Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 49:3 (September 2006) p. 577
Did God Have A Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. By William G. Dever. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006, xvi + 344 pp., $25.00.
This book, which completes Dever’s trilogy on Israelite history, society, and religion, seeks to reconstruct the practice of religion “from the ground up,” that is, by depending primarily on archaeological data. Dever begins by defining his task and approach in “Defining and Contextualizing Religion” (chap. 1). In “The History of the History: In Search of Ancient Israelite Religions” (chap. 2) and “Sources and Methods for the Study of Ancient Israel’s Religions” (chap. 3), Dever reviews scholarly approaches to Israelite religion, considers the biblical sources, and argues for the primacy of archaeology in reconstructing the religion of ancient Israel. In “The Hebrew Bible: Religious Reality or Theological Ideal” (chap. 4), he reviews cultic terminology and activities in the Hebrew Bible. Chapters 5–7 make up the core of the book. These cover “Archaeological Evidence for Folk Religions in Ancient Israel” (chap. 5), “The Goddess Asherah and Her Cult” (chap. 6), and “Asherah, Women’s Cults, and ‘Official Yahwism’”(chap. 7). “From Polytheism to Monotheism” (chap. 8) and “What Does the Goddess Do To Help?” (chap. 9) summarize the arguments of the book.
Dever’s stated goal is to take popular religion “fairly into account” (p. 47), which apparently means to “restore” it “to a position of respect” (p. 249). The brunt of his book is devoted to an examination of the data related to folk religion in ancient Israel, par-ticulary inscriptions related to “Yahweh and his Asherah” (pp. 110–251). Dever concludes that the real religion of ancient Israel was “largely [a] domestic religion,” with a “major emphasis on women’s cults and their role in family rituals” (p. 251). Exclusive Yahwistic monotheism, on the other hand, was an artificial construct that only originated in the Babylonian exile (p. 252).
Dever undertakes his task with the characteristic wit and acerbic style for which he has become known. He notes repeatedly that he has been an “opponent” of “Biblical Archaeology” for 30 years (pp. 79–80, 151, 170, 253) and styles himself as the herald of this new vision of ancient Israelite religion, an approach for which he has been criticized before (cf. J. Maxwell Miller, review of What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They Know It? by William Dever, BASOR 329  86-87). Dever styles himself as a pioneer (pp. 40, 131, 167, 175, 188, 194, 197, 201, 204, 206, 220, 303) and the first to identify an actual “cult of Asherah” (pp. 43, 79). In fact, while Dever did discover the Khirbet el-Q6m inscrip...
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