Ancient History, History, Theology

Did Ancient Israelites Believe God Had a Wife?

Recently, the media has become enamored with the works of a scholar from the University of Exeter – Francesca Stavrakopoulou. Dr. Stavrapopoulou has been making the rounds, revealing the “new information” that the ancient Israelites were not monotheistic and that Yahweh had a wife.

Every news outlet that has reported on this has made all kinds of sensationalized claims based on Dr. Stavrapopoulou’s statements.

J. Edward Wright, president of The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and The Albright Institute for Archaeological Research, backs Stavrakopoulou’s findings, saying several Hebrew inscriptions mention “Yahweh and his Asherah.”Time

“Monotheism,” she said, “brought with it a terrible consequence. God is exclusively male, and so to be male is to be like God. And this has coloured attitudes towards women for centuries and centuries. In toppling the goddess from heaven, monotheism disempowered women. The evidence I’ve presented rocks the foundation of modern monotheism, and for some, that may have a severe impact – but it seems to me that the loss of God’s wife had an even greater impact on the history of humanity. And that’s the painful truth.” The Telegraph

To be honest, they make it sound like Christians, Jews and Muslims are all misogynist redactors who hate women and edited out their part of the divine so their men could claim superiority. I won’t get into all of the arguments, but basically Dr. Stavrapopoulou’s argument is exactly that. Because we didn’t have the tempering influence of Asherah, we became male dominated barbarians.

To be honest, I am getting tired of the media sensationalizing these “discoveries.” Dr. Stavrapopoulou’s discovery isn’t news. For nearly a century, archaeologists have known that some of the Bronze and Iron Age inhabitants of Israel worshiped a female deity alongside Yahweh. William Dever wrote a book on this six years ago, and he cites resources that stretch back decades.

There’s nothing new in Dr. Stavrapopoulou’s arguments. What is new is that she is a woman archaeologist. I will say that archaeology is a field dominated by men, so the media naturally gravitated to a woman talking about a female goddess that is supposed to “rock the foundations” of the world’s monotheistic religions.

Let’s be frank here and cut through all the sensationalism and sexism. The Hebrew Scriptures don’t hide the presence of Asherah. It appears 40 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. What should be said is that some English translations mistranslate the word. The King James Version, for example, translates Asherah as “grove” but in the translator’s defense, that is because the Greek Septuagint translates it as xylon or “pole.” This change was a late one – done centuries after the writing of the Hebrew original – and it didn’t creep back into the Hebrew.

If Dr. Stavrapopoulou wanted to say that later translations of the Bible changed it, I could live with that. I’m not going to pretend that post-Nicaean Christianity was anything close to the Biblical ideal. But that doesn’t change the fact that the word did not go anywhere in the Hebrew.

The Hebrew Scriptures also don’t hide the fact that the Israelites worshiped Asherah. Every single reference to her in the Hebrew Scriptures deals with Israelites worshiping her. Of course, they also worshiped Molech, Dagon, Ba’al and a whole host of others.

This means the Israelites were not monotheists? Of course they weren’t. It drives me crazy when people teach around the Bible, trying to eliminate the polytheism of the ancient Israelites. The Scriptures are full of it.

Here’s another quote from the Time article I mentioned earlier:

Aaron Brody, director of the Bade Museum and an associate professor of Bible and archaeology at the Pacific School of Religion, says the ancient Israelites were polytheists, with only a “small majority” worshipping God alone.

That’s not a shocking revelation to me. Maybe it is to some people who have not read the Hebrew Scriptures, but I don’t know how someone could possibly miss the fact that the Hebrews were largely polytheists.

The issue is not that they were polytheists, but whether Yahweh viewed himself as one of many gods – and it is clear that he did not nor did the keepers of his faith at Jerusalem. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

In short, this whole broo-haha about Dr. Stavrapopoulou and her television series on BBC is just a rehash of things we already knew. It doesn’t demonstrate a conspiracy to hide the truth. If anything, it is just an indictment on popular teachers of the Bible who try to teach around the truth that is evident in it.

It doesn’t destroy the monotheistic faith. It doesn’t call into question the Bible. It just proves the Bible authors knew what they were doing. If anything, it verifies the truth of the Bible. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.”


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