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Saturday, November 08, 2008

'God's Wife': excerpt from a NOVA story on the "Bible's buried secrets" dealing with Asherah, whom the ancient Israelites considered the wife of YHWH. From the second link:

Rachael Kohn: Now something must have happened which radically removes Mrs God from the scene.

Diana Edelman: Yes, Mrs God was obviously quite popular, well I think what happened really was the development of monotheism. In the period when Judah and Israel were States, we had a national religion which is perhaps best called Yahwehism and in that we had the divine couple, Yahweh and Asherah, and there we other gods, below them. We have mentioned in the Bible pestilence and plague, we have sun, we have moon, we may have Lady Wisdom, if she’s not Asherah reincarnate, so we had a range of deities. And in that set-up, the male god not only is judge of the earth, and in charge of the created order, but he’s in charge of the fertility of the crops and the fertility of the animals. It’s his wife who is particularly responsible for human fertility. And we find this set-up throughout the ancient Near East. As a matter of fact, if Israel and Judah hadn’t had it, they would have really been the oddballs.

But Israel, well Israel ceased to be in 721 BC, Judah continued that religion. When it was sent into exile there was a change, and it’s when they come back from exile that it seems that Mrs God has been ousted. She’s no longer welcome in the Pantheon. And it’s when we get the new Temple rebuilt in Jerusalem the traditional date for that is given under Darius about 515 BCE.

We have all sorts of funny things in that new Temple. No.1, we don’t have The Ark any more. The primary symbol of Yahweh when he used to be the God of Judah, was the Ark, which seems to have been tied up with the title Yahweh of the Hosts, showing him a very martial God; that symbol is gone. Now it’s not like they couldn’t have had that symbol in the Temple. They could have easily rebuilt an Ark. So what we’re seeing here is a change in the understanding of God and God’s function. Yahweh is being depicted in a new way. He’s no longer just the God of Judah, he is a universal God who controls all of history. He isn’t a warrior God any more because he doesn’t have a particular nation he can be warrior God of any more. Even though we’ll have language that he is going to go out and suppress the nations himself, we find this in some of the prophetic language, even from his late period.

Along with this change though, we no longer have a wife. Asherah is gone, probably the other Gods in the Pantheon as well are all becoming absorbed into this deity whose name used to be Yahweh Sebaot, but now he’s become Yahweh Elohim, the Goddest of the Gods.