritual condition before the captivity, and even before the monarchy.  Yet, the artifacts have been stuck in an Egyptian storage facility for over 30 years.

After the 1979 peace agreement, the artifacts from Kuntillet Ajrud were handed over to Egypt and then not seen again.  After the archeological stores at Qantara on the eastern side of the Suez were looted recently, it was feared these items would be sold cheaply to the far corners of the globe. It turned out, however, that 30 truckloads of items, including the Sinai artifacts, had been moved from Qantara to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. They may still not be displayed, but at least we know where they are.

Israeli epigraphers will publish on the inscriptions, with the contribution of Ze'ev Meshel, the original excavator. It may be 35 years after the excavation that the publication finally comes out, but, in these sorts of cases, it's better late than never.

Related Links:

  •   Another Unexpected Surprise From The Egyptian Revolution - The Jerusalem Post
  •   Did God Have A Wife? Scholar Says He Did - Discovery News
  •   Religious Syncretism And The Prophets of the 8th Century - Scribd.com
  •   The Brazen Serpent - Koinonia House