Ancient idols discovered in the Holy Land. Unique selection of Canaanite goddess.
In the ancient near east, the people of most cultures worshiped a variety of gods. Read More...
Each people group had its own pantheon of gods, and many cities had their own patron deities. In Mesopotamia, the chief gods were An, Enlil, and Enki. The Egyptians worshiped Osiris, Horus, Amun, and Ra among other gods. Baal and Asherah were prominent Canaanite gods, and the head of the Philistine pantheon was Dagon. Some of the chief Greek gods were Zeus, Hera, Athena, and Apollo.
The Israelites were unique in that they had only one temple dedicated to one God: Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one,” and in Exodus 20:2–3, God commanded, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourselves any carved image or any graven image of anything that is in the heaven above or the earth beneath or the water that is under the earth. You shall not bow down to it or serve it.”
Yet despite God’s instructions, the Israelites adopted the polytheistic worship practices of their pagan neighbors over and over again. In the time of the patriarchs, Rachel brought her father’s household gods with her to the Holy Land. Later, when Moses went up on the mountain to receive the law from God, Aaron made a golden calf for the Israelites to worship. As time went on, things became worse and worse. When the Israelites divided into a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom, Jeroboam set up two calves for the people to worship, one in Dan and the other in Bethel. People began building altars to pagan gods on at high places throughout both kingdoms, and eventually, even the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem became a place of worship for Baal and Asherah.
Archaeologists have found evidence of idol worship in the Holy Land throughout the historical periods. Many figurines were made of clay. Plaque figurines depict highly decorated raised figures of goddesses. In Philistine cities, enthroned deities called Ashdoda have been discovered. Syrian-style hollow-bodied clay goddesses appear in some ancient cities. In the area of Judah, solid-bodied pillar figurines have been found in large numbers. These clay figures of buxom women have often been interpreted as representations of Asherah. Another possibility is that they functioned as fertility talismans. Another commonly found type of Judahite figure portrays a horse and rider, perhaps representing a soldier going to war.
Figurines made of metal have also been found from a variety of biblical time periods. Some represent animals, particularly bulls, while others depict gods and goddesses. Another popular material for idol-making was stone. This was particularly popular in the Roman period. Idols may have been made of a variety of additional materials, but not all materials have survived the passing of time.
These clay, stone and metal idols, which lay buried and forgotten for thousands of years, offer a reminder of the differences between the pagan deities of ancient cultures and the God of the Bible. The psalmist wrote of idols, “they have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears; but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell; they have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat” (Psalm 115:5-7). Meanwhile, throughout Psalms, Yahweh is portrayed as having the ability to speak, see, smell, handle, and walk.