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Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel Paperback – July 23, 2008
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"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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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Top Customer Reviews
So the text draws a contrast between the reality of ancient Israeli religion at its very beginnings, which was polytheistic, with how the Bible asserts it had always existed as monotheism or at best henotheism, and that assertions of an ideal monotheism were actually a very late development of the Judean monarchy prior to the Babylonian invasion.He contrasts the proliferation of how Israel "folk religion" persisted in the area through the early Judean monarchy and its similarities with the Northern kingdom, and how after Assyria laid waste to its rival in the north, that the Southern Judean monarchs began to assert a claim over the northern lands and began to do so with a new "Deuternomistic" ideology which further separated Israelis from their Canaanite origins and which a developing thesis of monotheism, of Yahweh alone as the God of Israel. The author fails to mention how this theme became a reality only after the Babylonian captivity , and then only after the Persian Empire conquered Babylon. The author hints at the reality of the tendency of national crises to cause rethinking and a reassessment of Israeli religion, and how religion in Israel was radically different after the return from exile which was then centered totally on "book religion" of the Deuternomistic school of the late monarchy. The author fails to mention that the emerging Jewish Monotheism, which became ethical monotheism, became so precisely because their Babylonian captors were conquered by a society, the Persian Empire, which itself had as its religious ideology one of Ethical Monotheism from the teacher Zoroaster. He doesn't say so of course, but it is an obvious consequence of historical events.
Regardless, I love this book. It adds a new dimension to the understanding of the Israelites' faith in its original context and what characteristics they borrowed from other Near Eastern cultures.
Such a transition from matriarchy to patriarchy is clear in many of the choices these elitist male-oriented writers attempted (and were successful in many ways) to impose on a previously maternal based culture. We always know who the mother is, knowledge which also gives birth to the idea of "immaculate" births, but learning to tell when you've become a father is difficult--hence an emphasis on removing the woman from her home and excluding access to her. Contrary to male-oriented beliefs, male lions are not Thinking of creating progeny when they kill the babies of the females who they want to pretend to control; they just remember who they had sex with, and kill the offspring of the females they have not yet had intercourse with, so there is no reason to assume human males were any different (many men still refuse to believe they are fathers today).
Dever also errs in showing some of his own pervasive biases--assuming only women cooked and assuming no Israelite woman could read or write (despite archeaology illustrating that priestesses from nearby nations wrote letters and literature; if Ashera was worshipped in the Temple, there should have been Israelite priestesses, too), and he also demonstrates that innate fear many men have when discussing the Great Goddess (whom he insists is merely the Great Mother most of the time) because he refuses to entertain the idea that humanity began our spiritual worship by assuming there must be an all-powerful Goddess creating and directing life, since women--in their "magic"--were the only evident creators in early humanity.
When did humans become conscious that males had a role in procreation and were not just reacting to women's magical sexual attractions? Cultural anthropology shows us that, even in tribal cultures, women made the homes, owned the crop fields, and the people believed the main creative divinity was female (and that the male was often either mischievous or tempermental). Even in other patriarchal religions, the male divinities have to overcome and often dismember the female divinity in order to create the earth or to create certain sustaining food sources. Dever ignores all this evidence to continue to support the patriarchy--something he cannot bear to eliminate all together. His fear of upending the patriarchy also means he's incapable of admitting he's a wannabe feminist--someone who believes that both genders are equal, even if sometimes different.
It is foolish for a scholar to dismiss the idea of an original Great Goddess when there is so much evidence around the world that shows the feminine was revered not just for fertility, but also for power. That the Judean exile writers chose to push the masculine divinity to the forefront, moving him from a mere monolatry god to a universal one, was a conscious political choice to allow men to run roughshod over women.
One other important error Dever makes is to imply that any scrutiny of the Judean religion as it is practiced today is anti-semitism. He eagerly points out the continued persecution of women in some Moslem countries (not all Muslims share that sexist view), but he crosses a line he should not have by calling some scholars anti-semitic, simply because they analyze and find wanting all or most Judean religious concepts.
While I applaud Dever for his efforts in trying to set the record straight, even he doesn't do the issue justice.