Kuntillet Ajrud Jars—2 Kings 21:3

Kuntillet Ajrud was a desert oasis stop for caravans crossing the northeast part of the Sinai Peninsula. Zeev Meshel excavated the site in 1975 and 1976 on behalf of Tel Aviv University. There archaeologists found a fortress-like building with an attached shrine. Each of the two rooms of the fortress had two large storage jars (pithoi) inscribed with drawings and inscriptions. Scholars have analyzed them since their discovery for insights about eighth-century BC cultic practices because the inscription on pithos A reads: “X says: Say to Y and Yau‘asah and [to Z]: I bless you by Yahweh, our guardian and by his Asherah.” The accompanying art on the pithos depicts a woman seated on a chair/throne next to two other figures. On the same pithos appear two ibex (wild mountain goats) on either side of a tree resting on a lion. A number of scholars have interpreted the tree as a sacred asherah tree based on imagery on the Ta’anach cult stand, as well as depictions of the female goddess standing on a lion while feeding or holding ibex on either side of her. Less certain is the relationship between the art and the text or the order of their placement on the pithos. Nor is it certain whether the inscriptions refer to an asherah (noun) or to Asherah herself, thus being the name of the female goddess. The Old Testament uses both terms more than 40 times to denounce the worship of Asherah (Exod. 34:13; Deut. 12:3) or the placement of the sacred tree next to the altar of Yahweh (Deut. 16:21). But the Israelites did worship Asherah and Baal during the period of the judges (Judg. 3:7). Later in the period of the monarchy, Asa deposed the queen mother Maacah for worshipping an Asherah (1 Kings 15:13). Ahab erected on an Asherah pole (1 Kings 16:33) and Jezebel supported 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Kings 18:19) whom Elijah killed after his showdown at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 19:1). King Manasseh placed an Asherah in Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 21:3-7). Josiah later removed and crushed it into powder in the Kidron Valley during his reforms in 621 BC (2 Kings 23:6). From these passages and the archaeological record, it is apparent much of the Judahite and Israelite population worshipped the Canaanite deities Baal and Asherah.