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

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Item Number 423263  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   344
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.9" Width: 5.9" Height: 0.9"
Weight:   1.05 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Aug 1, 2008
Publisher   WM. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING CO.
ISBN  0802863949  
EAN  9780802863942  


Availability  3 units.
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Item Description...
Overview
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 colorful insights. Meant for professional and general audiences alike, Did God Have a Wife? is sure to spur wide and passionate debate.

Publishers 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 colorful insights. Meant for professional and general audiences alike, "Did God Have a Wife?" is sure to spur wide and passionate debate.

Buy Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel by William G. Dever from our Christian Books store - isbn: 9780802863942 & 0802863949

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More About William G. Dever

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! William G. Dever is professor emeritus of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He has served as director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology in Jerusalem, as director of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, and as a visiting professor at universities around the world. He has spent thirty years conducting archaeological excavations in the Near East, resulting in a large body of award-winning fieldwork.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Another so-so book by Dever  Dec 22, 2009
Dever is again writing for ordinary folk, suitable to his topic of folk religion/s in ancient Israel. He lays out a brief biography (ingratiating himself with the masses) and his definitions and methodology. As is characteristic of Dever he summarizes and critiques foregoing scholarship on the topic with emphasis on the importance of archaeology. What we have here essentially is an attempt to memorialize the religious life of the unsung Israelite equivalent of a hillbilly vis-a-vis the 'book religion' entempled in the Hebrew bible. The forgotten place of women for Dever is very important for this, and he is not remiss to expatiate on women's cult, official and popular, especially as this relates to the Canaanite goddess Asherah. Disappointingly there is no rigorous defense of any true conception of Asherah as Yahweh's wife. The most he does to actually substantiate this is to invoke the well-known 'Ajrud and el-Qom inscriptions, but there are much better interpretations of these. When he gives his reasons for rejecting the conflicting interpretations of other scholars, these are weak. But as he shows convincingly there was some sort of Asherah cult in Israelite religion alongside Yahweh's, although the most one could say is that she appealed, qua fertility goddess, to everyday folk whose routine concern was their sheer livelihood as a mostly rural population. There is no real evidence that she was seen as Yahweh's consort; not anymore than Mary in Catholicism or 'Lady Wisdom' in later Judaism with whom Asherah is compared.

A lot of the archaeology here is discussed in Dever's previous two books (high places, temples, etc.), but there are new data presented, and much of the emphasis is shifted to the circa 3000 female figurines [p. 147] recovered by excavations and dating from the monarchical period. I'm not persuaded by his argument that their apparent lack of mention by the biblical writers is due to their existence purposefully being suppressed. [pp. 184-5] We can't expect the biblical writers to mention everything, and secondly I don't see anything wrong with identifying the figurines with some type of teraphim. What Dever suggests is an obstacle to this interpretation (1Sm xix.13-16) is really no obstacle at all.

Dever is very informative, knowledgeable, and insightful, but his thesis would be several times more powerful if it were in the hand of a sharper wit. His emotions also bleed through some of his arguments. I would prefer more rigid, dispassionate argumentation.
 
A Brilliant Corrective  Oct 23, 2009
I will preface my review by admitting that I love William G. Dever. He doesn't kid around but approaches the question with tenacity. He relentlessly exposes the absurd positions of both extremes (generally the Biblical minimalists and the "believers") and does not let either ideology or religion get in the way of his search for the truth. He comes across as a gruff, irascible sort who has no patience for fools, and his approach is refreshing. He is unafraid to point to his own pioneering work on the subject and why not? He has earned it.

in "Did God Have a Wife?" Dever examines what he calls "folk religion" in ancient Israel. This is to be differentiated from "book religion" - the official position of the Bible, which is that of a literate and patriarchal elite. What Dever is looking for here is the religion of the hearth and home, the religion of women, but also men, of the simple piety of the common folk who made up over 90% of the population of ancient Israel. It is not, as he says at the outset (p. IX) in his Introduction, "about the extraordinary few who wrote and edited the Hebrew Bible." An appeal to the book itself will clarify matters here:

Some reviewers have suggested that my "Book religion" (following van der Toorn; below), which I have set up as a counterfoil to the more pervasive "folk religion," is late in the Monarchy, emerging only with the 7th-6th century B.. Deuteronomistic reform movements. Thus they argue that for the earlier period in the Monarchy, not to mention the "Period of the Judges" (12th-11th cents. B.C.), I can reconstruct nothing but "folk religion." This overlooks, however, he consensus of mainstream biblical scholars that behind the admittedly late written tradition there is a long oral tradition. The major theological motifs of canonical Scripture, although I have downplayed their popular appeal, did not appear suddenly overnight. These themes (see Chapter VII) had a long tradition among the literati who later wrote and edited the Hebrew Bible; so "Book religion" merely represents their final crystallization (p. xv).

This single paragraph is a good example of Dever's writing style and his approach to the problem. He uses very clear and concise language to get his point across. He very frequently points to other parts of the book (below, Chapter VII, etc) so that you know where a particular point will be picked up and continued. This eliminates for the reader the otherwise inevitable unspoken "Yeah, but..." He frequently cites the work of other scholars and his areas of agreement and disagreement with their assertions and in fact, much of the book is a discussion about the views of various schools of thought on any particular point. He offers a fairly thorough review of previous scholarship, which is welcome, but without the use of footnotes. I love footnotes, but I cannot deny that Dever does an excellent job of working without them (and a section at the end of the book called "Basic Sources" fills some 15 pages with a carefully assembled list of the works Dever examines in the text, all divided by topic: "Folk Religion," "Asherah as Goddess," "Archaeological Handbooks," etc).

I'll offer the Table of Contents as part of my review because it is one of the things I look at immediately when pulling a book like this off the shelf:

I. Defining and Contextualizing Religion
II. The History of the History: In Search of Ancient Israel's Religions
III. Sources and Methods for the Study of Ancient Israel's Religions
IV. The Hebrew Bible: Religious Reality or Theological Ideal?
V. Archaeological Evidence for Folk Religions in Ancient Israel
VI. The Goddess Asherah and Her Cult
VII. Asherah, Women's Cults, and "Official Yahwism"
VIII. From Polytheism to Monotheism
IX. What Does the Goddess Do to Help?

There is also, at the end, an index of Scriptural references.

On the whole, Dever's writing style is engaging and easy to follow. Some nonfiction, particularly stuff written by experts in their fields,suffers from unreadability. We have all seen quoted passages in languages we can't hope to translate ourselves and with no translation offered. You won't find that here. But Dever accomplishes this without "dumbing down" his writing. This is a book that is accessible and it is a pleasure to read. I brought it with me everyday to read in the car while waiting for my son to get out of kindergarten classes.

If I have any complaint at all about the book it is with how the illustrations are presented. I would have liked them to be labeled (figure 1, figure 2, etc) and referenced in the text. I like to flip from the discussion to the image without searching for an illustration of the object being discussed. But this is a minor complaint and really did not lessen my enjoyment of the book.

I titled my review "A Brilliant Corrective" and I mean a corrective to extreme points of view on both sides, the minimalists and the "believers," the one group basically erasing even the possibility of knowledge of the past, and the other limiting it to the viewpoint of the few who wrote the Hebrew Bible. I think Dever has done his job well. Those at both extremes will likely be displeased but then nothing but complete surrender to their point of view will ever please them and Dever is not the man to deny the facts to make anybody happy, and this is what I admire about him the most. Even if you end up disagreeing with him, he pulls no punches. History is not always the way we would like it to be, but it does us no good to live in denial of the facts on (or in) the ground. I'll take the facts, warts and all, over pious history "as it should have been" rather than was.

Highly recommended, as are all Dever's books.

 
Good Theory, but Not Presented Well  Apr 13, 2009
William Dever tackle the provocative subject of populist religion in Biblical Israel. His thesis is that the religion portrayed in the Bible was an elitist religion practiced by only a small minority of priests and wealthy merchants, while the majority of the Hebrew nation worshipped a plurality of gods, chiefly Yahweh and his consort Asherah.

A large portion of this book is spent with Dever prattling on and on about how great his method of writing is, and why everyone else's is flawed. But in between all that is some really great information. The first few chapters are a chore to get through, and this is where Dever does most of his ranting against the "sub-par" research. Boring though they are, it is almost a necessity: the first few chapters define and contextualize religion, then go through sources and methods of studying history and archaeology. The rest of the book delivers the main point, comparing archaeological findings with the reality presented in the Bible, and comparing where the two agree and disagree. The last chapter gives an interesting opinion on the Jewish journey from polytheism to monotheism. There are also some excellent illustrations of important findings.

The book reads like a textbook, so anyone looking for a casual read should stay away. This is very academic writing that takes some time to wade through. But it is good for information on life in ancient Israel, if you can get past the writer's arrogant tone.
 
Devers' best book so far  Apr 5, 2009
William Devers, discussing the role of his discipline in interpreting the Biblical record, has pointed out that there are in fact multiple histories within the Bible, including the history of theology (the relationship between God and believers), political history (usually the account of "Great Men"), narrative history (the chronology of events), intellectual history (ideas and their development, context and evolution), socio-cultural history (institutions, including their social underpinnings in family, clan, tribe and social class and the state), cultural history (overall cultural evolution, demography, socio-economic and political structure and ethnicity), technological history (the techniques by which humans adapt to, exploit and make use of the resources of their environment), natural history (how humans discover and adapt to the ecological facts of their natural environment), and material history (artefacts as correlates of changes in human behaviour). Devers notes that the role of archaeology increases as one goes down this list, and that archaeologist's interpretations of the written record can differ markedly from the record itself.

This view underpins this excellent and accessible view of the nature of the popular cult of Asherah as the wife of Yahweh, illustrated so profoundly at the level of folk tradition.

My one criticism is that he fails to look at the 70 sons of El (the Elohim) and the relation between Yahweh and his wife in establishing his sovereignty over Israel. It was this that led to the preservation of the Song of Songs of Solomon in the corpus of the Biblical texts, and explains how Israel was seen in this as a woman. It was probable, within the Israelite monarchy that the woman was the queen herself. This helps explain why the monotheists were so condemnatory of the Queens (Maachah, Jezebel, Athaliah etc). But this is only a small point in an otherwise excellent text. It is good to see that Devers is slowly getting over his "bashing" of the Copenhagen school. I look forward to the next book by this excellent author.
 
A Waste of Time  Sep 6, 2008
I picked up this book because I am very interested in the subject of the Ancient Goddess of the Jews. Unfortunately, the entire book is just an argument between Dever and other Biblical scholars as to whether early Judaism was Polytheist or Monotheist. Dever focuses exclusively on Archeology and Biblical scholarship, devoting only 3 pages to discussion of the evidence in the Kaballah! The Biblical proof of Asherah is in the denunciations found throughout the Bible, the Bible edited and compiled by the Monotheist faction that only came to dominance subsequent to the Babylonian captivity!

The idea of the Consort/Feminine aspect of Jahweh is a major issue in Kabalistic circles. If Dever had spent as much time mining the Kabalah has he did the Bible, he might have been able to present a much more detailed and vibrant picture of early Jewish Folk Religion and its Goddess, as opposed to the dry, incomplete, and unsatisfying view presented here. It was interest in the Tribal Goddess and the Early Folk Religion that brought my attention to this book, and that wasn't satisfied in the least.
 

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