Scholars have known since the late 1960s that the ancient Israelites worshiped both Yahweh and his wife Asherah. Despite efforts by some editors to translate Asherah’s name to mean ‘Sacred Tree,’ archaeological findings and excerpts from the Book of Kings depict God’s wife as a powerful fertility Goddess.
(Read how present day Jews continue to maintain solid connections to nature.) Formerly an Oxford scholar and currently Senior Lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religion and the University of Exeter, Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s books, lectures and journal papers present background on a subject that is bound to be controversial.
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, writes Stavrakopoulou in a statement released to the British media. He is a solitary figure, a single, universal creator, not one God among many … or so we like to believe.
In 1967, the historian Raphael Patai revealed that the ancient Israelites worshiped both Yahweh and his wife Asherah. Stavrakopoulous has since taken up this issue anew and after several years of research has presented several finds that remove all doubt.
Stavrakopoulou discovered references to Asherah in the Bible and an 8th century BC pottery inscription. Found in the Sinai desert at a site called Kuntillet Ajrud, the inscription, she says, in 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.
Many ancient texts, amulets, and figurines found mostly in the Canaanite city Ugarit (modern day Syria) reaffirm that Asherah was a ‘mighty and nurturing fertility goddess.’ The Book of Kings describes how she was worshiped in the temple of Jerusalem alongside Yahweh, and how female personnel wove ritual textiles for her.
Both J. Edward Wright, President of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research, and Aaron Brody, Director of the Bade Museum and Associate Professor of the Bible and Archaeology at the Pacific School of Religion confirm Stavrakopolou’s assertions.
Brody notes that ancient authors intent on maintaining Judaism as a monotheistic tradition replaced mentions of Asherah with the translation ‘Sacred Tree.’
This is what he told Discovery News:
Asherah as a tree symbol was even said to have been “chopped down and burned outside the Temple in acts of certain rulers who were trying to ‘purify’ the cult, and focus on the worship of a single male god, Yahweh.”
Stavrakopolou’s research will form the basis of a three part documentary series airing in Europe.
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