Jarvis Lecture on Christianity & Culture Part 2

Uploaded by ECU on 31.07.2008

At the foot of the altar there was found an incense stand.
We have dozens and dozens of these.
Here in the Israel museum we have moved up the top to show you that it is a removable bowl.
You could bring an offering of food or drink here.
Sometimes the bottom is open and through the windows incense could waft out.
So these are offering stands.
Again, they are never mentioned anywhere in the Hebrew Bible.
There is no reference to them because they were part of the popular cult.
And if you notice carefully, do you see the same thing we've seen earlier,
the trunk of the palm tree and the descending fronds of the tree?
What is wrong with trees?
Next. And not a pussy cat, a lion.
A lion found at the base of the altar.
So here again I suspect that we have a temple in which a pair of deities was worshipped;
a male deity Yahweh the god of Israel, and a female deity, the lion lady.
Next. Now here is a plan of the building again.
We have been looking at the outer court.
If you look to the left you see a long broad room, which is the middle court.
Then in the inside at the left you see the Holy of Holies.
Now in Israel, my name Dever is pronounced "Dev air", which is not nice in Israel.
It means plague or pestilence.
So I spell it a little bit different; Dever, the inner sanctum of the temple.
So I become Holy of Holies, which I like much better.
But here we have an example of the biblical dever, the inner chamber of the temple.
But I want you to look at what we have in the inner sanctum.
Next. Remember we talked about a masava[sp],
a standing stone that commemorates the appearance of the deity?
You can count as well as I do.
And do you see on the left the taller one?
On the right, the shorter one.
Now for a long time, Israeli archaeologists and biblical scholars wouldn't face the fact.
What is even more interesting is these two standing stones representing a pair
of deities were not found this way.
They were found carefully laid over on their side and buried under the plaster floor.
You have to suppose these date to the time of Josiah.
Josiah's emissaries came down from Jerusalem and said, "Oh, the King is not happy.
You have got to do something about this stuff.
Get rid of this stuff."
You have to be careful with sacred stones, so they buried them for a while
and then probably dug them back up.
So here is an attempt, I think, to purge the popular cult
of these pagan elements, which wasn't successful.
The way they stand now they have been re erected by the Israel antiquities authority.
But I think we have clear evidence here in an Israelite temple
of about the eighth century of a pair of deities.
Next. Now for a long time scholars thought, "Well this is not really an Israelite temple."
But now we have Hebrew ostraca, letters written on broken pits of pottery,
and some of them actually named priestly families
with the same names we have in the Bible.
There is even one letter, number 18, that talks about the temple of Yahweh,
and that is not the temple in Jerusalem.
It is the temple in Jurad [sp].
This is a perfect example of what Josiah tried to get rid of; these local cults.
If you read Second Kings 23, in the light of what we said,
his attempt at reform makes very good sense indeed.
Next. Now here is a most important archaeological site ever excavated
in Israel, namely mine.
[laughter] This is the site of [indecipherable site name], about 12 miles West of Hebron
where I began excavating after the '67 war.
On this particular lovely sunlit day in October we are chasing tomb robbers.
We never caught any of them, but we did salvage some material.
Here is the robbed cemetery of about the eighth century at the site
of [indecipherable site name], and it is probably the site of biblical Mace Da,
the background you see of the Arab village.
By the way, this area has changed completed today.
I no longer visit.
Next. Here is one of the tombs that the local Arabs had dug.
You see the hole in the left of the door.
It happens that I had bought an inscription in Jerusalem, and I managed to trace it
to this tomb and was able to prove that it came from here.
I paid very little for the inscription.
I was standing out in the field one day drawing a tomb
and an Arab came along with a stone under his arm.
He says in Arabic, "Ever buy inscriptions?"
Well inscriptions are so rare I had never actually seen one.
I said, "Sure.
All the time."
"How much do you pay?
Two Dinars?"
That is about $7.
I said, "I'll take it."
So I took it home and nearly fell over because here is what it says.
Next. Here you see the inscription with the hand of good luck,
the earliest example we have of that.
I will read the Hebrew inscription at the bottom for you.
It dates to about 750 B.C.E. It says something like this.
This is the tomb of Huri Ahu [sp], a good name known from the Bible;
the governor or the singer possibly.
And then the next two lines together read, "May he be blessed by Yahweh and saved
from his enemies by his Asherah [sp]."
Who's Asherah?
Yahweh's Asherah, and who or what is Asherah?
Now here is the problem.
Of the 40 occurrences of the Hebrew word Asherah in the Bible, most of them refer to a symbol
of the goddess; either a wooden pole or a living tree.
So the biblical writers always say, "You have got to cut that down and chop it
up and burn it because it is bad.
It is Canaanite."
But in some cases, the term Asherah must be the proper name of a goddess,
and it can only be the old Canaanite mother goddess.
So we have again contextual evidence.
Now being a young scholar, I found a more convenient reading
and I didn't publish what I really thought.
Years went by before I began to realize here we have a good standard Hebrew inscription
mentioning God and Asherah together as a pair in a context of blessing.
And now most scholars recognize this is one of our most important pieces of data
for Ancient Israelite popular religion.
Next. Now notice the head niches in the tomb.
The corpse rested in here with the head in a niche.
That doesn't seem so significant until we look at another tomb.
Next. This one is in Jerusalem right under the noses
of the priests and in the shadow of the temple.
You see the Hathor wig.
You see the same wig we saw earlier?
We used to say, well out in the countryside people were ignorant and superstition,
that is folk religion, but in the spiritual capitol, where orthodoxy prevails.
But here is the point.
Right in Jerusalem a Judean woman could rest in eternity with her head
in the wig of the mother goddess.
Next. Now here is a really remarkable site.
In the Sinai Peninsula, Contillet Agirud [sp] at the lower left here, now back in Egyptian hands.
But while the Israelites held the Sinai, this site was excavated, particularly in 1978.
Contillet Agirud another site of the eighth century.
Next. Here is a winter photograph showing the trails the Bedouins still follow in this remote
and hostile region of the Sinai desert.
Next. Here you see an aerial view of the hilltop site.
It is another one of these fortresses, like the one we saw at Tel Arad,
but this one has some peculiar features.
Next. Here is a winter photograph showing you the plastered walls
and benches and chambers of the gate.
You enter through a shrine to come into the fort.
So we have another gate shrine.
Next. Now here is the plan of the building.
The center part is open.
You see the cornered towers and the double walls.
To the right is a cooking area.
To the left is kind of a residential area.
And then off to the left is the little shrine we have speaking of.
This is what we call a Caravan Sarai or a desert stop over station.
This is like the Holiday Inn of the eighth century B.C. Travelers and traders came this way
and they stopped and sought shelter and provisions overnight.
Not surprising, they would make a prayer for a safe journey.
I would suggest if you are going to the Middle East today via JFK,
you should stop in one of the chapels, maybe all three.
It wouldn't hurt to cover all bases the way things are going.
It is natural that people should want a sanctuary along these desert trading routes
where they could perform rites that would ensure their safety and prosperity.
Next. Here is one of the dozens of Hebrew inscriptions.
We have more of it today, but if I had only this I would read something
like this, "Ate Yahweh May God Bless.
God Bless me."
These are graffiti.
These are not monumental inscriptions; not great literature.
Often we say, "Well graffiti doesn't tell us anything."
I must tell you.
If you want to understand the sophomore mind at a university you should look
at the graffiti in the men's room.
That will tell you a lot.
[laughter] So graffiti do reveal what people really think.
So let's pay attention to these.
Next. Now here is a wonderful offering, a votive offering; a big heavy stone bowl.
Somebody left it there.
And around the bottom is a perfect Hebrew inscription.
The names are right out of the Bible; Obadiah and Adnan.
At the end of the inscription you see, "Blessed may he be by Yahweh."
That is standard biblical Hebrew and Yahweh is clearly the name of the Israelite God.
Now in the beginning, scholars said, "Well this is a Pagan shrine.
It is way off in the Sinai."
No, it is far from the watchful eyes of the priests
in Jerusalem, but it is Israelite in Judea.
And that is what it is and the language is Hebrew.
Next. Now many of the large jars have painted motifs on them.
Look carefully at this one and sort of memorize the stance
of the mother cow and the suppling calf.
In the next slide we will show you the prototype for it.
Next. Same scene, except this is an ivory from north Syria standard Canaanite/Phoenician art.
So already at this Israelite site we see that the art is as we might say non Israelite.
Something funny is going on.
Next. Now, on one of the large storage jars there is a painted scene
and here you see a very common theme of Canaanite art, the sacred tree sort
of stylized here in the center at the top.
And then a pair of rampant horned animals usually thought to be wild goats.
There is no more common theme in Canaanite art.
So keep in mind once again we are coming back to the notion of the tree,
which is going to turn out to be important.
And dare I say, what you see below, a lion or lioness.
So this is religious art of a sense, of the kind
that you shouldn't ever find in Israel, anywhere.
Next. Now on one of the jars is a remarkable scene, a processional scene of some sort.
We don't have the rest of the jar so we're not sure
but either these people are advancing toward a deity in a gesture of prayer or supplication.
Or perhaps they are bringing gifts and the costume is very strange the style of the hair.
We don't know exactly what is going on but I always say to judge
from the way their hair is standing on the service was electrifying.
[laughter] But again, it is so unusual to find anything like this in Israelite art.
So who are these figures and who is the deity?
Next. Now here is part of a large storage jar.
We have it all.
It's back in Egyptian hands.
I want to show you the jar first so you don't think I made this up.
Now here's an artist's drawing of it.
Next. Well, well, well, what do we have here?
At the lower left the figure on the left seems to be male to judge from certain appendages.
The one on the right would appear to be female, but perhaps confused.
These probably are representations of the Egyptian dwarf god,
Bess which is both male and female.
It goes both ways.
And very often, Bess is shown as sort of short, bow legged figure, wearing a leopard skin.
So that might explain the figure on the right
which is really wearing a leopard skin and that's the tale, you see.
Bess was very common in Judah.
We find Bess figurines in tombs.
Bess is the god or the goddess or the pair of gods of good luck, dancing and singing
and celebration, a cultic figure.
An Egyptian pagan deity but much revered in ancient Judah.
So keep those two figures in mind, but the more interesting figure is the one
at the right for me.
Here you see a kind of dining room side chair and a seated figure who is nude
from the waist up, female apparently.
And playing a lyre it seems.
So who is she?
Next. Now years ago I published an article arguing that she was Asherah.
Nobody believed me for years.
Now most people do agree and they forgot where they learned it.
If we look at the parallels we realize that this is a lion throne.
Here you see an ivory from Megiddo about 1200 BC of a Canaanite king sitting on such a throne.
Notice how the wings, it's a winged lion, of course, but notice how the wings are swept
up to the back and notice the back of the chair is really the curved tail of the lion.
And then notice the club feet that sort of claw feet.
And notice because the throne is so big, there's a little foot stool.
So, who sits on lion thrones?
Not ordinary people.
Kings, queens, deities.
Next. Now here on the right is the famous sarcophagus of King Hiram of Tyre in the Louvre.
And notice that he is sitting on such a lion throne, too.
And then at the left we have a scene of Canaanite art from about 1400 BC,
years and years earlier and he is sitting on a very stylized throne.
Notice you hardly see the feathers of the wings.
They look like side panels in the chair.
But you see the club feet, the back turned tail and the stool.
Next. And here are two silver or electrum [sp] pendants from a site on the coast of Syria
and the one on the right is almost like the scene we have.
You have female figure with a polka dotted skirt holding what looks to be a lyre
and you see the lion throne, very stylized, you hardly recognize that it's a lion throne.
Now let's go back to [inaudible] Ajud [sp].
Next. You see what I see?
You see the club feet on the chair?
You see the feathers, the panels of the wings?
You see how the tail turns back?
And notice, because it's folk art, the artist forgot the stool.
There's no foot stool, her feet are dangling.
So here's my question, is this half nude female a Jewish housewife?
I don't think so.
Or perhaps even a princess or a queen or a queen mother?
No, I think she's a deity.
Now I want to read the Hebrew inscription at the top for you.
I won't read the whole thing.
It's another one of these blessing formulae, but it says something like: "Blessed be X,
" whoever it is and the bottom line reads,
"Blessed be X by Yahweh of Sumeria and his Asherah."
So, I argue this is Asherah, his Asherah, Yahweh's Asherah.
His consort.
Now of course in the minds of the Biblical writers that was impossibility.
They are strict monotheists.
But many people conceived of the deity as a pair, perhaps neither male or female or both.
Next. Now let's bring this together.
We talked mostly about the female gods of Canaan and Israel
but are more interested in the female deities.
Here on the left you see a typical Canaanite statuette of Baal
or Baal and on the right Aal [sp].
Remember that in the Hebrew Bible one of the two names of God is Aal,
the name of the old Canaanite male deity.
So even the names of the gods in the Hebrew Bible go back to Canaanite religion.
Next. Now here's a plaque from the coast of Syria, beautiful gold plagues,
showing you the goddess and look at the wig.
So we know who she is, the nude female.
And notice she is riding on her lion.
So this is the lion lady, Asherah the lion lady, the old mother goddess.
Next. Here's a plaque in the Winchester Museum in England showing you again the goddess
with a typical headdress, holding snakes and lotus blossoms and riding a lion.
And you all read Egyptian so together now we read the three names.
It gives all three of her names.
Kugoo [sp], the Holy One, Hathor [sp] Asherah and Ot and Astarte [sp].
So the mother goddess was everywhere, known by different names in different places
but she represents the great cosmic mother in all cases.
And she was not forgotten in ancient Israel.
Next. Now here are some plaques in the Harvard Semitic Museum and I hardly need to point
out what you are supposed to see here.
Look at the one at the top right.
Here you see the pubic triangle, greatly exaggerated.
And these are typical Canaanite fertility plaques.
I was lecturing some time ago and a woman from the audience said: Oh,
that triangular symbol is all over the place, still today.
And I said, what?
And she said: yes, it's all along the highway and it means yield.
Right on, lady.
Right on. So here's the great mother.
The mystery of the woman's ability to bring life into the world.
So we look at this and maybe we think it's obscene, but not to the ancients.
They saw the very source of life.
And they connected it with the gods who brought life.
Next. Now here's another representation.
This is sort of, as one of my woman colleagues says,
the mother goddess is the whore of the gods.
I mean, the blatant sexuality you can hardly miss here.
But I want to show you how different the Israelite and Judean was.
So keep this in mind, what it says about the mother as the consort of the gods
and what the Israelite, the Judean one say.
Next. Vast difference.
Only the breasts are modeled here.
And there was nothing obscene about nursing children.
Even in the villages, the Arab villages today, women nurse children in public.
They wouldn't do it in Jerusalem or on the streets, but they certain do.
And again you could say: well, these are found in the countryside but this comes
from Jerusalem, from the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem.
So this is what these typical 8th and 7th century fertility figurines look like,
the Judean pillar base figurines, as nursing mother.
Next. Now, here are some of the Phoenician ones
and I think they really do show a woman's position.
So she's probably human and not a goddess, but a human figure, perhaps a priestess
or a musician playing a tambourine.
Next. Here are some other Phoenician ones, not Israelite or Judean that show a pregnant woman.
And probably a human woman, not a deity, not a goddess.
Next. We also have Philistine ones.
Here is a neo philistine one from the site of the Telnic [sp]
where Laura has excavated as a principal staff member.
Her dissertation is based on some marvelous material from here.
And they are rather like the Judean ones
in that you see only the breasts, the lower body is not mentioned.
But they are very different.
There are ethnic markers for different groups, Phoenicians, Philistines,
neo Philistines, Israelites, Judeans, Canaanites.
Next. Now at Telnic we even have inscriptions in Phoenician talking about a shrine
for the goddess and giving her name.
So we know that Asherah was worshipped not only in Israel and Judah
but in the neighboring cultures as well.
Next. We have a few, I believe in a second projector.
I tried to give you a combination of both artifactual evidence and textural evidence
to complement the hints we have already in the Hebrew Bible.
Here are the horned altars we talked about earlier and we have said enough about them.
Once again, they were used for burning incense
but this should have been done in Jerusalem only.
Next. Here are the stands we talked about earlier and once again, you see how the base
of the column really does look like a tree with the fronds at the top.
This one could be used with a bowl at the top and for incense below.
Next. Here's one of the strangest ones I know.
It is an Israelite stand from the site of Ie [sp], northeast of Jerusalem.
It stands about three feet high.
You can imagine the bowl that was once on top.
That's fine and all the windows would be suitable if you are burning incense but notice
at the bottom that you have a row of feet.
Any Freudians in the audience here, I don't know what to say about this,
except somebody's got a foot fetish.
I think that nobody has ever paid much attention to this.
In my view, you couldn't model the male God of Israel.
That was going too far.
That was too much.
But you wanted to show that he was present.
How could you do that?
You could show his feet.
Now remember in the Hebrew Bible you are not supposed to be able to see God but you can talk
about his hands, his feet, his eyes, his ears, his mouth, almost everything he had.
So, think about it.
It's very difficult to conceive of God without some human images.
It's almost difficult to conceive of God as pure spirit.
So what you are going to do if you can't really make a picture of God.
Well, you are going to show his feet.
See, he's really here.
You can't see him, but he's here.
Next. We have all kinds of odd things.
Here at the top we have a little rattle.
I don't think it's a toy.
I think it had to do with music and dancing in the cult.
The little bowl in the middle at the top is an incense burner.
These are not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.
The one at the lower left is something we call a Carnoss [sp], a trick bowl.
It's a bowl that has a hollow rim.
You fill it full of oil or wine or milk or something and joggle it around
and then you turn it and the animal head pours out.
It's for libation offerings.
Libations offerings are described in the Bible.
But I have look everywhere in the Hebrew Bible, there isn't a hint of these vessels.
And yet we have lots of them from Israelite sites.
Now, in the lower right you see four quadrupeds.
One in particular, a horse.
Next. Here you see one of these trick vessels.
And you see how they work.
And again, the Biblical writers must have known about them but they just never mentioned them.
Next. Now here is one of these horse figurines, horse and writer figurines that we find
in tombs of the 8th and 7th centuries.
Among the various things that Josiah did it says in II King 23, "throw out of the temple
in Jerusalem all the horses and chariots of the gods.
What's that about?
Well, in the ancient world the gods who rode
across the heavens every day in their horse drawn chariots.
So that's the pagan imagery that Josiah is trying to get rid of, yet it survived.
Next. Here you see an example from Syria of what the horses and chariots of the gods looked like.
So there must have been models.
Furthermore II King 23 says that there were priests and priestesses
of Asherah right in the temple in Jerusalem.
The Biblical writers admit it.
They complain about it but they have to admit it to talk about it.
Next. And here again, and you see the Judean pillar base figurines
of which we have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds.
So we raise the question of who is she.
I argue that she is connected somehow with cult of Asherah.
Now it was thought at one time that only women possessed these
but I think they were used probably by men as well.
Certainly they have something to do with conception and childbirth and lactation.
There seems to be no doubt about that.
So I have argued in my book "Did God have a Life?"
that in the minds of many ancient Israelites there was a pair of deities.
Biblical scholars are generally agreed today
that monotheism did not emerge early in the age of Moses, let's say.
Or even in the period of the Judges or the Monarchy but only very late.
Until almost the end of Israelite and Judean history.
Most Israelites were polytheists.
Those who wrote the Bible were not.
But as I've said, they never quite got their way until the end.
In the end, after the temple was destroyed in 586 and Jerusalem was over run
and the survivors were carried off as captives first to Babylonia, to Assyria, then Babylonia.
Those who survived had already with the parts of the Bible
that soon would be written down as we have it.
And they reflected back on Israelite history.
They were the original revisionist historians.
And what they said was: see, this is where you went wrong.
Don't ever do this again or this tragedy with befall you.
And it's at that time that the survivors of the destruction
of the temple become, for the first time, monotheists.
Later on, of course, Judaism becomes rigidly monotheistic
but there are certainly reminiscences of Asherah,
the old Canaanite mother goddess in the Hebrew Bible.
Next. Here I want to show you finally that scene we saw earlier on a goblet
from a Canaanite temple in Judah.
Notice again the two rampart animals, the wild goats, but in place of the tree what do you see?
The pubic triangle.
Next. Now Ruth Hestron [sp] late of the Israel Museum figured this all out.
Whereas, mere men never could.
She pointed out that we have a whole collection of Canaanite amulets like this
and in every case you see the mother goddess
with a familiar Hathor wig, the breasts are modeled there.
And then you see the pubic triangle, but notice very carefully what she pointed out: that,
not to be indelicate about the matter, but that is not the dark streak
on a pregnant woman's abdomen or pubic hair, that is a tree.
A tree growing out of the vulva.
Next. And here you see a whole series of them.
Now we understand.
Again and again and again the Biblical writers complain about the Israelites who worship
on every high hill and under every green tree.
What's wrong with trees?
Because the tree is the image of the old mother goddess.
So we look at this and we don't see anything.
But those in antiquity who looked at it saw the tree and the mother standing behind the tree.
Now one of my Biblical colleagues says: well, the tree is only a symbol.
Only? Tell some Jew in Israel who survived the Holocaust that the Star
of David is just a couple of triangles.
Tell a pious Catholic that the Crucifix is only a pair of sticks.
Only? The tree wouldn't have meant anything unless the goddess was alive
and living in the tree.
So the tree is the symbol of the mother goddess.
Now, we may find that hard to understand, but in an arid land a tree seems miraculous.
It's seems miraculous.
I can take you to old Greek Orthodox churches in Cyrus where we live part of the year
and show you an olive tree hundreds of years old in the courtyard of the church.
The tree, again.
Next. Here Ruth Hestron has shown us the tomb painting from Egypt.
This is none other than the tomb of Tutmoses IV [sp] and notice you see the tree
as a nursing mother, extending her breast to the prince of Egypt.
There is the tree goddess.
Next. And here's another representation.
The trunk of the tree is the torso of a woman
and she is supplying the stuff of life to her worshipers.
So the tree goddess is alive and well.
Next. Years ago I was driving across, toward Palmyra from Homma,
[sp] before there were any roads and the farther
out in the desert I got I noticed there were fewer and fewer trees.
Then I saw this tree.
And I drove up to it and low and behold the tree was festooned with little bits
of women's clothing, little rags torn off dresses and little prayers written in Arabic.
The Bedouin women still worship trees.
The symbolism is clear.
Next. Now then we have the great goddess.
We've talked about and I have argued that she was present,
at least in popular religion in ancient Israel.
Let's simply leave it there.
Perhaps the next slide we'll stop with I want to show you that these gods
and goddesses all survived in the Canaanite religion.
Here she is at home in her house as we have seen it earlier.
Next. And here, of course, is the great mother from a Neolithic site.
Looks like she needs to go to Weight Watchers, but anyway, she was much admired.
The earliest figurines that we have are female figurines going back clear back
to the upper Paleolithic period.
Next. And then finally we'll close with this scene from the...
this is the Ludavisi throne in the Roman National Museum.
And it shows Aphrodite arising form the froth of the waves as we have it in classical tradition.
Aphrodite is the late classical counterpart of the old goddess
of love and beauty and sex, Asherah.
So these gods and goddesses lived for a very long time.
The women were struggling with issues of live and death and the god
of the men didn't seem to do much for them.
I'm not suggesting they were idol worshipers.
I'm suggesting they realized that god is too large to be encompassed by any of our language.
Or by any of the pictures we can think of God.
So I think they ancient women were more sophisticated.
After all what is religion about?
Is it about what priests and clerics think you ought to be doing?
What the few are doing?
Or what the many are doing?
So I have tried to show you what other people were doing in ancient Israel.
Now in time of course the goddess was driven underground and forgotten.
Judaism became rigidly monotheistic or did it?
Some of you know something about the Cabbalistic tradition, the medieval mystical tradition
in which you have the Shekina, who is kind of an early representation of God.
The Shekina is on earth while God is distant in the heavens but once a week,
she goes back to heaven and she and God have intercourse, on Friday night.
And she