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Written by Stephen Langfur
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Midianite Tent Shrine
Copper at Timna
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The Temple to Hathor, later a Midianite Tent Shrine

Around the corner south of the pillars, moreover, are the ruins of a temple. Within this little space (9 by 7 meters), archaeologists made hundreds of finds. Dominant were fragments from figurines of the Egyptian goddess Hathor, as well as jewelry associated with her (thousands of pearls, for instance) . In front of the Holy of Holies, which probably contained her statue, were two rectangular basins. These held pillars whose capitals had her image, later partly effaced. Who was Hathor and what was she doing in a place like this?


Her name means "the house of Horus" (an Egyptian god associated with the sky, the sun and the moon). She gave birth to him qua sun each morning. She was often pictured as a cow, or as having cow's ears. The Egyptians beheld the Milky Way embracing the night sky, and they thought it a river of milk flowing from cow teats. The god of the sky was Horus the falcon, his eyes composed of the sun and the moon, watching humankind as he flew across the heavens. So the Milky Way (Hathor) was seen as embracing Horus (the night sky), in the manner of mother and child. 

Hathor's connection with Timna derives from her fecundity. She presided over the instruments of arousal and seduction, such as music, dance, jewelry and cosmetics. The quest for jewelry led the Egyptians to the turquoise of central Sinai. Hathor was worshiped, therefore, at the turquoise mines. Timna has only copper, but having established herself over one kind of mine, Hathor's hegemony spread to the others too.


A staircase leads up from the temple to a rock ledge where one can see an engraving in the cliff face, unnoticed until 1972. The inscription tells us what is represented: Pharaoh Rameses III (who ruled from 1184 until 1153 BC) brings an offering to Hathor.

In the Harris Papyrus, the following boast is placed in the mouth of Rameses III (since the journey from Timna to Egypt is equally arduous by land and sea, archaeologist Beno Rothenberg (p. 201) suggested that "Atika" in this text may have been Timna):

I sent forth my messenger to the country of Atika, to the great copper (hmt) mines which are in this place. Their galleys carried them; others on their land-journey were upon their asses. It has not been heard before, since kings reign. Their mines were found abounding in copper; it was loaded by 10,000's into their galleys. They were sent forward to Egypt, and arrived safely. It was carried and made into a heap under the balcony, in many bars of copper, like hundred-thousands, being the color of gold of three times. I allowed all the people to see them, like wonders.

timna-hathors-temple-stand.jpgIn the last half of the 12th century BC, the temple changed hands. The Egyptians, under pressure of a great upheaval throughout the easten Mediterranean, withdrew from all of Canaan and Timna as well. The pottery attests that Midianites took over. Indigenous to the region, they had probably been laborers under the Egyptians. To them the archaeologists attribute a large quantity of linen and wool, dyed red and yellow and interwoven with pearls, found just inside the east and west walls of the structure. So much cloth led to the conclusion that the Midianites had turned the temple into a tent sanctuary. They had also broken the images of Hathor, setting up instead a series of standing stones (matzevot) along the western wall.

To the Midianites the archaeologists also attributed a copper snake with a gilded head, not quite five inches long, the sole find from the Holy of Holies.

This tent sanctuary brings to mind the Israelites, whose Tent of Meeting. appears frequently in the latter part of Exodus. The Bible shows, early on, a close connection between Israel and Midian. After slaying an Egyptian, Moses fled to Midian. Here he married Zipporah, daughter of a Midianite priest (to whom the Bible gives two names: Jethro and Reuel). In Midian, while tending Jethro's flocks, he first encounters Yahweh at the burning bush.

Yahweh's original home may have been Midian. An Egyptian source (14th century BC) mentions a "land of Yahweh" where nomads live, and this may have been Midian. In the Song of Deborah, when Yahweh marches forth as a miraculous storm to bog down the Canaanite chariots, He comes from the land of Edom or "Se'ir," the southern part of which had earlier been Midian.

The connection does not stop there. Jethro provides Moses with an administrative system for judging disputes. Later Moses asks Hobab, his Midianite brother-in-law, to guide the people through the wilderness. We may even see a connection to the copper snake with gilded head, found in the Midianite Holy of Holies. Moses, we recall, made a bronze serpent which was worshiped at the Temple in Jerusalem until King Hezekiah tore it down.