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LOCATION: Archaeomythology Research Guide

ACCESS: http://library.ciis.edu/resources/subject/archmyth.asp



HWH came from Sinai

and shone forth from his own Seir,

He showed himself from mount Paran.

Yes, he came among the myriads of Qudhsu,

at his right hand his own Asherah,

Indeed, he who loves the clans

and all his holy ones on his left.

Deuteronomy 33.2-3; Asherah’s first biblical reference. (EJI, 115.)

Throughout the Near Eastern pantheon, the great composite deity Asherah

transitioned with various names, symbols, and attributes, while maintaining the

hypostasis of her essential essence. Her various names, symbols, and attributes are

especially evident in the Canaanite, 2000–700 BCE artifacts (AGL: 290) and 400

years later in the less prevalent Hebrew including canonical and non-canonical

resources. (Hebrew finds are less prevalent as sanctuaries were frequently purged

and burned (210).) The discussion in this entry will address the above plus related

archaeological discoveries including those from: Kuntillet Ajrud; Khirbet elQom;

the Taanach (or Ta‘anach) libation stand; the Ekron site; city of Lachish temple

site; and the Bronze Age Ras Shamra texts. Goddess Asherah’s theophany was

her primary indwelling symbol: the immortal, ever alive, life giving tree and

grove. (UTI: 129.) The Asherim or biblical asheras (ROA: 2) were synthetic

manifestations of Asherah that included the sacred pillar, pole, menorah, and all

iconography of the tree of wisdom. (AMST.) (Also see, GGL: 137; YGG: 53-59.) As

this was concurrent with the ongoing tree of life theme throughout the Ancient

Near East including Iran, Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Cyprus (UA:

54), pillar cults will also be addressed. (For the Kabbala Tree of Life, Menorah

and the Asherah weavings, see separate Re-Genesis entries.) Although the focus

of this Asherah entry is primarily Canaanite and Hebrew cultures, it will not be

limited to monotheistic deities nor theo-retical religion. As Theodore J. Lewis

reminds us, no longer can we afford to restrict research of Asherah in Israelite

religion to male deities (DIAAI: 44). Other symbols include the pubic triangle,

small house shrines called naoi (singular, naos), lions, and doves (ATB: 55-56).

(AGL: 210, 290; UTI: 129; DIAAI: 44; and ATB.) *An alternative understanding of

Asherim is the masculine plural of Asherah. (DGHW: 64.)

Given new discoveries and translations, post-diaspora Jewish theo-logy was very

likely rooted in the emergent religion of the Semitic/semi-nomadic tribes from the

land of Canaan, later Israel/Judah (FS: 26, 23). Canaan or the Israelite/Judahite

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kingdoms included the area of Syria-Palestine that formed the Fertile Crescent

land bridge between Mesopotamia and Egypt. It encompassed the northern area

from Ras Shamra to Negreb in the south (AGL: 169). (Other sources limit the

Fertile Crescent to current Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.) Around 1200-1000 BCE, Israel

became the southern part whereas the northern area extended to costal Phoenicia.

Canaan evolved into a leading culture (FS: 29) that included the advancement of

the alphabetic script (FS: 30), significant pottery and sculpture, ambitious building

projects including the first temple, and relatively speaking, an overall

cosmopolitan life style. Given Canaan’s strategic location and advanced culture, it

was not only an area of notable trade and travel plus numerous conquests and

invasions, but it was also the heartland of a significant religious pantheon that

emerged during the 2000-1450 BCE, Middle Bronze Age, Asherah and El

worship, (FS: 49) with Jahweh (JHWH) later replacing El. Although well noted

that congruent to the rise of Judaic monotheism after the 586-538 BCE exile in

Babylonia (LGI: 40) was the expulsion, dishonor, and degradation of former gods

and goddesses, especially Asherah, Queen of Heaven (TAB: 18). (See Jeremiah 44.)

Despite a strong, on-going anti-goddess harangue, Asherah continued to surface

and re-surface. In support this theory, John Day says that biblical Asherah in, Jg

3.7 plus the ‘added reference’ in the Hebrew Bible, I Kg 18.19 clearly illustrates

that she was worshiped as goddess both in ancient Israel–and–that this belief and

practice continued well into the postexilic period (YGG: 44-45). (FS: 23, 26, 49; AGL:

169; YGG: 44-45.)

As noted, Middle Bronze Age, 2000-1450 BCE (RDW: 49) ushered in the

urbanization of Canaan that included a religious pantheon headed by the father

god El and progenitress/creatress of the gods, (UTI: 131) Asherah. Come the 1100-

800 BCE dark ages, this region transitioned due to numerous invasions including

defeats by the Egyptians from the south and also the Hittites from the north (RDW:

49). From 1200 to the 586 BCE conquests of Judah and Babylonian exile, the

Israelites lived, married, and worshiped with the Canaanites, but also integrated

and intermingled with the Hittites, Hivites, and Amorites plus other smaller tribes.

During this time, Jahweh was introduced into the pre-monarchic court circles, (49)

and although Asherah’s stature started to weaken, she along with her wooden

symbols and groves continued to be worshiped and long before the temples (Jg 3.5-

7. UTI: 131). As a result of the patronage of Naamah, Ammonite wife of Solomon,

Asherah first penetrated the Jerusalem Temple around 928-911 BCE (HG: 47) and

for 236 years of the temple’s 370-year existence, she was considered a legitimate

religion (50). As many of Asherah’s Hebrew artifacts were made of wood, little

archaeological evidence remains whereas her abundant artifacts from Canaan,

clearly validate her worship as stated by R. J. Pettey (AGL: 209). R. Patai adds that

the popular forms of asherahs (or trees) and Asherah worship are a clear

indication to her heritage from the pre-monarchic Canaanite period (HG: 47). (RDW:

49; UTI: 131; HG: 47, 50; AGL: 209; HG: 47.)

Asherah was the pro-typical mother of the seventy Canaanite gods and known as

“qnyt ‘lim, ‘procreatress of the gods’ or ‘um ‘l(m), ‘mother of the gods’ (AMST:

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47). The chief goddess of the Canaanite pantheon was also known as Lady

Asherah- of-the-Sea, wife/consort of the chief god El and later Ba’l or Baal

(CMWE: 184; HG: 36). In addition to being the great mother goddess of all gods and

creatures (CMWE: 32), she was also known as the lion lady and lady of the serpent

(33). The Ugaritic version of Asherah’s name was, Lady Athirat, also El’s consort

(ATLM: 5). Elat (goddess) was also an Ugaritic name for Asherah. (AMST: 40.) In

Ancient Mesopotamia’s 2nd mil. Old Babylon period, Asherah was known as

Asratum (also Asratu, Asirtu, Asiratum, or Ashratu) (ROA: 2; AEE: 199). From the

Hammurabian Dynasty, 1750 BCE, Babylonian texts say that goddess Asratum

was the wife of god Amurru and her name comes from as-re-tum-um-mi,

meaning, Asratum is my mother (AEE: 199). The lineage of Ashratu, another

version of Asratum, continued down into the ancient South Arabian region of

Qataban (ROA: 2) where she was known as Atharath, same name as in the Ugarit

tablets (HG: 37). Her Hittite name was Ashertu, (ROA: 3) and in Egypt she was

known as Qadesh, the beloved or the holy one. On a New Kingdom Egyptian

plaque she is: Qudshu (Asherah); Astarte; and Anat. (GHW: 177.) The title, Lady

of the Sea also echoes Lebanese later Greek Aphrodite and Syrian Atartgatis (GA:

138). In the Hebrew Bible, there are 40 references to Asherah (plural Asheroth).

Ackroyd suggests that the Queen of Heaven reference in Jeremiah 7 and 44 can be

assumed to refer to Asherah given the proximity to consort, Yahweh as God of

Heaven (Ezr 1.2; GWZ: 252). The Kings texts indicate that she was worshiped

everywhere (AGL: 206-7). For further biblical passages frequently cited in defense

of goddess Asherah reconstruction see: I K 15.13, 18.19; 2 K 21.7, 23.4; Jg 3.7; Jr

2.27; (EHG: 126). Derogatory terms are numerous such as, bosheth i.e. shame

(ATLM, 3). (AMST: 40, 47; CMWE: 32-33; ATLM: 5; ROA: 2-3; AEE: 199; HG: 37; GA: 138;

GWZ: 252; EHG: 126; ROA: 2.)

During the Middle Minoan period, 2000-1450 BCE, the annual creation

Phenomena of death-birth-maturation-death was evidenced in Asherah and her

numinous tree of life and immortality manifestations. These life giving

manifestations of Asherah and Asherim included ritual groves, trees, may poles,

temple pillars, primeval forests, and goddess pillar figures with full nourishing

breasts (TOL: 32-34, 59). In J. Neusner’s translation of The Mishnah, any tree that

people worship was Asherah and again in the Babylonian Talmud, Asherah was

any sacred tree (AMS: 44). Asherah was always a living tree, or grove as her

livingness was integral to her re-creatrix, life giving fertility attributes (AMST: 42).

She was the source. These trees were frequently trimmed and pruned to a stylized

shape. The Asherim were cultic representations such as poles of representating

Asherah found in “association with Massebot at Canaanite high places” that were

either natural or artificially made (51). A gold lampstand menorah, fashioned on

the almond tree, was an antitype of an Asherim (51). E. O. James suggests that the

tree was the Goddess embodying the female principle of she who gives life, takes

it away, and returns it again (TOL: 103). He adds that these immortality symbols

were also closely related to the Mazzeboth in the form of obelisks or stele, plus

double axes, sacred waters, horns of consecration, and the omphalos found in the

Aegean and Minoan Crete (32-34, 59). During Iron Age II (ca. 930-730 BCE or

alternate date, 1100-800 BCE) (GAT: 42-43) pillar figures of Judahite goddess

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Asherah presenting her breasts were well known (44). Despite these well known

Asherah figures, starting in the eight century BCE, trees were believed to be a

threat to pure Yahwism and later a threat to monotheism as well (56). Biblical

examples of this ‘presumed threat’ are noted in, Dt 12: 2-3 demanding the

‘complete’ destruction of all carved images, temples, poles, and groves plus, Dt

16:21-22 condemned and prohibited all and any tree replanting near a Yahweh

altar. “You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your

God which you shall make. And you shall not set up a pillar, which the Lord your

God hates.” Dt. 16.21-22. (AMST: 38; HBSRV.) These Deuteronomy texts plus the

Genesis story of the fall and banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of

Eden and the Tree of Wisdom are also telling statements about the widespread

recognition and use of the tree, groves, plus tree sanctuaries. (One does not banish

a nonexistent threat.) Additional tree examples not previously mentioned include:

the Buddha’s Bodi-tree; winter solstice fir tree; and the Mamre shrine, adjacent to

the Hebron terebinthe/oak sacred grove of the chief priestess Sarah, wife of

Abraham. (Gn18:1, 23:17.) (STP: 89-90, 93, 97, and 270). Over the centuries, selected

tree rituals included: 8 th century CE great tree shrines; 11th century Slavic

celebrations around wooden carvings; and the continuation of the May Pole dance

(ROM: 210-1). To summarize, tree worship or the pillar cults were wide spread and

found throughout the Ancient Far and Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean

including Minoan Crete (TPA: 251) and the Aegean, as well as Africa and ancient

Arabia (ERE: 666). Bernard Dietrich traces the origins the tree cults, including

baetyls and indwelling divine representations back even further to Neolithic

Anatolia (TIGR: 8-9). (TOL: 32-34, 59, 103; GAT: 42-44, 56; HBSRV; TPA: 251; ERE: 666;

TIGR: 8-9; STCC; and 2 K 17.10-11.)

A selection of significant archaeological finds that continue to be of prime

importance includes: Kuntillet Ajrud; Khirbet el Qom; Tel Taanach; Ugarit;

Lachish; Ekron; Meggiddo; and Nahariyah. Each location has produced material

that is very important to the overall Asherah mosaic, but the Ugaritic texts are in a

unique class. Judith Hadley says that there is “no difficulty with the gap of 400

years from the time of Ugaritic texts until the earliest biblical records” as we now

have very clear information substantiating that: 1) Athirat/Asherah continued as

goddess in the local cults (COA: 10); 2) Hebrew Asherah is a composite deity of

Ugaritic Athirat and both are related to Amorite Asratum; and 3) the biblical

Asherah and her wooden symbol may both be the goddess herself (COA: 11). In

defense of this possibility, it should be remembered that in the ancient near east, it

was not unusual for a deity and sacred object or symbol to share the same name

and same sacred significance (COA: 7). (COA: 7, 10-11.)

Discoveries made at the archaeological sites of Kuntillet Ajrud in northern Sinai

and Khirbet el Qom near Hebron date from 800 to 700 BCE, ancient pre-exilic

Israelite era. These discoveries have had significant impact on validating Asherah

as a goddess in her own right. In addition to Asherah represented as a seated

cathedra deity or ilhm ksat, (chair goddesses), (GA: 44, n. 54.) inscriptions

“associate Asherah and Yahweh in a cultic capacity” and signify that she was

greatly respected and widely revered (AGL: 210). The ancient city Tel Taanach in

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Israel is the archaeological cite of a Canaanite libation cult stand. Judith Hadley

believes that this Israelite artifact dates from the 10th century BCE (COA: 171) and

that it is the clearest evidence to date of the Yahweh and Asherah worship. (208.)

The four paneled stand or tiers include remarkable iconographic scenes including

a nude goddess with a Hathor headdress (or Hathor Locks) flanked by two lions,

stylized tree of life and pubic triangles (AGL: 182-3). Rich archaeological

discoveries from Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra), include: a palace; two tripartite

temples very similar to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem; an immense library and

palace; numerous female figures; and a 1300 BCE ivory lion bas relief with a

goddess nursing two boys. (Isis as the tree of life nursing her brother, Tuthmosis

III, 1479-1425 BCE later illustrates this nursing motif.) Of particular signifance

are the Bronze Age cuneiform tablets that Judith Hadley says “definitely

established the identity of a goddess Asherah” (COA: 7). (AGL: 177.) The tablets

contain divine Canaanite myths about father god El and his consort Lady Athirat,

the Ugaritic version of Hebrew Asherah (ATLM: 8). Additional titles include, Lady

Asherah of the Sea (HG: 37) plus rbt ym that translates, ‘lady who walks on the

sea’ (ATLM: 8). The Canaanite temple at Lachish dates to around 1500 BCE.

Lachish finds include a group of pottery-decorated goblets with the sacred tree,

and pubic triangle. There is also an offering inscription to goddess Elath or

Asherah from the Baal epoch. (LEA: 214-15; AGL: 181.) A significant Asherah

plaque was found on the biblical site of Ekron, or modern Tel Miqne, located just

west of Jerusalem. Asherah is wearing a Hathor headdress (or Hathor Headdress)

and her arms are raised in the KA position holding two snakes. The Hathor

headdress coupled with the Egyptian KA position clearly echoes Egyptian

influences. (AGL: 181-2.) Additional artifacts from the 2000-1200 BCE early

Canaanite site of Meggiddo include 12 goddess figures with conical headgear and

in the familiar position of hands on breasts or abdomens (178). The Nahariyah site

is on the seacoast just south of Tyre and Sidon. The 1954-1955 excavations

uncovered a female deity of Nahariyah that is most likely lady Asherah (Ashrath-

Yam, Ashtoreth of the Sea) plus three temple layers similar to Megiddo. (AGL:

179.) (GWZ; CMWE; YGG; ROM; WRSA; COA: 7; 171; 208; ERE; LEA: 214-15; GWT; TOL;

JB; GAT; RDW; HSOT; DIAAI; ATLM: 8; AEE; NEB; HG; AGL: 177-179, 181-3, 210; ST;


For further information on the above and other Levant information see:

Cornelius, Izak. The Many Faces of the Goddess: The Iconography of the Syro-

Palestinian Goddesses Anat, Astarte, Qedeshet, and Asherah C. 1500-1000

BCE. Orbis biblicus et orientalis, 204. Fribourg, Switzerland: Academic

Press, 2004. (MFG)

Keel, Othmar, and Christoph Uehlinger. Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in

Ancient Israel. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998. (GGI)

Stuckey, Johanna H. “The Great Goddesses of the Levant.” Bulletin of the

Canadian Society of Mesopotamian Studies 37 (2002), 127-157. (GGL)

Dever, William G. Did God Have a Wife? Grand Rapids, MI: William B.

Eerdmans, 2005. (GHW)

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For information on the transition of goddesses and gods including El Shaddai,

Canaanite Baal-Hadad, El, and later Yahweh, see:

Biale, David. “The God with Breasts: El Shaddai in the Bible.” History of

Religions. 21.3 (February, 1982): 240-256. (GWB)

For further information on May Poles and Asherah, see:

Flint, Valerie I. J. The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe.

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. (ROM: 210-211)

Hestrin, Ruth. “The Lachish Ewer and the Asherah.” Israel Exploration Journal

37.4 (1987). (LEA: 214.)

Porada, Edith. Corpus of Ancient Near Eastern Seals in North American

Collections: The Collection of the Pierpont Morgan Library. Vol. 1. New

York: Pantheon Books, 1948. (CANE: Plate, 956.)

For further information on the Ekron inscription, see:

Demsky, Aaron. “Discovering a Goddess.” Biblical Archaeology Review

24.5 (Sept./Oct., 1998): 53-58. (DAG)

For further information in which Asherah is translated as a grove, see: Jg 3.7; 1 K

15.13, 18.19; 2 K 21, 23.4, 6, and 7 in the King James Version. For information

about the first Yahweh shrine that Abraham built in an Asherah grove see: Gn


For information on the Tree of Life and the Garden of Eden, see BCE entry: 4000,

Garden of Eden, Sacred Trees, and Pillar Cults; 3000, Earliest Menorah Finds;

and 2400, Lilith and Eve; and 1500, Lachish Ewer, Triangle, and Menorah. Also

see CE entry: 16th Century, Kabbalah.

For further information on Asherah see BCE entries: 2200, Bethel, Almond City,

and Asherah; 2000-1200, Ras Shamra; 1500, Lachish Ewer, Triangle, and

Menorah; 970, First Temple, Menorah, and Weavings; 900, Taanach, Canaanite

Libation Stand; 800-700, Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet El-Qom; and 600-398,

Anat/Asherah and Yahweh, Egypt.

For further information on the Asherah weavings and menorah, see BCE entry:

970, First Temple, Menorah, and Weavings. For further information on the

Menorah, see BCE entries: 3000, Earliest Menorah Finds; 2200, Bethel, Almond

City, and Asherah; 2200, Nahariyah and Ashrath-Yam; 1500, Lachish Ewer,

Triangle, and Menorah; 970, First Temple, Menorah, and Weavings; 900,

Taanach, Canaanite Libation Stand; 800-700, Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet El-

Qom; 586, Destruction of the First Temple, Jerusalem Exile; and 538 BCE –70

CE, Second Temple Period. Also see CE entry: 70, Destruction of Jerusalem


For further information on Isis and Hathor as nursing tree deities, see BCE entry:

1479-1425 Tuthmosis III, Egyptian King.

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For further information on Solomon’s Temple see BCE entries: 2000-1200, Ras

Shamra; 970, First Temple, Menorah, and Weavings; and 586, Destruction of the

First Temple, Jerusalem Exile.

For recommended summary of the Davidic through First and Second Temple

historical transitions, see BCE entry: 1000-70, Davidic Kingship, Solomon,

Philistines, and Temple Transitions.

For further information on Mamre, see BCE entry: 4000, Garden of Eden, Sacred

Trees, and Pillar Cults; 1800, Goddess Sarah and Abraham.

For further tree, baetyl, and pillar cult information, see BCE entries: 7250-6150,

Catal Huyuk, Anatolia; 7100-6300, Cathedra Goddess of the Beasts; Garden of

Eden, Sacred Trees, and Pillar Cults; 4000-3000, Egypt, Africa, and Cathedra

Goddesses; 2613-2494, Hathor’s Dendera (Denderah) Temple, Egypt; 1800,

Goddess Sarah and Abraham; 1479-1425, Tuthmosis III, Egyptian King; 814,

Carthage, Africa, the Goddess Tanit and Sacrifice; 100, Mecca, the Ka’aba and

Sacred Stones; 800-700, Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet El-Qom. Also see CE entry:

16th Century, Kabbalah.

For further information on Cathedra Goddesses, see BCE entries: 8300-4500,

Sha’ar Hagolan (Sha’ar Ha-Golan); 7250-6150, Catal Huyuk, Anatolia; 7100-

6300, Cathedra Goddess of the Beasts; 5400-3500, Ancient Aphrodite:

Chalcolithic or Copper Age; 4400, Archaic Hera of the Golden Throne; 4000-

3000, Egypt, Africa, and Cathedra Goddesses; 3250, Scorpion Tableau, Earliest

Egyptian Proto-Hieroglyphics; 3000-2000, Anatolia, Kubaba, and the Hittites;

2500, Inanna, Holder of the me; 800-700, Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet El-Qom;

550, Cathedra Goddess Kourotrophos, Megara Hyblaea, Sicily; and 400, Cathedra

Goddess Isis. (Spanish, Israeli, French, and Polish cathedra goddesses pending.)

For further Tanaash information, see BCE entry: 900, Taanash. For additional

information on Ras Shamra, see BCE entry: 2000-1200, Ras Shamra. For

additional information about Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet el Qom, see BCE entry:

800-700 Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet el Qom.

For information on Hammurabi, see BCE entry: 1750 Hammurabian Dynasty,

Babylon, Ishtar, and Inanna. For additional Temple of Solomon information, see

BCE entry: 586, Destruction of the First Temple, Jerusalem Exile. For additional

Nahariyah information, see BCE entry: 2200 Nahariyah and Ashrath-Yam. For

additional information on Canaan, see BCE entry: 7000, Jericho, Canaan/Palestine.

For further triangle/vulval/V information, see BCE entries: 70,000, Blombos Cave; 5300-

4300, Climactic Phase And Script In Old Europe; 34,000-28,000, Les Eyzies

Vulva Engravings, Dordogne Caves; 31,000, Chauvet Cave and Vulva Engraving;

8000/7000-5000, Early Neolithic; 7000-5000, Early Neolithic Crete; 5500-3500,

Cucuteni (Tipolye) Culture, Eastern Europe; 4000-3500, Gavrinis, Brittany,

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France; 2000, Asherah; 1790-1700, Goddess of Kultepe, Anatolia; and 1500,

Lachish Ewer, Triangle, and Menorah.

For vulva photos examples, see BCE entries: 34,000-28,000, Les Eyzies Vulva

Engravings, Dordogne Caves; 30,000-25,000, Aurignacian Age; 30,000-25,000,

Goddess of Willendorf; 25,000-20,000, Goddess of Laussel; 5300-4300,

Climactic Phase and Script in Old Europe; 3000-2000, Cycladic Goddesses;

2600-2000, Early Bronze Age, Crete, Chthonian; and 400, Celtic Sheela-na-gig.

For additional CE information see illustration for the 1510 vulva labyrinth design

by Stabius, in Concerning Maze (MLW: 85, fig. 127).

For further information on writing plus Vinca- and Tisza sacred script, see BCE

entries: 5400-3200; Ancient Aphrodite: Chalcolithic or Copper Age; 5300-4300,

Climactic Phase and Script in Old Europe; 5000-4900, Inanna, Uruk, and

Mesopotamia; 3400-2900, Mesopotamian Writing from the Protoliterate Period;

3100-2600, Proto Bronze Age Crete, Writing and Heroes; 3000-2000, Anatolia;

3000, First Dynasty, Egypt; 2300, Sumerian Transitions; 2000-1450, Middle

Bronze Age Crete; 1900-1800, Dawning of the African Alphabet and Egyptian

Aniconic Goddess Triangle; 1600, Mycenaeans Dominant on Greek; 1100-800,

Iron Age; 1100-800, Mediterranean Dark Ages; 668-626, Sumerian Mythology;

and 500-400, Classical Greek Era and Leading Male Authors.


Citing information: from the CIIS Library home page, click on More under

Research> then over to > Scholarly Writing and Citations.

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