Peter Kreeft once remarked words to the effect that the only thing required to believe any one of the 100 most absurd things that any human being can believe is to have a Ph.D. Such is the case with the recently publicized beliefs of Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou of the University of Exeter who argues that God had a wife who was edited out of the Bible.
According to God had a wife but edited out in Bible, says British theologian, Dr. Stavrakopoulou believes that the goddess Asherah, who is mentioned in several places in the Old testament, was not some competing false god, but was the wife of the biblical god Yahweh. While I realize a brief article in a newspaper is not going to contain the complete argument, the news source generally gives at least one argument that supports the thesis. Such is the case here, and the argument cited if representative of the good doctor's theory is not particularly good.
Here's the argument: After noting that there were competing gods to the God of the Bible, Dr. Stavrakopoulou notes:
The biblical texts name many of them - El, Baal, Molek, Asherah. Despite Yahweh's assertion in the Ten Commandments that "You shall have no other gods before me", it appears these gods were worshipped alongside Him, and the Bible acknowledges this.
From here, Dr. Stavrakopoulou notes that Kings reports that the "The goddess Asherah was worshipped in Yahweh's temple in Jerusalem. In the Book Of Kings, it says that a statue of Asherah was housed in the temple and that ...." So, this leads to the question: what was the relationship between Asherah and the God of the Old Testament? Dr. Stavrakopoulou has an answer:
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 is a petition for a blessing," Stavrakopoulou says. "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."
So, what are we to make of Dr. Stavrakopoulou's argument? In my view, not much. Let's start at the top.
Is it the case that other gods were worshipped alongside God? No question about it. One need only read the pages of the Old Testament to see that other gods were regularly worshipped in ancient Israel and Judah. However, the phrase "thou shall have no other gods before me" is not an invitation to maintain the worship of other gods. The entire message of the bible is that there is but one God, and that God is the only one who is deserving of worship. As early as Genesis 35, the Old Testament accounts show that God's chosen people are to put away other gods and worship exclusively the God who is "majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders." (Exodus 15:11). The same chapter that contains the phrase "have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3) also contains God's command, "You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourselves." Three chapters later, Exodus uses even stronger language of prohibition:
Now concerning everything which I have said to you, be on your guard; and do not mention the name of other gods, nor let them be heard from your mouth. *** You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their sacred pillars in pieces.
So, when one reads about other gods being worshipped alongside of the God of the Bible, it should not be heard to be some type of acceptance of the practice of worshipping other gods. Rather, these other gods were set up in direct opposition to the desires and teaching of God.
What does this mean? It means that the setting up of an Asherah or other gods in Israel and Judah conflicted with the laws of God of the Hebrews. Now, does this obvious opposition to the setting up of an idol to another god make it more or less likely that Asherah was the wife of the one true God? In my book, it makes it extremely unlikely.
But the argument continues: In the books of Kings, it states in several verses that an Asherah was set up in the Temple in Jerusalem. Of course, the question is: was this seen as a good thing or a bad thing? The text is very clear that every time the kings of the Old Testament set up these Asherahs anywhere they were evil kings and the setting up of the Asherah's were bad.
Consider the story of King Ahab. 1 Kings 16:30 and following tells that Ahab was evil in the sight of the Lord. He is described as having set up an idol for Baal in the temple of Baal and in 1 Kings 16:33, it says:
Ahab also made the Asherah. Thus Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him.
Does this sound like the setting up of an Asherah is a positive thing? One would need to really stretch to find Asherah as some type of acceptable co-deity in light of these verses.
The verse which speaks about the Asherah being set up in the Temple is 2 Kings 21:7 where Manasseh, who did evil in the sight of the Lord, is reported to have "set the carved image of Asherah that he had made" in the house of the Lord. Again, is this seen as a good thing? 2 Kings 21: 11-12 reports:
Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations, having done wickedly more than all the Amorites did who were before him, and has also made Judah sin with his idols; therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Behold, I am bringing such calamity on Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle.
Note the word "abomination" connected to the fact that he made "Judah sin with his idols." So, quick question: is the setting up of the Asherah in the Temple seen as a good thing or a bad thing? Seems pretty apparent it is a bad thing -- a very bad thing. Hardly the view one would hold if Asherah were the wife and co-deity of God.
This is consistent throughout the Bible. There are no mentions of the construction of an Asherah that is positive. It is always seen as evil.
Additionally, it should be noted that Asherah wasn't the only other god set up in the temple. According to 2 Kings 23:4 the Asherah wasn't the only other god set up in the temple. Not only did the King Josiah, who did right in the sight of the Lord, remove the Asherahs that had been set up by Manasseh, he also brought out "of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, for [fn]Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel." So, I suppose it would be appropriate to ask, using the logic of Dr. Stavrakopoulou whether Baal was Yahweh's brother. But I won't pursue that.
So, having shown that the Biblical teaching from the beginning is that no other gods than the God of the Hebrews was to be worshipped, having further shown that the times that the Asherah is erected are seen as evil times or abominations, it is difficult to believe that anyone would find that Asherah was a favored wife of God. But, of course, acknowledging (in a serious understatement) that "there wasn't enough evidence to link her explicitly with the high god of ancient Israel" (should be, there is NO such evidence), Dr. Stavrakopoulou's thesis turns on the discovery of a blessing in the form of an inscription found on a ceramic in the Sinai desert. (Of course, "a handful of" similar inscriptions have since been discovered.) The inscription "asks for a blessing from 'Yahweh and his Asherah.'"
Does the finding of a "handful" of similar inscriptions in the Sinai desert prove in any respect that this reference to "Yahweh and his Asherah" is common? Of course not. To assume that would be similar to reading books by some members of the Jesus Seminar and presuming that the absurd views stated in those books represent the views of Christianity as a whole. No one doubts that there were people living in ancient Israel and Judah who were polytheists. The Bible reports over and over that the people continued to worship other gods throughout the long, often sad history of Israel and Judah. So, does the fact that someone asked for the blessing of Yahweh and Asherah on a marriage surprise anyone? No. Does it mean that this was a general teaching of Israel and/or Judah at some point in time? Only if you are predisposed to think that it does.
After all, we know that the Bible clearly explains that God is the only God and the worship of him is to be exclusive. We also know that the worship of Asherah is associated with evil and abomination. So, to find that a couple of inscriptions on some buried pottery in the Sinai desert (which is largely outside of the territory of Israel and Judah) somehow trumps the clear teaching of the Bible to the contrary? Absurd.
Of course, Dr. Stavrakopoulou's argument has an answer -- the same answer that is always used to explain away inconvenient facts: The Bible text was changed at some point in the past to cover the teaching the Yahweh and Asherah were husband and wife.
Sorry, but I'm not buying that bridge.