God's Ball 'n' Chain

Lady of the Sea

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
- Mosaic Law, Exodus 20:3

 

What if the Judeo-Christian god, Yahweh, and the Islamic god, Al-Lah (since they are one and the same), each had a wife? 

Where would she fit in with the patriarchal notions of the three major world religions? 

The answer?

She doesn’t fit in. 

That is why God’s wife, Asherah, has been written out of the Biblical record.

Asherah Unveiled (engraving)Credit: public domain

 

Oppression & Suppression
The Holy Bible, the best known piece of literature in human history, is not one book but a library of many books.  The texts contained therein span many centuries of oral traditions before the oldest ones, those sacred to the Israelites, were ever gathered together in the 6th century BCE.  These were based on older records; of them the most important are the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament).  All of the texts in the Bible were written by people over millennia, and all have been altered, either erroneously or intentionally. 

Malicious editing had to do with the sociopolitical climate in which the writer lived.  The canonical books of the New Testament  are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Biblical scholarship proves that Mark’s gospel, though second in order of appearance, is actually the oldest of the group; why Matthew’s gospel was given the first place spot is unclear.

Furthermore, it has been discovered that Matthew and Luke are largely nothing more than retellings of Mark’s gospel with embellishments.  Finally, John’s gospel appears to be unrelated in many ways to Matthew and Luke but close enough to Mark’s text that scholars believe it, too, was written from similar sources as Mark, but those sources were recovered by John’s author through a different channel. 

The relevant part of this exposition is that The Holy Bible, contrary to popular belief, is not now (nor ever has been) sacrosanct or inviolate in terms of its content.  This library of sacred texts is an organic work that changes, sometimes subtly or sometimes catastrophically, with each new generation’s interpretations. 

The subtle changes are of little merit.  It is the catastrophic changes, particularly those done with a specific agenda, which hurt the credibility of the texts and the sanctity of the theosophy it records.

Lilith, the Runaway
Excising portions of a text because it is deemed unworthy or does not support a society’s agenda is common.  In a patriarchal culture, such as ancient Jewry, women only figured as chattel, incidental Lilith (oil, detail late 19th c)Credit: public domainto men’s greater quests for spiritual enlightenment

To preserve the social order in such a group a woman’s role must necessarily be diminished.  Thus, over time, the Bible lost one of its most colorful female mythical characters only to replace her with a submissive woman.

For those acute enough to notice, the opening sequences of the Bible (describing the creation of the planet and its life forms) carry two seemingly disparate versions of how humanity came into being. 

In the first instance, the Book of Genesis (1:26-27) merely states the Jewish god Yahweh created a man and a woman at the same time.  Later, in the same book (Gen. 2:7; 2:21-23), another creation story reported that Yahweh made a man from clay, breathed life into him, and later put him into a sleep.  Yahweh took one of the sleeping man’s ribs, and formed a “woman” (“of man”) from it. 

The second version of the creation story is not a retelling of the first version (when Yahweh made the two people at the same time).  They are two completely different stories involving three people, Adam and his two women.

The world knows the woman of Adam’s rib as Eve.  Most are unfamiliar with the first woman made earlier at the same time as Adam, however.  This was his first consort, and her name was Lilith.  The Jews of antiquity knew Lilith’s story very well.  She was formed concurrently with Adam by Yahweh (the method of creation was not recorded).  [Yahweh, curiously, used plural personal pronouns stating, “Let us make them in our image, male and female”.]

Lilith, though physically differentiated from Adam (she was female as Yahweh had decreed), felt she was Adam’s equal.  She and Adam had been made together, and they were equal in Yahweh’s eyes.  However, Adam’s behavior toward her became superior, and he wished her to be his subordinate.  Lilith could see no merit in his need to dominate her – she was his equal – so rather than suffer his oppression, she ran away.Lilith (Babylonian, high relief carving)Credit: public domain

After Lilith abandoned Adam, Yahweh put him to sleep, took his rib, and made Eve.  This, because she came directly from the man’s own body, would be the subordinate, submissive “wife” and helpmate that patriarchy demanded and justified.

Lilith was written out of the Bible; her name is used only once elsewhere as a euphemism for a devil.  The only thing left of her in the text is the first creation story.  [This almost certainly has caused many readers frustration trying to understand: “He made them together”; “No, wait, she really came from a rib later.”] 

In Jewish tradition, Lilith’s disobedience is also synonymous with evil.  Over time, her character was transformed into a diabolical, winged succubus who killed children and sexually assaulted men in their sleep.  She was the Jewish equivalent of the modern-day “Bogeyman”: “Be good or Lilith will get you!”

“Let us make them . . . ”
Lilith, unfortunately, is not the only major female character written out of Biblical texts.  Mary of Magdala’s role was reduced to that of bystander and hanger-on.  Until recently, as a means of further denigration, she had been misidentified and promoted as a reformed prostitute.  She was not a prostitute, but a follower of Jesus.  According to recent scholarship, she was probably closer to him than any of his male disciples.  A suppressed text, the Gospel of Mary (along with another suppressed text, the Gospel of Thomas, which is believed to pre-date the synoptic gospels) supports her critical role in the forming of Christianity.  However, patriarchy must be served.

This level of censorship extended all the way up to the Hebrew’s main god himself, Yahweh.  In the First Commandment, Yahweh stated, “I am your god . . . ”  He did not say, “I am the god” or “I am the only god”.  In fact, Yahweh says later, “Thou shalt not have other gods before [besides] me”.  Yahweh’s use of the plural “gods” clearly indicates even Yahweh knew there were other gods – he was commanding a place of primacy above the others, is all.

The Jews of antiquity, certainly during the time of Exodus, were not as monotheistic as they are today.  They recognized Yahweh as the supreme god, but there were many lesser gods who were part of daily Jewish life as well.  These gods were generally called “household” gods, and they were appealed to for various minor, daily meditations, affirmations, or for guidance.

Most Eastern philosophies endorse and celebrate a plurality within their world views.  So, too, did the ancient Jews recognize nature’s duality.  As Eastern acolytes think about “yin and yang” andYahweh-Asherah (depiction on Ugarit potsherd) “darkness and light”, so too, did the Hebrews endorse and embrace a duality.  They even had it in their god, Yahweh.

When Yahweh stated in Genesis, “Let us make them in our image, male and female,” this preserved text tells the modern world much about Yahweh and the Hebrew understanding of his being.  The Jewish community clearly believed Yahweh was not one entity but at least two.  They saw in their natural world male and female people and male and female animals; certainly there would be a female complement to their god

And there was. 

The Good Wife
Hebrews before Exodus recognized a female counterpart to Yahweh.  Her name was Asherah, and dependent upon source she was either Yahweh’s consort or his wife.  The Jews, for centuries, had practiced polygamy – it would be no upset to them to find Yahweh had a wife or a concubine.  In fact, their expectations would perhaps be that he had several of each.  [The more wives and concubines a man had, the greater his perceived wealth and status.  Yahweh was the greatest of all the gods; therefore, he probably had many wives and consorts.]

Marriage and procreation were normal and expected social obligations.  Even in Jesus’ time, it was considered freakishly abnormal for a man to be neither married nor desirous of marriage to have children.  [This argument is one which scholars have made in support of Jesus’ having a wife at some time or other.  His bachelorhood, if it existed, would have been so out of the norm that, it is posited, his chroniclers would have commented upon his  “single” status at some point.  Marriage was so common and expected that it was rarely mentioned; early readers could safely assume all men were married unless otherwise noted.]

Asherah has her earliest origins before 1200 BCE in her older name, Athirat (appended with a lengthy prefix in the Ugarit language – from an ancient Canaanite coastal area in modern-day Syria Asherah (detail, carving)(83470)Credit: public domain– that renders her full name as “Lady Athirat of the Sea”).

Asherah’s ties to the ocean are typical pagan images of birth, the womb, and life.  She was the preeminent female.  She was known by the Egyptian Hebrews in bondage, and she was deified as the wife of their god.  Later, when they settled in the land of Canaan under their new name (the Israelites), Asherah was still revered along with Yahweh. 

Asherah’s cult, however, was not merely incidental to Jewish life.  She was, like Lilith, equal to her male counterpart. 

A text inscription, discovered in 1975 in the Sinai desert (dated to the 8th century BCE), reads in translation, “I have blessed you by YHVH of Samaria and His Asherah”.  [Another source interpreted this text as “I have blessed you by YHVH our guardian and His Asherah”.  Either interpretation points to her importance.]

But then, like Lilith, Asherah was gone from the Bible.  As the Jews moved closer to true monotheism the reverence and need for Asherah as the wife of Yahweh declined.  No longer was Yahweh perceived as merely their god – he became the only god.  Not only was he supreme, there were no other gods at all.  And JewsAsherah (detail, carving)Credit: public domain were forbidden under Mosaic Law from creating idols of other gods to worship.  Thus, the Hebrews went from having many gods to one: a supreme, wrathful, petty, jealous male who ruled ruthlessly over all.

Over time, competing factions within the early Jewish community spelled doom for Asherah and another god, Baal (whose popularity rivaled Yahweh’s).  There remained many Jews who recognized Yahweh’s supremacy, his wife’s importance, and who also worshipped Baal.  The other faction rejected all but Yahweh as the one and only god.  Not only was he greater than other gods, there was no competition because (according to the developing monotheism) it was a moot issue: there were no others.

Asherah’s decline paralleled Baal’s and those of other gods and goddesses.  She was stricken from sacred writings.  Her name appears in Biblical texts, like Lilith’s, only in a negative AsherahCredit: Google User contentconnotation.  She is mentioned about forty times, but it is always in a contextual sense of her being rejected as an icon.

Her physical symbols were two upright trees or poles, and proof of her influence is seen in the staffs that both Moses and Aaron carried in Exodus (relic embodiments of her). The Asherah Pole can be any piece of upright timber that is venerated as her symbol (in the same way a crucifix is recognized as the symbol of Jesus).  It can also be a straight tree denuded of its lower branches and carved with her glyphs. 

People planted groves in her name then worshipped her in them.  Many bowers were specifically destroyed to discourage worshipping her; these groves of trees were her church.  These small sanctuaries were systematically burned or cut down as remnants of Egyptian and Canaanite paganism.  Her “Earth Mother” status was forsaken as well, and she disappeared.

Asherah Today
Asherah is a rich character, and her removal from the Biblical picture, like Lilith, created confusion textually that still exists for those not inclined to dig a bit deeper into Biblical history. 

The Bible would be clearer in Genesis, for example, if Lilith and Asherah were both put back in it.  Then, the tale could read, “Yahweh created them in his and Asherah’s images, male and female.”Asherah (web art)Credit: unknown artist  Suddenly, the passage makes complete sense.  Also, adding Lilith would take the confusion out of the creation stories: “And he made them, male and female.  Later, the female Lilith ran away and was replaced with another, more obedient female.”

Lilith, of course, draws her share of attention in pop culture.  She is used as an icon by Occultists who focus on her alleged “evil”.  She was not evil – she was equal. 

Similarly, Asherah’s more modern following comes from the rank-and-file of Occultists and pagans.  Sometimes she is misrepresented as an evil force, or one of darkness.  Like Lilith, Asherah was not evil.   She was all the good of Life embodied in one goddess. 

Asherah’s only sin was not being male.

***

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