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Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel Paperback – July 23, 2008

3.9 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Susan Ackerman
"In"Did God Have a Wife?"Bill Dever presents a multidimensional portrait of ancient Israelite religion with his characteristic eloquence and panache. Most significantly, through his detailed examination of archaeological materials, Dever reveals crucial facets of what he calls 'folk religion, ' or the religion of one of ancient Israel's most neglected communities, the everyday people."Ronald Hendel
"Dever has done it again. The dean of biblical archaeology presents a wide-ranging and lively treatment of folk religion in ancient Israel, including the possibility of a prominent role for the goddess Asherah. Dever's synthesis of the archaeological evidence is masterful. This is a must-read for students of the Bible."J. Edward Wright
""Did God Have a Wife?"is the book that Bill Dever has been preparing to write for decades. In fact, he is probably the only person prepared and bold enough to attempt it. . . Dever finds that the only way to uncover the rich diversity of the religious impulse in ancient Israel is for archaeology to work in conversation with texts and iconography. . . Professionals will know much of the data but will nonetheless be impressed with Dever's synthesis of evidence from diverse sources. Lay readers will appreciate Dever's clear reconstruction and, at the same time, will be challenged by his conclusions. It is fitting that a book focusing on folk religion is written in a style that makes the information readily available to modern audiences."Mark S. Smith
"A lucid treatment of a most provocative aspect of the Bible, namely, the question of a goddess in ancient Israel who might have been thought of as Yahweh's consort. Dever is one of the leading biblical archaeologists in the world, and he tackles one of the Bible's burning issues in this book. Fresh, clear, accessible, and recommended to anyone interested in the religion of ancient Israel."Ziony Zevit
"Once again William Dever has written a page-turner for thoughtful individuals interested in the Bible. This time, however, he explores what most biblicists ignore the folk religion of ancient Israel, the religion as lived and practiced. . . Although written for the general public, this is one book that scholars cannot afford to miss. . . Writing in a personal style sprinkled with anecdotes, Dever has produced a rare work a book that may be read and appreciated by all who take the Bible, archaeology, and history seriously. Packed with information, crackling with brilliant observations.""Review of Biblical Literature"
"I would like to recommend Dever's book to all ordinary people but especially to theologians who are interested in the real religion' of ancient Israel.""Catholic Biblical Quarterly"
"Anything by the fiesty Dever is a must-read. He is state-of-the-art in the field of archaeology and religion, and he invariably enlightens and challenges.""Archiv Orentalni"
"Highly persuasive in its portrayal, ["Did God Have a Wife?"] can become a welcome guide for all who are not afraid to adopt a somewhat alternate view of the ancient Israelite world.""

From the Inside Flap

Following up on his two recent, widely acclaimed studies of ancient Israelite history and society, William Dever here reconstructs the practice of religion in ancient Israel from the bottom up. Archaeological excavations reveal numerous local and family shrines where sacrifices and other rituals were carried out. Intrigued by this "folk religion" in all its variety and vitality, Dever writes about ordinary people in ancient Israel and their everyday religious lives.

"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 Israel's official "Book religion." Dever pays particular attention to the goddess Asherah, reviled by the authors of the Hebrew Bible as a foreign deity but, in the view of many modern scholars, popularly envisioned in early Israel as the consort of biblical Yahweh. His work also gives new prominence to women as the custodians of Israel's folk religion.

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, while also bringing fresh evidence to the table. Though Dever digs deep into the past, his discussion is extensively illustrated, unencumbered by footnotes, and vivid with colorful insights. Meant for professional and general audiences alike, "Did God Have a Wife? is sure to spur wide and passionate debate.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (July 23, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802863949
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802863942
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I will preface my review by admitting that I love William G. Dever. He doesn't kid around but approaches the question with tenacity. He relentlessly exposes the absurd positions of both extremes (generally the Biblical minimalists and the "believers") and does not let either ideology or religion get in the way of his search for the truth. He comes across as a gruff, irascible sort who has no patience for fools, and his approach is refreshing. He is unafraid to point to his own pioneering work on the subject and why not? He has earned it.

in "Did God Have a Wife?" Dever examines what he calls "folk religion" in ancient Israel. This is to be differentiated from "book religion" - the official position of the Bible, which is that of a literate and patriarchal elite. What Dever is looking for here is the religion of the hearth and home, the religion of women, but also men, of the simple piety of the common folk who made up over 90% of the population of ancient Israel. It is not, as he says at the outset (p. IX) in his Introduction, "about the extraordinary few who wrote and edited the Hebrew Bible." An appeal to the book itself will clarify matters here:

Some reviewers have suggested that my "Book religion" (following van der Toorn; below), which I have set up as a counterfoil to the more pervasive "folk religion," is late in the Monarchy, emerging only with the 7th-6th century B.. Deuteronomistic reform movements. Thus they argue that for the earlier period in the Monarchy, not to mention the "Period of the Judges" (12th-11th cents. B.C.), I can reconstruct nothing but "folk religion." This overlooks, however, he consensus of mainstream biblical scholars that behind the admittedly late written tradition there is a long oral tradition.
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Format: Paperback
William Dever tackle the provocative subject of populist religion in Biblical Israel. His thesis is that the religion portrayed in the Bible was an elitist religion practiced by only a small minority of priests and wealthy merchants, while the majority of the Hebrew nation worshipped a plurality of gods, chiefly Yahweh and his consort Asherah.

A large portion of this book is spent with Dever prattling on and on about how great his method of writing is, and why everyone else's is flawed. But in between all that is some really great information. The first few chapters are a chore to get through, and this is where Dever does most of his ranting against the "sub-par" research. Boring though they are, it is almost a necessity: the first few chapters define and contextualize religion, then go through sources and methods of studying history and archaeology. The rest of the book delivers the main point, comparing archaeological findings with the reality presented in the Bible, and comparing where the two agree and disagree. The last chapter gives an interesting opinion on the Jewish journey from polytheism to monotheism. There are also some excellent illustrations of important findings.

The book reads like a textbook, so anyone looking for a casual read should stay away. This is very academic writing that takes some time to wade through. But it is good for information on life in ancient Israel, if you can get past the writer's arrogant tone.
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Format: Paperback
With this publication, America's leading archaeologist of Israelite history, Bill Dever continues his provocative series of archaeological books geared for the lay reader which creates a firm basis for the "syncretistic" background of the peoples of Ancient Israel first known as the Hebrews. Although Dever's earlier publications, dealing with the technical data of archaeology were scattered in professional journals and Festschrifts, he began writing for the general reader in 1989 with the publication of "Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research" This book showed that Pre-Monarchial Israel's claims for much of its history (such as the Exodus from Egypt) had no archaeological foundations and most other Patriarchal claims, recorded in the Old Testament were, anachronistic.

Dever's latest book "Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel" is a disturbing and attention grabbing question for the general Judaic or Christian reader. Dever claims he is not extreme in dealing with the question of "house hold religion in Israel" and, as such, he is on constant guard to avoid what he considers an unfounded revisionist view of Israelite history: The Minimalist School (The scholarly claim that most all early Israelite history is "historized myth" created in the Exilic and Post Exilic periods). If one considers the many conservatives who will be reading this book, one can see where Dever himself will be view as a "minimalist" or a reviser of history. Never the less, he presents the archaeological facts and the reader must then adjust his or her faith based to this newest data.

I have always enjoyed personal testimonies by scholars who have made a move in their religious life and this Dever does in the "Introduction".
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Dever is again writing for ordinary folk, suitable to his topic of folk religion/s in ancient Israel. He lays out a brief autobiography (ingratiating himself with the masses) and his definitions and methodology. As is characteristic of Dever he summarizes and critiques foregoing scholarship on the topic with emphasis on the importance of archaeology. What we have here essentially is an attempt to memorialize the religious life of the unsung Israelite equivalent of a hillbilly vis-a-vis the 'book religion' entempled in the Hebrew bible. The forgotten place of women for Dever is very important for this, and he is not remiss to expatiate on women's cult, official and popular, especially as this relates to the Canaanite goddess Asherah. Disappointingly there is no rigorous defense of any true conception of Asherah as Yahweh's wife. The most he does to actually substantiate this is to invoke the well-known 'Ajrud and el-Qom inscriptions, but there are much better interpretations of these. When he gives his reasons for rejecting the conflicting interpretations of other scholars, these are weak. But as he shows convincingly there was some sort of Asherah cult in Israelite religion alongside Yahweh's, although the most one could say is that she appealed, qua fertility goddess, to everyday folk whose routine concern was their sheer livelihood as a mostly rural population. There is no real evidence that she was seen as Yahweh's consort; not anymore than Mary in Catholicism or 'Lady Wisdom' in later Judaism with whom Asherah is compared.

A lot of the archaeology here is discussed in Dever's previous two books (high places, temples, etc.
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