Archaeological Discoveries Reveal an Ancient Israelite Belief in God’s Wife and a Pantheon?

A recent article in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz (online), presents some recent (and not so recent) findings by archaeologists and other scholars regarding the worship of the divine feminine in ancient Israel. Although interpreting the real-life use and theology behind ancient artifacts is always an imprecise science, the amount of material that has been collected and analyzed does favor a certain range of conclusions. I wanted to post this article on The Millennial Star in light of the upcoming conference at USU on the Divine Feminine (Oct. 23, 2013), which I recently posted about.  William Dever, the famous biblical archaeologist who literally wrote the book on God’s Wife, will be speaking at this conference.

The following is from Julia Fridman’s article on haaretz.com:

Archaeologists discover: God’s wife?

Israel is touted as the birthplace of monotheism, but mounting evidence suggests that the Israelites, and later the Judahites – like their neighbors – worshiped a pantheon.

 By Julia Fridman | Sep. 15, 2013 | 7:25 PM | (see original article for images)

“You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your God that you shall make.” Deuteronomy 16:21.

The Old Testament is rife with the admonishment of errant kings and queens worshiping ‘false gods’, with the much of the blame falling on the Kingdom of Israel and that of Ahab and his infamous queen Jezebel. In recent years there have been a significant number of discoveries of cult stands and shrine caches throughout Israel. They were found either buried in favissae (underground cellars) or buried in caches, such as at Hazevah and Yavneh, or found in various other settings, like at Tel Rehov’s honey production site and at Tel Halif’s industrial textile area. The most recent findings were at Motza, just north of Jerusalem, where a cache of apparently cultic items were found in an ancient temple.

Israel is often touted as the birthplace of monotheism. But the Motza artifacts, so similar to those of distant Hazeva and Qitmit, taken in conjunction with the previously discovered stands, shrines and altars from Megiddo, Taanach and Beit Sh’ean, paint a significantly richer picture of the religious life of this ancient land. Add the various figurines found strewn about the land of Israel of females in various poses and states of dress and undress as well as dogs, horses, and bulls: The iconography points to a pantheon of deities, as some scholars believe, or to two main deities, something of a duality.

Continue reading

Conference: THE LADY OF THE TEMPLE: EXAMINING THE DIVINE FEMININE IN THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION

Conference Schedule

The Academy for Temple Studies and the Utah State University Religious Studies program announce further details of the conference to be held on October 23, 2013, on the campus of Utah State University.  It will start at 9:15 a.m. in the Eccles Conference Center and adjourn at 4:30 p.m.  Since seating is limited, we recommend that you register now if you want to attend.

THE LADY OF THE TEMPLE:  EXAMINING THE DIVINE FEMININE IN THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION

This conference will approach this topic from a temple perspective with biblical, archeological, liturgical and LDS components.  Looking at the abstracts below it is clear that this conference should promote a lively discussion and time is being allotted for panel discussion and response to questions.

8:45 Benchmark Bookstore open in the lobby.

9:15 Welcome and Introduction of the conference.

9:30 Margaret Barker, well-known for her numerous books and articles on temple theology, whose book called The Mother of the Lord:  The Lady in the Temple was published last year.  Her presentation is entitled, “The Woman Clothed With the Sun in Revelation 12.”  A female figure, apparently not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, appears in the centre spot of the Book of Revelation.  She is a royal figure, crowned with stars, and she gives birth to the king who rules from a throne in heaven.  She is attacked by a red dragon, escapes to the wilderness, and there waits for the allotted time to pass. Her other children were the Christians, but who was she, and where had she been hiding?  The implications are that the Lady is the Mother of Yahweh.

10:20 Q&A

10:40 break

11:00 William Dever, distinguished professor of Near Eastern Studies; has written 26 books and 350+ articles on Near Eastern archeology.  The writers of the Old Testament clearly present monotheism—the exclusive worship of the male deity Yahweh—as the ideal.  Yet the frequent condemnation of “idolatry” by prophets and reformers indicates that in folk religion other deities were often worshipped.  In particular, the Mother Goddess “Asherah” appears as a shadowy figure, almost forgotten in later times.  But several recent archaeological discoveries of both artifacts and texts have revealed that the cult of Asherah was widespread throughout the monarchy.  And in many circles she was regarded not simply as a patroness of mothers, but as the consort of Yahweh. Even in later Judaism, she appears as the “Shekinah”—the earthly Mother who represents the presence of a remote God.  Prof. Dever will give an illustrated lecture on Asherah, based on his recent book Did God have a Wife?  Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel.

Continue reading

The Legend of the Ten Lost Tribes “Carried Over the Waters”

Eli Yassif of Haaretz has a recent article that looks at legends surrounding the  ten Lost Tribes of Israel. One story, found in the book of 4 Esdras, speaks of the ten tribes being “carried over the waters” and inhabiting a land “where never mankind dwelt.”

As far as we know, the oldest source that refers to the myth is the Fourth Book of Esdras from the Jewish Apocrypha, written shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, toward the end of the 1st century C.E. This tradition interprets one of the central visions described in 2 Esdras 13:40-48 ‏(King James Version‏): “Those are the ten tribes, which were carried away prisoners out of their own land in the time of Osea the king, whom Salmanasar the king of Assyria led away captive, and he carried them over the waters, and so came they into another land. But they took this counsel among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go forth into a further country, where never mankind dwelt, that they might there keep their statutes, which they never kept in their own land. And they entered into Euphrates by the narrow places of the river. For the most High then shewed signs for them, and held still the flood, till they were passed over. For through that country there was a great way to go, namely, of a year and a half; and the same region is called Arsareth … But those that be left behind of thy people are they that are found within my borders.”

It is interesting to see the speculation in this early Jewish text on where the tribes had been taken.

(Via Jim Davila at Paleojudaica; cross-posted from Heavenly Ascents)

Seeing with an Eye of Faith: Visualize Your Desired Future

A remarkable phrase shows up a number of times in the Book of Mormon. It involves “looking forward” with an “eye of faith” to a desired result in the future. The idea is that if there is something that you sincerely desire, you should use your inner “eye,” or your imagination, and picture yourself as already being there or having what you want.  Through your faith that it is possible, you can begin to see yourself as having already reached your goal.

In the book of Alma 5:15-16, Alma preaches to the people about the goal of being received into heaven when their life on Earth is over.  In order to direct them toward that goal, he asks them if they can imagine how things will be at that future time when they finally get there. As they “look forward with an eye of faith,” what kind of outcome do they see? He asks:

15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality … to stand before God …?

 16 I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?

What Alma is trying to have his audience do is to visualize their own future in minute detail. They are to imagine being resurrected and raised to stand before God.  They are to imagine themselves hearing the approving voice of the Lord accepting them into heaven — reaching their ultimate goal.  He suggests that if they try to visualize this scene and what they envision is only negative, then perhaps they need to find that balance in their lives so that the way they are living is in alignment with a positive outcome and then exercise their faith so that they are now headed in this more desirable direction.

Continue reading

“And There Are Many Kingdoms”: D&C 88 and the Hierarchy of Kingdoms (with Insights from the Dead Sea Scrolls)

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently had the opportunity to lead a discussion in my ward on the topic of Doctrine and Covenants 88. One of the most interesting topics which we delved into was that of the multiple kingdoms of glory as they are described in that section. That discussion reminded me of some material I had posted on my blog, Heavenly Ascents a few years back.  I went back and reread that post and thought it would be nice to revisit it here.

D&C 88 discusses the idea that God has filled his Creation with various “kingdoms” that can be inhabited by his children. Verse 37 states:

37 And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.

This declaration suggests that the cosmos is somehow divided up into various kingdoms and that within these kingdoms are subdivisions that constitute smaller kingdoms within the larger ones.  The revelation describes how these are categorized by their degree of glory — celestial, terrestrial, telestial, or no glory — and how God’s children become assigned to a specific type of kingdom based on their adherence to the laws designated for each type. In verse 47, the revelation states that all of these kingdoms, although they be inhabited by mankind, are subject to God.

47 Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.

Although God himself reigns over all of the kingdoms as King of kings and Lord of lords, He has prepared these kingdoms for his children to inherit. The revelation presents the example of the Earth and declares that it will be sanctified and “celestialized.” Inhabitants that live the law of celestial glory will, when they have been resurrected and obtained that glory, inherit the celestial Earth.

26 Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power by which it is quickened, and the righteous shall inherit it.

27 For notwithstanding they die, they also shall rise again, a spiritual body.

28 They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.

29 Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.

The ideas presented in D&C 88 reminded me of a concept found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (and elsewhere) which concerns the idea that there are several levels of heaven and that each level has an appointed chief or guardian who rules over it.  This is actually a fairly common theme in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic and mystical literature (See, for example, the Jewish Hekhalot literature or the Jewish/Christian Ascension of Isaiah).  As one ascends to the throne of God in the highest heaven, one must pass first through the several (usually seven) firmaments or “sub-heavens” before reaching the highest, where God is present. Each level is generally inhabited by a different class of angels, and in many texts, there is a principal angel or guardian who guards the door to the next level and who sometimes is depicted as having his own throne.

Before I get into some more specific details regarding how this motif is represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I want to share another latter-day parallel to this ancient type of thinking.
Continue reading