Was Asher the wife of God?

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Some Biblical archaeologists believe that countless female statuettes could represent the early Judeo-Christian goddess Asher, the wife of God. The ancient front east was filled with an overwhelming number of gods and goddesses, so what does the discovery of one other mean to our history? Well, if the deity we are talking about shared the altar with God himself, then we can boldly throw away 2000 years of orthodoxy. In fact, if the early Israeli religion, from which the monotheistic Judeo-Christian traditions were born, included the worship of a goddess named Asher, how would this change our understanding of the biblical canon and the traditions that emanate from it?

Could Ashera really be the wife of God?

In a historically rich landscape called Levanta - approximately the territory of present-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria - there was a wealth of evidence of how people lived in some of the key moments of history. These findings include numerous women's statuettes dating from around 10. century BC to the beginning of 6. century BC, when the southern kingdom of Judea fell into the hands of the Babylonians, who may represent the wife of the Hebrew God.

These clay statues of approximately conical shape represent a woman holding her breasts. The heads of these statuettes can be divided into two categories according to the type of working and decoration: the first category with a roughly shaped head and minimal facial features or the second category with a modeled characteristic hairstyle and more sophisticated facial features. Statuettes are always found broken and always in a place indicating their discarding. No one can tell for sure what these statues were used for, why we find so many, or why they were deliberately destroyed - if at all. They could be ordinary mundane objects or even children's toys. The prevailing theory, however, is that they represent precisely the representations that have plagued the prophets: the wife, queen, and companion of God with all the gods she was equal to.

The statuette contradicts ancient views

Although there is no doubt that Judaism was monotheistic at the time of writing the Hebrew Bible, these findings are a problem. The presence of the female deity, if, as some scholars believe, does indeed represent it, contradicts the view that the ancient Israeli religion was essentially immutable and based on the ancestral religion up to Abraham, who was considered a real historical figure. During the Temples of Jerusalem, the priestly role was exclusively for men. Similarly, for most of the history of rabbinic tradition, women have been excluded from the priesthood. With the exception of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the disciples of Mary Magdalene, Christians reserved sacred roles to men in their canon. Also known to Christians as the Old Testament, Tanach records the successive succession of individual historical patriarchs and male leaders, but lists several women as prophets.

But perhaps the widespread worship of Asher would suggest that these religions were not always strictly patriarchal. Perhaps more importantly, although the Judeo-Christian tradition in its long-term codified form is monotheistic, worshiping Ashera would point out that it has not always been so or that it has gradually become one.

What would Ashera mean for monotheistic traditions?

Before strict monotheism came to power in Israel, there was one protective deity according to the older traditional practices of Canaanite polytheism, which was only one of the most powerful among the many gods worshiped in the Hebrew-speaking region. In the oldest Hebrew tradition, this deity was called "El", which was the name of the God of Israel. El had a divine wife, the goddess of fertility Athirat. When the name JHVH, or Yahweh, was used to designate the chief God of Israel, Athirat was taken over as Ashera. Modern theories suggest that both names, El and Yahweh, represent the merger of two previously different groups of Semitic tribes, with Jahve's worshipers prevailing.

Thereafter, there was pressure on Ela's followers to adapt to Yahweh's attitudes and to abandon what seemed to be the reverse Canaanic practices, such as performing rituals at outdoor altars in groves or hilltops, or worshiping several deities. But numerous findings uncovered in the middle of 20. century indicated the continuation of both cultural groups, which manifested, for example, the belief that their protective God, the ruler of all gods, had a wife. The truth is that the evidence of these traditions shared by the Israelites and the Canaanites refers to an older tradition that ascribed to men and only God a less exclusive position of power, at least in terms of representation, than was originally thought of this patriarchal and monotheistic religion.

Revealing evidence

In the year 1975 was in a locality called Kuntillet Ajrûd, probably inhabited at the turn of 9. and 8. century BC, found a number of cult objects that depicted the God of all gods, Yahweh, side by side probably, as many researchers pointed out, goddess Asher. Two large water containers, or pithoi, and numerous murals were also uncovered. Archaeological research has also brought to light a large number of ceramic shards or broken containers that were commonly used for writing at a time when paper production was unknown. Because it was impractical, we only encounter short inscriptions or sketches on shards.

However, two surprising reports were written on two shards from this locality:
"… I bless you in the name of Yahweh Samarski and his Asher." (Or, "Asher.")
"... I bless you in the name of Yahweh Teman and his Asher."

The meaning of the local name Teman is uncertain, and it is challenging for the scholars to study ancient inscriptions (Teman is associated with the Nabatean kingdom of Edom, whose capital was Peter). But the meaning of this formula seems quite clear. According to archaeologist William Dever, author of the book "Did God Have a Wife?", This report suggests that Asher, who was Ela's partner in Canaan religion, could remain a partner of Yahweh when his name was the predominant denomination of God of all gods. Dever further contemplates that one of the figures drawn on shards that could have been engraved by someone other than the author of the text may be Ašera himself sitting on the throne and playing the harp. It is a really interesting idea, but it would need additional evidence to confirm it. However, Dever points out that this place probably served ritual purposes, as cultic artifacts suggest. However, it is likely that the drawing above the inscription was added at a later time and therefore did not have to relate to the text at all.

The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah

In another location from 7. In the 19th century BC, Chirbet el-Qóm, similar inscriptions appear. Archaeologist Judith Hadley translated these hard-to-read lines in her book The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess. Urijahú Rich wrote this.

Blessed be Uriyah through Yahweh. For from his enemies, he was saved by his asher. From Oniyahu… His asher… And his and [he] rou.

Some words have not been preserved, but the blessing seems to be based on the same then commonly used wording. If there is a longer inscription somewhere in the archaeological record, it can help us decipher whether it is a ritual object or a wife of God. For the time being, the experts disagree. But 50 years ago, when the first fragments appeared, there was no talk of this. This is partly because biblical archeology was established as a discipline dedicated to collecting evidence supporting the Holy Scripture. But at the end of 20. In the 20th century, the focus of the research shifted to exploring worldly life in the Bronze and Early Iron Age, the times during which Biblical paradigms originated. However, artifacts that would reflect the Holy Scripture were found less frequently compared to those that reflected everyday life and which, moreover, directly contradicted the canon, as in the case of the discovery of a possible wife of a monotheistic deity.

So who, or what, was Ashera exactly?

The word "Asher" appears in the Hebrew Bible a total of 40 times in various contexts. But because of the nature of the ancient texts, the use of a word that literally means something like "happy" is ambiguous. Did the word "asher" mean an object that represented the goddess, the class to which the goddess belonged, or was it the name of the goddess Asher itself? In some translations, Asher refers to a certain tree or grove. This use raises a number of associations. Trees, often associated with fertility, were considered a sacred symbol of all the nourishing figures of Asher. In a devolved sense, “ashhera” could be a wooden column, essentially a substitute for a tree placed inside the building. In fact, at a time when it was less tasteful to worship the various gods, the worshipers of the goddess Asher used the pillar or ash tree as a surrogate object to which they secretly prayed.

One of the interpretations of the story of the Garden of Eden may be a manifestation of the rejection of female cults of fertility and motherhood, and the forbidden fruit of knowledge may refer to practices dedicated to Ashira. Traditional biblical teaching explains that the location of the ashera next to the altar of the God of Israel was intended as a sign of greater piety and was quite common. Indeed, some experts interpret these double idols to correspond to Jahve / El and Ashra. Nevertheless, this has also been seen as a violation of religious norms over time, and considered a sign of polytheism - even though the ashher was placed to honor Yahweh and no one else. But it is also possible that what was initially a symbol of the goddess lost its original meaning over time and became a sacred object.

In other parts of the Hebrew Scripture, the word "asher" seems to refer directly to the forbidden Canaan deity. Most of the knowledge that archaeologists have about Canaan religion comes from a place called Ugarit, a city north of Israel, in which a language close to Hebrew was spoken. In Ugaritian, "Asher" was written "Athirat" and was considered the goddess and companion of Ela, the protective god of all gods of the Canaan polytheistic faith, probably including the god Ba'al, who later replaced Ela in the position of chief god of the Canaanites.

The goddess also existed in the complex mythological ties of surrounding cultures, including the Hittites, and in some story variations she had as many as 70 children. But the idea that the ashera - or the clay statuette of a woman - could truly represent the goddess Asher did not begin to gain in importance earlier than in 60. and 70. 20 flights. century and relies primarily on Dever's discoveries and analysis.

Why don't the Judeo-Christian traditions today recognize the wife of God?

Most of the ancient Israelis were farmers and shepherds. They lived in small villages together with their extended family, in which male offspring stayed in the same household as their parents. After the wedding, the women moved to another nearby village. Compared to the rich river civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia, life in the semi-arid Levant was rough. Quite a few wealthy landowners lived here and most people survived. During the period of the Israeli kingdoms, most religious activities took place in such villages, outdoors in nature and at home. And as nowadays, personal faith did not necessarily correspond to the official doctrine, which itself was subject to change. It follows that the Holy Scriptures focused primarily on the upper class of ancient society: the king and their retinue, as well as the religious elite living in major cities, especially Jerusalem itself. And by the will of these ruling elites, decisions were made about which religious traditions would be followed and forgotten.

As such, the Bible itself was revised and organized to reflect the prevailing political interests of the then Jerusalem. For example, the book of Genesis contains writings and revisions from different periods, but not according to how it was written. It follows that as polytheism gave way to monotheism, albeit with some overlap, and Ela's worshipers retreated to Jahve's followers, Asher's worship gradually disappeared. Finally, the use of asher in the Temple of Jerusalem and the worship of asher as such during 6. In the same period, the production of clay statuettes ended. The Israeli religion became a centralized monotheism after a long period of regional differences. Meanwhile, Asher's worship has disappeared from people's awareness to such an extent that even her legacy has disappeared from history for some time. But the notion that God of all the gods might have had a wife in a monotheistic tradition is certainly provocative.

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