May 15, 2017
by Fehmida

Healing Herbs of the Ancient Celts


Plants Used for Medicine by The Ancient Celts

Unlike the popular image often bestowed upon the Celts as a primitive, unruly people, they were actually quite an advanced and industrious society. They were traders in copper and tin, and they one of the first peoples to meld the two precious metals into bronze—a craft in which they became masters, and very wealthy ones, at that.

The Celts of old were also a very holistic and spiritual people and it seems the concept held of them by the majority today is an inaccurate and unfair one. This is due in large part to Hollywood’s often portraying them as a wild-eyed bunch of bloodthirsty warrior types who rush into battle waving their primitive weapons—with no idea of an actual battle plan or even an understanding of why or what they are fighting for. Their enemies in these films are often portrayed as more civilized and intelligent. However, modern knowledge of the Celts has shown that they were far from uncultivated.


Celtic Spirituality

The Celtics were a rural people by choice, preferring to live close to nature because of their love of the land and their view of themselves as being the caretakers of Mother Earth. The Druids were the spiritual guardians of the Celts and made sure that each Celtic citizen led a healthy holistic lifestyle. Exercise and proper diet were important as was a healthy spirituality, reflected in the many festivalsof the Celts. The Celtics practiced animism, a religious belief that all things contained a spirit: the water, trees, rocks, the land itself, and for this reason showed extra care towards nature, lest they grieve a spirit.

Trees in particular held a special place in Celtic religion, and they developed their alphabet around different trees. The Druids were also the shamans of the Celtics, the ancient “witchdoctors” and they used trees for medicine. In this article I’ll discuss some of the herbs used for medicine by the Celts. All are found in Ireland, and are also found throughout the rest of Europe in varying quantities and regions, especially of course in Britain and Wales. This page is for information purposes only. I am not a qualified physician or herbalist, and any herbal treatments should be conducted under the supervision of a qualified and licensed herbalist or naturopath.

Northern Bilberry
Northern Bilberry

Bilberry (Fraochán)

It’s easy to imagine the ancient Celts wondering through the forests or along the riverbanks and bogs of the south midlands of Ireland where Bilberry is abundant, gathering baskets of them to take back to their villages, munching handfuls of them as they delighted in their work. Places like Glenbarrow and the Slieve Bloom Mountains are excellent areas to experience this type of transportation back in time, where one can walk along nature trails and experience a glimpse of what life may have been like back then.

Among the natural remedies used by the Celts, Bilberry was probably one of the most beneficial and easiest to administer, as you merely have to chomp on a handful.

Otherwise known as Huckleberries or Whortleberries, Bilberries contain powerful antioxidants, protecting the venial and arterial walls from being populated by dangerous fats, and protecting veins from other damage. They are also believed to strengthen the blood brain barrier, a membrane that separates the brain from the blood flowing around it. This prevents harmful substances thought to accelerate aging from reaching the brain and therefore helps to prevent debilitating diseases like Alzheimers.

They are also very strong anti-cancer agents and contain anthocyanidins, a class of flavonoid, organic compounds widely distributed in higher plants; some are pigments and others have physiologic properties. These anthocyanins also protect our immune systems and have anti-histamine properties as well. Bilberries are also good for the skin, helping it to maintain its elasticity and tone. During the war, pilots ate bilberry jam before night missions to aid night vision.

It’s easy to use Bilberry to implement Bilberries into your diet by simply eating a about a cup every day in a fruit salad, with your breakfast cereal, in a jam on toast, or as a delicious desert. If you don’t have or can’t get Bilberries in your area, don’t worry, Blueberries make a great substitute and have similar properties and health giving benefits.

The Celts revered Bilberry so much that they celebrated their ripening with the Festival of Lugnasa which took place on the Sunday closest to the first day of August, and the harvesting of the berries was part of the celebrations. In some parts of Ireland they still celebrate this festival as Fraochán Sunday.



Considered an invasive weed by many gardeners, Burdock was held in high esteem by the Celts who used it as a medicine and a food, its roots being cooked as a vegetable or eaten raw. Unlike the gardeners of today, the Celts considered nothing as a weed and understood that every plant had its values and served a purpose.

Burdock has been found to be an excellent detoxifying herb due to its ability to stimulate the body to eliminate toxins. It triggers all of the excretory systems, lungs, liver, kidneys, the sweat glands and the lymphatic and urinary systems to expunge toxins and excess fluids and so unblocking and detoxifying them.

The Druid shaman may have given Burdock root to pubescent teenagers suffering from acne, as it has been shown that Burdock improves this condition as well as eczema and psoriasis and also helps to regulate the hormonal system due to its containing plant sterols, which also have powerful cholesterol-lowering properties.

Burdock would also have been given to the elderly who suffered from arthritis, sciatica or gout. It is highly alkaline and anti-inflammatory and is used by herbalists today to treat these conditions. You can see why it would have been one of the major plants used for medicine by the Celts.

Burdock grows just about anywhere due to its resilience, but prefers soil with high clay content. I have seen it growing near the South Lagoon at Sandymount Strand in the Clontarf Road area of Dublin. It’s quite easy to use Burdock as a detoxifier, simply by making a tea of the roots, which are best harvested in July when they are at their peak medicinal value.


Nettle (Neanntóg)

The natural habitat for Nettle would be Woodland and Pond areas as it naturally needs fertile soil, abundant sunlight and moisture to thrive. It wasn’t until man first began cutting down the forests for his building projects that nettle began to grow elsewhere. Being a hardy plant that has survived, according to archaeologists several Ice ages, the Nettle has followed man around, and as we all know will make its home just about anywhere and everywhere. Who among us hasn’t felt the sting of the Nettle as a kid!

What causes the stinging sensation of the Nettle is the penetration of our skin by the many needle-like hairs that cover the plant. This causes our immune system to releases histamine, a chemical found in some of the body’s cells. The immune system mistakenly believes that this usually harmless substance is actually harmful to the body, and the histamine then acts on a person’s eyes, nose, throat, lungs, skin, or gastrointestinal tract, causing allergy symptoms.

But the Nettle is significant among herbs used by the Celts in that it was probably one of the most widely used due to its ability to prevent hemorrhaging and stop bleeding from wounds. They would have used it to treat the wounds their warriors received in battle and also to help reduce excessive menstruation in the women.

Nettle also contains fibers which the ancient Celts would have likely used to make cloth for their clothing. Nettle was used to make cloth by the Germans during World War II when cotton was in short supply. Recently it has been found that lectin found in Nettles is useful in treating Prostate enlargement and is widely prescribed for this in our times.

Nettles also have a place in ancient Celtic folklore. Known as “Devil’s Claw”, Nettles were believed to indicate the living place of fairies, and their stings protected one from witchcraft or sorcery.


Mistletoe (Drualas)

Mistletoe was most likely imported to Ireland via the Greeks, who traded with the Celts and exchanged medical knowledge with them. Reference to Mistletoe is strewn throughout Greek Mythology, the goddess Athene used it as a curative and Aeneas took it with him to the underworld in order to assure his safe return to the world above.

The Druids became great cultivators of Mistletoe, and can be found in Waterford today growing on old apple trees. The Celts had a special name for Mistletoe growing on apple trees, calling it silver bough, and it was considered sacred to the Celtic god Manannan, the sea god. It is now quite rare however, and can only be found in about a dozen places throughout Ireland today.

The Druids used Mistletoe in their celebrations of the festival of Alban Arthuan, held during the Winter Solstice around December 21st. The Greek writer Pliny mentions the Druids cutting Mistletoe on the new moon at the end of the Celtic year (around December 21st) and using it to decorate the oak trees surrounding they area where they would partake of the ceremonial meal. They would later use these Mistletoe boughs in conjunction with the sacrifice of a bull to appease the Oak God Hu, who they believed would impart sexual vigor to them.

Being hallucinogenic when consumed in large quantities, the Mistletoe berries were most likely used by the Druids in their rituals of prophesying and entering the “other worlds”. Of all the natural remedies of the Celts, this was one of the most powerful.

In recent times Mistletoe has been investigated for its possible treatment of various cancers, and a drug named Iscador was developed by Rudolph Steiner and a team of physicians, pharmacists and scientists in the 1920s. Since then a plethora of Mistletoe-based drugs have been patented by various companies with names such as Plenosol, Helixor and Isorel.

Modern herbalists also use Mistletoe juice or tincture to treat cancer, however Mistletoe is extremely powerful, and I reiterate, should only be taken under the supervision of a qualified and licensed herbalist.


Dandelion (Caisearbhán)

In April throughout Ireland beautiful fields of Dandelion can be seen growing in abundance. Dandelion is one of the most common wild plants found growing in Ireland, and around the world for that matter, and was another of the plants used for medicine by the ancient Celts. The ancient Celts celebrated February 1st as a festival to the White Goddess, whom Christianity later adopted and renamed St.Brigid, and one of her symbols was the Dandelion. The Celts would have used dandelion to treat fever such as malaria and jaundice as dandelion root stimulates the liver. This is supported by the 12th century medical text The Physicians of Myddfai and folk medicine records from CountyMeath in Ireland.

They may also have made Dandelion coffee from its roots, which they did in Counties Cork and Kerry during the Emergency years of WWII, and which is common among naturalists today.

Dandelion was later cultivated in medieval monasteries and was featured in the repertoire of natural medicines of the time. A tonic made from the sap and was taken at springtime as part of a rejuvenation and “spring cleaning” process. This would be in accord with the practices of the ancient Celts who were very much in tune with the cycles of nature.

Dandelion is today used as a great detoxifier, blood cleanser and digestive aid. It strengthens the liver and aids it in breaking down toxins and it also stimulates the kidneys in order for the toxins to be eliminated rapidly. The flow of bile into the intestine stimulated by Dandelion enables better digestion and prevents the formation of gallstones.

Making Dandelion Coffee


Willow (Saille)

n the Turraun bogs of Co. Offaly lies the water-loving Willow, another of the herbs used for medicine by the ancient Celts. The Willow was sacred to the Celts, representing the month from the 18th of March to the 15th of April on the Celtic calendar, and may have been used by the Celts to combat rheumatism, common in the dampness of the bog areas. Willow was also sacred to the Moon goddess Arduinna and the Druid god Beli.

Acetyl salicylic acid, derived from the bark of the Willow, has perhaps been used by us all at one time or another. It is commonly known today as aspirin!

The common mode of administering Willow bark for anti-inflammatory conditions by herbalists is in a tea, several grams of the bark being boiled in a pint of water and administered about 3 times per day.


Comfrey (Lus na Cnámh Briste)

The Gaelic name for Comfrey means “the plant for broken bones,” and is used as a poultice today for treating sprains, sprains, bruises and swellings. Until recently it was used by families in the Aran Islands, Kerry, Limerick and other parts of the country as a poultice for healing broken bones, knowledge which has probably been passed up through the generations from the ancient Celts. Comfrey can be found growing along the river at Shanganagh and near Loghlinstown, and in the past, in parts of Co Louth along the river Boyne.

Due to their active lifestyle and the Druids being master botanists and herbalists, it would have been a stable in the Celtic medicine chest. Comfrey is perennial; it grows year round, and would have been widely available to the Celtic physicians. The astringent properties of Comfrey make it effective in stopping internal hemorhhage, and it is taken in a decoction to do so.

Comfrey is prolific in terms of its effects in promoting rapid healing of tissues, and would have been used regularly to treat open wounds and injuries.


There has been some controversy about the toxicity of Comfrey as mentioned by a reader in the comments. This statement has been removed as the controversy is ongoing and nothing has been proven.


Allen, D. E., & Hatfield, G. (2012). Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition. Timber Press, Inc.

Dillon, M., & Chadwick, N. (1967). The Celtic Realms. London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson.

Paine, A. (2006). The Healing Power of Celtic Plants: Their History, Their Use, and the Scientific Evidence That They Work. Moon Books.

Terra, M. (1998). The Way of Herbs. Pocket Books.




March 25, 2017
by Fehmida

The Dead Sea Scrolls at Seventy

By: Timothy Lim

This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. What have we learned over the past three score and ten? First, it has become increasingly recognized that we do not have a “library of the Essenes” in the way that it was previously understood. Not every scroll found in the eleven caves is Essenic. There are scrolls that reflect the views of one or more Jewish sects or schools, most likely associated with the Essenes, but the corpus of 800-900 scrolls known as “the Dead Sea Scrolls” constitute a heterogeneous collection of manuscripts. Within it are texts that belong to Judaism generally in the late Second Temple period, such as the biblical Dead Sea Scrolls. In the past, scholars have marginalized these biblical scrolls, but there is no evidence that they are sectarian biblical scrolls.

Cave 4Q at Qumran. (Wikimedia Commons)

Aerial view of the Qumran community. (The Orion Center)

Second, the consensus of the Maccabean theory that reigned supreme in the first generation of scrolls scholarship has given way to a different kind of Essene hypothesis, resulting from a reconsideration of the archaeology of Khirbet Qumran and the literary analysis of the different versions of the Rule of the Community from Caves 1 and 4 (1QS and 4QS). A reconsideration of the “communal phase” and the different periods within it by Jodi Magness, and more recently Dennis Mizzi, has led to a re-dating of the origins of the sect to the beginning of the first, rather than the middle of second, century BCE.

One view that has particular merit is what I have described as “the multiple communities theory”. In the past, it was said that there were at least two different orders of the Essenes: the largely male-oriented, and maybe celibate, community of the Yahad at Qumran, and the married, family-oriented community of the Damascus Document (Josephus, BJ 2.120, 160).

John J. Collins moves the view forward by arguing that there are many more Essene communities. The description by Philo and Josephus of some 4000 Essenes living throughout Judaea is consistent with this view. There is not one, monolithic community of Essenes living at Qumran, but several chapters that flourished at the same time throughout Judaea. Collins anchors his theory on the interpretation of the clause of 1QS 6.3, “in every place where there are ten men of the council of the community”, as referring to multiple communities. More specifically, “of the council of the community” should be understood in the partitive, rather than locative, sense. Multiple Essene communities were dispersed in different settlements at the same time throughout Judaea, and not just at Qumran. For him, this explains why different editions of Serekh ha-yahad or Rule of the Community continued to be copied, and why the more primitive form (in the literary and halakhic sense) of 4QSd was not superseded by the more developed version of 1QS.

Living quarters at Qumran. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Damascus Document (Wikimedia Commons)

Third, the sectarians did not have a developed understanding of “canon”, but they did have the concept of “authoritative scriptures”. I have characterized the sectarian view of authoritative scriptures as a dual pattern of authority and gradation of authority. They had a broadly bipartite collection of the Pentateuch and an undefined collection of books of the prophets. These traditional scriptures were interpreted and supplemented by other non-biblical but nonetheless authoritative scriptures, such as the book of Jubilees and the pesharim.

Fourth, the religious ideas of the sectarian communities were drawn from what I have called the “sectarian matrix” of ancient Judaism. The sectarian communities reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls are not to be identified with the earliest followers of Jesus and the early church. However, the use of so many of the same or similar terminology and ideas in their writings suggests a connection between them that is difficult to deny. The identification of the Essene Gate and quarter in Jerusalem is consistent with the view that the communities likely interacted with one another.

The theory of the sectarian matrix posits that the Essenes and the followers of Jesus came upon the same biblical texts and distinctive ideas, but drew different lessons from them. These ideas were absent or ignored in Judaism of the period. For instance, the sectarians and early church were the only ones to have used the concept of “the new covenant” from the prophecy of Jeremiah. Other Jews did not comment on “the new covenant” nor did they use it in their writings. The sectarians of the scrolls, Paul and other Christian authors of the New Testament drew on this religiously significant notion of a new covenant in the prophetic writing, but they understood “newness” differently. The covenanters took newness to be a renewal of the old covenant, whereas Paul and the author of the epistle to the Hebrews saw in the Jeremianic prophecy a new dispensation in the life and death of Jesus. The sectarian matrix is a subset of ancient Judaism with distinctive and overlapping ideas. It is the well from which the Essenes, Christians and other sectarians drew their inspiration.

The Rule of the Community Scroll (Library of Congress)

The Dead Sea Scrolls have often been hailed as the greatest manuscript discovery. On this seventieth anniversary of their discovery, it is worth asking whether they warrant such a description. Why get excited over some dusty rolls and scraps of ancient Jewish writings? In what sense are they “the greatest”? The public often understands by this sensational description something of a paradigm-shifting significance, comparable to the great scientific discoveries in history. For the scholar, however, the superlative description is much more specific. Compared to what were previously available by way of primary sources dating to the centuries around the turn of the era, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been revolutionary. We now know so much more about the transmission of the biblical texts and other Jewish literature, sectarianism in the Second Temple period, and the Jewish background to early Christianity.

Timothy Lim is Professor of Hebrew Bible & Second Temple Judaism, and the author of The Dead Sea Scrolls. A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press), the second, updated edition will be published in March 2017. This piece appeared originally at the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh (New College) on 18 January 2017. It is reproduced by permission.


December 23, 2016
by Fehmida

Pagan Yahwism: The Folk Religion of Ancient Israel

Pagan Yahwism: The Folk Religion of Ancient Israel
The Bible imagines the religion of ancient Israel as purely monotheistic. And doubtless there were Israelites, particularly those associated with the Jerusalem Temple, who were strict monotheists. But the archaeological evidence (and the Bible, too, if you read it closely enough) suggests that the monotheism of many Israelites was far from pure. For them, Yahweh (the name of the Israelite god) was not the only divinity. Some Israelites believed that Yahweh had a female consort. And many Israelites invoked the divinity with the help of images, particularly figurines. I call this Israelite religion pagan Yahwism.
The archaeological evidence we will look at comes mostly from Judah in what is known in archaeological terms as the Assyrian period, the span from 721 B.C.E., when the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, until 586 B.C.E., when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and brought an end to the Davidic dynasty in Judah. This period, to put it into perspective, is several centuries after King Solomon built the Jerusalem Temple in about 950 B.C.E. So the archaeological evidence we are about to discuss documents a level of Israelite paganism long after Solomon built an exclusive home for Israel’s god.
While Yahweh was the god of the Israelites, other nations had their own national gods. The chief god of the Phoenicians was Ba‘al. For the Philistines, the chief god was at first Dagon and later also Ba‘al (Judges 16:23; 2 Kings 1:2). For the Ammonites it was Milkom. For the Moabites, Chemosh. For the Edomites, Qos. And for the Israelites and Judahites—Yahweh. Except for the Edomite god Qos, who appears only in the archaeological record, all of these gods are mentioned in the Bible (1 Kings 11:5, 7, 33).
Interestingly, while each nation’s chief god had a distinctive name, his consort, the chief female deity, had the same name in all these cultures: Asherah or its variants Ashtoreth or Astarte. (As we shall see, this was even true of Yahweh’s consort.)
Not only was the female consort the same, the various nations used the same cult objects, the same types of incense altars made of stone and clay, the same bronze and clay censers, cult stands and incense burners, the same chalices and goblets and the same bronze and ivory rods adorned with pomegranates. It was easy to take cult vessels of one deity and place them in the service of another one—and this was commonly done. For example, in the ninth-century B.C.E. stela erected by Mesha, the king of Moab, he describes himself as the “son of Chemosh,” and tells how he defeated the Israelites (see also 2 Kings 3:4–27). He then brags, “[I] took t[he ves]sels of Yahweh, and I hauled them before the face of Chemosh.”
We sometimes get the impression that after Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, Yahweh had no other sanctuary in ancient Israel—but this is not the case. The religious reforms of, first, King Hezekiah in the late eighth century B.C.E. (2 Kings 18:1–8; 2 Chronicles 29–31), and then of King Josiah, in the late seventh century B.C.E. (2 Chronicles 34–35), sought to centralize the worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem. The need for these reforms demonstrates, however, that Yahweh worship was by no means confined to Jerusalem.
The Bible itself mentions sanctuaries at sites such as Dan, Shechem, Shiloh, Bethel and Beersheba, and archaeology confirms that there were numerous other sanctuaries outside Jerusalem dedicated to the Israelite national god. A cultic installation dedicated to Yahweh must have existed at Judahite Nebo in Moab during the ninth century B.C.E.: In his stela, Mesha claims to have taken from Nebo the vessels of Yahweh that he later used in a sanctuary dedicated to the Moabite god Chemosh.
A complete Judahite sanctuary has been uncovered in the fortress of Arad in southern Judah.a Despite scholarly disputes as to precisely when it was built and when it was destroyed, it is clear that the Arad sanctuary was in service simultaneously with the Jerusalem Temple and was probably in use during most of the monarchy. It consisted of three parts—a courtyard, a heikhal, or main hall, and a debir, or holy of holies, which was ascended by three steps. In the debir was a massebah, or standing stone. Two additional masseboth were embedded in the wall of the holy of holies. On the third step two limestone incense altars were found, with remains of burnt material on top, probably incense. In the temple courtyard stood a large animal altar. Other cult centers have been uncovered in Israelite Megiddo and Judahite Lachish, both dating to the tenth century B.C.E.
Cult installations have also been excavated in several Israelite and Judahite fortresses. One—at Vered-Jericho—was reported in these pages some time ago.b The excavator, Avi Eitan, interpreted the installation as a bamah, or high place.
More recently, Itzhaq Beit-Arieh reported on cult platforms ascended by steps, found adjacent to the gates of two fortresses near Arad, ‘Uza and Radum.1
In addition, a large four-horned altar and a bamah were excavated at Beersheba2
Stone stairs at the fortress of Mes\ad-Michmash, on Judah’s northern border, have been interpreted as leading up to a bamah.3
Although it has not been found, there was doubtless a sanctuary to Yahweh at Lachish, the most important city in Judah after Jerusalem. We know of the Lachish sanctuary from reliefs depicting a pair of large cultic stands taken as booty from Lachish by Sennacherib’s soldiers after they had sacked the city in the late eighth century B.C.E. (see photo and drawing). These well-known reliefs were excavated long ago at Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh. The Judahite cultic stands depicted in the reliefs are very similar to numerous smaller examples frequently found in contemporaneous levels at sites in Judah.
Inscriptions also confirm the existence of cultic installations dedicated to Yahweh, some even outside the country. At the cult site of Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, in the Sinai, inscriptions were found that mention “Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah” and “Yahweh of Teman” and his Asherah.c4
A “house of Yahweh” is also mentioned in numerous inscriptions. In one of the Arad ostraca it is said of someone that “he is in the house of Yahweh.”5
An ostracon from the collection of Shlomo Moussaieff records a contribution of three shekels to the “house of Yahweh.”d
Similarly on the inscribed ivory pomegranate (see photo and drawing) that BAR made famous and which was purchased by the Israel Museum: The inscription says that it is sacred to the priest of the “house of Yahweh.”e It is generally supposed that the three-shekel ostracon and the pomegranate refer to Solomon’s Temple, the House of Yahweh in Jerusalem. But that is not necessarily so. In light of the many sanctuaries dedicated to Yahweh outside Jerusalem, the references to the house of Yahweh on the three-shekel ostracon and on the inscribed ivory pomegranate may well refer to a sanctuary other than the Jerusalem Temple. A “house of Yahweh” could have been located in any settlement in Judah, or in any area settled by Judahites.
These houses of Yahweh, like the Jerusalem Temple, were served for the most part by hereditary priests. Several seals contain names designated with the title cohen, priest. One recently published seal refers to “Hanan son of Hilqiyahu the priest” (see photo).f The ending –yahu is a form of Yahweh. Another seal, dating to the last days of the northern kingdom (late eighth century B.C.E.), mentions an Israelite priest active in the temple at Dor: “Zekharyo [-yo is a shortened form of Yahweh] the priest of Dor.” Similarly, the prophet Amos reports that “Amazyah [-yah is another form of Yahweh] the priest of Bethel” sent a message to King Jeroboam of Israel (Amos 7:10).
A seal inscribed with the name “Miqnayahu [still another Yahwistic name] servant of Yahweh” indicates that the owner served in one of the many sanctuaries dedicated to Yahweh. Obviously “servant” here means not a person without status, but rather a high functionary in service to the divinity—not quite a priest, but almost.
The Yahwistic names just mentioned incorporate the name of the Israelite god. In Judah, names had –yahu as a suffix. In Israel, it tended to be simply –yah or –yo. The theophoric element could also appear at the beginning of a name, as in Yo-natan (Jonathan). Evidence of Yahweh worship comes from the prevalence of Yahwistic names. Approximately 1,200 personal names have turned up in archaeological excavations in Judah—on seals, bullae (lumps of clay impressed by a seal) and ostraca. Over 45 percent of them contain a Yahwistic element.6 And although a more general name for god is ‘el (Israel and Nathaniel), only 3 percent of the 1,200 names contained this theophoric element. Other gods were incorporated into Judahite names even less frequently.
The prevalence of Yahweh worship is also reflected in the frequency with which his name is invoked—for instance in the ostraca found at such Judahite sites as Arad and Lachish.7 His name appears in numerous oaths and blessings: “I have blessed you to Yahweh”; “May Yahweh let hear my lord tidings of peace”; “May Yahweh bless you in peace”; “May Yahweh give my lord pleasant tidings”; “May Yahweh give you prosperous tidings,” and the like.8 All this reflects the widespread devotion to Yahweh among the Judahite population.
Yet was it pure? Or did elements of the population mix their Yahwism with paganism?
I have already mentioned the inscriptions from the Israelite sanctuary at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud in the Sinai, dating to the late ninth or early eighth century B.C.E., that refer to Yahweh “and his Asherah.” This site of course is outside the borders of Judah. But a reference to the divine couple has also been found at the site of Khirbet el-Kom, in the heart of Judah (near Hebron). A tomb inscription there reads: “Blessed will be Ariyahu to Yahweh and his Asherah.”9
Like their neighbors, Israelites and Judahites widely used figurines to represent aspects of divinity. But it is rather surprising that so many figurines peculiar only to Judah are found within the borders of this supposedly monotheistic (but not to say imageless) kingdom.g
Like the figurines in the surrounding cultures, the Judahite examples are mostly female and about 5 to 6 inches high. They belong to the type known as “pillar” figurines. The head is made separately, from a mold. The body is usually solid and handmade, in the shape of a small column, to which are added exaggerated breasts supported by the statuette’s hands. Scholars usually identify these figurines as Astarte, the fertility goddess.
Another common variation involves a handmade head with a kind of pinched face. These are often called “bird’s-head” figurines.
Sometimes the goddess is playing a tambourine or holding a dove—a traditional emblem of goddesses in all periods throughout the ancient Near East. A few figurines, made in the Phoenician tradition, have a hollow, round body—a bell-shaped body, in scholarly jargon. Even rarer, but occasionally found, are figurines in the form of a plaque, flat on the back and impressed from a mold on the front.
The Judahite figurines were originally painted in strong colors such as white, black and red, but the paint has survived on only a few. Eyes and hair were made especially prominent, and occasionally a necklace was added.
Another surprising fact: Although these figurines have been found all over Judah, about half (405 out of 822, to be exact) were found in Jerusalem, many only a short distance from the Temple Mount.10
What about male figurines? In this respect, too, Judah did not differ from its neighbors. There were male figurines, though not as many as there were female figurines. In Judah, we have a few dozen. They come in two types: riding on horses (see photo), and wearing a round turban, sometimes with a raised hand.
The first type is by far the most common. Some scholars connect these figurines with the cult of sun chariots mentioned in the Bible (2 Kings 23:11); according to others, they represent a warrior god. The latter seems more likely: A warrior god appears in the cults of all of Judah’s neighbors, and Yahweh himself is pictured as a warrior in the Bible (for example, in Isaiah 13:4: “The Lord of Hosts is mustering a host for war”).
The turban-crowned figurines seem to be wearing an authentic turban; the turbans are very similar to those depicted on the Israelites going into exile on the reliefs at Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh.
These male figurines could represent some foreign deity—perhaps the Phoenician god Ba‘al, who was worshiped in Judah alongside Yahweh. Or they may represent Yahweh himself, who would be joined by his consort Astarte or Asherah (the female figurines). In either case, there can be no question but that these figurines are Judahite.
We are thus led to the inevitable conclusion that between the foreign pagan practices and the pure monotheism of Yahwism there existed a cult that may be called pagan Yahwism or perhaps more accurately, Yahwistic paganism. Of course in the background was the central monotheistic cult practiced in the Jerusalem Temple by its priests and preached by the Biblical prophets. And some of the kings of Judah—especially Hezekiah and Josiah—made efforts to centralize the monotheistic cult in Jerusalem. But looking at the archaeological evidence, we must conclude that they were less than 100 percent successful. Indeed, until the Babylonian destruction of Judah and the end of the Israelite monarchy in 586 B.C.E., pagan Yahwism was common even in Jerusalem, to say nothing of the rest of Judah.
Coda: We have almost no evidence of cultic practices of any kind from the period between the Babylonian destruction and the return of the exiles under Cyrus, king of Persia, in the late sixth century B.C.E. This situation changes in the Persian period with the return of the exiles. Once again figurines are found in the area of what was Judah, but now the area was divided among the Idumeans (descendants of the Edomites) and the Judeans or Jews (descendants of the Judahites). The Galilee was inhabited mostly by the Phoenicians. In the post-Exilic period the figurines are found only in areas inhabited by Idumeans and Phoenicians. In the areas of the country occupied by Jews, not a single cultic figurine has ever been found despite intensive excavations and archaeological surveys of these areas.
The situation is much the same with respect to post-Exilic sanctuaries: Many have been found in non-Jewish areas, but none in Jewish areas. The only exceptions are the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the Samaritan temple on their holy mountain, Mt. Gerizim in Samaria. Upon the return from exile, the Jews purified their worship.h Jewish monotheism was at last consolidated.
1. Itzhaq Beit-Arieh, “H|orvat Radum,” The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 4 (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and Carta, 1993), pp. 1254–1255.
2. Yohanan Yadin, “Beer-Sheba: The High Place Destroyed by King Josiah,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR) 222 (1976), pp. 5–18.
3. Shim’on Riklin, “A Fortress at Michmash on the Northeastern Border of the Judaean Desert, Judea and Samaria,” Research Studies of the College of Judea Ariel 4 (1994), pp. 69–74 (Hebrew).
4.John A. Emerton, “New Light on Religion, the Implications of the Inscriptions from Kuntillet Ajrud,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 94 (1982), pp. 2–20; William G. Dever, “Ashera, Consort of Yahweh,” BASOR 255 (1984), pp. 21–37.
5. Yohanan Aharoni, Arad Inscriptions Text 18:9–10 (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1981).
6. Alan R. Millard, “The History of Israel Against the Background of Ancient Near Eastern Religious History,” in Timo Eskola and Eero Junkkaala, eds., From the Ancient Sites of Israel: Essays on Archaeology, History and Theology in Memory of Aapeli Saarisalo (1896–1986) Iustitia Supplement Series (Helsinki: Theological Institute of Finland, 1998), pp. 101–117.
7. See Jeffrey H. Tigay, You Shall Have No Other Gods: Israelite Religion in the Light of Hebrew Inscriptions (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1986), esp. pp. 47–63.
8. Aharoni, Arad Inscriptions; Harry Torczyner et al., The Lachish Letters (Lachish 1), (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1938); see also Christopher W. Mitchell, The Meaning of BRK “to bless” in the Old Testament, Dissertation Series, Society of Biblical Literature 95 (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1987).
9. William G. Dever, “Iron Age Epigraphic Material from the Area of Khirbet El-Kom,” Hebrew Union College Annual 40–41 (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1969–70), pp. 139–204; Ziony Zevit, “The Khirbet el Qom Inscription,” BASOR 255 (1984), pp. 39–49; William H. Shea, “The Khirbet el-Kom Inscription,” Vetus Testamentum 40 (1990), pp. 56–63.
10. Raz Kletter, “The Judean Pillar-Figurines and the Archaeology of Asherah,” British Archaeological Reports, International Series S-636 (1996).





December 23, 2016
by Fehmida

Asherah and the Asherim: Goddess or Cult Symbol?

Exploring the Biblical and archaeological evidence

This four-tiered cult stand found at Tanaach is thought to represent Yahweh and Asherah, with each deity being depicted on alternating tiers. Note that on tier two, which is dedicated to Asherah, is the image of a living tree, often thought to be how the asherim as a cult symbol was expressed. Photo: © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem/Israel Antiquities Authority (photograph by Avraham Hay).

Who is Asherah? Or perhaps, what is asherah?1 The Hebrew means “happy” or “upright” and some suggest “(sacred) place.” The term appears 40 times in the Hebrew Bible, usually in conjunction with the definite article “the.” The definite article in Hebrew is similar to English in that personal names do not take an article. For example, I am Ellen, not the Ellen. Thus it is clear that when the definite article is present that it is not a personal name, but this does not eliminate the possibility of it being a category of being (i.e., a type of goddess). There are only eight cases where the term appears without an article or a suffix—suffixes in Hebrew can be used to express possession, e.g., “his,” “their,” etc. Interestingly, the plural of the term, asherim, occurs in both masculine and feminine forms.This diversity of grammar leads to the two questions at the beginning of this article: Who is Asherah? What is asherah? The reference may be to a particular goddess, a class of goddess or a cult symbol used to represent the goddess. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish what meaning is intended (cf. Judges 3:7).

This goddess is known from several other Ancient Near Eastern cultures.2 Sometimes she is known as “Lady Asherah of the Sea” but could be taken as “She who walks on the sea.” As Athirat, a cognate name for Asherah, she is mother of 70 children (this relates to the Jewish idea of the 70 guardian angels of the nations). Arguments have been made that Asherah is a figure in Egyptian, Hittite, Philistine and Arabic texts. Egyptian representations of “Qudshu” (potentially the Egyptian name for Asherah) show her naked with snakes and flowers, sometimes standing on a lion. Whether this should be interpreted as Asherah is contested and thus should be viewed with caution. Another suggestion is Asherah is also the Hittite goddess Asertu, who is married to Elkunirsa, the storm god (she is often viewed in connection with the regional storm god).

As Athirat in Arabian inscriptions there is a possibility that she is seen as a sun goddess (this is perhaps a connection in Ugaritic literature as well). In Phoenician, she is the mother goddess, which is different from Astarte, the fertility goddess; there is some debate regarding a confusion of the two relating to 1 Kings 18:19. In Akkadian, she might be Asratum, the consort of Amurru (chief deity of early Babylon). The connection is made because the Akkadian kingship (early 14th century B.C.E.) takes the title “servant of Asherah.”

As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.

The Ugaritic texts provide the most insight into the goddess. Ras Shamra (located on the Syrian coast) texts, discovered in 1929, portray her as Athirat, the wife of El. Their sexual encounter produces dusk (Shalim) and dawn (Shahar), among others. Her relationship with Baal is complicated, and it is suggested that Baal has killed large numbers of her children.3 In these texts, she intercedes with El to get Baal a palace, after Anat’s (his “sister” and her “daughter”) request is refused. She supplies a son to reign after Baal descends into the netherworld. The relationship is further complicated by debates as to whether she is the mother of Baal or his consort or both. The idea of her being a consort comes from later Phoenician sources, where scholars have associated Asherah with Tinnit. Yet, the connections are tentative, and many scholars question the association. A hypothesis also suggests that Baal usurped El’s position and also took his consort, Asherah, which would make the relationship very oedipal.


This inscription found on a pithos at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (similar to an inscription found at Khirbet el-Qom) refers to “Yahweh and his Asherah.” This has led some scholars to believe that in popular religion Asherah was understood to be the wife of Yahweh, much the same as she under her cognate Athirat was considered to be the wife of El. Photo: Courtesy Dr. Ze’ev Meshel and Avraham Hai/Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology.

Asherah or asherim refer to more than just the person of the deity. These terms are often, especially in the Biblical texts, used for consecrated poles. These poles represent living trees, with which the goddess is associated. Some scholars believe that asherim were not poles, but living trees (like the one depicted on the Tanaach Cult Stand). The poles were either carved to look like trees or to resemble the goddess (this could also be reflected in the numerous pillar figurines found throughout Israel). Remains of these poles are determined by postholes and rotted timber, which resulted in differently hued soil. There is great debate as to whether the cult symbol lost its ties to Asherah (and became a religious symbol on its own without the worshippers knowing anything about the goddess who originated it) or is seen as a representation of Asherah herself (similar to the way the cross is a representation of Jesus to Christians).The relationship between Asherah and Israel is a complicated one.4 Does the text refer to the goddess or her symbol?5 Jeroboam and Rehoboam fostered Asherah worship (1 Kings 14:15, 23). Worship of Asherah was highly encouraged by Jezebel, with the presence of 400 prophets who held a place in the court of her husband King Ahab (1 Kings 18:19). Worship of Asherah is given as a reason for deportation (2 Kings 17:10,16). Attempts to eradicate the worship were made by Asa, Josiah, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Gideon (Exodus 34:13-14; Deuteronomy 7:5; Judges 6:25-30; 1 Kings 15:13/2 Chronicles 15:16; 2 Kings 23:4,7/2 Chronicles 34:3,7; 2 Kings 21:7/2 Chronicles 33:3,19; 2 Chronicles 19:3; 2 Kings 18:4). However, devotion to the cult symbol remained (Isaiah 27:9; Jeremiah 17:1; Micah 5:14). It is particularly interesting that objections to Asherah are found mostly in Deuteronomistic literature, rather than in the prophets. In both cases, the authors are much more concerned about the worship of Baal rather than Asherah.

This apparent lack of concern might be due to a popular connection between Yahweh and his Asherah. Inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (on a pithos; see image above) and Khirbet el-Qom (on walls) contain the phrase “Yahweh and his Asherah.”6 Some take this to mean it was believed that she was seen as the wife of Yahweh and represents the goddess herself. Yet, the presence of the suffix could suggest that it is not a personal name. This has led others to believe it is a reference to the cult symbol. A more obscure opinion claims it means a cella or chapel; this meaning is found in other Semitic languages, but not Hebrew. Because of the similarities between El and Yahweh, it is understandable that Asherah could have been linked to Yahweh. While some readers might find the idea that Yahweh had a wife disturbing, it was common in the ancient world to believe that gods married and even bore children. This popular connection between Yahweh and Asherah, and the eventual purging of Asherah from the Israelite cult, is likely a reflection of the emergence of monotheism from the Israelites’ previous polytheistic worldview.

ellen-whiteEllen White, Ph.D. (Hebrew Bible, University of St. Michael’s College), is the senior editor at the Biblical Archaeology Society. She has taught at five universities across the U.S. and Canada and spent research leaves in Germany and Romania. She has also been actively involved in digs at various sites in Israel.


1. One of the most influential studies on Asherah is Saul M. Olyan, Asherah and the Cult of Yahweh in Israel, Society of Biblical Literature Monograph Series (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988). Olyan’s study provides background for this piece.

2. For a detailed study of Asherah outside of the Biblical texts, see Walter A. Maier, Asherah: Extrabiblical Evidence, Harvard Semitic Monographs (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986).

3. Olyan, Asherah, pp. 38–61.

4. For one of the best treatment of Asherah and Israel, see Judith M. Hadley, The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess, University of Cambridge Oriental Publications (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

5. For a really good analysis of the Biblical passages involving Asherah, see C. Frevel, Aschera und der Ausschliesslichkeitsanspruch YHWHs, Bonner biblische Beitrage (Weinheim: Belz Athenaum Verlag, 1995).

6. For more details, see William Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), pp. 176–251.


December 23, 2016
by Fehmida

The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah

By JUDITH M. HADLEY, Cambridge Universiry Press.
In recent years archaeological discoveries have helped to shed some light on
the goddess Asherah and her possible role in Israelite religion. Because of
these discoveries, much has been written on what has become a quickly devel-
oping subject. In this introductory chapter, I shall first discuss the basic views
about the meaning of the term ‘asherah’, followed by a brief summary of
some of the relevant dissertations and monographs….

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September 24, 2016
by Fehmida

A History of the Land and Archaeology of Gezer

by Taman Turbinton

Tis the season for Biblical archaeology. The summer months mark the time when archaeologists and scholars from all over the world come to Israel to further explore and discover more information about the Biblical land. This article will focus on the Biblical city of Gezer. Gezer is a city small in size, but big in archaeological history.

Gezer Boundary Stone. Source.

The Land and Biblical Background of Gezer

The Israeli city of Gezer (also identified as Tell Jezer, or Tell Jazari) is a place which holds significant importance to Old Testament studies. Located close to the Plain of Philistia which is to its west, Gezer sits approximately 15 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea. From Jerusalem, Gezer is located approximately 19 miles west-northwest. Gezer sits on top of a 30-acre mound, and is close to 225 meters above sea level. It is conveniently and strategically located near the junction where the Via Maris (way of the sea) meets the trunk road leading to Jerusalem.i

Even though the land is known to have been occupied from the Late Chalcolithic period to the Roman-Byzantine period,ii there is no known archaeological evidence of the city being occupied between the Early Bronze IV and the Middle Bronze I period.iii During the Middle Bronze IIA period archaeological evidence reveals a vibrant urban life, and Canaanite culture seems to be dominant at Gezer and its surrounding cities. About 65 percent of the Canaanite population was occupied in these areas.iv The ten monolithic upright stones at Gezer, known as the Gezer “High Place,” which comes from the Middle Bronze Age points to some type of religious or ceremonial activity in the city.v The finds of pig bones and the alabaster statue of the naked man holding a pig to his chest also point to some type of religious ceremonial activity probably through Manetho, the Egyptian historian, listed Pharaoh Thutmosis III as the sixth king of the Eighteenth Dynastyvii; his rule was one of the longest and most powerful. During approximately 1468 B.C., Thutmosis III captured and gained control of Gezer.viii Thutmosis III listed Gezer, and his 104 captures under his dominion in some inscriptions at the Temple of Amon in Karnak.ix The land for an extended period continued under Egyptian domination. About a century later, Abdi-Heba, the ruler of Jerusalem in the Late Bronze IIB period sent a series of letters to the Pharaoh, who was most likely Amenophis IV (1350-1334 B.C.), and explained that Ili-Milku (also spelled Milk-ilu), who was the ruler of Gezer, conquered much of the land. The rebellion of Ili-Milku was so devasting that Abdi-Heba lamented to Pharaoh:

I fall at the feet of my lord, the king, seven times and seven times…. Lost are the lands of the King, my lord…. Ili-Milku has caused the loss of all the land of the king, and so may the king, my lord, provide for this land. I say, “I would go in to the king, my lord, and visit the king my lord.” But the war against me is severe, and so I am not able to go in to the king, my lord…. (That) Apiru [Ili-Milku] has plundered all the lands of the king…[l]ost are the lands of the king, my lord.x

Ili-Milku was part of a coalition with Labᵓayu, ruler of Šakmu (Biblical Shechem), and a people identified as the “sons of Arsawa.” He took a town between Gezer and Jerusalem, known as Rub(b)utu, and sent a letter to Tagai and the sons of Šakmu, to isolate (or desert) Jerusalem. Abid-Hebdi explained to the Pharoah:

Milk-ilu does not break away from the sons of Labᵓayu and from the sons of Arwawa, as they desire the land of the king for themselves…. Such was the deed that Milk-ilu and Tagi did: they took Rub(b)utu. And now as for Urusalim [Jerusalem], if this land belongs to the king, why is it <not> of concern (?)… Milk-ilu has written to Tagi and the son <of Labᵓayu>…“[b]e both of you…a protection…[g]rant all their demands to the men of Qiltu [probably Keilah of the Bible], and let us isolate Urusalim…. May the king, my lord know (that) no garrison of the king is with me…. And so may the king send 50 men as a garrison to protect the land. The entire land of the king has deserted.xi

Later, on what is known as the “Israel Stele,” the Egyptian King Merneptah (1236-1223 B.C.), son of Rameses II (1304-1237 B.C.) recorded that Gezer was seized upon. The mention of Israel and Gezer in this “Stele” sheds more light as to state of these places, and also challenged the view of some scholars who contested that Merenptah was the Pharaoh of the exodus.xii During the Iron IA period Gezer seems to have been taken over by the Philistines. Numerous amounts of Philistine pottery have been recovered which shed evidence for this conclusion.xiii

Although Gezer gets more numerous mentions in ancient Egyptian accounts, recorded history of the ancient city in the Hebrew Bible goes back to the Late Bronze Age during the New Kingdom in Egypt, and the Israelite conquest. In the books of Joshua and Judges, it is mentioned that the tribe of Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so that they lived among them (Joshua 16:10; Judges 1:29). Even though Gezer was most likely in a weakened state after being defeated by Joshua’s army, the Ephraimites were either unable to drive them out, or just chose not to. Most likely the writer is noting the direct violation of the older commands to drive them out.xiv Gezer was supposed to be given by the tribe of Ephraim to the Kohathites, of the tribe of Levi (Joshua 21:21). The mention in 1 Kings 9:15-16, of Gezer being given as a dowry to King Solomon’s wife by Pharaoh, and being rebuilt by Solomon is supported by remarkable archaeological evidence that will be discussed later. The next mention of Gezer is not until in post-biblical literature during the Maccabean wars, during which the city plays a significant role.xv During the Hasmonean rule, Simon who ruled from 142 to 134 B.C., conquered Gezer, and “purified” the town by expelling the gentile inhabitants and resettling it with Jewish inhabitants.xvi

Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister. Source.

Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister’s Excavations at Gezer

In 1872, Professor Clermont-Ganneau, a French archaeologist and consul of Jerusalem, discovered the ancient site of Gezer, being led by a reference from the Arabic history of Mujir-ed-Din. At the site he found inscriptions cut in the outcrops of rocks which read “boundary of Gezer.”xvii This is significant in the fact that ancient direct identification of a site has only happened one other time, at Marissa, in the tomb of Apollophanes.xviii In 1902 the Palestine Exploration Fund began excavations at the Tel in Gezer which ran during the years of (1902-5, 1906-8), and almost the amount of three-fifths of the total area were excavated. Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister, an Irish archaeologist, was the director of the site. Macalister would later be joined with Dr. Schumacher of Germany, who was an architect and resident in Palestine and worked on the site of Tell Mutasellim, which was funded by the Deutsche Palästina-Verein, partnered with the Orient-Gesellschaft; direct support was also given by the German emperor.xix

The work done by Macalister has been strongly and negatively critiqued by archaeologist that came after him. W. F. Albright noted that Macalister erroneously tried to arrange his chronology to cover the centuries of the 9th-6th centuries B.C., which ultimately reduced most of his dates between 1200 and 300 B.C. Most of the chronology of other surrounding sites went back to the second millennium B.C. As with the Germans who had dug at Jericho, Albright saw some of the work being done during Macalister’s time as mixing Bronze Age material with Iron Age, and wrongly identifying Canaanite objects as Israelite.xx In the winter of 1908-9, Macalister found a fragmentary tablet which scholars have debated in which time it should have been placed in. Edouard Paul Dhorme, the late French Assyriologist and Semitologist, thought it was a Neo-Babylonian tablet, but Albright strongly criticized that claim. For Albright, the tablet belonged in the Amarna period. The evidence, Albright pointed out, showed that it was a letter by an Egyptian official to the prince of Gezer.xxi

Two cuneiform tablets from Gezer, which are contracts for the sale of property date to the Assyrian period. In the first tablet someone named Luakhe, makes a sale to two Assyrians named Marduk-eriba and Abi-eriba, of a house, a slave named Turiaa, his two wives, and his son. The names mentioned give support of the mixed population of the city of Gezer during its integration into the Assyrian empire after the conquest of Tiglath-pileser III.xxii In the other tablet, a Hebrew man named Nethaniah (or Natan-Yau) sells his land. The tablet is broken, but the names of three witnesses are preserved on it, with the date of the transaction. The tablet is specifically dated in the reign of Assurbanipal. The names in this tablet also demonstrate the mixed population of Gezer, as well as the role and influence that some Hebrews had in the economics of the area.xxiii

Also located at Gezer was a squared stone with a large hieroglyphic character. Macalister believed it probably belonged to an inscription that covered the façade of its belonging structure. He suggested that it could have been a temple for the Egyptian community of that time.xxiv


City Gates at Meggido [Courtesy of Taman Turbinton]

The Gezer Calendar

The most important of Macalister’s finds is what is known as the “Gezer Calendar,” which contains what are, most likely, some of the oldest known Hebrew Inscriptions. Some scholars, such as P. Kyle McCarter, suggest that it is safer to describe the language as a South Canaanite dialect rather than specifically Hebrew.xxv Macalister made the discovery in September of 1908, and it consisted of soft limestone at about 4 ¼ inches long (probably originally it was about 5 ½ inches long), and 5/8 of an inch thick.xxvi Macalister notes that although it may be convenient to label the find as a calendar it may not be accurate to do so. A peasant boy called Abi (his full name is not known)—wrote on the plaque of limestone a list of the appropriate agricultural duties for certain times of the year.xxvii Albright felt very confident that the dating of the “Calendar” should be placed from about 950 to 918 B.C. in the Iron IC period.xxviii The plaque contains markings on both sides of scraping for reuse, which in possibility, may have been used as a palimpsest.xxix


The Solomonic Gate at Gezer

In 1957, the archaeologist, Yigael Yadin discovered a city gate at Hazor dating from the time of King Solomon. Yadin initially saw that it was identical in plan and measurements with the gate at Megiddo. Yadin was so confident to suggest that the gates were planned by the same Neither Macalister, nor those shortly after him were successful at finding a gate at Gezer that could be ascribed as being Solomonic. Because of Yadin’s success at Hazor and Megiddo, and his confidence in the accuracy of the Biblical information in 1 Kings 9:15-16 of Solomon building the cities at the locations mentioned, Yadin decided to do a fresh examination of Macalister’s report, hoping that he would have success in locating the city gate. His visit at Gezer lead him to the conclusion that was called the “Maccabean Castle” was actually a Solomonic city wall and gate.xxxi Yadin’s comparative measurements of the three sites concerning its main features of the casemate walls (only at Hazor and Gezer) and the gates drew a striking similarity. For the lengths of the gates: Megiddo measured at 20.3 meters, Hazor at 20.3 meters, and Gezer at 19.0 meters. The width of the gates measured at 17.5 meters for Megiddo, 18.0 meters at Hazor, and 16.2 meters at Gezer. The width of all the walls came to 1.6 meters. With this and much more evidence, it led Yadin and his team to conclude that gates and walls were indeed built by “Solomon’s architects from identical blue-prints, with minor changes in each case made necessary by the terrain.”xxxii

An up close view of some of the stones at the "Gezer High Place." [Courtesy of Taman Turbinton]

An up close view of some of the stones at the “Gezer High Place.” [Courtesy of Taman Turbinton]

Yadin’s conclusions were confirmed by the renewed excavations from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion headed by Dr. William G. Dever, who dated the six chambered gates to the time of Solomon. The task for Dever and his team was to examine and to see if Yadin’s work was verifiable. At first his team was cautious of describing anything to Solomon, but the sealed pottery from the floors and the striking characteristic of the red-burnished ware confirmed to Dever and his team that “Solomon did indeed re-build Gezer.”xxxiii John S. Holliday, Jr. also saw it reasonable to attribute the prior destruction of Gezer during the reign of King Solomon. In support of Yadin, Holliday saw lacking evidence of undisturbed destruction deposits that would produce restorable pottery. There was a succession of archaeological finds from unburnished red-slipper wares to burnish red-slipper wares.xxxiv

Solomon's City Gate at Gezer. [Courtesy of Taman Turbinton]

Solomon’s City Gate at Gezer. [Courtesy of Taman Turbinton]

Yet, Yadin was not without his skeptics. Later, Israel Finkelstein and others would cast serious doubts about the dates given. Finkelstein claimed in order to have a firm confidence in the dating there would need to be an archaeological find that would anchor the archaeology of Israel to the securely dated monarchs of Egypt and Assyria. Finkelstein argues vehemently that there are no finds that would anchor the dating’s to the time of Solomon, but that the reconstruction of the evidence is based on one Bible verse.xxxv The statement from Finklestein contains an important truth, for which Yadin was not ashamed of. Yadin, one of the most capable archaeologists, himself declared, “…the truth is that our great guide was the Bible: and as an archaeologist I cannot imagine a greater thrill than working with the Bible in one hand and the spade in the other.”xxxvi Nevertheless, for Finkelstein, the Solomonic monuments needed to be lowered into the ninth century B.C., seventy-five to one hundred years later.xxxvii It seems that these issues will continue to be contested by revisionists, but scholars such as André Lemaire accept the evidence presented by Yadin as convincing.xxxviii Even earlier, W. F. Albright was convinced that the palace structure at Megiddo discovered by the Chicago excavators was Solomonic.xxxix

Layout of the land and fields at Gezer

Layout of the land and fields at Gezer

Later Excavations at Gezer

In 1934 the Palestine Exploration Fund began to sponsor a second series of excavations at Gezer under the direction of A. Rowe, but the project never came to fruition. In 1964 G. E. Wright began a ten year excavation project at Gezer, which was sponsored by the Hebrew Union College Biblical and Archaeological School (which is now the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology) in Jerusalem, and was also financed through grants from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The work here began in two major phases. Wright directed Phase I of the project from 1964-65 and 1966-1971. Phase II from 1972-74 was directed by Joe D. Seger, and again by William G. Dever in 1984 and 1990. Steve Ortiz of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Samuel Wolff of the Israel Antiquities Authority initiated Phase III of excavations at Gezer in 2005.xl

Gezer is a place that has been inhabited during various times by various different people groups such as the Egyptians, Philistines, Canaanites, and Israelites. There are archaeological finds that gives significant insight as to the culture of each of these people groups. The Israelite level is stratum VIII, which is located in Field III, east of the Canaanite water tunnel. The Solomonic Gate also is located in Field III. The Casemate Wall connected with the gate in field II is also Solomonic.xli Two Astarte plaques have been discovered in Field II, Area 4, pit 4022, along with numerous amounts of pottery. Both of the plaques and the pottery seem to be Late Bronze I-II.xlii The Astarte plaques also share some similarities of idols found at Troy.xliii Located in Field I, is the large structure of a Canaanite tower (the locus for the tower is noted by Dever’s group as 5017). The tower connects to the “Inner Wall,” mainly construed of large stones at about 1.00 meters long, 75-90 centimeters wide, and 50 centimeters in thickness.xliv In the Middle Bronze IIC period, Field IV provides much evidence of growth and redevelopment, starting with defense structures around the perimeter of the mound.xlv The Canaanite “High Place” is located in Field V, close to the northern “Inner Wall.” As mentioned above it consists of ten monoliths, with some of them over 3 meters high (the stones were discovered laying down and had to be placed up). The stones seemed to be made by the Canaanites, and it is possible that there could have been an association with child sacrifice, or with a covenant renewal ceremony involving the inhabitants of the location.xlvi In Field VII there are numerous finds of pottery almost completely intact.xlvii Area 24, Fill 2433, which was covered by Phase 9 Fill 2430 in Field VII, contains a dog burial.xlviii This most naturally would have one assume this find was not from the Israelite period.

The Excavations of Steve Ortiz and Samuel Wolff

The excavations that began in 2005 at Tel Gezer were sponsored by the Charles D. Tandy Institute of Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), along with other consortium schools. The directors of the excavations are Dr. Steven Ortiz, professor of Archaeology and Biblical Backgrounds of the Tandy Institute and SWBTS, and Dr. Samuel Wolff, senior archaeologist and archivist of the Israel Antiquities Authority. In 2013 their work primarily consisted of removing portions of the city wall from the Iron IIA period, to have access for investigation of a Late Bronze age destruction level. During their excavations of the city wall, an earlier wall system was discovered from the Iron Age I period. Some items discovered were Philistine pottery and a Philistine figurine. Other discoveries at this site seem to correspond with information from Amarna letters concerning this area around the time of the Egyptians 18th Dynasty. Discovered was an earlier city that had been destroyed, with debris finds of pottery vessels, cylinder seals and a large Egyptian scarab with the cartouche of Amenhotep III. Additional work is being done to remove public and domestic structures of the 8th and 9th centuries B.C., to reveal the 10th century B. C. city plan adjacent to the “City Gate.” Although controversial, the exposure of the 10th century walls gives hopes for some of the excavators to find the rest of the “Solomonic city.”xlix

Entrance to the "Water Tunnel" at Gezer. [Courtesy of Taman Turbinton]

Entrance to the “Water Tunnel” at Gezer. [Courtesy of Taman Turbinton]

The Gezer Water System

Located north of the six chambered Iron Aged gate, is the extraordinary “water system.” It was hewed as an oval shaped reservoir at about 14 to 17 meters in diameter.l A stairway consisting of 78 steps was hewn into the walls and descends to the floor which leads to a source of From the entrance of the water system tunnel, the distance into the earth is approximately 40 meters. In 1905 Macalister discovered the water system, but he left many unanswered questions. In the summer of 2010 the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), took on the task of reopening the ancient water system. Primary sponsorship is from the Moskau Institue of Archaeology of NOBTS, and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Leading the excavations from NOBTS are Dr. Dan Waner, Dr. R. Dennis Cole, and Dr. James Parker, in collaboration with Dr. Tsvika Tsuk, Chief Archaeologist of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the Israel Antiquities Authority. This team accompanied by student volunteers from NOBTS and other Universities seeks to address the issues of identifying the source of the water, the overall purpose of the location, and it’s dating. A likely dating for the system seems to belong in the Bronze Age. It is believed that system’s cavern had an exterior opening accessible from outside of the city. It is thought that the inhabitants would have built the tunnel to access the water in case of a siege.lii


Macalister noted in his find of the system of a pool of water at the end of the tunnel of unknown depth. He explained that water stood wherever the mud was dug away, and the level of water remained constant no matter how much water was taken away. Similar issues were again discovered by the NOBTS excavators. On June 5, 2015 the team digging at the bottom of the tunnel removed close to 140 gallons of water. In the process of removal they were able to notice a lowering of the water level.liii It is very damp above the pool and deep into the cavern, and the main way to enter the area is by crawling. A large stone covers oneself the further one crawls back. It is hoped that an exit will be found deep in this cavern; this possible exit would be to the east side of Gezer. In previous excavations there were no finds of pottery at the end of the tunnel or in the cavern. Now into the fifth season numerous amounts of pottery shards have been found, but none with significant or extraordinary markings.liv Some of the pottery found looks similar in material to the finds from the believed to be “house” inside the inner wall in between the Canaanite gate and the water system opening. Dr. Eli Yannai, archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, serves at the pottery expert for this area. Parts of the area in the “house” received material from Macalister dump. Yannai has identified pottery that is very thin, covered with red on each side as material from Cyprus dating to the Late Bronze Age. The information is significant because towards the south of the “house” finds are from the Middle Bronze Age. This gave Dr. Yannai the indication that the location of a possible wall in the “house” facing north is filled with Macalister’s The pottery finds are not substantially enough to posit a clear connection between the two sites of the water tunnel and the house; it will take further work to draw upon more firm conclusions.


Even though many great finds have been found at Gezer, the excavators at the water tunnel believe and expect this particular area to be one of the premier sites in Israel. The structure of the tunnel is unique, with nothing like in the rest of Israel, Egypt, or Mesopotamia. This site will continue to be an attraction to archaeologist, and certainly later, a major tourist attraction for Bible believers, and even Biblical minimalists.

Because of the groundbreaking work taking place at Gezer, it will for a short time be a site of numerous mysteries. The excavators on the Tel and in the “Water System” have come up with interesting suggestions and questions about the site. Was the “Water System” used for times of siege? Did cultic activity take place in the Tunnel? Did King Solomon make use of the “Water System”? It is up to the excavators to try and understand the information behind the large amounts of archaeological evidence. But as we have learned from previous finds, Gezer is full of information that points to the accuracy of the Biblical record. Yigael Yadin was right to lean on his impulse and trust the inspired Word of God for finding Solomon’s Gate. Families can use Gezer as an example to have confidence in teaching their children that the Bible and archaeological finds do not contradict each other. Far from insignificant, Gezer will be remembered as one of the most important places in the Bible for Biblical Archaeology.


i Steven Ortiz and Samuel Wolff, “Gaurding the Boarder to Jerusalem: The Iron Age City of Gezer,” Near Eastern Archaeology 75, no. 1 (2012): p. 4. Henceforth: Ortiz and Wolff, “Iron Age City of Gezer.”

ii W. G. Dever, “Gezer” in Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 2, ed. Michael Avi-Yonah (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1976), p. 428. Henceforth: Dever, “Gezer”.

iii See John D. Currid, and David P. Barrett ed., Crossway ESV Bible Atlas (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), pp. 60-61. Henceforth: ESV Atlas.

iv Thomas C. Brisco, ed., Holman Bible Atlas: A Complete Guide to the Expansive Geography of Biblical History (Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Reference, 1998), pp. 43-44. Henceforth: Holman Atlas.

v Ibid., p. 45.

vi See Roland deVaux, The Bible and the Ancient Near East, trans. Damian McHugh (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967), p. 253.

vii According to Eusebius, from Syncellus see Manetho, The History of Egypt, trans. W. G. Waddel, in Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956), p. 115.

viii G. G. Garner, and J. Woodhead, “Gezer” in New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed., (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1996), p. 409; Also see Dever, “Gezer”, p. 428.

ix James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts: Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 242.

x “Letter of Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem (EA 286) (3.92A)” in The Context of Scripture, vol. 3, Archival Documents from the Biblical World, eds. William W. Hallo, and K. Lawson Younger, Jr. (Leiden: Brill, 2002), p. 237.

xi “Letter of Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem (Urusalim) (EA 289) (3.92B)” in ibid., p. 238.

xii Holman Atlas, p. 57; Sir Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 273.

xiii William G. Dever, H. Darrel Lance, and G. Ernest Wright, Gezer I, vol. 1, Preliminary Report of the 1964-66 Seasons (Jerusalem: Hebrew Union College Biblical and Archaeological School in Jerusalem, 1970), pp. 4-5. Henceforth: Dever, Lance, and Wright, Gezer I.

xiv See Barry G. Webb, The Book of Judges, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), pp. 123-24; K. Lawson Younger, Jr., Judges and Ruth, NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), p. 72.

xv Dever, “Gezer”, p. 430.

xvi Lee I. A. Levine, “The Age of Hellenism: Alexander the Great and the Rise and Fall of the Hasmonean Kingdom,” in Ancient Israel: A Short History from Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, ed. Hershel Shanks (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1988), p. 187.

xvii R. A. S. Macalister, A Century of Excavations in Palestine (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1925), p. 64. Henceforth: Macalister, Excavations; Yigael Yadin, Hazor: The Rediscovery of a Great Citadel of the Bible (New York: Random House, 1975), pp. 200-1. Henceforth: Yadin, Hazor.

xviii Macalister, Excavations, p. 82.

xix Ibid., pp. 64-65.

xx William Foxwell Albright, From Stone Age to Christianity: Monotheism and the Historical Process, 2nd ed., (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1957), pp. 55-56.

xxi For more information on Albright’s view of this tablet at Gezer see W. F. Albright, “A Tablet of the Amarna Age from Gezer,” Bulletin of American Schools of Oriental Research 92, (December 1943): pp. 28-30.

xxii Macalister, Excavations, p. 188; Hallo, and Younger, The Context of Scripture, vol. 3, pp. 263-64.

xxiii Macalister, Excavations, p. 189; Hallo, and Younger, The Context of Scripture, vol. 3, pp. 264-65.

xxiv Macalister, Excavations, p. 223.

xxv P. Kyle McCarter, “The Gezer Calendar,” in The Context of Scripture, vol. 2, Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World, eds. William W. Hallo, and K. Lawson Younger, Jr. (Leiden: Brill, 2000), p. 222.

xxvi William F. Albright, “The Gezer Calendar,” Bulletin of American Schools of Oriental Research 92, (December 1943): p. 16. Henceforth: Albright, “Gezer Calendar”.

xxvii Macalister, Excavations, p. 249.

xxviii Albright, “Gezer Calendar”, p. 19.

xxix Ibid., 21.

xxx Yigael Yadin, “Solomon’s City Wall and Gate at Gezer,” Israel Exploration Journal 8, no. 2 (1958): p. 80.

xxxi Ibid; Yadin, Hazor, pp. 201-2.

xxxii Yadin, “Solomon’s City Wall and Gate at Gezer,” pp. 85-86.

xxxiii Yadin, Hazor, p. 203.

xxxiv John S. Holladay, Jr., “Red Slip, Burnish, and the Solomonic Gateway at Gezer,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 277-278 (February/May 1990): p. 24.

xxxv Israel Finkelstein, “King Solomon’s Golden Age: History or Myth?” in The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel, no. 17, by Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar, ed. Brian Schmidt (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007), pp. 110-12.

xxxvi Yadin, Hazor, p. 187.

xxxvii Finkelstein, “King Solomon’s Golden Age,” p. 114.

xxxviii André Lemaire, “The United Monarchy: Saul, David and Solomon,” in Ancient Israel: A Short History from Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, ed. Hershel Shanks (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1988), p. 107.

xxxix Albright, “Gezer Calendar,” pp. 18-19.

xl William G. Dever, “Gezer” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), p. 998; Joe D. Seger, and James W. Hardin, ed., Gezer VII: The Middle Bronze and Later Fortifications in Fields II, IV, and VII (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013), p. 1. For the information of the location of the fields refer to the maps herein.

xli Dever, “Gezer,” p. 441.

xlii See Dever, Lance, and Wright, Gezer I, p. 57. For images see Plate 25, herein.

xliii See C. Schuchhardt, Schliemann’s Excavations: An Archaeological and Historical Study, trans., Eugénie Sellers (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1891), pp. 66-67.

xliv Dever, Lance, and Wright, Gezer I, pp. 18-19.

xlv Joe D. Seger, Gezer VII: The Middle Bronze and Later Fortifications in Fields II, IV, and VII, ed. Joe D. Seger and James W. Hardin (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013), p. 13.

xlvi Dever, “Gezer,” pp. 437-438.

xlvii See pictures of plates 65 in Field VII East, Area 37; plate 61 in Field VII Central, Area 35, all in Seymour Gitin, Gezer III: A Ceramic Typology of the Late Iron II, Persian and Hellenistic Periods at Tell Gezer, Data Base and Plates (Jerusalem: Hebrew Union College, 1990).

xlviii Ibid., see plate 73.

xlix Steven Ortiz and Samuel Wolff, “ARCHAEOLOGY: The history beneath Solomon’s City,” accessed July 26, 2015,

l See Steve Ortiz, “Gezer” in the Oxford Encyclopedia of The Bible and Archaeology, ed., Daniel Master (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 471. Henceforth: Ortiz, “Gezer.”

li The layout by Mcalister listed 78 steps and has been examined and confirmed as the accurate number of steps by the author and Tsvika Tsuk. Some of the steps are losing shape, but are still distinct enough to be identified as steps.

lii Ortiz, “Gezer,” p. 469. Also see the CAR page, at the NOBTS website.

liii See the blog post from Gary D. Meyers on June 7, 2015, who is the publication relations representative of the Seminary, “Gezer 2015: The things you find at the bottom of the water system,” accessed July 21, 2015,

liv Information unpublished, but available from the author. On June 2, 2015, over one hour was spent in the tight area of the cavern collecting pottery. I found approximately over 50 pieces of pottery, along with the numerous amounts collected by Gary D. Meyers.

lv Information unpublished, available from the author. Along the possible wall, no matter how far low the wall was dug, Late Bronze Age material was continuously found lower than in other areas where Middle Bronze Age material were found.


Selected Bibliography

Albright, William Foxwell. “The Gezer Calendar” Bulletin of American Schools of Oriental Research 92, (December 1943): pp. 16-27.

———. “A Tablet of the Amarna Age from Gezer” Bulletin of American Schools of Oriental Research 92, (December 1943): pp. 28-30.

———. From Stone Age to Christianity: Monotheism and the Historical Process. 2nd ed. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1957.

Brisco, Thomas C., ed. Holman Bible Atlas: A Complete Guide to the Expansive Geography of Biblical History. Nashville: Holman Reference, 1998.

Currid, John D., and David P. Barrett eds. Crossway ESV Bible Atlas. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.

Dever, William G. “Gezer.” In Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 2, ed. Michael Avi-Yonah, pp. 428-443. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1976.

———. “Gezer.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2, ed. David Noel Freedman, 998-1003. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Dever, William G., H. Darrel Lance, and G. Ernest Wright. Gezer I, Vol. 1, Preliminary Report of the 1964-66 Seasons. Jerusalem: Hebrew Union College Biblical and Archaeological School in Jerusalem, 1970.

Finkelstein, Israel. “King Solomon’s Golden Age?: History or Myth?” In The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel, No. 17. By Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar. Edited by Brian Schmidt, 107-116. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007.

Gardiner, Sir Alan. Egypt of the Pharaohs: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Garner, G. G., and J. Woodhead. “Gezer.” In New Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed., 407-409. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1996.

Gitin, Seymour. Gezer III: A Ceramic Typology of the Late Iron II, Persian and Hellenistic Periods at Tell Gezer, Data Base and Plates. Jerusalem: Hebrew Union College, 1990.

Holladay, John S., Jr. “Red Slip, Burnish, and the Solomonic Gateway at Gezer.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 277-278 (February/May 1990): pp. 23-70.

Hallo, William H., and K. Lawson Younger, Jr., ed. The Context of Scripture. Vol. 2, Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World . Leiden: Brill, 2000.

———. The Context of Scripture. Vol. 3, Archival Documents from the Biblical World. Leiden: Brill, 2002.

Lemaire, André. “The United Monarchy: Saul, David and Solomon.” In Ancient Israel: A Short History from Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, ed. Hershel Shanks, pp. 85-108. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1988.

Levine, Lee I. A. “The Age of Hellensim: Alexander the Great and the Rise and Fall of the Hasmonean Kingdom.” In Ancient Israel: A Short History from Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, ed. Hershel Shanks, pp. 177-204. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1988.

Macalister, R. A. S. A Century of Excavations in Palestine. London: The Religious Tract Society, 1925.

Manetho. The History of Egypt. Translated by W. G. Waddel. In Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956.

McCarter, P. Kyle. “The Gezer Calendar.” In Hallo, and Younger. The Context of Scripture. Vol. 2, p. 222.

Meyer, Gary D. “Gezer 2015: The things you find at the bottom of the water system.” Accessed July 21, 2015.

Ortiz, Steven. “Gezer.” In Oxford Encyclopedia of Bible and Archaeology, vol. 1, ed. Daniel Master, 468-474. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Ortiz, Steven and Samuel Wolff. “Guarding the Boarder to Jerusalem: The Iron Age City of Gezer.” Near Eastern Archaeology 75, no. 1 (2012): pp. 4-19.

———. “ARCHAEOLOGY: The history beneath Solomon’s City.” Accessed July 26, 2015.

Pritchard, James B. ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts: Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Schuchhardt, C. Schliemann’s Excavations: An Archaeological and Historical Study. Translated by Eugénie Sellers. New York: Macmillan & Co., 1891.

Seger, Joe D. Gezer VII: The Middle Bronze and Later Fortifications in Fields II, IV, and VII, ed. Joe D. Seger and James W. Hardin. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013.

Vaux, Roland de. The Bible and the Ancient Near East. Translated by Damian McHugh. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967.

Webb, Barry G. The Book of Judges. NICOT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.

Yadin, Yigael. “Solomon’s City Wall and Gate at Gezer.” Israel Exploration Journal 8, no. 2 (1958): pp. 80-86.

———. Hazor: The Rediscovery of a Great Citadel of the Bible. New York: Random House, 1975.

Younger, K. Lawson, Jr. Judges and Ruth. NIVAC. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Written by Taman Turbinton

Taman Turbinton is a student at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and is excavating this season at the site of Gezer.





September 20, 2016
by Fehmida

One page levant chronology

  • c. 6000 BCE
    First fortified settlement at Ugarit.
  • c. 4000 BCE – c. 3000 BCE
    Trade contact between Byblos and Egypt.
  • c. 4000 BCE
    Founding of the city of Sidon.
  • c. 2900 BCE – c. 2300 BCE
    First settlement of Baalbek.
  • c. 2750 BCE
    The city of Tyre is founded.
  • c. 1450 BCE
    Kadesh and Megiddo lead a Canaanite alliance against the Egyptian invasion by Thutmose III.
  • 1274 BCE
    Battle of Kadesh between Pharaoh Ramesses II of Egypt and King Muwatalli II of the Hittites.
  • c. 1200 BCE
    Sea Peoples invade the Levant.
  • 1200 BCE – 1100 BCE
    Hebrew tribes settle Canaan.
  • 1115 BCE – 1076 BCE
    Reign of Tiglath-Pileser I of Assyria who conquers Phoenicia and revitalizes the empire.
  • c. 1000 BCE
    Height of Tyre’s power.
  • 1000 BCE
    Rise of the kingdom of Israel.
  • 965 BCE – 928 BCE
    Solomon is king of Israel.
  • 950 BCE
    Solomon builds the first Temple of Jerusalem.
  • 721 BCE
    Israel is conquered by Assyria.
  • 351 BCE
    Artaxerxes III sacks Sidon.
  • 334 BCE
    Alexander the Great sacks Baalbek and renames it Heliopolis.
  • 333 BCE
    Alexander the Great sacks Sidon.
  • 332 BCE
    Conquest of the Levant by Alexander the Great who destroys Tyre.
  • 332 BCE
    Alexander the Great besieges and conquers Tyre.
  • 64 BCE
    Tyre becomes a Roman colony.
  • c. 6 BCE – c. 30 CE
    Life of Jesus Christ.
  • 637 CE
    Muslims enter Levant. The Byzantines are driven out.

September 20, 2016
by Fehmida

10th Century BCE Hebrew Inscription Found at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Ostracon from Khirbet Qeiyafa

Ostracon from Khirbet Qeiyafa

This summer an extraordinary Semitic inscription was found at Khirbet Qeiyafa. It was uncovered inside the fortified city, near the gate, lying on a floor level of a building. The city existed for a rather short time, within the 10th century BC, thus, the dating of the inscription is perfectly secured to the beginning of the First Temple period, known as the United monarchy, the time of kings David and Solomon.

The inscription is a large pottery fragment (ostracon), ca. 15 × 15 cm. written with ink. It contains five rows, divided by black lines. Each row has 10 letters or so in Proto-Canaanite script. According to the preliminary observations of the epigraphist, Dr. Haggai Misgav, the language of the ostracon is Hebrew. This is the longest Proto-Canaanite inscription ever found and the earliest Hebrew text known to date. Other possible Hebrew inscriptions are the Gezer calendar (ca. 900 BC), the stele of king Mesah (ca. 850 BC) or the Samaria ostraca (ca. 800 BC). The new inscription is earlier by 100-200 years from the other earlier Hebrew inscriptions. As the decipherment has just begun, it is still immature to talk about the content, but it clearly bears a massage, a letter sent between two people.

Khirbet Qeiyafa

Khirbet Qeiyafa

Paleography: The complicated writing techniques developed in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt enabled only professional scribes to read and write. Contrarily, the simple Semitic alphabet writing technique enables larger segments of the population to read and write. Thus, it is one of the most important intellectual inventions of human kind. But the early developments of the Semitic alphabet and its transmitting to the early Greek, and then to Latin and the rest of the world is poorly known. The earliest type of alphabet script, known as Proto-Canaanite, was found in Canaan, Sinai peninsula and Egypt in various sites dated from the second millennium BC (Middle Bronze and Late Bronze periods, ca. 1700-1200 BC). In this stage it was rather pictorial in character, adopting Egyptian hieroglyph signs.

Aerial photograph of Khirbet Qeiyafa

Aerial photograph of Khirbet Qeiyafa

In the Iron I period (1200-1000 BC) the hieroglyphs became more and more schematics, and it was assumed that at ca. 1000 BC the script became standardized in various aspects, like the number of letters (22), the direction of writing (from right to left) and the shape of the letters. As the Greek letters are quite similar to Proto-Canaanite script it was generally believed that they adopted the alphabet script in the late second millennium BC.

Very few early alphabet inscriptions are known. Most of them are either very short, or just a list of the letters (abecedary). Almost all of them do not have a secure archaeological context, thus lacking clear dating. The new inscription is the first Proto-Canaanite script clearly dated from the 10th century BC. It will now serve as the anchor for the entire developments of the early alphabet scripts: the Semitic (Phoenician, Hebrew and others) as well as the Greek.

Implication to Biblical History: Currently, there is a bitter debate about the historical accounts of Kings David and Solomon as presented by the Biblical tradition. The main arguments so far were the luck of urban centers that can be clearly dated to the time of the United Monarchy (Early Iron Age IIa period).

On September 13th 2008 a colloquium of some 40 Israeli archaeologists took place at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The pottery from the fortified city was presented and discussed. There was a general agreement that the assemblage is indeed from the very beginning of the Iron IIa period. The new excavations clearly indicate that already in the time of David and Solomon urban cities were constructed in Judah. The fortifications of the site required 200,000 ton of stones. The upper part of the gate was built with ashlar stones, a clear characteristic of royal activities in the Biblical period. There was a need for administration to organize these massive building activities and indeed the new inscription indicates that writing was in use. The new inscription indicates that writing was indeed practiced in the biblical kingdom of Judah from its very beginning. Thus, historical memories could have been survived for generations and the biblical traditions regarding the period of kings David and Solomon cannot be overlooked.

Gate at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Gate at Khirbet Qeiyafa


Acknowledgments. Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations are conducted by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel and Mr. Saar Ganor, on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Funds were kindly provided by J.B. Silver, the Berman Center for Biblical Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Foundation Stone and the Curtiss and Mary Brenan Foundation. The expedition website is:


September 14, 2016
by Fehmida

Zodiac Calendars and Angelic Teaching in the Dead Sea Scrolls

By: Helen R. Jacobus

Angels are often associated with secret knowledge but not usually with authentic mathematics. In several of the Dead Sea Scrolls there is a complicated network of parallel stories in which angels impart secret knowledge of the calendar, astronomy, astrology and divination to humans before the Flood. These secrets were important for Jews and early Christians, among other things, to know about current scientific knowledge around them that had been developed to an advanced level by their neighbours in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean.

Figure 1. Part of the Chester Beatty papyri showing portions of the Book of Enoch in Greek (P.Mich.inv. 5552; third century C.E), University of Michigan Library),_leaf_3,_verso.jpg

Figure 1. Part of the Chester Beatty papyri showing portions of the Book of Enoch in Greek (P.Mich.inv. 5552; third century C.E), University of Michigan Library).

The myths are expansions of Genesis 5:23–24, the after-life of Enoch whose days ended at 365 years and Genesis 6:4, the appearance of Nephilim—or giants in The Septuagint—benign progeny of divine beings and the daughters of humans. In early Jewish writings these short passages have been woven into epic, ‘rewritten Bible’ sagas.

With the exception of the fragmentary Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon, an expanded retelling of parts of Genesis, discovered in Qumran Cave 1, these additional narratives from Second Temple Judaism were already known before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilees were preserved in Ethiopic, and a portion of 1 Enoch in Greek. The Book of Jubilees and 1 Enoch had been preserved and canonised in the Ethiopic Orthodox Church and the Book of Enoch is cited in the New Testament (Jude 1:14–15= 1 En. 60:8). Fragments of these books were also found at Qumran Cave 4: I Enoch in Aramaic, and Jubilees in Hebrew.

But previously unknown texts found at Qumran, without full Ethiopic versions, include two astronomical and calendrical manuscripts in Aramaic: 4Q208 (4QAstronomical Enocha) and part of 4Q209 (4QAstronomical Enochb), a formulaically written calendar, some of which appears in a corrupted condition in the Ethiopic Astronomical Book of Enoch (1 En. 72-82).

2. God took Enoch. Illustration by Gerard Hoet (1648-1733)

2. God took Enoch. Illustration by Gerard Hoet (1648-1733).

At Qumran there is also the formerly completely unknown Aramaic 4QZodiac Calendar and Brontologion (4Q318). This comprises a schematic 360-day calendar that traces the zodiac sign that the moon traverses for every day of a year composed of twelve 30-day months. An appended thunder omen text, the Brontologion, gives a prediction according to the position of the moon in the zodiac when the thunder clap occurs.

Nothing in these manuscripts indicates they are part of mythological books. When reconstructed it can be seen that they contain real astronomical calendars, and actual mathematical material. But angels are at the forefront.

In both the Ethiopic and in the Qumran version of 1 Enoch and Jubilees, Enoch ascends to the heaven to receive divinely authorised knowledge. Conversely, angels known collectively as the Watchers descended to earth and married human women. They taught their wives the secrets of metalwork for making weapons and jewellery, using kohl, precious stones and dye, magical arts, omen reading and astronomy. In parallel stories the women gave birth to cannibalistic giants, and variously blood-thirsty Nephilim (see 1 Enoch, Genesis Apocryphon, Jubilees).

One detailed story about the descending angels’ secret arts is described in The Book of Watchers from 1 Enoch (1 En. 1-36) in Ethiopic, several substantial fragments of which were found in Cave 4. The fragments 4Q201, 4Q202 and 4Q204 contain the story of the rebellion of the Watchers, their names and their skills and the intervention of the four archangels, Michael, Sariel, Raphael and Gabriel, to punish them and bring about the Flood. The earliest fragment, 4Q201, was copied circa 200–150 BCE.

Figure 3. Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1562).

Figure 3. Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1562).

It is during his tour of heaven, where Enoch ascends to intercede on behalf of the Watchers, that he learns the secrets of astronomy and the calendar (in the Ethiopic version he is taught by Uriel. The archangel’s name is not extant in the fragments from Qumran).

Figure 4. The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Hieronymus Bosch (1500-1504)

Figure 4. The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Hieronymus Bosch (1500-1504).

Several scholars take the view that Enoch, the seventh man after Adam, is a Jewish adaptation of Enmeduranki, the seventh ruler in some versions of the antediluvian Sumerian King List, ruler of Sippar, city of the sun god Shamash. Enmeduranki received secrets of divination and mathematical calculations from the gods and became the ancestor of the bāru, diviners skilled in interpreting celestial omens.

Interestingly,the Brontologion is also composed in the style of Mesopotamian omen texts known from the Enūma Anu Enlil omen series but with a conditional clause involving the zodiac, unknown from the Babylonian texts.

The zodiac calendar of 4Q318, 4QZodiac Calendar, uses the Aramaic translations of the Babylonian month names that are used in the Hebrew calendar today. The months, Shevat, month 11, and Adar, month 12, are extant in the very fragmentary remains of this manuscript.

4QZodiac Calendar also helps us to understand the calendar of 4Q208-4Q209 that was identified by the Dead Sea Scrolls scholar J.T. Milik in 1976 as a so-called “synchronistic calendar.” The sun and moon in the Aramaic synchronistic calendar are harmonised through numbered “gates.” With respect to 1 Enoch 72–82, Assyriologist and mathematician Otto Neugebauer argued that the numbered “gates” corresponded to the sunrise and sunset positions on the horizon. He rejected the interpretation by Richard Laurence from 1821 that the “gates” in the Ethiopic Astronomical Book of Enoch are connected with the zodiac signs. Figure 5 shows the solar-lunar-stellar scheme in 1 Enoch Chapter 72, with the cognate zodiac signs added.

Figure 5.  The scheme from 1 En. 72: the direction of the arrows signify the journey of the sun.

Figure 5. The scheme from 1 En. 72: the direction of the arrows signify the journey of the sun.

Jacobus Figure 6

Figure 6. Detail of the proposed zodiac of 4Q209 (4QAstronomical Enochb) , the tenth lunar month. Reconstructed data from text in part of the largest fragment. The extant text is shaded on the zodiac signs. The sun enters Gate 1 in Month 10 and the moon leaves Gate 4 (Aries) and enters Gate 5 (Taurus) Key to zodiac signs: Aries; Taurus; Gemini; Cancer; Leo; Virgo; Libra; Scorpio; Sagittarius; Capricorn; Aquarius; Pisces. The moon changes sign in just under every 2½ days.

It may be argued that the largest Qumran fragment, 4Q209 (4QAstronomical Enochb) containing data that the sun enters Gate 1, corresponds to the winter solstice zodiac signs of Sagittarius and Capricorn and solar zodiacal months 9 and 10. The moon moves from Gate 4, corresponding to Aries, on the 8th and 9th of the month to Gate 5, corresponding to Taurus, on the 10th of the month. The manuscript also describes the waxing and waning phase of the moon day by day in fractions of sevenths of its shining and darkness.

In the zodiac calendar of 4Q318, the reconstructed text shows that in Month 10, Tevet, on the days 8 and 9, the moon is in the sign of Taurus (see Figure 7 for the position of the moon in the zodiac for the first nine days of the month).

Figure 7. The first nine days 4Q318 (4QZodiac Calendar) without the Brontologion. Reconstructed from the existing text.

Figure 7. The first nine days 4Q318 (4QZodiac Calendar) without the Brontologion. Reconstructed from the existing text.

It appears the year in 4Q318 is mathematically slightly ahead of 4Q209. In the luni-solar calendar, the lunar months have to be regulated by adding a 13th month every two to three years. It is possible that the Aramaic calendars are earlier versions of the ideal schematic, luni-solar calendar of the 19-year cycle known as the Metonic cycle. This is well-known from the Standard Mesopotamian calendar and the calendar of Athens. (When Hanukkah coincided with Thanksgiving in 2013 it was an example of an additional month being due).

The teaching of the descending, rebellious angels or the revealed knowledge to Enoch by Uriel during his tour of the cosmos in 1 Enoch may be mythology with an educational purpose. The earliest copy of the Aramaic fragment concerning the Watchers who came to the earth, 4Q201, was, according to Milik, dictated by a master in a scribal school.

Figure 8. Painting of the winged heads of 80 Ethiopian cherubs on the Berhan Selassie Church roof.

Figure 8. Painting of the winged heads of 80 Ethiopian cherubs on the Berhan Selassie Church roof.

An understanding of astronomy and mathematics ensured that people prayed at the correct time with the angels, a theme in several of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The implication of this research is that the zodiac calendar was extremely important in Second Temple Judaism and probably in early Christianity. Had this continuous copying not taken place by Christians, we would not have had an ancient literary context in which to interpret these remarkable mathematical texts from Qumran.

Helen R. Jacobus is Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London. She has recently published Zodiac Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Their Reception: Ancient Astronomy and Astrology in Early Judaism (Leiden: Brill)