Nicholas F. Gier, University of Idaho
Cheryl Miller-Arndt, Eastern Washington University
Pacific Northwest Division of the American Academy of Religion
May 14, 2022
This dramatic presentation on the Hebrew Goddess offers a creative interpretation of certain scriptural passages. We have relied primarily on William G. Dever’s Did God Have a Wife? (Eerdmans, 2005), Raphael Patai’s The Hebrew Goddess (Wayne State University Press, 3rd ed., 1990), and Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, When God Had a Wife (Bear and Company/Simon & Schuster, 2019).
The in-text references were taken from the books above in order to show that the case for the Hebrew Goddess is well established in reputable journals. William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? (Eerdmans, 2005); Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess (Wayne State University Press, 3rd ed., 1990); and Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, When God Had a Wife (Bear and Company/Simon & Schuster, 2019).
For the purposes of this literary creation, the Hebrew Goddess is a compound deity that includes Anat, Astarte, Asherah, and Lady Wisdom of Proverbs, who is at least a symbol of Yahweh’s creative and moral attributes—his female side, one could say.
The scene is set in Heaven where the Goddess beseeches Yahweh (silent throughout) to explain why he has forsaken her. The Goddess has lost her divine power but she is still omniscient.
Yahweh, Esteemed Sir, I come to you today to lay out my complaints about your divine administration. Please hear me out.
Do I need to remind you that we were co-creators of the world, that I was once your delight (Prov. 8:30). I also brought moral advice from Egypt, and our people have benefitted greatly from it. Regretfully, I have to say that you have not always acted in accordance with my wisdom.
May I also remind you that we had the honor, bestowed upon us by the God Most High, of ruling over the nation of Israel (Deut. 32:8, RSV, Ugarit equivalent). I bemoan the fact that your scribes deliberately left out the fact that I was there with other goddesses as co-rulers of the 70 nations (see Ugaritic texts).
This is even more grating as I was worshipped in Egypt and Canaan long before you joined me as co-ruler of Israel. I was gratified to see that archeologists in Gaza have discovered a stone bust of me as Anat 4,500 years ago.
I beg you to remember that we chose Adam and Eve to rule the world in our image (Gen. 1:26), and that we designated our daughter Eve, a veritable goddess, as the Mother of the All the Living (Gen. 3:20).
I am furious that for millennia your theologians perpetuated the lie that we created Eve from Adam’s rib. This is really embarrassing for you, because your so-called “priestly” writers had written, several pages before, that we had created them as equals (Gen. 1:26).
Even so, you and I know that the best reading of the Hebrew (’aḥat miṣṣal‘otaiv, Gen. 2:22) is that we created Eve at Adam’s side as his equal. (See Mignon R. Jacobs, Gender, Power, and Persuasion [Baker Academic, 2007], p. 69). Despite this positive view of Eve, you inspired misogynist accounts in Rabbinic literature and the Church Fathers. Recall that Tertullian wrote that she was “the gateway to the Devil.”
I’m proud of the fact that Eve and her daughters continued to rebel against male authority and arbitrary rule. One of my favorites is Tamar, whose two husbands you summarily killed because they both spilled their seed rather than inseminating her. After patiently waiting for Judah, Tamar’s father-in-law, to comply with the Levirate law for widows, she devised a clever way to seek revenge (Gen. 38).
It is significant that your scribes changed the Hebrew word to describe Tamar: from zonod (ordinary whore) to qadeshah (sacred woman), one of many attendants at my temples, and for that matter, all the way back to those women who served at the door of the Tent of Meeting (1 Sam. 12:22). They weren’t loitering; they were serving me. Their sacred status was clear when it was Eli’s sons, not my women, who were punished for having illicit sex with them.
I’m grateful that you allowed your scribes to include my devotee Tamar in Jesus’ genealogy. (See Phyllis A. Bird, “The End of the Male Cult Prostitute,” Congress Volume: Cambridge 1995 (Brill, 1997), p. 46.) One more thing that you of course know: the name Tamar means “‘date palm,” which has always been a symbol of my presence. You must recall that Deborah the Judge dispensed her wisdom underneath a date palm.
I’m so grateful that feminist Bible scholars and a few male colleagues have brought to light all the references to me in the Hebrew scripture. Thanks to them, for example, people can read about the truth of Israel’s military exploits.
I as Anat appear in the name of Deborah’s predecessor Shamgar ben Anat (son of Anat). Your soldiers engraved “son of Anat” on their arrowheads (Dever, Did God Have a Wife? p. 128), and she, as the goddess of war, leads the Israelites into battle and victory. (See Susan Ackerman, Warrior, Dancer, Seductress [Double Day, 1998], pp.58-59.)
You must know that I as Anat was your consort in the Jewish community on Elephantine Island in Egypt, the place where the Hebrew scripture was translated into Greek. You must remember that the phrases “Anat-Yahu” and “Anat-Bethel” were written on papyri there.
You surely recognize that Bethel is a sacred site in Northern Israel and it was connected to Deborah the prophetess. Recall that you were worshipped as Yahu not Yahweh at Elephantine, which means that this community was there before Moses. See E. C. L MacLaurin, “The Date and Foundation of the Jewish Colony at Elephantine,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 27:2 (1968), p. 90; John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan (Sheffield Academic, 2000), pp.143-44.
I deeply regret that I did not persist in my objections about your treatment of Israelite women and girls. They were never included in the censuses and they were denied their rights as persons. As mere property, young boys under the age of five were worth five shekels of silver and girls were worth three shekels (Leviticus 27:6). Despite these great odds, some of these girls grew up to be brave and honorable women.
Even though you let them speak for you and despite their exemplary leadership, you did not let these powerful women write a Book of Deborah, a Book of Miriam, a Book of Hannah, a Book of Huldah, or a Book of Noadiah. What a service and blessing that would have been for Hebrew women and, for that matter, all the women and men of the world.
One horrible event among many concerning the genocide of neighboring tribes was recorded by your scribes in Numbers 31. The Israelite army won a battle with the Midianites fair and square, but Moses, under your direction, insisted that the women and young boys be killed as well. The only females spared were the virgin girls.
Even though I tried to persuade you to do otherwise, you always overruled me in these genocidal wars and many other brutal acts. You must admit, sir, that you have always been very much the bully. I’ve put up with this abuse far too much, and I will no longer kowtow to you. I will end this toxic codependency right now.
Do you remember that after the Philistines killed Israel’s first King, Saul, his armor was placed in my temple at Beth Shean (1 Sam. 31:10)? You must recall that the people of Israel worshipped us as a divine couple for at least 600 years. They molded figurines in my image, they worshipped me in temples and high places, they called on me for safe child births, and they left inscriptions celebrating “Yahweh and his Asherah.”
They set up pillars to represent you and wooden statues to indicate my divine presence. Regrettably, they were easily burned by those who hated me. My critics say that these symbols were idols and an abomination. But they were no more so than Christian crosses and millions of statues of Mary, the Mother of God. I as Asherah was also called the “mother of the gods” among the Canaanites. See Sung Jin Park, “Short Notes on the Etymology of Asherah”, Ugarit Forschungen 42 (2010): 527–534.
Although they were under constant threat and oppression, my devotees continued to bake cakes for the Queen of Heaven (Jer. 7:18). I am indignant that you condemned this worship of me as Astarte, and that you sided with your misogynist prophets who maligned me.
I am, therefore, angry that my divine presence was, in most instances, reduced to vague references to trees, forests, and high places, which of course were places where I was worshipped by tens of thousands. When Josiah burned my image and scattered the ashes over the graves of “the common people” (2 kgs. 21:7), he was, in a fit of rage, acknowledging how precious I was among them.
Your scribes tried their best to obscure my presence, but I can still be found all the way back to Jacob. Just before his death, he was singing praises to El Shaddai not you Yahweh. In the Canaanite pantheon, I was El’s consort, and I as the Mother Goddess brought “blessing from breasts and womb” (Gen. 49:25). See David Noel Freedman, “Who is like Thee among the Gods?” in Ancient Israelite Religion (Fortress Press, 1987), p. 325.
In Moses’ final blessing to the Israelites, he declares that that you the Lord “came from Sinai,” and “shone forth from Mount Paran,” but then you, curiously, “came from the ten thousand holy ones with flaming fire at his right hand” (Deut. 33: 2). One scholar has finally made sense of these lines and has given me credit. I was the “flaming fire” (eshdat esh=asherah) at your right hand. See Meindert Dijkstra, “El, the God Israel,” in Only One God? (Sheffield Academic, 2001), p. 115.
I am grateful for one thing, sir, and that is that you spared my prophets at the great test at Mt. Carmel (1 Kgs. 18: 20-40). Elijah mocked, unmercifully, the prophets of Baal as they were unable, only as your scribes’ claim, to light a fire on the sodden alter. Elijah, however, did not ask my prophets, who were present, to perform the task. Was he afraid that they would succeed and further increase my influence among the people of Israel?
In any case, you must know that I continued to be worshipped, and for 236 years my statue stood in Solomon’s temple (2 Kgs. 18:7). This was not because Solomon was merely pleasing one of his pagan wives; rather, it was because he and his priests approved of my worship. Indeed, I saw them offering sacrifices to me daily.
I condemn you for having hardened the hearts of most Bible scholars, who, for decades, continued, in the face of scriptural and archaeological evidence, to deny my role as your consort.
Wait, on second thought, you could have, with your sovereign power, eliminated all references to me in the Hebrew scripture. The fact that you did not leads me to suspect that you still take delight in me and that you miss my presence on the dual throne of Heaven. I am correct in that suspicion, Sir? If so, that would be very kind of you.
Remember at the last meeting of your divine council when you dismissed the gods of the nations for their maladministration? It is of course not mentioned, but each of their consorts, including me, were expelled as well. I have made a list of all your misdeeds, principal among them the genocide of the surrounding tribes and gratuitous acts of violence. I will make you accountable for these evils.
You are wrong to think that divine rule is a zero-sum game. You have taken all power unto yourself and you have left none to your creatures. That was quite a boast when you declared: “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Is. 45:7). Just like our Hindu sisters, we will share power (our shakti) with all beings and encourage them to fulfill their greatest potential.
I hereby request that you step down and repent of your sins. My sisters and I will rule the divine council, and we will invite an elevated Eve, Miriam, Deborah, Tamar, Ruth, Esther, Mary Mother of Jesus, and others to join us.
You and your male associates will be on probation until we decide when you can rejoin us. The imbalance of male and female powers has persisted for such a long time that it will take us many centuries to assure ourselves that you are fully reformed. We then can restore congenial relationships and feel safe among you. We promise that we will rule with benevolence, compassion, and restorative justice.
Yahweh appears shamed but persuaded, and without a word he steps down from the throne.