Jeremiah 17 – God, the Hope of Israel & The Kuntillet Arud Inscriptions: The Lord’s Asherah?

Canaan (now Israel) has been around since Noah, and Georgia came into existence in the 13th century B.C.  They are both right there by the Black Sea.  Therefore, Georgia, where that monk on the hill lives that we talked about yesterday, is probably just as evil and idolatry as Canaan was and still is.

City of Kedesh
The ruins of the ancient Canaanite city of Kedesh (alternate spellings: Cadesh, Cydessa) are located 3 km northeast of the modern Kibbutz Malkiya in Israel on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Kedesh was first documented in the Book of Joshua as a Canaanite citadel conquered by the Israelites under the leadership of Joshua.

Ownership of Kedesh was turned over by lot to the tribe of Naphtali and subsequently, at the command of God, Kedesh was set apart by Joshua as a Levitical city and one of the Cities of Refuge along with Shechem and Kiriath Arba (Hebron) (Joshua 20:7).

In the 8th century BCE, during the reign of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria took Kedesh and deported its inhabitants to Assyria. (2 Kings 15:29)

Later, during the 5th century BCE, Kedesh may have become the capital for the Persian-controlled and Tyrian-administrated province of the Upper Galilee.

In 259 BCE Kedesh was mentioned by Zenon, a traveling merchant from Egypt.

Between 145 BCE and 143 BCE, Kedesh (Cades) was overthrown by Jonathan Maccabeus in his fight against Seleucid king Demetrius II Nicator. It remains abandoned.

From 1997 to 2012, Tel Kedesh was excavated by a team from the University of Michigan’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in conjunction with the University of Minnesota, focusing in 2010 and 2012 on the Persian and Hellenistic Administrative Building.

According to Jewish tradition, Deborah the prophetess, Barak the son of Abinoam and Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, as also Heber, were buried near the spring beneath the town of Kedesh.

Eusebius, writing about the place in his Onomasticon, says: “Kedesh. A priestly city in the inheritance of Naphtali. Previously it was a city of refuge ‘in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali.’ The ‘king of the Assyrians’ destroyed it (2 Kings 15:29). This is (now) Kydissos (Κυδισσός), twenty miles from Tyre near Paneas.”

They’re close to each other (the Ancient Near East), but not just across the street, so how did they share their evil ideas?  The other day we talked about them writing on broken pottery/Ostraca. 

Jeremiah 17
God, the Hope of Israel

1 The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars;

“Horns of your altars” – the people of Judah have backslid so badly that their sins are engraved not only on their hearts but also on their altars – to be remembered by God rather than to be atoned for (see Lev 16:18).

2 Whilst their children remember their altars and their groves by the green trees upon the high hills.

3 O my mountain in the field, I will give thy substance and all thy treasures to the spoil, and thy high places for sin, throughout all thy borders.

4 And thou, even thyself, shalt discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee; and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn forever.

5 Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.

6 For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.

7 Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.

8 For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.

9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

10 I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.

11 As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days and at his end shall be a fool.

12 A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary.

13 O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.

14 Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.

15 Behold, they say unto me, Where is the word of the LORD? let it come now.

16 As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee: neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before thee.

17 Be not a terror unto me: thou art my hope in the day of evil.

18 Let them be confounded that persecute me, but let not me be confounded: let them be dismayed, but let not me be dismayed: bring upon them the day of evil, and destroy them with double destruction.

19 Thus said the LORD unto me; Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, whereby the kings of Judah come in, and by the which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem;

17:19-27 – an extended commentary on the Sabbath Day commandment (the covenant sign of God’s relationship with Israel (see Ex 31:13-17; Eze 20:12), probably the version recorded in Deut 5:12-15.

20 And say unto them, Hear ye the word of the LORD, ye kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates:

21 Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem;

Demetrius II Nicator
Demetrius II was one of the sons of Demetrius I Soter possibly by Laodice V, as was his brother Antiochus VII Sidetes. He ruled the Seleucid Empire for two periods, separated by a number of years of captivity in Hyrcania in Parthia: first from September 145 BC to July/August 138 BC and again from 129 BC until his death in 125 BC.

His brother Antiochus VII ruled the Seleucid Empire in the interim between his two reigns.

As a young boy, he fled to Crete after the death of his father, his mother and his older brother, when Alexander Balas usurped the Seleucid throne.

In 139 BC, Parthian activity forced Demetrius to take action. He marched against Mithradates I, king of Parthia and was initially successful, but was defeated in the Iranian mountains and taken prisoner the following year.

The Babylonian province of the Seleucid empire became Parthian, but in Syria, the dynasty’s grip was reassured under Antiochus VII Sidetes, the younger brother of Demetrius, who also married Cleopatra Thea.

King Mithradates had kept Demetrius II alive and even married him to a Parthian princess named Rhodogune, with whom he had children. However, Demetrius was restless and twice tried to escape from his exile in Hyrcania on the shores of the Caspian Sea, once with the help of his friend Kallimander, who had gone to great lengths to rescue the king: he had traveled incognito through Babylonia and Parthia.

When the two friends were captured, the Parthian king did not punish Kallimander but rewarded him for his fidelity to Demetrius. The second time Demetrius was captured when he tried to escape, Mithradates humiliated him by giving him a golden set of dice, thus hinting that Demetrius II was a restless child who needed toys. It was however for political reasons that the Parthians treated Demetrius II kindly.

In 130 BC Antiochus Sidetes felt secure enough to march against Parthia, and scored massive initial successes. Now Phraates II made what he thought was a powerful move: he released Demetrius, hoping that the two brothers would start a civil war.

However, Sidetes was defeated soon after his brother’s release and never met him. Phraates II set people to pursue Demetrius, but he managed to safely return home to Syria and regained his throne and his queen as well.

22 Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.

23 But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction.

24 And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the LORD, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work therein;

25 Then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain forever.

26 And they shall come from the cities of Judah, and from the places about Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south, bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and meat offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the LORD.

“Land of Benjamin” – Jeremiah’s hometown was located there.

27 But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the Sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.

The Kuntillet Arud Inscriptions:
The Lord’s Asherah?

The Hebrew word Asherim in Jeremiah 17:2 denotes either the Canaanite goddess named Asherah (the singular form of the word) or some object associated with pagan worship in Isaiah and Judah.

Of the 40 occurrences of the term in the Old Testament, only four of them refer to the proper name given to the goddess; the remaining usages all signify something either constructed of wood or planted.

We may assume that a wooden object – perhaps a tree or a pole – was used to symbolize the goddess in Canaanite religion.  The passages that speak of Asherim being “made” may refer to wooden figurines of the goddess.

Early Bible translations (the Septuagint and the Vulgate), as well as an ancient commentary (the Jewish Mishnah), understood Asherim to refer to a group of trees.  The translation “grove” in the KJV preserves the Septuagint and Vulgate understanding.

This tradition, while possible in some cases, is probably incorrect, since the KJV or Jeremiah 17:2 speaks of “groves by the green trees.”

The Canaanite Goddess Asherah is well attested in the texts from the ancient city of Ugarit, where she is portrayed as the consort, or partner, of El and the mother of other gods. 

Jeremiah’s condemnation of idolatry in Judah, particularly of the type associated with the Asherim, is illuminated by a cache of inscriptions found at a site called Kuntillet Ajrud, located 31 miles south of Kadesh Barnea in the northern Sinai.

Especially enlightening are three texts from this site that say, “I bless you by Yahweh of Samaria and by his Asherah,” ”I bless you by Yahweh of Teman and by his Asherah” and “to Yahweh of Teman to his Asherah.”

The Asherah cited at Kuntillet Ajrud may be the same wooden cultic object so frequently mentioned in the Bible.  It is more likely, however, that the use of the term here provides firsthand evidence for an idolatrous merging of orthodox Yahwistic faith and is a reference not to an idol but to a goddess, a supposed consort of Yahweh.

This is Canaanite paganism – precisely the type of idolatry and syncretism that Jeremiah was attempting to combat.

So I’m wondering how did they make pottery?