Take My Wife…Please! Bibles buried Secrets by Jane RentonBy admin
So…it turns out God/Yahweh/El had a wife…and how is that a surprise? Behind every great man there is more often than not a great woman, whereas sisters can more than do it for themselves – and everyone else. Or so they say.
Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou – presenter of ‘Bible’s Buried Secrets,’ Tuesdays on BBC2 – presents the compelling and troubling argument that not only did God have a wife, but she was airbrushed out of history. As the fair half of a frankly cool sounding couple, Asherah ruled the squabbling heavenly family with Yahweh until the movement from polytheism towards monotheism in the 6th Century caused her to be vilified and diminished to a few cryptic passages. Dr Stavrakopoulou describes the fallout:
‘Monotheism brought with it a terrible consequence. God is exclusively male, and so to be male is to be like God. And this has coloured attitudes towards women for centuries and centuries. In toppling the goddess from heaven, monotheism disempowered women. The evidence I’ve presented rocks the foundation of modern monotheism, and for some, that may have a severe impact – but it seems to me that the loss of God’s wife had an even greater impact on the history of humanity. And that’s the painful truth.’
Despite some fairly robust (male) press criticism, the programme does not seek to assert some kind of Feminist agenda – though it would be fair to say only the meek chiquita would seek to disinherit this whole heap of humble mud pie. Instead, Dr Stavrakopoulou looks at the Bible with critical detachment on a number of issues. Principally, that ancient Israelites worshipped many gods, meaning the origins of Christianity and Judaism were originally poly not monotheistic and that ancient Israelites believed God, or El, or Yahweh were all the same. More to the point, this deity of many names headed a cooperative of multiple gods – including the now literally demonised Baal – with ‘At his right, his own Asherah.’ 33.3 Deuteronomy
This would mean that the ancient Israelite religion was not distinctly individual, but segued out of the older Canaanite tradition – which in turn has implications for the modern intractable conflict in Palestine and the Israeli state. In effect, the ancient Israelite religion was therefore simply an evolved subset of the original Canaanites. With this in mind, wouldn’t it all just be hunky-dory if Netanyahu, Haniyeh and Fayadd agreed that Dr Francesca makes a convincing point and they should all just share? No chance. But imagine Asherah still had heavenly custody – ‘Kids, don’t make me come down there!’
Sadly, the battle of the gods depicted in Psalm 82 of the Bible also reflected a time of upheaval in ancient Israeli history. The 6th Century saw the Babylonian invasion and the displacement of tribes throughout the region. The power struggle that still exists today began, and the scribes began to spin the old stories – claiming to have the ‘one true god’ and absolutely no goddess – to the extent that Asherah became a name to be vilified. Her image was recast as the chaste Virgin Mary. Where Asherah had a voice and was a partner in heaven, Mary was obedient…sexless…safe.
Politicians – even ancient ones – twist words. When the words are those of one of the most enduring and dominant religions it is terrifying how literally people will take them. People of faith don’t need historical proof, so in some ways it is useless to try and prove any discrepancies or prejudices to them. They will basically see what they want to see, even if it is blatantly implausible or unjust. Frightening to think how unwilling we are to renounce a system that subjugates and marginalises the role of women at the heart and the head of their own communities – heavenly or otherwise.
Catch Bible’s Buried Secrets tonight on BBC2 9pm.
Jane Renton is a thirtysomething writer and mother of three children with disabilities.