Updated: Jan 6
God may wear a beard, ride on a horse, and have pierced ears—at least, this is the claim made by Yosef Garfinkel, Hebrew University professor and archaeologist.
According to The Daily Beast, excavations in the Kingdom of Judah have revealed multiple anthropomorphic figurine heads depicting a male figure. The figurine heads date back to the tenth century B.C. There is similarity between them, suggesting that they all depict the same figure, who has a flat head, pierced ears, and protruding eyes and nose. Who is this figure? In Garfinkel's estimation, this figure is none other than Yahweh, God of Israel.
Garfinkel's research was published in the fall 2020 edition of Biblical Archaeology Review in an article entitled "The Face of Yahweh?"
Referring to the five figurines, Garfinkel wrote, "Together the five objects create a new type of figurine, with three of them seeming to represent a rider on a horse."
The figurine heads also show a similarity to Canaanite deity Baal, who, according to Garfinkel, is depicted as "rkb 'rpt, 'rider of the clouds,' 16 times in various Ugaritic texts." However, Garfinkel asserted that Yahweh is also referred to as a rider in various places in the Bible.
Not everyone agrees with Garfinkel's hypothesis that the figurines represent Yahweh. For instance, according to The Daily Beast, Shua Kisilevitz and Oded Lipschits, University of Tel Aviv scholars and archaeologists who supervise excavations at Tel Moza where some of the figurines were found, believe the objects are "'human figures' that were used in ritual practices in the temple at Tel Moza." Their argument is, in essence, that the objects cannot depict Yahweh because the temple at Tel Moza was dedicated to a Canaanite fertility God, not Yahweh.
One objection to Garfinkel's claim is that idols are banned in multiple ancient texts, including, famously, the Ten Commandments. However, Garfinkel argued, "There was a ban on the cult images of Yahweh. It was introduced during the eighth century B.C.E., and it reflects a local development." This would have been later than the time the date of the artifacts.
Others believe Garfinkel's claim to be sensational, including University of Iowa professor and Biblical Archaeology Review editor Robert Cargill, who told The Daily Beast that "while certainly a sensational interpretation and minority opinion, we felt obligated to publish the claim made by this tenured Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor of archaeology."
We will never know who or what the figurines truly depict, but it is interesting to know that in one scholar's opinion, the God of Israel had pierced ears and oddly-protruded eyes.