Did God have a wife?

A provocative series is airing on PBS: “Bible’s Buried Secrets.” The most subversive segment, “Did God have a wife?” (video) captured the most attention from me. I wondered whether it would spill intoxicating information I have garnered over years of doing feminist research.    

“Did God have a wife?” did not seem feminist to me during most of the hour, although its female scholar, Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, reaches for provocation. Her main point is that common perceptions about the Bible and God as taught by the Judaeo/Christian tradition are upended by archaeological finds. They show that Hebrew ancestors of the Jews did not practice monotheism. Jews also did not invent monotheism, but that point was less clear in the documentary.

For hundreds of thousands of years, what is called God was a woman. She had many different names, but She was not rivaled by males. They were her consorts, not her superiors. The Great Mother gave life, and what we would call “genealogies” centered on mothers, not fathers. This information is missing in the documentary, which gives prominence to Baal and El, male Gods.

But now I’ll look at virtues of “Did God have a wife?” Its photos of archaeological digs and figurines found in them excited me. I am a strong proponent of educating people, and what better way to do it than a TV program? I’d never before seen figurines of Baal, El, and Asherah—they were fascinating.

Dr. Stavrakopoulou directs our attention to symbols surrounding Asherah on figurines of Her found in digs. They display Her life-giving powers—prominent breasts and sacred pubic triangle. These were revered by ancient cultures. She birthed new life; She was the tree of life; She was the one saying, “Be fruitful and multiply,” not a lord.

When patriarchy conquered mother-centered cultures, sacred life-giving power was stolen from the Divine Feminine and given to a male God-image—the Lord. In a similar patriarchal do-over, the Greeks stole Her life-giving power by having Zeus manage a kind of birth (more complete story below).

Asherah’s image was accompanied by a branch with leaves representing Nature. At shrines, wooden poles or trees representing Asherah were held sacred. Most biblical references to Asherah—40 of them—are obscured by references to these “sacred poles.” The Lord orders them destroyed, as in Deuteronomy 7:5 and 12:2-3:
Tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, destroy by fire their sacred poles and shatter the idols of their gods that you may stamp out the remembrance of them in any such place.

Anyone who researches this will run into the term “cult objects,” a clear sign that our whole culture, academia included, is governed by Christocentrism. Do we talk about a chalice or a priest’s stole as cult objects?

Jesus of Nazareth was not ruled by the patriarchal mindset, but the religion that grew up in his memory was. Christian churches denigrated female bodies and blamed females for all evil. Sexist statements by Church “Fathers” are well-known:
Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.
(Clement of Alexandria)
You are the devil’s gateway. You first plucked the forbidden fruit . . . It was you who destroyed the image of God, man.
Woman does not possess the image of God in herself …
(Augustine of Hippo)

Today, the female body held sacred by prehistoric cultures suffers a different kind of desecration. Today, the bodies of females are playthings of men. Few things annoy me more than that public baring of breasts to feed babies is forbidden, while public display of breasts to titillate men is encouraged.

The most impressive part of “Did God have a wife?” was its analysis of Dt 33: 3. The words in question are totally hidden in my NAB translation, but not in my RSV translation. Moses is blessing the Israelites before his death and says he saw “the Lord” and "at his right, a host of his own."

Dr. Stavrakopoulou shows us the Hebrew letters usually translated “his host,” which makes no sense, and explains that it is reasonable to suspect they should be translated "his Asherah." Another reference to "Yahweh and his Asherah" was found on a shard of pottery excavated in another archaeological dig. This my research had uncovered before. In other words, we know that ancient people revered Yahweh and Asherah as husband and wife.

Knowing the history of patriarchal distortions in scripture makes “the Lord” language hateful to me. Its oppressive stamp increased when in 2005 the Vatican overthrew the translation by experts in liturgy who had labored long to produce language beautiful and meaningful. Instead, the Vatican imposed clunky, domineering Lord-talk. It forbids inclusive God-talk, for instance, praying to “Our Mother.”

For this reason, listening to Mass language is always a trial. I can stand it because the atmosphere in Sacred Heart Chapel, the lofty dome and pillars, the music, the reverence and spiritual depth of the religious community, uplift me. When I sit in that place, good thoughts come.

The way we imagine what’s called God makes a huge difference in human relationships. I hope information like that given here will gradually sink into the minds of more people. Right now, I resolve to do more educating on this topic, but I keep being distracted by political events.

One person replied,"Oh, pul-leeeze." I'm sure he knows this but I thought I'd better add it: If it's ridiculous to think of God having a wife, isn't it just as ridiculous to pray to an exclusively male God? This is the point.

April 3, 2017

Two comments by email concern me. Apparently, I didn’t make myself clear to every reader in my last post. I assumed all my readers would know that it's ridiculous to think of God having a gender. The spiritual principal we call "God" CREATED gender. It could not possible BE one of the genders. I shouldn’t have, but did, take for granted that readers would connect the dots I didn’t spell out.           

The ancient Hebrews, whose writings were edited and turned into the Bible, had the same problem we have— consistently, always, exclusively, hearing God referred to as a lord. They never heard references to Her as the life-giver, the Source of all that is. As a consequence of Yahweh being imagined exclusively male, “He” was given a wife in Hebrew imagination. This unintended consequence indicates the pathology of male-only God-talk.

We have to distinguish between what’s called “God” and God-images. A male-only God-image diminished human understanding of Divinity for the ancients and continues doing it today. Further, it deformed human relationships then and does so now by utterly devaluing the feminine.

The Lord of the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call “the Old Testament,” not only condones rape but orders it when he commands genocide, euphemistically called a “ban” or “dooming” in our Bibles. Often the Lord explicitly orders the Hebrews to save the virgins of the conquered people for use by themselves. Examples of the ban are found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Judges, and Joshua.

As for today, can anyone doubt the connection between the Western Lord God and gender abuse? There are more slaves today than at any time in human history. Besides big profits made from human trafficking and illegal brothels (victimizing boys, too), untold numbers of women toil at backbreaking labor to feed their children while the men who impregnated them give orders, make the decisions, and relax.
This is observed regularly by global aid organizations such as Heifer International and micro-lending NGOs. The reach of predatory patriarchy abetted by sexist God-talk encompasses the entire globe.

The contact buttons at this site and http://www.godisnot3guys.com had not been working well, but that’s been fixed now. So click on one of the contact buttons to reach me if you don’t know my email address and don’t want to comment online.

My friend Marilyn in Phoenix, the same one who nagged me into blogging again, extracted from me a promise to announce that my directors at St. Cloud State U. acknowledged my retirement from supervising student teachers. There was a cake—that sealed it for me. This part time adjunct position started in January of 2000. I think I’m better at it now as I’m finishing. Isn’t that the way of things? We’ve mastered something and then it’s time to move on. 


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