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Monday, March 7, 2011

Professor: God Had A Wife

It's true. But He grew tired of her, and dumped her for a Jewish virgin.

(That was Reductio ad absurdum, folks - put your blasphemy blasters back in your holsters!)

From the "you just can't make this stuff up!" department, courtesy of The Daily Mail:
You might know him as Yahweh, Allah or God. But on this fact, Jews, Muslims and Christians, the people of the great Abrahamic religions, are agreed: there is only one of Him. He is a solitary figure, a single, universal creator, not one God among many.

Or so we like to believe. After years of research specialising in the history and religion of Israel, however, I have come to a colourful and what could seem - to some - uncomfortable conclusion: that God had a wife.

Archaeological evidence including inscriptions, figurines and ancient texts as well as details in the Bible, indicate not just that he was one of several worshipped in ancient Israel, but that he was also coupled with a goddess. She was worshipped alongside him in his temple in Jerusalem.


Far more significant is the Bible's admission that the goddess Asherah was worshipped 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.

In fact, although the Bible condemns all of these practices, the biblical texts suggest that goddess worship was a thriving feature of high-status religion in Jerusalem. What, then, was her relationship to Yahweh?

I attempted to track down this divine couple in my new BBC2 documentary series, Bible's Buried Secrets. Until the discovery in the early 20th Century of an ancient Canaanite coastal city called Ugarit in what is now modern-day Syria, very little was known about the goddess Asherah.

But ancient texts, amulets and figurines unearthed here reveal that she was a powerful fertility goddess.

But perhaps most significant of all, Asherah was also the wife of El, the high god at Ugarit - a god who shares much in common with Yahweh. Given the evidence within the Bible that she was worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem, might she have played the role of a divine wife in ancient Israel too?

Strikingly, Yahweh is often called 'El' in the Bible and he performs many of the same roles.

Despite numerous references to Asherah worship in the Bible, there wasn't enough evidence to link her explicitly with the high god of ancient Israel, Yahweh. Until, that is, the discovery of a remarkable ceramic inscription in the Sinai desert.

The inscription was photographed and recorded by archaeologists and scholars of ancient Israelite religion, so we know what it looked like - and importantly - what it said.

Dating to about the 8th Century BC, it was found at a remote site called Kuntillet 'Ajrud, and was written on a large piece of a broken pottery.

Its writer was probably a traveller or a merchant, moving between the towns of ancient Israel. For any traveller, a journey was dangerous, so divine protection was important.

The inscription is a petition for a blessing. Crucially, the inscription asks for 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, all of which help to strengthen the case that the God of the Bible once had a wife.

Finding the original inscription, however, has proved impossible. Discovered in the Sinai in the Seventies, the real thing has since been mysteriously 'lost'. Neither the BBC team of researchers nor my academic colleagues and contacts could locate it.

The antiquities authorities of Israel and Egypt claim to have no knowledge of its whereabouts. Was the inscription simply a casualty of the bureaucratic confusion arising from the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967?

Or did someone take the decision that such a potentially unsettling piece of evidence about the Jewish and Christian God was better hidden?


She should consult Dan Brown - he would know. If anyone can find that inscription, it's him.

And the allusion to a conspiracy, that the evidence was hidden, is ridiculous - I mean, whomever is behind this "cover-up" is smart enough to hide the inscription, but stupid enough to leave a reference to this Asherah chick in the Book of Kings? Really?

This whole idea is not only theologically unfounded - because God is neither male nor female, but pure spirit - it's dumb. Try to imagine it, God having a wife...

GOD: Well, I've just created the universe. Whaddya think?

ASHERAH: Hmmmm...move the Andromeda Galaxy a couple parsecs to the left...a little up a bit...ehhh, you know, I think it'll look better over in the Delta Quadrant instead.

GOD: I think it looks fine right where it is...

ASHERAH: Of course you do, dear. Move it to the Delta Quadrant, and replace it with the Horsehead Nebula. Those colors will look better here, especially when the afternoon sun shines through the window. Don't argue with me, just do it!

Or maybe this -

ASHERAH: I sweep and vacuum and polish every day, and this cosmic dust gets over everything!

GOD: Sorry about that...creation can be sorta messy.

ASHERAH: Sorta messy? Ugh - that's all you talk about. Creation this, creation that. Why don't you do something really useful around here - like scrub the floors or something.

Or maybe even...

ASHERAH: And where do you think you're going?

GOD: Michael, Raphael and Gabriel need a fourth for bridge.

ASHERAH: Oh for our home's sake! Ever since you created "cards", it's all you ever do!

...Genesis says that God used to walk in the cool of the garden of Eden with Adam - now we know why.

Although - if you think about this logically - if God did have a wife, it would put an end to all this "gender-inclusive" language nonsense, wouldn't it?