The collection and interpretation of mother-goddesses is just a harmless outlet for the sexual impulses of old men.
|Minet el-Beida (Ugarit) Syrian coast, 14/13th BCE. H. 9.2 cm|
Come on, sailor
I confess that it's easy to conjure up a lascivious fantasy or two about this voluptuous naked lady (left) discovered in Minet el-Beida, the port of Ugarit.
Ooh baby, ooh babyHer hairdo with long Hathor curls falling almost to her pubescent breasts, wide pubic triangle and rounded thighs make an alluring image of femininity. Perhaps the long-stemmed flowers she was holding in her hands hinted at her heavenly smell. And standing on a crescent moon that floats above some stars could have promised an otherworldly experience.
You've got me reelin'
You've got me swingin' to your melody
I'm in a hot house
Come on, sailor.
So much for the fantasy.
Now, back to earth. Is she, in fact, the Q-goddess, Qedeshet?
|L: Tel ed-Duweir, 1300-1050 BCE. H. 8.5. R: Akko, bronze pendant. ca.1300 BCE. H. 8.3|
So who, really, is Qedeshet?
Her name Qdš(-t) simply means 'holy'. As such, it can be attached to almost any goddess, including the whole of the A-team: Anat, Astarte, Asherah and Athirat. The question is: did there exist an independent goddess named Qedeshet at all? She is not known from any Canaanite or Ugaritic texts or inscriptions. Rather, she only appears as a named goddess in Egypt. There, she is honoured with such typical titles as 'Lady of heaven' and 'Mistress of all the gods' -- which are not specific to her but could equally apply to any goddess in Egypt.
What seems to have happened is this. From the late Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1600 BCE) onwards, Canaan was under Egyptian rule.
|Deir el-Medina (Thebes) 19th Dyn. Qedesh with Min & Reshep|
|Minet el-Beida (Ugarit), Syrian coast. 14/13th C BCE.|
At the risk of being vulgar, I would go further: while nudity is certainly important, the pubic triangle is absolutely vital. The pudendum is almost always inescapably emphatic, not just overly large but often embellished with hair-dots and, sometimes, even with a slit. Little or nothing is left to the imagination.
You could hardly be more explicit.
Rings on her fingers, bells on her toes
|Tel Batash, Palestine. 14th C BCE. H. 13|
Forget for the moment all the supposed fertility and mother goddesses. Remember what we said earlier (Part I): While there was a multitude of goddesses, there were even more women than goddesses.
What if the naked female is just a woman? In that case, she is clearly a woman who is visually defined by the pubic area + breasts + prominent face + (in most cases) jewellery. The jewellery is often profuse, either pictured as the necklaces and/or bracelets, armlets and anklets worn by females (like the bracelets and anklets on the plaque, left) or it is both pictured and inherent in the object itself as when the pendant is made of gold. In other words, the image carries -- perhaps it even promotes -- a specific idea of a woman.
Certainly, you can relate the pudendum and breasts to ideas of fertility but then you have to explain away the prominent face and all the jewellery, neither of which has any direct bearing on fertility. But what if the idea behind the image is an expression of female sexual desire? This is what Kim Benzel argues in a refreshing new approach to the nude female pendants and plaques.* As she says, "In combination (my emphasis), these features seem far better suited to a reading of female eroticism than the ... interpretation of fertility alone."
Sex in the Raw?
|Tel Harasim, Palestine, LB II. H. 7.7.|
[I]t is the nude, bejeweled, and beautified body that represents the physical manifestation of eroticism and sexual attractiveness, features and characteristics equated in the ancient Near East with vitality, power, and well-being rather than with indecency and vulgarity.*
|Tel el-Ajjul, Palestine, 1600-1500 BCE. H. 8.0|
If she is right, the pendants and plaques were ultimately images about themselves: in a sense, they perform sexuality. In doing so, they surely endowed their wearers with similar eroticism and sexual allure.
Now I'm lovin' and it feels okay
We let our lovin' take us far away
Ooh baby, ooh baby.
* K. Benzel, 'Ornaments of Interaction: Jewelry in the Late Bronze Age', In (J. Aruz, S.B. Graft, Y. Rakic, eds.) Cultures in Contact from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean in the Second Millennium, MMA, New York (2013) 258-267.
Sources: In addition to those listed in Part I and II, Chaka Khan – Be Bop Medley, lyrics of 'Come on, sailor' via Lyricsfreak
Upper left: Louvre Museum AO 14716. Embossed gold leaf plaque, 13th C BCE, Minet el Beida, port of Ugarit, Syria: "A few tombs in Ugarit that have survived intact have given up a rich hoard of jewelry. This gold pendant, representing the nude figure of the great goddess of fertility, was part of a necklace consisting of several pieces of gold leaf and carnelian beads." Photo credit: © 2004 RMN/Franck Raux.
Centre: (left) BM 1980,1214.2266. Terracotta plaque from potter's workshop, Tell ed-Duweir (Lachish), dated 1300-1050 BCE. (right) Bronze applique plaque cast in mould, from Akko tomb B3, ca. 1300 (stolen). Drawings after Keel, Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses and Images of God in Ancient Israel, Continuum, 1998, Figs. 69, 70.
Right: BM EA 191, upper register of limestone stele of chief craftsman Qeh. Naked goddess identified as 'Ke(d)eshet, lady of heaven' flanked by the ithyphallic Egyptian god Min and Syro-Palestinian god Reshep. Deir el-Medina (Dynasty 19). Photograph © Trustees of the British Museum.
Lower left 1: Gold pendant with nude goddess, Minet el-Beida (port of Ugarit), c. 14-13th C BCE, Louvre Museum. Photo credit: © A.K. (Insecula).
Lower left 2: Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Terracotta plaque from Tel Batash (Timnah north), 14th century. Photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority, IAA 2001-2232 (© The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1995 - 2014).
Lower left 3: Museum Hashephela, Kfar Menachem. Terracotta plaque from Tel Harasim (near Beth Shemesh), LB II. Photo cf.: Cornelius, The Many Faces of the Goddess, Fribourg, 2004, Cat. 5-24.
Lower left 4: Ashmolean Museum (number not known). Gold pendant from Tel el-Ajjul, 1600-1500 BCE. Photo credit: Eva, Mutter alles Lebendigen, Bibel und Orient Museum, Fribourg (via Doris Wolf: Das andere Aegypten-Buch).