Asherah, Part I: The lost bride of Yahweh

Very interesting article. I wonder what the appeal of monotheism was for the early Israelites. Madness. all of it.

Queen of Heaven

They worshiped Her under every green tree, according to the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament).  The Bible also tells us Her image was to be found for years in the temple of Solomon, where the women wove hangings for Her.  In temple and forest grove, Her image was apparently made of wood, since monotheistic reformers demanded it be chopped down and burned.  It appears to have been a manmade object, but one carved of a tree and perhaps the image was a stylized tree of some kind.

The archaelogical record suggests that Asherah was the Mother Goddess of Israel, the Wife of God, according to William Dever, who has unearthed many clues to her identity. She was worshiped, apparently throughout the time Israel stood as a nation.  In many homes, images like the one above decorated household shrines.

Who was She, this lost Goddess of the Hebrews?…

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Posted on February 21, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. They weren’t ever monotheists in those early days…and even in the late days. They were henotheists at best, and well into the 3rd and 4th century CE, in domestic contexts that are most definitely Jewish in the area of modern Israel, Asherah “pillar figures” are still found in domestic contexts, clearly used and worshipped at very least by the women in the family. There has continued to be feminine imagery of divinity throughout Jewish history and practice: when it wasn’t Asherah, it became the “Sabbath Bride” and various other things.

    One of my biggest hurdles in teaching religion is to make people aware of how misinformed they have been about Judaism, because they think they know it since “it’s part of Christianity,” when in fact Christianity departed from Judaism on many issues, including monotheism (Christianity) vs. henotheism (Judaism). There has always been diversity of opinion in Judaism (since it was a practical rather than a creedal religion), whereas Christianity began to view the doctrinal sphere as “what is acceptable” and “heresy.”

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    • I’ve found the same, PSVL. when i teach the Theogony, I always also give a couple of other creation stories, including Genesis and it’s a real shock to the class generally to parse out Genesis. and even amongst some Professors, i’ve found that ‘henotheology’ isn’t really always understood.

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  2. The appeal? Being different from all their neighbouring peoples, and all peoples they had knowledge off who worshipped a plethora of Gods. It’s differentiating themselves, about being unique even.

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    • So the hebrew people were the first tumblr like children who wanted to be special snowflakes? that’s awesome. *sarcasm*

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  3. My understanding is that they were polytheists until the Babylonian Captivity. Something happened during that time that pushed them to a single God.

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    • I thought it was the influence of Zoroastrianism on the Jews during the Babylonian exile. Plus you have to take in the difference between Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews.

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      • don’t think you would have had that division at that period though. there’s a point in Isaiah that marks the first time pure monotheism creeps into the biblical narrative (I was talking to a bible scholar this past week)…I think he said it was Isaiah 56….

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  4. Most would cite the Shema ( Deuteronomy 6:4 ) for “proof” of Monotheism

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    • But here–as elsewhere–“most” aren’t very sophisticated in their analysis. That’s still a henotheistic statement, and there’s nothing in modern biblical scholarship which necessitates Deut.’s text being chronologically earlier in its final composition than any of the prophets.

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      • exactly, PSVL. I think the bible is what? a compilation of four or five different manuscripts?

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      • If you mean the “documentary hypothesis,” that only deals with the Pentateuch/Torah, and it generally states that it is a compilation of (at least) four sources/traditions: J (the “Yahwist”), E (the “Elohist”), D (the “Deuteronimistic History”), and P (the “Priestly Writer”). For the rest of the Hebrew Bible, different parts came in at different times, and some of what Christians consider part of the “Old Testament” is considered apocryphal by Jews, etc.

        But, yes, the point being it is not and never has been a univocal tradition, and henotheism is the reality where too many people seem to assume monotheism (especially if they’re Christian or Muslim, or were raised that way).

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    • Actually no. Firstly and most importantly, there are other areas of Deuteronomy, in fact in the Torah that point to an assumed polytheism (including the ten commandments). Secondly, the Shema, could be interpreted to imply that their God is one in and of himself, rather along the lines of henodology, which I’ll have to leave Edward Butler to explain since it’s well out of my purview.

      We assume monotheism at that point I think because we’ve been taught to but there’s a hell of a lot of polytheism still present at that point and for quite some time after.

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  5. that and that we’re talking about a specifically oral tradition that was later cobbled together from multiple written sources. it’s fascinating stuff.

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  6. I wonder what Tess Dawson’s outlook would be on this piece.

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  7. I’ve been getting some rather foolish comments that I’ve chosen to delete and I think it’s perhaps time to reiterate my policy, since obviously deleting was them was a bit too subtle.

    Dude, this blog is not a democracy. You are not entitled to share your opinion here. If you are not a polytheist, and it’s clear that you’re not, and have no interest in engaging in *respectful* dialogue, which it’s clear you don’t, I’m not approving your comments.

    Is that clear enough for you?

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