Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou University of Exeter concludes that ancient Israelites worshipped a God and Goddess in the same temple, reports the Daily Mail.
Stavrakopoulou pursued her interest in Greek at Oxford, where she spent several years specialising in the cultural and social contexts of the Bible.
She discovered that Yahweh, the God we have come to know, had to see off a number of competitors to achieve his position as the one and only god of the ancient Israelites.
Despite Yahweh’s assertion in the Ten Commandments that ‘You shall have no other gods before me’, it appears these gods were worshipped alongside Him, and the Bible acknowledges this.
The Bible also admits that the goddess Asherah was worshipped in Yahweh’s temple in Jerusalem.
In the Book Of Kings, we’re told that a statue of Asherah was housed in the temple and that female temple personnel wove ritual textiles for her. In fact, although the Bible condemns all of these practices, the biblical texts suggest that goddess worship was a thriving feature of high-status religion in Jerusalem.
According to Stavrakopoulou, the evidence within the Bible that she was worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem indicates that she might have played the role of a divine wife in ancient Israel too.
The evidence was a remarkable ceramic inscription in the Sinai desert.
The inscription was photographed and recorded by archaeologists and scholars of ancient Israelite religion, so we know what it looked like – and importantly – what it said.
The inscription is a petition for a blessing. Crucially, the inscription asks for a blessing from ‘Yahweh and his Asherah’ – evidence that presented Yahweh and Asherah as a divine pair.
Discovered in the Sinai in the Seventies, the real thing has since been mysteriously ‘lost’. Neither the BBC team of researchers nor my academic colleagues and contacts could locate it.
Just as other deities worshipped in ancient Israel were relegated to become angels, or rejected as ‘abhorrent’, so too Asherah was done away with.