[b-hebrew] re: their altars

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Sat Mar 5 16:48:36 EST 2005

Jim West wrote:
> Dora Smith wrote:
> > Just one thing it sounds like you may not be aware of;
> >
> > Asherah was Yahweh's wife.  She was also Ba'al's wife.
> Hold up there Dora.  You make it sound like the "popular" religion of
> the folk at Kuntillet Ajrud represented the same religious sensibilities
> as those held by the priests and prophets in Jerusalem.  Just because
> some "am ha-aretz" hold an odd and aberrant view of Yahweh does not mean
> we are allowed to make such a stunning blanket statement as "Asherah was
> Yahweh's wife".  That's rubbish.  At most what can be said is "some folk
> in some parts of Palestine thought that Yahweh had a consort- but this
> was clearly not the view of the establishment".

Before I post my response to this, let me point out that I am not a scholar and
have no formal education in the topic.  I just happen to read a lot.

What do you mean by "Am Haaretz"? A modern definition of "ignorant"? A more
literal definition of "commoner"? Someone who worships the earth?  We can't
assume this person was ignorant, because obviously they used writing, and as
such, most likely belonged to the high classes of society.  That also excludes
the interpretation of "commoner."  And someone who worships the earth, defines
the person with a set of beliefs that are not necessarily true.  We
don't know much
about the beliefs of this person, except they sacrificed things to
Yahweh and his

What about the establishment?  How do you know what the views of the
establishment were in the 9th century BCE?  We know what the Bible says,
after it has passed several significant processes of editing.  Maybe the view of
Josiah hundreds of years later was different than the establishment view in the
9th century, but this Kuntillet Ajrud guy wrote in line with the
establishment.  He
was, after all, from the high classes of society.

We can't make claims about a syncretic religion, because we don't know what
was worshipped prior to that. We know what Ugarit worshipped, or more precisely,
what some priests of Ugarit worshipped.  But if we take the line of
argument above
we might conclude that Ugarit worshipped something other than the "odd and
aberrant view" of some of its priests.  In any case, it is in my
opinion, unwise to
claim that the guy at Kuntillet Ajrud wrote something opposed to 
the "establishment", just like it is unwise claim that Ugarit beliefs
are the same as
10th century Canaan beliefs.  They might be similar.  We don't know how similar.
Furthermore, we don't know the relationship between Jerusalem beliefs and
Samaria beliefs.  Both were "establishment."  

I actually think one can make the opposite claim.  There is historical
(1 Ki 19:3-14),
archaeological (Kuntillet Ajrud), and literary (J source), all of
which argue for a 9th
century Negev connection between Yahweh worship and Israel/Samaria).  Maybe
the Yahwist - traditionally a source written in the "South" after the
division of the
Monarchy and before the Assyrian conquest - wrote J at Kuntillet
Ajrud.  It has,
after all, political leanings towards Israel/Samaria since it
describes Israel's history.
Furthermore, J has traditionally been taken to be the oldest literary
source of the
Bible, and Kuntillet Ajrud just happens to be the earliest site where
we find an
example of a literary composition.  Both Kuntillet Ajrud and 1 Ki 16:32-33
associate Baal and Asherah with Samaria, and yet, Ahab could very well be the
first king under whose rule mass conversion to Yahweh is taking place,
so there's
also a Yahweh connection.  All of this is rather indirect, but I think
it gives enough
basis to argue that perhaps Kuntillet Ajrud was the home of the Yahwist.  Would
we claim that the Yahwist's view of Yahweh was "odd and aberrant"?

So if we strike out the part about the establishment, what we get is: "some folk
in some parts of Israel thought that Yahweh had a consort".  That's
not much, but
it's perhaps all we can say.

Yitzhak Sapir

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