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.

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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.

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