Dan McClellan on Asherah

I am writing a midrash on Asherah, and I wanted to gather a ton of information on her. I really like Dan McClellan, and so decided to find a ton of what he said about her!

A Theory Regarding Asherah’s Marginalization (09/11/22)

Hey everybody we have archaeological data that indicate early Israelites and Judahites were worshiping Asherah as a goddess alongside her consort Adonai.

Now a common response to this is to say “No, those are just the apostates – those are people who were doing what they knew they were not supposed to be doing.” The problem with that is that the only text in the Hebrew Bible that have a problem at all with worshiping Asherah are dated by critical scholars to the period of the deuteronomistic literature or later.

That suggests that this condemnation of Asherah began as a part of Josiah’s project of cult centralization which was intended to centralize all the worship in the area around the one temple in Jerusalem and the one patron deity of Israel under the one priesthood that was located there in Jerusalem.

This was likely an attempt to programmatize – institutionalize – this de facto cult centralization that arose after Sennacherib had come through at the end of the 8th century and destroyed all the other cult sites in the area except for the temple in Jerusalem. Josiah was probably reacting against attempts by kings between Hezekiah and Josiah to restore that worship, and a part of that was rewriting a lot of the histories to make it seem like all those kings who were engaged in what was then considered perfectly normal worship were doing what they knew they were not supposed to be doing.

Baal, Asherah, and… Planned Parenthood? (12/05/22)

Stitch: Who was Baal, church? The god of baby sacrifice.

Dan: Hey everybody this is pure and utter nonsense; there was no such thing as a “god of baby sacrifice”. Baal was a Northwest Semitic storm deity and warrior deity just like Adonai the god of Israel. In fact, Adonai appropriated some of the hymns that were originally dedicated to Baal that are in the Hebrew Bible.

Anciently people could sacrifice children to a variety of different deities; there was no one deity dedicated to it. People sacrificed children to Baal; people also sacrificed children to Adonai, the god of Israel as they were explicitly commanded to do in Exodus 22 verse 29. While there are other later texts that were written to renegotiate and mask that early commandment, there are texts like Ezekiel 20 verses 25 and 26 that acknowledge that was precisely what the commandment was for and that reading is the overwhelming academic consensus.

Stitch: and who was Asherah? The goddess of sex.

Dan: Also pure and utter nonsense. Asherah was a mother deity and so they had purview over a variety of different facets of motherhood, including child conception, child bearing, and child rearing.

Stitch: And they would worship Asherah through orgies and unbridled sexual escapades.

Dan: There are no data that support this this sounds an awful lot like something someone just made up.

Stitch: Which nine months later results in an unwanted baby, which you then pass through the fire to Baal.

Dan: so there are no data that support the assertion that sacrificed children represented unwanted pregnancies and particularly that they were the product of “cult orgies”.

Now, children who were sacrificed were probably costly attempts to secure specific blessings from certain deities, and because infant mortality rates exceeded 50 percent in these time periods the likelihood that they were going to survive into adulthood was low enough anyway that the cost benefit analysis would have been quite different for parents anciently than today.

Now I’ve shared them recently but here again are some good Publications on child sacrifice in ancient Israel:

“Child Sacrifice in Ancient Israel: by Heath D. Dewrell

“King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical DIstortions of Historical Realities” by Francesca Stravrakopoulou

“Human Sacrifice in Jewish and Christian Tradition” edited by Karin Finsterbusch, Armin Lange, and K.F. Diethard Romheld, in association with Lance Lazar

“The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity” by Jon D. Levenson

“The Epigraphy of the Tophet”

“The Jerusalem Tophet: Ideological Dispute and Religious Transformation” by Francesca Stravrakopoulou

“Age Estimations Attest to Infant Sacrifice at the Cathage Tophet” by Patricia Smith, Lawrence E. Stager, Joseph A. Greene, and Gal Avishai

Stitch: What if I told you the strategy has never changed?

Dan: you would be just as wrong.

Stitch: What if I told you there’s nothing new under the Sun and as it was in Judges 6, so it is today. Planned Parenthood and the spirit of the age and his acolytes have used the same Judges 6 strategy for decades! They push pornographic sexually titillating material and curriculum onto young kids to break down their sexual and societal mores and standards to reduce them to their most animalistic appetite so they can’t govern themselves so they’ll have more sex that more unwanted babies will be produced which you can then pass through the fires to Planned Parenthood today.

Dan: Well that would be a profoundly ignorant and despicable conspiracy theory that would literally demonize a good chunk of the country and flatly ignore the fact that programs like Planned Parenthood exist precisely to help reduce rates of unwanted pregnancies, of STDs, of unprotected sex and of all the problems that come with that. It would also ignore the data that indicate that increased religiosity correlates to increased rates of all those things, and that’s likely because increased religiosity is usually associated with increased rhetoric regarding abstinence only ideologies and regarding purity culture and modesty culture and a lot of other stigmas that are associated with sex which are deployed not to address the sexual health or the well-being of the communities involved but are deployed as tools of costly signaling and of boundary maintenance which prioritizes their function as such tools and marginalizes and neglects sexual health and the well-being of the communities and therefore significantly harms those communities and particularly women and particularly young women.

Stitch: Gideon is facing the same culture war that we’re facing today that so many pastors refuse to engage on because “I don’t really do the culture where I just preach the gospel.” No, you preach a syncretist cheap grace gospel to ensure that you don’t lose any tithes from the people in your congregation who you refuse to call to repentance.

Dan: and you blindly preach a profoundly ignorant brand of right-wing authoritarianism while studiously ignoring the harm that it demonstrably does because it is the most effective means of structuring power and values in your favor.

Stitch: you go tear down that altar baby sacrifice, how about that? How about then we’ll have a conversation.

Dan: how about you grow up get educated and not call for violence over the pulpit

Why was Asherah Vilified? (01/20/23)

Question: Could you talk about why she began to be vilified?

Hey, thank you for a great question.

I would argue that the vilification of Asherah arose within the context of Josiah’s campaign of cult centralization, which took place in the 7th Century BCE, but we need to know a little bit of historical background in order to understand what Josiah was getting at.

Prior to the reign of Hezekiah, around a century before Josiah, the archaeological data indicate that there were cult sites and private shrines and temples all over the lands of Israel and Judah, and there’s no indication that anybody had a problem with it. Adonai would be worshiped alongside Asherah and other deities.

Under the reign of Hezekiah there seems to be an initial shift, and we have the invasion of the Assyrian King Sennacherib likely to blame for this, because Sennacherib comes in to try to restore Judah to vassalage and devastates the landscape; destroys cities, destroys cult sites and temples all over the place.

We also have some indication that Hezekiah may have hidden some temples in order to protect them from this coming invasion, the temple at Arad for instance. When it was uncovered in the 60s initially Scholars said “Oh, this is one of the high places that Hezekiah destroyed,” but the cult site wasn’t really destroyed. The Divine images, the incense altars, were just kind of laid on their side and then the whole thing was buried in about six feet of Earth, which many scholars now argue would better fit a an intentional decommissioning and hiding of the temple to protect it from this coming invasion with the goal of later uncovering it and recommissioning it, which unfortunately for them never happened but fortunately for us helped to preserve a lot of the site which includes indications of the worship of other entities not just Adonai.

So the combination of hiding some cult sites and of the destruction of most of the rest of the cult sites creates what scholars refer to as a “de facto cult centralization,” in other words there’s only one main functioning cult site now, and that’s the temple in Jerusalem, the city that didn’t get destroyed.

So the Kings between Hezekiah and Josiah likely tried to restore a lot of the worship that was going on before, which was not seen as problematic, and this probably was just barely getting off the ground and then we have Josiah who probably saw all of these resources – all of this attention, all this power, all this wealth – being funneled into the Temple in Jerusalem, and decided “Hey, I kind of like it this way. Let’s keep it this way,” but to keep it that way you can’t just say “I decree that this is how it’s going to be,” and so we have the production of the deuteronomistic literature which most scholars believe began – the earliest layers of it – under the reign of Josiah, and this is an attempt to create Divine commands that limit worship to only the temple in Jerusalem, that limit worship only to Adonai, that limit worship only to the priesthood of Adonai that is in Jerusalem.

So Josiah institutes this program of cult centralization and part of it is reframing the history of previous periods as apostasy, as people knowingly going against the command of God, even though they’re creating the commands as they go and then retrojecting them into the past. So the history of Israel that sees the Kings prior to Josiah as wicked and corrupt Kings who threw off the worship of Adonai to go chasing after other deities is likely an historical fiction; an attempt to create a mythical past that we are now trying to correct with the deuteronomistic literature – with the revision the editing of other Hebrew Bible legislation that takes place in the exilic period and after.

So as a part of this campaign of cult centralization you’ve got to vilify Asherah; you’ve got to vilify the priesthood of Asherah; you’ve got to vilify all of the other deities; and all of the the other means of worship that were perfectly normative and perfectly acceptable in prior periods. That, unfortunately, is the revised history that gets preserved within the Hebrew Bible and becomes the authoritative history for the generations that came after.

I talk a little bit about this in my book, “Adonai’s Divine Images” which is open access – freely available on my link tree – and I talk about it primarily in relation to the idea of Divine Images and how the conceptualization of Divine Images shifted through this cult centralization through the periods of the Exile through the post-exilic period

On God’s Wife, Asherah (04/27/23)

Stitch: We have no textual data that depicts the God of the Hebrew Bible as having a wife.

Dan: so that’s not exactly accurate; we have no textual data from the Bible that depicts that, but we have multiple textual attestations to Asherah as the consort, the partner, the wife of Adonai, who is the god of the Bible.

Stitch: what actually happened was in Israel’s pre-exilic times some Israelites disagreed with Biblical Theology and thought God had a consort named Asherah.

Dan: So this is inaccurate and anachronistic; there was no such thing as “biblical theology” until there was such a thing as a Bible which would be about a thousand years after Israel’s pre-exilic period ended, so the widespread worship of Asherah was not disagreeing with “Biblical Theology” and there are no data that indicate it was disagreeing with anything at all until the 7th Century BCE when Asherah and Asherah’s worship first shows up in the literature and is condemned.

Let’s take a look at what the scholarly consensus regarding that condemnation is:

So this is from Tilda Binger’s 1997 book on Asherah: “I have shown above that it is apparently only the deuteronomists that know of a goddess by the name of Asherah, and that they – as often as not – connect the cult of this goddess to The Cult of Yahweh.”

This is from Steve Wiggins later book on Asherah: “The goddess Asherah is thus not mentioned in the prophetic books. The cultic object referred to four times in a masculine plural form, is evident in later editions. It appears, therefore, that the asherahs were not of particular concern to the prophets.”

Here is Judith Hadley’s book on Asherah: “Almost all the references to Asherah belong to the deuteronomistic literature or later. The only possible exceptions are the passages in Isaiah and Micah, and Exodus 34:13. Isaiah 17:8 is generally considered a gloss while Isaiah 27:9 and Micah 5:13 are disputed”.

I would argue that we cannot confidently identify any references to Asherah whatsoever, much less negative references to Asherah in any literature that predates the deuteronomistic literature, but let’s look at what Hadley has to say in another article: “As seen above, the passages in the Hebrew Bible which mention Asherah can be attributed to the hand of the deuteronomistic historian or later, and are largely condemnatory. It may be, then, that religious reformers at the time of Josiah and later wanted to eradicate the worship of Asherah, whether it was the wooden cultic symbol or the goddess herself. But during the centuries before this Asherah had appeared paired with Yahweh in most positive ways. Furthermore the early 8th Century BCE prophets do not condemn Asherah worship; the worship of Asherah was evidently totally acceptable before the deuteronomistic reform movement gained momentum in the 7th Century BCE, but since the text of the Bible was significantly composed or edited by the deuteronomistic school or even later, this fact is not immediately apparent.”

Stitch: Biblical authors and editors explicitly reject this as an act of rebellion and heresy. They never depict the god of the Hebrew Bible as having a wife.

Dan: So it is accurate that the Bible nowhere identifies Asherah as Yahweh’s wife. That’s because it has been edited, and these three texts that were provided are all from the deuteronomistic writers or after and they have also been edited. The one on the bottom, 1st Kings 18, where it refers to Elijah calling for the prophets of Baal and Asherah to be gathered together for this great contest. The reference to the prophets of Asherah is a later editorial edition because they just vanish from the narrative; they’re called to the contest and they play absolutely no role whatsoever in the contest, it’s only the priests of Baal who are there and so [the Asherah priests] were obviously later added to the narrative in order to lump in the prophets of Asherah with this earlier condomnation of the prophets of Baal.

Stitch: That was a different theology from Israel’s pre-exilic times.

Dan: The only theology that we can reconstruct from before the reign of Josiah and the rise of the deuteronomistic literature in the 7th Century BCE has absolutely nothing negative to say about Asherah at all.

Stitch: “Until we discovered that ancient Israelites actually worshiped a woman alongside Yahweh” – okay, this is not a recent discovery. The biblical authors admitted this was going on in pre-exilic times, so we’ve known about this for millennia.

Dan: but there are two big things that have changed within the last century or so that actually make this a pretty big deal.

One is that scholars can now more confidently situate a lot of these literary layers within their appropriate historical and rhetorical and literary contexts and doing so indicates that nobody condemned the worship of Asherah until the deuteronomistic literature in the 7th Century BCE likely under the reign of Josiah. Prior to that we have no indication anyone had a problem with it.

The other thing that has changed is that in the last 75 years or so we’ve discovered some inscriptions that link Adonai and Asherah and those inscriptions predate the rise of the condemnation of that worship, and so scholars now have been able to more accurately reconstruct a period in Israel’s history where the worship of Asherah was probably widespread and normative – not unilateral, obviously there were people who didn’t worship Asherah, but there is no indication that anyone had any problem at all with the worship of Asherah until the deuteronomistic literature in the 7th Century BCE, probably under the reign of Josiah and that condemnation was probably part of a campaign of cultic centralization, and so Asherah was vilified and literally demonized just so Josiah could consolidate power under his priesthood in Jerusalem in the one Temple that was now the only place you were allowed to worship Adonai.

Stitch: “An 8th Century BCE inscription was found on pottery in the Sinai desert” this is a reference to the famous “Yahweh in his Asherah” inscription found on Sinai at what could be a shrine, but in all likelihood was probably just a road station and it was frequently visited by people from the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the biblical authors tell us that the majority of the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were not worshiping God properly and were practicing idolatry.

Dan: So all of the literature that condemns the northern kingdom for idolatry that predates the deuteronomistic literature is condemning the northern kingdom for their worship of Baal, not for anything associated with Asherah, and the reason they were condemning them for their worship of Baal is because Baal and Adonai were butting heads competing over who was going to be the storm deity in the northern Hill Country.

Stitch: All this inscription shows is that there were different views about the nature of Yahweh in the 8th Century BC, which again the biblical authors have admitted and interpreted as Rebellion.

Dan: but all those interpretations come from the 7th Century BCE and after, following the rise of condemnation of the worship of Asherah. What we cannot show occurred in the 8th century was that anyone had a problem with the worship of Asherah. The only data we have attests to the worship of Asherah as the consort of Adonai.

Stitch: “So Asherah was not entirely edited out of the Bible; traces of her do remain” – okay, this is being presented as if it’s a fact and it’s not it’s an hypothesis that some scholars have about the nature of the biblical text, but we have no explicit textual data that shows that Asherah was painted in a positive light in biblical text and it was later edited out. There’s a competing hypothesis that the biblical texts preserve a very early tradition of early Israelite monolatry directed at Yahweh.

Dan: and these theories have not convinced the majority of scholars

Again on God’s Wife, Asherah (04/28/23)

Stitch of a stitch: “there was no such thing as biblical theology until there was such a thing as a Bible” – so it appears we’re just defining “biblical theology” differently. I’m defining it how Bob Becking defines it in his book when he says —

Dan: so I want to kind of cut to the chase here and identify a methodological concern that I have. Let’s take seriously the notion that there could be “biblical theology” in the 8th Century BCE. The claim that the worshipers of Asherah and the composers of these texts that link Asherah and YHWH disagreed with Biblical theology requires a specific scholarly reconstruction/hypothesis/theory regarding the dating of these texts, and particularly one that does not enjoy widespread support – it is the minority view; it’s not the consensus view among scholars.

But that’s not how you presented it. This is how you presented it:

Stitch of Stitch: “what actually happened was in Israel’s pre-exilic times some Israelites disagreed with “Biblical Theology” and thought God had a consort named Asherah”

Dan: So you spoke of a scholarly theory that is a minority theory among scholars as if it was what “actually happened”, but here’s how you responded to that original creator when they spoke about a scholarly theory with more widespread support, as if it was what “actually happened”:

Stitch of a stitch: “So Asherah was not entirely edited out of the Bible traces of her do remain” – okay this is being presented as if it’s a fact and it’s not; it’s an hypothesis that some Scholars have about the nature of the biblical text.

Dan: So you are imposing an unrealistic standard that the overwhelming majority of biblical scholarship including the scholars you yourself cite cannot meet. Upon A person who is not a credentialed biblical scholar participating formally in the field and that you yourself don’t even meet.

Stitch: Aside from this, there are biblical texts which a lot of scholars say are early which speak of Israel only being allowed to worship one God YHWH, the god of Israel. Richard Elliott Freeman for example assigns these verses to J (Exodus 34:14) and E (Exodus 23:13). This would indicate early in Israel’s history they were prohibited from worshiping any other God including Asherah.

Dan: so I have three main concerns with this point:

The first is that the existence of (Exodus 34:14) and E (Exodus 23:13) as documentary sources is not even a given anymore. In fact I would say the majority view now is that we can really only speak of D, P, and non-p.

Second concern is that even among those who accept J and E has documentary sources, I would say the majority of Scholars date Exodus 34 to the exilic period or after. Exodus 23 verse 13 has been argued to be a gloss by more than a few scholars, although that is more disputed than Exodus 34.

Third main concern is that we have no data that indicate that this legislation – even if it existed in the 8th or the 7th Century BCE – was widely known much less enforced. In fact the scholarly consensus is moving in the direction of recognizing that the Torah was not actually publicized, not widely known, not widely enforced until around the second century BCE. So even if these laws did exist in the 8th or the 7th Century BCE we have absolutely no data that indicates they did anything other than circulate among the elites as prestige text or as means of structuring power. Nothing indicates the worshipers of Asherah were knowingly violating any legislation that was widely known, much less enforced.

Stitch: If the claim that is being made is that because these texts are disputed we can’t say there was no condemnation of Asherah worship prior to Josiah, that is a pretty low bar for me to reach in offering a rival hypothesis.

Dan: That is not the claim. I pretty explicitly stated the claim in the clip right before here it is again:

“I would argue that we cannot confidently identify any references to Asherah whatsoever much less negative references to Asherah in any literature that predates the deuteronomistic literature.

Stitch: Kenneth Kitchen notes Micah 5:14 is consistent with the overall theology of Micah, like what we see in chapter one, where he calls for the breaking and smashing of all the idols of Israel, which would have included the idols of Asherah.

Dan: So that’s only true if the author of Micah 1:7 knew about the asherahs and cared about them, but that has not been demonstrated.

Additionally, this was a minority view 20 plus years ago when Kitchen published this, and even fewer Scholars agree with it today. In fact there are a lot of scholars who have argued quite forcefully that both Micah 1:7 and Micah 5:13-14 are later deuteronomistic additions.

My point is not that there are no rival hypotheses that exist; my point is exactly what I stated: we can’t confidently date any condemnations of Asherah to prior to the deuteronomistic literature. That’s the majority view.

Stitch: Exodus 34:13 is consistent with its context. Notice the following verse calls for Israel to only worship one God.

Dan: Again, the majority view is that the ritual decalogue is a later text.

Stitch: Furthermore, I admit I agree with scholars like Kenneth Jitchen and Joshua Berman that much of the Mosaic Corpus should actually be dated much earlier. If they’re correct based on the evidence they provide this would mean other verses that condemn the worship of Asherah actually date to Israel’s earlier history. but again the reason could be as to why there were only a few texts that condemned Asherah worship in Israel’s earlier time period could be because it wasn’t as a widespread issue as it was in Israel’s later pre-exilic time period.

Dan: and these are all minority views that have not convinced the majority of scholars.

Stitch: yeah it may be but this is a scholarly reconstruction and the point of my video was pointing out that that creator was saying it was a fact that biblical texts have been edited to remove Asherah. That’s not been proven and that was my point

Dan: and as I have shown that is an unrealistic standard that you yourself do not live up to.

Stitch: Furthermore as Richard Hess warns in his review of Mark Smith’s book, “nevertheless it remains an open question whether the reader will be persuaded of all the critical reconstructions that the author assumes. Like other authors in this vein who wish to argue a particular form of the evolution of Israel’s religion, there is the inevitable special pleading for late dating the inconvenient biblical text that suggests otherwise.” but again if the bar that is set by Hadley is to show a dispute I can point out the dating of these texts is disputed.

Dan: when Scholars say “this is disputed” that does not mean there is somebody somewhere out there in the world who disagrees; it means that there is no clear consensus and that there is parity among the scholarship on each side of the question. That is not the case with apologetic attempts to undermine the scholarly consensus.

Stitch: and there’s a lot of good evidence that many of these texts should be dated earlier.

Dan: I would disagree with that and so would the majority of scholars.

Stitch: Now of course it’s possible those texts were just edited as well, but if that’s the claim that is made then the editorial hypothesis just becomes unfalsifiable, and as Joshua Berman warns in speaking of a similar issue “When any issue arises that creates trouble it is quarantined under the guise of editorial interpolation and disallow rhetorical and hortatory contact with the rest of the passage lest it contaminate that sources hypothesized ideological purity.”

Dan: So this reductively and pejoratively misrepresents the source critical enterprise just so that it can be more easily dismissed to make way to default to a more traditional perspective. The reality is that source critics have been spending generations trying to refine their methodologies and trying to make the work of source criticism more careful and more disciplined so that we can avoid the errors of the past.

So in the interest of time I’m going to wrap up here the rest of this video is just sharing passages that have already been addressed or just pointing out that there are minority viewpoints out there which is not something that I contested

Musings on a Possible Symbol of Asherah (07/03/23)

Hey everybody, I’ve shared a number of times on my channel information about Asherah as an Israelite goddess and as the consort or partner or wife of the god of Israel, Adonai. I wanted to share a little observation that I think may be evidence for the continued existence of Asherah within the cult of Israel – and by “cult” here I mean the worship practices.

Now, an early symbol that is agreed by many scholars to represent Asherah is a depiction of a stylized date palm with ibexes feeding on either side of it. Here is one example, this is taken from one of the drawings that was on one of the pithoi discovered at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud that probably dates to around 800 BCE. This (second) example is a couple centuries older this is the Taanach Cult Stand and you can see the third register from the bottom between the two lions you see the little curly branches of the stylized date palm with the ibixes on either side of it. Again, this is widely agreed to be a symbol for Asherah.

Now the last artifact I want to share is the Lachish Ewer. This is a drawing and an inscription on a vase that was discovered at Lachish in ancient Israel and this probably dates to around the end of the Bronze Age, late 13th century BCE, so just before around 1200 BCE. So this is how the artifact actually looks today but I want to show you a drawing so that you can see the full inscription and drawing. So here’s a drawing of the relevant inscription and this dedicates this vase to Elat or the goddess – and I’m going to focus on the drawings on the right here. Specifically, I want to focus on these two ibixes that are depicted feeding on either side of this stylized tree. Now, given this inscription is dedicated to “the goddess”, which is an epithet that is frequently used to refer to Ashera, I’m going to suggest that this is related to the previous depictions of Ibex’s feeding on either side of a stylized date palm. The tree hair is a little different, however, it doesn’t have the normal curly branches; we’ve got seven branches on this tree that are sweeping up in a style very similar to how the menorah would be depicted in later times.

And so I think this is just suggestive, perhaps, of the origins of this tree-like menorah that we find later in the temple, and this would not be the only case that scholars have made for Asherah cultic objects in the temple. In fact there’s an Israeli scholar named Raanan Eichler who has published an argument that Aaron’s Rod, which was placed in the Ark of the Covenant, may have been an early Asherah pole and the story about how it budded and how it ended up in the Ark of the Covenant may just be cover for how there could have been an Asherah pole in the Ark of the Covenant in the temple in Jerusalem.

So just an interesting observation that I think merits more research.

On God’s wife, Asherah (09/10/23)

hey everybody most scholars who study early Israelite religion are in pretty general agreement that in the earliest periods of Israel’s history the god of Israel, first El and then the conflated El and YHWH, had a wife named Asherah, and almost 3,000 years ago it seems like someone in the Sinai Peninsula drew a picture of both the god of Israel and their consort or wife Asherah.

This is a photograph of the relevant part of this large pot and it’s a little difficult to see what’s going on here, so here is a drawing I did of that artifact and you can see there’s an inscription that was written over top of the male deity figure. It could have been written by the person who did the drawings, more likely it was written by someone else, but they talk about blessings. And then on the very bottom line of the inscription the line that is centered over the male deity and overlaps their headdress “says by YHWH of Samaria and by Asherah”, so this inscription most likely understands the two deities to represent YHWH, the god of Israel, and their consort Asherah, the goddess of Israel.

Now, a common response to this is that this is no big deal because the Bible tells us that there were apostate Israelites who were worshiping Asherah as the Queen of Heaven, but the problem with this is that the only negative references that we have to Asherah in the biblical texts are dated by scholars to the reign of Josiah and after. They are part of the deuteronomistic literature and the literature that would be influenced by it. So they date to the end of the 7th Century BCE and later and are probably the product of Josiah’s campaign of cult centralization. We have absolutely no data from prior to the reign of Josiah that indicates anyone really had a problem with the worship of Asherah, and all of the material remains that we have that attest to that worship come from before that time period.

If you’re interested in reading more about Asherah as an early Israelite goddess Bill Dever’s 2005 book did God have a wife is probably the most general and accessible discussion, but Saul Olyan is a wonderful scholar who wrote a book on this many years ago entitled “Asherah and the cult of YHWH in Israel”, Tida Binger also has a wonderful volume discussing this, I would highly recommend Judith Hadley’s volume “The Cult of Asherah in ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess”, Steve Wiggins also has a very careful volume entitled a “Reassessment of a Asherah: with further considerations of the Goddess” that seeks to try to temper what Steve sees as some of the excesses of earlier theories, and for great discussion of why it is likely that the two figures that appear on that drawing are indeed YHWH and his Asherah Ryan Thomas has a wonderful article from the Journal of Ancient Near Eastern religions entitled “The identity of the standing figures on pithos A from Kuntillet ‘Arjud: a reassessment”, and I also discussed some of the Divine Images associated with Asherah in my own book “YHWH’s Divine Images: a cognitive approach” which is an Open Access volume that you can find for free online and there is a link directly to a PDF of the book in my link tree, I also taught an online class last year on the Israelite goddess Asherah and you can purchase access to that recording and to the recordings of other online classes that I have taught at mcclellan.org

What happened to God’s wife? (01/01/24)

Stitch: (Reacts to the headline “God’s Wife Edited Out of the Bible — Almost” by screaming, showing Exodus 20:3 and Deuteronomy 16:21 as a citation.)

Dan: Hey everybody this is just a reminder that this article from 2011 is still correct and that most scholars still think that Asherah was worshiped as the consort, partner, or wife of Adonai, the god of Israel, prior to the reign of Josiah and the beginning of the deuteronomistic literature. There are no negative references to the goddess Asherah in any text that we can confidently date prior to the reign of Josiah, and we can explain why we have Josiah opposing the worship of Asherah.

When senacerib came through and destroyed most of the land of Israel and Judah in the late 8th Century BCE, but left the Jerusalem Temple intact, that focused all worship on the Jerusalem Temple – a de facto cult centralization; everyone had to go to Jerusalem to offer worship.

The kings that followed after Hezekiah seem to have tried to restore the earlier worship that was going on elsewhere, but then we get Josiah who becomes king and decides “I kind of like everybody having to come to Jerusalem, everybody having to bring their money to me, everyone having to use the priesthood I run here in Jerusalem”, and so what happens? Lo and behold we find a new “book of the law” with new regulations regarding how to worship, who to worship, and where to worship, and suddenly Asherah is Persona nan grata; we have a rewriting of the earlier history where the worship of Asherah in the Jerusalem Temple is framed as apostasy.

We have no data from before the deuteronomistic literature that at all vilifies Asherah. We do have archaeological artifacts and inscriptions that show Israelites worshiping Asherah alongside Adonai, the god of Israel. In fact, we have a drawing of the two of them together these are the remains of a large pot that was drawn on and inscribed around the year 800 BCE and it’s a little hard to see what we’re looking at here, so here’s a drawing of that artifact that I did for my book you can clearly see a male and a female deity with interlocking arms and then there is an inscription written over top and centered over the headdress of the male de and that inscription mentions blessings by Adonai and by Asherah and the two deities are represented using iconographic motifs associated with the deity Bes, but scholars have made a pretty good case that they are intended to depict the male Adonai and the female Asherah, and I would say the best discussion of the data regarding who those figures represent is that of Ryan Thomas from the 2016 issue of the Journal of ancient near Eastern religions

And here are a couple others from his tiktok which I couldn’t get transcriptions for:

We don’t have any pre-exilic texts that are pro-Asherah, do we?

I thought Asherah was the wife of El and mother of the Elohim and Yahweh?

Were these 3 goddess removed from the Bible?