A GRAVEN IMAGE? OR JUST A STATUE?

A GRAVEN IMAGE? OR JUST A STATUE?

August 3, 2020 By Joseph P. Farrell

Judging from the articles I've received, this week may turn out to be a more than unusual week, and that's saying something since I specialize in "strange stuff." And one of this week's stranger articles was so strange I decided to lead off this week's blogs with it. It was shared by my colleague-in-strangeness, Bernard Grover, whom many of you are probably familiar with for his excellent posts and analyses of the Q phenomenon, or as we like to call it, the Qult (his term).

Now, as regular readers here know, I usually will link the article first, then cite a few passages I think are important, and then talk about them and offer my high octane speculation of the day. Sometimes, I precede the article link with a bit of "background context" preparation.

Not so today.  Today I am breaking with tradition, and quoting the article, without so much a hint of context as to what the uproar is about. So without further ado, here's the uproar:

“Unfortunately, this article is pure sensationalism that caters to popular, money-generating, demand, in presenting an unfounded and (at best) tentative identification as factual as he ignores existing professional research and studies, including avoiding reference to any of the publications by the excavators,” wrote Tel Motza excavation co-directors Shua Kisilevitz (Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University) and Oded Lipschits (Tel Aviv University), whose finds served as a major basis for Garfinkel’s article.

That's all the following article is: "pure sensationalism" that is nothing but a shameless grab for attention to generate some money. Worse than that, the Sensationalist-in-chief here is a professor at the Hebrew University, Yosef Garfunkel, and the purely sensationalist money-generating article he published was in Biblical Archeology Review, which is, of course, not a mainstream academic journal at all, but more of a magazine:

His theory was firmly rejected by all archaeologists who agreed to respond to Garfinkel’s premise. Some would not give it the time of day, while others said it is not coincidental that his article was printed in a mainstream magazine and not an academic journal.

So what's all the controversy about? Well, finally, here's the article:

Face of God? Archaeologist claims to find 10th cent. BCE graven images of Yahweh

About a decade ago Garfinkel’s team discovered what he said was a rare male head at his Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation in a layer that he says is securely dated to the 10th century through over 30 radiocarbon dated organic samples.

And just what did Prof. Garfinkel's archaeology team discover? Well... uhhh...  this:

The rider on horse figurine from the Moshe Dayan Collection

What we have is a very odd-looking figure, riding a plump little horse with stubby legs. Big deal.

Except, according to Professor Garfinkel, it may be a big deal, a very big deal:

What has led Garfinkel to believe that he holds a statue of Yahweh in his hands is a combination of an anthropomorphic biblical verse from the Book of Habakkuk, the fact that neighboring nations in the biblical era had national gods, and the relative scarceness of male figurines made of clay such as the one his team uncovered at his Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation, some 20 miles or 30 kilometers southwest of Jerusalem.

Uhhh... wait a minute... it's a statue of Yahweh? But I thought those graven images were Verboten.

Garfinkel acknowledged that the Bible is very clear on the prohibition against physical representations of god. Whereas neighboring peoples worshipped many gods, “the Kingdom of Judah was a different story and based on two concepts — that there is only one god and not many, and that you shouldn’t make a statute, a graven image of it.”

However, he said the distance between theology and what happened on the ground may be worlds apart. The Bible is rife with exhortations of leaders to the people of Israel to stop worshipping household gods and excavation sites are filled with remains of cultic deities.

Garfinkel said that the Canaanite tradition depicts the god “El,” a name also preserved in the Hebrew Bible, as an older god, a Zeus-like figure often sitting and holding a scepter. He believes that his clay figurine depicts a god unlike all others because the god riding a horse is “a totally different iconography, the horseman is something new,” he said. (Emphasis added)

Shortly after Garfinkel’s male figurine was discovered, the excavations at the unexpected temple complex at Tel Motza, 9 kilometers or 5.5 miles northwest of ancient Jerusalem, uncovered two similar heads, which were found near to horse figurines. (The temple complex, which would have been active during the First Temple period, is not documented in the Bible, nor is a similar compound discovered in Arad in the 1960s.)

Seeing the heads in the same context as the horses, Garfinkel was then reminded of another male horseman from former defense minister Moshe Dayan’s collection, now found in the Israel Museum. The Hebrew Univerity professor began to wonder: Are these figures related? Is this a god? And if so, which?Saying that since these presumed horsemen god figures were found in the Motza temple complex — and not at a home — ruled out that they were simple household deities. Therefore, the statues must have represented “the religion of the time” and its god, Yahweh.

Shortly after Garfinkel’s male figurine was discovered, the excavations at the unexpected temple complex at Tel Motza, 9 kilometers or 5.5 miles northwest of ancient Jerusalem, uncovered two similar heads, which were found near to horse figurines. (The temple complex, which would have been active during the First Temple period, is not documented in the Bible, nor is a similar compound discovered in Arad in the 1960s.)

Seeing the heads in the same context as the horses, Garfinkel was then reminded of another male horseman from former defense minister Moshe Dayan’s collection, now found in the Israel Museum. The Hebrew Univerity professor began to wonder: Are these figures related? Is this a god? And if so, which?

Saying that since these presumed horsemen god figures were found in the Motza temple complex — and not at a home — ruled out that they were simple household deities. Therefore, the statues must have represented “the religion of the time” and its god, Yahweh.

As one might expect, Professor Garfinkel has his detractors, who argue that the Moshe Dayan figurine of a rider on a plump horse with stubby legs simply is anachronistic:

But more strikingly, the god Yahweh, they said, simply did not appear in the region before the 9th century BCE. Garfinkel’s Khirbet Qeiyafa figurine precedes that date. Likewise, they state that Garfinkel’s closing argument, “denying the existence of horse and rider figurines after the 8th century BCE, is patently incorrect.”

The reason that Garfinkel associates the Moshe Dayan figurine of a rider on a horse is because Yahweh is so depicted in the book of Habbakuk chapter 3 verse 8.

For the sake of some high octane speculative questions, however, suppose Professor Garfinkel might ultimately turn out to be correct. Why would anyone depict Yahweh in such a very strange fashion, with protruding eyes, flat heads, and in the case of the figure on the horse, not only a flat head that also comprises most of the "body" of the figure, but also with appendages that appear to look more like tentacles and backward-bending knees? Is this simply a matter of style? The Moshe Dayan figurine's strange features would suggest that whatever is going on, it might stylistic, or it might perhaps represent a tradition of some sort. Who knows? If Professor Garfinkel is correct, it raises all sorts of questions. For example, it certainly is a strange imagery to invoke or resort to for the Yahweh that according to Genesis 3 walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Or are we looking at something, a tradition of some sort, that might have to do with those strange statements in John 8:44-45?

For the moment, this little archeological controversy appears to be headed for a resolution that says Professor Garfinkel is incorrect. But archaeological controversies of this sort tend to go away, and then return.

So for the moment, we have to file this on in the "we shall see" box.

See you on the flip side...