In a September 22nd, 2002 speech to visiting Christian Zionists, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asserted, "This land is ours... God gave us the title deeds..." However, recent scholarly research, including discoveries by an archaeological team from the University of Tel Aviv, not only deconstruct the Biblical Old Testament and Torah stories upon which this claim rests, but grant previously unthinkable credence to an ancient historian's claim that the Israelites of Exodus were actually the Hyksos, and therefore of Asiatic origin.
To trace the foundations of this ongoing Biblical bonfire, we must go back to 1999.
All hell broke loose in Israel in November of that year when Prof. Ze'ev Herzog of Tel Aviv University announced: "the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander the desert, did not conquer the land, and did not pass it on to the twelve tribes". Moreover, the Jewish God YHWH had a female consort - the goddess Asherah!
His conclusion that the kingdom of David and Solomon was at best a small tribal monarchy, at worst total myth, has made enemies for him in the camps of traditional Jewish and Christian belief systems. He asserts: all evidence demonstrates that the Jews did not adopt monotheism until the 7th Century BCE - a heresy according to the Biblical tradition dating it to Moses at Mount Sinai.
Tel Aviv University's archaeological investigation at Megiddo and examination of the six-sided gate there dates it to the 9th Century BCE, not the 10th Century BCE claimed by the 1960's investigator Yigael Yadin who attributed it to Solomon. Herzog, moreover, states that Solomon and David are "entirely absent in the archaeological record".
In addition, Herzog's colleague, Israel Finkelstein, claims the Jews were nothing more than nomadic Canaanites who bartered with the city dwellers.
The team's studies concluded that Jerusalem did not have any central status until 722 BCE with the destruction of its northern rival Samaria.
However, the real bombshell is Herzog's discovery of numerous references to Yahweh having a consort in the form of Asherah. Inscriptions, written in Hebrew by official Jewish scribes in the 8th century BCE, were found in numerous sites all over the land. For Yahweh, supposedly the "One God", to have had a female consort and, of all people, the goddess Asherah, is dynamite of wide ranging significance.
The Secret Identity of Yahweh
The use of Yahweh as the name of God has always fuelled speculation and philosophical argument. YHWH, sometimes pronounced Jehovah, is taken to mean "I AM" or "I AM WHO I AM". There is also the puzzle of the rule that his mysterious real name is not to be spoken.
The identification of the goddess Asherah (Asherat) as His consort somewhere within the original Jewish faith leads to some explosive conclusions about the identity of the Jewish/Christian God of the Cosmos, the one Monotheistic God with whom we are so familiar from western religion.
But before looking at Asherah, and what she means to the identity of Yahweh, it is worth taking a look at another goddess, Ashteroth. Her significance will become evident a little later. Referred to as an "abomination" in 2 Kings, Ashteroth was an important deity in the Near East pantheons.
To the Sumerians she was IN.ANNA (Anu's beloved) and is an important character in the Sumerian Epics. To the Assyrians and Babylonians she was Ishtar; Ashtoreth was her name for the Canaanites; to the Greeks - Aphrodite; the Romans - Venus. The most important equivalent however is the Egyptian goddess Hathor, who the Greeks identified with Aphrodite. Hathor was the wife of Horus, the God of War. Hathor is identified with the symbol of the cow, and statues of her in the 26th Dynasty (572 - 525 BC) in Egypt actually depict her as a cow.
Asherah, (whose name means "she who walks in the sea") supposedly consort of the supreme god El, was also referred to as Elath (the goddess). According to the Ugarit tradition, whose clay tablets contain the earliest known alphabet, she was consort of El, and mother of seventy gods. She is also associated with Baal and is supposed to have interceded to her husband, the supreme god, on Baal's behalf, for the building of a palace - in order to grant him equal status with other gods.
In the cuniform tablets of Ras Shamrah (Circa 1400 BCE) the head of the Pantheon was El; his wife was Asherat-of-the-sea (Asherah). After El, the greatest god was Baal, son of El and Asherah. Curiously, Baal's consort is his mother, Asherah. In the Lebanon traditions Baal is equated with Jupiter.
Carvings of Asherah in Syria show her wearing Egyptian head-dress. She was also referred to later as "the cow" - a reference to her great age.
Significantly, Baalat (an important Goddess at Byblos) is depicted in carvings as having cow's horns, between which is a halo. Baalat is in fact the form of Asherah when she appears alongside Baal.
But what does this say about the identity of Yahweh? The Bible has always presented a confusing picture of Yahweh. In the light of Herzog's discoveries and conclusions that Yahweh's consort was Asherah, it deserves a closer examination.
Exodus 6:3 states "And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by [the name of] God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name "I AM" was I not known to them." In the King James Version, "I AM" is translated as Jehovah (Yahweh) but means the same: "I AM". The use of "God Almighty" is a traditional translation of Shaddai, thought to have meant "Omnipotent", but arguably it could be linked to the Akkadian root word Shadu, meaning literally "mountains".
And El Shaddai is only one of the versions of God described in Genesis. El Shaddai literally translated means, "God the one of the mountains", but there was also El Olam (God the everlasting one) El Elyon (God most high) El Ro'i (God of vision).
The obvious question is, why did YHWH reveal himself to the patriarchs as El Shaddai? The answer lies in the religious traditions of Canaan, where Abraham is said to have lived for a time, and which were brought to Canaan by the Phoenicians. (In turn, the root of Phoenician religious tradition is Sumer).
God-the-one-of-the-mountains has a Sumerian equivalent. ISH.KUR, the youngest son of Enlil, means God the one of the far mountains. Ishkur was also known as Adad or Hadad in Hebrew, brother of Nannar/Sin, and was the pre-eminent God of Canaan - El-Shaddai.
According to biblical scholars who focus on the "P Source" for the old testament, Yahweh as a name is first used with Moses in Exodus, and is indicative of monolatory (exclusive worship of one of many Gods) rather than monotheism. The name Yahweh can also be translated as "I am who I am", literally a way of saying "mind your own business", a way of disguising his true identity. Yahweh does not appear until Exodus and, strangely, the god Baal is entirely absent in Genesis.
(El Shaddai is still venerated in the Jewish faith in the form of the Teffilin, one of two small leather cube-shaped cases containing Torah Texts, traditionally to be worn by males from the age of 13. The Teffilin are worn in a manner to represent the letters shin, daleth, and yod, which together form the name Shaddai.)
In Exodus 33:2 it states "And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite:
33:3 Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou [art] a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee on the way."
This Yahweh is prone to violence and seems to despise his chosen people. He is a perfect match for ISH.KUR (Hadad), whose land is occupied by the Amorites and Hittites, and is a known demonstrator of violence and contempt for his worshipers.
ISH.KUR's image, traits, and symbols match those of Baal. He is also anti-Babylon and anti-Egypt, as is Yahweh. And like Yahweh's, the real name of the Canaanite Baal (Hadad) must not be spoken.
On the basis of Herzog's discovery, the evidence within the Bible itself, the Sumerian, Phoenician and Canaanite traditions, the following is a logical conclusion and solution to the identity of the Jewish God of the Old Testament: ISH.KUR = Hadad = El Shaddai = Baal = Yahweh. (The Canaanite's Baal was also known as Moloch, who we will examine later.)
This indicates, as does Herzog's work, that the Jewish people evolved from polytheism to monotheism with the promotion of a god who had been known by a variety of names, into one supreme God, Yahweh (whose real name must not be spoken), and that they adopted for this purpose, not the supreme God of the Pantheons, El, but his son - ISH.KUR, Baal, Hadad, El-Shaddai, an entity who was in open revolt against his father El, and ultimately aided in this revolt by his mother and consort, Asherah, (also known as Baalat, Ashteroth, Elat).
This female entity was later merged by Greek and Roman traditions into Aphrodite and Venus, and known earlier to the Egyptians as Isis.
Once we understand this, the etymology of the name Israel - Is (either Isis or tomb) Ra (Head of the Egyptian Pantheon) El (Lord - Baal) - makes far more obvious sense than the convoluted "Yisrael" yarn from the Hebrew faith.
But what does all this do to the validity of the "Title Deeds" from God that Ariel Sharon refers to? Quite apart from the obvious conclusion that the god assumed to have given the "promised land" to his chosen people was just one god from a pantheon and not the alleged monotheistic only God of the cosmos, Herzog's findings corroborate theories that have been "out there" for some time.
Like Herzog, the historian Josephus (c. 37CE - c. 100CE) denied the account of the Hebrews being held in captivity in Egypt, but he went a drastic step further about the racial origins of the Jews, whom he identified with the Hyksos. He further claimed they did not flee from Egypt but were evicted due to them being leprous.
It must be said that Josephus has been vilified over the ages as a Roman collaborator by both Jewish and Christian scholars who have argued that the dating of the exodus of the "Hebrews" from Egypt in the Bible positively rules out their identification as Hyksos.
However, Jan Assmann, a prominent Egyptologist at Heidelberg University, is quite positive in his writings that the Exodus story is an inversion of the Hyksos expulsion and furthermore that Moses was an Egyptian.
Likewise, Donald P. Redford, of Toronto University, presents striking evidence that the Expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt was inverted to construct the exodus of the Hebrew slaves story in the Torah and Old Testament. His book, which argued this theory, "Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times" was Winner of the 1993 Best Scholarly Book in Archaeology Award of the Biblical Archaeological Society.
There is irrefutable evidence that the Hyksos, a mixed Semitic-Asiatic group who infiltrated the Nile valley, seized power in Lower Egypt in the 17th Century BCE. They ruled there from c. 1674 BCE until expelled when their capital, Avaris, fell to Ahmose around 1567 BCE.
The Hyksos in Egypt worshipped Set, who like ISH.KUR they identified as a storm deity.
Under the "inversion theory", Jewish scholars in the 7th Century BCE changed the story from "expelled" to "escaped" and as a further insult to their enemy, Ahmose, changed and miss-spelt his name to Moses, presenting him as leader of a Hebrew revolt. But there is also a strong possibility of two separate origins to the "Moses" character being merged into one, which I will come to later.
Ahmose's success in 1567 BCE led to the establishment of the 18th Dynasty in Egypt. ThotMoses III overthrew the transvestite Pharaoh Atchepsut, and under ThotMoses IV Egyptian conquests extended beyond the Sinai into Palestine, Syria, reaching Babylonia and included Canaan.
By the end of this expansion, Amenophis III (1380BCE) ruled an Egyptian empire whose provinces and colonies bordered what is now known as Turkey. This empire would have included the regions in which most of the expelled Hyksos now lived.
Amenophis IV succeeded the throne in 1353BCE. He established a new monotheism cult establishing "Aten" as the one supreme god and he changed his name to Akhenaton. Married to the mysterious Nefertiti, Akhenaton declared himself a god on earth, intermediary between the one-god Aten (Ra) and humanity, with his spouse as partner, effectively displacing Isis and Osiris in the Egyptian Enead.
Declaring all men to be the children of Aten, historians suspect Akhenaton planned an empire-wide religion. He banned all idolatry, the use of images to represent god, and banned the idea that there was more than one supreme god.
It is alongside Akhenaten and his father Amenophis III that we find the second Moses.
An important figure during this period was confusingly called Amenophis son of Hapu. He was First Minister (Vizier) to both kings. He is generally depicted as a scribe, crouching and holding on his knees a roll of papyrus. He more than anyone was responsible for authoring the religion in which the old gods were merged into one living god, Aten, who had been responsible for the creation of the Earth and of humanity.
The symbol of this god, the sun disk, represented Ra, Horus and the other gods in one. The sun disk, in symbolism, was supported between the horns of a bull. The Son of Hapu says this about creation: "I have come to you who reigns over the gods oh Amon, Lord of the Two Lands, for you are Re who appears in the sky, who illuminates the earth with a brilliantly shining eye, who came out of the Nou, who appeared above the primitive water, who created everything, who generated the great Enneade of the gods, who created his own flesh and gave birth to his own form."
The king's overseer of the land of Nubia was a certain Mermose (spelled both Mermose and Merymose on his sarcophagus in the British Museum). According to modern historians, in Amenhotep's third year as king, Mermose took his army far up the Nile, supposedly to quell a minor rebellion, but actually to secure gold mining territories which would supply his king with the greatest wealth of any ruler of Egypt.
Recent scholarship has indicated Mermose took his army to the neighbourhood of the confluence of the Nile and Atbara Rivers and beyond.
But who was this Mermose? According to historian Dawn Breasted, the Greek translation of this name was Moses. Does Jewish tradition support this identification?
According to Jewish history not included in the Bible, Moses led the army of Pharaoh to the South, into the land of Kush, and reached the vicinity of the Atbara River. There he attracted the love of the princess of the fortress city of Saba, later Meroe. She gave up the city in exchange for marriage. Biblical confirmation of such a marriage is to be found in Numbers 12:1. "And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman."
The end of Akhenaten's reign is shrouded in mystery, scholarship about which is beyond the scope of an article of this length. In summary, however, theories span from the death of Nefertiti from plague - Akhenaten's own death from plague or murder - to exile.
On clear record, in contrast, is the return of Egypt to the Enead of the gods and a systematic attempt to erase all vestiges of Akhenaton and his cult in Egypt.
Meanwhile, the expelled Hyksos, according to various historians, have been living in Canaan.
It is here that a solution to the Biblical dating problem of linking the Israelites to the Hyksos appears
Using the dating of the Biblical Exodus and comparing it to the Egyptian dating of the Hyksos expulsion throws up a gap of about 400 years. Using the dating systems of the books of Judges and Samuel, this gap can extend to between 554 and 612 years.
However, there is clear historical record of post Hyksos Egypt extending its empire into Canaan, the land into which the Hebrews entered and lived, according to Biblical sources, for 400 years before establishing the kingdom of Solomon.
The Hebrews living in Canaan were therefore under Egyptian rule. It is also here in Canaan that we can make a comparison between Yahweh and the Canaanite Moloch (Baal) and extrapolate a polemic inversion of the story of Pharaoh ordering the death of all the "first born" in Exodus.
The worshippers of Moloch sacrificed their first born children to their deity through immolation. Worshippers of Yahweh in Canaan were also known to carry out child sacrifice on occasion, especially in times of hardship, although immolation (holocaust) was supposedly frowned upon. Slitting the child's throat, however, was acceptable.
The sacrifices were carried out and the remains interred at sacred sites known at Topheth. Sometimes - although rarely, judging by the vast predominance of infant human bones found at Topheth sites by archaeologists - animals were sacrificed as substitutes.
Modern historical disciplines studying the biblical era uniformly conclude that Exodus could not have been written earlier than the 7th century BCE, and certainly not by the Biblical Moses who at best is a fictional combination of Egyptian personalities.
In Israel itself, 7th Century BCE is the period in which the archaeological evidence presented by Herzog suggests the emergence of Jerusalem as a cultural centre occurs.
By all accounts, it is a cultural centre struggling to find an identity and nationality for itself and, given the discovery of the Jewish texts displaying Yahweh having a consort in the form of Asherah, it is not difficult to piece this jigsaw together.
In 639BCE, Josiah, king of Judah, is known to have introduced wide-ranging religious reforms and brought additional areas of "Israel" under his control.
It is during this period that "polemics" against and "inversion" of a wide variety of religious and cultural sources are brought together to form a religious and political unity.
For Josiah's "inquisitors", where history is unheroic, such as the expulsion from Egypt in the form of the Hyksos, history is inverted. Where religion is bereft of moral unity, the cult of Aten is interweaved, satisfying existing belief systems within the region and bestowing upon the king, Josiah, the position of divine right through a lineage to Solomon and David - both replacements for Aten's ancestors and his temple-building reputation. Josiah also destroys the Topheth Temple said to have been built by Solomon in the Hinnon valley just outside Jerusalem, to the south.
Within this unifying mechanism, there are obfuscations to mitigate existing belief systems, which require the true name of God to be kept secret, and for which there is precedence in the cults of Baal and ISH-KUR, all part of the mish-mash of the region, and all designed to plaster over the holes in the new Yahweh-based system. An important separation of the identities of Baal-Moloch-Yahweh is implemented, although the evolution of ISH-KUR to Hadad to Baal to Yahweh does not remain disguised owing to the later polemic against Babylon written up as Genesis.
Well known in Egypt, including at the time of the Aten cult was the following passage from the Book of the Dead:
I have not robbed.
I have not coveted.
I have not killed people.
I have not told lies.
I have not trespassed.
I have not committed adultery.
I have not cursed a god.
Josiah's unification process takes Moses, an Ideogram combining the Ahmose who expelled the Hyksos, and the Mermose who led the Egyptian army to great victories, and credits him with receiving the Ten Commandments in tablets of stone. In reality these laws are an elaboration of the above declaration.
Add to this the fact that the obscure Egyptian king's "Hymn to Aten" is almost "word for word" Psalm 104 in the Bible and we have another compelling "coincidence".
These and other "coincidences" apparently convinced the renowned Psychologist Sigmund Freud, writing in his 1939 book "Moses and Monotheism", that the Jewish monotheistic faith had its roots in the Akhenaton cult religion.
Josiah's unification should of course be applauded. It outlawed the Moloch cult and emphasised the spiritual morality of the Ten Commandments. The polemics and inversions adding a heroic slant to the history of his people are understandable and politically astute.
But beginning c. 200CE, somewhere along the line, and unlike the Aten cult, supremacy of race is added to the Jewish faith.
In summary, however, it is Herzog's discovery of Yahweh's consort Asherah in Jewish texts and his declaration of an archaeological absence of Solomon or David that is the scalpel with which to slice through all the fictions of the biblical Exodus and its suggestion of divine right and supremacy. For that reason, Herzog must not be forgotten.
Even though his scholarship is ignored by the politics of modern day Israel, it contains a lesson for the rest of the world, and in particular for those nations who support Israel's supremacist doctrines.
Israel, modern, needs to face up to the fact that it has no "divine right" to the land it occupies. Israel must rely instead upon an equitable settlement in light of its undeniable modern day colonisation and conquest - a reality its opponents must accept but without straying outside the boundaries defined by international law - i.e. the 1967 borders.
It is a realist position, which most modern day western civilisations have come to terms with without claiming divine right or racial supremacy. They have accomplished this by recognition of human rights and an international standard of law limiting their behaviour (in most cases), reserving instead to a faith in the democratic institutions upon which their modernity and equitability is based.
Given the religious and cultural battleground upon which Israel is placed, its absence of recognition of modern reality, and in a world armed with nuclear weapons, until Israel - armed with those weapons - separates itself from doctrines of "divine right" and "racial supremacy", it will continue to be the breeding ground for a fight against racial and political injustice - at the centre of the modern-day world's geo-political processes - which could bring our entire global civilisation to destruction.
That surely, in the name of humanity, is reason enough to bring to an end such "biblical" fixations and dogmatism. It does not require us to abandon faith in God in order to do that. Our intuition of The Creator is as old as humanity and is not dependent upon a dusty old tome written by men and in the words of men.