A New Discussion of Archaeology and the Religion of Ancient Israel -- By: Richard S. Hess

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 16:1 (NA 2006)
Article: A New Discussion of Archaeology and the Religion of Ancient Israel
Author: Richard S. Hess


A New Discussion of Archaeology and the Religion of Ancient Israel

Richard S. Hess

Denver Seminary

Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. By William G. Dever. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005. Pp. xvi + 344. $25.00 cloth.

In the third volume of his series for Eerdmans, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel, William Dever examines the role of religion in ancient Israel.1 Specifically, he considers the evidence for folk religion inasmuch as it can be determined from the archaeological remains. Especially, he focuses on the role of women and goddesses in the cults represented by folk religion. It is this emphasis that provides the suggestive title.

Dever begins his study with some observations regarding the nature of religion and the need to evaluate it by including both the verbal and the nonverbal aspects of contact with the supernatural. This naturally leads into archaeology and particularly the realia of the world that ancient Israel inhabited. The author considers the agrarian and village society that most of the families of ancient Israel experienced. He then turns to the approaches behind the study of Israelite religion. Dever finds little value in OT theology because it is a product of the elite circles of Jerusalem and not a description of the people in general and of their religion. He concludes that this discipline is of no value whatsoever in recovering the religious world of ancient Israel. After devoting only two pages to the sociological study of religion, Dever reviews some of the major books on Israelite religion, observing how little archaeology has been used. Nevertheless, some works, and especially the works of Zevit, do reflect a greater appreciation of the material culture. More importantly, Dever also notes the lack of consideration of the various roles of females in the ancient world. He helpfully

notes the increasing emphasis applied to this study and concludes with a survey of women scholars who have made significant contributions to the field, regularly by incorporating archaeology.

Chapter 5, “Archaeological Evidence for Folk Religion,” reviews many of the cult centers throughout Palestine during the Iron Age. Dever begins with the smaller cult centers found in village and especially urban contexts. He argues that these are examples of family religion. While this may be the case, there is no inherent reason that these places of altars, offering stands, benches, and other accoutrements could not have been used by larger or more diverse groups. Indeed, unlike in the villages, there is no sing...

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