Did God Have A Wife? Archaeology And Folk Religion In Ancient Israel

William G. Dever

Did God Have A Wife? Archaeology And Folk Religion In Ancient Israel
Did God Have A Wife? Archaeology And Folk Religion In Ancient Israel

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Categories: OT Archaeology

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Following up on his two recent, widely acclaimed studies of the history and social life of ancient Israel, William Dever here uses archaeological and biblical evidence to reconstruct the folk religion of ancient Israel. Did God Have a Wife? shines new light on the presence and influence of women's cults in early Israel and their implications for our understanding of the official "religion of the book." Dever pays particular attention to presences of the goddess Asherah, reviled by the authors of the Hebrew Bible as a foreign deity but considered by many modern scholars to have been popularly envisioned as the consort of biblical Yahweh.

The first book by an archaeologist on ancient Israelite religion, this fascinating study critically reviews virtually all of the archaeological literature of the past generation, and it brings fresh evidence to the table as well. While Dever digs deep into the past — revealing insights are found, for example, in the form of local and family shrines where sacrifices and other rituals were performed — his discussion is extensively illustrated and communicated in non-technical language accessible to everyone.

Dever calls his book "a feminist manifesto — by a man," and his work gives a new prominence to women as the custodians of Israel's folk religion. Though the monotheistic faith and practice recounted in the Bible likely held sway among educated, elite men in Jerusalem, the heart and soul of Israelite religion was polytheistic, concerned with meeting practical needs, and centered in the homes of common, illiterate people.

Even more popularly written than Dever's two previous books, Did God Have a Wife? is sure to spur wide, even passionate, debate in all quarters.

Pages: 344
Publisher: Eerdmans
Published: 2005
ISBN-10: 0802828523
ISBN-13: 9780802828521

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5 out of 5 based on 3 user ratings
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005. Pp. xvi + 344. Hardcover. $25.00. ISBN 0802828523. Patrick D. Miller Princeton Theological Seminary Princeton, NJ With his marvelous title, William Dever writes provocatively—indeed, more provocatively than necessary, but more of that later—about early Israelite religion. The title and the subtitle identify the two foci of the book. Dever’s large aim is to uncover—primarily through archaeological data—the character of folk religion in ancient Israel, which he regards as in some sense the true religion of the Israelite people before “book” religion took over. Very much at the center of that is goddess worship, something largely suppressed, if recognized, by the textual tradition of the Hebrew scriptures. Following an introduction, which both sets out what he is about and acknowledges a very personal perspective at work in and influencing his approach, Dever discusses some notions of religion, but with particular attention to “folk religion” and its relation to the natural world, the social and political world, and especially family and household. Two chapters then continue the extended prolegomena to his intended subject, folk religion. In the first of these, he engages recent scholarship, largely critically, with more positive words for some of the feminist studies of Israelite religion (e.g., Ackerman) and those that have focused on popular religion (e.g., Belinerblau). He concludes this section with helpful discussion of what archaeology can and cannot do, including a proper focus on ideology and its place in the history of religion. [Full Review]
Scholars would respond to Devers provocative title Did God Have a Wife?Indeed he did, because we have known for many years that he had a wife, that her name was Asherah, and that she was part of the Canaanite pantheon of pre-Israelite times. Dever is aware of this, as he states in the introduction: My rationale for the form at here is that this is intended as a popular work. My scholarly colleagues can quarrel with me elsewhere for what they may see as oversimplifications (xii) . At the same time, he is convinced that his work is a pioneering one and that he is the right man at the right time: So why am I attempting what will have to presume to be a pioneering work, however modest and preliminary? Because it is time. And because perhaps I seem to have a unique background and experience. I ca n wear a clerical miter; a yarmulke; or no hat at all (introduction and 89). In this book Dever is uninterested not only in his scholarly colleagues; he also cares little for the scholars of ancient Israel. He is not concerned with the intellectual elite of Israel, those who created and edited the Book religion , but with the ordinary people in their everyday religious lives and their folk religion, whic h was their vital, varied, and colorful creation. His description is based on archaeological evidence and on the Hebrew Bible itself. The book begins with some definitions (ch. [Full Review]
This recent book by William Dever offers its readers more than the mere title suggests, as I will explain below. The book aims at the average intelligent reader and is not aimed at academically trained historians and theologians. Dever succeeds to some degree in this goal, but sometimes he can be quite specific. First of all, Dever argues his interpretation on the Yahweh a nd his Asherah inscriptions and the many plaquettes and pillar figurines depicting a goddess that are known to us from archaeological excavations. Devers view on the material is clear and can easily be summarized: Asherah was a goddess venerated in Iron Age Israel and Judah. Asherah is not just a symbol but should be seen as an important deity. Dever classifies herlike Albright before him but not without reasonas a dea nutrix, her main function having to do with birth. Dever correctly argues that the pillar figurines represent a divine being and not a human. They are prayers in clay by women (and sometimes men) in need of protection during the threatening phases of pregnancy and birth. The material, epigraphic as well as archaeological, opens our eyes for a form of religion that was suppressed by the monotheistic and elitist writers of the Hebrew Bible. In other words, the God of the ancient Israelites was not seen as a bachelor. [Full Review]

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