March 22, 2011
News flash: Men censored the Bible
by Dennis Johnson
According to a report on Discovery.com, male editors of early drafts of the Bible made a rather startling cut, according to several Biblical scholars: They cut almost all mention that God — Yahweh — had a wife.
The theory was first proposed by historian Raphael Patai in 1967, and new reasearch by Oxford scholar Francesca Stavrakopoulou backs it up: her name was Asherah.
According to Stavrakopoulou, the editing missed a few mentions — she says “the Book of Kings suggests [Asherah] was worshiped alongside Yahweh in his temple in Israel.” But Stavrakopoulou bases her theory on “ancient texts, amulets and figurines unearthed primarily in the ancient Canaanite coastal city called Ugarit, now modern-day Syria.” She says one of her key pieces of evidence is “an 8th century B.C. inscription on pottery found in the Sinai desert.”
“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.”
Also significant, Stavrakopoulou believes, “is the Bible’s admission that the goddess Asherah was worshiped 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.”
Other scholars aggree: J. Edward Wright, of The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and The Albright Institute for Archaeological Research, says “several Hebrew inscriptions mention ‘Yahweh and his Asherah.'” And he concurs that “Asherah was not entirely edited out of the Bible by its male editors. Traces of her remain, and based on those traces, archaeological evidence and references to her in texts from nations bordering Israel and Judah, we can reconstruct her role in the religions of the Southern Levant.” Aaron Brody, director of the Bade Museum and an associate professor of Bible and archaeology at the Pacific School of Religion, says “Mentions of the goddess Asherah in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are rare and have been heavily edited by the ancient authors who gathered the texts together.”
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives