**Did God have a wife named Asherah? Was she edited out of the Old Testament?**
SERIES INTRO: Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous. Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show. It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge. The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface. So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.
YAHWEH & HIS ASHERAH
The idea that the Jewish God was believed to have a wife as some point in history exists because some inscriptions on archeological artifacts from the Iron Age appear to connect Asherah, an ancient pagan fertility goddess, with the God of Israel, Yahweh. The inscriptions ask for blessings from “Yahweh and his Asherah” (or “asherah,” since its unclear if the word is a proper name or not). The artwork may even depict “Yahweh” with Asherah. Of course, the writers of the Bible never speak of the immaterial, self-sufficient, self-existent, one-and-only God of the Jews as having a wife (and making idols and images of their God was strictly forbidden… and how do you make an image of an immaterial being anyway?) . But some have even gone so far as to propose that God’s wife had been edited out of the Bible.
In Exodus 3, when Moses asks God for his name, God replies, “I AM WHO I AM” and “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14). “I AM” in the original Hebrew is “YHWH” or Yahweh. When you see “LORD” spelled in all capital letters in your Bible, the original Hebrew reads “YHWH,” God’s name as given to Moses. (God’s “name” is really a description of his eternal, self-sufficient, self-existent nature, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
THE EVIDENCE (OR LACK OF)
Richard S. Hess, professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Denver Seminary, in “Did Yahweh Have a Wife? Iron Age Religion in Israel and Its Neighbors” in the book Come Let Us Reason, examines the archeological evidence concerning Yahweh, Asherah, and other Iron Age deities. Examining archeology from such a long time ago is difficult because it’s like having few puzzle pieces of a large puzzle. For this reason alone, the conclusions the scholars jump to in TV shows like Bible Secrets Revealed about Yahweh having a wife are hasty and based on speculation.
Further, no evidence whatsoever — whether early manuscripts or otherwise — supports the idea that the writers of the Bible at one time taught that God had a wife and that this information was later removed. This is purely unfounded speculation and sensationalism.
Further, Hess says the evidence never describes Yahweh as having offspring or being connected to fertility religions, and “Asherah’s complete absence in all the blessing formulae of letters and all other Judean references to deity” shows she wasn’t a prominent figure. In fact, she doesn’t even appear to hold any “clear place in the official cult(s)” of the nearby nations. Further, the evidence shows Yahweh with unique “chief god” status in Israel, much different from neighboring pagan lands, and the worship of Yahweh was “somewhat” exclusive in ancient Israel and “virtually exclusive” in Judah.
Hess also concludes from the evidence that Yahwah was not generally identified with physical objects, animals, or other images and idols, and Yahweh’s very nature was unique among the Iron Age gods. Thus, the artwork of Yahweh and Asherah — if that’s what, in fact, it is — and the inscriptions are oddities, not the norm. Just as it happens today, people try to mix all sorts of false beliefs into the true faith of Christianity. This is one of the reasons it’s so important that we have written Scriptures, unlike most of the ancient pagan religions, so our beliefs are secure and cannot be corrupted.
WHAT THE BIBLE TELLS US
Thus, the available evidence supports what the Bible writers tell us: Yahweh was the exclusive God of Israel, but sometimes there was syncretism (the mixing of religions) with neighboring pagan lands. Within the Old Testament, we see constant warnings against Israel mixing with the religions of their pagan neighbors and Israel’s failure to listen. We also see references to Asherah-related idols, often in the forms of some sort of trees or “poles.”
For instance, Deuteronomy 16:21 commands, “You shall not plant for yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of the Lord your God, which you shall make for yourself.” In 2 Kings 21, evil King Manasseh practices idolatry, worshipping other deities other than the one true God, and we’re told he “erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah.” Then, in 2 Kings 23, King Josiah brings the Hebrews back from idolatry to proper worship of Yahweh by ordering the destruction of pagan idols, including Asherah poles.
THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN
Moreover, the references to “the queen of heaven” in Jeremiah 7:18 and 44:19 may be referring to Asherah, but more likely are referring to a similar fertility goddess (Astarte or Ishtar) of Assyria or Babylon, who was the wife of one of their gods (Baal or Molech). A pagan religion giving a goddess the title “queen of heaven” is nothing unique and doesn’t automatically connect that goddess to the God of Israel in anyway, especially since “heaven” is a general term for an astral, non-physical realm. Once again, jumping to the conclusion that Yahweh had a wife from this reference of a pagan “queen of heaven” is a rash conclusion to say the least.
As with many of these unorthodox claims, the idea of “God’s wife” is based on little evidence, ignores the Biblical text, and promotes misinformation based on speculation, sensationalism, and canyon-sized jumps of logic.
Main Source: Richard S. Hess, “Did Yahweh Have a Wife? Iron Age Religion in Israel and Its Neighbors” in Come Let Us Reason, Digital Edition, v.1, ed. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2012).