Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel

Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel


By (author) William G. Dever

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Paperback $19.79
  • Publisher: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co
  • Format: Hardback | 344 pages
  • Dimensions: 158mm x 231mm x 33mm | 658g
  • Publication date: 1 August 2005
  • Publication City/Country: Grand Rapids
  • ISBN 10: 0802828523
  • ISBN 13: 9780802828521

Product description

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 colourful 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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Author information

William G. Dever is professor emeritus of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona. He is also the author of What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel and Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?

Review quote

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.

Table of contents

Introduction Defining and Contextualizing Religion The Phenomenon of Religion Religion as "Ultimate Concern" The "Care and Feeding of the Gods" On "Folk Religion" "Folk Religion": Toward a Methodology "Phenomenology of Religion" The "Context" of Folk Religion Religion and the "Good Life" The History of the History: In Search of Ancient Israel's Religions The "History of Religions" School The "Myth and Ritual" School Old Testament Theology Sociological Approaches A Revival of Interest in Israelite Religion An Overall Critique of Previous Scholarship Sources and Methods for the Study of Ancient Israel's Religions The Biblical Texts and Their Limitations Some Caveats Non-biblical Texts Archaeology as a "Primary Source" for History and Religion Depreciating Archaeology: Who and Why Setting the (Archaeological) Record Straight What Archaeology Can and Cannot Do Why Another History? The Hebrew Bible: Religious Reality or Theological Ideal? Part I. Cultic Terminology in the Hebrew Bible B mot, or "High Places" Family and Household Shrines Temples Cult Paraphernalia in the Hebrew Bible Part II. Cultic Activities in the Hebrew Bible The Sacrificial System Some Caveats Regarding Sacrifice Prayers and Vows Festivals Archaeological Evidence for Folk Religions in Ancient Israel Local Shrines and Family Religion An Excursus on "Magic" Public Open-Air Sanctuaries Monumental Temples The Goddess Asherah and Her Cult The Figurines: Who Is She? Votives, Vows, and Folk Religion Characterizing Asherah and Her Cult Asherah, Women's Cults, and "Official Yahwism" Asherah in Canaan Asherah in the Hebrew Bible Asherah, Yahweh, and "Syncretism" Iconographic Evidence of the Goddess Asherah and Women's Cults Archaeological Correlates of Women's Cults Other Ethnographic Parallels From Polytheism to Monotheism "Patriarchal" Religion in Canaan: El and "the God of the Fathers" "Holy Places" in Pre-Israelite Times The Israelite Sacrificial System as "Canaanite" The Calendar The Question of "Syncretism" Changes with the Monarchy: Religion in Crisis Rebellion: "To Your Tents, O Israel" Civil War: The "State Cult" in the North Judah and the "Yahweh Alone" Movement The Fall of Judah and Religious Crisis The Empty Land Out of the Ashes Toward One God Why Monotheism? and Whither? Archaeological Evidence for Reforms The Afterglow Magic Bowls and the Goddess Lilith "Ashera Abscondita" and Jewish Mysticism What Does the Goddess Do to Help? Afterword (and Foreword Again) Some Basic Sources Index of Authors Index of Subjects and Places Index of Scripture References