Hypostases in the Ancient Near East Part One

1      Hypostases in the Ancient Near East

Ancient Israelite Hypostasis Introduction

As noted in the introduction, there existed a phenomenon in the ANE wherein an attribute or cultic object of a god or goddess became a quasi-independent or even fully independent entity.  This supernatural being most often acted as the intermediary between a god/goddess and his/her subjects.  This new entity had all the authority which the primary god had and was understood to be a representation of the deity.  Worshiping the hypostasis was to worship the god whom it represented, that is, there was no qualitative difference between the two.[25] This phenomenon was found both in and outside of Israel.

1.1      The Evil Eye

It is important to notice how the Evil Eye in every example was understood to be an entity which was capable of helping or harming an individual.  The being in question could be invoked to strike someone, roam about seeking a victim, receive honor and glory, and could even talk with individuals.  One of the most striking examples of hypostasis is that of the Evil Eye found in texts from Ugarit.  What is most interesting and informative about this text is that it demonstrates the ancient belief of hypostasis.  Though it is not an abstract attribute of a god, or a cultic object, it is nonetheless part of a being (in this case human) which became an independent entity able of inflicting harm upon another.[26] (Italics in translation indicate uncertain meaning according to Ford)

‘in.hlkt.wënwttp.’aËh.knÿm. ’aËh.kysmsm.

tsp.’i.ë’irh l.bl Êrb.

tët.   dmh lbl.ksl

tpnn. ‘nbðy.

‘n bðt.




‘n ðgrlðgr.tðb.

‘n.pËr lpËr.tðb.

‘n.mËr lmËr.tðb.

‘n.bðy l bðy.tðb.

‘n.[bðt] lbðt.t[ðb]

The Eye, it  roamed and darted;It saw its “brother” – how lovely (he was)!Its “brother” – how very seemly!

Without a knife it devoured his flesh,

Without a cup it guzzled his blood;

(It was) the eye of an evil man (that) saw him,

the eye of an evil woman;

(It was) the eye of a merchant (that) saw him,

the eye of a potter,

the eye of a gatekeeper.

May the eye of the gatekeeper return to the gatekeeper!

May the eye of the potter return to the potter!

May the eye of the merchant return to the merchant!

May the eye of the evil man return to the evil man!

May the eye of the [evil woman] re[turn] to the evil


It is evident from this text that the Eye was no mere abstract idea without concrete visualization.  Whether they believed the Eye could in fact be visibly seen is a question which shall not be addressed here.  Rather, it is important to understand that the Evil Eye was considered a real entity.  The number of verbs describing its mobility, vision, lust, and destructive abilities clearly and unequivocally demonstrate that the ancient author understood that there was in fact an entity, having some appearance of an eyeball, which could seek out a victim and inflict harm of a certain magnitude.  The utilization of verba movendiibªma…ibª’ma…Ìrumma ‘it passed through…it entered” (lines 4,6,8), verify that the eye is no doubt depicted as ‘roaming’.[28]

Couldn’t “roaming” simply refer to the act of someone moving his eyes from side to side?  Indeed there are other texts in which people are said to move their eyes back and forth and, subsequently, that is one of the meanings.[29] However, the text has a much more sinister message.  The vocabulary of the Evil Eye is different from that of a physiological eye.  A distinction in the vocabulary can be noted “between Ìnum ‘the (evil) eye’ (singular) – (Old Babylonian incantation text, Ford 1998, p. 206) and Ânªëu (IGIIIëó) HIS (physiological) eyes’ (dual) in the present, non-magical text, the latter clearly not referring to the Evil Eye.”[30] An important observation is made by P. B. Gravel concerning the differentiation in language between the Evil Eye and speech related to the physiological eye.  He says that in all languages, “the Evil Eye is always singular, never plural.”[31] The special terminology for the Evil Eye in contradistinction to that of a physiological eye can thus be clearly seen.  The author was doing much more than referring to his neighbor’s evil glare.  He was referring to the Evil Eye – a real entity – which was seeking a victim.  And likewise, he was saying an incantation against that real force.

Another text dealing with the ruin caused by the Evil Eye is that of an incantation related to childbirth.  Again, one can note the use of verbs of motion which show that the Evil Eye could roam.  The verb in this bilingual – Sumero-Akkadian incantation, is parallel with that of wandering demons that roam about a city.[32] Likewise, the same lexeme (Ìnum) is used to describe the Evil Eye rather than (Ânªëu (IGIIIëó) for the physiological eye.  For the ancient Mesopotamians expecting a child into the world, the hypostasis of the Evil Eye was a reality which they constantly dreaded.  The Evil Eye could strike at any moment to inflict injury on them or their children.

[i]-[n]u-{umip-pa-la-«a-it-ta-na-ap}[33]-[ra ar]ëa-aë-ka-lum s´Éi-ip-tumÉu-Éa-ru-um s´Ée-eë-tum

ba-ab la-’Ò i-ba-ma

i-na be-re la-’Ò îe- {el} –ta-am ië-ku-un

ba-ab wa-li-[d]a-ti-im i-ba-ma

ëe-ri-ëI-na u4Éa-ni-iq

i-ru-ma a-[n]a [b]i-ot qÀ-e

ëi-pa(?!)sa-am [i]ë-bi-ir

The (Evil) [E]ye looks,while [roa]ming about;(It is) a ëuëkallu-net which swoops down,

a Ëu˪ru-net which ensnares.

It passed through the doorway of infants;

It passed through the doorway

of women in labor,

And strangled their babies;

It entered the bÌt qÃ,

And broke the sealing (?)  …[34]

The Evil Eye was not an entity without a concrete form like the Spirit of God in the Bible (Genesis 1:2).  Rather, it was conceived of as an entity with feet, legs, a head, and hair.  In other words, the worshipper could employ magical incantations against the Eye since it had an actual body.  In support of this, Ford suggests that it was conceptualized as a distinct demon in the expression of its body parts.[35]

Ânu leq­ëima itti k[uëª]ri Âdªnõ ëÂpÂëa ruksª “As for the (Evil) Eye, take it and bindits feet to a solitary ree[d st]alk!”[36]

Since the Eye could have its feet bound then it necessarily had limbs and an entire body.  This manifestation was eventually captured by an artist so that no doubt should remain; the Evil Eye was a giant eyeball, with a body, which roamed about seeking other’s ruin.  The depiction below, found in Syria and dating to the early first millenium (circa 900-700 BC)[37], shows how the eye, in the shape of a head with a body, was believed to have been a creature which could eat other people.[38]

The Evil Eye

In the Akkadian text CT 17, 33, as well as other Sumero-Akkadian incantations[39], the ‘Evil Eye’ is presented acting independently of its owner and is occasionally hypostatized as an animal or ‘monster’ like the muë.huë[40] “dragon”.  The evil eye can likewise be ‘slaughtered,’ according to a Sumerian incantation.[41]

Summary and Conclusion of the Evil Eye

In our first example of hypostasis we have seen, from magic texts, how the ancient person would have said the incantation to ward off the very real and malevolent entity which sought him harm.  The Eye was described in graphic terms of motion, attack and vision.  For the ancient, the Evil Eye was not some personification of the poet to describe bad events.  Rather, the bad events were a direct cause of the visitation of the Evil Eye.  If the cantor of the incantation could successfully implement the magic, then the actual entity of the Evil Eye would not be able to harm its victim.  Whether or not the ancient actually believed that he could see the Evil Eye is unknown.  However, that does not mean that he didn’t conceptualize what it looked like in its physical form.  This is seen from the text relating to the parts of the body and of course the drawing itself.  Therefore, if the eye of someone was conceived of as manifesting itself as a new entity, able to move about and suffer death, then the notion that an abstract attribute of a god (which, of course, is a higher being) or that the cultic apparatus of a god could take on an independent existence is not surprising.  However, it would be surprising if this phenomenon were not observed.

Our conclusion therefore must be that the Eye was at the same time a real entity, separate of the person from which it originated, which had the power to act in concrete ways.  And yet was also intimately connected with its originator: its identity was found in whom it came from, and it did not appear from an unknown region (seeking a victim to destroy).  It was independent of the parent entity, in that it could move about freely without the person’s direction but was dependent on the wicked person’s inclinations.  The Evil Eye meets all of the criteria for hypostasis.

1.2 Beth El

The next example is taken from a Mesopotamian text in which Bethel is referred to as an entity capable of making choices.  Like the Evil Eye, the hypostasis of Bethel (literally house of god = temple) is thought to be conscious and powerful.  Here, Bethel is actually the one invoked to give the person over to a lion.  This example is given to show how part of the cultic apparatus (in this case a temple) could be conceived of as a deity.  What once was no more than a place to pay homage to the gods became itself a god which received homage (or invocations) from others.

[d ba-a-a-ti DINGIR.MEž da-na-t]I – ba-a-a-ti – DINGIR. [MEž] ina žU.2 UR.M[AH a-ki-li]lim-nu-ku-nu May [Bethel and Ana]th-Bethel hand you over to the paws of [a man-eating] lion.[42]

Similar to the Evil eye, cultic places and objects were also hypostatized on occasion.  Bethel is a place spoken of in the Bible and God is declared to be the God of Bethel “I am the God of Beth-el” (lae-tyBe laeh’ ykinOa’)(Gen. 31:13).  What is important from the Biblical witness is that it was specifically called a place, and God was the God of the place.[43] Whether or not the Mesopotamian text above is referring to the same place is perhaps insignificant since the ancient writer clearly knew of such a place(s) and understood it to be a place before it was a deity.  The example of Bethel is brought in to demonstrate how for the pagan, a cultic object became a separate entity.  And for the Jews in Elephantine, discussed below, it could be worshiped alongside of God.  In other words, the hypostasis did not become simply another god to whom someone could pray, but it was a compliment to YHWH and acted as the intermediary between him and his subjects.

1.2.1     Linguistic Analysis

It is clear in this text that Bethel is a deity.  First, this invocation appears along with many other gods who are likewise invoked at the signing of a treaty.  Secondly, Bethel, like the other gods, is preceded by the god determinative (represented by the small d).  The Akkadian is clear concerning the identification of Bethel.  Ba-a-a-ti (house) appears in construct with DINGIR.MEž (gods) thus signifying house of gods.  Like every other appearance of a deity in Akkadian, the determinative DINGIR precedes the name.  House of gods, therefore, with the deity determinative in front of it – is itself a god.[44] In support of the deity marker attached to Bethel and Anath Bethel, the verb, lim-nu, appears in the third person plural which means that more than one entity[45] was invoked.

Hypostatization of temples, as seen in Bethel above, was very common in the ANE.  McCarter supports this finding and brings further evidence for it by way of the Aramaic god of bayt-‘el (“Bethel”) which was worshiped in Mesopotamia.  The god, he says, was the actual personification of the temple (Heb. ) itself[46] – thus, it was a hypostasis of the temple.  Interestingly, Jer. 48:13, states that it was worshiped in Israel too.  However, unlike Genesis 31:13, where God is declared to be the God of Bethel – lae-tyBe laeh’ ykinOa’ –, Jer 48:13 is adamantly opposed to the very idea.  What a radical change took place in Israelite religion in a few hundred years![47] What was acceptable religious speculation in the time of the writing of Genesis became anathema just before the Babylonian conquest.  Nonetheless, we see that personification of a temple could become an independent entity even in Israel.[48]

A similar hypostasis occurred in the Jewish community located at the Egyptian island of Elephantine circa the 5th century BC.  Bethel and Anat, the same pair invoked to throw people to a man-eating lion, were worshiped alongside of YHWH.  This Anat is not necessarily an independent goddess, but could rather be a hypostasis of Yahu as demonstrated by B. Porten.

The name Anathyahu shows that the goddess was associated with the Israelite deity…perhaps they are to be related to such names as ‘Astarte Name of Baal’ from Ugarit (UT 127:56) and fifth century (?)  Sidon and ‘Tinnit Face (pn) of Baal’ in the later Punic inscriptions.  In Israelite religion, the ‘name’ and ‘face’ of the Lord were but terms indicating His presence, comparable to kabod…  A goddess who is the ‘name ‘ or ‘face’ of Baal may have reflected some attribute or manifestation of that deity.[49]

That is to say that “Anat” could in fact be a word used to describe the presence of the god analogous (though not parallel) to the placement of the DINGIR symbol in Akkadian divine names as seen above[50]anat in front of an object or symbol signified a hypostasis.

Likewise, though the Jews were living in a foreign country, they were still worshippers of the Israelite God YHWH.  And though they called Him by a different name – Yahu,[51]the evidence shows that they were worshiping Him and yet at the same time worshiping another entity – Bethel, which, as noted, was hypostatization of the temple ()  McCarter suggests that Bethel is more precisely a surrogate for YHWH and the other gods worshiped there were not foreign gods being brought into some kind of Jewish pantheon, but rather hypostases of YHWH.[52] He says “ they are abstracts of Yahweh – his sacredness, his cultically available presence, etc. – given substance (hypostasis), personified, and worshiped as semi-independent deities.”[53] In other words, the Jews of Elephantine still maintained their monotheistic beliefs and did not incorporate foreign gods to make a pantheon.  Rather, these entities were part of YHW’s (Yahu) essence.  Worshiping them was the same as worshiping YHW.

In summary, Bethel has provided us with an example of how a place and/or cultic object could become an entity that was worshiped by people claiming monotheism.  For the Jewish residents of Elephantine, Bethel was not a new god but was an intermediary between themselves and YHW.  Bethel could receive praise and worship in the stead of the deity and yet could act independently.  Furthermore, the occurrence of Anat found alongside of Bethel and Yahu Anat seems to be a marker indicating the presence of the deity’s hypostasis.

1.3       Kuntillet ‘Ajrud: Aëerat YHWH

In this section I will deal with the inscriptions of Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-KÛm.  I am proposing that the enigmatic YHWH and his aëerah is better understood as a hypostasis of YHWH rather than a consort goddess.  I will argue this based on the inscriptions found there and by way of analysis, will hopefully show that the ancient worshipper was invoking God’s hypostasis – that is, the presence of God, rather than a foreign goddess thought to be his wife.

Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, was excavated in the seventies by Z. Meshel.  The site is located approximately 50 km south of Kadesh-Barnea, near the Darb el-Ghazzeh, the road leading from the southern Mediterranean coast to Eilat.[54] Meshel and other scholars have proposed that this site may have served as a religious center for ancient traders[55] due to the inscriptions found at the site.

1.3.1     The Inscriptions

The inscriptions found therein, howbeit, contain a somewhat troublesome message.  One of which is “Yahweh Teman and his aëerah.”[56] Teman is understood to be located somewhere in Edom.[57] However, what should be done with the phrase, his aëerah, that is, YHWH’s aëerah?  If this were the only inscription of its kind then scholars would not, perhaps, make such an ordeal of the matter.  However, this and other inscriptions found at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, were actually discovered after others of the same nature were found approximately eight miles from Hebron in an Arab village known as Khirbet el-KÛm.[58]

An Inscription from Khirbet el KÛm

Khirbet el-KÛm was the first of the two important discoveries, which gave scholarship a new perspective into the non-temple cultic practices of the first temple era.  A salvage excavation of the site was undertaken by W. Dever, who, in the course of his excavations, discovered the tomb from which the inscription had been cut and discovered another two inscriptions written in ancient Hebrew script.[59] The inscriptions, on purely epigraphic criteria, are typically dated to the eighth century BC.[60] I believe that it is also significant that the first of the two sites was located so close to Jerusalem, seat of the official cult, in light of Lemaire’s conclusion concerning the inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud.  He concludes that the site was settled by the Northern Kingdom.  “The mention of ‘Samaria’[61] and the way the personal names are written with the ending –yw, seem to indicate that these Kuntillet ‘Ajrud inscriptions were written by people from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, rather than the southern kingdom of Judah.”[62] What this suggests, in my opinion, is that both kingdoms, at approximately the same time, were worshiping YHWH in a very similar manner.  Meshel also is in accord with the suggestion that priests from the Northern Kingdom came to offer cultic services to travelers.[63] “The site, occupied for only a few years, was likely inhabited by a small group of priests dispatched from the Northern kingdom of Israel with an officer (sr ‘r) at their head.  They were sustained by the various sacrifices and tithes that were sent as provisions primarily from Judah…”[64]

Kuntillet ‘Ajrud[65]

A. L‘bdyw bn ‘dnh brk h‘ ly By Obadyau, son of Adnah.  May he be blessed by Yahweh.
B. ’mr X ’mr l-Y wlhyw‘sh w[l-Z] brkt ’tkm lyhwh ëmrn wl’ërth. X says: Say to Y and Yau‘asah and [to Z]: I bless you by Yahweh, our guardian, and by his Aëerah.
C. ’mr ’mryw ’mr l’dny X brktk lyhwh [ëmrn] wl’ërth Amaryau says: Say to my lord X: I bless you by Yahweh [our guardian], and by his Aëerah.

Khirbet el-KÛm

D. ’ryhw hsrr ktbh. Brk ’ryhw lyhwh. Nîry wl’rth. Uriyahu the governor wrote it.  May Uriyahu be blessed by Yahweh, my guardian and by his Aëerah.

For means of a control factor, I have gathered some texts from Arad and from the Bible in which some one is blessing X by YHWH to show that the above inscriptions are standard blessing formulas with the exception of aëerah of course.  It should be noted that the biblical formula is identical to two of the blessings in the texts above.  The others are very similar.

Arad Ostraca[66]

E. Num. 16 (Catelogue No. 16)

1)’Êk. Ênnyhw. ëlÊ lël2) m ’lyëb. wlëlm bytk br3) ktk lyhwh Your brother Hananyahu (hereby) sendsgreetings to (you) Elyshaib and to yourhousehold. I bless you to YHWH.

F. Num. 21 (Catalogue No. 19)

1)Bnk. yhwkl. ëlÊ. lëlm. Gdlyhw [bn]2)’ly’r. wlëlm.bytk brktk (l) [yhw] Your son Yehukal (hereby) sends greetings to(you) Gedalyahu [son of]  Elyair and to yourhousehold. I bless you (to) [YHW]H.

G. Num. 40 (Catalogue No. 22)

3) mlkyhw brkt[k lyhw]h Malkiyahu.  I bless you to YHW]H


Genesis 14:19

And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth: ~r’b.a; %WrB’ rm;aYOw: Whker>b’y>`#r,a’w” ~yIm;v’ hnEqo !Ayl.[ lael,

I Sam. 15:13

…and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of Jehovah… hw”hyl; hT’a %WrB’ lWav’ Al rm,aYOw:”`hw”hy> rb;D>-ta, ytimoyqih];

Ruth 2:20

And Naomi said unto her daughter-in-law, Blessed be he of Jehovah, hw”hyl; aWh %WrB’ Ht’L’k;l. ymi[\n” rm,aTow:

Judges 17:2

Blessed be my son of Jehovah. `hw”hyl; ynIB. %WrB’

1.3.2                 Analysis

What we may observe from the entire corpus of texts is that though one blessing form dominated, there was more than one way to bless someone.  What the texts have in common is the lack of the imperfect as a way of man blessing man by God.  The imperfect of  (brk) does exist in the Hebrew Bible, but only when God is blessing someone and from man to man.  The standard blessing formula in the Bible is to use the qal passive of brk + l.  We can speculate that the Biblical writers thought it was more pious to use the passive as a jussive “blessed are you” i.e. “may [he] bless you” in that the speaker does not claim agency for himself (“I MYSELF BLESS YOU”) but gives agency and power to bless to God.

The qal passive is found twice in the extra-biblical invocations – once at Kuntillet ÿAjrud and once at Khirbet el-KÛm.  This suggests that while the majority of the invocations differ from those in the biblical corpus, the language employed is from the same cultural realm as the biblical writers.  The formula in the Bible is: blessed are you X by YHWH.  This is the same formula used in two of the inscriptions mentioned above – qal passive participle (brwk X l Y).  The rest of the inscriptions have the formula: brktk lyhwh.  These appear to be standard-blessing formulas found in places that had interaction with the cultic center of Jerusalem.

Furthermore, the inscriptions all demonstrate the use of the dative lamed whenever someone is invoking the divine for the good of someone else.  We may conclude from this that every time one person blesses another lamed is used to signify that it is the divine through whom the blessing is performed.  In other words, the lamed signifies the invocation of a divine power.  Therefore, when we meet this trend in regards to Aëerah, we must conclude that “his aëerah” refers to something divine.  Thirdly, in the inscriptions from Kuntillet ’Ajrud and Khirbet el-KÛm, the word aëerah ends with the third singular masculine possessive – in SBH, a proper noun never takes a suffix i.e. we would never find an example of “his Rachel” or “his Sarah”.[67] The word aëerah, therefore, is necessarily connected to YHWH – his aëerah.  The simple fact that the Bible does not contain an example of this usage does not preclude its usage elsewhere.  However, it does render any interpretation contrary to the biblical paradigm unlikely in that the Bible itself already represents a wide spectrum of the language.  Interpreting the word aëerah in light of the biblical paradigm, one is forced, therefore, to conclude that aëerah does not refer to a goddess, though nor is it merely a thing.  It would seem to be an entity associated with YHWH.  This will be explained later in greater detail.

Considering that the blessing is apparently the standard formula, the interaction with Jerusalem, and the mention of aëerah found in two inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and one at el-KÛm, we can conclude that this was a widespread cult.  People of Israelite origin were invoking God and his aëerah.  This conclusion is strengthened by the comparison with other invocations.  “[May Aëëur, father of the gods, and king] of the totality of heaven and earth… May [Mullissu, the great mother, his] beloved wife…”[68] This text demonstrates that when spouse gods were summoned, even for curses, they were mentioned individually.  The text does not say: “Aëëur and his Mullissu”.  Both gods, though a pair, are listed separately.  This leads us to conclude that the inscriptions above, in which aëerah is invoked with YHWH, are abnormal.  The norm is to invoke the gods separately – corroborating that aëerah is not a goddess and yet not a simple object.

Who or what then was aëerah?  She/it is more than an object and yet not exactly a goddess.  Why should she/it be placed next to YHWH so as to be invoked with YHWH?[69] This latter question is all the more puzzling if Kuntillet ‘Ajrud was indeed a religious site with priests partially sponsored by Jerusalem.

1.3.3     Analysis of the Drawing: Is A Picture Worth A Thousand Words?

Found among the shards of pottery was a drawing of three figures, two standing and one seated.  The theories related to what these could signify range greatly.  The problem, however, is not so much the figures, but that they are situated beneath the inscription which says, “…I bless you by Yahweh, our guardian, and by his aëerah.”[70] Some theories, therefore, have suggested that the two standing figures are of YHWH and his consort,[71] others, such as Lemaire, suggest the exact opposite (the seated figure was Bes)  “There is no reason to believe that the left figure is Yahweh or that the middle figure is a depiction of Yahweh’s consort, an aëerah.  In short, there is no figure here that could possible be Yahweh.”[72]

A Pithos Drawing from Kuntillet Ajrud

Beck has identified the two standing figures as the Egyptian Bes-like god.[73] Her analysis is, in my opinion, more convincing than Dever’s.  Nonetheless, I see no reason to state dogmatically the identity of these figures.  Beck herself admits that many of the features normally associated with Bes are missing.  If the very features required for identifying a figure are missing, then one should not claim (emphatically) that these figures are indeed Bes.  Beck states: “The broad body and far arms, the belly splayed over the thighs and the short legs vividly convey the concept of dwarfism.  All these details are missing from our Bes figures.”  Beck then continues her analysis by noting all of the other missing features from the Bes figures.  All of that in spite of her claim: “there is no doubt that they represent the god Bes, a collective name for a group of Egyptian dwarf deities.”[74] At most we can say that Bes is the name that should be given simply because we don’t know who it is.  Friedman explains the term: “…‘Bes’ is a convenient term for nearly a dozen individual deities, including Aha, Hayet, Meny, and Bes, all of whom have similar if not identical physical features.  To avoid confusion, Egyptologists use the term “Bes-image” when the god’s specific identity is not known.”[75] Bes it may indeed be, but then, who is Bes?  If it is ‘merely a convenient term for nearly a dozen deities,’ then which is the true Bes?

Furthermore, we ought to tread carefully when claiming what God looked like.  The Bible offers few clues as to what YHWH[76] looked like.  Passages like Hosea 8:6 give a precarious picture at best.  Moreover, the smaller figure, presumably aëerah, looks nothing like the traditional figure[77] even though the aëerah goddess and Bes have similar (traditional) roles.[78] Thirdly, there is not necessarily any connection between the figures and the inscription[79].  Quite possibly someone could have come along at a later time – with a different theology and either drawn the picture or written the inscription, which Beck does conclude.

Based mainly on the “stratigraphy” and placement of the inscriptions rather than any analysis of their contents… is that they were drawn by different hands than those that applied the drawings to the pithoi and at different times.[80]

The fact that different colors of ink were used for the drawings and inscriptions would seem to suggest they were not done at the same time, an observation made by Gilulet as well.

àéäå úåéåîãä äá åøéåöù åæî øúåé ääë åéãá äáåúë úáåúëä…
ãëä ìò äôñåð àéäù ïåòèì ïëúéù êë ,øåéöä ïî ÷ìç äñëî
ìòî úàöîð àéä äø÷îá ÷øå ,åéìò úåøåöî åéä úåéåîãäù øçàì
[81].øçà àìå äæ øåéö

If the figures are not necessarily YHWH and aëerah nor are they Bes for any certain degree, we may therefore conclude, in light of the above discussion, that an interpretation of the inscriptions may be conducted without further consideration for the drawings. The same inscription, in fact, appears in another form at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud without a drawing as it does in el-KÛm also without the drawing.  I would suggest that the drawing and inscription are not related to one another.  Not only is the ink used for both of different color, as pointed out by Gilulet, but also the inscription is overlapping the drawing in such a way as to suggest that the words and the drawing are unrelated.  In any event, any conclusions formulated from the evidence are tentative at best.  Therefore, let us consider what the writer meant by the term aëerah.


1.3.4     Aëerah: Its Meaning

Lemaire suggests that the term, in concordance with the biblical evidence, is to be understood as a sacred tree from the Ancient Near East or perhaps a grove of trees.[82] He is certainly correct that the depiction of aëerah in the Bible is some sort of wooden object.  That of a pole or sacred grove is in accord with the evidence.  However, why would any one invoke a tree alongside of YHWH, unless that person truly believed that the tree were either alive or was in fact a hypostasis of a god or perhaps YHWH himself?  If we adopt the theory of hypostasis as I suggest, many of the unresolved questions simply fade away.

The meaning of aëirtu in Akkadian, is most often 1) sanctuary, 2) small room in a private house.[83] Though the Bible does not divulge its precise character, it shows that the aëerah itself was not the shrine or sanctuary, but was rather a cultic object that constituted a part of the shrine.[84] This is instructive to see that the when approaching this word in its Israelite context, it should not be interpreted exactly as in Akkadian texts.  The semantic range shares similarities, but the Northwest Semitic usage would seem to have a tighter nuance.  Aëerah in its Israelite context is some type of thing – apparently a piece of wood of some sort associated with worship, but was not the physical place of worship.  Therefore the Akkadian helps us define the meaning of aëera but further evidence is necessary.

Another important piece of evidence which will help us in our search is the suffix at the end of the word aëerah.  The implication of the phrase, YHWH waëerato could be understood in the construct of aëerat YHWH.  This then is parallel to ÿ²nat yªhõ which is found in the Elephantine texts discussed above.  McCarter[85] points out that the word ÿ²nat means “sign”.  Thus ÿ²nat yªhõ means “sign of Yahu”, which is to say, ÿ²nat is the sign (or the active presence) of YHWH.  Analogous to that is a reference to aëerah as the name of Baal (ëm bÿl) in texts from Ugarit.[86] The text reads:  a house for Baal of Sidon and a house for Astarte-Name-of-Baal.[87] To be the name of another god is to be intimately associated with that god.  In other words, to call upon aëerah is to call upon Baal.  We could also say, that aëerah is to be thought of as another term which signifies the cultically available presence of the deity.[88]

Judging from this information, we may conclude that the inscription in question refers to a hypostasis of YHWH.  That is to say, aëerah is not another god (i.e. the Canaanite goddess), nor is it merely a sacred pole, but it is in fact, an abstract of YHWH that had been hypostatized and then worshiped alongside him, similarly to Bethel and like the altar recorded in rabbinic[89] sources.  The whole purpose of a hypostasis is to address the very real felt need of having a God who was truly present for the worshipper.[90] When the etymology of the word aëerah is considered, the case would seem to be clear.

The basic root ZKA (’aðar) in Arabic carries the meaning transmit, pass along, report, relate – (something based on the authority of) leave a trace and influence, affect, vestige, sign, mark, impression, action.[91] These definitions of the root help make it easier to understand how YHWH can have an aëerah.  That is, aëerah signifies the “sign “ or “mark” of the divine.  It is not another god being worshiped alongside of YHWH, but his very presence which is invoked with him.  Aëerah is the ‘trace’ of YHWH which is locally available to the worshipper.  The transcendent God of heaven can be accessed locally.

1.3.5     Summary and Conclusion to Kuntillet ‘Ajrud

Our study of the texts from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-KÛm has demonstrated several issues.  First of all, we have seen how the blessing formula is made in the name of a god.  The above inscriptions were not written at some far off place with a different dialect.  The language of the inscriptions is parallel to that found in other sites such as Arad and to the Bible itself.  Secondly, the blessing was made with the invocation of YHWH similar to invocations found in the Bible.  Like the biblical examples, the inscriptions use the same formula of brk (whether it be in the qal passive or perfect) + X l (by) Y (deity).  In three of the inscriptions the word aëerah was included as part of the blessing.  The use of the suffix, in light of its biblical usage, strongly suggests that aëerah does not refer to the Canaanite goddess.  Nowhere in either the Bible or ANE texts is there an example of “god x and his goddess Y (with the possessive suffix)”.  Rather aëerah refers to a cultic object which encapsulated the cultically available presence of YHWH.

Moreover, understanding aëerah as a hypostasis[92] of the deity helps one understand the process which took place in the second temple period.  Hypostasis is a deep-rooted development in Israelite thought that will later emerge in the hypostasis of wisdom and ideas about the messiah…[93] Seeing aëerah in this light, I would maintain, solves many of the difficulties of interpretation.  Aëerah is not necessarily connected with the figure in the drawing and furthermore, need not be associated with the Canaanite goddess of the same name.  Aëerah is the cultically available presence of God.

Ancient Israelite Hypostasis Introduction

Hypostases in the Ancient Near East Part One

Hypostasis in Biblical Literature Part Two

Hypostasis in the Second Temple Period Part Three

Hypostasis, Proverbs Eight, and Wisdom Part Four

Ancient Israelite Hypostasis Bibliography Part Five

[25]S. Olyan, (1988), p. 31.  “…naming the cult symbol of the deity is synonymous with naming the deity [itself] herself.”

[26]For complete details see: J.N. Ford, (1998), p. 202.

[27] Ibid. p. 202.

[28] Ibid. p. 207.

[29]Ford addresses this point and concedes that it is one of the meanings of the “roaming” eye.  “The ‘roaming’ of the eye refers, on one hand, to the ever-moving, searching glance of the physiological eye.”  Ford, (1998), p. 211.

[30] Ibid. p. 212.

[31] P. B. Gravel, (1995), p. 5.

[32] Ford, (1998), p. 207.

[33] Upper brackets represent partial restoration.

[34] Ford, (1998), p. 206, (Old Babylonian Incantation ).

[35] Ibid. p. 213.

[36] Ibid. p. 212, VAT 10018:19

[37] A more precise dating was not available.

[38] Picture taken from A. Caquot and R. du Mesnil du Buisson, (1971).

[39]Sumerian texts: YOS 11, 70 I 1’-14; YOS 11, 70 I 15’-23’ =YOS 11, 71; YOS 11, 70 I 24’-II 6’;TCL 16, 89: 3-12 = BL, no. 3, 3-9; Akkadian text: VAT 10018 (Ebeling, ArOr 17/1, p. 203 -205).

[40] See: M. L. Thomsen, (1992), p. 25.

[41] YOS 11, 71:17-18, see M. L. Thomsen, (1992), p.30.

[42](Treaties of Esarhaddon – 680 to 669 BC), S. Parpola & K. Watanabe (Ed), (1988), p. 49.

[43] There exists the possibility that the writer actually meant that God is the God Bethel rather than the God of Bethel.  Bethel could be an appellation rather than be in construct with El.

[44] If Genesis (31:13) is thought to be parallel to its Mesopotamian counterpart, then we have evidence for the interpretation that God is the God “Bethel” and not simply the God of the place e.g. The God of Israel.

[45] Though Anat could also be thought of as a hypostasis of Bethel i.e. the sign of YHW (Yahu).  This will be explained below.

[46] McCarter, (1987) p. 147.

[47] A digression and a bit of speculation cannot be avoided at this point.  Parpola suggests that the attacks of biblical prophets against idolatry and the worship of heavenly bodies and foreign gods were not so much against these other entities per se, but rather to the excessive worship of the hypostases at the cost of God himself.  Thus, considering that Jeremiah who was a priest and undoubtedly mindful of the Torah would make such a bitter attack against Bethel (a place of which God claims to be its God), Parpola’s claim certainly has weight.  For how else can his denunciation of Bethel be explained in light of Genesis 31:13 where God claims to be its God?

[48] J. Bright, (1965), p. 320, “The parallelism suggests that Bethel is here, as in the Elephantine papyri and elsewhere, a divine epithet.  No doubt it was a surrogate for Yahweh current in the official cult of northern Israel as practiced at Bethel.”  See also: J. P. Hyatt, (1939), 81-98, and: W. F. Albright, (1942), p. 168-74.  Albright explains the occurrences at Elephantine as hypostases “Name of the House of God,” “Sacredness of the House of God,” and “Sign (of the Active Presence) of God” or, “Will of God.”

[49] B. Porten, (1968), p. 171.

[50] I am not suggesting that DINGIR signifies hypostasis.  I am simply saying that Anat is also a marker – in this case signifying hypostasis and not merely a divine name.

[51] There is, however, no connection to the modern day website!

[52] McCarter, (1987), p. 147.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Z. Meshel, (1977), p. 161.

[55] The site has been known to travelers for a long time.  Edward Palmer a visitor to the site in 1869, discovered some writing fragments and mistook the aleph for an alpha and therefore claimed that the site was dated to the Roman era.  Meshel, (1992), p. 103.

[56] ibid.

[57] ibid.

[58] A. Lemaire, (1984), p. 42.

[59] ibid.

[60] ibid.

[61] In light of Naveh’s reading, however, ëmrn could just as easily refer to our guardian. Naveh, (1979), p. 28.

[62] ibid.  p. 44.

[63] It should be pointed out that the cult of Kuntillet ÿAjrud had interaction with the cult of Jerusalem which would preclude ideas extremely radical in nature.  This will be demonstrated by way of the inscriptions themselves.  We will see that the language of Kuntillet ÿAjrud is very similar and often parallel to that of the Bible and to Khirbet el-KÛm which was only a day’s or less journey from Jerusalem.

[64] Meshel, (1992), p. 108.

[65] Translation: J. Naveh, (1979).  Most scholars agree with the above translations: See: Lemaire, (1977), p. 599.  Dever, W.G., (1984).

[66] D. Pardee, (1982).

[67] Cf. P. Joòon – T. Muraoka, (1996), p 505, proper nouns “cannot be followed by a determinate (not indeterminate) genitive.”

[68]Accession Treaty of Esarhaddon –  (680 to 669 BC), S. Parpola & K. Watanabe (Ed), (1988), p. 22.

[69] Dever, (1999), p. 13, suggests that the inscriptions were written by the less educated as mere graffiti who were not concerned about grammatical considerations.  While this interpretation would seem to have its merits, Dever seems to assume that the countryside person could in fact write – a conclusion which is possible. In my opinion, however, it is improbable that at least two countryside persons could write the same thing in two different places (that is Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el KÛm).  If it were just one of the two places, I might find his proposal acceptable.  But as it stands now, it rests too much on speculation than fact. See also T. Binger, (1997), pp.105-106, for a discussion of Dever’s suggestion.

[70] Naveh, (1979), p. 28.

[71] See Dever, (1984), p. 22.  Dever sets out to prove that at least one of the figures is Aëerah but is vague concerning the precise role of the other.  Presumably, it is YHWH according to his argument.

[72] Lemaire, (1984), p. 46.

[73] P. Beck, (1982), p. 47.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Freidman, (1998), p. 209.

[76] McCarter, (1987), p. 147, suggests that the two figures are probably YHWH and his consort.  A picture of YHWH he presumably derives from the biblical reference to Hos. 8:6 “young bull of Samaria.”

[77] Mazar, (1990), pp. 501-502.

[78] “The gods represented by the Bes-image seem to have been guardians of infants and new mothers… it [Bes] is almost always found in scenes or on objects relating to fertility, sexual attraction, and the protection of infants and new mothers during the perilous hours after birth.” Freidman, (1998), p. 210.

[79] “…making a connection between one or more of the drawings and the inscription is precarious.  Such a connection may not, in fact, have existed.  Little can be said with assurance about the drawings beneath the inscriptions, and so they will not be used to help determine the translation of ’ërth.”  Maier, (1986), pp.170-171.

[80] Beck, (1982), p. 47.

[81] M. Gilulet, (1979) – see Hebrew Bibliography.

[82] Lemaire (1984), p. 48.

[83]The word also has the following meanings though with less frequency: offering or pious gift to the gods; advice, instruction

[84] McCarter, (1987), p, 145.

[85] Ibid., p. 148.

[86] CTA 16.6, 56

[87] J. C. L. Gibson, (1982), p. 108-9.  Gibson accurately mentions the divergence of this text.  He says,  a title of Astarte is a manifestation or reflection of her husband.”   He compares “name of Baal” with “the name of YHWH” in Exod. 23:21.

[88] McCarter, (1987), p, 149.

[89] According to Tannaitic sources, the altar was addressed on the seventh day of Sukkoth: ‘When they departed, what did they say: “Praise to you, O Altar! Praise to you, O Altar!’”  (Mishnah Suk. 4:5).  According to Rabbi Eliezer b. Jacob, they said ‘To Yah and to you, O Altar!  To Yah and to you, O Altar!’ (Tosefta Suk. 3:1 end).

Rabbi Eliezer b. Jacob’s version of the address apparently raised eyebrows in Talmudic time, much as the Kuntillet ‘Ajrud blessings have done in modern times.  The Babylonian Talmud asks  whether the address does not violate the prohibition on ‘joining the name of the Lord with something else’ – that is, treating something else as divine together with the Lord—thus violating the rabbinic understanding of Exod. 22:19b (‘save for the Lord alone’).  It answers that the meaning is simply ‘to Yah we give thanks and to you, O altar, we give praise!’ (BT Suk. 45b).

…the address itself shows that people who were unquestionably monotheistic did not hesitate to address YHWH and a personified cult object in a way which seems to give comparable status to each.  This is similar to what is does in the blessings  from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, according to the view that the asherah a personified cult object and not a goddess.” J. Tigay, (1986).

[90] Aëerah, and hypostases in general, acted as intermediaries between man and God.  The most holy God can not descend into the world of the unclean but his hypostasis can (A theology derived from Ezekiel).  It is both God and yet detached from God.  The hypostasis allows God to remain in heaven while it sojourns in the realm of the unholy.  [90] Isaiah 24:23 offers a detailed picture of how YHWH can be present in the land, while still remaining enthroned in his holy abode in heaven.  It is YHWH’s kabod, his hypostasis, whose domain is the unsanctified regions of the earth, and mediates between the subjects and YHWH.

[91] McCarter, (1987), p. 149. “Therefore, just as ‘anat yahõ, means ‘the sign [of the active presence] of Yahu,’ so ’aëerat yahweh means ‘the Trace [i.e., visible token] of Yahweh,’ that is, ‘the Sign/Mark of Yahweh’ or perhaps even ‘the Effective/Active Presence of Yahweh.”

[92] “In discussing the inscriptions from Kuntillet ÿAjrud, A. Meshel and others have held that in the blessings ‘by YHWH and Samaria/Teman and His aëerah,’ the term aëerah refers to the cultic object of that name and not to the goddess Aëerah.  The plausibility of this interpretation is, I believe, enhanced by a practice of the late Second Temple times in which YHWH and a personified cult object were addressed in the same breath.  J. Tigay, (1986), p. 11.

[93] Would he be merely human or the heavenly son of man?  In accordance with tradition and the paradoxical role of the Son of Man in the Pseudepigrapha, The Catholic Bible Quarterly 45, 1983 pp. 58-59 provides us with the following – understanding.  “The man-like one represents the saints in the kingdom, as the interpretation emphasizes, but inasmuch as the sovereignty over the world is that of God, exercised through the ‘man’, he is also the representative of God.  The dual role of the ‘man’ accords with the messianic traditions of the OT.”

Ancient Israelite Hypostasis Introduction

Hypostases in the Ancient Near East Part One

Hypostasis in Biblical Literature Part Two

Hypostasis in the Second Temple Period Part Three

Hypostasis, Proverbs Eight, and Wisdom Part Four

Ancient Israelite Hypostasis Bibliography Part Five