Sunday, April 24, 2011

God's wife Asherah: 'mighty and nurturing'

God's Wife Edited Out of the Bible -- Almost God had a wife, Asherah, whom the Book of Kings suggests was worshiped alongside Yahweh in his temple in Israel, according to an Oxford scholar. In 1967, Raphael Patai was the first historian to mention that the ancient Israelites worshiped both Yahweh and Asherah. The theory has gained new prominence due to the research of Francesca Stavrakopolou, who began her work at Oxford and is now a senior lecturer in the department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter...

Asherah's connection to Yahweh, according to Stavrakopolou, is spelled out in both the Bible and an 8th century BC inscription on pottery found in the Sinai desert at a site called Kuntillet Arjud. "The inscription is a petition for a blessing,... 'a blessing from Yahweh and his Asherah.'" Here was evidence that presented Yahweh and Asherah as a divine pair. And now a handful of similar inscriptions have since been found...

Also significant, Stavrakopoulou believes, "Is the Bible's admission that the goddess Asherah was worshiped in Yahweh's Temple in Jerusalem. In the Book of Kings, we're told that a statue of Asherah was housed in the temple and that female temple personnel wove ritual textiles for her."

J. Edward Wright, president of both the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and The Albright Institute for Archaeological Research, [agrees]: Asherah was not entirely edited out of the Bible by its male editors... Asherah -- known across the ancient Near East by various other names, such as Astarte and Istar -- was "an important deity, one who was both mighty and nurturing."

"Many English translations prefer to translate 'Asherah' as 'Sacred Tree,'" Wright said. "This seems to be in part driven by a modern desire, clearly inspired by the Biblical narratives, to hide Asherah behind a veil once again."... Aaron Brody, director of the Bade Museum and an associate professor of Bible and archaeology at the Pacific School of Religion, said... Asherah as a tree symbol was even said to have been "chopped down and burned outside the Temple in acts of certain rulers who were trying to 'purify' the cult, and focus on the worship of a single male god, Yahweh."

The ancient Israelites were polytheists, Brody [said] "with only a small minority worshiping Yahweh alone before the historic events of 586 BC." In that year, an exile community within Judea was exiled to Babylon and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. this, Brody said, led to "a more universal vision of strict monotheism: one god not only for Judah, but for all of the nations."

Image source here.