A recent article published in Haaretz discussed the issue of monotheism and whether ancient Israelites believed that the Canaanite goddess Asherah was God’s wife.
The view that Asherah was God’s consort comes from two archaeological discoveries in the land of Israel. These discoveries provided inscriptions in which Yahweh and Asherah were mentioned together.
The picture above, found at Kuntillet Ajrud, shows one of the drawings with an inscription mentioning Yahweh and Asherah.
In her article, “Archaeologists Discover: God’s Wife,” Julia Fridman describes the inscriptions which mention the names of Yahweh and Asherah:
The first is an inscription that was found in an 8th century tomb at the site of Khirbet el Qom, in the heart of Judah, in a tomb. The inscription is a prayer, and contains the names of YHWH and that of Ashera, the latter is invoked three times. On one side of the inscription a crude tree appears to have been incised as well.
Another famous inscription was found at the site of Kuntillet Ajrud, on the border of Judah. It also dates to approximately the same time period as the Khirbet el Qom findings.
The site is scattered with dedicatory inscriptions to “YHWH and his ASHERA”. One stands out in particular: “To YHWH of SHOMRON and his ASHERA” (Meshel 2012: 86-101).
Shomron or Samaria was the capitol of Israel, very far from this peripheral border of Judah. Along with the inscription, the drawings found with the inscriptions match the iconography found on the shrines, for instance the Tree of Life, with volutes and lotus blossoms for branches, feeding caprids, and a lion standing underneath this tree of life.
Many people today believe that the religion of Israel was strictly monotheistic. It is true that faithful Yahwists believed that Yahweh was the only true God. However, archaeological evidence shows that many people in Israel and Judah believed in other gods.
Even the Bible says that many people in Israel worshiped Baal and Asherah. The prohibition in Deuteronomy 16:21 shows that the symbol of Asherah was found near the altar of Yahweh: “Do not set up an Asherah of any kind of wood next to the altar you will build for the LORD your God.”
The religious reforms of Asa, Hezekiah, and Josiah were attempts to remove these pagan practices from the religion of Israel. However, the Bible shows that although these good kings tried to eliminate these foreign practices, the preaching of the prophets and the archaeological evidence show that the people of Judah continued worshiping other gods in addition to Yahweh.
In her article, Fridman quotes Erin Darby, professor of religious studies at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, who said that “not even the Bible claims that most ancient Judeans were strict monotheists.”
Darby concludes, “The typical version of monotheism associated with ancient Judah is the result of modern people choosing a few texts in the Bible to then reconstruct their ideal picture of what ancient Judeans did.”
You can read this very informative article by visiting Haaretz online (Note: this link may be premium content and require a subscription).
If you cannot access the Haartz’s article, you can read a similar article here.
NOTE: For other studies on syncretism in the Old Testament, read my post, Syncretism in the Old Testament.
My post today on God’s wife has generated many questions in the minds of some readers. Since I did not present my own view on this issue, I have decided to write another post soon explaining in more detail why many Israelites were not monotheists. Be sure to read my follow-up post on this topic. The post will be published either Saturday or Monday of next week.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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But what do you think about her claims, Dr. Mariottini? Obviously a few archaeological findings that suggest some people worshipped other gods isn’t necessarily indicating that the traditional monotheistic understanding of ancient Judaism is off. The Bible often states that Israelites fell away from worshipping only the true God. I’m interested in your opinion on these findings.
Thank you for your comment. I believe I failed to say where I stand in the issue. I will write a post with more details soon, but let me say a few words about the issue.
I do not believe that Asherah was God’s wife, but some Israelite did, and the archaeological evidence suggests that. I also believe that many people in Israel were true monotheists, but the Bible clearly shows that most Israelites were not. It was only in the exile that the Jews became strict monotheists. I hope to be able to explain this is more detail in a day or so. Thursday and Friday of this week we have the centennial celebration of the seminary, and I am highly involved in this celebration. So, wait a few days and I will write a post providing all the details as soon as I can.
Thank you for visiting my blog.
Dear professor Mariottini, I have just written a post about the question of the conflict between these data and an early monotheism:
I would be delighted to learn the toughts of a great reputed scholar such as yourself 🙂
Lovely greetings from Europe.
Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son
Thank you for your link. I read your post and I agree with you that the archeological evidence does not undermine the views expressed in items 1 and 3. I disagree, however, with what you call “divine genocide.” To say that herem was a form of massive human sacrifice goes against the teachings of the Hebrew Bible.
If you are interested in reading my views on monotheism, read my post which will be published tomorrow, September 23, 2013.
Thank you for visiting my blog.