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Israel worhiped many gods...

Started by wpaolini, 06/23/2011 01:46PM
Posted 06/23/2011 01:46PM | Edited 06/23/2011 01:47PM Opening Post
Here's some interesting takes from notable archeologist William Dever, Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona. I did not realize polytheism was so popular among the Israelites of the time.

[The Israelites' many gods...

The Bible would have us think that all Israelites embraced monotheism relatively early, from Moses's time on. Is that contrary to what archeology has found?

The portrait of Israelite religion in the Hebrew Bible is the ideal, the ideal in the minds of those few who wrote the Bible—the elites, the Yahwists, the monotheists. But it's not the ideal for most people. And archeology deals with the ordinary, forgotten folk of ancient Israel who have no voice in the Bible. There is a wonderful phrase in Daniel Chapter 12: "For all those who sleep in the dust." Archeology brings them to light and allows them to speak. And most of them were not orthodox believers.

However, we should have guessed already that polytheism was the norm and not monotheism from the biblical denunciations of it. It was real and a threat as far as those who wrote the Bible were concerned. And today archeology has illuminated what we could call "folk religion" in an astonishing manner.

"The so-called folk religion even penetrated the Temple in Jerusalem."One of the astonishing things is your discovery of Yahweh's connection to Asherah. Tell us about that.
In 1968, I discovered an inscription in a cemetery west of Hebron, in the hill country, at the site of Khirbet el-Qôm, a Hebrew inscription of the 8th century B.C.E. It gives the name of the deceased, and it says "blessed may he be by Yahweh"—that's good biblical Hebrew—but it says "by Yahweh and his Asherah."

Asherah is the name of the old Canaanite Mother Goddess, the consort of El, the principal deity of the Canaanite pantheon. So why is a Hebrew inscription mentioning Yahweh in connection with the Canaanite Mother Goddess? Well, in popular religion they were a pair.

Dever says he nearly had a heart attack when he first read the inscription on this slab. It links the Israelite God, Yahweh, to the Canaanite Mother Goddess, Asherah.

The Israelite prophets and reformers denounce the Mother Goddess and all the other gods and goddesses of Canaan. But I think Asherah was widely venerated in ancient Israel. If you look at Second Kings 23, which describes the reforms of King Josiah in the late 7th century, he talks about purging the Temple of all the cult paraphernalia of Asherah. So the so-called folk religion even penetrated the Temple in Jerusalem.

Is there other evidence linking Asherah to Yahweh?
In the 1970s, Israeli archeologists digging in Kuntillet Ajrud in the Sinai found a little desert fort of the same period, and lo and behold, we have "Yahweh and Asherah" all over the place in the Hebrew inscriptions.

Are there any images of Asherah?

For a hundred years now we have known of little terracotta female figurines. They show a nude female; the sexual organs are not represented but the breasts are. They are found in tombs, they are found in households, they are found everywhere. There are thousands of them. They date all the way from the 10th century to the early 6th century.

They have long been connected with one goddess or another, but many scholars are still hesitant to come to a conclusion. I think they are representations of Asherah, so I call them Asherah figurines.
Posted 06/23/2011 02:12PM #1
Hi Bill. Yes, polytheism was very much in vogue in Israel but it was not orthodoxy. Right within 40 days out of Egypt, the Israelites began worship of the golden calf (These be your gods... Ex 32). This went on all through the time of the Judges and pretty much during at least the "divided Kingdom" era. Here're a couple of additional quick notes:

1) At least one time, there is mention of a "synergism" in which the LORD was worshipped along with other gods. You'll see this during the repopulation of what once was the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrian King (II Kings 17).

2) There's some evidence that orthodox worship of the LORD alone was in the minority (for example I Kings 19:18).

3) Some gods other than the LORD were worshipped in the temple of Solomon (see Ezekiel 8).

4) One of these gods was Asherah.

So a find like this is not a surprise to me.

I'm heading to Jacksonville to attend the funeral of an aunt. See y'all of the flip side of the weekend....

Mark Costello
Matthews, NC, USA

"I hear you're mechanically inclined. Did you ever do anything with perpetual motion?"

"Yeah, I nearly had it a couple of times."
Posted 06/24/2011 04:58PM #2
For Prof. Dever to state "The Bible would have us think that all Israelites embraced monotheism relatively early...." indicates to me that he hasn't read much of it.