This is the 4th in a series of blog posts about finding goddesses in the bible who had been hidden away through translation or denigration or other means. In my last blog post I discussed Lilith as a Great Goddess symbolized by both tree and bird. You can see it here.
Today I continue with the topic of trees along with an examination of reversals and how many of beautiful, female pagan symbols were changed or removed from the texts. Perhaps the most obvious and pernicious has been that Eve “caused the fall” of humankind through a sinful act. Thus, the logic goes, it was Her action that has created the “grand curse” that we have labored under ever since. As I wrote in my last blog post, Lilith is another example, being portrayed as a demon in order to denigrate her Great Goddess roots. Lilith originally embodied both bird and tree energies. In my last blog post I showed one image of the Goddess in the tree which was a common theme in ancient Levantine cultures. The image today shows the goddess breast in the tree, which is identified as Isis suckling the future pharaoh Tutmose III. These images show the “Goddess in the Tree” as freely bestowing Her gifts and nurturing (not cursing) humankind.
There is another goddess in the bible with connections to the sacred tree – Asherah. The name of Asherah is often translated into English as a pole or tree and it shows up in the bible in the negative or as a taboo.
The following biblical verse has two examples of reversal. Asa, a descendant of King David, had recently become king of Judah.
Asa did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as his father David had done.
He expelled the male shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of all the idols his ancestors had made.
He even deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down and burned it in the Kidron Valley.
1Kings 15:11-13 (New International Version – NIV)
There are two words in particular in this passage that are worth a closer look. The first is the one translated as “male shrine prostitutes” which is the Hebrew word qadesh. Other translations use sodomites, perverted persons, whoremongers, and some translations include females among the shrine prostitutes. By design, these translations were all created to sound seedy and sinful.
If the word qadesh sounds familiar to those of you who know Hebrew, it should be as it is used over 100 times in the bible in its etymological twin form, qadosh which means “holy.” Remember that Hebrew words were originally written without vowels so the vowels put into the words were later additions and may not have reflected original meanings. Here is one example of how qadosh is commonly used:
And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts:
the whole earth is full of his glory.
In fact, “qadosh, qadosh, qadosh” is used as a beautiful chant. Qadesh (Strong’s #6945) and qadosh (Strong’s # 6918, Strong’s notes that the two words come from the same root – godesh) differ only by a vowel. Again, vowels that were added later. In pre-biblical times, those who worked in the temple were clearly thought of differently than in Asa’s time. They were sacred, likely the priests and priestesses of previous cultures.
The same process of reversal occurred with Asherah. She is only referenced in the bible when Her groves are being cut down.
Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles.
Exodus 34:13 (NIV)
Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.
Deuteronomy 12:3 (NIV)
But who was Ashera and why does She figure so negatively in the bible? The obvious answer is that She was very powerful indeed and needed to be taken down in order to make room for a new order of deity.
As if to prove the point, there is some beautiful pre-biblical poetry honoring Her. The following Ugaritic verse is quoted by religious historian Mark Smith.[i] Ugarit is a pre-Hebraic language found on tablets in what is present day Syria.
I would invoke the beautiful gods,
[voracious ones of the sea, sons of] the sea,
who suck from the teat of the breast
of Asherah [and Rahmay].
Below is another Ugarit verse quoted by another religious historian, John Day.[ii] Athirat is an alternative spelling/translation of Ashera. Notice who the god is who cries out to Her.
El cried out to Lady Athirat of the sea: ‘Hear O Lady Athir[at] of the sea:
give one of your sons that I may make him king.’
And Lady Athirat of the sea answered:
‘Indeed. Let us make king one who knows and has understanding’
Ashera has two more connections that are important in understanding Her. Asherot or Asherim, the two plural forms of Ashera refer to Goddess Groves. Notice how She was worshipped, honored and connected with trees just as Lilith, Eve, and Isis.
I can’t help but to think about these foundational stories of our world and how they have become so ingrained in our thinking. Their influence is so pervasive that it is unconscious. How would our lives be different if the stories weren’t so focused on denigrating the feminine by the cutting down trees and groves? If both trees and women were honored and respected from the start, how different would our ecological situation be today?
Next blog post: More on Ashera and Her relationship to Israel.
[i] Mark Smith, The Early History of God, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002; 51
[ii] John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, Continuumbooks, 2002; 172
Janet Maika’i Rudolph. “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE QUEST.” I have walked the spirit path for over 25 years traveling to sacred sites around the world including Israel to do an Ulpan (Hebrew language studies while working on a Kibbutz), Eleusis and Delphi in Greece, Avebury and Glastonbury in England, Brodgar in Scotland, Machu Picchu in Peru, Teotihuacan in Mexico, and Giza in Egypt. Within these travels, I have participated in numerous shamanic rites and rituals, attended a mystery school based on the ancient Greek model, and studied with shamans around the world. I am twice initiated. The first as a shaman practitioner of a pathway known as Divine Humanity. The second ordination in 2016 was as an Alaka’i (a Hawaiian spiritual guide with Aloha International). I have written three books: When Moses Was a Shaman, When Eve Was a Goddess, and One Gods. In Ardor and Adventure, Janet.
12 thoughts on “Yes, there are Goddesses in the Bible, Part 4 by Janet MaiKa’i Rudolph”
All these Tree goddesses demonized – its crazy when we are dependent upon trees for each breath we take.
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Yes, yes Sara, it is quite the reversal and just the start of a long list of them. We can not keep going as we are.
Fascinating. Thank you for your scholarship and detective work! I look forward to learning more about Ashera!
Thanks Elizabeth, I so enjoy studying this and writing about it and it is just a gift to be able to share the research on this site.
Those old patriarchs who demonized everything remotely female remind me of modern Evangelicals who haven’t taken one step forward in thousands of years. Hooray for trees and the goddesses who bless them and live in them (so to speak). Bright blessings to trees, goddesses, and you for writing about them.
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Its such a deeply ingrained power structure, thousands of years in the making as you point out. How do we seep in and make changes? Bright blessings to you Barbara.
I guess we’ll have to raise more hell and fight harder. More women’s marches. Grab some of that old-time power back. Keep examining that old holy book and keep writing.
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Another beautiful and insightful post! “If both trees and women were honored and respected from the start, how different would our ecological situation be today?” This is such an important question and a great conversation to have as we strive to make our ecological situation what it would have been had we always honored and respected trees and women. Your post is also a wonderful complement to Sara Wright’s posts about relationships with trees in our daily life.
Thank you for your words Carolyn. We definitely need new paradigms going forward and I hope to contribute to those in whatever small way.
I agree completely Sara’s poetry and deep empathy for trees in particular and nature in general is a wonderful counterpart to the study that I do. (You hear that Sara – hoo rah?) Sort of the yin/yang or maybe better a Picasso painting, coming at the same concept from different sides.
Thank you so much for this post! Ashera came to our aid at a perfectly serendipitous time!
Here’s the story Why:
My wife Jan & I are helping my niece & her husband teach a short little one book Zoom “class” for my two grand nieces (11&9) & a friend. The friend’s Dad (nice guy, single Dad) suggested a young people’s book he’d enjoyed as a child – because, he said, it was “secular & multi-cultural, just focused on big overview themes in human history.” We said “great,” because we don’t belong to any religion ourSelves. While the little book was delightfully written, as you may guess, patriarchal bias permeated it all. So“the aunties” realized our contribution needed to be bring in newer ideas, especially ideas & images from women & on goddesses, and a questions about “who gets to tell & to write history?” The Dad began to seem ambivalent about those questions or their importance. But, we rolled with it, it’s a light hearted little course for the girls & it’s to experience variety & difference.) We all managed ok & had fun Zooms.
* Then, we reached the chapter on “The Jews: One & Only God” with its tired old claim of monotheism as the Great Leap Forward into “History.” Which the determinedly “not religious” Dad, insisted was free of religious bias(!), just secular facts about “what ancient Jews believed” & that more context or different ideas were’t really needed to just look at those big themes. He was completely unable to see it was not truly secular. (I really had to hold back my grad school debate self from pointing out how wrong he was.😆) But – our focus is on fun learning with the grand nieces, not this guy’s resistance.) So, we created a discussion session on “Lilith’s story, Ashera altars, & Shekinah’s presence.” Right at this point, the Dad decided he’d gotten too busy😆 & he didn’t need to be part of discussion on these less important themes.🙄
So – We’ll soon be having an “all girls” Zoom discussion & story telling session on a few pages we wrote with our female centered Hebrew & Jewish materials, & photos of ancient Ashera clay figures. And Now—quotations from your post to for discussion.😉. Gratitude & sparks of synChronicity!
Brava to you for the work you are doing to see that the course is multicultural and non-patriarchal! What great lessons you are teaching your nieces.
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Emily – I laughed at your telling of your story. Not the underlying pain but the gift of your recognizing the patterns and working to change them. What great great aunties you and Jan are! Lucky grandnieces and friend!
Too awesome – “Lilith’s story, Ashera altars & Shekinah’s presence” Amen to that. Enjoy those all girl zoom sessions. I see a whole gaggle of girls coming to you hungry for this knowledge and this experience. Amama ua noa (so it let be without limit).
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