YHWH and His Wife?

Credit: BiblePlaces.com

Leviticus chapters 1-5 discuss the various sacrifices that Israel must offer YWHW, their lone God. But if Israel was commanded to only worship the one God, they often did not meet this standard.

In 1 Kings & 2 Kings numerous kings engage in the worship of foreign gods. Of the later leaders of the Kingdom of Israel, Ahaziah worshipped Baal, and the kings Jehoahaz, Jehoash and Jeroboam II each “did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat.” Even in the Kingdom of Judah, the kings Jehoram and Ahaziah “followed the ways of the kings of Israel.”

There is evidence that demonstrates that at a minimum, at times, people of either Israel or Judah worshipped gods other than YHWH.

Kuntillet ‘Ajrud is a hilltop site in northern Sinai, about 50 km south of Kadesh Barnea. A high water table at the base of the hill provided a stable water source in this arid region, which in ancient times made this isolated spot an important station on ancient trading routes between the Gulf of Aqaba and the Mediterranean.

The Kuntillet ‘Ajrud inscriptions are a series of inscriptions on pieces of ancient storage jars that date to the early 8th century BCE.  There are inscriptions mentioning El, Baal and images of the easily identifiable Egyptian god Bes. And there also two inscriptions that refer to YHWH and Asherah.

The commonly accepted readings of the inscriptions that refer to YHWH and Asherah are “Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah,” and “Yahweh of Teman and his Asherah.” Kuntillet Ajrud is closer in proximity to the Kingdom of Judah, but the inscription reading “Yahweh of Samaria” has led some to suggest that the site was connected to the northern Kingdom of Israel and not the southern Kingdom of Judah.

There is some debate about the exact reading. The commonly accepted readings are of Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah, and another that reads as Yahweh of Teman and his Asherah. Some disagree with this interpretation and just see it as “by YHWH and by Asherah.” Whichever reading one chooses, it does not comport with the biblically approved form of worship.

There is also debate about what Asherah means here. Asherah could refer to a form of worship. But Asherah was also a Canaanite goddess. In Canaanite worship, Asherah could be the consort of the god Baal. For those who read the text as Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah, it would suggest that YHWH’s consort or wife is the goddess Asherah. Again, this would run counter the Bible’s instruction to worship only YHWH.