The "Holy One"
A nude goddess
with a prominent pubic triangle or wearing a pubic covering stands
on a crouching lion. Her Hathor-style coiffure is topped by horns
extending to the side. She wears a necklace and bracelets. Her arms
are bent into a V shape, and she holds in each hand a long plant
(lotus?). Plaque from a tomb in Akko (Acre), Israel. Cast in bronze
in a mold and retains pierced suspension piece. Might have been
part of the face piece or bridle of a horse. Dated ca. 1550-1200
BCE. Lost (stolen).
Drawing © S. Beaulieu,
after Cornelius 2004: Plate 5.21
Qedesh[et], lady of heaven, mistress of all
the gods, eye of
Ra, without her equal
(Egyptian inscription, quoted by Cornelius 2004: 83)
A nude goddess, often standing on a lion and holding snakes, plants,
or both, is a very familiar figure to archaeologists working on Late Bronze
Age sites (ca.1500-ca.1200 BCE) throughout the Levant.
Plaques, pendants, and figurines of this goddess abound,
but it is by no means clear who she was (Cornelius
2004: Plates 5.19-5.62; Keel and Uelinger 1998: 66-68; Patai 1990: 58-60).
A few scholars have identified her with Anat, more think she was Astarte,
and some argue for Asherah.
Anat. Those who opt for Anat normally start from the assumption
that the beautiful, young female warrior was also a sex / fertility goddess,
and they usually base this view on a probable misinterpretation of at
least one of the mythic texts from Ugarit, an ancient city on the coast
of Syria (Wyatt 2002: 156-160; Patai 1990:
61; Coogan 1978: 108).
In addition, they take the figure's nudity to signal sexuality and fertility
(Stuckey 2005: 37; Cornelius 2004: 100).
Astarte. The proponents of Astarte's candidacy call one form of
the images "Astarte plaques" (Keel
and Uelinger 1998: 100-108; Patai 1990: 59). They explain this
identification in large part by Astarte's popularity in the first millennium
BCE as the Phoenician lover of the god Adonis and so as deity of love
and sexuality, of the evening star (Aphrodite/Venus), and of war.
Asherah. The case for the images representing Asherah derives
partly from the assertion that, in the Ugaritic texts, Asherah was called
"Lion Lady" (Wiggins 1991).
Primarily, however, some scholars think that some of the Ugaritic texts
referred to Asherah as the "Holy One," Qadesh(ah)
(Binger 1997: 54; Pettey 1990: 29; Cross
1973:33). And they use as additional evidence a group of Egyptianized
images usually called Qudshu plaques.
The close resemblance of the Egyptian goddess to the obviously very popular
Levantine goddess (Anat / Astarte / Asherah) is extremely striking. What
is more, several of these Egyptianized plaques bear inscriptions giving
the goddess a name: Qudshu or Qodshu, also Qedeshet and Qetesh, the "Holy
or Sacred One." Clearly, the Egyptians of the Late Bronze Age (ca.1550-ca.1200
BCE) worshipped this goddess both at home and abroad. As we shall see,
she probably originated in the Syro-Canaanite part of the Egyptian empire
and seemingly was adopted into Egyptian religion during the Ramesside
Age (1300-1200 BCE).
For many centuries before any of the Levant was incorporated into the
their empire, the Egyptians had contact with West Asia, usually for trade.
For instance, in historic times, Egypt maintained close relations with
Byblos, now in Lebanon, mainly for the valuable cedar wood that city could
provide. They identified the "Lady of Byblos" (Astarte?) with
Egyptian goddess Hathor, and the pharaohs regularly sent offering gifts
to her temple. In the third millennium BCE, Egyptian art began to depict
conquered Asiatics as rough, bearded, and often half-naked. Later texts
also mentioned them, often in derogatory terms; for example, "the
Between 2000 and 1700 BCE, Egyptian kings often campaigned in the southern
Levant and took captives whom they brought back to Egypt as slaves. Other
Asiatics migrated into the Nile Delta area in search of food when times
were hard. Many of them stayed and, of course, they brought their religions
In the early seventeenth century BCE, the unthinkable happened to Egypt:
Asiatics invaded and usurped the throne. Although they paid lip service
to Egyptian divinities, it is clear that their real allegiance was to
Anat, Baal, and other Levantine deities. These Hyksos, "rulers of
foreign lands" (Redford 1992: 100), had control of a large part of
Egypt for about one hundred years, reaching the height of their power
around 1580 BCE; they were not expelled until around 1550 BCE.
Then the native pharaohs began to create the Egyptian Empire, which included
at least the southern part of the Levant as, among other things, insurance
against a recurrence of Asiatic invasions. The Empire lasted until about
1120 BCE. Captive Asiatics poured into Egypt, as did Canaanite traders,
some of whom founded a temple for Baal and his consort Astarte at Memphis.
Soon, warrior pharaohs were worshipping Canaanite deities, especially
those associated with warfare, the goddesses Astarte and Anat and the
warrior Reshep(h). This was especially true during the Ramesside period
A number of Egyptian relief plaques from this period depict a fully frontally
usually standing on a lion and sometimes posed between the Canaanite warrior
god Reshep(h), an Underworld deity, and the Egyptian fertility god, ithyphallic
(Cornelius 2004: Plates 5.1-5.18; Binger
1997: 56-58; Pritchard 1969: 163-164 #470-474). The Egyptians called
her Qedeshet or Qudshu.
Qedeshet plaque. Nude goddess stands on a striding lion with ithyphallic
Egyptian god Min on her right (see note 10) and Canaanite warrior
god Reshep(h) on her left. With her arms in the V position, in her
right hand she holds plants out to the fertility god and, in her
left, she directs a snake at the Underworld deity. Her Hathor-style
coiffure is topped with bovine horns and disk. She wears a Hathor-style
neckpiece and a hip belt. The inscription on the front reads: "Qedesh,
lady of heaven, mistress of all the gods, eye of Ra, without her
equal." On the back occur other titles: "lady of the two lands [Egypt],
"child of Ra," "beloved of Ra" (Cornelius 2004: 83). Painted relief
carving on white limestone. Dated ca. 1300-1200 BCE. Louvre.
Drawing © S. Beaulieu,
after Cornelius 2004: Plate 5.4
That Qedeshet/Qudshu was "a proper divine name in Egyptian"
is indicated by the sign for deity, the cobra (Cornelius
2004: 84). Among her titles were "lady of heaven," "mistress
of all the gods," "beloved of [the Egyptian creator god] Ptah,"
"great of magic, mistress of the stars," and "eye of Ra,
without her equal" (Cornelius 2004:83-84).
According to these epithets, Qedeshet was a very great deity indeed, though
seemingly she was not included in the cultic practices of royalty and
the elite (Cornelius 2004: 86).
"Lady or queen of heaven" was an attribute shared by the greatest
of Eastern Mediterranean goddesses: Inanna and Ishtar of Mesopotamia;
Asherah, Anat, and Astarte of Syro-Canaan; Isis of Egypt; and Aphrodite
and Venus of the Greco-Roman world.
A number of these great goddesses were also called "mistress of all
the gods." Was Qedeshet a title of one of the three Canaanite goddesses
Anat, Astarte, or Asherah, or was she another separate deity? Again we
can turn to the Egyptian plaques for help.
Qudshu relief plaque.
With pubic triangle painted black, the nude goddess stands on a
lion, and both are painted yellow. The lion has a shoulder rosette.
The goddess holds in her right hand a red lotus flower, and in her
left a snake, originally black. Her hair is in the Hathor style,
and she wears a necklace and bracelets. Black cross-bands and girdle
usually indicate the carrying of weapons. Images of Mesopotamian
war goddess Ishtar often show her with cross-bands. The partly broken
crown is difficult to interpret. The title reads: Qedeshet, Astarte,
Anat." Painted limestone. Dated to the time of Rameses III (1198-1166
BCE). Once owned by Winchester College in England, but apparently
Drawing © S. Beaulieu,
after Cornelius 2004: Plate 5.16
One plaque is unique in bearing the inscription "Qudshu-Astarte-Anat"
(Cornelius 2004: Plate 5.16; Hadley 2000:
191-192; Pritchard 1969: 352 #830; Edwards 1955). Since some scholars
think that, at Ugarit, Qadesh was a title of Asherah, they have concluded
that Qudshu here refers to Asherah, since she is the only Canaanite goddess
omitted from the heading of the plaque. So they see this inscription as
evidence that the three Canaanite great goddesses were merging together.
Others argue that Qudshu in the inscription is presenting the two named
goddesses as examples of the state of sacredness. Yet others understand
from the inscription that the two were already merged goddesses: "her
holiness Astarte-Anath" (Patai quoted
by Hadley 2000:192). A few think that the third name indicates
an as-yet unidentified deity, "an independent goddess" named
Qedeshet (Cornelius 2004: 96).
Depending on how we interpret the inscription, we may now be able to identify
the so-called "Astarte plaques" discussed above, and, even if
there is still a little confusion, we can at the very least conclude that
they represent Qedeshet, a goddess who had some form of relationship with
Astarte and Anat.
In addition, it may help to realize that, aside from in the Qudshu plaques,
both Astarte and Anat were well known as separate divinities in Egypt
during the Ramesside period (1300-1200 BCE.), primarily as war goddesses.
Astarte and Anat were both daughters of the great sun god Ra or Re. In
one text, along with Anat, Astarte was awarded as wife to the god Seth,
often identified with the Syro-Canaanite storm god Baal-Hadad. Another
Egyptian text described both Astarte and Anat as "the two great goddesses
who were pregnant but did not bear" (Wyatt
in van der Toorn et al. 1999: 111). Further, an inscription at
Medinet Habu in Egypt described the two goddesses as shields of Rameses
III (Wyatt in van der Toorn et al. 1999:
Interestingly, in a late Egyptian text Astarte was called "Mistress
of Horses, Lady of the Chariot" (Quoted
in Wyatt in van der Toorn et al. 1999: 111). The many Egyptian
images of a goddess riding a horse probably depict her (Cornelius
2004: Plates 4.1-26; Wyatt in van der Toorn et al. 1999: 111).
At Memphis in Egypt, Astarte was identified with the Egyptian lion-headed
war goddess Sekmet (Cornelius 2004: 92),
and she had there her own shrine with its attendant priest.
Naked goddess of
the Qudshu type standing on a trotting horse. She has shoulder-length
locks secured by a headband, but wears no jewelry. Her crown has
two horns sticking out sideways and others stretching upwards. In
the middle are Egyptian-style feathers. She carries two lotus flowers
in each hand. Her eyes were originally inlaid. The horse has two
ostrich feathers on its forehead and is covered with an ornate blanket
or perhaps armor. The goddess might be Astarte, who was most often
associated with horses. Possibly the plaque would have been attached
to a screen in a cult niche of the temple in which it was found,
on the acropolis at Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir), Israel. Gold foil
(92% pure) torn into five pieces and wadded together, probably ritually
deactivated and discarded. Dated to the twelfth century BCE. Israel
Drawing © S. Beaulieu,
after Hadley 2000: 162
A stele depicting Anat was found in a temple built by Rameses III at
Beth-shean (Beth-shan, Beisan), an Egyptian military post in Israel
(Cornelius 2004: 81 and Plate 3.1; Keel
and Uelinger 1998: 86, 87 fig.107). Its inscription names her "queen
of heaven, the mistress of all the gods" (Quoted
by P. Day in van der Toorn et al. 1999: 38). However, it was in
Egypt itself that Anat became a truly powerful goddess. Evidence points
to her as having arrived in Egypt with the Hyksos who ruled Egypt from
ca. 1650 to 1550 BCE, but the worship of Anat continued in Egypt at least
until the Greco-Roman period (P. Day in
van der Toorn et al. 1999: 40).
One Egyptian text described her as a woman who acted as a man (Cornelius
2004: 92). Most important, Anat became well known as a war deity
of the Ramesside pharaohs. Indeed, the conquering king Rameses II "the
Great" (1304-1237 BCE) took her as his patron and appealed to her
as "Lady of the Heavens" to assist him in battle and validate
him as ruler of the world. In his devotion Rameses II styled himself "Beloved
of Anat" and named one of his daughters after her (Cornelius
2004: 85). He also dubbed one of his hunting dogs "Anat is
Protection" and one of his swords "Anat is Victorious"
(Quoted by P. Day in van der Toorn et
al. 1999: 40).
The connection of at least Anat with Qedeshet was a close one. At the
bottom of an Egyptian Qudshu plaque of this period, there is a representation,
with inscription, of an offering rite to Anat (Cornelius
2004: Plate 5.1; Pritchard 1969: 163 #473).
plaque with a typical Qudshu scene at the top and an Anat ritual
below. The quality of the relief carving is very good, though the
plaque has sustained some damage over time. For instance, the goddess's
crown is missing. The nude goddess standing on a striding lion has
a clearly marked pubic triangle, Hathor-style coiffure, heavy necklace,
and anklets. Her elbows bent in a V position, she holds short lotus
flowers and buds in her right hand, in her left two snakes. A loop
of the flower stems is visible. On either side Egyptian fertility
god Min and Syro-Canaanite warrior god Reshep(h) stand on plinths.
Behind Min grow a lotus or lily plant and two lettuces, both symbols
of fertility and healing, the lettuce often being seen as an aphrodisiac.
An inscription reads: "Ke(d)eshet, lady of heaven" (Cornelius 2004:
83). The lower register depicts a ritual to Anat, who is enthroned
to the far right. Fully dressed and wearing the cross-bands and
girdle of the warrior, she wields a battle axe in her left hand
and holds a spear and shield in her right. Her crown is one often
worn by the Egyptian pharaoh ( the atef crown). Before her is an
offering table laden with food (fowl, bread) and incense, and below
it are lettuce plants and a jar on a stand. The male worshiper Qaha
"the justified" was a foreman from the famous village Deir el-Medina,
the home of the workers who built and decorated the tombs of the
Valley of the Kings. He and his sister Twy "the justified," "the
lady of the house," worship her with gestures of adoration. His
son Any follows them carrying a live (?) bird and a lotus stalk
(Cornelius 2004: 69). The inscription reads: "Anat, lady of heaven,
Mistress of the gods. (May) all protection, life, stability, power,
and dominion be with her" (Cornelius 2004: 80). British Museum.
Limestone. Late Bronze Age, ca. 1550-1200 BCE.
Drawing © S. Beaulieu,
after Cornelius 2004: Plate 5.1
Thus, the Egyptian sources show that Astarte and Anat were very much
separate deities, and it seems that Qedeshet/Qudshu was understood as
a third goddess closely associated with them. However, that does not mean
that Qedeshet was Asherah, though she could well have been. One fact seems
clear: The images of Egyptian Qedeshet/Qudshu are very similar to those
on the large number of small plaques, pendants, and figurines from Syro-Canaan,
which I discussed at the beginning of this article. Indeed, according
to Tilde Binger, they depict a goddess "who iconographically is practically
identical to" Egyptian images entitled Qudshu (1997:
57). Thus, whether or not the Syro-Canaanite images depict one
of the three known Canaanite great goddesses, we can say that they almost
certainly represent the goddess the Egyptians addressed as Qudshu or Qedeshet,
the "Holy One."
Nude goddess with
large pubic triangle or covering (?). She stands in a frame. Her
hair is in the Hathor style, and she wears a narrow necklace, bracelets,
and anklets. In each hand she has long-stemmed flowers which join
at the bottom, also framing her. Typical of what some have called
the "Astarte plaque," but in stance very like Egyptian Qudshu. Found
in a potter's workshop at Lachish (Tell ed.-Duweir), Israel. Terracotta.
Drawing © S. Beaulieu,
after Cornelius 2004: Plate 5.38
- Modern Syria, Lebanon,
and Israel, the area which I call Syro-Canaan when I am discussing
the ancient Eastern Mediterranean.
- Her image also appears
on seals, both from the Levant and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean.
(Vew Qadesh seal with caption here.)
- See my articles on these
three Syro-Canaanite goddesses in the Matrifocus archives. (Anat,
- Earlier translators of
a passage about Baal's sexual exploits with a heifer understood that
Anat had taken the form of the young bovine with whom the god had
sexual intercourse. Later translators do not make this assumption,
although Wyatt's translation is certainly ambiguous.
- Especially so in Greco-Roman
- That many of the so-called
"Astarte plaques" depict the goddess standing on a lion explains the
suggestion that she might have been the one known as Labatu, "Lion
Lady" or "Lioness." The lion also connects her with the Mesopotamian
- The Semitic root qdsh
means "sacred, holy, set-apart, or tabooed." Thus, qedesh
(masc.) and qedeshah or qedeshet (fem.), both of which occur in the
Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament) in singular and plural forms,
mean "Sacred or Set-apart One," almost certainly referring
to religious functionaries, though usually translated into English
as "sacred prostitute."
- Keel and Uelinger 1998:
68 state that she had "a Canaanite origin."
- It is "exceptional
in Egyptian iconography" for a figure to face to the front (Cornelius
- Ithyphallic means "with
- Usually equated with
the great Egyptian goddess Hathor.
- And eventually by the
Christian Virgin Mary.
- It is also possible that
they represent Anat as warrior deity.
- Situated where the valley
of Jezreel meets the Jordan River.
- Binger, Tilde. 1997. Asherah: Goddesses
in Ugarit, Israel, and the Old Testament. Sheffield. UK: Sheffield
- Coogan, Michael D. 1978. Stories from
Ancient Canaan. Philadelphia: Westminster
- Cornelius, Izak 2004. The Many Faces
of the Goddess: The Iconography of the Syro-Palestinian Goddesses
Anat, Astarte, Qedeshet, and Asherah c.1500-1000 BCE. Fribourg,
Switzerland: Academic Press
- Cross, Frank M. 1973. Canaanite Myth
and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
- Edwards, E.S. 1955. "A Relief of
Qudshu-Astarte-Anat in the Winchester College Collection." Journal
of Near Eastern Studies. 14: 49-51
- Hadley, Judith M. 2000. The Cult of
Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
- Keel, Othmar and Christoph Uelinger. 1998.
Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel. Minneapolis,
- Parker, Simon B., editor. 1997. Ugaritic
Narrative Poetry. [No place]: Society of Biblical Literature/Scholars
- Patai, Raphael. 1990. The Hebrew Goddess.
Third Enlarged Edition. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press
- Pettey, Richard J. 1990. Asherah, Goddess
of Israel. New York: Lang
- Pritchard, James B., editor. 1969. The
Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament: Second
Edition with Supplement. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
- Redford, Donald B. 1992. Egypt, Canaan,
and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
- Stuckey, Johanna H. 2005. "Ancient
Mother Goddesses and Fertility Cults." Journal of the Association
for Research on Mothering 7/1: 32-44
- van der Toorn, Karel, Bob Becking, and
Pieter W. van der Horst, editors. 1999. Dictionary of Deities and
Demons in the Bible: Second Extensively Revised Edition. Leiden,
The Netherlands: Brill and Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans
- Wiggins, Steve A. 1991. "The Myth
of Asherah: Lion Lady and Serpent Goddess." Ugarit-Forschungen
- Wyatt, Nicolas. 2002. Religious Texts
from Ugarit. Second Revised Edition. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic