Kuntillet Ajrud: The Ancient Fortress that puzzles archaeologists
In the Sinah desert stands Kuntillet Ajrud, a remote settlement that was found in 1975 by the archaeologist Ze’ev Meshel of the University of Tel Aviv. The settlement is dated to the 8th century BC and is suggested to be one of the border fortresses built by King Solomon. The name of the fortress in Arabic, means ‘Hill of the Water-Source’.
Two major buildings were found preserved at Kuntillet Ajrud. The largest one contained numerous inscriptions—of early Hebrew and Phoenician writings—and paintings on the walls, door posts, pottery and store jars, as well as numerous drawings of men, animals and gods. It is interesting to note that in addition to Yahweh (the God of the Bible) being mentioned in the inscriptions, the Canaanite gods, El and Baal, were also worshipped. It was only later that Baal was ‘transformed’ to a demon and was considered evil in the scriptures.
Even if it has been proposed that Kuntillet Ajrud was used as a fortress, the actual nature and function of the place is not clear. Various remains that were found, including the inscriptions, suggest that it also served as a kind of religious center, with one phrase of particular importance creating debate amongst archaeologists: “I have blessed you to Yahweh of Shomron (Samaria) and to His Asherah”. Asherah was a Semitic mother goddess. The question has therefore been debated among scholars as to whether she may have been the wife of God? Asherah was known to be the consort of the god El, however it seems that she disappears at some point from Phoenician/Canaanite inscriptions.
Under that inscription is a drawing of two figures, possibly God and Asherah, and one that resembles the Egyptian god Bes, which is a collective name for a group of dwarf deities. A few scholars have suggested that the drawings were added after the initial inscriptions and may not be related, but both of the drawings are very interesting in terms of how they present the God and his possible wife—if that is their purpose, of course.
Another inscription found on the walls says the following:
“When God shines forth … Yahweh … The mountains will melt, the hills will crush … The Holy One over the gods … Prepare to bless Ba‘al on a day of war … to the name of El on a day of war”
We won’t attempt to interpret the inscription because its content is puzzling.
Kuntillet Ajrud baffles archaeologists—especially biblical archaeologists—because of the complexity of early Israelite worship and the mixing of the god of the Bible with many different deities, showing a different ‘face’ of the god and a gradual movement towards monotheistic worship without any other ‘interferences’. The controversial inscriptions at Kuntillet Ajrud serve to shake the foundations of monotheism.
By John Black