The Identity of the Standing Figures on Pithos A from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud: A Reassessment

BLP618885 Drawing from Kuntillet Ajrud (photo) by .; Private Collection; ( Drawing from Kuntillet Ajrud, an Israelite outpost in Southern Negev, dating from the 8th Century BC. The graffiti found on a ceramic fragment represents, according to some archaeologists, Yahveh (on the left) and his consort Asherah (the seated female figure). The inscription reads 'I bless you by Yahveh our Guardian and his Asherah'. Yahweh is  the name of the god of Israel in the Hebrew Bible; ); Photo © Zev Radovan;  out of copyright


Throughout much of the last several decades, since the discovery of inscriptions and drawings on some fragments of large storage jars at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (hereafter KA), the scholarly community has been divided over how to interpret the pair of crowned, vaguely anthropomorphic standing figures on the fragment known as pithos A (fig. 1).[1] Some scholars have been inclined to see a connection between the pair of figures and the inscription found immediately above them recording a blessing to YHWH and his asherah, suggesting that the inscription is a kind of caption to the religious imagery of the drawings, while others have argued that a direct correlation of text and image is unlikely and have rather held to the view that the figures are depictions of the common Egyptian protective deity Bes.[2]

In recent years the case for interpreting the figures as our first epigraphically labeled depiction of the Israelite god and his consort has been advanced and put on much firmer ground thanks to the contributions of Brian Schmidt and Ziony Zevit, both of whom agree that the textual and iconographic context of the pithos should be determinative for explicating the figures’ identity.[3] And yet it would seem that there remains much disagreement about the issue, as the Bes interpretation of the figures continues to find broad acceptance among scholars working in the historical and comparative study of Israelite religion. A number of recent discussions, surveys, and monographs for the most part assume the validity of the Bes identification offered by Pirhiya Beck in her early iconographic assessment and either ignore or fail to fully engage with the newer proposals and critical considerations raised by Schmidt and Zevit.[4]

In order to clarify the state of the question, I would like to review the main iconographic arguments for identifying the two standing figures as YHWH and “his asherah”[5] and in the process respond to some of the common objections that have been raised against the hypothesis. The treatment will necessarily be synthetic in nature, building on the insights of previous scholarship, but will also include some additional lines of evidence whose relevance to understanding the pithos figures has until now gone overlooked. As I hope to show, this evidence provides strong support for seeing an organic link between text and image on the pithos and throws new light on the iconography of YHWH as it existed during the Israelite monarchy of the Late Iron Age.[6]

Sexual Dualism

The first and most easily recognizable feature of the standing figures that supports interpreting them in light of the inscription is that they seem to consist of a male and female pair, parallel to the textual mention of YHWH and his asherah. The female sex of the right figure is signaled by the small circlets on the chest that probably symbolize breasts, its smaller stature compared to the left figure, and the presence of jewelry/bracelets, while the left figure lacks markings for breasts, is larger, and has a long narrow appendage between the legs that suggests the presence of male genitalia. I have outlined these features in a high resolution photo of the original drawing and included them in fig. 2.

BLP618885 Drawing from Kuntillet Ajrud (photo) by .; Private Collection; ( Drawing from Kuntillet Ajrud, an Israelite outpost in Southern Negev, dating from the 8th Century BC. The graffiti found on a ceramic fragment represents, according to some archaeologists, Yahveh (on the left) and his consort Asherah (the seated female figure). The inscription reads 'I bless you by Yahveh our Guardian and his Asherah'. Yahweh is  the name of the god of Israel in the Hebrew Bible; ); Photo © Zev Radovan;  out of copyright

Photo © Zev Radovan

Earlier in the history of scholarship there was some doubt whether overt sexual dualism could be found in the two central figures on the pithos, partly because a marking between the legs of the right figure was thought to suggest that it might have a phallus or tail like the left figure. In addition, several critics argued that the breast symbols on the right figure were not necessarily indicative of female sex, since the dwarf god Bes often features exposed breasts or nipples, and sometimes even appears androgynous. [7]

However, with more recent analysis of the pithos it has become clear that the mark between the legs of the right figure was actually a smudge of dark soot and that there is no evidence of a phallus or tail-like appendage,[8] which has made a male or bisexual interpretation of the figure considerably less likely, if not completely invalidated. Because of this, there would seem to be little reason to dispute a straightforward understanding of the breast symbols as emblematic of female sex.

The argument from Bes iconography that breast symbols need not be interpreted as indicative of female sex is technically correct, and perhaps would have a bearing on the interpretation of the right figure if we could be certain it was a conventional representation of Bes and that it was methodologically appropriate to explicate its iconography in isolation from the other figures on the pithos. But it is not at all clear that the figure is in fact a conventional representation of Bes or that its imagery should be explained solely within that conceptual and iconographic framework. As we will have occasion to note, both figures evince many details that distinguish them from known images of the Egyptian dwarf god. Furthermore, this approach to interpreting the breast symbols on the right figure ignores the immediate visual context of the pithos and fails to account for the discrete pattern in which they appear on the three humanoid standing figures and lyre player, so that they constitute the most prominent indicators of sexual identity in the case of the right standing figure and the lyre player but are absent from the left standing figure.

This pattern of irregular application of the breast markings is difficult to reconcile with the assumption that they were not intended as diagnostic of female sex. Because the presence of breasts in ancient Near Eastern art was generally a primary indicator for identifying a given figure as female, by placing one figure with breasts directly next to another without breasts the artist responsible for this juxtaposition has created a strong visual impression of sexual dualism.[9]

Furthermore, from what we know of Bes iconography, it would have been highly unusual for an artist, or even two artists living and working in the same immediate context, to render two images of Bes side by side that differ so dramatically with respect to this particular feature. Throughout the long and highly variegated career of Bes imagery in Egypt and the Near East, the norm was to tend towards stereotyped representation, so that in particular time periods and contexts Bes would be repeatedly portrayed in the same generic guise, either naked or partially clothed (e.g. figs. 3, 4). As with other popular and widely circulated divine symbolism, his form was characterized by compositional symmetry and stylistic replication.

Another aspect that does not tally with documented Bes imagery is the shape of the breast markings on the right figure themselves, which are schematic and consist of only small circlets. Based on the deployment and adaptation of the Bes image across cultures over time, it is clear that the breasts of Bes were recognized as an established element of his iconographic form and so were typically rendered in a distinct manner, either full/pendulous or large and muscular. The emphasis was not so much on the nipples per se, but rather on the contours of the breasts in relation to the rest of the body.[10] As plain circles, the markings on the right figure are not the breasts or nipples of Bes, but in fact a shorthand for female breasts, as shown by the appearance of the same markings on the anthropomorphic lyre player. The use of simple geometric shapes to symbolize female anatomy is widely attested in art from prehistoric times and the outlining of breasts on female divine figures has a variety of parallels in ancient Near Eastern two-dimensional representation.[11]

Besides prominent markings for breasts, the right figure shows other features suggestive of female identity. These include a shorter stature and tapering out at the hips, appropriate for a female body type, and the decorative use of jewelry/bracelets in the form of armlets, wristlets, and anklets, which can be seen in Beck’s reproduction of the drawings and are particularly well-defined on the figure’s left arm and leg. Susan Limmer has recently discussed the gendered significance of bracelets or bangles used in multiples, pointing to archaeological and biblical data that their presence on a woman marked her as “sexually mature, and engaged.”[12]

Turning now to the left figure we find further evidence for sexual dualism in the form of what seems to be male genitalia between the legs. Descending from the middle of the crotch about half the length of the legs is a narrow phallus-like projection and next to it a curved double line that moves back towards the crotch that may be the outline of a scrotum (fig. 2).

There has been much disagreement and uncertainty about what these markings represent, in part because of the previously mentioned acceptance of the idea that the right figure had a narrow projection between its legs as well. For those who believe the standing figures are representations of Bes, the projection has generally been identified as a tail because of that iconographic tradition’s tendency to portray the deity with a connected leonine tail or lion-skin with a tail hanging between the legs (e.g. fig. 4).[13]

But on closer examination of the available photos, there would seem to be little evidence to support the view that the projection is a tail and several considerations argue against it. First, there is no other indication of a lion-skin on the figures, such as a skin hanging over the front of the shoulders, and neither do they present other leonine features. As I hope to show later, it is more likely that the animal-like face of the figures has been shaped by bovine imagery. Second, a similar projection does not appear between the legs of the right figure, which is contrary to what we would expect if it were in fact a tail. As was mentioned earlier, the projection that Beck drew between the legs of the right figure was actually a smudge of dark soot. The simultaneous absence of this feature from the figure with markings for breasts and conversely its presence on the figure that lacks breast markings suggest that it is a positive morphological indicator for male sex, just as were the schematic circlets a positive morphological indicator of female sex. Third, the double line to the left of the projection that curves back toward the crotch is difficult to account for on the assumption that the latter represents a tail. The two lines are unlikely to be a second tail, as they move from the side of the projection in a direction that is oblique, almost horizontal, briefly follow the inside of the leg, and then gradually become one heavy line as they turn back to the place where the crotch and projection join. Semi-circular in shape and attached to the side of the projection without overlapping it, in this vicinity of the body it hard to see how this could be anything but a male scrotum.

Finally, the figures of Bes used as amulets in the southern Levant during the Iron Age often featured male genitalia between the legs, sometimes greatly emphasized.[14]

Overlapping Pose

The next factor that supports an identification of the figures with YHWH and his asherah is that they seem to be positioned in a stylized husband and wife pose. The two overlap to a substantial degree, with the arms and legs of the male figure fully crossing those of the female figure. The placement of the female is directly to the left and behind the male figure, as indicated by the higher ground line on which she is situated. As already noted by Schmidt,[15] this staggering of the figures so that the male is placed conspicuously in a dominant frontal position with respect to the female is highly evocative of the standard mode of representing standing couples face forward in Egyptian art, where the husband was typically placed to the right and in front of his wife, who was often smaller in stature.[16]

We have no other evidence that this pose was known or commonly used in the Levant aside from the pithos from KA,[17] but it is widely attested in Egypt on two- and three-dimensional art and it is not difficult to see how it could have been transferred into Levantine tradition. Tallay Ornan has documented several examples of Egyptian influence on local Levantine representation of royal couples during the Late Bronze.[18] The iconographic utility of the pose was that it allowed husband and wife figures to be depicted frontally as a single conjoined pair while at the same time communicating the primacy of the male by placing him at the forefront.

The alternative to interpreting the figures as a conjugally related pair is to explain them by recourse to the conventions of traditional Bes iconography, where the dwarf god was often depicted in multiples.[19] On this view the standing figures are simply two related versions of the same divine imagery, whose duplication functions to reinforce its protective power. But this understanding not only fails to account for the figures’ prominently displayed sexual dualism, but ignores or at least pays inadequate attention to other aspects of their presentation that are equally incongruent with an interpretation of them as representations of Bes, namely, the overlapping of the male and female figures and their placement on different ground lines.

From what we know of Bes iconography, the overlapping and staggering of two figures would have been a highly unusual if not unprecedented way of deploying Bes imagery in a single isolated context. We now have a fairly large corpus of Bes-like imagery used at many localities throughout the ancient Near East from the early second millennium to the late first millennium BCE, and from this material it is clear that the norm was to treat the figure as a conceptually self-contained and autonomous apotropaic symbol. The image was highly potent in itself and thus was most often depicted and used singularly, as on amulets and seals.[20] The imagery was also on occasion used in multiples on reliefs or elite objects, so as to intensify its symbolism, create balance and design, and/or adorn an architectural structure.[21] But in almost all of these cases the repeated Bes symbols never overlap with their bodies. At the most they are found touching at the elbows, so that the apotropaic frontality of the image could have full effect.[22] Furthermore, in these situations the representation of Bes is always stereotyped, so that each individual figure is more or less exactly the same as the others, while all stand on the same ground line or mirror each other on opposite sides of a sacred shrine (cf. figs. 3, 4).

Because of the very nature of the Bes image and its use as a talisman, the figures on the pithos are unlikely to be two images of Bes, with one overlapping and partially obscuring the other. Rather, the unusual configuration is more likely to be explained by the fact that the artist wanted viewers of the drawing to understand the two figures as closely and essentially related to one another, with the left male placed in a position of preeminence with respect to the female.[23]

A different but related challenge to interpreting the two figures as a male and female couple is the art-historical argument that the two figures were drawn on the pithos by different hands at different times, an argument first advanced by Pirhiya Beck in her initial examination of the pithos drawings and subsequently taken up by others.[24]

At the root of the argument is the perception that much of the imagery on the pithos consists of isolated motifs of diverse origins, in addition to several critical observations about the two standing figures themselves. These include several notable differences in their appearance and form, such as the distinctive headdresses and contrasting shape of arms and legs, and the fact that the male figure seems to have been drawn after both the female figure and the cow-calf and caprid-lotus motifs were in place.[25]

However, from the vantage point of current iconographic study and in light of further research on the imagery of the pithos there would seem to be little to recommend the theory that the central drawings are a patchwork of elements added gradually over time and in particular that the standing figures were composed separately from one another. We have already noted the highly unusual nature of overlapping Bes images, which calls into question the view that a later and unrelated hand would have intentionally arranged the left figure so that it stands in front of the right figure. The idea that this artist was cramped for space and so happened to overlap or bump into neighboring elements is belied by the careful positioning of the two standing figures, so that both barely enter into or touch the images of the cow-calf and lyre player. Taken as a whole, the arrangement of the three image complexes moves from soft juxtaposition of the cow-calf motif and male figure, to clear overlapping in the case of the male and female figures, and then again to soft juxtaposition of the female figure and lyre player, which is hard to explain as coincidental or the product of gradual compositional accretion. The artist of the male figure appears to have consciously positioned it in relation to other elements on the pithos. Otherwise, he could have avoided running into the cow-calf motif by moving the figure up to the same ground-line as the female figure, where there is slightly more space.

Given the careful arrangement of the right and left standing figures with the material on their outer sides, it seems likely that the overlapping positioning of the figures themselves was intentional and original to the pithos composition. As was brilliantly pointed out by Brian Schmidt, the use of the artistic technique of overlapping is evident at multiple places on both pithoi A and B, so there is no compelling reason to see the placement of the male figure over part of the female figure and the cow-calf and caprid-lotus motifs as evidence of its secondary nature.[26] This layering of elements could have easily occurred during the process of composing the entire scene and reflects the intention of the artist to foreground the male figure.

More difficult to explain is the anomalous shape and appearance of the male figure, some of whose features contrast markedly from those of the female. His form is visibly less symmetrical, with the right arm bent awkwardly at shoulder height and then shooting down straight to the thigh, while the left arm is bent so that the hand comes to rest at a higher position on the waist. The torso is more rectangular, even box-like, without the gentle tapering seen on the female figure. The legs are more slender, straight, and set wide apart, so that the hips flare out at the torso. At least according to the published artistic reproduction, they seem awkward and ill formed. Lastly, the male’s feet both point to the left, in contrast to the opposite facing position of the female’s feet.

Comparing Beck’s rendering of the figures side-by-side, it is somewhat understandable why she concluded that they had been drawn by different hands. The stance and shape of the figures differ in important respects and some elements of the male figure are so misshapen and unlike those of the female figure that removed from the pithos context and analyzed on their own it is indeed not unreasonable to question whether they had been composed by the same artist.

Yet on closer inspection of the pithos, the divergences between the figures are not as strong as Beck supposed and there are ways of explaining the anomalies of the male figure without having to resort to a speculative and complicated theory of distinct authorship.

With regard to the general shape of the figures, it is important to keep in mind that the artwork from KA as a whole was not of an exceptionally fine quality and that this was particularly the case for the pithoi drawings. The drawings on pithos A were rather imperfectly executed and this is reflected in the bumpy and uneven lines, transgression of what should be impermeable boundaries, retracing of major elements, and lack of concern for precise proportionality and symmetry, which more or less characterize all of the animal and humanoid imagery.[27] Although irregularity and a lack of symmetry have been thought to be particularly evident in the male figure because of the peculiar arrangement of his arms and legs, on closer analysis the female figure shows many of the same kinds of aesthetic infelicities and disproportion, which suggests that she was a product of the same compositional process as her male counterpart. For example, the female’s eyes are not on the same plane, but are somewhat uneven; the line tracing her right jaw juts over unnaturally; the right forearm is curved like a boomerang; the line on the inside of the left arm continues through the shoulder; the knees and ankle hocks are not placed at the same height on each leg (fig. 2).

The relatively unpolished and schematic nature of the drawings thus makes it difficult to establish that a given variation between the figures necessarily points to a different hand and style. From what can be gathered of the artist’s technique and facility from elsewhere on the pithos, some formal and stylistic inconcinnities are to be expected, especially in view of the difficult nature of the pithos surface as a medium for artistic representation.

On the other hand, the male and female figures share a number of technical, formal, and iconographic features that would be consistent with the assumption that a single artist was responsible for their composition, or at least two artists working closely together. First, both figures are painted in the same reddish color and large brush size; the thick lines distinguish them from their surrounding context and suggest a close association with each other as well as with the lyre player. Second, some elements of the male’s body are very similar in shape to those of the female and could have easily been the work of the same artist. For example, the male and female heads are closely comparable, with their rectangular oblong pattern, long snouts, nostrils, almond-shaped eyes, and possible remnants of striations marking the neck. Finally, the frontal positioning, akimbo arms, and use of decorative dots point to a common iconographic origin for the figures and possibly common authorship.

Beyond these considerations, almost all of the contrasting formal features on the male and female figures that were so crucial to the development of Beck’s hypothesis of composite authorship lend themselves to alternative explanations, so that they can be seen as the conscious product of a single artist operating within the iconographic context of the pithos scene.

The first of these is the peculiar shape of the male’s right arm, which juts out a considerable distance to the right and then proceeds in a fairly straight line down to the thigh. Taken by itself, the element is unusually awkward and malformed compared to the well-proportioned arms of the female figure. But on closer inspection, we see that the shape of the arm is not arbitrary or evidence of a different hand or style. The artist of the male figure was clearly capable of drawing a proportionate and angular arm, as shown by the left arm that is more properly akimbo. Based on the right arm’s positioning with respect to the caprid-lotus motif, it seems that the artist intentionally created the aberrant shape of the arm in order to overlap it with the lotus, suggesting that the desire to link the male figure with this symbolic element overrided aesthetic concerns about rendering a visually accurate arm. In other words, this feature of the male provides evidence of ideology or mythological conceptions dramatically impacting the way the artistic representation was carried out.[28]

The second is the contrast in the shape of the legs. As was mentioned before, the male legs are more slender, straighter, and set wider apart than the female legs; according to Beck’s artistic reproduction, they appear extremely schematic and even crooked. Yet upon examining a high-resolution photo of the pithos, the rendering of the legs in Beck’s analysis would seem to be more angular and haphazard than necessary and there is actually much more similarity in shape between the male and female legs than can be detected at first glance. As with many other parts of the pithos imagery, a substantial amount of interpretation goes into the process of identifying and rearticulating the remains of the original painting. Because of a combination of blurring with age, the presence of soot, and the imprecisions of the original artwork, it is sometimes difficult to determine every detail of the figures, as demonstrated by the previously held assumption that the female figure had a narrow phallus-like projection between her legs.[29] However, based on my analysis, it is sufficiently clear that the male legs are much more animal-like in form: they are rounded at the hips and curve back toward what seems to be a hock joint, from which they angle obliquely back to the ground (fig. 2). The presence of the hock in particular shows that these are not straight legs drawn in a rather arbitrary and awkward fashion, but have been intentionally bent so as to appear as hind legs. This shaping comports fairly closely to the female legs, which also show evidence of hock joints.

Of course, the male legs still differ from those of the female in their narrowness, length, and breadth with respect to the torso. But the important point is that they no longer appear prima facie to be stylistically distinct in construction. And in any case, all of these latter elements can be explained as a function of the artist’s attempt to represent and account for the figures’ different physical sex and build. The male has tall narrow legs, with sufficient space between them to allow for the depiction of male genitalia, while the female legs are short, thicker, and come together at the crotch. The tapering of the female torso also probably reflects the intention to imitate the curvature of the female body.

This leaves the feet on the male, which in contrast to the female, both point in the same direction. There is little reason to doubt that this feature was compositional in origin. Right and left directionality appear to have had an important role in the construction of the entire pithos scene, as suggested by the left facing directionality in the cow-calf motif on the left side of the male figure and the right facing directionality in the lyre player to the right of the female figure. By positioning the male’s feet toward the left, the artist seems to be trying to create a strong connection between the male figure and the cow-calf motif.

All of the remaining features that differentiate the male and female figures are minor iconographic issues and most likely stem from a need for individuating their character or reflect differences in their mythological conception or profile. The crowns on each figure are, of course, of a different style, with the male feather crown being much larger than the female trapezoidal crown. As Beck has observed, the trapezoidal crown on faience amulets tends to cover the entire head,[30] so this variation in size seems to have been intentional, most likely to again signal the primacy of the male with respect to the female, similar to the staggering and overlapping of the figures. In addition, the female has lines crossing her arms and ankles that probably represent bracelets or bangles. Finally, the ears on the female are distinctively more human than animal (cf. the lyre player), which possibly points to her role as an exceptional listener or intercessor with her husband.[31]

Bes- and Animal-like Appearance

The next factor that supports interpreting the figures in light of the inscription is that various aspects of their iconography suggest a connection to Israelite YHWH, including the elements derivative of Egyptian Bes iconography and the bovine appearance of the figures.

The resemblance of the figures to Bes imagery has long been recognized and for the most part agreed upon. Bes is the somewhat artificial name given to a collection of dwarf god-leonine symbolism that developed in Egypt to represent certain protective deities and was then borrowed and adapted by other cultures within the ancient Near East.[32] The imagery was transferred into the Levant at a fairly early date, where it evolved to fit local tastes, coexisted with more purely Egyptian forms imported from Egypt, and eventually became widespread as a result of the long history of Egyptian cultural domination of the region. The elements on the pithos figures possibly derivative of the Egyptian-Levantine Bes tradition include the feather crowns, grotesque animal-like face, arms akimbo with hands resting on the midsection, short kilt, nudity, and frontal positioning. In their combination here, they produce a gestalt that is prima facie Bes-like, which has understandably led many commentators to classify them iconographically as Bes figures.[33]

Yet with further research it has become increasingly clear that the figures are not simply standard Bes representations, but lack a number of features basic to the tradition and present other elements that are unparalleled in Bes-like imagery of the pre-Hellenistic Near East:

  • The figures lack the rounded and broad muscular face, high cheekbones, grimacing and wrinkled expression, and protruding tongue typical of Bes. The heads are rather rectangular and oblong in shape, with the only markings on the face consisting of the outline of the nasal bridge, nostrils, and mouth area.
  • They have no beards or shaggy-haired mane. The vertical lines found underneath the male head are most likely striations marking the neck area, as shown by the appearance of the same feature on the female lyre player.
  • There is no indication of a distended abdomen, stocky torso, or other dwarflike proportions. The figures are rather tall and slender.
  • In a rather marked departure from Levantine images of Bes, the figures lack the simple, diagonally shaped, outward facing bent legs. Here the presence of hock joints placed near the middle of the legs suggests the depiction of animal hind legs.

The significance of this combination of Bes-like and non-Bes-like features has been much discussed, with little agreement among scholars as to why the two pithos figures share an appearance and form that contrasts with all previously known Bes imagery.[34] After describing the typologically unique character of the figures, Beck herself prescinded from exploring the issue further and explained some elements in ways that overlooked their divergence from other Bes traditions, e.g. the breast markings and animal legs with hock joints.

Based on my own analysis of the figures, I would argue that both exhibit unmistakable bovine features and that a bovine interpretation satisfactorily explains their idiosyncratic and non-Bes-like qualities. These features include:

  • A rectangular oblong head;
  • Large protruding ears that are more leaf-like/trapezoidal than triangular;
  • Long and narrow nasal bridge with exceptionally large nostrils;
  • What appears to be a mouth extending horizontally along the total width of the bottom of the face;
  • Hind legs with hock joints.

Similar-like heads can be seen in various three-dimensional representations from Iron Age Palestine, including a calf head amulet from Beth Shemesh (fig. 5) and a calf head on a ‘trick vase’ from Tell Qasile (fig. 6).[35] Taken together with the legs, the elements are morphologically suggestive of the bovine or cattle family, and in the context of ancient Israel could hardly be confused with any other animal.

A further consideration that supports interpreting the figures as bovine is the prevalence of cattle imagery on the KA pithoi as a whole. The cow-calf motif on pithos A is prominently featured to the immediate left of the male figure, and as we have already mentioned, the fact that the male’s right foot overlaps part of the cow suggests that the artist has constructed the scene so as to indicate a close relationship between the two image complexes. On pithos B we have an unfinished cow-calf motif similar to the one on pithos A and a bull that is overlapped by an inscription invoking the blessing of YHWH written across its head.[36]

The bovine identification of the figures was first proposed at the very beginnings of research on the pithos imagery, and over the years has been accepted by various individual scholars.[37] Nonetheless, some of the iconographic analysis that initially led to this identification has since been shown to be incorrect (e.g. no horns on the left figure, only feathered headdress), and once the Bes-like character of the figures was established the scholarly tendency has been to explain their animal-like appearance by recourse to the traditional leonine connections of Egyptian Bes imagery.[38] Among those who have adopted this position, Keel and Uehlinger have been the most forceful in arguing for a leonine identity, raising several specific objections against the bovine interpretation, including that bovines are not generally depicted frontally in Near Eastern two-dimensional art, the pithos figures lack horns, generally a primary indicator of cattle, and Bes-like figures are not elsewhere portrayed with bovine heads.[39]

However, the identification of the figures as leonine is problematic, as it lacks iconographic support and seems to rest on little more than the animal-like appearance of their face and comparative evidence that Bes imagery was often closely tied to leonine imagery.[40] The rectangular head and long narrow snout are completely at odds with Near Eastern convention for representing lions, which as a rule have more rounded heads and shorter nasal bridges. The lines marking nasal bridges on bovines tend to taper together toward the bottom, whereas the nasal bridges of lions tend to come together at the eyes.[41] Other features generally characteristic of a lion are noticeably absent, including a mane, triangular and fully attached ears, cat nose, divided upper lip with whiskers, and tail, some of which elements can be seen on the striding male lion on the other side of the pithos. Finally, no evidence of the typical lion-skin of Egyptian Bes can be detected hanging over the figures’ shoulders.

The argument from Keel and Uehlinger that some aspects of the pithos figures necessarily exclude a bovine interpretation is not convincing. First, while the representation of bovines face forward is indeed scarce in attested two-dimensional Near Eastern art, it needs to be kept in mind how little two-dimensional art is available for comparison, particularly from the Iron Age southern Levant. Few images of animal or humanoid figures depicted on flat surfaces from this period have survived, and even fewer in which the figures are depicted face forward. Therefore it would seem somewhat prejudicial to assert that the formal characteristic of frontal representation was incompatible with a certain animal imagery, especially when this animal figured prominently in Israelite myth. In any case, we have clear examples of the frontal representation of bovines on other media, such as the shallow relief of a bull headed deity from Bethsaida or the terracotta protomes of bull heads on various cult stands.[42] If artists were capable of rendering bovines frontally in sculpture, then it is not difficult to imagine that they had the skill to do the same in the more ephemeral medium of two-dimensional painting. Beck herself remarks that the trapezoidal crown of the right Bes-like figure is known primarily from three-dimensional faience amulets rather than two-dimensional representations of Bes.[43]

As an iconographic parallel, the Bethsaida relief may be particularly relevant to explicating the peculiar theriomorphic imagery attested at KA, since not only is the bull figure shown face forward, but he appears to combine bovine and anthropomorphic features. The bull deity is standing upright on two legs with a sword at the side, mounted on a pole that probably alludes to a local Aramaic cult stand of some kind.[44] Aside from some obvious differences, the general form is highly reminiscent of the standing figures on pithos A and suggests that the latter were heir to other frontal representation traditions than Egyptianizing Bes imagery alone.[45]

Second, although the presence of horns is generally one of the most important elements used to distinguish bovines from other animals in ancient Near Eastern art, their absence cannot be regarded a priori as determinative for disqualifying a particular figure as bovine. Despite the iconographic significance of horns, not all bovines are depicted with them, to the consternation of art historians, and in fact bovine and humanoid bull-headed figures can be represented with large horns, medium sized horns, sprouting horns, or no horns at all, depending on the age and maturity of the bovine in question. We have a variety of examples of what can be identified as young hornless calves in two- and three-dimensional representation from the southern Levant and ancient Israel, ranging from seals and amulets to clay sculpture.[46]

Perhaps the most significant example of a hornless bovine discovered to date is the famous calf found at the top register of the Iron I cult stand from Ta’anach.[47] Although the calf identity of this animal has been questioned as well, with several scholars arguing that the quadruped is rather equid in form,[48] the zoological evidence is not decisive and the calf-interpretation is favored by broad historical-comparative considerations: 1) The widespread use of bovines as divine emblems in Syria-Palestine and the non-use of the horse for this purpose (see further below). The quadraped stands below the winged sun disc where iconographic convention typically placed deities. 2) The prevalence of bovines attached to cult stands and model shrines elsewhere in the southern Levant during the Iron Age, including Yavneh and Horvat Qitmit.[49] Bull heads with large horns are found frequently at both sites, and acording to Irit Ziffer, one cult stand from Yavneh shows a cow-calf set in a window, at the side of which is preserved the feet of what was once a naked female.[50] 3) The close association of the winged sun with bull symbolism in broader Levantine pictorial imagery. The region has furnished several examples of bulls, bull headed deities, and bull-riding deities pictured below a winged sun-disc.[51] With this identification of the quadraped, it is possible to see some interesting parallels in the constellation of imagery that appears on the cult stand and pithos A: a prominent calf, a sacred tree flanked by rampant caprids, protective lion(s), association with a nurturing goddess, and divine royal symbolism (lotus/winged sun disc). In addition, it is worth noting that several Bes figurines were found in the archaeological context of the cult stand at Ta’anach.[52]

Third, the fact that we have no precise parallel for a Bes image with a bovine head is not by itself a compelling argument to reject a bovine interpretation of the pithos figures. [53] We have already mentioned that the combination of Bes-like and non-Bes-like elements on the figures is unique in attested traditions of Bes imagery, which means that iconographic analysis must take priority in their identification and argues against eliding their idiosyncratic features by conforming them to better-known Bes types.

From a comparative perspective, we know that Bes imagery was highly fluid and that it evolved over time, developing among the various cultures where it was borrowed in ways that significantly diverged from Egyptian iconographic convention. In the Late Bronze Megiddo ivories, the Bes figure is shown with a leonine body, humanoid face, and bird-like wings.[54] In Phoenician ivory frontlets from the early first millennium, Bes appears with a humanoid body, leonine face, and horns.[55] In Phoenician green jasper scarabs from the 5-4th centuries, the morphology of Bes was unusually dynamic. While his face is consistently grotesque and dwarflike, the rest of the body is shown more or less humanoid, leonine, winged, or sphinxlike. He sometimes has horns or uraei attached to his body and can appear naked or clothed.[56]

In this context, the combination of Bes imagery with bovine features is not all that unusual or extraordinary. In many cases it is clear that Bes had a well-known animal-like nature and persona and that this aspect could be accentuated, toned down, or transformed depending on the cultural and artistic setting.

Furthermore, although we lack an example of a Bes figure with a bovine head precisely parallel to the pithos figures from KA, we do have evidence of a local development of the Bes figure in Cyprus that shows that bovine or at least bovid imagery was at times combined with conventional Egyptian Bes imagery. At Amathus archaeologists have discovered fragments of some twenty large limestone statues dating possibly to the 4th century BCE,[57] which show elements that are recognizably Bes-like, including dwarflike proportions, grotesque face, protruding tongue, “master of lions” pose, loincloth, and attached uraei, as well as a few non-Bes-like features (fig. 7). Among these alternate features the most noteworthy is the presence of small sprouting horns on the heads. The horns have been identified by Isabelle Tassignon as bovine,[58] but whether the horns are those of a young bull or goat is unclear, and it is possible that they were actually intended to represent goat horns since the Bes figure depicted on the 5th century sarcophagus from Amathus has horns that are twisted.[59] Nevertheless, this departure from Egyptian iconographic convention shows that bovine or bovid features could be applied to Bes figures as a result of local iconographic and cultural considerations, which is highly suggestive of the situation at KA. In addition, it is probably not insignificant that the horns are sprouting horns, or the horns of a young and vigorous animal, which correlates well with the calf-like presentation of the pithos figures.

With this determination of the precise nature of the animal-like features of the pithos figures, it is fairly easy to begin to see how the combination of bovine and Bes-like imagery would be amenable to an identification with YHWH and his female partner. We have ample archaeological and biblical evidence that bovine symbolism deeply impacted ancient Israel’s conceptualization of the divine and specifically that YHWH was represented in the form of a young bull calf or ‘egel.[60] The Pentateuch and Deuteronomistic-related literature contain harsh polemics against Israelite calf worship and explicitly acknowledge its place in the northern cults of Bethel, Dan, and Samaria. Jeroboam is alleged to have instituted calf worship at Bethel and Dan, which is seen as paradigmatic in causing the rest of Israel to sin (1 Kgs 12:29-30), and the author of Hosea implies that the identification of YHWH with calf idols was endemic to Samaria and the northern kingdom as a whole (8:5-6; 10:5; 13:2). In fact, Hosea’s condemnation of “the calf of Samaria” (8:5-6) is likely a play on the very same divine epithet that we find attested in the inscription on the pithos that crosses the crown of the male figure, a blessing dedicated to “YHWH of Samaria.”

In a brief overview of literary references to divine bull symbolism across the ancient Near East, Daniel Fleming gathered evidence that heads of pantheons in Syria-Palestine during the Second Millennium were typically represented as mature adult bulls, whereas the calf identity was reserved for the highest ranking son of pantheon heads. Distinctions in the age and maturity of bovines were meaningful in the context of local and national cult and correlated with distinctions in the generational hierarchy of deities.[61] When we consider that 1) there is growing evidence that in early Israelite religion El was recognized as high god and chief of the pantheon, 2) Canaanite El was commonly represented as a sexually mature bull, and 3) a mythological reference to El even appears in a plaster wall inscription at KA, the repeated calf-like association of YHWH suggests that in the ancient Israelite religious imagination YHWH was popularly conceived as occupying a secondary or junior level of the pantheon at the time the inscription was written.[62]

YHWH and Bes

The connection of the Bes-like imagery to YHWH is more difficult to recognize, since even though the features clearly derivative of Bes are limited to the feather crowns and akimbo stance, they nevertheless imply that the pithos figures are somehow analogous or related to more standard Egyptian Bes imagery, as represented in the amulets used in family religion of the southern Levant.

In order to understand the Bes-like appearance of the pithos figures, it is necessary that we step back and reassess our understanding of the nature and origin of Egyptian Bes symbolism and consider what meanings were attached to it when other cultures borrowed and adapted the imagery.

Research on the meaning and function of Bes symbolism within Egypt has advanced in recent years, resulting in a much more complex picture of its historical development and mythological significance.[63] From the available evidence, Bes seems to have been a popular apotropaic figure with roots going back to the Old Kingdom, his iconography combining human, leonine, and eventually dwarflike elements. As a personal protective deity, his imagery evolved over time and eventually in later periods was assimilated to various deities in official cult and mythological contexts. Nevertheless, for at least the Pharaonic period he seems to have been conceptualized as a discrete and unitary symbol, since he was repeatedly used in singular form as an object of focus, such as on amulets, figurines, and statues. Little is known about the figure’s precise identity, since our documentation is predominantly pictorial in nature and even the few names that have been connected to the deity, such as Aha or Bes, are best understood as generic titles that speak to his function rather than proper names.[64] Based on the widespread distribution of his imagery, he appears to have been a powerful and significant deity in the lives of ancient Egyptians, functioning as the preeminent protector of the household and domestic sphere. For several millennia, traditional belief in his apotropaic powers remained something of a constant in the common religious practice of the people. Even as late as the Ptolemaic and Roman period, his role as a slayer of serpents and averter of malignant forces is identifiably related to the lion-man appearing on Middle Kingdom magical wands.

For our purposes, what is important to note is that Bes was a liminal figure associated with youthfulness, the concerns of women and the household, and the emergence of new life.[65] His immature and dwarflike body is itself suggestive of a youthful character, whereas his protection and influence were most typically called upon at dangerous transition points in the human life cycle, such as birth, sleep, and death. He was closely associated with Horus and in fact appears to have been a popular manifestation and variation of the tutelary deity.[66] From the New Kingdom, he is represented with wings as a sky deity and associated with such emblems as the lotus, wadjet eye, scarab, and uraeus snake. Also comparable to Horus, his mythological profile is that of a serpent slayer and defender of the solar deity. The close affinity of the two figures eventually becomes unambiguous in the Late Period on Horus cippi, where the face of Bes sits like a mask immediately above Horus, who is shown holding snakes, scorpions, or lions and standing on crocodiles.

As we have already mentioned, the distinctive imagery of Bes had a long career outside Egypt’s borders and was borrowed and adapted by other cultures in the eastern Mediterranean from as early as the beginning of the second millennium. Over time the Bes image took on greater significance among these cultures and by the beginning of the first millennium we can see that it had become indigenized and elevated to the point of functioning as an iconography for representing major national tutelary deities.

In Phoenicia Bes appears on ivory frontlets from the 9-8th centuries as Melqart, the protector of Tyre.[67] Though Bes-like with leonine head and frontal position, his pose and dress is un-Egyptian and he features broad shortened horns and lacks the feather headdress. At the top of the frontlet is presumably Reshef, the military companion of Melqart on early Phoenician bowls. The addition of horns in turn links him to an indigenous Phoenician apotropaic figure seen on amulets from the 7th century, which also has horns, lacks the feather headdress, and is leonine in appearance.[68] More obviously Bes-like representations include a “master of animals”[69] Bes with horns, feathered headdress, dwarflike head, protruding tongue, and uraei on an agate amulet from the 7th century,[70] and a Bes with horns, protruding tongue, and master of serpents pose on terracotta statuettes from the 4th century, fragments of which were discovered at a sanctuary dedicated to Astarte and Melqart at Tell Sukas.[71] Bes is found very frequently on 5-4th century Phoenician scarabs, where he is most certainly a representation of Melqart.[72] Here he is a master of animals and lions in the mode of Herakles and can be shown with attached horns and uraei, recalling the uraei hanging from Melqart’s kilt on the 9th century Bar-Hadad stele.

At Cyprus the figure of Bes was probably an emblem of Cypriote Herakles, whose local name is unknown. He is represented in a triad of nude Bes figures on a 6th century limestone wall bracket from an Athienou-Malloura sanctuary that shows him wearing a leonine headdress, in the “smiting god” position, and standing on a base supported by two lions.[73] Together these motifs link him to the Cypriote Herakles, whose images have been found at many sanctuaries on Cyprus from the Archaic to Hellenistic periods. As a youthful anthropomorphic character, Cypriote Herakles is often portrayed wearing a lion skin in the “smiting god” position and holding a lion in his left hand.[74] In addition, a horned version of Bes appears repeated four times on the 5th century Amathus sarcophagus opposite a nude goddess, where the context indicates he functions as a protector of the deceased king.[75] The connection of this figure with a version of Cypriote Herakles is again suggested by the 4th century limestone statues of Bes from Amathus already discussed, since these latter show a similar bearded figure with short horns in the pose of master of lions.

Interestingly, both Melqart and Cypriote Herakles are royal figures, with strong links to their respective Phoenician and Cypriote national cultures and dynasties. Melqart’s name means “king of the city” and a variety of inscriptional evidence indicates he was conceptualized as the tutelary hero and founder of Tyre and colonizer of other Phoenician cities.[76] On the other hand, the imagery associated with Cypriote Herakles, such as his master of lions role and royal uraei attached to his body, as well as his outsized presence within the remains of the Amathus agora, imply that he had a comparable tutelary function in Cyprus. A late tradition by Hesychius reports that the people of Amathus called Heracles Malika, which reinforces the idea that the deity’s nature was fundamentally that of a royal protective figure.[77]

During the Persian period, the Bes image was widely diffused through Phoenician expansion and the increased cross-cultural interactions sponsored by the development of the Achaemenid Empire. And here too the process of borrowing, imitation, and adaptation for the purpose of representing local protective deities continued, with Bes appearing on Philistian coinage, for example, in distinctive patterns and as a master of animals.[78] Kamyar Abdi has recently argued that the Bes image was assimilated to the deity Mithras in the Iranian context and associated with the military.[79]

With this broader context of cross-cultural borrowing and translation in mind, there are a number of reasons to think that Bes imagery was also applied to Israelite YHWH from a rather early date:

Horus-Bes in the Iron Age

First, we have several representations of Bes from ancient Palestine that can be connected to an indigenous Horus-like deity whose cult and mythology lived on into Late Iron Age Israel. On the 12-century BCE Megiddo Ivories we find a Bes-like figure with wings, humanoid head, and uraeus coming from the mouth, which Wilson has identified as a Levantine adaptation.[80] This unusual Bes figure can be compared to an anthropomorphic figure found on scarabs and other objects from the 10th century at a number of Palestinian localities (Megiddo, Tel Zeror, Gezer, Tell el-Ajjul, Achzib, Ta’anach), which also has a uraeus coming from the mouth and is typically shown sitting on a throne underneath a winged solar disc with an arm raised in blessing and surrounded by four protective falcons.[81] This latter figure is clearly a deity, and the Egyptianizing motifs associated with him suggest a royal Horus-like divinity of significant standing in the urban religious culture of the southwest Levant. As remarked by Keel and Uehlinger, the motif of a uraeus coming from the mouth on a royal anthropomorphic figure is distinctively un-Egyptian.[82] Then on a 9th century seal from Lachish the figure of Bes appears again surrounded by four protective falcons just like the anthropomorphic royal figure.[83] From this interchange of motifs in which Bes is depicted on two separate occasions with different aspects of the iconography of the Horus-like deity, that is, with the uraeus coming from the mouth and the four protective falcons, we see that the Bes image is actually a representation or manifestation of that same type of deity.[84]

It is unclear whether any of these images of Bes or a Horus-like deity can be identified as YHWH or a proto-YHWH, since most of them stem from a fairly early date and were found at localities associated with the coast and the Shephelah. But the presence of a royal Bes figure at both Megiddo and Lachish is suggestive, especially since Keel and Uehlinger have documented the continuing vitality of Horus-related imagery in Israel proper during the 9-8th centuries. This material includes a young solar deity shown wearing a solar crown sitting on a lotus or papyrus plant found in the Samaria ivories and on Hebrew name seals,[85] as well as a falcon/falcon-headed griffin/sphinx-like figure depicted wearing the double or solar crown on objects recovered from many localities in the north and south (Samaria, Megiddo, Dan, Lachish, Tell el-Far’ah south, Shechem).[86]

For their part, Keel and Uehlinger have argued against understanding the hybrid imagery as a representation of any major Israelite deity and characterized the creatures as servant-like guardians comparable to biblical cherubim, “protective powers in the service of a ‘Most High God’ or ‘Lord of Heaven.’”[87] But the fact that the figure’s iconography points to a protective function unsuited for a cosmic high god such as El is not in itself a compelling reason to exclude a divine interpretation or justification for viewing it merely as a symbol of an amorphous “power” rather than a specific divinity recognized by Israelites. Most of the pantheons of the ancient Near East included both high gods and junior level gods who nevertheless were distinct and played significant roles in local and national myth. Rather, the repeated falcon and uraei symbolism, explicit royal paraphernalia, and the creative variation of forms in which the figure appears as an icon or focus of attention, sometimes framed by the familiar winged sun disc, points to a major Israelite deity whose Horus-like features link him to the earlier royal Bes figures mentioned above.

Apotropaic Magic

Second, the use of Bes amulets appears to have been very common in Iron Age II Israel, which would lead us to suspect that its imagery had been assimilated to some native Israelite deity. The amulets have been recovered at many sites throughout Palestine and the discovery of molds shows that they were at times produced locally and thus that the iconography had been incorporated into the complex mixture of influences that characterized the regional symbol system. Even in its more purely Egyptian form, the Bes image had been indigenized and acculturated.[88] Based on the archaeological contexts in which the amulets have been found, the Bes figure seems to have played a prominent role in the sphere of personal and family religion, as did Bes in Egypt. Associated primarily with domestic and funerary contexts, he protected families and individuals from malevolent influences and has been reasonably assumed based on Egyptian parallels to have been particularly implicated in the concerns of women.[89]

So whom did this figure symbolize in the context of ancient Israel? We have already noted that in Egypt and elsewhere the Bes image was adopted it was consistently used to represent discrete and identifiable supernatural figures, often with a mythology bridging the divide between personal/popular and national religion. Although the distinctive animal-like and grotesque imagery of the Bes figure made it particularly suitable as an apotropaic symbol, which was easily grasped by a wide variety of cultures and contributed to its widespread appeal outside Egypt, its use was always embedded within specific mythological and cultural settings so that the image represented not simply an abstract concept of protection but was a manifestation of known divine entities.

From the widespread distribution of the Bes figure on amulets, we can assume that it signified a well-known deity in Israel, who operated in the sphere of personal and family religion but was shared by the culture more broadly. Like the Bes figure in Egypt, he was more than simply a monstrous face, but was a known mythological quantity. On the other hand, the contexts of use indicate he was regarded as especially powerful and efficacious in the realm of personal protection, since he was charged with safeguarding those most sensitive and fraught of all socio-cultural spaces, that is, the private household and tomb. With the latter conceived as an extension of the former, these areas were commonly seen as endangered by a variety of demonic and destructive forces, as reflected, for example, in the Arslan Tash incantation against night demons, Jeremiah’s description of Mot climbing through the windows of houses to take the lives of children (Jer 9:21), the Passover threshold ritual against the night Destroyer (Ex 12:21-23), and the Khirbet el-Qom grave inscription invoking YHWH’s blessing over the dead.[90] Because the forces of death and chaos were conceptualized as powerful and difficult to restrain, always threatening to break down the door as it were, they could only be countered through the assistance of an equally powerful divine aid, in this instance symbolized by the figure of Bes.

From these considerations, an identification of the Bes figure on amulets as a potent apotropaic manifestation of the god YHWH is entirely plausible. Aside from the fact that we lack another viable candidate for fulfilling this important role of popular protective deity, there is substantial evidence that during the monarchic period YHWH was conceptualized as a warrior and tutelary deity and that his activities straddled both personal and national religious spheres. His importance in this regard is underscored by his prominence in Israelite/Judahite personal names, where he generally appears as a protector and savior figure, while in the Bible a number of hints remain that he was conceived as the primary adversary of Mot and other baleful demons.[91] As a manifestation of YHWH, the material object of the Bes figure would have allowed the deity memorialized in public cultic settings to be localized and invoked in the domestic context.


Third, another factor that supports linking Bes imagery with YHWH is a number of other items in the epigraphic and iconographic record that imply YHWH and his mythological character were closely bound up with Horus and Horus-Bes symbolism. We have already described how the Bes figure was seen as a popular form of Horus in Egyptian religion, so if YHWH in Israel was understood as a figure comparable to Horus in terms of his function as a tutelary deity, then a cross-cultural translation of deities would naturally facilitate the Israelite cult’s assimilation of some Horus-Bes symbolism and Horus paraphernalia.

Here we can briefly mention the following:

  1. The evidence for the veneration of a young Horus-like protective deity on Israelite glyptic that was already mentioned above. This material includes a wide variety of forms, such as the more purely Egyptian imagery of Horus on a lotus or falcon on a nub sign, as well as a winged figure holding lotus plants, falcon-headed winged figure, winged uraeus, winged scarab-beetle, falcon-headed griffin, and sphinx.[92] The repeated presence of certain motifs on these figures, such as the double crown, falcon symbolism, wings, lotus plant, and solar imagery, as well as the common characteristics of youthfulness and protective stance, links them together as a group. The motif of YHWH’s protective wings also appears in various psalms in the Bible, which Joel LeMon has explicated in part by tracing them back to this Horus-falcon iconography.[93]
  1. The close association of YHWH with Horus as reflected in Israelite personal names. There are near ten individuals in the Bible with names that can be plausibly understood as bearing the theophoric element Horus (ḥwr), and as Ziony Zevit has observed, these individuals derive from several different tribes and are set in disparate time periods, from premonarchic to post-exilic eras.[94] We also have twelve instances of the Horus theophoric that have been found in inscriptions from the 7-6th centuries, making it decidedly the best represented foreign divine name in the Israelite onomasticon as a whole.[95] The Egyptian name pšḥwr, “son of Horus” was particularly popular, with 9 instances attested in the epigraphic record[96]; the book of Jeremiah reports that pšḥwr was the name of the chief officer over the temple in the days of Zedekiah (20:1). Most revealing is the attestation of the name ʾšḥwr “Horus gave” both in inscriptions and the Bible, since the predicate ʾwš “to give” is otherwise attested only with a YHWH theophoric, appearing in inscriptions twenty four times as ʾšyhw or ʾšyh and six times in the Bible as yhwʾš and ywʾš.[97]

In most of these instances a straightforward interpretation of ḥwr as the name of a foreign deity is ill suited to the context, even if the Egyptian names pšḥwr and ḥrnpr (1 Chr 7:36) show that the divine name Horus undoubtedly stands behind the theophoric.[98] Rather, the conspicuous usage of Horus as a theophoric in an onomasticon that is overwhelmingly Yahwistic and has few foreign divine names and its seeming interchangeability with the name YHWH suggests that in the later period of the monarchy it had become something of a divine title that could be applied to YHWH, possibly because of what Horus symbolized and the perception of mythological compatibility in the two deities’ profiles.[99]

  1. The appearance of the theophoric Bes in Israelite personal names. The name Bes occurs five times as a theophoric in inscriptions and the Bible, all in the same name bsy, “belonging to Bes.”[100] The usage of this name certainly reinforces the general impression of strong Egyptian influence on Israelite thought and the area of personal religion, since Bes, Horus, and Isis are among the few foreign divine names attested in larger numbers in Israelite anthroponyms. The problem with the name, however, is that its representation in the onomasticon is entirely disproportionate to the popularity of the Bes image as reflected in the distribution of the figure in Israelite archaeological contexts. If the name Bes could be used as a theophoric because of the deity’s role in personal and family religion, why do we not find it more frequently? The answer is probably that the name Bes did not represent strictly a foreign deity whose cult had been adopted by Israelites, but that like the name Horus, it had become assimilated to YHWH in the sphere of popular religion. A similar synthesis and translation of an Egyptian deity into the local Israelite context can be assumed in the case of Isis, whose name appears 6 times in the Hebrew formulation mʾs, “from Isis,” and whose imagery is often encountered in the archaeological record.[101]
  1. The use of wadjet eyes and pataikos figures as amulets. Wadjet eyes and pataikos figures were the most popular of all amulets used in Iron Age Palestine, with Herrmann’s corpus registering 543 wadjet eyes and 258 pataikos figures, as compared to 173 examples of Bes figures.[102] They are frequently found in domestic contexts along with Bes amulets and are well known for their strong Horus associations as apotropaia. The meaning of the wadjet eye in an Israelite context can be gathered from several pieces, including a scarab from late 8th century Megiddo that associates it with the crowned sphinx figure already identified as a Horus-like protective deity, an Israelite seal of unknown provenance that places it below the winged solar disc as if it were a shorthand for the sphinx figure, and a Samarian ivory that combines the wadjet eye with several motifs that we earlier linked to the Horus deity, including a falcon claw, uraeus, and solar disc.[103] On the other hand, the pataikos figure seems to have been an alter ego of the Bes figure and a symbol of Horus in a childlike or infantile state.[104] His pose and dwarflike features are recognizably Bes-like, with bandy legs, arms bent to the thighs, and frontal position. Several attributes link him to standard Bes imagery, such as the frequent depiction of him holding knives and biting snakes, recalling the Bes figure’s close association with swords and snakes. As a child-like or infantile manifestation of Horus, he often features a scarab-beetle on his head, symbol of solar rebirth and rejuvenation, and can be shown walking on crocodiles and associated with falcons. In Egypt he is sometimes accompanied by mother-type goddesses, such as Sachmet, Isis, or Nephthys.[105]

YHWH and Birth

In line with YHWH’s role as a protective deity discussed above, part of his function in this regard may have specifically overlapped with Bes through facilitating childbirth. Helping mothers be safely delivered of a child was one of Egyptian Bes’s most prominent and long-lasting roles as a personal god. From very early on, his function was to drive away evil spirits and relieve the mother in labor and this remained his special prerogative until well into the Common Era.[106] From the content of many Hebrew personal names, we can surmise that something similar was the case for YHWH in Israelite culture, since he is so often invoked as the agent by which pregnancy and birth come to successful completion.

The importance of the birth context for understanding the meaning of Israelite personal names has recently been underscored by Rainer Albertz, who catalogued all epigraphic names known to date and divided them into various categories based on grammatical, intentional, and form-critical criteria, including names of thanksgiving, names of confession, praise names, equating names, birth names, and secular names.[107] Based on his analysis, he found that birth names represented the dominant name type, making up at least one-third of all epigraphic names, and concluded that many of the theophoric names found in other categories “should also be primarily interpreted in the wider context of birth.”[108]
YHWH’s role in providing aid and protection during the pregnancy-birth experience is reflected in a variety of names,[109] including names where YHWH is seen as responsible in general for a successful birth: ntnyhw “YHWH gave”; mtnyhw “gift of YHWH”; ʾšyhw “YHWH gave”; yhwndb “YHWH presented”; brkyhw “YHWH blessed”; ḥnnyhw “YHWH was gracious”; šmʿyhw “YHWH heard”; yʾznyhw “YHWH heard”; ʾmryhw “YHWH commanded”; qlyhw “YHWH spoke”; mqnyhw “possession of YHWH”; bdyhw “in the hand of YHWH”; smkyhw “YHWH has supported”; ʿśyhw “YHWH made”; mʿśyhw “work of YHWH”; bnyhw “YHWH established”; knyhw “YHWH established.”

Other names portray YHWH in a militant fashion, as if he were a strong warrior fighting on behalf of the name-giver against the forces of death and infirmity: ʾnyyhw “my strength is YHWH”; ʾbryhw “strength is YHWH”; ʾmṣyhw “YHWH is strong”; yhwḥyl “YHWH is strength”; ḥzqyhw “YHWH is my strength”; ʾḥzyhw “YHWH grasped”; ʿmlyhw “YHWH labored”; ʿmsyhw “YHWH carried”; yhwqm “YHWH has arisen [on my behalf]”; mgdlyhw “YHWH is a battlement”; yhwṭr “YHWH is a wall”; yklyhw “YHWH has triumphed”; gbryhw “YHWH has proven mighty”; gdlyhw “YHWH has shown himself to be great”; yhwʿz “YHWH is my protection”; ʿzzyhw “YHWH has proven strong”; mḥsyhw “YHWH is my refuge; ʿlyhw “YHWH is exalted”; ṣpnyhw “YHWH protected”; šmryhw “YHWH protected”; plʾyhw “YHWH acted wonderfully”; plṭyhw “YHWH rescued”; gʾlyhw “YHWH redeemed”; pdyhw “YHWH ransomed”; hṣlyhw “YHWH delivered”; yšʿyhw “YHWH saved”; hwšʿyhw “YHWH saved”; yhwʿzr “YHWH is help.”

Finally, YHWH is shown to be the agent who completed or effected the delivery/parturition: dlyhw “YHWH drew out”; ḥlṣyhw “YHWH drew out”; gmryhw “YHWH completed”; gmlyhw “YHWH completed”; ḥwyhw “YHWH caused to live”; ʾṣlyhw “YHWH set aside, preserved”; yḥmlyhw “YHWH spared [the child]”; yrmyhw “YHWH loosened [the womb]”; bqyhw “YHWH poured out, emptied [the womb]”; ʾspyhw “YHWH removed”; ptḥyh “YHWH opened”[110]; pqḥyw “YHWH opened.”

Although the first group of names listed above could be understood to refer to a general divine blessing with regard to the birth of a child, the second and third groups point to a more specific protective and intervening activity of YHWH during the birth process. The language of YHWH as a warrior-savior is indeed so strong and consistent that it is difficult to imagine what other event in the life of the name-giver it could possibly have reference to. It is important to remember that in antiquity and the southern Levant of the Iron Age in particular the mortality rate of both women and infants was very high.[111] The birth event and the period surrounding it were among the most dangerous and portentous moments of a woman’s life, just as successful reproduction was key to the survival and well-being of the family as well as a woman’s social authority, all of which made it an intense locus of ritual and prayer. Like elsewhere in the ancient Near East, the threats to life that came to the fore during this period were probably perceived and spoken about in personal demonic terms, requiring the intervention and help of deity to keep them at bay. Moreover, as Carol Meyers has noted, various evidence suggests that in ancient Israel it was typically the mother who gave her child a name, so it is easy to see how many personal names would relate to the liminal experience of giving birth.[112]

Bes in Samaria

Further confirmation that Bes imagery could be related to YHWH is the evidence from Persian period coins that the image of Bes continued to be employed in official religious iconography of the local Samarian polity. The frontal head or figure of Bes appears on a fairly large number of issues, suggesting it may have had a local cultural significance of some kind.[113] Although the Bes representation seen on the coins has features at variance with the Bes-like figures from KA, such as a dwarflike face, large beard, fully anthropomorphic body, and lion-skin hanging from the shoulders, and is probably imitative of a stylized Bes form that was then popular in the southern Levant, Mary J. W. Leith has insightfully observed that a number of motifs present in Samarian coinage have fairly close parallels to the imagery of pithos A in particular, including a cow and calf, rampant goats flanking a palm tree, the Bes figure, and striding lion. On the assumption that the imagery on the coins was used to subtly assert a local Samarian Israelite identity, Leith argued that “the correspondences between the two sets of images, each explicitly associated with Samaria, are strong enough to suggest, in a case analogous to the continuous material culture identified in the archaeological record, a persistent symbolic ‘Israelite’ repertoire from the Iron Age into the Persian period and even beyond.”[114]

Leith herself was uncertain about what Bes may have represented in Samarian piety of the Persian period, saying only, “it would appear that Bes was significant.”[115] But the fact that he wears a lion skin and is portrayed as strong and athletic recalls the standard image of Herakles-Melqart in the Phoenician/Punic world and would be consistent with the assumption that he signifies a comparable heroic tutelary deity in the district of Samaria. We know that coinage in the eastern Mediterranean during the Persian period was commonly used as an artistic medium for memorializing local deities and transmitting their images, often adapting the pictorial symbolism of major economic powers,[116] so an interpretation of the motif as merely abstract or imitatively derivative is less convincing. In addition, as was already mentioned above, we have clear evidence that the Bes image was creatively adapted to depict major local deities on Philistian coinage during the same period.[117]

Thus the coinage of Samaria would seem to provide another indirect link between Bes imagery and YHWH. If we are correct that the figure of Bes on these coins was an emblem of a deity of the Samarian polity of the Persian period, then it is not unreasonable to think that earlier instantiations of Bes from Iron Age Israel would have also functioned as a kind of divine iconography as applied to YHWH and specifically the royal tutelary deity YHWH of Samaria.


Iconographic Context of the Figures

The final consideration that supports identifying the figures as YHWH and his asherah is the larger iconographic repertoire of imagery on both pithoi and their arrangement in relation to one another, which implies that much of the animal, plant, and humanoid symbolism plus inscriptional texts were intended to function as meaningful interrelated wholes.

We have already mentioned the tendency of many scholars to isolate the symbolism on the pithoi and read the motifs separate from one another, as though they had accumulated gradually over time apart from any conscious, overarching, and guiding artistic vision. For example, Beck distributed the drawings on pithos A and B among possibly four different painters, including painter A for most of the animal and plant imagery, painter B for the right Bes figure and lyre player, painter C for the procession of worshippers, and another painter for the left Bes figure, all of whom are assumed to have worked independently.[118] Keel and Uehlinger believed that only a few of the motifs formed coherent groups, such as the lotus tree with flanking caprids above a lion, the caprid and lotus branch, and the procession of worshippers.[119]

Following their analysis, it seems this fragmented approach to interpreting the imagery was stimulated by various observations about the pithoi decoration, including the uncoordinated and graffiti-like appearance of many of the drawings, stylistic divergences in the rendering of figures, variation in line thickness and color, the presence of partial or unfinished drawings, the crowded juxtaposition and overlapping of images and inscriptions, the fact that some inscriptions were clearly written at different phases of the pithoi’s use, sometimes with little regard for the writing that preceded it, and the possibility that some motifs may reflect distinct cultural influences and backgrounds.[120]

However, in retrospect many of the conclusions about compositional disunity drawn from the above phenomena are based on questionable assumptions. Not all of the arguments for reading the motifs separate from one another are convincing, or apply to the drawings on both pithoi to the same degree.

Pithos B

In the case of pithos B it is difficult to deny that the artwork was composed by multiple hands and that the individual drawings and inscriptions had a fairly complex origin (fig. 8). As is generally recognized, the procession of worshippers forms a coherent group and can be distinguished from the surrounding animal and archer figures based on a number of shared features and the rough and angular style in which it was drawn.[121] On the other hand, the animal and archer figures are distributed unevenly around the periphery of the procession and seem to function almost as independent motifs. Not only do the grazing caprid, archer, and cow-calf bear no immediate relation to the matter of the procession, but they are spatially disassociated from one another and were painted with different colors—the caprid and archer are black while the unfinished cow-calf is red.

In addition, the last member of the procession overlaps the leg of the bull, and the front of the bull is overlapped by inscription 3.6 to the right, which in itself implicates multiple authors. If we accept Beck’s analysis that the animal imagery was the product of the same artist,[122] then this means that at least two artists were responsible for the greater part of the drawings, one for the animal group and another for the procession.

Yet despite the jumbled appearance of the artwork and evidence that the drawings and inscriptions resulted from the contributions of multiple hands, careful examination shows that the pithos decoration was a product of greater compositional organization and planning than can be detected at first glance. First, there are reasons to think that the instances of textual and pictorial overlapping of the bull were effected intentionally in order to create meaningful associations with their respective content. As was mentioned above, the bull is overlapped in two places, by inscription 3.6 on the right and the last member of the procession to the left. Significantly, in the case of the inscription the line that happens to overlap is brktk .ly- “I bless you to Ya-,” so that the invocation of the beginning of the divine name YHWH is placed squarely in the middle of the animal.[123] This positioning of the divine name is hardly likely to be accidental, in view of the evidence for YHWH’s association with bovine symbolism already discussed. The inscription is a relatively narrow ten-line column, and only one line directly overlaps the bull. As a consequence, it appears that at some point a scribe composed inscription 3.6 in its current location primarily to bring it into association with the bull figure.[124]

Because the author of inscription 3.6 seems to have understood the bull as a divine emblem and so overlapped it with a prayer to YHWH, this suggests that the same understanding may have motivated the overlapping of the bull by the worshipper. The possibility that the overlap between the bull and the worshipper was created intentionally has not generally been considered in previous study. In her analysis of the pithos, Beck hypothesized that the overlapping could be explained on the assumption that worshipper Q was the last member of the procession to be drawn and that limited space necessitated overlapping part of the bull.[125] But this theory is unsatisfactory for several reasons: 1) It is unclear that worshipper Q was in fact the last to be drawn. While he is admittedly the last figure in the procession in terms of their left-facing profile, the heterogeneity and inconsistency among the figures, variation in ground lines, and unfinished element (another worshipper?) above worshippers M and N makes it difficult to discern the exact sequence in which they were composed, or even if they were all painted by the same hand. 2) Even if we granted that worshipper Q was drawn last, this is not in itself an explanation for why the artist chose to overlap the figures. If the artist’s intention had been to create an independent scene of worshippers with no relation to the bull, he could have easily placed figure Q at the front of the procession before the caprid, where there was more room, on a lower ground line similar to figure N, or even pulled it more closely to figure P as in the case of juxtaposed figures M and N. 3) A basic methodological principle of iconographic analysis is that we treat all details and associations of elements as potentially meaningful in explicating the imagery of a particular context, especially when the creation of such associations were avoidable. Because of the paratactic and associative nature of ancient Near Eastern art, there were generally reasons why artists went to the trouble of including certain motifs and depicting them in the way they did.

A more plausible solution than inadvertent overlapping is that the association between the worshipper and the bull was made purposefully: 1) The overlap of the bull’s leg is substantial and decisive, reaching all the way through the worshipper’s neck, shoulder, and chest area. 2) The painting of the worshipper over part of the bull is in fact the only case on pithos B where motifs have been directly overlapped, making it exceptional in the broader context. The other animal and human figures are all spatially disassociated from one another, except for some minor overlapping among procession members M and N. 3) The motifs are theologically complementary. If the bull is understood as the theriomorphic image of YHWH, then it is understandable why someone would link a group of worshippers to it, so as to underscore and narrativize the divine object of their worship.

Second, if we follow Beck’s analysis that the animal imagery was the product of the same artist and that the last member of the procession was drawn over the bull, then an important implication is that the two major groups of imagery on the pithos are closely related compositionally and were developed together around the same time. Even though the procession motif overlaps the bull to the right, it appears that one and the same artist was responsible for animal paintings on both sides of the group of worshippers. That is to say, the animal artist painted the bull to the right and then at some point he also painted the caprid and cow-calf to the far left and below, as if presupposing the existence of the procession. This arrangement is difficult to explain except by one of two possibilities, either the animal artist painted the caprid and cow-calf after the procession + bull was already in place or he painted the animal motifs all at one go while planning for the procession scene and leaving space for another artist to work. In either case, the most economical conclusion is that the animal artist was working in tandem or in coordination with the artist of the procession. The gap separating the bull and the other animals is highly suggestive in this case, since the caprid, lion tail, archer, and cow-calf all cluster together and the space separating them individually is considerably less than the distance between them as a group and the bull. If the animal artist had worked completely independently before the application of the procession, we would expect the bull and other animals to have been grouped more closely together.

Third, the collection of imagery on pithos B does not have the appearance of being random graffiti or an amalgamation of motifs of diverse origins. We have already seen that the bull and group of worshippers are integrally related and were likely composed to function together. But equally significant is the fact that the choice of animal motifs is closely comparable to that found on pithos A, consisting of repeated bovine figures and caprid and lion symbolism. Pithos B has complete or partial drawings of a striding bull, cow-calf, grazing caprid, and attacking lion, identifiable based on the distinctive shape of the raised tail, whereas pithos A has bovine standing figures, cow-calf, grazing caprids, and protective lion.[126] In addition, from Beck’s drawing a single lotus flower can be detected behind worshipper Q’s head and overlapping the leg of the bull, corresponding to the repeated lotus symbolism of pithos A.[127]

Outside of KA, we have a variety of evidence from the Iron Age southern Levant that the animal motifs on pithos B were often associated in distinctive iconographic groups or patterns. The grazing caprid is closely linked with the cow-calf symbol in Phoenician ivories,[128] and a grazing caprid and cow-calf appear together on an Edomite bowl from Buseirah in southern Jordan.[129] On an unprovenanced seal that may be Israelite a lion with raised tail is attacking a caprid, above which is pictured the young Horus deity holding lotus flowers.[130] An 8th century seal amulet from Megiddo shows the lion with raised tail attacking a caprid, above which is a sacred tree guarded by falcon-headed griffins.[131]

Another indication that the motifs on pithos B were deliberately chosen and arranged in a meaningful sequence is the presence of the archer. The archer is most naturally grouped with the grazing caprid, based on the conventional motif of a hunter and caprid (Prov 6:5; 7:22; Isa 13:14) and the fact that both are uniquely painted in black. Although Beck herself was unsure of which painter to assign him, because of the lack of any closely comparable figure on the pithoi, the shape of his face and arms clearly differentiate him from the procession members, and the delicate style in which his nose, mouth, eyes, and ear were drawn puts him easily in the orbit of the animal painter. The archer and caprid are the only figures on the pithos painted in black, which suggests not only that they were painted at the same time but that the animal artist was trying to make a distinction between them and the other animal and human figures. Interestingly, an archer hunting a caprid accompanied by a lion with raised tail is depicted on Iron I scarabs, and two limestone conoids from the 11-10th century show an archer taking aim at the cow-calf.[132]

Following the above analysis that the overlapping of bull with inscription on the pithos was intentional, that the arrangement of motifs was a product of two artists working together to create a larger composite scene, and that the animal imagery shares many interconnections and more than likely functions as a meaningful group, we are now in a position to reconstruct the origin and meaning of the pithos decoration as a whole.

The first clue to interpreting the imagery is that virtually all of the drawings can be understood as having a cultic and/or mythological character:

    1. The procession motif seems to consist of a group of human worshippers in a pose of adoration or prayer. The scene is manifestly cultic.
    1. As we have already seen, the bull is overlapped by the divine name YHWH, implying that it performs a symbolic representative function in the context of the pithos imagery.
    1. The grazing caprid and archer combination is the most difficult to decipher. In the art of ancient Palestine the caprid was a multivalent symbol that could be used as a divine emblem, fertility motif, or representative wild prey.[133] However, based on the context in which it appears at KA and from iconographic parallels, the caprid likely represents more than a decorative filler or abstract concept. The animal has been treated as if it were a significant motif in itself, standing alone and of similar size to the bull on the right. A grazing caprid is closely associated with the male standing figure on pithos A, such that the horns touch or slightly overlap his right ear. A striding or grazing caprid is depicted on Palestinian seal amulets and scaraboids as an autonomous motif and, as was already mentioned, sometimes associated with the Horus-like deity.[134] During Iron II the cow-calf emblem often consists of a mother caprid suckling her young.[135] On the other hand, the caprid on pithos B is also connected to the archer as part of a hunter-prey combination, thus raising the question of whether the scene is a pictorial fragment of local myth. The archer’s face has a somewhat menacing appearance, and parallels to the idea of a deity/demon hunting down a divine caprid(s) are attested in Ugaritic mythological literature.[136]
  1. The cow-calf motif is a widespread mythological symbol and we will discuss evidence below that it alludes to a major Israelite goddess at KA.

The second clue to the function of the imagery relates to inscription 3.9 found immediately above the procession on the shoulder of the pithos between the incised lines. The inscription contains another blessing dedicated to YHWH of Teman, only this time the text is non-overlapping and simply hovers above the figures. We have already seen that the scribe responsible for inscription 3.6 composed his blessing text in a way that linked it with a specific image, thus making the suggestion of Brian Schmidt that inscription 3.9 was originally intended to accompany the central procession appealing.[137] If one of the blessing inscriptions on pithos B was composed as part of an image-text combination, then it is only natural to suppose that the other would have been as well. The major factors that support this hypothesis are the following: 1) the close proximity of the inscription to the procession + bull, running parallel to it and corresponding in length; 2) its central position on the pithos and careful placement within the incised lines, as if it were meant for public display; 3) the thematic correspondence between the inscription and adjacent imagery—the continuation of the blessing emphasizes YHWH’s graciousness in answering prayers[138]; and 4) the comparable structure of a long horizontal inscription situated above the standing figures on pithos A. The fact that the inscription hovers above the worshippers and does not overlap them would be explained by the circumstance that the procession consists of human beings rather than divine images.

There has long been reluctance among scholars to interpret the pithoi imagery in light of their inscriptions, in part because of the variegated content of the inscriptions and the belief that they originated as scribal practice material. Beck herself expressed skepticism that any of the inscriptions could be correlated with the paintings, and Keel and Uehlinger went so far to suggest that the inscriptions and paintings should be treated as completely separate from a methodological point of view.[139]

However, this tendency to analyze the inscriptions and imagery on the pithoi as separate entities and functionally distinct modes of communication is problematic. More recent research has shown that in ancient Near Eastern art text and image often went hand in hand, such that the lines between them were regularly blurred. In contexts that combine written and visual dimensions, inscriptions were used not only to convey literal words and ideas in themselves, but frequently served iconographic or extra-textual aims and were an essential part of instantiating an image’s authority, agency, and meaning.[140]

Because of their placement inscriptions 3.6 and 3.9 are an integral part of the pithos decoration. They are not secondary or unrelated to the function of the imagery, but were intended to be seen and read along with the drawings. Aside from the drawings, the inscriptions are the most prominent visual element on the pithos.

Finally, there is a growing consensus that the benchroom at KA with which the pithoi were associated was a locus of cultic activity,[141] and the application of blessing inscriptions to the pithoi is evidence that the vessels functioned as objects of cult at least for a significant period. Alice Mandell has recently clarified the usage of epistolary blessings in cultic contexts and shown that “the most probable Sitz im Leben for these inscriptions, which factors in the use of direct speech, their form, arrangement on the storage jars, and positioning near images of deities and worshipers, is that of dedicatory graffiti inscribed during a visit/pilgrimage to Kuntillet ʿAjrud.”[142] In the same way that a visitor to a shrine or sanctuary could verbally express blessings on behalf of someone else not present, the epistolary form was used to create written dedications that expressed ongoing petitions to deity on behalf of another.

Following this evidence for the cultic usage of the pithoi, we can conclude that the functions of the pictorial and inscriptional graffiti were closely related. Because the inscriptions were dedicatory in nature, it is likely that the associated drawings were dedicatory as well, providing religiously significant and thematically appropriate illustrations for the accompanying blessings, which, probably not coincidentally, are both directed to YHWH of Teman. Presumably, because inscription 3.9 stands above the procession + bull, it must have been applied to the pithos first as part of an independent text-image combination, possibly in association with the list of names to the left and the abecedaries to the right, and then at a later stage someone added inscription 3.6 overlapping the bull and the abecedaries. The purpose of the original text-image dedication would have been to serve as an expression of devotion to YHWH of Teman at KA, showing interconnected scenes of individuals in an act of worship and prayer, perhaps the dedicatees themselves, and sacred theriomorphic imagery evoking a kind of narrative portrait of the deity’s mythology surrounding the central procession.

Pithos A

When we move to pithos A, we encounter an artistic product noticeably different from pithos B in several respects (fig. 9). Unlike the latter, all of the drawings are painted in the same red color, found in a more complete state, grouped together with minimal distance separating motifs, and accompanied by only one blessing inscription above the standing Bes-like figures. In contrast with the procession of worshippers, here the emphasis is on a divine male and female couple, who are uniquely shown face forward as an object of particular focus. On both sides of the pithos the drawings have been centrally positioned and show evidence of balance and perspective, suggesting that the whole was constructed with greater intentionality and design. Most importantly, we find no clear evidence that would justify disassociating the motifs, and careful analysis supports interpreting the imagery on both sides of the pithos as a unified iconographic structure.

First of all, there is little support for stylistically differentiating among the central standing figures and the lyre player. As we have already discussed, the evidence that has been used to suggest that the left standing figure was composed by a separate hand from the right standing figure is problematic and based on a somewhat inaccurate rendering of the figure’s shape and the faulty assumption that overlapping necessarily points to secondary use of the pithos. The left figure in fact shows many of the same stylistic and formal features as the right figure, and peculiarities in shape that contrast from the female can be explained as having been made purposefully in the process of composition. With regard to the lyre player, Beck has convincingly argued that it was drawn by the same hand as the right standing figure, because of the similar rendering of the ear, breasts, and axilla-arm connection and outlining of arms and legs.[143]

As a result, the standing figures and lyre player can be taken as a minimal stylistic group on the face of the pithos, or a collection of imagery that was the product of the same artist. All the figures are anthropomorphizing and were drawn with a fairly large brush.

The common origin of these figures is further indicated by the similar application of decorative dots on or around their bodies. The dots cluster for the most part in the same region of the body, on the torso from the shoulders to the hips/midsection, though significantly, the dots on the male standing figure are larger than the female figure and extend down his right arm and appear in the space between the arm and torso, while the dots on the lyre player also seem to fall outside the body near the front abdomen (fig. 1).

There has been much discussion about the meaning of the dots and their background. The most common theory has been to regard them as a decorative pattern representing a garment of some kind, similar to the dots on the bodies of the worshippers on pithos B.[144] But the difficulty with this view is that the standing figures and lyre player do not show evidence of wearing any clothing above the waist and the free distribution of dots across their bodies contrasts from the worshippers, where they are mostly enclosed within a crosshatched pattern. As Beck first recognized, the dots are unlikely to represent any garment, since they appear not only on the figures’ kilts but also all over their upper bodies and even outside their bodies.[145] Keel and Uehlinger attempted to solve this problem by suggesting that the artist was simply careless and unskillful in his rendering of decorative clothing.[146] However, it hardly seems credible to think that even an unskilled artist would have been so negligent to place dots up and down the male figure’s right arm and squarely in the space in between the arm and torso. From all that can be seen, the artist seems to have been reasonably competent at adhering to material boundaries elsewhere in his outlining of the figures, and the fact that dots appear outside of the female body as well lends support to the assumption that the peculiar arrangement was not a mistake.

Another proposal has been to see the dots as derived from Egyptian Bes iconography, where Bes figures were sometimes decorated with wadjet eyes as a means of heightening their symbolism and apotropaic power. But while this thesis is somewhat more attractive, the manner in which the dots are distributed on the pithos figures is not really analogous to Egyptian examples of Bes with dots and it fails to account for why the dots appear on only parts of the bodies and outside of the bodies.[147]

One further possibility that has not been explored by any scholar to date is that the dots are symbolic of divine glory. This interpretation is speculative and impossible to confirm based on available evidence, since we have no other example of dots used in such a symbolic manner. But if we accept that the figures are deities, then it may not be coincidental that the dots cluster and expand to the area outside of the body around specific areas of the male and female figures: the right arm of the male figure and the front abdomen of the female lyre player, i.e. near her sexual organs. The strong right arm of the divine warrior YHWH is a common literary trope in Hebrew poetry, e.g. Ps 17:7, 14; 20:6; 44:3; 45:4; 89:13. Exodus 15:6 describes YHWH’s right arm being “majestic” in power, from the root ʾDR, and in Isaiah the revelation of the kāḇôd “glory” of YHWH is synonymous with the revelation of his arm (Isa 40:5; 51:5; 52:10; 53:1). A divine protective hand is also engraved next to the inscription invoking the blessing of YHWH and his asherah at Khirbet el-Qom.[148] In light of these associations, the possibility that the dots on the figures may be a graphic representation of the divine ʾeder or kāḇôd is appealing. In addition, this explanation would also help elucidate the different sizes of dots that distinguish the male and female figures: consistent with his preeminent position, the male figure has larger dots.

Moving to the other drawings on the pithos, they include a caprid and lotus branch and cow-calf scene immediately to the left and below, both of which are slightly overlapped by the male standing figure, and a fragmentary chariot horse further behind to the left whose significance and relation to the other drawings is unclear. On the other side of the pithos is a lotus tree flanked by caprids mounted on a lion, above which is a dramatic scene of animals in combat. In contrast with the standing figures and lyre player, most of the animal and lotus motifs have been painted with a thin delicate brush.

As first recognized by Beck, this collection of imagery appears to be another minimal stylistic group originating from a single artist. The animal + plant motifs share many features and formal qualities that seem to reflect a similar technique and background, as shown particularly in the portrayal of animal mouths, noses, eyes, ears, necks, legs, and feet.[149] The high level of detail and delicate rendering of shapes also marks the group as having a common origin.

Noting these stylistic affinities and that the caprid-lotus branch and cow-calf were painted sometime before the standing male figure, Beck further hypothesized that the animal + plant group was painted by an artist different from the artist responsible for the standings figures and lyre player. In addition to the thin size of brush, she thought support for this conclusion could be found in the possibility that the animal artist was influenced by a slightly different range of iconographic sources.[150]

However, on closer examination some of the arguments offered by Beck for differentiating between the two groups of imagery are problematic or less than convincing. First, the chronological priority of the animal figures and their overlapping by the male figure does not necessarily mean that they were composed by a separate artist.[151] We have already seen several examples of the conscious use of overlapping on the pithoi in order to create meaningful associations among elements, including the overlapping of worshipper Q and the bull on pithos B and the male and female standing figures on pithos A. So it is at least conceivable that a single artist could have been responsible for this overlapping as well, by applying the motifs in several stages.[152]

Second, the size of brush is a very weak basis upon which to identity authorship. As noted by Schmidt, “line thickness is hardly a reliable indicator of multiple hands. It can be equally explained as purposeful artistic variation.”[153] Both relatively thick and thin lines are evident in the drawing of the fragmentary chariot horse motif, which likely was a product of a single artist.[154] The fact that the widest brush lines on the pithos correlate with the central standing figures suggests that the artist may have been trying to highlight or bring them into prominence vis-à-vis the other figures.[155]

Third, the thick lines used to create the Bes-like figures and lyre player and their distinct formal qualities compared to the animals complicates efforts to stylistically differentiate them from each other. As with any artist, the use of a larger brush size or broad edge of a brush would have resulted in an unavoidable diminution in graphic precision in the rendering of details and bodily contours. From the available photos, the thicker lines of the Bes figures and lyre player were not always drawn with exactly the same width and sometimes were emphasized through retracing, suggesting that the process of applying thicker lines may have resulted in some distortion in the overall form of the figures that inherently distinguished them from the thin and more delicate strokes used for the animals. Beck herself at least admitted that her differentiation between painters A and B was “to some extent biased by the fact that A drew only animals, while B drew only human figures, and their styles may be closer to each other than is immediately apparent from the subject matter.”[156]

Finally, although Beck identified several distinct cultural milieus reflected in the pithos artwork, which she thought to correlate with the assumption of multiple authorship, this hypothesis is very tenuous. Her identification of some far-flung cultural influences is more likely a factor of accidents of archaeological discovery and our limited knowledge of two-dimensional painting and local iconography in the southern Levant than evidence of any direct or significant relationship. For example, her comparison of the sacred tree flanked by caprids seen on the pithos with the form of the motif from Pazarli is not particularly illuminating. The theme was widespread in the ancient Near East and took on many forms, including in the southern Levant.[157] While aspects of the representation of some of the animals have parallels from sites in northern Syria and the neo-Hittite realm, the similarities are not so distinctive to require firsthand dependence. As Beck herself admits, evidence that artisans in the southern Levant had adopted the Neo-Hittite style of rendering lions with protruding tongues has been recovered from Judah and the Golan,[158] and perhaps not coincidentally the lions on the Ta’anach cult stand discussed earlier also feature protruding tongues. Lastly, it is doubtful that the dots used in the depiction of the Bes-like figures or lyre player demonstrate any link with the desert art of Arabia or Midian. The dots are not exclusively confined to following solid lines, as in the comparative material discussed by Beck, but are rather haphazardly distributed on and around the figures. In any case, dots are a common artistic element of many cultures, and their usage here is better understood in terms of some local iconographic tradition.

Furthermore, because we lack close parallels for the Bes-like figures and lyre player, it is impossible to say that they belong to a distinct cultural horizon from the animal and lotus imagery. Beck’s exhaustive comparative study has shown that the Bes figures and lyre player show general connections with the Phoenician world and Egypt more distantly, while the animal and lotus motifs point to links with Phoenicia and North Syria, but it is important to emphasize that these broader cultural associations do not identify the proximate source of the artwork as a whole. Most of the motif shapes and motif combinations on the pithos are in fact unparalleled in the iconography of the broader region, including the lotus tree, the lotus mounted on a lion, the caprid and lotus branch, the Bes-like figures, and lyre player. So even if the artwork has connections to Phoenicia and elsewhere, the relationship is not a simple case of borrowing. We would still need to be able to explain how the motifs developed, took on their present form, and then came together on a single object found at an isolated site in the northern Sinai desert.

A more plausible scenario therefore is that the drawings represent a repertoire of imagery stemming from the same cultural background as those who built, operated, and lived at KA and worshipped and wrote dedicatory inscriptions on pithoi, namely Israelites from northern Palestine: 1) The unique character of the imagery suggests a well-established local iconographic tradition native to the southern Levant with strong cultural ties to Phoenicia and further to the north. 2) We have already seen that many of the motifs fit well in an Israelite cultural setting, particularly the calf and Bes symbolism and lotus tree, grazing caprids, and guardian lion, based on a similar range of motifs on the cult stand from Ta’anach and coinage from Persian period Samaria. 3) The inscription associated with the imagery on the pithos itself implies an Israelite origin. 4) The growing scholarly consensus is that the archaeological finds from KA “point to the kingdom of Israel as the authority which constructed and maintained the establishment.”[159]

Ultimately, it is difficult to decide whether the standing figures + lyre player were painted by the same artist as the animals. The artist of the standing figures + lyre player was at least reasonably skilled at working in the two-dimensional medium, unlike the procession artist on pithos B. The figures are decently well formed and symmetrical; as was discussed earlier, the legs of the male figure are not so crooked and divergent from each other as depicted in Beck’s reproduction, but have a definite bow-legged shape with ankle hocks. On the other hand, despite problems with aspects of Beck’s analysis and the inherent difficulties of comparing the animals + lotus drawings with the standing figures + lyre player because of differences in line-thickness and shape, it is possible that her original intuition that the two groups of imagery should be stylistically differentiated from each other was basically correct. When we closely compare the standing figures + lyre player to the animals the former appear somewhat schematic and roughly shaped (particularly in the case of the standing figures). Specifically, there are places where the artist’s outlining of body parts is rather bumpy and hesitating, in contrast with the confident and delicate style of the animal painter, whose strokes tended to be long and smooth.

Nevertheless, even if it is possible that the imagery of pithos A combines artwork from two separate artists, multiple considerations support understanding the complex of motifs as a unified iconographic structure. First, the motifs appear to have been composed so as to frame the central standing figures and bring them into focus. The caprid-lotus branch, cow-calf, and lyre player are all shown in profile or oblique position relative to the standing figures, whereas the standing figures are presented face forward. In addition, the standing figures are larger than the other motifs and have been painted with thicker lines of paint.[160]

Second, the various instances of overlapping seem to have been carefully planned and constructed. As was mentioned earlier, the arrangement of the image complexes moves from soft juxtaposition/overlapping of the cow-calf and caprid-lotus with the male figure, to substantial overlapping in the case of the male and female figures, and then to soft juxtaposition again with the female figure and lyre player, suggesting that the whole was a product of conscious organization and design. On both sides of the standing figures the juxtaposition/overlapping could have been avoided if the artist had placed them in different positions or modified their shape.

Third, the combination of pictorial imagery + inscription can be read as a meaningful whole or interrelated iconographic structure:

Lotus branch and caprid

As was argued earlier, the artist’s association of the male figure with the lotus branch + caprid group seems to have been deliberate, pulling the right arm somewhat awkwardly to the left so that it clearly overlapped, thus linking the figure to a significant royal and divine symbol in the sacred iconography of ancient Palestine.[161] We have already seen that in Israelite ivory and glyptic the youthful Horus-like deity was closely associated with the lotus: he is variously shown sitting on a lotus, holding lotus flowers, or standing in the vicinity of lotus symbolism.[162] On pithos B a single lotus flower appears to have been attached to the rear of the bull, which is associated with YHWH by the accompanying inscription. Perhaps even more significantly, the male figure of pithos A has been positioned so that a large lotus flower is placed immediately next to his mouth, which is iconographically parallel to the image of an enthroned youthful figure holding a lotus flower to his mouth in a large wall painting at the entrance to Building A (no. 9).[163] As emphasized by Brian Schmidt, this wall painting figure is 32 cm, making it “far larger in scale than anything else recovered from the inventory of pithoi drawings and painted figures at KA.”[164] The size and prominent placement of the figure in the network of KA’s sacred iconography and association with several nearby wall inscriptions with specifically religious themes, as well as evidence for another similar depiction of an enthroned anthropomorphic figure on a pithos sherd (sherd Z), provides strong support for understanding the youthful figure as a divine representation.[165] In addition, lotus symbolism is present elsewhere in the decorative designs of KA, similar to the repeated lotus buds and flowers in biblical descriptions of YHWH’s temple in Jerusalem.[166]


The meaning of the cow-calf group and its relation to the bovine standing figures is also fairly easy to discern. The conventional use of the cow-calf motif throughout the eastern Mediterranean as a symbol of primary goddesses in their role as birth mother is well known.[167] On early Phoenician bowls the motif appears in highly mythological contexts, where it clearly indicates more than an abstract concept of fertility and sustenance. For example, it is found on the bowl from Kourion, which is dominated by scenes of divine warriors battling with lions and griffins and occasionally broken up by sacred tree imagery and the figure of a nurturing and protective goddess, or on a bowl of unknown provenance at the Rijksmuseum, where it is centrally placed and surrounded by similar views of battling deities. As Glenn Markoe has observed, the backdrop of a papyrus thicket on several bowls “confirms the [the cow-calf] scene’s symbolic association with the motif of Isis suckling the infant Horus that traditionally occurs in this setting.”[168] In addition, Eleanor Beach has insightfully noted that Phoenician ivory artisans used the cow-calf motif with a limited number of other iconographic motifs to decorate specialized furniture, including the woman at the window, infant on a lotus, human-headed sphinx, winged guardian, and grazing stag, suggesting that they form an interrelated tableau of mythological scenes.[169]

In ancient Israel the cow-calf motif was most likely understood similarly to its reception in Phoenicia, given the evidence for bull and calf symbolism used to represent major deities discussed earlier.[170] The analogy of female deities to cows, parallel to chief male deities imaged as strong and sexually potent bulls, was endemic to the mythological language of the region and provided a ready means of speaking about the divine world in sexual and procreative terms. In Papyrus Amherst 63 we find a unique textual elaboration of the theme relatively close to the polytheistic milieu of KA, in which the wife of Bethel is depicted as a nourishing cow goddess who suckles the people and brings forth fruit for her bull husband.[171]

On this understanding, the association of the male figure with the cow by crossing his foot over her leg was intended to show a close relationship to the primary goddess or wife of the pantheon chief. Although the cow and male figure technically belong to independent scenes or image complexes, the artist has explicitly linked the two together such that they mutually reinforce the mythological interpretation of each figure: the cow represents a major goddess closely associated with the royal male figure and so is the male calf-like figure a major deity associated with the primary cow goddess. Seen from another perspective, the cow goddess is grouped with a calf at a simple motif level and then linked with another calf-like deity at a larger motif complex level.

In view of the fundamentally maternal character of the cow-calf symbol and the multiple indications pointing to a deep conceptual relationship between the primary cow goddess and the standing calf- and Bes-like male figure, we should probably identify the latter as her son.[172]

Sacred tree flanked by caprids

The explanation of the cow as an emblem of a chief goddess is further reinforced by another prominent symbol of the nurturing goddess on the back of the pithos: the sacred tree flanked by caprids mounted on a lion. Even though Keel and Uehlinger were generally reluctant to see strong mythological associations in the pithos imagery, they agreed that the placement of the tree on the back of the lion was a clear allusion to a major goddess, based on representations of a goddess known as Qudshu/QDS̆T from New Kingdom Egypt and Late Bronze Palestine, who was typically shown standing on a lion and holding lotus branches.[173] The addition of caprids feeding from the tree points to the nurturing role of the goddess, consistent with a maternal, life-giving character. The close connection of the sacred tree to naked goddess symbolism and Canaanite Asherah is well documented and has recently been treated by Irit Ziffer.[174]

From this interpretation of the sacred tree, we can begin to see a kind of structural correspondence in the imagery on both sides of the pithos: the image of the suckling cow goddess correlates with the nourishing sacred tree on the reverse, and the caprid-lotus motif is linked to the sacred tree with caprids as well. Taken as a whole, elements associated with the primary goddess are repeated and prominently featured.

Animals in combat

The meaning of the sequence of animals in combat on the shoulder of the reverse of the pithos and their relation to the sacred tree is less clear, but it is possible that they may have had specific mythological implications for the artist responsible for them and for the Israelites who used and inhabited KA. Another boar was found depicted on a pottery fragment from the east end of the south storeroom overlapping another animal, suggesting that its presence on pithos A was more than a mere decorative motif.[175] The wild boar/pig was commonly viewed in the eastern Mediterranean as a predatory animal of unsavory qualities (cf. Ps 80:13) and in many cultures seems to have had chthonic associations.[176] On Phoenician scarabs Bes is sometimes shown holding a boar in the master of animals pose, and on votive razors from Punic sites the boar appears as a mythological symbol in funerary and magical contexts.[177] In the late tradition of De Dea Syria, the Byblian Adonis is reported to have been killed by a wild boar, parallel to Adonis of classical mythology.[178] On the other hand, the female lion that faces the boar could possibly represent a protective form of the goddess depicted elsewhere on the pithos. The lion was an important attribute animal of many local goddesses in the southern Levant, including Asherah.[179] The use of this symbolism to represent various female deities is possibly reflected in the many Egyptian or Egyptianizing Sekhmet amulets that have been recovered from sites throughout ancient Palestine.[180]

Lyre player

The lyre player to the right of the standing female figure is also a divinity, based on the depiction of her sitting on a throne, exposed breasts, and the strong mythological ambience of the larger pithos scene.[181] There has been much debate about her identity, with William Dever notably arguing that she is a representation of Asherah.[182] However, several factors indicate that she is simply a replication of the standing female figure in anthropomorphic form and not a separate deity: 1) The lyre player is iconographically comparable to the standing female figure in several respects: the ear visible on each is shaped almost precisely the same; both feature the same circular breast markings; the size and distribution of dots on their bodies is very similar; both are royal figures, one denoted by a crown and the other by a throne. 2) We have already seen several examples where divine imagery seems to have been repeated as a structural element in the design of the pithos artwork, including the centrally placed symbols of a primary goddess on both sides of the pithos and the juxtaposition of the calf-like standing figure with another calf as part of the cow-calf motif. Because of this tendency to repeat divine figures in different forms, the fact that soft juxtaposition is present on both sides of the standing figures and their male and female dualism is extended to the calf and lyre player to which they are adjacent suggests that replication of divine imagery extended horizontally across the central scene and that the lyre player was created as a duplicate or mythological variant of the standing female. 3) The portrayal of a goddess playing a lyre would fit well with an identification of her as the female companion of the standing male figure. We have a number of examples of female deities singing or playing music for their male counterparts: Anat plays the lyre and sings a love song for Baal (CAT 1.3 iii 4-8); Papyrus Amherst 63 contains a lament about a goddess that no longer plays the lyre and sings for Baal of Heaven in the bridal chamber (Col. XVII); Isaiah 5:1-2 presents a fragment of an older poem in which an unidentified (female?) speaker sings a love song to YHWH, referred to in second person as “my beloved.”[183] In ancient Near Eastern love poetry more generally, women were often ascribed a preeminent role.[184] This broader background opens the possibility that a goddess making music for her partner may have been a common mythological trope, which would explain why it appears here on the pithos in the context of a divine couple. In the world of the author, singing love songs was an important aspect of the goddess’s mythological profile and identity. 4) The lyre player is set facing a direction oblique to the standing figures, which would be consistent with an understanding of the image as playing a separate or subsidiary role in the context of the pithos composition. She is not integral to the scene of the standing couple or somehow playing music for them, but rather is perspectivally disassociated from them and lacks their direct frontal interaction with the viewer.[185]

Inscription 3.1

The final element of the pithos decoration is the inscription accompanying the pictorial imagery. As in the case of inscription 3.9 on pithos B, inscription 3.1 was written prominently above the central figures in elongated horizontal lines, only here and analogous to inscription 3.6 the second line of the inscription crosses part of the imagery, namely, the crown of the male figure. Several factors support taking the inscription as an integral part of the iconographic structure of the pithos decoration[186]: 1) The inscription’s level horizontality indicates that it was written when the pithos stood upright and was elevated, i.e. the same basic design phase in which the standing figures were drawn. Ahituv and Eshel in their analysis of the inscriptions concluded that at least inscriptions 3.3, 3.4, and other upside down scribbles were applied to the pithos after it was lying on its side, thus assigning them to a different phase from inscription 3.1.[187] From this it would seem that the central “blessing” inscription preceded these other inscriptions and was intended for public display along with the drawings. 2) We have already identified multiple instances where the technique of overlapping was deployed on the pithoi in order to communicate meaningful relationships among images, and one example on pithos B where an image was directly overlapped by an inscription, so the overlapping of text and image is completely intelligible in this context. From all appearances, the crossing of the inscription through the figure seems to have been carefully planned and executed. The final words of the blessing containing the invocation “to YHWH of Samaria and his asherah” have been brought down to a second line so as to effect the overlap, with the phrase “YHWH of Samaria” running directly through the feather crown. Furthermore, the limitation of the textual overlapping to the male figure alone corresponds to the distinctive position of YHWH in the inscription, since he is the main object of blessing and his female partner is designated by reference to him: “I bless you to YHWH of Samaria and to his asherah.” 3) As we have already discussed, the most likely function of the inscription was as a dedicatory blessing to YHWH in the context of worship at KA. So because the pithoi on which the blessing inscriptions were written were objects used in cult, we would naturally expect the inscription and associated pictorial imagery to have served closely interrelated purposes.

In sum, careful analysis of the various pictorial motifs and dedicatory inscriptions on both pithoi shows that the imagery and text combinations were intended to function together to convey meaningful expressions of worship to YHWH. While the two pithoi used for cultic purposes at KA were created by different sets of artists of varying skill levels, were dedicated to two distinct forms of YHWH geographically bound to Teman (i.e. Edom) and Samaria, and featured variant thematic emphases, with the central inscription on pithos B focused on a procession of worshippers and pithos A highlighting a theophanic frontal representation of YHWH and his female partner, in both cases the visual and written content were compositionally interrelated and thematically complementary. Mythological imagery and symbolism derived from Israelite tradition was focused on the central figure of YHWH and his relationship to other divinities and supernatural characters, creating a complex web of interrelated and conceptually repeated motifs, whereas the inscriptions invoking blessings to YHWH had an iconic quality of their own, reminding the deity to bless and remember the mortals designated therein.


The above investigation of the identity of the standing figures on pithos A has resulted in the conclusion that a broad range of evidence lends support to interpreting them in line with the inscription as representations of YHWH and his consort, including their marked sexual dualism, overlapping and integrated pose as male and female partners, their Bes-like and bovine features and associated mythological compatibility with YHWH, and the larger iconographic context of the pithoi used at KA.

In addition to confirming the meaningful association of the figures with the inscription invoking YHWH and his asherah, perhaps the most significant and groundbreaking contribution of this study has been the discovery of the significant role of Bes symbolism in visualizing and localizing the power of YHWH during the Iron Age. To reiterate some of the major findings about the standing figures:

  • The two standing figures have some features clearly derived from Egyptian/Levantine Bes iconography (e.g. feather crowns and akimbo stance).
  • Their animal-like features, however, are not derived from conventional Bes symbolism, but represent an incorporation of bovine imagery into the form of Bes.
  • The amalgamation of Bes-like and bovine features is a local adaptation of the southern Levant, possibly unique to ancient Israel.
  • The linkage and identification of YHWH with Bes imagery had probably developed far earlier during the Iron Age and was not an innovation peculiar to KA. As with bovine and Horus symbolism, the image of Bes had a long history of popular usage as applied to YHWH, functioning as an apotropaic manifestation of the deity.

Much work remains to be done on the iconography of YHWH as it existed during the Israelite and Judahite monarchies and varied over time and region,[188] but if the above reconstruction of YHWH’s relationship to Horus and Bes symbolism is correct, then it would appear that iconic representation of this deity in anthropomorphic and semi-anthropomorphic, theriomorphic, and non-anthropomorphic form was far more acceptable, conventional, and prevalent in ancient Israel as a whole than scholars have hitherto imagined, with the image at KA constituting only one variation on a popular theme. Assuming that Bes amulets were commonly used in the late Iron Age as manifestations of YHWH’s protective power, then icons of YHWH in fact seem to have been virtually ubiquitous in everyday life, from household to family grave and everywhere in between.
[1] For the drawings, see Pirhiya Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (Horvat Teman): An Iron Age II Religious Site on the Judah-Sinai Border (ed. Z. Meshel; Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2012), 143-204.

[2] For examples of the first, see Ze’ev Meshel, “Did YHWH Have a Consort? The New Religious Inscriptions from the Sinai,” BAR 5(1978): 24-34; Mordechai Gilula, “To YHWH Shomron and his Asherah” Shnaton 3 (1978-1979): 129-137; Baruch Margalit, “The Meaning and Significance of Asherah,” VT 40 (1990): 264-297; Michael Coogan, “Canaanite Origins and Lineage: Reflections on the Religion of Ancient Israel,” in Ancient Israelite Religion (ed. Patrick Miller, Paul Hanson, and S. Dean McBride; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 115-124; P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., “Aspects of the Religion of the Israelite Monarchy: Biblical and Epigraphic Data,” in Ancient Israelite Religion, 137-155; Brian Schmidt, “The Aniconic Tradition” in The Triumph of Elohim (ed. Diana Edelman; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 96-105. Proponents of the latter include Fritz Stolz, “Monotheismus in Israel,” in Monotheismus in alten Israel und seiner Umwelt (ed. Othmar Keel; Biblische Beiträge 14; Fribourg, Schweizeriches Katholisches Biblewerk, 1980), 171-186; Pirhiya Beck, “The Drawings from Horvat Teiman,” Tel Aviv 9 (1982): 27-31; J. A. Emerton, “New Light on Israelite Religion: The Implications of the Inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud,” ZAW 94 (1982): 10; idem, “YHWH and his Asherah: The Goddess or her Symbol?” VT 49 (1999): 317-319; William Dever, “Asherah, Consort of YHWH? New Evidence from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud,” BASOR 255 (1984): 21-37; idem, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 163-167; John Day, “Asherah in the Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Literature,” JBL 105 (1986), 393; idem, YHWH and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan (New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 51; Judith Hadley, “Some Drawings and Inscriptions on Two Pithoi from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud,” VT 37 (1987): 189-196; idem, The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 136-142; Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel (trans. Thomas Trapp; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), 217-223; Meindert Dijkstra, “I Have Blessed You by YHWH of Samaria and his Asherah: Texts with Religious Elements From the Soil Archive of Ancient Israel,” in Only One God: Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah (ed. Bob Becking, Meindert Dijkstra, Marjo C.A. Korpel, and Karel J. H. Vriezen; New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 30.

[3] Brian Schmidt, “The Iron Age Pithoi Drawings from Horvat Teman or Kuntillet Ajrud: Some New Proposals,” JANER 2 (2002): 91-125; Ziony Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches (New York: Continuum, 2001), 381-389. Schmidt has recently nuanced his earlier interpretation in “Gender Marking, Overlapping and the Identity of the Bes-like Figures at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud” (paper presented at the University of Copenhagen, October 11, 2013).

[4] Cf. Jackie Wyse-Rhodes, “Finding Asherah: The Goddesses in Text and Image,” in Image, Text, Exegesis: Iconographic Interpretation and the Hebrew Bible (ed. Izaak J. de Hulster and Joel M. LeMon; New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 71-90; B. A. Mastin, “Who Built and Who Used the Buildings at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud” in On Stone and Scroll: Essays in Honour of Graham Ivor Davies (ed. J. Aitken, K. Dell, B. Mastin; New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2011), 82; Izak Cornelius, “The Religious Iconography of Israel and Judah ca. 1200-587 BCE,” Religion Compass 2 (2008): 107; Richard Hess, Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 320; Benjamin Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 203-204; Martin Leuenberger, Segen und Segenstheologien im alten Israel: Untersuchungen zu ihren religions- und theologiegeschichtlichen Konstellationen und Transformationen (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2008), 130-131.

[5] For the purpose of this paper, I will not enter into the question of the precise meaning of asherah in the inscriptions. I assume that asherah refers to a divinity and because of the attached pronominal suffix has the lexical-semantic value of a common noun and therefore is not the proper name Asherah. Cf. Margalit, “The Meaning and Significance of Asherah,” 264-297; Dennis Pardee, review of Manfried Dietrich and Oswald Loretz, “Yahwe und seine Aschera”: Anthropomorphes Kultbild in Mesopotamien, Ugarit, und Israel, JAOS 115 (1995): 301-303; idem, review of Judith Hadley, The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah, JNES 64 (2005): 281-285; Tilde Binger, Asherah: Goddesses in Ugarit, Israel and the Old Testament (JSOTSup, 232; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 145-147; Baruch A. Levine, “Global Monotheism: The Contribution of the Israelite Prophets,” in Melammu: The Ancient World in an Age of Globalization (ed. Markham J. Geller; Proceedings 7, 2014), 39.

[6] My focus on iconography can be seen as complementary to Alice Mandell’s recent study on the dedicatory function of the epistolary blessings in the archaeological context of Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, “’I Bless You to YHWH and his Asherah’ –Writing and Performativity at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud,” MAARAV 19 (2012):131-162.

[7] Cf. Pirhiya Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 169; Judith Hadley, “Some Drawings and Inscriptions,” 191-192; Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, 218-219.

[8] Ze’ev Meshel, editorial note in Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (Horvat Teman), 165: “In the original article both Bes figures were drawn with a ‘loop’ between the legs. This was according to the first interpretation of the paintings, which were partly covered with black soot. In time most of the soot faded, and it became clear that the right-hand Bes had nothing between its legs. This fact may change the interpretation of the whole scene.”

[9] This is not to imply that sexual identity could not be more complex, e.g. Kathleen McCaffrey, “Reconsidering Gender Ambiguity in Mesopotamia: Is a Beard Just a Beard?” in Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the 47th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Helsinki, July 2–7, 2001, Part II (ed. S. Parpola and R. M. Whiting; Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2002), 379-391, but available evidence suggests that marked gender bifurcation was the framework in which most anthropomorphic representation occurred in the southern Levant. Cf. Raz Kletter and Ze’ev Herzog, “An Iron Age Hermaphrodite Centaur from Tel Beer Sheba, Israel,” BASOR 331 (2003): 32.

[10] Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, 218, n. 48. Cf. James F. Romano, “The Bes-image in Pharaonic Egypt” (Ph.D. diss., NYU, 1989), 47, 85, 102; Veronique Dasen, Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 11.

[11] E.g., the winged goddess on a shield from Luristan of the early first millennium, Pierre Amiet, Art of the Ancient Near East (trans. J. Shepley and C. Choquet; New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1980), 305; cf. also the simple breast circles on wooden paddle dolls from Middle Kingdom Egypt and female demonic figures in late Aramaic incantation bowls, Erica Hunter, “Who are the Demons? The Iconography of Incantation Bowls,” SEL 15 (1998): 112, plate IV. Note that the breasts shown on the Hubbard amphora sometimes raised in discussions on the sexual identity of the pithos figures are finely depicted nipples—small circles with dots in the center, which explains why they are found on both male and female figures. As representations of the nipple portion of the breast, they are unlike and therefore not directly relevant to the schematic breast symbols from ‘Ajrud. Cf. Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 170.

[12] Susan Limmer, “The Social Functions and Ritual Significance of Jewelry in the Iron Age II Southern Levant” (Ph.D. diss., The University of Arizona, 2007), 277. For jewelry on goddess figures, see Izak Cornelius, The Many Faces of the Goddess: The Iconography of the Syro-Palestinian Goddesses Anat, Astarte, Qedeshet, and Asherah C. 1500-1000 BCE (Fribourg, Switzerland: Academic Press Fribourg, 2004), 74.

[13] Cf. Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 168.

[14] See Christian Herrmann, Ägyptische Amulette aus Palästina (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994), 317; idem, “Weitere ägyptische Amulette aus Palästina/Israel,” ZDPV 123 (2007): 108-109.

[15] Schmidt, “The Aniconic Tradition: On Reading Images and Viewing Texts,” in The Triumph of Elohim (ed. Diana Edelman; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 98-99; “The Iron Age Pithoi Drawings,” 109, n. 40.

[16] See G. Robins, “Some Principles of Compositional Dominance and Gender Hierarchy in Egyptian Art,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 31 (1994): 33-40; idem, Proportion and Style in Ancient Egyptian Art (Austin: University of Texas, 1994), 19-21; H. Schäfer, Principles of Egyptian Art (ed. and trans. John Baines; Oxford: Griffith Institute, 2002), 172-177.

[17] For a very late example of a staggered two-dimensional couple, see the image of King Ahasuerus at Dura Europos, where he sits enthroned in front of the queen to her right on a different ground line, Zefira Gitay, “Esther and the Queen’s Throne,” in Feminist Companion to Esther, Judith and Susanna (ed. Athalya Brenner-Idan; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 136-148.

[18] Tallay Ornan, “The Queen in Public: Royal Women in Neo-Assyrian Art,” in Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the 47th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Helsinki, July 2–7, 2001, Part II (ed. S. Parpola and R. M. Whiting; Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2002), 467-468. Ornan also discusses Neo-Assyrian and Hittite images of royal couples, where the queen often stands behind the king in profile view, 465-474.

[19] E.g. Hadley, The Cult of Asherah, 138;” Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, 219.

[20] Cf. the catalogues in Romano, “The Bes-image in Pharaonic Egypt”; Herrmann, Ägyptische Amulette aus Palästina, 316-391; Kamyar Abdi, “Bes in the Achaemenid Empire,” Ars Orientalis 29 (1999): 111-140.

[21] For examples of repeated Bes figures, see Romano, “The Bes-image in Pharaonic Egypt,” cat. no. 75, 78, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 93, 97, 116, 117, 120, 185, 187, 194b; R. D. Barnett, “The Nimrud Ivories and the Art of the Phoenicians,” Iraq 2 (1935): 201-204, figs. 6, 7; V. Wilson, “The Iconography of Bes with Particular Reference to the Cypriote Evidence,” Levant 7 (1975): 84, fig. 2.1; W. A. Ward, “The Goddess within the Facade of a Shrine: A Phoenician Clay Plaque of the 8th Century B.C.,” RSF 24 (1996): 7-19; Dasen, Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece, 71-72, fig. 6.3; Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, 220-222, figs. 226a, 227; Derek B. Counts and Michael K. Toumazou, “New Light on the Iconography of Bes in Archaic Cyprus,” in Common Ground: Archaeology, Art, Science, and Humanities – Proceedings of the XVI International Congress of Classical Archaeology (ed. A. Donohue and C. Mattusch; Oxford: Oxbow, 2006), 598-602, figs. 2, 4.

[22] The only exception I could find was the wall-bracket from Athienou-Malloura discussed by Counts and Toumazou, “New Light on the Iconography of Bes in Archaic Cyprus,” where the triad of Bes-figures is staggered with the central Bes standing at the forefront. However, because this is three-dimensional sculpture and the Bes image seems to be repeated in order to bring the frontal Bes into focus, it doesn’t really contradict the above-mentioned norm to represent Bes figures as defined and autonomous symbols.

[23] Of course, one could accept the argument that the figures constitute a male and female pair and are nevertheless Bes representations, since a female Beset figure is attested in Egypt, e.g. Schmidt, “Gender Marking, Overlapping and the Identity of the Bes-like Figures at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud.” However, the problems with this interpretation are multiple: 1) Aside from being female, the right standing figure displays none of the distinctive characteristics of Egyptian Beset, e.g. legs tightly together, full nudity, and grasping animals. 2) Images of Bes and Beset paired together do not occur during the Pharaonic period, so it seems even more difficult to think that they would exist outside Egypt at this relatively early date. 3) In Egypt Beset appears to have been a mother goddess figure, identified with Isis and Hathor, and as such the mother of Bes and not his wife. See Michel Malaise, “Bes” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt (ed. Donald Redford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 181; Dasen, Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece, 60, 74.

[24] Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 165-183; Hadley, “Some Drawings and Inscriptions,” 194-195; Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, 219.

[25] Cf. Keel and Uehlinger, “Even a quick glance… shows that the various paintings on each side of the jars do not form a coherent composition, but are rather made up largely of a set of motifs that are positioned paratactically either next to one another or above one another….” 212.

[26] Schmidt, “The Iron Age Pithoi Drawings,” 108-111.

[27] Cf. Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 143; 162-165.

[28] For the lotus as a royal symbol in art of the southern Levant, see I. Ziffer, “Symbols of Royalty in Canaanite Art in the Third and Second Millennia B.C.E.,” Bulletin of the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo 25 (2002): 11-20.

[29] Cf. Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 144: “The drawings were copied with great difficulty, since the paint was badly faded and the lines were blurred at many points.”

[30] Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 169.

[31] Simon Parker has collected cross-cultural evidence for the important intercessory role of wives of deities to their husbands, “Divine Intercession in Judah?” VT 56 (2006): 77-79. The ears on Iron Age representations of female deities from the southern Levant are sometimes a point of special artistic emphasis, e.g. Paul W. Lapp, Taanach by the Waters of Megiddo,” The Biblical Archaeologist 30 (1967): 27; Raz Kletter, The Judean Pillar-Figurines and the Archaeology of Asherah (BAR International Series 636; Oxford: Tempus Reparatum, 1996), 32, figs. 7.5, 6; 10.3, 5; R. D. Barnett, A Catalogue of the Nimrud Ivories (London: British Museum, 1957), C12-15.

[32] For overviews of the development of the Bes image in Egypt, see Malaise, “Bes” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, 179-181; Dasen, Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece, 55-83; H. Altenmüller, “Bes,” in Lexikon der Ägyptologie I (ed. W. Helck and E. Otto; Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz, 1975), 720-723. For the spread of the image into the Levant, see Wilson, “The Iconography of Bes”; cf. Christian Vartavan, “Bes the Bow-legged Dwarf or the Ladies’ Companion,” Bulletin of Parthian and Mixed Oriental Studies 1 (2005), 81-95.

[33] E.g. P. Beck, “The Drawings from Horvat Teiman (Kuntillet ‘Ajrud),” 27-31; W. Dever, “Asherah, Consort of YHWH?,” 25-26; Silvia Schroer, In Israel gab es Bilder (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1987), 31; Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, 218.

[34] Cf. Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 168-169; Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, 217-219; Schmidt, “The Aniconic Tradition,” 100-101.

[35] Herrmann, Ägyptische Amulette aus Palästina, 519, no. 2.3.C.; Amihay Mazar, Excavations at Tell Qasile, Part I (Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology-Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1980), 103, fig. 36. Mazar himself was uncertain of the latter animal’s identity, proposing either a lion, bovine, or hippopotamus. But the animal looks nothing like a hippopotamus and the shape of the head and nasal bridge is rather bovine, 104.

[36] Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 148-152, 157.

[37] Cf. Meshel, “Did YHWH Have a Consort?,” 30; Gilula, “To YHWH Shomron,” 130-133; V. Fritz, “Kadesch-Barnea,” BN 9 (1979): 49; M. Pope, “Response to Sasson on the Sublime Song,” Maarav 2 (1980): 210; K. Koch, “Aschera als Himmelskönigin in Jerusalem,” UF 20 (1988): 100; McCarter, “Aspects of the Religion of the Israelite Monarchy,” 146-147; Coogan, “Canaanite Origins and Lineage,” 119; Margalit, “The Meaning and Significance of Asherah,” 275; Schmidt, “The Aniconic Tradition,” 100-101, n. 46; P. E. Jacobs, “Cows of Bashan—A Note on the Interpretation of Amos 4:1,” JBL 104 (1985): 109; Edward F. Campbell, “A Land Divided,” in The Oxford History of the Biblical World (ed. M. Coogan; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 233; Hess, Israelite Religions, 319.

[38] Cf. Hadley, “Some Drawings and Inscriptions,” 189; Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 387.

[39] Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, 217, n. 47.

[40] Brent Strawn makes no mention of any leonine aspect to the standing figures in his survey of leonine iconography in ancient Israel, What is Stronger Than a Lion? Leonine Image and Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East (OBO 212; Fribourg: Academic Press Fribourg, 2005), 98.

[41] For examples of frontal lion heads in various media, see David Ben-Shlomo, Philistine Icongraphy: A Wealth of Style and Symbolism (OBO 241; Fribourg: Academic Press Fribourg, 2010), 126-131, figs. 3.68-3.73; Barnett, A Catalogue of the Nimrud Ivories, L.2, U.9, V.3; John Boardman, Classical Phoenician Scarabs: A Catalogue and Study (Oxford: The Beazely Archive and Archaopress, 2003), nos. 38/7-23. Cf. also the leonine Bes head on Phoenician ivory frontlets in Eric Gubel, “Phoenician and Aramean Bridle-harness Decoration,” in Crafts and Images in Contact: Studies on Eastern Mediterranean Art of the First Millennium BCE (ed. Claudia E. Suter and Christoph Uehlinger; OBO 210; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005), 124.

[42] For bull protomes on cult stands, see Irit Ziffer, “The Iconography of the Cult Stands,” in Yavneh I: The Excavation of the ‘Temple Hill’ Repository Pit and the Cult Stands (ed. R. Kletter, I. Ziffer, W. Zwickel; OBO 30; Fribourg: Academic Press Fribourg, 2010), 69-73. Cf. also a Phoenician scaraboid with frontal bull head in Eric Gubel, “The Iconography of Inscribed Phoenician Glyptic,” in Studies in the Iconography of Northwest Semitic Inscribed Seals (ed. Benjamin Sass; OBO 125; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993), 116-117, fig. 32.

[43] Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 169.

[44] Cf. Othmar Keel, Goddesses and Trees, New Moon and YHWH (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 115-120; Tallay Ornan, “The Bull and its Two Masters: Moon and Storm Deities in relation to the Bull in Ancient Near Eastern Art,” Israel Exploration Journal 51 (2001): 1-26.

[45] Cf. also the composite guardian figures in Ezekiel’s vision, which have a human form, straight legs, and the soles of a calf, and later are said to have the face of a bull on the left side (Ezek 1:5-10).

[46] E.g. a bronze recumbent calf from Iron I Megiddo, Rainer Albertz and Rüdiger Schmitt, eds., Family and Household Religion in Ancient Israel and the Levant (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2012), 144, 146, fig. 3.64; a calf scaraboid from Iron II Samaria, Othmar Keel, Corpus der Stempelsiegel-Amulette aus Palästina-Israel: von den Anfängen bis zur Perserzeit: Einleitung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995), 70; a calf head amulet from Iron IIB Beth Shemesh, Herrmann, Ägyptische Amulette aus Palästina, 519, no. 2.3.C.; terracotta calf heads with small or minimal horns from various sites, Ben-Shlomo, Philistine Iconography, 108-109; Herbert May, Material Remains of the Megiddo Cult (OIP 26; Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1935), 34.

[47] Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 321; Pirhiya Beck, “The Cult Stands from Ta’anach: Aspects of the Iconographic Tradition of Early Iron Age Cult Objects In Palestine,” in Imagery and Representation: Studies in the Art and Iconography of Ancient Palestine (ed. Nadav Na’aman, Uza Zevulun, and Irit Ziffer; Tel Aviv: Emery and Claire Yass Publications in Archaeology, 2002), 392-418; Paul W. Lapp, “The 1968 Excavations at Tell Ta’annek,” BASOR 195 (1969): 44.

[48] J. Glenn Taylor, YHWH and the Sun: Biblical and Archaeological Evidence for Sun Worship in Ancient Israel (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 30-33; Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, 158.

[49] Ziffer, “The Iconography of the Cult Stands,” 69-73; Pirhiya Beck, “Catalogue of Cult Objects and Study of the Iconography,” in Horvat Qitmit: An Edomite Shrine in the Biblical Negev (ed. Izhaq Beit-Arieh; Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, 1995), 125-141. Because of the popularity of bovine figurines and the absence of bovine animal remains at Horvat Qitmit, Beck insightfully concludes, “bulls appear in the context of the shrine because of their symbolic importance, regardless of their minor role in the economy of the region,” 140.

[50] Ziffer, “The Iconography of the Cult Stands,” 84.

[51] E.g., the god El with bull horns below the winged sun, Nicholas Wyatt, “The Stela of a Seated God from Ugarit,” UF 15 (1983): 271-277; bull heads associated with the winged sun on cult stands from Yavneh, Kletter, Ziffer, and Zwickel, Yavneh I, CAT 27-30; a bull grazing below a winged sun on a scaraboid from Beth Shemesh, Keel and Uehlinger, 158-159, no. 185a; the deity Slm represented as a bull below the winged sun on a pedestal from Tayma, Klaus Beyer and Alasdair Livingstone, “Die neuesten aramäischen Inschriften aus Taima,” ZDMG 137 (1987): 285-296. For more examples, see Tallay Ornan, “A Complex System of Religious Symbols: The Case of the Winged Sun Disc in Near Eastern Imagery of the First Millennium BCE,” in Crafts and Images in Contact, 221-225; Izak Cornelius, “’Tradition Religions’ and ‘Visible Religions’ in the Ancient Near East,” in Religions and Trade: Religious Formation, Transformation and Cross-Cultural Exchange between East and West (ed. Peter Wick and Volker Rabens; Leiden: Brill, 2014), 147-151.

[52] Paul W. Lapp, “The 1966 Excavations at Tell Ta’annek,” BASOR 185 (1967): 35-37.

[53] However, even Egyptian dwarf symbolism was sometimes linked with bovine symbolism: the back of the pataikos figure was often carved with a mother-type goddess with cow horns, Dasen, Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece, 86.

[54] Wilson, “The Iconography of Bes,” 85-86, figs. 2.1, 2.2.

[55] Gubel, “Phoenician and Aramean Bridle-harness Decoration,” 124, fig. 13.

[56] Boardman, Classical Phoenician Scarabs, nos. 22/1- 100 and 22/X1-61.

[57] Isabelle Tassignon, “Le Baal d’Amathonte et le Bès égyptien,” in Egypt and Cyprus in Antiquity (ed. D. Michaelides, V. Kassianidou, and R. Merrillees; Oxford: Oxbow, 2009), 118-124.

[58] Ibid., 121.

[59] Antoine Hermary and Joan R. Mertens, The Cesnola Collection of Cypriot Art: Stone Sculpture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 360.

[60] For discussion of divine bovine symbolism in ancient Israel, see Klaus Koenen, Bethel: Geschichte, Kult und Theologie (OBO 192; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003), 95-132; Mark Smith, “Counting Calves at Bethel,” in “Up to the Gates of Ekron”: Essays on the Archaeology and History of the Eastern Mediterranean in Honor of Seymour Gitin (ed. Sidnie White Crawford; Jerusalem: The W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research/The Israel Exploration Society, 2007), 387-389; idem, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism (New York: OUP, 2001), 32, 146-147; idem, The Early History of God: YHWH and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2002), 83-84; Keel and Uehlinger, God, Goddesses, and Images of God, 144-146, 194; Schroer, In Israel gab es Bilder, 81-104.

[61] Daniel Fleming, “If El is a Bull, Who is a Calf?” Eretz-Israel 26 (1999): 23-27.

[62] For El as chief of Israel’s pantheon, cf. Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism, 139-147; idem, “Review Article of The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches (Ziony Zevit),” Maarav 11 (2004): 145–218; Meindert Dijkstra, “El, the God of Israel—Israel, the People of YHWH: On the Origins of Ancient Israelite Yahwism,”81-126; David Frankel, “El as the Speaking Voice in Psalm 82:6-8,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 10 (2010): . For the plaster wall inscription, see inscription 4.2 in Shmuel Ahituv, Esther Eshel, and Ze’ev Meshel, “The Inscriptions,” in Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (Horvat Teman), 110-114.

[63] For a recent survey, see Giuseppina Capriotti Vittozzi, “Note Su Bes Le Sculture Del Museo Egizio Di Firenze e Del Metropolitan Museum of Art,” in Aegyptiaca et Coptica. Studi in onore di Sergio Pernigotti (ed. P. Buzi, D. Picchi, and M. Zecchi; Oxford: BAR, 2011), 69-84.

[64] Cf. Vittozzi, “Note Su Bes,” 70; Malaise, “Bes,” 179-180; and Dasen, Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece, 56.

[65] He is frequently associated with sa and ank signs, symbols of protection and life, and papyrus and lotus plants. See Romano, no. 73, 78, 82, 85, 87, 89, 91, 116, 117, 119, 152, 178, 182A, 187B; H. J. Kantor, Plant Ornament in the Ancient Near East (Ph.D. Diss., University of Chicago, 1945, revised by the Oriental Institute, 1999), 722-723.

[66] Dasen, Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece, 48-50, 64-67; H. Altenmüller, “Bes,” in Lexikon der Ägyptologie I, 721.

[67] Gubel, “Phoenician and Aramean Bridle-harness Decoration,” 124.

[68] William Culican, “Phoenician Demons,” JNES 35 (1976): 21-24.

[69] I.e. a heraldic composition showing the hero victoriously grasping animals.

[70] A. Furtwängler, Die Antiken Gemmen (Berlin, 1900), pl. 7, no. 21, referenced in Sandra Blakely, Myth, Ritual, and Metallurgy in Ancient Greece and Recent Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 148-149.

[71] Tassignon, “Le Baal d’Amathonte et le Bès égyptien,” 122.

[72] Boardman, Classical Phoenician Scarabs, nos. 22/1- 100 and 22/X1-61.

[73] Counts and Toumazou, “New Light on the Iconography of Bes in Archaic Cyprus,” 598.

[74] For a discussion of the hybrid iconography of this figure, see Derek B. Counts, “Master of the Lion: Representation and Hybridity in Cypriote Sanctuaries,” American Journal of Archaeology 112 (2008), 3-27.

[75] Hermary and Mertens, The Cesnola Collection of Cypriot Art, 353-361.

[76] S. Ribichini, “Melqart,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst; 2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 563-565.

[77] Tassignon, “Le Baal d’Amathonte et le Bès égyptien,” 121-122.

[78] See Haim Gitler and Oren Tal, The Coinage of Philistia in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries BC: A Study in the Earliest Coins of Palestine (New York: Amphora Books/B & H Kreindler, 2006). Cf. Oliver Hoover’s review in Schweizerische numismatische Rundschau 86 (2007): 193-194.

[79] Kamyar Abdi, “Bes in the Achaemenid Empire,” 120-121.

[80] Wilson, “The Iconography of Bes,” 84-86.

[81] Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddessess, and Images, 136-139, no. 158, 159.

[82] Ibid., 137.

[83] Ibid., 221-222, no. 227.

[84] Cf. also an 8th century scaraboid from Hazor depicting Bes flanked by worshippers and associated with sphinx, falcon, and uraei, which Keel and Uehlinger claim may have been imported from Phoenicia, 221-222, no. 228.

[85] Ibid., 249-251, no. 240-241.

[86] Ibid., 252-257, no. 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254. For more examples, see Benjamin Sass, “The Pre-exilic Hebrew Seals: Iconism vs. Aniconism,” in Studies in the Iconography of Northwest Semitic Inscribed Seals (ed. Benjamin Sass; OBO 125; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993) figs. 92, 98, 99, 120, 121, 123, 140, 141.

[87] Keel and Uehlinger, 256. Joel LeMon remarks that “while winged hybrid figures can generally be considered semi-divine or secondary deities in Mesopotamia, once cannot make the same categorical claim of these figures in Syro-Palestinian art because of the constant influence of Egyptian imagery,” but then strangely follows Keel in his identification of the winged composite figures as merely servants of deities, YHWH’s Winged Form in the Psalms: Exploring Congruent Iconography and Texts (OBO 242; Fribourg; Academic Press Fribourg, 2010), 38-39.

[88] The amulets have been catalogued and documented by Christian Herrmann in several volumes, beginning with Ägyptische Amulette aus Palästina (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994). See the recent summary in idem, “Weitere ägyptische Amulette,” 93-132. Cf. also Keel and Uehlinger, 220-222.

[89] Carol Meyers, “From Household to House of YHWH: Women’s Religious Culture in Ancient Israel,” Congress Volume Basel 2002 (ed. André Lemaire; VTSup, 92; Boston: Brill, 2002), 287-288; Elizabeth Willett, “Women and household shrines in ancient Israel” (Ph.D. diss., University of Arizona, 1999), 309-311.

[90] For a discussion of the place of demonology in ancient Judaism and the broader Near East, see Ida Fröhlich, “Theology and Demonology in Qumran Texts,” Henoch 32 (2010): 101-129.

[91] E.g. Isaiah 25:6-8; 28:15-22; 30:28; Ps 91.

[92] For Horus on the lotus, see Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, 249, no. 240, 241; a standalone falcon, Sass, “The Pre-exilic Hebrew Seals,” 218, fig. 98, 99; winged anthropomorphic figure with lotus, Keel and Uehlinger, 195-198, no. 211, 212; falcon-headed anthropomorphic figure, 198, no. 213; 351, no. 340; Sass, 235, fig. 141; standalone winged uraeus, Sass, 212-213, fig. 75-81; winged scarab beetle, Keel and Uehlinger, 256-257, no. 256, 257, 258; Sass, 214-217, no. 87, 88; griffin and sphinx, Keel and Uehlinger, 252-259, no. 246, 248, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 258, 259.

[93] Joel LeMon, YHWH’s Winged Form, 82-83, 150-151, 189-190.

[94] Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 586-605.

[95] See Albertz, “Personal Names and Family Religion,” in Albertz and Schmitt, Family and Household Religion in Ancient Israel and the Levant, 323, 508, 568, tab. 5.7.

[96] For inscriptional citations, see Albertz, 570.

[97] Ibid., 595. Jeffrey Tigay’s proposal that ʾšḥwr may stem from šaḥor “black” is dubious, You Shall Have No Other Gods: Israelite Religion in the Light of Hebrew Inscriptions (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986), 72, n. 43. This would leave the name without a theophoric or viable explanation for the name as a whole.

[98] Cf. Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 677.

[99] Cf. Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, 206; Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 589, n. 15, 677; and Tigay, You Shall Have No Other Gods, 72-73. Mark Smith notes that the name Horus is used in reference to YHWH in Papyrus Amherst 63, God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 282. But cf. Dijkstra, “I Have Blessed You by YHWH of Samaria,” 41-42.

[100] Albertz, “Personal Names and Family Religion,” 322-323, 568 for citations; Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 605. Another Bes name is possibly qdbs from the Samaria ostraca, but cf. Tigay, You Shall Have No Other Gods, 75, n. 1.

[101] Albertz, “Personal Names and Family Religion,” 365, 569. For Isis in Palestine, see Herrmann, Ägyptische Amulette aus Palästina, 111-131; Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, 249-251, no. 243; 378, no. 363-364.

[102] Herrmann, “Weitere ägyptische Amulette,” 94.

[103] Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, 254, no. 254; 257-259, no. 260.

[104] Dasen, Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece, 84-98.

[105] Ibid., 86.

[106] Dasen, Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece, 67-75.

[107] Albertz, “Personal Names and Family Religion,” 245-367. Though as Albertz himself admits, the categories overlap and the distinctions among them are somewhat artificial.

[108] Ibid., 253. Cf. William W. Hallo, “Scurrilous Etymologies,” Pomegranates and Golden Bells: Studies in Biblical, Jewish, and Near Eastern Ritual, Law, and Literature in Honor of Jacob Milgrom (ed. David P. Wright, David Noel Freedman, Avi Hurvitz; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 767.

[109] The following sample of names is derived from Albertz, Appendix B1, whose corpus includes pre-exilic epigraphic names from a variety of sources and excludes “all epigraphic objects previously supposed to be forgeries by one or more of the scholars who examined them,” 249. The translations generally follow Albertz, though some are my own.

[110] The name ptḥyh is attested three times in the Bible, and the shortened ptḥ twice in epigraphic names.

[111] Carol Meyers, Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 98-101.

[112] Ibid., 158. Cf. the situation in Egypt, Vittmann Günter, “Personal Names: Function and Significance,” in UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology (ed. Elizabeth Frood and Willeke Wendrich; Los Angeles, 2013),; John Baines, “Society, Morality, and Religious Practice,” in Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice (ed. Byron E. Shafer; Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1991), 176-178.

[113] Ya’akov Meshorer and Shraga Qedar, Samarian Coinage (Numismatic Studies and Researches IX; Jerusalem, Israel Numismatic Society, 1999), 34, nos. 16, 53, 54, 120, 152, 179, 180.

[114] “Religious Continuity in Israel/Samaria: Numismatic Evidence,” in A “Religious Revolution” in Yehûd?: The Material Culture of the Persian Period as a Test Case (ed. Christian Frevel, Katharina Pyschny, Izak Cornelius; OBO 267; Fribourg: Academic Press Fribourg, 2014), 284.

[115] Ibid., 278.

[116] Cf. Patrick Wyssmann, “The Coinage Imagery of Samaria and Judah in the Late Persian Period,” in A “Religious Revolution” in Yehûd?, 221-266.

[117] Hoover, review of Gitler and Tal, The Coinage of Philistia, 193-194.

[118] Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 181-183. Cf. Hadley, “Some Drawings and Inscriptions,” 194.

[119] Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, Godesses, and Images of God, 212, n. 44.

[120] Cf. Beck, 161-165, 169, 173, 181-183; Keel and Uehlinger, 212-228, n. 44.

[121] Beck, 173, 182; Keel and Uehlinger, 225.

[122] Beck, 157, 159, 161, 176. There is a significant discrepancy in the official report between Beck’s analysis that the last worshipper was drawn over the bull and the statement by Ahituv, Eshel, and Meshel: “Beck reconstructed the following sequence for the drawings and inscriptions: firstly, the human figures (M-Q) were drawn; secondly, the bull (R) over the last figure,” “The Inscriptions,” 94.

[123] Ahituv, Eshel, and Meshel, “The Inscriptions,” in Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (Horvat Teman), 95.

[124] Interestingly, in contrast to the bovine representation on pithos A, this bull is more mature and has horns. However, this does not necessarily contradict the assumption that YHWH was envisioned as a calf or young bull. The Hebrew term ʿegel seems to have encompassed the first 2-3 years of a young bull’s life, during which time horns grow most rapidly. Cf. Ringgren, “עגל” TDOT 10: 445-451.

[125] Beck, 176.

[126] Cf. Brian B. Schmidt, “Kuntillet ‘Ajrud’s Pithoi Inscriptions and Drawings: Graffiti or Scribal-Artisan Drafts,” MAARAV (in press).

[127] Beck fails to mention the presence of a lotus flower, but only that the “area above the haunches is painted red—the meaning of which is unclear,” 157.

[128] Barnett, A Catalogue of the Nimrud Ivories, 152-153; Eleanor Beach, “The Samaria Ivories, Marzeah, and Biblical Text,” BA 56 (1992), 130-139.

[129] Ephraim Stern, “New Types of Phoenician Style Decorated Pottery Vases from Palestine,” PEQ 110 (1978): 13-14.

[130] Keel and Uehlinger, 197, no. 211b.

[131] Ibid., 233-234, no. 231a.

[132] Ibid., 122, no. 147a-b; 126, no. 155a-b.

[133] Cf. Keel and Uehlinger, 90, 120, 122, 149-150, 182, 184, 269, 322-323; Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 386.

[134] Keel and Uehlinger, nos. 199a-c, 200a-d, 211b, 269a-c.

[135] Keel and Uehlinger, nos. 166a-b, 172, 173, 175a-c.

[136] CAT 1.6, II, 15-23; 1.12, I, 25-37. Cf. also the goat given to Azazel, i.e. Mot, Hayim Tawil, “ʿAzazel The Prince of the Steepe: A Comparative Study,” ZAW 92 (1980): 43-59.

[137] Schmidt, “The Iron Age Pithoi Drawings,” 111-112.

[138] “[…] to YHWH of Teman and to his asherah[…] all that he asks from my god(?), he is generous and if he entreats then YHWH will give to him according to his wishes.” Cf. Ahituv, Eshel, and Meshel, “The Inscriptions,” in Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (Horvat Teman), 98-100.

[139] Beck, 183-184; Keel and Uehlinger, 217.

[140] Cory D. Crawford, “Relating Image and Word in Ancient Mesopotamia,” in Critical Approaches to Ancient Near Eastern Art (ed. M. Feldman and B. Brown; de Gruyter, 2013), 241-264.

[141] Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 370, 374-76; Schmidt, “The Iron Age Pithoi Drawings,” 98-104; Christian Frevel, “Gifts to the Gods? Votives as Communication Markers in Sanctuaries and Other Places in the Bronze and Iron Ages in Palestine/Israel,” 39-40; Nadav Na’aman and Nurit Lissovsky, “Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, Sacred Trees and the Asherah,” Tel Aviv 35 (2008): 186–203; Ze’ev Meshel, “The Nature of the Site and its Biblical Background,” in Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (Horvat Teman), 65-69; Mandell, “’I Bless You to YHWH and his Asherah,’” 132-138.

[142] Mandell, “’I Bless You to YHWH and his Asherah,’” 148.

[143] Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 173.

[144] Dever, “Asherah, Consort of YHWH?,” 22-23; Hadley, “Some Drawings and Inscriptions,” 195; Keel and Uehlinger, 222, n. 59; Gabriel Barkay and MiYoung Im, “Egyptian Influence on the Painted Human Figures from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud,” Tel Aviv 28 (2001): 288-300; Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 387; Hess, Israelite Religions, 319.

[145] Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 169.

[146] Keel and Uehlinger, 222, n. 59.

[147] Hadley, “Some Drawings and Inscriptions,” 192-194; Barkay and Im, “Egyptian Influence,” 290-291.

[148] Silvia Schroer, “Zur Deutung der Hand unter der Grabinschrift von Chirbet el Qôm,” UF 15 (1983): 191-199; Judith Hadley, “The Khirbet el-Qom Inscription,” VT 37 (1987): 60-62; Parker, “Divine Intercession in Judah?,” 89.

[149] Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 161-165.

[150] Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 165, 181-182.

[151] Keel and Uehlinger claim, “A significant time period must have elapsed between the time when [the caprid and lotus] were painted… and when [the left standing figure] was later added to the vessel. During this time period, some of the older drawings would have faded,” 212, n. 44, but they fail to provide any evidence to support this assertion. Not only is the argument doubtful because the darker tint is found on the earlier caprid-lotus and the lighter tint on the later male standing figure, precisely contrary to what we would expect, but the different tints of red can be explained more simply as correlating with different batches of paint.

[152] Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 381, n. 62.

[153] Schmidt, “The Iron Age Pithoi Drawings,” 111.

[154] Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 161.

[155] Schmidt, “The Iron Age Pithoi Drawings,” 112; Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 381

[156] Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 183.

[157] Keel, Goddesses and Trees, 39-46.

[158] Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 157.

[159] Mastin, “Who Built and Who Used the Buildings at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud,” 69-85. Cf. Meshel, “The Nature of the Site and its Biblical Background,” in Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (Horvat Teman), 65-69; Israel Finkelstein, The Forgotten Kingdom: The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013), 137-138; Nadav Na’aman, “The Inscriptions of Kuntillet ‘Ajrud through the Lens of Historical Research,” UF 43 (2012): 299-324.

[160] In part because of this framing structure, I find Brian Schmidt’s explanation of the directional orientation of the figures in terms of the Egyptian technique of rabattement less convincing. Cf. Schmidt, “The Iron Age Pithoi Drawings,” 115-122.

[161] See Ziffer, “Symbols of Royalty in Canaanite Art in the Third and Second Millennia B.C.E.,” 11-20.

[162] E.g. Keel and Uehlinger, no. 211, 212, 232, 241.

[163] Beck, “The Drawings and Decorative Designs,” 189-192.

[164] Schmidt, “Kuntillet ‘Ajrud’s Pithoi Inscriptions and Drawings: Graffiti or Scribal-Artisan Drafts,” MAARAV (in press).

[165] Cf. Ze’ev Meshel, “The Nature of the Site and its Biblical Background,” in Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (Horvat Teman), 66. The parallel between the pithos A representation of YHWH with lotus to mouth and the wall painting no. 9 youthful figure with lotus to mouth therefore militates against the assumption that the figure is a mortal king, contra Wolfgang Zwickel, “Zwei Mutmassungen zu Kuntillet ‘Ajrud,” UF 44 (2013): 364-366.

[166] Schroer, In Israel gab es Bilder, 55-57.

[167] Cf. Glenn Markoe, Phoenician Bronze and Silver Bowls from Cyprus and the Mediterranean (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California, 1985), 43-44; Barnett, A Catalogue of the Nimrud Ivories, 143-145; William Culican, “The Iconography of Some Phoenician Seals and Seal Impressions,” Australian Journal of Biblical Archaeology 1 (1968): 55.

[168] Markoe, Phoenician Bronze and Silver Bowls, 44.

[169] Eleanor Beach, “The Samaria Ivories, Marzeah, and Biblical Text,” BA 56 (1992), 130-139.

[170] The cow-calf motif is absent from glyptic art in Israel of the Iron IIB, which led Keel and Uehlinger to conclude that the example at KA should not be definitely linked to a local Israelite goddess, 241. However, the motif was widely known and used in Palestine throughout the Iron Age, so the absence from Israelite glyptic is better explained by the fact that other motifs, such as the protective Horus-like deity, were favored for this particular medium. Bull, cow, and calf imagery continued to be used to symbolize deities in Philistia as late as the Persian period, Gitler and Tal, The Coinage of Philistia, no. II.4D; XX.5D, and also possibly in Samaria, Leith, “Religious Continuity in Israel/Samaria: Numismatic Evidence,” 275-276.

[171] For the text, see Richard C. Steiner, “The Aramaic Text in Demotic Script,” COS 1.99:309-327.

[172] At this point it is worth noting that Bes symbolism in Egypt and elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean was consistently linked with primary mother-type goddesses in the archaeological record, whether Taweret/Hathor in Egypt, Astarte-Isis in Phoenicia, or the local goddess of Cyprus. For Cypriote Bes’ association with the great goddess of Cyprus, also identified with Hathor, see Isabelle Tassignon, “Le Baal d’Amathonte et le Bès égyptien.” See also Christian Vartavan, “Bes the Bow-legged Dwarf or the Ladies’ Companion,” 81-95. According to William Dever, Bes amulets have often been found in the same contexts as female pillar figurines, “Asherah, Consort of YHWH? New Evidence from Kuntillet ʿAjrûd” BASOR 255 (1984): 25-26, n. 19.

[173] Keel and Uehlinger, 217.

[174] Irit Ziffer, “Western Asiatic Tree-Goddesses,” Egypt and the Levant 20 (2010): 411-430.

[175] Beck, 180. Cf. Zevit, 389-90.

[176] Billie Jean Collins, “Pigs at the Gate: Hittite Pig Sacrifice in its Eastern Mediterranean Context,” JANER 6 (2006): 155-188; G. Botterweck, “חזיר,” TDOT 4:291-300; Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics: A Continental Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2004), 116-117.

[177] Boardman, Classical Phoenician Scarabs, 22/89-90; 22/X35; 22/X41; Sabatino Moscati, The Phoenicians (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001), 488.

[178] Lucian, De Dea Syria, 6-9.

[179] Aren Maeir, “A Philistine ‘Head Cup’ (Rhyton) from Tell es-Safi/Gath,” ‘I Will Speak the Riddles of Ancient Times’: Archaeological and Historical Studies in Honor of Amihai Mazar on the Occasion of His Sixtieth Birthday (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 335-45; E. Puech, “lioness,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 524-35.

[180] Herrmann, Ägyptische Amulette aus Palästina, 146-96. Cf. Strawn, What is Stronger than a Lion?, 261-263.

[181] Cf. Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 387.

[182] “Asherah, Consort of YHWH?” 22-25.

[183] Cf. Hugh Williamson, Isaiah 1-5 (New York: T & T Clark, 2006), 331-335; John J. Schmitt, “The City as Woman in Isaiah 1-39,” Writing and Reading the Scroll of Isaiah: Studies of an Interpretative Tradition (ed. Craig C. Broyles, Craig A. Evans; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 99-100.

[184] See David M. Carr, The Erotic Word: Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 91-107; Hennie J. Marsman, Women in Ugarit and Israel: Their Social and Religious Position in the Context of the Ancient Near East (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 73-84.

[185] Apparently, this is also the conclusion of Tallay Ornan, “The Drawings from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud Reconsidered [Hebrew],” in To Yahweh Teiman and His Ashera: The Inscriptions and Drawings from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (in press).

[186] Beck argued that inscription 3.1 and the drawings were the product of different hands because of the smaller brush size and finer handwriting in the case of the former, 183-84. But different brush sizes could have easily been employed by the same individual and it is highly difficult to distinguish discrete stylistic hands when crossing pictorial and written modes of expression. On the whole, the evidence does not militate decisively against the assumption that one of the artists of the drawings was also the author of the inscription. Cf. Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 381. In any case, even if the inscription was composed by someone different from the artists of the drawings, it still could have been created as an original component of the pithos text-image combination.

[187] “The Inscriptions,” in Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (Horvat Teman), 87.

[188] A preliminary survey of the distribution of Bes symbolism suggests that it may have been more popular in the Northern Kingdom and areas it directly influenced than in Judah. Cf. Herrmann, Ägyptische Amulette aus Palästina, 319-321; Elizabeth Bloch-Smith, Judahite Burial Practices and Beliefs about the Dead (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992), 85; Ephraim Stern, “Bes Vases from Palestine and Syria,” Israel Exploration Journal 26 (1976): 183-187.

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