Bible and Beyond

Click here to view the original article.

This article will examine a remarkable but little-known Punic/Phoenician funerary monument from Pozo Moro, Spain. Behind it lie complex cultural influences, including some connections with the Biblical prophet Ezekiel and his vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37). At opposite ends of the Mediterranean Sea, Spain and Canaan lie more than a thousand miles apart. But in the middle of the first millennium B.C.E., they shared a cultural relationship.

Pozo Moro, meaning “the well of the Moors” in Spanish, is a small village in the province of Albacete in southeastern Spain.1 In 1971, a farmer discovered some ancient remains there. Professional archaeological excavations subsequently revealed a huge funerary monument of stone. After reconstruction, the stone monument was placed in the central hall of the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid.

The edifice originally stood at least 16 feet high. Its base consisted of three stone steps. Only the lower two were found in their original position; the rest of the monument was either scattered about the excavation area or had been reused in surrounding graves.

At its base was an urn containing ashes from a cremation, perhaps the ashes of the person memorialized.

Two other finds at the base of the monument allow it to be dated to approximately 500 B.C.E.—a black-figured lekythosa and a bowl decorated by a Greek pottery artist known as the “Pithos Painter.”b

The three-stepped base of the monument supported a section ornamented with stone lions on its four corners. These stone lions were carved in North Syrian-Anatolian style, in the Neo-Hittite tradition, another indication of multicultural influence. This lion motif recalls the famous 11th-century B.C.E. sarcophagus of Ahiram discovered at Byblos, in modern Lebanon, where reclining lions are carved at the base of the sarcophagus. Lions were associated with the underworld—they often appear with the Mesopotamian god of the underworld, Nergal—and were thus particularly appropriate for decorating funerary monuments.

This section with lions also bore several stone reliefs, one of which will be the focus of our study.
The monument’s excavator, Martín Almagro-Gorbea, reconstructed a double cornice above this section. The cornice, similar to Greek cornices, bore a band of rope decoration at the edge of the cyma. (A cyma is a curved molding like the letter S, at the ends of a cornice. The name comes from the Greek kuma, meaning wave.) This cornice must have been topped by the monument’s crown, but the original shape of this crowning element is unclear. Almagro-Gorbea has suggested a trapezoidal block. I think it was a pyramid, however.

The pyramidal shape is suggested quite strongly by a very similar, but much larger and far better preserved, funerary edifice at Dougga (Thugga) in Tunisia.2 The massive Dougga monument, which stands nearly 65 feet high, was built in the late third century B.C.E. in memory of a local Numidian prince named ‘Ateban. The upper part of the Dougga monument is identical in architectural concept to the monument at Pozo Moro, except that four horses, rather than lions, adorn the central section. The Dougga monument is crowned with a pyramid; lions appear as protomes,c at the pyramid’s four corners. On the basis of a comparison with the Dougga monument, it is much more likely that the Pozo Moro structure was topped with a pyramid than with a flat-topped, trapezoidal block. Although few such funerary monuments have survived, it seems clear that this design was widespread in the Punic world.

The architectural elements in the Pozo Moro monument reflect diverse influences, to say the least. The concept of erecting monumental structures above tombs came from Egypt. Egyptian pyramids were of course commonly built since the Old Kingdom, beginning in the early third millennium B.C.E. In the New Kingdom (1550–1100 B.C.E.) in Egypt, we find chapel-like tombs built above ground and crowned with a pyramid.

Phoenicia, centered on what is now the northern coast of Israel and the coast of Lebanon,d was heavily influenced by Egyptian culture, especially in the early first millennium B.C.E. The Phoenicians apparently adopted this tomb type from Egypt as early as the ninth or eighth century B.C.E. One indication of this new fashion can be seen in the tombs that show traces of a pyramid-shaped superstructure. Surprisingly, the most complete example of this type, comes from Jerusalem, in Judea—the well-known Tomb of Pharaoh’s Daughter, which dates from the seventh century B.C.E. and which, all scholars agree, was originally topped with a pyramid.e The fashion for these above-ground tombs reached Anatolia (modern Turkey) at about the same period. Here it took on some Neo-Hittite elements and became particularly popular in Lycia, where a highly developed style of above-ground funerary art from the sixth century B.C.E. has been found. An excellent example is the Lion Tomb from Xanthos,3 which is in a way the predecessor of the funerary monument at Pozo Moro.

In the fifth century B.C.E., Phoenicia, southern Anatolia and Lycia were already integrated politically into the Persian empire. Anatolian elements of tomb design then filtered into the Phoenician cultural area, and once again mingled with local funerary architecture. The resulting tomb design was then exported to the wider Phoenician/Punic world of North Africa and Spain.

Phoenicia emerged out of Canaanite culture at the beginning of the first millennium B.C.E. Four cities on the Mediterranean coast—Tyre, Sidon, Byblos and Arwad—made up the Phoenician political heartland. By the eighth century B.C.E., however, the Phoenician motherland had established important colonies in the western Mediterranean, such as Carthage in North Africa, and settlements as far away as the Iberian peninsula. The culture of these western Mediterranean settlements from the fifth century B.C.E. on is called Punic.f Quite naturally, the new style of funerary architecture was adopted even in the extreme western part of the Phoenician/Punic world. (At the same time, the traditional Phoenician tomb type found in cemeteries in Lebanon and northern Israel continued in use. This was a deep shaft tomb or subterranean vaulted tomb,4 which made its way to the Phoenician colonies as well.)

The architectural ancestry of the Pozo Moro funerary monument can thus be diagrammed as follows-

Perhaps the most interesting element of the Pozo Moro monument is its reliefs (see the sidebar “Fragments From Pozo Moro- Beasts, Battles, Bedrooms and Banquets”). Unfortunately, only two of these survived relatively intact. But even the fragments of the other reliefs have much to tell us. The excavator has reconstructed the original position of the monument’s reliefs on the basis of comparisons with the Dougga monument.

Among the fragmentary reliefs, we see a warrior or god with a shield, a chimera or monster with three heads whose mouths spout flames and an erotic scene, probably of a sacred marriage (hieros gamos).5

Another fragment shows a winged figure (perhaps a seraph) smelling a lotus flower. Its wing shields a giant lotus. In early Egyptian mythology the lotus was connected with the creation story; from the New Kingdom on, however, the lotus symbolized the survival of the soul in the netherworld. It was often used in tombs to convey this symbolic message. The lotus appears as an ornament at an early date in Canaan (from the 14th century B.C.E. on), as well as in Phoenicia. As for the winged figure, the same image appears in the famous ivory from Samaria that depicts Isis and Nephthys sheltering a d_d pillar (an Egyptian symbol of strength) with their wings.6 A similar ivory from Arslan Tash7 in Anatolia shows Isis protecting a stylized lotus in the form of a tree of life.
The more important of the two intact reliefs portrays a banquet in the underworld. The human figures have animal heads, and their tongues hang out greedily. The general arrangement follows that usually found in Canaanite and Syrian banquet scenes from the beginning of the Late Bronze Age (1550 B.C.E.) to the end of the Persian period (332 B.C.E.), but certain details of the Pozo Moro relief are of special interest. On the left, Mot, the god of the underworld, sits on a throne with a footstool at his feet. He holds to his mouth a bowl containing a child, which he obviously intends to swallow alive. Although Mot appears to be a two-headed creature, the second head may belong to a servant who is usually shown standing behind the throne, but whom the artist has moved to a position above Mot’s head because of lack of space in this relief.

Before Mot stand two offering tables. On the first lies a piglet. Mot grasps its tail with his left hand. On the second table (depicted as a Syro-Phoenician offering table with ox feet) lie an animal head, a storage jar and perhaps a loaf of bread.

Opposite Mot, a goddess offers him a drinking cup. Near the second offering table, at the relief’s edge, stands a figure with the head of a beast of prey. This might be the Phoenician version of Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead.

Reliefs depicting a banquet for the dead, commemorating the deceased, are common in the art of Phoenicia and northern Syria. The scene usually appears on funerary stelae, but is also known from other monuments.8

The banquet scene from Pozo Moro, however, differs from such examples of banquets for the dead. In the Pozo Moro relief, we have a banquet in the underworld. It seems that shortly before the relief at Pozo Moro was carved, Phoenician artists transformed the common motif of the commemorative banquet for the dead into a banquet in the underworld. What is the significance of this transformation?

Perhaps the most obvious element relates to the god Mot. Monuments to the deceased are linked to the annual sacrifices to Mot intended to help the nefesh, or soul of the deceased, in his new abode in the underworld. Food and drink were offered to appease the underworld gods and to provide for the deceased. An inscription from Sam’al (modern Sinjirli in northern Syria) confirms this. Panamu, the king of Sam’al, asks that when sacrifices are offered to Hadad-Ba‘al, Panamu’s name too should be mentioned. Moreover, Panamu hopes to dine with the god in the netherworld- “May the nefesh (soul) of Panamu eat with Hadad and may the nefesh of Panamu drink with Hadad.”9

The Pozo Moro relief shows Mot as the god of the underworld. In Canaanite mythology, as revealed in the alphabetic cuneiform tablets from Ugarit, Mot, the son of El, eats and swallows everything. Mot is described at length in the Ba‘al myth from Ugarit, which recounts the struggle between Ba‘al-Hadad and Mot. At first Mot is victorious and Ba‘al is swallowed up by him “like a kid.” Ba‘al is saved only through the assistance of ‘Anat, with whom he has had sexual relations before being swallowed by the underworld.

In the Ugaritic text, Mot describes himself as ravenous, ready to kill, kill, kill-

The vision of the lioness is toward the desert; the seahorse strives toward the seas; the wild ox yearns toward pools; and the ram longs for the spring. But my soul longs to kill, to kill. My desire is to kill many. Behold, my two hands hold food. Behold, they are greedy for seven portions served for me. Behold, they will pour out a cup for me like a river.10

The similarity between this verbal description and the depiction on the Pozo Moro relief is little short of astounding. Mot feeds off and enjoys eating mankind; he needs large quantities of animals and drink; he is not content with just a single offering table; his entire retinue is kept busy slaking his endless hunger.

Into this depiction of the kingdom of Mot in the underworld comes the deceased. He has fallen into the power of Mot. To sustain his soul in the underworld, sacrifices must be offered to his memory. This is the new message proclaimed in the reliefs on this unique funerary monument, probably constructed for a high-ranking Punic official or governor in southern Iberia.

Here we see a change in the religious concept of death. The dead are not simply consigned to the underworld for all eternity- They need to be redeemed. The gods of the underworld must be appeased, but the deceased now have at least the possibility of resurrection.

In this relief, we see numerous symbols not only of struggle, but also of resurrection. The second intact relief depicts a hero or god fighting a monster, with a tree of life in the background. We have already remarked on the fragments of reliefs that portray monsters and warriors struggling with the gods, an erotic scene that may represent a sacred marriage and the birth of new life, echoes of an Egyptian creation story and lotus flowers, symbolizing the survival of the soul. All in all, we find here not only man’s struggle against death, but also a hint of resurrection and some sort of return to the world of the living in the future.

With the changing ideas about death and resurrection come corresponding changes in tomb architecture. The deep shaft tombs in which the dead were placed close to the underworld continue to be used, but, in addition, above-ground funerary monuments appear, with their pyramids pointing upwards in the direction in which the soul hoped to rise.

The reason for this change in concept and emphasis lies partly in Phoenician cultural experiences. When the Phoenicians were largely confined to their homeland, a narrow strip of land on the eastern Mediterranean coast, their old ideas of death prevailed. But their long voyages on the Mediterranean (and sometimes beyond) and their settlement throughout the entire Mediterranean basin involved considerable risks. The dangers of extended journeys and the possibility of death in faraway foreign lands, together with deeper exposure to other cultures (especially Egyptian), brought changes in their ideas about the world of the dead. In a sense, resurrection might have compensated for the increased danger of life so far from home.

Egyptian culture often influenced these slow, gradual changes. The Phoenician kings were mummified and then buried in Egyptian-style coffins. In Carthage and other Phoenician colonies, as well as in Phoenicia itself, more attractive portrayals of the netherworld began to appear. The netherworld became more than just the “dwelling-place of spirits,” as various Phoenician inscriptions call it,11 or the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23-4). Though the deceased was still in Mot’s power, he had some chance of escaping his grim fate, like Ba‘al-Hadad in the Ugaritic myth.

Perhaps it is more than coincidence that the first Biblical mention of resurrection occurs in the book of the prophet Ezekiel, composed at about the same time the Pozo Moro monument was erected. Ezekiel was surely well informed about Phoenician religion, culture and history (see for example, the references in Ezekiel 27-1–10).

The concept of resurrection of the dead was foreign to early Israelite religion. No trace of this belief appears in the Bible before Ezekiel’s vision during the Babylonian Exile. It occurs only as an allegory in the Book of Ezekiel, and it applies to the whole people, rather than to an individual. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the allegories reflect a fresh direction in contemporary Jewish religion, influenced by new ideas of Punic origin-

And He said unto me- “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered- “O Lord God, Thou knowest.” Then He said unto me- “Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them- ‘O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord- Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones- “Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.”’” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a commotion, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I beheld, and, lo, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them. Then said He unto me- “Prophesy unto the breath. Prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath- ‘Thus saith the Lord God- “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great host.

Ezekiel 37-3–10 [King James Version]

We started in Punic Spain and have ended with the Biblical world. We have investigated cultural links between Phoenicia and far-off Spain to illustrate how a monument in the province of Albacete in Spain can shed light upon religious developments in the Near East. If the investigation has stimulated thought on Biblical theology, then the monument at Pozo Moro has served a greater purpose than its builders ever dreamed of.

An earlier version of this paper was published in Arkheologia, Journal of the Association of Archaeologists in Israel, no. 1 [1986]. This article was translated by Lindsey Taylor.

a. A lekythos is a decorated jug used mainly as a tomb offering.

b. A pithos is a large storage jar.

c. A protome is the extended front of a sculptured artifact.

d. See Ephraim Stern, “The Many Masters of Dor, Part II,” BAR 19-02.

e. See “The Tombs of Silwan,” BAR 20-03.

f. Phoenicia is the Greek name for the area of modern Lebanon. Punic is the Roman form of the name used later for the Phoenicians in North Africa, as in the Punic wars.

1. Martín Almagro-Gorbea, “Pozo-Moro,” Madrider Mitteilungen 24, (1983), pp. 177–293.

2. Donald Harden, The Phoenicians (London- Praeger, 1971), p. 102, pl. 116.

3. Pierre Demargne, Fouilles de Xanthos I (Paris- Librairie C. Klincksieck, 1958); C. Bayburtluoglu, Lykia (Ankara- 1983), p. 67.

4. H. Benichon-Safar, Les tombes puniques de Carthage (Paris, 1982).

5. Almagro-Gorbea, “Pozo-Moro,” pp. 23a-b.

6. Richard D. Barnett, Ancient Ivories in the Middle East, Qedem 6 (Jerusalem- Hebrew University, 1982), plate 48c. See also “Ancient Ivory—The Story of Wealth, Decadence and Beauty,” BAR 11-05.

7. Harden, The Phoenicians, pl. 71.

8. David Ussishkin, “The Neo-Hittite Monuments, Their Chronology and Style” (unpublished Ph.D dissertation, Hebrew University, Jerusalem). The earliest Phoenician example is on Ahiram’s sarcophagus from Byblos, which we have already looked at for its lions. The latest example (from the fifth century B.C.E.), before the motif disappeared entirely with the advent of classical art, comes from Discilion in western Anatolia (E. Akurgal, Ancient Civilization and Ruins of Turkey, Istanbul, [1983], pl. 20). The Neo-Hittite banquet scenes from the city gate at Karatepe (Turkey) are very similar to those at Pozo Moro (M. Vieyra, Hittite Art [London, 1955], pl. 107), both in their general composition and in particular details, such as the throne, the second offering table and even the offering of the cup to the ruler. Similar elements can be seen on a funerary stela from Senjirli, pl. 83.

9. S. Loewenstam, “Mot,” in Entsiqlopedia Miqra’it, vol. 4 (Jerusalem, 1962), pp. 754–763 (Hebrew); H. Donner and W. Rolling, Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften (Wiesbaden, 1966), pp. 38–39.

10. “Myth of Ba‘al,” in The Goddess Anat, trans. by Umberto Cassuto (Hebrew) (Jerusalem, 1951).

11. See the entry under “Rafaim” in the Encyclopedia Biblica, vol. 7, p. 405 (in Hebrew).