Because the Bible narrates that Israel first encountered its deity YHWH at Sinai after having left Egypt and before entering the land of Canaan, the question of YHWH’s historical origins has long been a topic of inquiry among biblical scholars. The claim of a non-autochthonous origin for a national god is indeed peculiar in terms of the wider ancient Near East, but in the context of the Bible is prominently and repeatedly given expression. So is it possible that a germ of truth lies behind this tradition?
The tendency in modern biblical scholarship has been to assume that the story of YHWH’s southern origins is based on very early tradition, partly because of the distinctive association of Midianites with YHWH worship and the figure Moses, but also because of a few examples of alleged early Hebrew poetry that describe YHWH coming from Edom or Sinai (Jdgs 5:4-5; Deut 33:2; Ps 68:8-9; Hab 3:3-4). During the last half of the 20th century and continuing until today, extra-biblical inscriptions that mention the name YHWH and connect it to the general area of Edom/southern Palestine have gradually taken on a pivotal role in the discussion. They are widely understood to confirm the basic picture that YHWH originated in the southern deserts outside the land of later Israel-Judah.
However, in recent years this standard view has come under strong criticism from a variety of angles, primarily within German language scholarship. This minority perspective argues that recent literary-critical and tradition-historical investigation into the development of exodus and other biblical tradition undercuts notions about their high antiquity, problematizes the interpretation of the extra-biblical evidence mentioned above, and highlights biblical material suggesting that YHWH originated as a fairly conventional Syrian-Canaanite weather god linked to developed agriculture.
Interest in the subject of demonology in ancient Israel-Judah/early Judaism has grown in recent years, and the present work represents the most recent monograph contribution to the conversation. In Materiality Brian Schmidt, who has already made significant forays into relevant topics such as Israelite mortuary cult and religion at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (KA), returns to build upon and nuance his earlier work with a special focus on apotropaic magic as evidenced in archaeological, epigraphic, and biblical sources. The stated goal is ambitious, to establish based on historical and comparative analysis the “survival and viability of a previously unidentified, yet extant pandemonium in preexilic Israelite magic” (p. 13).
A revised version of my article “The Meaning of asherah in Hebrew Inscriptions” was published in Semitica 59
An updated form of my article “The Identity of the Standing Figures on Pithos A from Kuntillet ʿAjrud: A Reassessment” has been published with Brill at JANER 16: 121-191.
I have put up a draft of my study on plaster wall inscription 4.2 from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, which offers a revised transcription, translation, and commentary. If you are less interested in epigraphic analysis, then you are welcome to skip to the commentary further below. There I present the argument that in the context of Israel-Judah the name Baal referred to El, the head of the Israelite pantheon.
I have added parts 2 and 3 to the paper on YHWH’s asherah, which you can access here or through the pull down menu. The new additions start after the subheading ʾšrth= Asheratah/Ashirtah about two thirds of the way through the paper. For convenience I have also included an abstract of the finished article below.
The meaning of asherah in the inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom has been a focus of persistent discussion and debate, and still today the divergence in scholarly views is wide-ranging. The present paper aims to critically assess previous scholarship by examining each of the major proposals that have been made for elucidating the term and in the process advance a new understanding that is not only less problematic than current alternatives but historically more plausible given our present knowledge of the cultural and historical context of ancient Israel-Judah. Because asherah likely refers to a female deity and yet the designation is declined with a pronominal suffix, I propose that the term is a hitherto unattested common noun denoting YHWH’s female partner and that the goddess is to be distinguished from the goddess Asherah.