Notes: A study of circles, triangles and “keyhole” motifs — Tanit-Astarte-Asherah symbols

From Anatolian woven kilim motifs, we deduce what were some of traditional meanings behind the symbolism of triangles and circles:

“…On the Kilim two triangles are used joined at the base representing fidelity and union at a wedding. 
The circle represents the perfect circular movement of the skies and it has no beginning or end but in a culture where time is not conceived as linear but circular, ever repeating. To be part of a circle affords protection. It appears in the form of a ring, necklace, belt or crown. Today you can find people who never remove an engagement ring. At various times, the circle has been used ornamentally in several ways.

The circle symbols all originate from magical functions of protection against the evil spirits. On wedding veils in Anatolia they appear as small golden circles and as earrings. The earring design appeared on their Kilim which expressed the desire to marry. The Turkish women of Anatolia use many symbols to represent infinite energy and power of nature to renew and reproduce and to remove bad maladictions. The Goddess Mother is represented by idols of human shape and as a tree. The legend of Erzobotof of the Yakuds people, narrates that the supreme tree was large, it was the mother of all existing things, existence depended on it, the sky and the earth were building blocks, it’s roots wrapped the entire world, it’s branches crossed the nine stages of the sky. Underneath was found the water of life and it passed through its roots. This water when used gave eternal youth and continuing fertility. This tree had an owner, one old goddess with a white hair like snow and three large breasts, rounded like a partridge’s…”

It was also said that according to the Turkic tradition, the triangle form had a protective function:

“In Asia Minor, to the Turks, the sacred fire represented the centre of the house and during prayers made by the congregation, the women moved round the fire throwing grain into the flames and reciting; Oh mistress of these places! Spirits of fire and flames! Listen! St Madre protect us in your arms, protect us under your roof. Oh Goddess of abundance and food! In the Kilim, the reason for the motif named Muska is found, and a piece of paper on which is found the Koranic registration folded to a triangular shape. It is used for protection, like a ballot to realise a desire, in order to find out who loves you and to throw the evil eye on someone and protect against it.”


The following resource explores the use of inverted triangles and the pubic triangle motifs, and triangle topped by a circle, as symbols of Asherah and Tanit respectively:

By Garth Gilmour Email:
Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 141, 2 (2009), 87–103 doi: 10.1179/174313009×437800
During the P.E.F. excavations at the Ophel in Jerusalem in the 1920s a large sherd of an Iron Age II jug was found with a pictorial design incised on the surface. The design shows two humanoid figures above a series of semi-circles bordering the broken edge of the sherd. The figures are joined by rough lines above and below the waist. The details of the figures include traditional Canaanite elements that indicate they are deity figures, one male and one female, and it is proposed that they represent Yahweh and Asherah. If so, this would add to the growing record of textual and symbolic imagery of Yahweh and Asherah together from Iron Age Israel and Judah. The sherd and its inscription are critical to our understanding of early Israelite religion,its relationship to its Canaanite antecedents, and to the nature of folk religion in Judah in the period of the monarchy.

The sherd is from a strainer spouted jug with a red wash, possibly a self-slip, and lightly burnished2 (Fig. 1, Ill. 3). There are no signs of painted decoration. It is in poor condition,with yellow staining along one edge where the burnish has partially peeled away, and darkwater-wash stains scattered across the surface. The sherd comes from the body of the vessel, with just the edge of the strainer spout preserved (Fig. 6, Ill. 2), enabling the identification of the vessel type with some confidence. It is a fairly common Iron Age type in the south,in Phoenicia and in Philistia, especially in the early centuries, though it appears to be unusual in Jerusalem. Eleventh- to tenth- century examples come from Dor (Gilboa 1999, Fig. 12: 4–7), Tel Batash stratum IV (Mazar and Panitz-Cohen 2001, 122, pl. 11:19) and TelQasile stratum X (Mazar 1985, 64, fig. 50:1, 2), among others, though unlike the example from the Ophel they have painted decoration. Unpainted examples come from Tomb 521 at Lachish, which has a red slip and hand burnish, dated by Tufnell to around 1000 bce  (Tufnell 1953, 222–224; pls 72:9, 89:364) and from Tell Beit Mirsim level A2 (Albright 1932,87, pl. 70:13) dated to the 8th century.

Ill. 4 Detail of the inscription

2. the inscription

The inscription is 8.43 cm wide and 6.55 cm high, and shows two triangular humanoid figures, one male and one female, attached by two lines (Fig. 2, Ill. 4). The figures are set upon a series of semi-circular lines which extend to the break in the pottery. The inscription is cut more-or-less at right angles to the orientation of the vessel, indicating that it was incised post-breakage. In addition, a cut was made across the break in the sherd at the base of the inscription (Fig. 5, Ill. 2). Two further test incisions, a line on the outside of the sherd and across on the inside, were apparently made by Duncan (Ill. 2), and referred to in his notes,as follows

The male figure (Fig. 3) is 5.67 cm high and 2.50 cm wide, and takes the form of an inverted triangle 2.68 cm high with two legs each defined by two lines extending downwards and a semi-circular hat above. A rudimentary face has been carved into the triangle, with eyes and eyebrows, nose and nostrils, a mouth and a chin. The two side lines of the triangular body extend downwards to become the two inside lines of the legs, thereby creating a small triangle whose third side is the inverted apex of the triangular body. The legs extend to the break in the sherd. The inside line of the figure’s right leg has what may be interpreted as an angled foot pointed inwards, but this may rather be a chip from dragging the cutting tool to the edge of the sherd. The three other leg lines have similar but smaller chips. To the left of the male figure is a female figure in the form of two triangles (Fig. 4). The upper triangle, which is inverted and contains a face, is 2.05 cm high and 1.80 cm wide; the lower triangle is 1.75 cm high and 2.10 cm wide; total height is 3.80 cm. As with the male figure, the upper triangle contains eyes, eyebrows, nose, nostrils, mouth and chin. The lower triangle contains two elements, an inverted triangle in the middle and a small dot just above it, representing the pubic triangle and navel, respectively. Unlike with the male figure, the lines of the triangles defining the female figure extend beyond the edge of the apexes at three of the four corners; only the bottom right corner is clean. In the bottom left corner the downward line extends faintly as much as 1.50 cm.The two humanoid figures are joined in two places.

3.1 Parallels and precedents

Humanoid deity figures with triangular shapes carved into pottery are unprecedented in Iron Age Israel and Judah. However, a review of related images and objects is useful in seeking to understand the meaning of the inscription on the Jerusalem sherd. There is the obvious restriction of the absence of text. While this makes the task difficult, it is legitimate to speculate on their identities based on the evidence both from archaeology and the Hebrew Bible.
Fig. 4  The female figure

The similarity of the female image to Late Bronze Age and early Iron Age plaque figurines has already been noted. Plaque figurines do trickle into the Iron II period as well, but they are unusual, especially following the fall of Samaria in 720 bce. Three plaque figurine moulds came from Tel Batash stratum III, with the date ‘securely anchored in the 8th century’ (Mazar and Panitz-Cohen 2001, 203), and several figurines came from Ashdodstrata VIII to VI, the 8th to 7th centuries and perhaps even the 6th century (Dothan 1971,fig. 64). Outside of the Philistine area, a few plaque figurines came from Megiddo, dated to Strata II and I (May 1935, pl. XXIV), and another came from Tel Ira in the Negev (Beck1999). It is perhaps noteworthy that both Holland (1995, 168) and Duncan (Macalister and Duncan 1926, 184) note the complete absence of plaque figurines from the Kenyon and P.E.F. excavations respectively in the City of David. Only one plaque figurine fragment ha sso far been reported from the Hebrew University excavations there, from stratum 16 of the Late Bronze Age II (Gilbert-Peretz 1996, 37, fig. 19:1, pl. 9:10).The triangular shape of the images on the Jerusalem sherd is also unusual, but there are Late Bronze Age antecedents. The most obvious of these comes in the distinctive LB II palm-and-ibex motif, where the decorative motifs contain animals, usually ibexes, which are sometimes painted as opposing triangles. Triangles are also a prominent motif in the geometric friezes that surround some of these vessels. Examples come from both north and south; for example, a chalice from Megiddo stratum VIIA has two ibexes standing against a central palm tree, all three elements based on the triangle motif (Loud 1948, pl. 72:3), and the Lachish Ewer from the Lachish Fosse Temple, dated to the 13th century BCE, has, in addition to the famous written dedication and several creatures and palm trees, two complete quadrupeds, an ibex and a fallow deer, whose bodies, like those on the Megiddo chalice, are drawn as two opposing triangles (Tufnell et al . 1940, frontispiece, pls LI A:287, LX:3, Hestrin 1987, 213). While the animals composed of inverted triangles on these LB II vessels bear resemblance to the female figure on the Jerusalem sherd, the male figure also has a Late Bronze Age antecedent from Megiddo where triangles are central to the design. Two sherds from the same area of the mound from two different expeditions have remarkably similar images of warrior figures carrying shields and weapons (Schumacher 1908, pl. 24; Loud 1948, pl.247.7). The sherd found by the University of Chicago expedition came from stratum VIIA in Area CC, in the south of the mound, and the Schumacher sherd came from the Südliche Burgtor; the areas are so close that Keel and Uehlinger suggest they may be from the same vessel (1998:60), though their different sizes make this unlikely. The Chicago sherd is the neck and head of a zoomorphic object, probably a kernos spout. The Schumacher sherd is much larger, too large to be from a kernos, and the vessel is not identified. For our purposes, the significance of these two sherds is in the outline of the male warrior figures,whose bodies are drawn in the form of an inverted triangle with striding legs, similar to the male figure on the Jerusalem sherd. Unlike our sherd, however, these figures have heads, hair, beards, faces and necks above the triangle, while the face on the Jerusalem sherd is inside the triangle. Another Late Bronze Age antecedent for the male figurine comes from the Egyptian style temple in stratum VI at Lachish, dated to the 13th to 12th centuries BCE (Ussishkin 1978,18, pl. 7.1; 2004, 259–267, figs 6.57, 6.58). A chalk slab, called Stone Slab I, found outside the side (south) entrance to the main hall of the temple, in room 3161, had a carved graffito of a standing deity figure wielding a long spear above his head with both hands. The figure has large eyes, perhaps a long beard, and a high conical headdress with a ribbon extending down from the peak. On another slab, Stone Slab II, from the same locus were two carved individual heads, one female and one male. The male head has a similar high conical head-dress, but without the ribbons, which appear instead on the female head (Ussishkin 2004,263–264, fig. 6.59). Keel and Uehlinger have identified the figure as a combination of Canaanite Baal and Egyptian Seth (1998, 76, and illustration 86), while more recently Ussishkin has identified it with Resheph (Ussishkin 2004, 267, following Clamer 2004, 1320).This interpretation has been rejected out of hand by Cornelius (1994, 162–163), who prefers to identify the figure as Baal. Like the bronze deity figurines cited above, the images on Stone Slabs I and II confirm both the centrality of the oval style headdress as a frequent element of male Canaanite deity images, as well as its generic use and inappropriateness for identifying any specific deity. The use of triangles in male figures does not appear in the Iron Age until their appearance in the Jerusalem sherd.

 3.2 The case for Asherah
The drawings and inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud are critical to any discussion of Iron Age religious imagery. At this site in the Sinai desert excavated by Z. Meshel in 1975 and 1976 (Meshel 1978) and dated to the early 8th century BCE, Yahweh and Asherah are famously linked in written inscriptions inked on pithoi and plastered walls. (Beck 1982,Dever 1984, Meshel 1992). These inscriptions contain references to all of El, Baal, Yahweh and Asherah. On the walls, El and Baal are mentioned together in one inscription (Zevit2001, 372–3735 ), while Yahweh and Asherah are together in another (Hadley 2000, 130–136, Zevit 2001, 373). On Pithos A drawings of two male Bes figures and a seated female figure playing a lyre are accompanied by an inscription referring to ‘Yahweh of Shomron and Asheratah’ (Hadley 2000, 121–125, 137–152, Zevit 2001, 390), while on Pithos B there were inked drawings of five worshippers and two inscriptions referring to ‘Yahweh Teman and to Asheratah’ (Hadley 2000, 125–129, Zevit 2001, 393–399). While there are indeed many illustrations from the little room at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud that are in association with the written inscriptions, including the Bes figures and the lyre-playing woman, their relationship to and identification with the Yahweh and Asherah referred to in the inscriptions is disputed (Keel and Uehlinger 1998, 240–241, Dever 1994, Hadley 2000,152, Zevit 2001, 388–389). For the purposes of this study, these inscriptions place on record a clear association of Yahweh and Asherah in the Iron Age II.The users of the caravanserai at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud were probably travellers from Israel and Judah to Egypt or the Red Sea (Meshel 1978).

Closer to Jerusalem is the site of Khirbetel-Qôm, south east of Lachish, where a late 8th century inscription was carved into the wall of a burial cave (Dever 1969–70, Zevit 1984, 2001, 359ff, Hadley 2000, 84–105). This short inscription also mentions Yahweh and Asherah (Asheratah) together (Zevit 1984, 39, 2001,361; but see Hadley 2000,104 [and 77–83], who suggests tentatively that the asherah referred to here is a cultic symbol rather than the goddess herself).6

In addition to the textual evidence for Yahweh and Asherah from Kuntillet ‘Ajrudand Khirbet El-Qôm, a widespread religious dualism in Israel and Judah from the tenth century onward is now well documented, with Megiddo, Ta‘anach and Arad being the  most prominent sites. At the Judahite fortress of Arad in the northern Negev desert, two incense altars, one large and one small, and two standing stones, one large and one small, 7 were excavated in the sacred niche of the Arad temple, destroyed in the late 8th century BCE  (Herzog 2002, 50, 67). Earlier at Megiddo, in the 10th century BCE shrine in room 2081 of stratum VA/IVB, there were several pairs of artefacts with one of the objects larger than the other, including incense altars, standing stones, limestone offering stands and fenestrated stands. The finds at both these sites are evidence of a dualism in the religious practice Iron Age Israel and Judah, with two deities being worshipped alongside each other (Gilmour 1995, 59–60; Zevit 2001, 220–225, 247–249, 312–313). The Ta‘anach cult stand excavated by Paul Lapp in 1968 (Lapp 1969, 42) has four tiers representing, alternately, female and male deities (Beck 1994; Zevit 2001, 319–325; Hadley 2000, 69–76). Here too there seems little doubt that the same dualism is represented.8
The many pillar figurines found in late 8th and 7th century sites in Judah add to the evidence for the strong presence of a female deity in the life and religious activities of the Iron II people. Many scholars are content to interpret these figurines as images of the goddess Asherah, small copies for private, domestic use of the larger Asherah pole or tree that evidently resided in the Temple until it was thrown out in the reforms of Josiah described in 2 Kings 23 (Holladay 1987, 276–278, Kletter 1996, 76–77). Other scholars disagree; Keel and Uehlinger note that the verbs used to describe their disposal identify the image as ‘a cultic symbol in the form of a stylized tree’ (1998, 335), while Moorey states that‘attempts to relate (the pillar figurines) to the … symbol of Asherah lack both conviction and any direct justification’, and suggests instead that they represent ‘nurturing’ figures(2003, 60). Context is critical here, and as both Holladay (1987, 276–278) and Kletter (1996, 58–67,fig. 32) have shown, the pillar figurines are found predominantly in private, domestic contexts (see also Dever 2005, 180–181). Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that any differences in appearance may be those of style rather than substance, with the pillar figurines representing small personal representations of a religious concept that took another, related manifestation in the temple itself, and which is there named Asherah in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, the presence of this dualism in 8th and 7th century religious practice in Judah is supported by many references in the books of the Hebrew Bible to this deity’ sun welcome presence (e.g. 1 Kings 14.15, 23; 2 Kings 17.10, 16; 2 Kings 21.3, 7; 2 Kings 23.4–15; Isaiah 17.8, 27.9; Jeremiah 17.2; Micah 5.14). A distinction has been drawn between the pillar figurines on the one hand, and the Iron Age II ‘naked goddess’ plaques and imagery on the other. The naked goddess in the eighth and seventh centuries appears to be largely confined to Judah’s neighbours. Rather than identify her as Asherah, Keel and Uehlinger suggest that this image represents Astarte (1998,336). Yet this seems to be an unnecessary distinction. Kletter has shown that the pillar figurines are tightly defined in time and space to Judah in the late 8th and 7th centuries(1996, 43–48). One needs to ask why the same goddess as represented in Judah by the pillar figurines should not be differently represented beyond her borders. Furthermore, the distinction between Asherah and Astarte is perhaps not as well made as some would have, and there is significant evidence that by the Iron Age the roles and identities of the goddesses Asherah and Astarte were being confused, combined and interchanged (Dever 1984, 28–29; Frymer-Kensky 1992, 159; Zevit 2001, 321–324; Hess 2007, 322). The longevity of the pubic triangle motif is further demonstrated by its presence at the Wasta Cave dedicated to Aphrodite near Tyre during the Hellenistic period, where again it is associated with palm trees, recalling Hestrin’s linking of the pubic triangle, the sacred tree and Asherah in the Late Bronze Age (Hestrin 1987, 215, Delcor 1976, 108; see also Hadley 2000, 152–153).9
While the incised sherd from Jerusalem appears to be the first appearance of the pubic triangle motif in Late Iron Age Judah, its appearance in the Wasta Cave shows that the motif and its association with a female deity maintained its significance in the region well beyond the end of the Iron Age.10
In the light of all this evidence, we may agree with Holladay when he says, ‘there is only one major goddess known to Judah during the later part of the Iron II period: the goddess Asherah/Asherata, possibly syncretized with, assuming, or confused with attributes of both ‘Anat and ‘Astarte’ (1987, 278).

3.3 The case for Yahweh

The male image on the Jerusalem sherd may similarly be interpreted in a number of ways, but it appears reasonable to conclude that the most likely candidate is Yahweh. As with the identification of the female figure, the inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qômare critical in providing textual confirmation that Yahweh and Asherah were worshipped together in the Iron Age II period. Keel and Uehlinger (1998, 349) raise the possibility of oblique references in the Hebrew Bible to the presence of practices that may have been connected to Canaanite El religion (Amos 6.7, Jer. 16.5) or worship of the god Mot, ‘death’ (Isaiah 65.4) but these references contrast with the usual pattern where the biblical authors show little reluctance to call foreign or unwanted gods by their names. Nevertheless, it is possible that such practices continued into 8th and 7th century Judah, where the list of  Josiah’s reforms in 2 Kings 23 includes a reference in verse 16 to the destruction of tombs that apparently were the focus of apostatical worship.There are brief references in the Hebrew Bible to Baal and Asherah together in 2 Kings 17.6, 21.3 and 23.4, but there is no evidence from the ground that Baal was being worshipped, let alone as a consort of Asherah, in later Iron Age Judah.11
The reform list in2 Kings 23 also refers to Molech and Chemosh, the gods of Ammon and Moab. But in all these cases, there is little support in the archaeological record for a central role played by these deities in Judah. The many horse and rider figurines from Judah in the 8th and 7th centuries may be related to a particular male deity, but again the absence of written texts describing them is restrictive. There are several interpretations, but most scholars agree that they have to do with the introduction of Assyrian astral cult (Kenyon 1974, 142; Keeland Uehlinger 1998, 343; see also Holland 1995, 184–187), while Moorey points to their popularity throughout the Middle East in the Iron Age and suggests that they may have no religious significance at all, but rather represent images of mere men and horses (2003,58–63; see now also Cornelius 2007, who proposes that they represent cavalry). Again, it is the text in 2 Kings 23 that suggests that these objects may have a cultic role, for verse 11 speaks of the king getting rid of horses and chariots of the sun. The presence of discs on many of these horse figurines, with and without riders, suggests that they represent these horses of the sun, though it must be said that there are few chariots among the finds. The images of the two figures on the sherd raise interesting questions about gender identity. While the pubic triangle clearly identifies the figure on the left as female, there is no such determinative identifier on the figure to the right. Nevertheless, there are several good reasons for identifying this figure as male in spite of the absence of a phallus. Perhaps most obvious is the size of the right hand figure, somewhat larger than its counterpart. But more directly, if the smaller figure is clearly identified as a female by the pubic triangle, what else could the larger figure be except a male? There does not seem to be any other option. If it too was to be female, we could legitimately expect it also to have a pubic triangle, but it does not.12
Indeed, from the waist down it is different in every way to its female counterpart — no second triangle, no pubic triangle, but rather two striding legs. The absence of any specific male genitalia in this figure may, ironically, further support its identification with Yahweh, for as some scholars have noted, Yahweh is portrayed in the Hebrew Bible with both male and female characteristics. Although God is normally represented as male and as a father, there are occasions where maternal imagery is used in portraying God’s compassion, devotion, loyalty and redemption (Frymer-Kensky 1992, 162–167; Gruber 1992; see also Trible 1978, 31–59). Frymer-Kensky takes this idea further, noting that in spite of the obvious grammatical and sociological presentation of God as male in the Hebrew Bible, nevertheless as God is not human, he is also not male, at least not sexually male, nor is he worshipped for his potency or virility, and, in contrast with male pagan deities, he is never portrayed nor described with a penis (Frymer-Kensky 2006, 393–394; seealso Baker 2003, 365). It is likely that these concepts were already so fixed in the mind of the 8th century residents of Jerusalem that the artist who carved the sherd represented his male figure as the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible, clearly male, yet unsexed.13
The overwhelming evidence, then, from both archaeology and the Bible is that there was a well established religious dualism in ancient Judah in the 8th and 7th centuries, and that the two deities involved are best identified as Yahweh and Asherah. This dualism was a significant element in a multi-dimensional religious system during the period of the monarchy that found expression in a variety of ways and where a number of deities were venerated …

The Mustard Seed blog “Yaweh and Asherah”,

introduces a g

ood article in the Biblical Archeology Review entitled “A Temple Build for Two: Did Yahweh Share His Throne With His Consort Asherah?“:

Ashrh (Asherah) is a goddess of Ugarit origins who was called, in Ugarit poetry, “she who treads the sea,” and is seen as the wife of the El, who was the supreme god and creator of mankind in Ugarit folklore. El is also the generic Hebrew name “god,” which is used to describe yhwh (Yahweh), “El Yahweh,” or “the god Yahweh,” or “The Lord our God (El).”

Eventually, in Hebrew folk religion (or popular non-elite religion), Asherah was replaced as the consort of El, the Ugarit god, to Yahweh, the supreme god of Israel (which eventually morphed into the only god in the universe in Israeli theology).

The author of this article, William G. Dever, writes:

Some of the most powerful evidence for this contention is in the Bible itself. The fact that the Bible condemns the cult of Asherah (and other “pagan” deities) demonstrates that such cults existed and were perceived as a threat to Israelite monotheism. Based on the Biblical texts alone, we can conclude that many ancient Israelites, perhaps even the majority, worshiped Asherah, Astarte, the “Queen of Heaven” and perhaps other female deities. Their sanctuaries (ba¯môt, or “high places”), we are told, were “on every hill and under every green tree.” (The phrase recurs numerous times in Kings and the Prophets.)

Some of the clearest physical evidence for the existence of a cult of Asherah is the growing collection of small house shrines. The technical name is naos (plural, naoi), a Greek word that means “temple” or “inner sanctum.”

The rest of the article goes on to describe a recent personal shrine discovered on the antiquities market which has a throne set up for two deities, more than likely for Yahweh and Asherah, based on the time period the author dates this piece, and the location in apparently came from.

The author than goes on to write:

In short, “true” Israelite religion was not “aniconic,” despite traditional scholarship and synagogue and church traditions that have maintained otherwise. I have recently argued that there are plenty of anthropomorphic symbols of Yahweh in the artifacts that have survived from ancient Israel…

Asherah was, of course, finally driven underground by the reformist parties that edited the Hebrew Bible. In its final form she is written out of the text. Hence, she disappeared and all her cult imagery with her when Jewish monotheism at last triumphed in the period after the Israelites returned from the Babylonian exile.f But Asherah was once alive and well; modern archaeology has in fact resurrected her. Her “houses,” now vacant, were once occupied. Here she was “at home” for many of the masses in ancient Israel.

Cross-reference the above article with the extracted article below by Jennifer Viegas:

THE GIST- God, also known as Yahweh, had a wife named Asherah, according to a British theologian.- Amulets, figurines, inscriptions and ancient texts, including the Bible, reveal Asherah’s once prominent standing. God had a wife, Asherah, whom the Book of Kings suggests was worshiped alongside Yahweh in his temple in Israel, according to an Oxford scholar. In 1967, Raphael Patai was the first historian to mention that the ancient Israelites worshiped both Yahweh and Asherah. The theory has gained new prominence due to the research of Francesca Stavrakopoulou, who began her work at Oxford and is now a senior lecturer in the department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter. Information presented in Stavrakopoulou’s books, lectures and journal papers has become the basis of a three-part documentary series, now airing in Europe, where she discusses the Yahweh-Asherah connection. “You might know him as Yahweh, Allah or God. But on this fact, Jews, Muslims and Christians, the people of the great Abrahamic religions, are agreed: There is only one of Him,” writes Stavrakopoulou in a statement released to the British media. “He is a solitary figure, a single, universal creator, not one God among many … or so we like to believe.”

“After years of research specializing in the history and religion of Israel, however, I have come to a colorful and what could seem, to some, uncomfortable conclusion that God had a wife,” she added. Stavrakopoulou bases her theory on ancient texts, amulets and figurines unearthed primarily in the ancient Canaanite coastal city called Ugarit, now modern-day Syria. All of these artifacts reveal that Asherah was a powerful fertility goddess. Asherah’s connection to Yahweh, according to Stavrakopoulou, is spelled out in both the Bible and an 8th century B.C. inscription on pottery found in the Sinai desert at a site called Kuntillet Ajrud. “The inscription is a petition for a blessing,” she shares. “Crucially, the inscription asks for a blessing from ‘Yahweh and his Asherah.’ Here was evidence that presented Yahweh and Asherah as a divine pair. And now a handful of similar inscriptions have since been found, all of which help to strengthen the case that the God of the Bible once had a wife.”
Also significant, Stavrakopoulou believes, “is the Bible’s admission that the goddess Asherah was worshiped in Yahweh’s Temple in Jerusalem. In the Book of Kings, we’re told that a statue of Asherah was housed in the temple and that female temple personnel wove ritual textiles for her.”J. Edward Wright, president of both The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and The Albright Institute for Archaeological Research, told Discovery News that he agrees several Hebrew inscriptions mention “Yahweh and his Asherah.”
“Asherah was not entirely edited out of the Bible by its male editors,” he added. “Traces of her remain, and based on those traces, archaeological evidence and references to her in texts from nations bordering Israel and Judah, we can reconstruct her role in the religions of the Southern Levant.”
Asherah — known across the ancient Near East by various other names, such as Astarte and Istar — was “an important deity, one who was both mighty and nurturing,” Wright continued.”Many English translations prefer to translate ‘Asherah’ as ‘Sacred Tree,’” Wright said. “This seems to be in part driven by a modern desire, clearly inspired by the Biblical narratives, to hide Asherah behind a veil once again.””Mentions of the goddess Asherah in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are rare and have been heavily edited by the ancient authors who gathered the texts together,” Aaron Brody, director of the Bade Museum and an associate professor of Bible and archaeology at the Pacific School of Religion, said. Asherah as a tree symbol was even said to have been “chopped down and burned outside the Temple in acts of certain rulers who were trying to ‘purify’ the cult, and focus on the worship of a single male god, Yahweh,” he added. SLIDE SHOW: Sacred Techs: Religion and Spirituality 2.0
The ancient Israelites were polytheists, Brody told Discovery News, “with only a small minority worshiping Yahweh alone before the historic events of 586 B.C.” In that year, an elite community within Judea was exiled to Babylon and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. This, Brody said, led to “a more universal vision of strict monotheism: one god not only for Judah, but for all of the nations.” 

You can also find some fabulous commentary on Asherah in the book The Early History of God Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, by Mark S. Smith in where he explains the history of Asherah as well as how the name asherah eventually morphed into a generic term essentially meaning “post,” or “idol” that was to be worshiped toward a specific god. See also Secret Identity of Israel’s Yahweh Revealed! 

First Publication: A Newly Discovered House Shrine Should We Ignore Unprovenanced Artifacts?
A long, sometimes bitter debate has been going on in BAR as to whether Yahweh, the God of ancient Israel, had a consort. One of America’s most prominent Biblical archaeologists, William G. Dever, says that in popular religion he sometimes did. Others question Dever’s evidence, even doubting his concept of “popular religion.”

The small house shrine published here for the first time provides significant support for the contention that the Israelite God, Yahweh, did indeed have a consort. At least this was true in the minds of many ordinary ancient Israelites, in contrast to the priestly elite.1 In what I call folk religion, or “popular religion,” Yahweh’s consort is best identified as “Asherah,” the old Canaanite mother goddess.2
Some of the most powerful evidence for this contention is in the Bible itself. The fact that the Bible condemns the cult of Asherah (and other “pagan” deities) demonstrates that such cults existed and were perceived as a threat to Israelite monotheism. Based on the Biblical texts alone, we can conclude that many ancient Israelites, perhaps even the majority, worshiped Asherah, Astarte, the “Queen of Heaven” and perhaps other female deities. Their sanctuaries (ba¯môt, or “high places”), we are told, were “on every hill and under every green tree.” (The phrase recurs numerous times in Kings and the Prophets.)
Some of the clearest physical evidence for the existence of a cult of Asherah is the growing collection of small house shrines. The technical name is naos (plural, naoi), a Greek word that means “temple” or “inner sanctum.”
Most of these naoi share several iconographic motifs:

(1) two tree-like columns flank the doorway into the inner chamber (the cubiculum);

(2) crouching lions serve as column bases near the entrance;

(3) a large, flat entablature sits over the doorway, occasionally painted in geometric motifs;

(4) doves with extended wings perch on top of the façade or parapet.
The examples recently published in BAR are only the latest to be presented to the public.a Not long after the Six-Day War in 1967, the distinguished classicist Saul S. Weinberg acquired a splendid example on the Jerusalem antiquities market.3 I happened to be with Saul at the time, since he was the outgoing visiting director and I was director-elect of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. Other examples have appeared in catalogs and scholarly analyses in French and German.4 These publications have been largely overlooked by most biblicists and even by archaeologists, perhaps because they are reluctant to address “theological” issues.
Most, if not all, of these examples are said to have come from Transjordan and are identified as Moabite (or perhaps Ammonite). They are generally thought to date from the ninth (or perhaps eighth) century B.C.E. According to an article in late 2007 by Larry Herr, the first well-stratified naos was discovered in the 11th–10th-century B.C.E. levels at Tall al-‘Umayri in Jordan.5
But there is also an indisputable Israelite example. It comes from a professional excavation led by Père Roland de Vaux shortly after World War II at Tell el-Far‘ah (north), the early northern Israelite capital of Tirzeh. The naos was published in 1984,6 but has been largely overlooked by Biblical scholars until recently.
The new naos being published here in BAR (see First Publication: A Newly Discovered House Shrine) bears striking resemblances to the examples from the Moussaieff collection previously published in BAR, although it comes from another antiquities collector. These resemblances suggest to me, however, that they all come from the same source, probably Biblical Moab in southern Jordan (perhaps even from the same site, looted as long ago as the 1960s).
Before discussing the naoi from the Moussaieff collection and the one being published here, I should say that I have agreed to make these comments despite the predictable objections of some colleagues. I would not want to be the one to present these objects in a scholarly journal because of professional principles. Yet I am convinced that once artifacts of such potential significance are known to the public, scholars have a right, perhaps even an obligation, to draw out their meaning.
The Moussaieff naoi, like the one published in this issue of BAR, are so unexpected, so exotic, if you will, and so fraught with potential importance that some may regard them as the work of skillful forgers. Having examined a few of the naoi in private collections, I am convinced that they are genuine.
Both the Moussaieff naoi and the new one published here exhibit many of the same iconographic motifs:

(1) two tree-like columns with drooping fronds flanking the doorway;

(2) lion bases for the columns; and

(3) a dove with extended wings perched on the roof of the large façade over the entrance.
One motif, however, sets this new example— perhaps we can call it the BAR naos— apart from all the other Transjordanian (or Israelite) examples. It is the clear double throne in the cubiculum. I know of no other double thrones like this. Obviously it is for two figures, sitting side by side in a model temple.
Are the gods, in this case paired, “at home”? Who are they? And why are they not graphically represented, rather than only by the outline of the throne? After all, we have hundreds and hundreds of examples of graphically represented Iron Age terra-cotta figurines of deities.
Oddly enough, there is no description or even allusion to these naoi, or house shrines, in the Hebrew Bible. That they are model temples is beyond reasonable doubt. They are clearly miniature “houses for the gods,” as witnessed both by their clear architectural form and by the fact that in all West Semitic languages (Canaanite, Phoenician, Punic, Aramaic, Hebrew, etc.) the word ba¯yit/bêt is translated as both “house” and “temple.”
But what deity was worshiped in these house shrines? All of their motifs, fortunately, are reasonably well attested and understood. And nearly all are connected with well-known female deities, particularly Canaanite/Israelite Asherah and Phoenician Tanit (Asherah’s later reflex in the wider Mediterranean world).
The palmette capitals of the tree-like columns are not lotus-blossom capitals, as Weinberg and other classicists once supposed, much less “proto-Aeolic” capitals as William F. Albright thought. The late Israeli archaeologist Yigal Shiloh clearly demonstrated that they are stylized palm trees, especially typical of Iron Age royal and temple architecture.7 More recent research has shown that the symbolism responsible for the adaptation of the tree motif for columns in ancient Israel (and in Aramean and Phoenician monumental architecture) is probably deeply rooted in the old Canaanite identification of Asherah as a tree-goddess.
In an important article in BAR, for example, the late Ruth Hestrin brilliantly established the connection between the symbols of a stylized tree, a pubic triangle and a nurturing goddess. She even found representations in Egyptian art of the goddess with a tree trunk as a torso, a branch offering a breast to a nursing infant (in this case, the Pharaoh’s son).b
In short, these tree-like columns were thought to be particularly appropriate in model temples dedicated to the tree-goddess Asherah.To clinch the argument that tree-columns are associated with the goddess Asherah, in one of the Moussaieff naoi two **** female figures face directly to the front of the functioning tree-columns, complete with palm-volutes. Who are these **** females? Priestesses? Temple prostitutes? Unlikely. Ordinary human worshipers? Hardly. Most likely, these females are symbolic of Asherah, “at home in her house,” and beckoning to her devotees.
The most explicit link between these naoi and Asherah can be seen in roughly contemporary Phoenician examples from Cyprus. In one complete naos from Idalion, now in the Louvre, a **** goddess stands in the doorway and also looks out the windows.8
The identification of these house shrines with the tree-goddess Asherah is further buttressed by a second iconographic motif, the lion, which is also widely associated with Asherah. In one of the now-famous Kuntillet ‘Ajrud inscriptions found in the Sinai, there is a reference to “Asherah,” and a drawing portrays a lion. In the equally famous tenth-century B.C.E. Israelite cult stand from Taanach, Asherah is pictured between two lions with a hand on the head of each of them.
Thus, the lions as column bases and as guardians at the entrance to the naos temples are particularly appropriate as symbols of Asherah “at home in her house.”
Finally, the dove perched on the parapet of the naoi— presiding, as it were, over the whole cultic scene— is transparent. Everywhere in the Mediterranean world, the dove is the symbol par excellence of Tanit, the Phoenician and later Punic embodiment of Asherah (and also of her old counterpart Astarte). Hundreds and hundreds of such doves as symbols of Tanit and her shrines are known.9

During recent archaeological excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a fortified city in Judah adjacent to the Valley of Elah, Garfinkel and colleagues uncovered rich assemblages of pottery, stone and metal tools, and many art and cult objects. These include three large rooms that served as cultic shrines, which in their architecture and finds correspond to the biblical description of a cult at the time of King David. As to the identity of the deity being venerated, the The Hebrew University Press Release on the Qeiyafa Discovery « Zwinglius Redivivus:

The links between these naoi and the goddess Asherah lead us back to the original query about the identification of the unique double throne in the BAR naos being published here. That there are two chairs is clear from the two panels, emphasized by the clearly visible upright on the back. If this is a throne in a model temple, it was obviously intended for the observer to imagine two deities sitting there: Asherah— and who else but her consort Yahweh, at least in the Israelite example?
That Asherah was coupled with a male deity, especially Yahweh, in ancient Israel should be no surprise in view of the overall picture we now have of folk religion. Thousands of terra-cotta figurines are known from Israel and Judah. Virtually all of them are female, identified by most scholars as Asherah, either directly or seen as votives functioning in her cult. Yet not a single indisputably male figurine from a clear Israelite context has ever been found. What does this phenomenon mean? It suggests that while representational or anthropomorphic depictions of Asherah, the female deity, were widely tolerated, similar representations of the male deity Yahweh were proscribed.
In short, “true” Israelite religion was not “aniconic,” despite traditional scholarship and synagogue and church traditions that have maintained otherwise. I have recently argued that there are plenty of anthropomorphic symbols of Yahweh in the artifacts that have survived from ancient Israel.10 Yet if Israelite religion was not completely aniconic, there does seem to have been a certain reluctance to portray Yahweh himself, “in person,” as it were. That reticence may explain our invisible deities in the BAR naos: Only the outline of the double throne is depicted.
Recently, a terra-cotta pair of figurines seated on a sort of throne has come to light. It was acquired on the antiquities market and published by Christoph Uehlinger.11 It nicely illustrates what the throne on the BAR naos might have looked like if it had been portrayed rather than outlined.
I have already mentioned the one clear Israelite naos— from Tell el-Far‘ah. Like the other naoi that may have come from Transjordan, the Israelite example features tree columns topped by curving palmette volutes. On the entablature is a crescent moon and stylized stars. Like a dove on other naoi, these symbols are often connected with embodiments of the great Mother Goddess, specifically Astarte, as well as later Tanit.12 The Tell el-Far‘ah naos was probably dedicated either to Astarte or Asherah.
Although the Tell el-Far‘ah naos is the only complete Israelite example, another Israelite naos has recently been recognized from fragments recovered in 1935 at Megiddo. It is still to be properly appreciated. Only partially restorable, this naos features two tree-columns topped by female-capitals.13
Asherah was, of course, finally driven underground by the reformist parties that edited the Hebrew Bible. In its final form she is written out of the text. Hence, she disappeared and all her cult imagery with her when Jewish monotheism at last triumphed in the period after the Israelites returned from the Babylonian exile.c But Asherah was once alive and well; modern archaeology has in fact resurrected her. Her “houses,” now vacant, were once occupied. Here she was “at home” for many of the masses in ancient Israel.
Footnote ArticlesThe Untouchables: Scholars Fear to Publish Ancient House Shrine
BAR 31:06, Nov/Dec 2005 Understanding Asherah—Exploring Semitic Iconography, by Ruth Hestrin
BAR 17:05, Sep/Oct 1991 The Universal God, by André Lemaire
BAR 31:06, Nov/Dec 2005

A lengthy analysis of the Phoenician “sign of Tanit” is to be found in Joanna Stuckley’s “Tanit of Carthage“. See e

xcerpt below from Tarnit of Carthage:

“Tanit and Asherah may have been associated as well (Brody 1998: 30). A later title of Tanit, rabat “Chief,” usually translated “Lady,” was also one of Asherah’s epithets and indicated the supreme status of both goddesses (Ribichini in Toorn et al. 1999: 340).

In Carthage at the height of her power and elsewhere in the Punic world, Tanit’s consort was Baal Ham(m)on, “Lord of Mt. Amanus,” identified with Canaanite high god El and later with Zeus (Clifford 1990: 61-62; Olyan 1988: 5). The Romans, however, equated him with their god Saturnus (Brody 1998: 22). Inscriptions before the 5th century BCE were usually dedicated to Baal Hamon alone. After the fifth century Tanit Pane Baal had joined him in the dedications and soon was being mentioned first. One example, from Carthage, reads: “To the Lady Tanit Face [Presence] of Baal and the Lord Baal Hammon, offering made by Bodashtart son of Hamilcar, son of Abdmelcart, son of Bodashtart, because he heard his prayer” (quoted from Harden 1963: 120). Not long into the 5th century BCE, Tanit seems to have supplanted Baal Hamon as main deity of Carthage, at least in the religion of ordinary folk. 

The details of Tanit’s nature and powers are not really clear. Like Astarte, she had a complex personality (Markoe 2000:130). First and foremost, she was the mother deity of Carthage, protector of the city and provider of fertility. As such she seems to have been a deity of good fortune. Goddess of the heavens, she was often associated with the moon (Benko 2004: 23). Like Asherah, she had maritime connections and was a patron of sailors (Brody 1998: 32-33; Betlyon 1985: 54). There is also some indication that she had a warlike nature, as we would expect of the protector of a city (Ahlström 1986: 311). 

On carvings, Tanit’s presence was often signaled by dolphins or other fish as befitted her patronage of sailors.[5Fertility symbols also abounded: pomegranates, palm trees, bunches of grapes, grain, leaves, and flowers. Indicators of her celestial connections were the crescent moon and sun. A caduceus entwined with what look like snakes might refer to Tanit as “She of the Snake” or, as one scholar has suggested, it might be a stylized version of Asherah’s sacred tree (Carter 1987: 378). Often, dove-like birds appear (Benko 2004: 24; Moscati 1999: 139). On some stelae an enigmatic open hand might suggest the delivery of a blessing (Azize 2007:196). In addition, Tanit was depicted in winged form in a cult cave on the Spanish island of Ibiza (Lipiński 1995:424-425; Ferrer 1970).

Many stelae feature the so-called “Sign of Tanit,” perhaps a stylized human body, formed by a triangle topped with a circle, the two shapes being separated by a horizontal line usually with upturned ends. Sometimes it also included a crescent (moon?). Since the circle occasionally had a human face sketched on it, the “Sign of Tanit” is generally accepted as representing the goddess, though some think the circle to be the disk of the full moon …”

Read more on the cult of Tanit in this vein from Eternal Mistress of Carthage, Punic Cult of the City Goddess, Journal for Interdisciplinary Research on Religion and Science, No. 8, January 2011, 193


“Early in the sixth century some powerful Phoenician families had come to Carthage because they had been driven out of Tyre by Assyrian invaders.12 At about this time Carthage began to close African and Spanish waters to Greek traders, since the decline of the Phoenician and Athenian navies had left her practically without a maritime rival; the western Mediterranean became almost a Carthaginian lake.

The cult of Tanit, the Cartheginian Goddess, can illustrate well the process epitomized above because it allows the possibility to understand better the Punic cultural model of North Africa, which includes Phoenician, Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and lately, Roman cultural elements as well. Her cult arose in the Punic world but was closely connected with the Near Eastern and Semitic religious beliefs. I would like to support the opinion that Tanit, through the above mentioned migration processes, was the Great Mother goddess of the Western Phoenician world and she was great mistress of Carthage.

A large number of Punic art objects which have survived come from these particular funerary areas in sanctuaries and cemeteries, which were called “tophets”. 14 Punic religion was rooted in the religious beliefs of the ancient near Eastern and Semitic worlds. In these cultural models the religious aspect was the most important as the irrational mythopoetical comprehension was dominant over the secular mentality.15 As stated earlier, the appearance of religious themes in Phoenician art preeminently served a practical purpose and only a minor aesthetic one.

The cult of Tanit, though evidence for it outside of Carthage is sparse, was of great importance to the “new city.” Perhaps the legend of Dido, the Phoenician queen, drove the city to choose a female goddess as its symbol, borrowing from other Eastern societies their own protective female goddesses.16 In Carthage, the cult of Tanit spread from the beginning of the V c. B.C..

For example, the little monument of Thinissut was discovered in the ruins of a sanctuary dedicated to Tanit. In the dedication of the neo-Punic temple of Bir-bou-Rekba, which is noteworthy because of its antiquity, the name Tanit is followed by the name of the god Baal, the male supreme deity of the Carthaginians, suggesting, perhaps, a holy connection between the two17. In the ex-votos in Carthage’s tophet, thousands of dedicated texts were found dated over two or three centuries. The sanctuary at Sarepta dedicated to Tanit Ashtart (Astarte)18, a precinct on Malta contains engraved ceramic fragments dedicated to the goddesses Tanit and to Astarte19. Incredibly, the name of Tanit appeared in Minoan text as Ti-ni-ta, in recording offerings to various gods.20

In Carthage, in the IV c. B.C., Tanit was mentioned either alone or before Ba’al Hammon in the sacrificial dedications which show her prominence. She was depicted as a robed human figure. The symbol is shown on cippi as well as stele from Carthage and on sacrificial monuments from southern Italian sites. She was also a common figure in other iconographical themes, so much so that she is generally regarded as a symbol of the city of Carthage itself.21 

Tanit, because of her prominence, was a great mother goddess of this state, who gave to it a living force and protected its population. Parallels can be easily found in the emblems of the mythopoetical interpretation of reality of the Western and Eastern Semitic worlds. In these cultural models, an irrational mythopoetical understanding was dominant over a more secular one.22 That comprehension is why divine forces determined and ruled the everyday lives of these communities. For example, Gatumdag was the ‘Mother of  Lagas,’ Ninsina, the ‘Lady of Isin,’ Ninmah, the ‘Lady of Kes.’ Ninhusagen, the ‘Magnae Matres,’ Arurua, Nintu, the ‘Mothers of Land,’ were the ladies who both gave birth and protected those states.23 In the ancient traditions of these areas, these ‘Mothers’ were also associated with kingships.24 

The goddess Asherat was a main supreme deity of Tyre, the state from which the migration processes started in Northern Africa. She protected this town and was the ‘great lady of the sea.’ Punic Tanit, as Egyptian Isis, seemed to have been a ‘sea goddess’ too; boats were offered to her as ex-votos.

Elath was worshipped in Sidon as the ‘great Mother of Sidon,’ in the same way as Astarte-Baalat, ‘the great goddess of Byblos.’ They were both ‘Magnae Matres’.25 In this case, Tanit could be associated with the great mother of Carthage; the theonyme ‘TNT’ was derived from the Phoenician ‘itn’ which means ‘donor’ and ‘to give,’ which we can interpret as the ‘lady who gives the living force.’26 Tanit seems to be a syncretic goddess….

Since very ancient times (IV-III mill. B.C.), the archetype of the Oriental primordial mother goddess was the matrilineal supreme deity associated with various aspects of worship. She was the goddess of fertility, reproduction, nature and animals as well as of mortuary rituals. Later, during the II mill. B.C., the goddesses of the ‘younger generations’ adopted these aspects of worship. It often happens in the history of pantheons, that younger gods whose cults evolved during the historical times, eclipse the older ones as referents of adoration. In these cases, Tanit was one of the goddesses of the ‘younger generation.’
An inscription from a shrine at Sarepta, which consists of a dedication and statue to Tanit-Ashtart, is the first clear example of her name in an eastern context.27 The absence of eastern evidence for Tanit is remarkable. A stele from the II c. B.C. was found above a tomb shaft on the hill of St. Monique at Carthage, which was erected in honor of Astarte and Tanit Libanon.28  ‘Tanit Libanon’ means ‘the white mountain.’ The epithet reveals that she was the great mother of Oriental  origin, whose cult was associated with the mountains, the pillars and the stones.29

As stated earlier, TNT was connected with the root ITN, which means ‘to give.’ The text number 347 of the Proto Canaanite inscriptions of Sinai, used the name TNT as an epithet to qualify Asherat, ‘the lady of the sea monster of dragon.’ From this, one could conclude that Asherat (Astarte) became the supreme deity of Carthage with the name Tanit, in other words, she became the Lady of Carthage.30 In my opinion, from the evidence above, the Phoenician colonists, in their new founded emporium, began to worship with a special cult, the mother goddess who was one of the goddesses of the ‘younger generation’ arising from the Eastern primordial great mother.

3. The Symbols

The Lady of Carthage was closely related to funerary and fertility deities. In the votive steles from plot-Toffets dedicated to Tanit there are different symbols connected with her cult.
The cult’s sculptures and emblems of the goddess Tanit were made according to Punic plastic norms. In these vaguely anthropomorphic representations, Tanit’s motif was composite, unifying symbols from the Near East and Mesopotamia into a new motif or emblem, that becomes sacred in Carthage. The symbols which I will discuss as emblematic of Tanit are: the raised-arm figure, the triangle, the circle, the breast-motif, the united crescent and disk, and, finally, the hand motif.

The most common symbol of the goddess Tanit, spreading in North Africa and the Western Mediterranean, was a figure with its arms raised in blessing.31 

The origin and parallels to this gesture one can find in ancient Near Eastern and Mesopotamian art, where goddesses were represented with their arms raised in blessing. Interesting parallels to our findings can be found in representations of goddess’ symbols from the island of Mochlos (Crete, late Minoan I). There, a schematic figure of a female appears, whose arms are raised in blessing and whose wings are in the shape of a double axe.32 

The ‘sign of Tanit’ is the name of this symbol found on thousands of stelae. Her symbols are simple geometric designs of the triangle, circle, schematic representations of the breast-motif, and crescents and horns.33 These female figures appear also on the stelae cippi, holding their breasts. We cannot be certain, but it seems likely, since the holding of the breasts was a common symbol of the mother goddess from the ‘older generation,’ that this gesture was adopted by Tanit as a goddess of fertility in the ‘newer generation’ in the Punic world, which is how one could conclude that these are also images of Tanit. A terra cotta plaque from Carthage showing a woman with a disk could also be a representation of Tanit.34 The symbol of the triangle takes its origin from the Neolithic times. We find triangles in Ubaid (IV mill. B.C.), which are schematic representations of the uterus. We connect these examples too with the fertility cult of the Great mother. In Egypt, the symbol of the triangle connects to the cult of the Great Mother Goddess.35 The triangle also appears in as a symbol of female fertility in Cyprus in the eneolithic times as well as in sculptures from Phoenicia.36

Another symbol of Tanit is the sign of the bottle, which could be the symbolic representation of a child to whom she gives birth. The birth motif connects the goddess with the natural cycle of birth, death and rebirth which relates not only to the cyclical seasons but also to the ancient belief in an afterlife. As evidence of this strong belief in Punic society there existed the ritual sacrifice of the first born to Tanit so as to insure the success of future children and generations. This one ritual alone neatly relates her to the archetype of the great mother goddess. She gives life to her children and take them back as victims into her womb.

Tanit’s sculptural figures varied. Some of them recall the mother goddess from the Near East, ‘Dea Nutrix’ Tanit, who appears nursing a child with her milk. This theme of the nursing mother was common in Mesopotamian, Near Eastern, Syrian, Egyptian, and later in Etruscan art. For example, the Etruscan cinerary stature from Chiusi of a seated mother holding her child, the mother Matuta, is very similar to the Punic mother goddess figure, as are the votive statuettes of mothers holding their children from Veii.

In one sculpture, the great mother goddess Tanit is represented seated on a throne. It is not an accident that the greatest mother goddess of the early cults was named Isis, meaning ‘the seat’ or ‘throne.’ The throne becomes the sacred symbol of the Great Mother, who has receded into the background and it is on this throne that the king sits.42 The mother goddess, by sitting on a throne, ‘takes her possession’ of the earth43. In early times the throne was associated with the mountain as a symbol of power.44 Tanit, as a great mother, had her own throne, decorated with a sphinx motif, underlying Tanit’s magic power over nature and humans. I propose that Tanit, through her motherhood, was the prototype of the woman who gave a living force to her stock.

[Ed. note: This association of Tanit seated on a throne with a mountain and as a symbol of power is identical to that of the Chinese (Korean and Japanese) mythical figure of Xiwangmu - the Queen Mother of the West.]

In Mesopotamian and Egyptian art, the mother goddess protected kings, who took their power from her. Images of the goddess feeding the ‘king infante’ with her milk represent symbolically the goddess’ power. In still another sculpture, Tanit was represented as a gloomy woman with the face of a lion holding a disk in her hands. Perhaps this represents her warrior aspect. Both the image of the lion and the warrior appear on other goddess images. The Phoenician Astarte would sometimes appear as a warrior.45 The lion image surfaced in the Egyptian goddess Sekhet who was generally depicted in the form of a woman with the head of a lioness.46
In the representations of Sekhet-Bast-Ra, she appears with the head of a lioness and wings.47

Carthaginian funerary sculptures are the result of this tradition. The tradition of sarcophagi decorated with figures survived in the Punic capital through the Hellenistic era …

It is suggested from examinations of the earliest ancient coinage with the symbols that the Tanit symbol did not originate in the Punic West but originated in the East (possibly Egypt) …

see p. 123- 124, “Ancient Coins of the Graeco-Roman World: The Nickle Numismatic Papers” by Waldemar Heckel, Richard D. Sullivan, Colin M. Kraay

For a long time, the “Tanit Sign” was also considered to be limited to the Punic West. Quite recently, however, examples have been found in the East… example of a coin of Ascalon (no. 49), which many quote as the representation of the “Tanit Sign.” Reviewing the whole series of coins to which this unique example belongs, I am inclined to interpret the sign as an unfinished Tripod-altar. Another coin, with the “Tanit” on the obverse and a club on the reverse, of uncertain mint, and kindly described to me by Dr Ariel Kindler, cannot be checked because it was stolen from the Tel Aviv Museum. Since the type is known on Punic coins, I am inclined to put this one in the West, although, as far as I know, it was found in the East. Dates are important in our problem. There is no more than a century separating the earliest Punic “Tanit Sign” from the inscription which mentions the deity Tinnit, the very first reference to the lady in the East. Many believe the origin of the “Tanit Sign ” was in the East, in the genre of the Egyptian-Phoenician Ankh Sign, such as we see on the coins of Cyprus (no. 50). A rather unusual document links the “Tanit Sign” with the Ankh. Described as an Egyptian scarab of the seventh century B.C. (no. 51), manufactured for Punic consumption, it is decorated with four “Tanit Signs” and one Ankh. Obviously, the artist’s error was in making an Ankh instead of a “Tanit Sign,” not vice versa. Thus, we may have the “Tanit Sign” earlier in the East than in the West. It is amusing to see, in an example of Nachleben that the “Tanit Sign” on the late antique cover of the Nag hammadi Codices is on an Egyptian document (no. 52).

The Eastern coins offer innumerable opportunities to study the influence on the West.”

In this regard, we have the writing of Pierre Cintas “Sign of Tanit, interpretations of a symbol” which posits that the origin of the sign of Tanit lies in the Egyptian symbol of the Ankh.

It is impossible to support the view that a number of the symbols erroneously called the “sign of Tanit” do not incorporate the ankh sign, which was known to the Carthaginians at that time. it cannot be positively stated that the sign does not represent a votary, when a cippus which I excavated myself, dating back at least to the fifth century B.C., proves the contrary. It cannot be denied that several versions of the symbol, probably by association with the knot of Isis’s girdle, are simply female fertility symbols

The lower half of the symbol, with its lateral appendages representing incense-burners, unquestionably represents an altar, since this is proved by an altar-cippus of fifth century date from the sanctuary, although it has a baetylic column on top instead of a disc. It cannot be argued that the astral baetyl, which probably never had anything to do with the female symbol, is not interchangeable with the baetylic column. Another altar-cippus of similar shape and date actually shows the symbol itself with an astral baetyl on top. Carved in detail on the stone (unlike some examples, which are finished with little more than the bare outline of a simple contour), this specimen is one of the richest, if not the earliest, sources of information for an enquiry into the components of the “sign of Tanit”. On the slab of one altar a whole temple is shown. The incense-burners on each side are in this case the fire-altars in 7 front of the entrance, just as they appear on another cippus from the sanctuary which, precisely, reproduces a temple, and on some of the stelae from Sousse. In other cases they take the form of acroteria at the ends, thus forming a horned altar. The steps on the back are those of the stair by which the image of the deity, in the baetylic form of a bottle, a column or a disc, is approached. Finally, to call this symbol the “sign of Tanit” is a fundamental error. In the sanctuary at Constantine, which, judging by the number of votive inscriptions, was dedicated to Baal Addir and Baal Hammon, the symbol appears just as frequently. It is regularly seen on stelae dedicated to these gods alone, and on the other hand is frequently absent from stelae happening to invoke Tanit. The sanctuary at Carthage itself, according to indisputable epigraphic evidence, was originally dedicated to Baal Hammon. At the top of one of the earliest examples of the famous sign17 the written word “Baal” is actually engraved on the stone instead of the astral disc. It was not until the fifth century that Tanit, who appears to be the result of an ill-defined Punic syncretism, infiltrated (timidly at first) into the sanctuary, and succeeded in a remarkably short time in asserting her own undisputed supremacy there — a development which was not apparent anywhere else. In defense of those who are responsible for naming this diagram the “sign of Tanit”, it must be admitted that this intrusion occurred at a time when a parallel syncretism was clearly taking place in the realm of symbolic imagery.”

Another piece of writing in support of an Egyptian origin of Tanit from the Egyptian goddess Neith (daughter of Ptah with whom the symbol of the Ankh and djed is associated),  is: “Neith as Ta-nit, Isis, Nin-Har-Sag  & the Egyptian Ankh” January 13, 2010, and tracing it further ultimately to an African origin in the Bantu-Akan people.

The symbol of the circle on top of the triangle or trapezium as the case may be, is explained as a female symbol in “Christian Symbols: the Cross as a Religious Sign in History” by Dr M D Magee, excerpted below;

“Ancient religions identified god with the sun, as the giver of life, and so the cross is often associated with the solar disk. A notable Pagan cross is the “ankh” or “crux ansata”, the religious symbol of the ancient Egyptians. Its forerunner was found on the borders of the river Nile. The “Nileometer” was a horizontal piece of wood fastened to an upright beam to indicate the height of the water when the Nile flooded. If the river did not reach that height, then the people could look forward to hardship. The land would not be adequately watered and partial or total crop failure would result. The cross that was the Nileometer stood for life and death to the Egyptians long before it had its symbolic meaning for Christians.

When the short top arm of the cross was missing, it was no less a cross. It was then the “tau” or “taw” cross. Sometimes such a cross had a male head, making it look remarkably like a modern crucifix, in which the body of the crucified god is merged with the cross. Even more commonly, the male and female symbols were combined in the act of penetration when the tau cross was topped by a ring or oval shape standing for a woman’s vulva. This was the actual crux ansata, the Egyptian symbol of life—the Egyptian cross was originally a sex-emblem.

A cross was worn as a charm by Egyptian women—Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead and the underworld, is sometimes represented holding out this cross to mortals signifying the life to come. Countless Egyptian human images hold a cross in their hands. The Egyptian saviour, Horus, is shown as an infant sitting on the knee of Isis, his virgin mother, with a cross carved on the back of her chair. Or he is shown with a cross in his hand. An Egyptian mummy wears a cross upon a skull. In the cave of Elephantine a figure destroying a crowd of infants, carries a crux ansata, a mitre and a crozier. The Egyptian priest wore the crux ansata as a Pallium, the head passing through the vestment at the oval or yoni, just as the priests of the Catholic church wear their mass vestment.

By the side of one of the inscriptions in the temple on the Island of Philas are a crux ansata and a maltese cross, and they are seen also in a Christian church in the desert to the east of the Nile. The god, Saturn, was represented by a cross with a ram’s horn, and Krishna was suspended on a cross. On a Phœnician medal in the ruins of Citium are a cross and a rosary, and a lamb—the first symbol of the followers of Jesus. The priests of Jupiter Ammon carried in procession a cross and a box containing a compass or magnet called the Ark of the Covenant of God!

The cross was a religious symbol in the worship of Serapis, a composite of Osiris and Apis, and closely similar to primitive Christianity. The Christian “Latin cross” seems to be the cross of Osiris and Serapis. The Romans never used this Christian type of cross for crucifixions, they used crosses shaped like an X (Chi) or a T (Tau).

On the breast of an Egyptian mummy in London is a cross on a Calvary, a Meru, or Mount of Venus. Venus, the goddess of love, an aspect of the great goddess, Isis, is represented by a circle bearing a cross—still used today as the female symbol, a cross on an egg, heart or orb. The Latin cross, rising from a heart, like the Catholic emblem, the Crux in Corde, was an Egyptian symbol of goodness. The hieroglyph of a cross on a hill, associated with Osiris, stood for the “Good One”, in Greek Chrestos, a name applied to Osiris and other Pagan gods.



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