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
by Johanna Stuckey
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 vile Asiatic.”
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 with them.
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 (1300-1200 BCE).
A number of Egyptian relief plaques from this period depict a fully frontally nude goddess usually standing on a lion and sometimes posed between the Canaanite warrior god Reshep(h), an Underworld deity, and the Egyptian fertility god, ithyphallic Min(Cornelius 2004: Plates 5.1-5.18; Binger 1997: 56-58; Pritchard 1969: 163-164 #470-474). The Egyptians called her Qedeshet or Qudshu.
Egyptian 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 auctioned off.
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: 111).
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 Antiquities Authority.
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).
A double-register 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. British Museum.
Drawing © S. Beaulieu, after Cornelius 2004: Plate 5.38
1. Modern Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, the area which I call Syro-Canaan when I am discussing the ancient Eastern Mediterranean.
2. Her image also appears on seals, both from the Levant and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean. (Vew Qadesh seal with caption here.)
3. See my articles on these three Syro-Canaanite goddesses in the Matrifocus archives. (Anat, Astarte, Asherah)
4. 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.
5. Especially so in Greco-Roman times.
6. 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 goddess Inanna/Ishtar
7. 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.”
8. Keel and Uelinger 1998: 68 state that she had “a Canaanite origin.”
9. It is “exceptional in Egyptian iconography” for a figure to face to the front (Cornelius 2004: 49).
10. Ithyphallic means “with penis erect.”
11. Usually equated with the great Egyptian goddess Hathor.
12. And eventually by the Christian Virgin Mary.
13. It is also possible that they represent Anat as warrior deity.
14. 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 Academic
• 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, MN: Fortress
• Parker, Simon B., editor. 1997. Ugaritic Narrative Poetry. [No place]: Society of Biblical Literature/Scholars Press
• 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 Press
• 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 23: 383-394
• Wyatt, Nicolas. 2002. Religious Texts from Ugarit. Second Revised Edition. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press
• All images © Stéphane Beaulieu. All rights reserved.