By Tess Dawson
A bare-chested woman graces a three-thousand five-hundred year-old ivory jar lid. Her full pleated skirt decorated with a riot of stripes and zigzags swirls about bare feet. Thick ringlets escape her coiffure and tantalizingly caress her shoulders. She holds her arms aloft, full of dignity and authority: in her hands she offers life-giving sustenance. On either side of her stands an ibex, elegant goat-like animals, their horns crescent and curving. The woman embodies confidence and wisdom. She is Athirat, the Queen of Heaven.
The goddess Athirat hails from the ancient Near East, specifically Canaan. Although often associated with the Bible, the Canaanites were the indigenous people living in the area of Syria-Palestine before four thousand four-hundred years ago to three thousand two-hundred years ago. When the area underwent a Dark Age—a collapse that affected Greece, Crete, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Turkey—Canaanite culture split into the polytheistic Phoenicians and the emerging monotheistic Israelites.