Updated: Sep 4, 2021
Last week, I posted that I’d learned that the God of the Bible has a wife. I then received three responses from believers: One person told me I’m confused, another said I’d missed the mark, and the third cautioned me to “be careful.” Interestingly, nobody asked me why I thought god had a wife. Nobody seemed curious to know the reason I’d posted such a strange statement.
If someone told me something which I thought was absurd, such as the earth is flat, my first response would be “why do you think that?” I’d be curious to know their reason for saying such a seemingly ridiculous statement. Maybe they’ve got a good reason...and wouldn’t that be fascinating!
Intrigued by my own curiosity, as well as the seeming lack of curiosity on the part of believers, I’ve purchased this book which claims to make the case for God’s wife. I’m going to take a break from my Bible study while I read it. I’ll keep you posted. And I promise I’ll “be careful” though I’m really sure what I’m supposed to be careful about.
Let’s meet the author of our book, Did God Have a Wife? William G. Dever is professor emeritus of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the university of Arizona in Tucson. His other books include: “Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?” and “The Lives of Ordinary People in Ancient Israel: Where Archaeology and the Bible Intersect.” Raised a preacher’s son, Mr. Dever gained “an early love of the Bible” and was educated at protestant seminary and Harvard University before becoming a scholar and parish minister. Mr. Dever is today a nominal Jew, active in the Reform community in Israel. He is not a theist and describes himself as a secular humanist who “finds value in the Jewish tradition.”
Chapter One Summary
In chapter one of “Did God Have a Wife?” the author defines and contextualizes the religion of early Israel, where there were two classes of religion defined as “folk” and “book.” Folk religion was practiced by the vast majority of early Israelites and consisted of family observances and practices handed down through tradition, centered upon the household shrine and overseen by women. Folk religion was ancient, with roots extending beyond the Bronze Age into the myths and traditions of Canaanite culture. Book Religion came much later during the Iron Age, when a literate class of clerics and scribes began to emerge in the larger towns and cities west of the Jordan River. Both the folk and book forms of religion persisted in ancient Israel, though it’s the book form we know best today given the simple fact these beliefs and tenets were recorded, copied and passed down to the present. The folk religion of the people though can be reconstructed through the use of archaeology and anthropology to give us some idea about what the everyday people of ancient Israel believed and how they worshiped. The context of ancient Israel was hardship. Life was short then, perhaps thirty years for men and less for women. Almost nobody could read or write and nearly everyone lived in impoverished conditions in small family households consisting of roughly twenty people who knew next to nothing of the world beyond their fields, neighbors and the nearest towns. In the world of these people, their folk religion was everything. The book religion of the big cities (“big” means up to 2000 people) was either non-existent during the Bronze and early Iron Ages or irrelevant during the later periods. It is within the folk religion of these early people where we will find both the origins of the Biblical Yahweh, as well as His wife Asherah.
I couldn’t quite figure out why the man at the next table was giving me such a funny look... But then I realized he could see the title of the book I was reading: Does God Have a Wife?
Chapter Two Summary
I’d like to share my summary and review of chapter two of “Did God Have a Wife?” In chapter one we learned that ancient Judaism consisted of the Book Religion of the priests and scribes as well as the Folk Religion of the village, and more particularly the home. We also learned that it is largely the Book Religion (as well as the corresponding oral tradition of the rabbis) which has come down to us today. As a result, we know comparatively little about how early Israelite and other Semitic people such as the Canaanites practiced their religion in the home. In chapter two, we discover how the fields of history, theology and philosophy have dominated our understanding of ancient Judaism, and how archeology has played a largely peripheral role in developing our knowledge of religious practice, and more particular religious belief. We then learn how scientists of the last few decades have begun to employ the tools of archaeology and anthropology to begin filling out the larger picture of Judaism from the perspectives of not just the synagogue, but also the village, the home and everyday life. it is from this new perspective of the stories of the things which people owned and used, that researchers are forming a more accurate and compelling account of the world view of the ancient Semitic world - and not just the learned literate few, but the everyday people who believed and practiced their religion as part of their daily life. It is within this context that we will discover God’s wife, Asherah.
J, E, P and Dtr
I’ve learned a lot last night and this morning about the origins of the first five books of the Bible. There’s scholarly consensus that Genesis through Numbers were written during the 7th and 8th centuries BCE. The book of Deuteronomy (with content extending all the way to Kings) is thought - again with strong consensus - to have been added by reformers after the return from Babylon and the building of the second temple. I also learned that Bible scholars ascribe Old Testament authorship to largely anonymous writers and editors using the following system of classification: The “J” document Bible content written by authors preferring to name God “Yahweh” (Jahweh in German). This content runs mostly through Genesis, Numbers, and Exodus and describes much of the central story including the creation, the flood and the stories of the patriarchs. This content dates from the 8th century BCE. The “E” document Content where God’s preferred name is “Elohim.” ThIs material has been interlaced with J and more often deals with the themes of the covenant at Sinai and the establishment of God’s relationship to His people. This content is dated to the 8th century as well. The “P” document This is the “Priestly” material appearing mostly in Leviticus. This writing was added late by priestly editors who did much of the work of weaving J and E with P to create a story of Israel’s prehistory in Canaan and wandering through the desert. We owe much of the Old Testament’s form and storyline to P. The Deuteronomistic history or “Dtr” Added after the return from Babylonian exile, this content was likely produced to form the basis for Josiah’s 7th century “Second Law” reforms which are outlined in the book of Kings II. Dtr content reflects the bitter lessons of Israel’s fall and near extinction at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, and interestingly may represent the Jewish people’s first expression of the sentiment “never again.” J, E, P and Dtr are the shorthand labels used by modern Bible scholars to discuss and write about the content of The Old Testament. And though we may never know who actually wrote these books, we can recreate a compelling picture of the character and motives of the various authors through the classification of their authorship and writing styles.
Chapter Three Summary
Let's review chapter three of the book Did God Have a Wife? In chapter one we learned of the "Book" and "Folk" religions of ancient Israel, while in chapter two we saw how the science of archaeology has been largely neglected as a tool of understanding the way ancient people actually practiced their religion in the community and the home. Chapter three now makes the case for historians and scholars to take a closer look at what the abundance of archeological evidence has to say about the lives and beliefs of the people of ancient Israel. Important points include:
Biblical Perspective The actual writers of the Old Testament were recounting events and ideas from the perspective of a very specific world view as well as a distinct social, political and theological agenda. These are not unbiased or objective writings about the life and times of ancient Canaan. The Torah and other books which form the basis of the Bible had a very distinct agenda, which filters and clouds our ability to see how people of the time really thought and lived.
Biblical Scope There is strong consensus among scholars that the contents of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) were composed and edited between the 7th and 8th centuries BCE which gives us a very limited scope of perspective on earlier times. When we read the Torah we are peeking at the ancient world through a very narrow (yet important!) crack in history.
Archaeological Perspective We need not rely on just books to tell us stories of the past, as things tell their stories too. In fact, objects such as ancient household artifacts and religious items may tell us more and better stories than the written texts from the time. This is because old religious writings are often constrained by theological or political limitations which the objects are not. The writings are further produced by literate scribes and clerics - the elite of the time - while objects are produced by craftsmen such as potters and metal workers from the common classes. In short, archeology can tell us the story regular folk, including the unprivileged and illiterate. Furthermore, objects come down to us largely unedited except by way of the damage and wear of time, while written texts may suffer many translations and interpretations as they cross the historical divide between the ancient world and today. "Things" on the other hand, take us directly into the homes and lives of the people who made, owned and used them, often being preserved precisely as they were made, and in the very place they were used, providing a direct window into the past. This is the archeological perspective.
Archaeological Scope While the original writings of the Torah are constrained to just a few centuries, the scope of archaeology knows no such constraints. And while our Bible content is largely static today, with very few new texts being added to what we currently possess, there is a non-stop and constantly growing abundance of archaeological evidence being added each year and just waiting to be studied to tell us more.
Summary of Chapter Three Scholars should no longer regard archeology as merely an interesting supplemental source of knowledge about the religion of the ancient Israelites as well as the people of Canaan, but instead should be embraced as a new and rich source of primary information about that world. And archaeologists must begin to exercise not only their picks and shovels to unearth evidence of the past, but also to start using their knowledge and training to help tell the stories contained within the objects they find and share. To add to the Biblical Perspective, providing a more complete and comprehensive picture of the past.
Chapter Four Summary
Let's do a quick review of where we've been so far before moving on to chapter four of Did God Have a Wife?
Chapter One Introduction of Israelite "Book" and "Folk" religions
Chapter Two Archaeology as a tool to understand religious practice
Chapter Three How artifacts tell the story of past religious belief
Now, on to Chapter Four! In chapter four we discover the foundations of both the official theology outlined in the Torah (Book Religion) and the story of belief and practice described through the available archaeological evidence (Folk Religion). The religion of the Torah (Book) is largely theological and not likely grounded in the regular religious practices of the common people. The Torah was originally for the kings and the priests and was centered on the following seven propositions:
The revelation of God to Abraham and his descendants
The promise of the Land to the Patriarchs
Liberation from Egyptian bondage as a sign of God's power
The giving of the Torah at Sinai and the covenant
The conquest of Canaan as fulfillment of God's promise
Jerusalem (Zion) as the eternal abode of Yahweh
The primacy of faith and loyalty to Yahweh alone
Contrast this to the more down-to-earth facts of how the common people of ancient Israel and Canaan actually practiced their faith, which is better told to us by the "things" they left behind which are uncovered and explained through the science of archaeology. Here's a list of the types of "things" archaeologists have to work with:
High Places (aka "Bamot" in Hebrew) These were literally high spots on the earth where religious rites such as sacrifice were performed. Such sites are often mentioned in the Bible, though they are increasingly denigrated by Bible writers as time goes on and these authors attempt to distance their theology from its pagan roots.
Family and Household Shrines By far the most common type of religious shrine in the ancient world. The altars used in the homes of the ancient Israelite people contained objects representative of their Canaanite past and probably connected little with the official dogma of the developing Torah at the time. The statues and implements used on such household shrines offer researchers a wealth of understanding, not only about what and how the common people of Israel believed, but also about the roots and connections to their many gods, one of whom may have become the God of the Hebrew Bible.
Temples Official temples to Yahweh were few, in fact the ideal was only one at Jerusalem. This fact, along with the difficulty in visiting or even entering a temple at the time, caused a disconnect between the worship style of the elite, the kings and the priestly class and the worship of the common people who understandably relied more on their family and household shrines as well as local customs and tradition. However, what we do know about the remains of temples in ancient Israel is the connection they hold to temples elsewhere in the Levant. The point, again, is that though today we may "remember" the temple at Jerusalem as the heart and seat of the worship of Yahweh, this was probably not true for everyone in ancient Israel and perhaps only for a select minority of the most elite.
Cult Paraphernalia Ancient Israel and Canaan are littered with cult objects which were in use from ancient times right up through the Biblical period. We know this, as these items are often mentioned within the Bible itself, causing the curious paradox of the Bible author's efforts to discredit pagan beliefs as being a source of information that such beliefs were indeed held and practiced. Such objects include: - Standing Stones to serve as markers or god images - Altars where sacrifices were performed - Asherahs representing god's female consort These objects - and their evident use - tell us much about what the common people were thinking during the time of the Bible. The role then of archaeology is to help us piece the together the puzzle in order to form a more complete picture of religious life in ancient Israel.
This is my summary of Chapter Four of Did God Have a Wife.
I’m reading chapter five of the book “Did God Have a Wife?” which describes the practice of Israelite folk religion from before and through the period when the Torah was written (12th to 7th centuries BCE). What’s described is exactly what I remember in Japan, with communities and families celebrating and “worshipping” a pantheon of deities with interest and influence over every aspect of life. Of principle importance in the keeping of this “faith” was the role of women in ensuring established rituals are followed and necessary propitiation offered at the correct time and place. Simply substitute the Japanese goddess Amaterasu with Yahweh and I suspect the rest is the same. Even the ritual public drunkenness described by the Hebrew prophets Amos and Jeremiah are identical. Humans are humans after all. And I feel very lucky to know from my own first-hand experience what religious life was likely like for the common folk followers of the God of the Hebrew Bible in the time when the Bible was written.
This image shows an Israelite family altar. The room was likely used by several closely-related families. The object at lower left is an offering stand where incense was burned in the stand's lower section. Note the "windows" in the stand which allow the smoke to rise up and over the removable offering bowl. The horned altar at lower-right was a centerpiece of the shrine. Archaeologist believe family members visited the shrine on an irregular basis in order to place offerings to Yahweh and other gods on the bench running along the wall. Women, in particular, played a key role in attendance to such shrines as is evident elsewhere in the region and in other parts of the world. "Folk religion" shrines like this had almost no connection to the "Book religion" which later became Judaism as we know it today, though both religions shared a common God in Yahweh (El).
I previously thought there was no afterlife in Judaism. However, I learned this week that not only does the God of the Hebrew Bible provide an afterlife, but He also provides reincarnation for those of us who need a second chance prior to entering Purgatory. This reincarnation is called “Gilgulim” in Hebrew and there are four types:
DOMAIM = mineral reincarnation
TZOMAI’OCH = vegetable reincarnation
CHAI = inanimate reincarnation
MIDABAIR = human reincarnations
I’m fascinated by the idea of being reincarnated as a rock or a drop of wine. How does a rock atone for past sins? What virtues might a drop of wine extol?
I learned this week that Jews believe in reincarnation as a second, third, fourth, etc. chance at becoming worthy of entering God’s presence. But this doesn’t match the one chance opportunity offered by Jesus. Yet it’s the same God/Trinity. The only way I can make sense of this is to assume that if you worship the Father you get a redo, but if you worship the Son you better get it right the first time. Doesn’t that make Judaism the far more sensible path to choose? It’s the same God, after all.
After learning that Jewish people believe in reincarnation (Gehinnom) I did a little more research and found out they also seem to believe in Purgatory (which I think the Catholics now argue does not exist). So I poked around a little more to see if Jews also believe in Hell. It turns out they do, and it's the same Gehinnom referenced above. According to the linked source, Hell is a process by which we get seemingly unlimited chances to redress whatever wrongs we did during life. Hell therefore, is a good thing that simply doesn't feel very good while going through it, though we end up better off when it's done. This seems much nicer than that other idea of Hell. More like going to the dentist than going to a torture chamber.
I learned this morning that there are three reasons the Jewish people do not accept Jesus as the messiah: 1. JESUS AS GOD The Jewish people believe that God would never take human form, as this would violate his omnipresent nature. The messiah will be a man - although a very special man. 2. THE SECOND COMING The true messiah will complete all of his work when he comes and will not require a second coming. This work includes: -Returning the Jews to Israel -Rebuilding the temple -Establishing world peace 3. NEW COVENANT Jews reject the idea that God has replaced the covenant at Sinai with salvation through faith
For this morning's Bible study I'd like to ask a question to my Christian friends. However, it's a question I'm rather uncomfortable asking, as I'm certain it will appear insensitive or disrespectful, which is truly not my intent. So, I apologize if this question might offend or upset anyone. Yesterday, when I saw those flowers tied to the light-pole beside the intersection where my student and I witnessed that terrible traffic accident last Saturday, I knew then that the woman who was struck by the van had indeed died. I was quite upset and unsettled by the fact. I thought about the event and the woman a lot last night. Later - in the middle of the night, in fact - a question arose in my mind which I thought was relevant to my Bible study. The question will probably seem insensitive, though I think it's a good and valid question and I'm hoping someone more studied in the Bible - and perhaps in touch with God - might be able to provide an answer. But first, there are a few details about last week's accident which I had previously left out and which I'll now need to share. Namely, there are two points which I need to add to fill out the picture of what happened. The first point is the fact that the old woman who was struck by the van did see the vehicle coming at her. This was clear as she raised and waved both arms in an attempt to get the driver's attention. She clearly did not want to be hit. And I don't think she wanted to die. The second point is that there was another woman in the crosswalk coming the other way who arrived beside the struck woman before anyone else. By the time I got there this other woman was kneeling on one side of the old woman lying on the ground while the driver of the van was on his knees on the other side. The old woman was still somewhat conscious then, though it was clear she'd been very badly hurt, suffering an enormous head trauma. The kneeling woman was talking loudly then to the old woman, attempting to get her attention, and trying to follow her eyes while speaking in a very loud voice - practically yelling - the following words:
"IN THE NAME OF JESUS STAY WITH US!! IT IS NOT YOUR TIME TO GO! YOU HAVE PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU! LORD JESUS, KEEP HER WITH US!"
She kept repeating the same "prayer" over and over again, improvising and changing a little as she went, but with the same basic idea of invoking the name of Jesus to intercede on the dying woman's behalf and to keep her with us. This went on until the paramedics arrived and took over. By then, the old woman was unconscious, though she still appeared to be breathing. I didn't mention any of this in my post last week as such details seem irrelevant to the tragedy of what happened. However, these points are quite relevant to the question I would now like to ask my Christian friends. Here goes... In Mark 11:12 Jesus says:
"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." (NIV).
My question is this: Clearly the old woman did not want to die by virtue of the fact she tried to stop the van by waving her arms at the driver. And clearly the other woman is a believer, and a follower of Jesus, and was praying - quite sincerely and emphatically - to Jesus on behalf of the terribly injured old woman. But yet, the woman died (as evidenced by the flowers). Why? What did the praying woman do wrong in this case? Was it a failure of faith on her part in not believing that her prayer had already come true (which is Jesus' suggested prerequisite to having a prayer answered)? And this begs the larger question of what kind of prayer would indeed meet the requirements outlined by Jesus to be fulfilled? In short, how should the woman have prayed to cause Jesus to keep the woman alive? And if there was no prayer she - or anyone - could have offered which would have worked, then why did Jesus say what he did in Matthew 11:12, especially if God is not the author of confusion as stated in Corinthians 14:33? Thank you in advance for any thoughts you'd like to share. And again, I'm sorry if this question seems insensitive or disrespectful in any way. That is not my intent. You can bet I'll be thinking of this old woman each and every weekend when I drive passed this light pole. She will always be remembered by me.
I spent a little time this morning reviewing and thinking about your responses to my question yesterday on the nature of Christian prayer. It's unsettling to see answers all over the place to a question so fundamental to the nature and practice of belief. Still more unsettling is the silence.
Prayer has long been a mystery to me, as I do not understand why we would petition God for anything if we think He has a plan. Why would we wish to interfere with His plan? The author Ralph Waldo Emerson beautifully summarized this idea in his famous essay, Self Reliance:
"Prayer that craves a particular commodity,--any thing less than all good,--is vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul. It is the spirit of God pronouncing his works good. But prayer as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft. It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness. As soon as the man is at one with God, he will not beg. He will then see prayer in all action. The prayer of the farmer kneeling in his field to weed it, the prayer of the rower kneeling with the stroke of his oar, are true prayers heard throughout nature, though for cheap ends." -Ralph Waldo Emerson
My interest this week in Christian prayer has led me to the The Lord's Prayer as outlined by Jesus himself in Luke 11:1-4. This is, of course, Jesus' advice to the disciples about how they should pray.
He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation."
This prayer seems quite humble - requesting nothing more than meager sustenance, fortitude and guidance. There is no asking for exceptional favors. It's quite beautiful, actually. But then I read on from verses 5-13:
"Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
These latter verses seem to reinforce Jesus' words in Mark 11:12 which I quoted in my post on this topic a few days back:
"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
There is no qualification here that you might not recognize your answered prayer as delivered by the Holy Ghost. Furthermore, the only seeming prerequisites to having a prayer answered are the "shameless audacity" to ask, and a leading certitude that your prayer will be answered. This seems very clear. So again I wonder and ask...what did that praying woman on the street do wrong? In other words, what was malformed in either her prayer or supplication while kneeling over the dying woman such that God did not prevent the woman from dying? Was her prayer not "audacious" enough (she was practically shouting)? Was her faith simply not strong enough? What went wrong? I'm sorry to ask the same question twice... However, it seemed worthwhile in the context of the further examples from Jesus. Thanks in advance for any comments or thoughts. Your participation is greatly appreciated.
This writing (below) - called the Ketef Hinnom - is our oldest surviving scrap of Biblical scripture, predating the Dead Sea scrolls by almost four hundred years. It’s a folk or “popular” version of the blessing of Moses recorded in the Book of Numbers. The writing was inscribed on a silver amulet found among a collection of women’s jewelry less than one thousand yards from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Researchers believe the amulet was worn around the neck as a good luck charm and is illustrative of how the folk religion of ancient Israel included magic to invoke Yahweh’s blessing and ward away bad luck. 7th and 8th century writers later appropriated such folk magic involving Yahweh into the books which would become the Biblical canon. I snapped this photo from page 130 of the book “Did God Have a Wife?”
I learned this morning that the Samaritans (as in “the Good Samaritan”) considered themselves Jews (the word “Samaritan” means “Guardian of the Torah”). I furthermore learned that the Samaritans were surprised in 538 BCE when Jews who were formerly held captive in Babylon, returned to Jerusalem announcing, “The Jewish people have returned!” The Samaritans were like...”We’ve been here all along. The ‘Jews’ never left.”
I’m beginning to notice something about my interactions with Christians, Jews and Muslims during this Bible study. The most engaging, studied and well-considered Christian responses and interactions seem to come from members of the less mainstream groups like the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness and Seventh Day Adventists; while Evangelicals, Protestants, Catholics, Baptist’s, etc. seem to have almost nothing to say. Jewish people are almost always up - and prepared - for a discussion. But nobody beats the Muslims in arriving joyful, eager and ready to discuss their belief.
During my Bible study this morning I had cause to visit the book of Deuteronomy in pursuit of understanding the Jewish practice of using portable prayer vessels called "mezuzah" which believers carry and hold in order to remember God's commands. As usual, I tried to read the passages surrounding the verse in order to gain an understanding of context. In so doing, I encountered this:
"When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you - land with large flourishing cities you did not build, house filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant - then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." Deuteronomy 6:10-12
What kind of morality is this? I expect this passage will be waved away - like the rest of the Old Testament - as irrelevant to Christ's new deal. But this passage tells us something of God (and Jesus') character - which is alleged to be unchanging and eternal. And what kind of character is this? What evil villain thinks this way? This is not about punishing the Canaanites for their sins, or fulfilling God's promise to Abraham. This is about reveling in the fruits of conquest, enjoying the profits of war and making your own of the goods of your neighbor. How's that tenth commandment go again??
"Thou shalt not covet" -God
It's mornings like this when I really start to think this Bible study is a genuine waste of time.
In chapter five of “Did God Have a Wife?” we see our first tangible connection between the Hebrew god Yahweh and the Canaanite mother goddess Asherah. The pictured inscription comes from an 8th-century B.C. Israelite tomb from Makkedah, which was one of the cities captured by Joshua. The tomb belongs to a man named Uriyahu and the inscription reads as followed:
Blessed is Uriyahu by Yahweh From his enemies he has been saved By his Asherah
Below the writing is a picture of Yahweh’s hand descending to intercede and protect Uriyahu. I’ve included a 3rd-century A.D. wall painting showing Moses and the hand of God for comparison, as this interceding hand of Yahweh was a very common motif at the time.
It’s helpful to remember at this point that the God Yahweh and the god El are one in the same, and that this god originated as the lead god of the Canaanite pantheon. The goddess Asherah is the consort of Yahweh/El, though their relationship is diminished and finally disregarded altogether during the 7th and 8th century B.C. Israelite push towards monotheism. Circumstantial evidence such as the mentioning of Asherah in connection with Yahweh will help to build the case that God did indeed have a wife.
I’m reading this morning - before the family wakes up - about discovered archaeological sites in Israel where ancient shrines to Yahweh/El are found with all their ritual paraphernalia intact. The imagery reminds me of the many long-abandoned and forgotten Japanese religious altars, shrines, temples, graves and holy sites like waterfalls and great trees which I discovered during a decade of exploring the deep wilderness of central Japan. Imagine that moment when the last believing supplicant walks away after offering their final prayer, to then leave a holy site utterly abandoned and forgotten. I can tell you from ample first-hand experience that there’s an emptiness to such places which belies the need of human presence and attention to bring our gods into existence - not the other way around.
Bam! Here’s the connection between Yahweh and the “Golden Calf” at the foot of Mt. Sinai. The one that made Moses so mad that he broke the Ten Commandments: Yahweh is “El” who is the head god of the Canaanite pantheon. The connection is clear in ancient Canaanite artifacts which identify Yahweh and El as one in the same. Over time, the Israelites sought to distance themselves from the Canaanite pagans through the concept of monotheism and the discouragement of anything connected with Canaanite worship. One such method was to drop the name El in favor of just Yahweh, which took several centuries to achieve. In the meantime El - and his likeness - kept popping up. An example of this is the Golden Calf. Archaeological excavations in Syria have uncovered evidence that the god El’s full honorific title was “Bull El” which explains the many bull and calf statues found at Canaanite sites of worship. Therefore, when the Israelites got tired of waiting for Moses to come back down the mountain,