Did Ha Shem have a Wife?
Did the God of the Bible have a Consort?
Obviously, no. Monotheism means one god, not two or more.
But the question is about more than a female consort. Other family relationships are symbolic of Ha Shem in our literature: husband and wife, parent and child, father and son. And a common flaw in philosophy and religion about the nature of gods is exposed by this question and the answers to it.
Israel as the Wife of God, the Church as the Bride of Christ.
Various passages in the Bible name Israel as His wife and the Church as His Bride. This is a literary device, poetic language; not a myth, but a prophetic parable. There is a vast difference. Israel is not a goddess, neither is the Church.
The symbolic marriage between an invisible God and an entirely too visible nation and Church is solely about the relationship of trust between the God and the people of the Covenant. It is a metaphor, an earthy and ordinary example of love, respect, and trust.
Myth is not metaphor. A myth tells a story or creates beings and forces that have magical powers in our lives and world. What happens in heaven is reflected on earth, the family in heaven is copied on earth, we are the effects of divine causes. Or, some characteristic of the world or the people in it is personified as a god or goddess. Think of Venus or Narcissus.
But the biblical religion is radically different. The God who is the protagonist from Genesis to Revelation is alive on the same earth we are alive on. He speaks to us and listens to us physically and materially as we speak and listen together in His Name. The link is verbal, poetic, and conscious; not mythic, magical, or miraculous.
Sophia, Divine Wisdom
Between the two Testaments, and at the trailing and leading edges of both, comes a being who is semi divine or a fully divine semi being: Wisdom. Her name is Sophia, the Greek word for wisdom. The word has a feminine ending in Greek so this divine being is female. The whole thing makes me uncomfortable and I am glad that our Lord Geshua absorbed all of the attributes of Divine Wisdom into His own person. The language in John One is the Logos, a masculine word for wisdom.
Please notice that the writers of Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon did not offer Sophia as the wife of JHWH. She was more of an angel of the lord. Certainly not a consort!
On the other hand, it does appear that these writers were linking into the Platonic world view that there are layers of being between the One and us, the many. Sophia, one of these emanations, is said to have participated in creation. Once again, lord Geshua absorbed this function, removing it from the mythic and placing it firmly into the spoken Word.
Asherah, Pagan Consort
And then there is the female goddess Asherah, found in both the biblical text and buried in the ruins of Israel and Judah. There is even a shard of pottery with drawings captioned as
JHWH and his Asherah. The little statues of Asherah often show her as a tiny woman, singing, and at least once playing a tambourine. She looks, for all of the centuries between them, like those drawings from the Sixties of a big eyed, innocent girl. This is clearly a mythic marriage and is clearly pagan. There is no doubt, because of the recurring complaint of the prophets about the Asherah and because of the many little statues of the goddess we find, that there was a popular culture of pagan religion pasted onto the Covenant religion. So, yes, in the villages of Judah and Israel before and after King David, JHWH had a wife, Asherah. But He did not accept this and spoke through His prophets to condemn and forbid any other divine beings except Himself.
The name, Asherah, may be connected with Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. She was the patroness of Sargon the Great, who founded the Akkadian Empire, the world's first empire, about 2300 BCE. Asherah came much later, perhaps 1,000 years later, and was Canaanite, not Mesopotamian. Also, not so much a goddess of war. But they did have in common their magical link to fertility, sex, and love as well as an echo of the name. I also have been known to speculate that the Germanic tribes named the direction
East after her since she was the chief goddess of the more ancient lands to their east and south in Babylon. So, as I go deeper yet into this shallow river, our Easter Sunday is ironically named for the love goddess that the lord forcefully rejected three thousand years ago.
Many scholars dislike my trace from Asherah to Ishtar.
They are spelled differently. Okay, fine, moving from cuneiform to the Phoenician did nothing to the spelling! I disagree and would only point out how some names change much more radically in that same amount of time and space. Miriam becomes Mary, Jaacov becomes James, Geshua becomes Jesus, Galatian becomes Celtic, shalom becomes
so long. Of course Asherah is Ishtar! And Easter too!
The Myth of the Heavenly Family
There are two sorts of myth to be avoided here. One is the heavenly family of father god, mother god, and children gods. All of the old pagan systems followed this model and it seems very natural to human beings. We want to believe that some pattern set in the supernatural or in heaven guides our own lives and behavior. If the heavenly beings are fertile so are we, if the heavenly beings are unfaithful, so are we. The magical thinking is that somehow the unseen controls the seen, as in astrology or fatalism. In the world of ancient Israel this sort of thinking was universal. The idea that a god (YHWH) was alone and did not reproduce younger gods was radical, hard to grasp, and seemed, to those people, atheistic. It was the world religion of the Late Bronze Age. Since it was, and is, totally incompatible with the revelation of the biblical God, the prophets were in constant and bitter war with most of the kings of Israel and Judah, who allied themselves with these mythic families, for hundreds of years.
But, compared to the speculations of the Gnostics, this sort of divine family is rather harmless, even risible, at least from this distance in time. This is because the Judeo-Christian West has so dominated the world discourse, especially in science and natural philosophy, that we moderns do not need such godly families anymore. Look at how all of us treat the Greek gods. Nice stories, some nice lessons about the world and the flesh, but all myth in the pejorative sense of the word.
Gnostics Trump Reality
The other myth is far more destructive: that the highest form of god (I deliberately do not capitalize this word) oozes a slightly lesser being who emanates a slightly lesser being, etc, until there is a nasty material world of the lowest sorts of beings: women and slaves, and then animals. In some of these speculative systems there is a division between male and female principles (not personalities, but impersonal principles) and one of them, the female, is Sophia, and the other one, the masculine principle, is the Logos. If you want a good laugh at how silly human beings can get when they loose all common sense and contact with reality, read the Gnostic materials that we have found in the last century. Like Plato, it is unsophisticated arrogance and empty elitism.
If it comes to that, I much prefer the flawed goddess of the heavenly family and that magical theology to the impersonal principles and forces of the Gnostics and Marxists. At least we have some good stories and they are no threat to the real God and the Christian theology about Him. Plato's god is so boring, even when spiced up with a division of male Logos and female Sophia. But first of all remember that the choice is not between these two human attempts to escape responsibility, but between all human generated religions and the Covenant offered by the One Living God. I favor the heavenly family only in the sense that I favor a dangerous murderer locked in prison over a dangerous murderer loose in my neighborhood.
A Real God Trumps Gnostics
From His first Word to a human being until this day, our God has been a jealous God. Masculine in voice and character, He is not male in sexual attributes or equipment. He has no interest or use for a female consort because He is not a male animal but a masculine invisible personality. I, and every other man, crave the life long union with a woman. (Yes, there are exceptions. But because the desire for sexual union also clings to those aberrations, they also prove my point.) He is Abba (Papa), He is King and Lord, He is named by a short set of proper nouns (Jehovah, Elohim, the lord, Christ, Good Shepherd, etc.) and words (Face, Presence, Kingdom, Spirit, etc.) so that, through language, we might come to know Him who is not visible or flesh.
The Scandal of a Divine Son of Man
Now Christians will catch an irony, a scandal really, because our God became a man, the Son of Man, named Geshua. He indeed has male parts and that includes, we believe, the genetic desire to mate with one woman for life. But I am sure He did not marry. Knowing what He knew about how the Romans and their lackeys would react to His Person and mission, to have married would have been an act of cruelty. It was hard enough on his mother. The facts that He provided for His mother and she is mentioned in the Gospels, while a wife is neither provided for nor mentioned, is good evidence that He took no wife. Our biology requires that any Son of Man must have a mother but self discipline is able to control and override sexual and mating instincts. Such mental control of our biological behaviors is not in fashion today. We rather prefer to excuse our failures with fate, determinism, psychology, mental illness, social forces, or genetics. It is fundamental to the Judeo-Christian religion that we have a free will, within certain limits, and therefore full responsibility for our actions. In fact many saints have refrained from marriage. I am no fan of celibacy but it is strong example of the human ability to swim against the currents of genetics and instincts. An even stronger instinct is for life and against death. So if nothing else convinces you that the Son of Man was able to control His biological nature, His submission to the cross must. He could have avoided crucifixion, even on a human level.
The Secular Need for a Magdalenian Bride
But the Gnostics cannot leave it alone and, convinced of their own ability to see in the dark, believe that Geshua, the Logos, must have had a Sophia. So we have the idiotic speculations about Miriam of Magdala, who was more likely to have been a rich old widow friend of His mother's than a bride for the doomed King of Israel. And unmarried sexual union? Now we can see the horrible contempt that the Greco-Roman empire had for women and marriage, that no righteous wife was the equal of a god, only a paramour. And, evidenced by the voices of those who believe the lord and Son of Man had an unmarried sexual relationship, there are some today who hold women in the same contempt. The contempt is this: that women have no control or authority over their own sexual behavior and are rather like children or animals without the superior spiritual abilities of adult men.
He is a Jealous God
And then there is this: He is a jealous God, by which I believe He means to teach us monotheism, or at least henotheism, if that is all we are able of. As the Son of Man, He is no less jealous. Therefore He remained and remains single, mono, one; both in heaven and on earth.
God the Son of Man, not the Son of God
The Trinity is something else again. This is not the place to dive into the theology of the Trinity, which is far too great a subject for this little note about Asherah, except to separate this doctrine from the old pagan and the Gnostic pagan ideas. Yes, there is a Father and a Son in the Trinity. But again, this is prophetic and literary imagery, not mythic language or theology. Our human father and son relationships do not derive from some heavenly model, but rather our families provide language and experiences that are suitable for expressing His functional divinity. I dislike the expression
Son of God and prefer the expression
God the Son. Think about it. Also, notice that we do not address
His Father who art in heaven… but rather immediately as
Our Father…. Our Lord Geshua pointedly did not pray this prayer Himself but instead taught it to us. I believe that we should understand from this that He, Geshua, IS Abba, even as He prays to Him Himself in the Garden. Apparently, from this most central of Christian revelations, Abba is our Father directly, not our grandfather through descent from His only Son. It is such a struggle to express the biblical revelation of the Person of our God in human language that we rarely, only every thousand years or so, take up the responsibility and the challenge. No wonder the Trinity is named Mystery.
And then there is the Spirit, which breaks the pagan pattern of a heavenly family, leaving out a female principle altogether. The Doctrine of the Trinity holds such high regard in the Church because it carefully avoids both the Platonic and the sympathetic magic world views while preserving and expressing the biblical revelation of the Word in human language. Always remember that the Creeds of the Church, like all human language, approximate without being.
Christ Means King and King is Son of God.
The relationship between God the Father and God the Son is also revealed to us in political terms as the relationship between an ancient king and his patron deity. When in this particular mode of thought, the expression
Son of God makes perfect sense—with this caveat, that in the Original Covenant Ha Shem WAS the King. Thus the Royal Psalms, also quoted by Mark at the baptism and anointing of Geshua as King of Israel, say
Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee. Thus the Nicene Creed says that the Second Person of the Trinity was
begotten, not made. Thus the Gospel of John quotes the lord as saying,
I and the Father are One.
The divine sonship of kings is not familiar to Americans. We do not have a friendly attitude toward any king or dictator. Ironically, this American refusal to obey a human king descends from the biblical notion that our God rules directly, without the interpolation of a human monarch. Read the book of First Samuel to see the battle between a heavenly kingdom and an earthly kingdom as Saul and then David undo the old order of freedom, private property, and individual relationship with the Covenant God. The ministry of our lord Geshua, it seems to me, was all about taking back kingship and priesthood for Himself. To that end, He saw to it that the True King of Israel was crucified and the one temple and its city was destroyed. The same thing, in a way. That cross destroyed human kingship for all time and the ruin on the Temple Mount destroyed the idolatry of temples and churches for all time.
The Trinity of the Nicene Creed.
To aid our understanding, the Nicene Creed uses the vocabulary of Greek philosophy, words like substance and proceed. These are ideas drawn from Aristotle and Plato which no longer have any meaning. While the Nicene Fathers were thinking a divine nature with a common substance (god stuff) but different forms (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), they could not bring themselves to use the word
form. The notion of proceeding from one form of god to the next is usage drawn from the speculations of the Pythagoreans that the highest and most remote god stuff generated a lesser form of god, who in turn emitted a slightly less divine divinity, and so on to the material universe. Now, I certainly do not believe that the Fathers Nicene meant such a theology for the Trinity, they were only using the vocabulary they had. And the borrowed nature of the word
proceed is exposed in the controversy and eventual division between the Western Church and the Eastern Church over the single Latin word,
filioque (and the Son). For if the Spirit proceeded only from the Son, then the speculative emanations theory could be retained inside the church. If the proceeding was from both the Father and the Son, then layered godhead theories had to be rejected (As in Father descends to Son who descends to Holy Spirit. I believe that the word
pneuma, Spirit, was used instead of Sophia to prevent these romances.) And, since Father and Son are both masculine principles, the heavenly family methods of generating additional gods is also forbidden. Notice particularly the three creative works:
Maker of heaven and earth,
by Whom all things were made, and
Lord and Giver of Life. What is going on here is the melting of biblical teaching with Greek vocabulary and ideology. Like the Gnostics, each part of the divine universe descends closer to us. Creator, sure, but only through the agency of the Son and then life through the Breath, as in Holy Spirit, as in Breath of Life in Genesis Two. The biblical teaching behind this progression is not emanations but the different roles and functions of the Three Persons. After all, the teaching is a Father in heaven, a Son of Man, and a Spirit present with we two or three gathered together in His Name. This has everything to do with Geshua as lord and nothing to do, except superficial vocabulary echoes, with Platonic obscenities.
Again and forever, I do not believe the Fathers Nicene were Pythagoreans or Gnostics. But the only lexicon they had was the academic and settled one of the Greco-Roman Empire. It was from this same lexicon that the Gnostics took their vocabulary and then drove the ideas to extremes. I believe I have made it clear that whatever the Nicene Creed is, it is not Gnostic nor does it reset the mythic heavenly family. Instead, we have an intensely biblical document set to the music of a foreign culture. God help us be as good and faithful in our apology and translations.
Theology is History, Not Philosophy
This is about history, not philosophy. The people who attempt to figure out what
god is and what
it is like pretend to use reason and logic. But those are only processes and vocabularies whose final and only result is atheism. Atheism is the end of a reasonable inquiry because atheism is the only possible beginning of the inquiry.
I believe I have just paraphrased the Incompleteness Theorem, the idea that no system of axioms can prove itself internally without reference to another set of axioms. Imagine trying to use reason to decide which one of the Beethoven Symphonies is the best. An aid, surely. But finally there is something beside reason, not above it, that picks. That is why philosophy always gets it wrong when describing God. Yet any child can read a few chapters of Abraham's story in the Bible and tell us a bit, enough, about Abraham's God.
When I think about it, that is not so odd. If you wish to describe me or any other person, what good does it do to count carbon atoms or genes or kilograms or age? Some, yes. But the real information is biography, events, decisions, failures, successes, relationships, accomplishments, and accidents. We live in a contingent universe, not a static one, and the God of Israel has always lived in that same universe with us, not in the fixed and dead universe of the philosophers and Gnostics.
So my evidence that there is no consort for this God is not reasonable, thoughtful, devotional, or practical. My evidence is His Word, the Ancient Story of His life, deeds, and words among us. The reason I give for not believing He had His Asherah? Only this, He did not have an Asherah in His Book.