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ANAHITA  July 1997

ANAHITA July 1997

Subject:

Re: Male/female cult/society

From:

Tilde Binger <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Women and Gender in the Ancient World <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 9 Jul 1997 03:57:03 -0400

Content-Type:

Text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

Text/plain (88 lines)

Dear Susan.
You ask:
> Archaeological finds from the monarchical era of ancient Israel yield
> thousands of goddess images and none at all of God, who was
> aniconic.
And this is where I have to correct you.
There are thousand of female figurines, yes, but there are likewise,
masses of pictures of male deities. These male deities, however, are
inconsistent with what we think we know ... from the Old Testament
(a collection of books written a good time after the events they
purport to describe, and not at all a good historical source, but
that is an entirely different matter).
Since we "know" that the male deities cannot be male deities, and if
they are, they are not of the God/s known from the Old Testament, it
is quite common to perpetuate the faulty claim, that Iron-age
Religion in Palestine was an-iconic, or, at the very least, that the
cult for the main (male) god was an-iconic.
This was not the case.
The archaological material tells a different tale. It tells us of a
very traditional West-semitic male god (= the Yahweh of the Old
Testament), and his consort Asherah (or vice versa). This is evinced
in the remains of the cultic material as well as in the few written
records we have. The records also shows a pantheon (probably what in
the Old Testament is called "the gods" or "the sons of the gods" or
"the sons of god" or "the host of the heavens"), as diverse as they
come in the Iron-age (what Susan calls monarchichal era, with a term
lent from the Old Testament).

We have plenty of seals and seal-impressions showing a seated (male)
deity. We have inscriptions invocing "blessings from Yahweh and from (his)
Asherah", and from this same find, we have a depiction of the two
together.

The same story can be told from the non-biblical sources we have,
even from the classic writers like Tacitus, Diodorus Sicilus and
Strabo. All these gentlemen know of a statue of Yahweh in the temple
in Jerusalem.
What is quite interesting as well is, that a similar story can be
deduced from the Old Testament itself. Asherah clearly has a statue
and a cult, in the temple in Jerusalem, alongside Yahweh.
The iconography of goddesses as well as gods of Bronze- and Iron-age
Palestine has been beautifully recorded by Keel and Uehlinger in
their book "Goettinnen, Goetter und Gottessymbole" (it is in German,
but is the best there is, and has plenty of pictures, mostly drawings
of seals and scarabs).
So, "ancient Israel" was in no way an an-iconic society. Pictures
abounded, but "we" have interpreted them from the perspective of the
late biblical books, and have ignored their evidence.

> Does this prove that ancient Israel was a matriarchy? That women
> controlled religion? What is our methodology here?

Since the premises were wrong, the question as asked cannot be
answered. But "ancient Israel" (in as much as it ever existed outside
the heads of scholars)  was, in all probability, not a matriarchy.

Finally, I don't think one should be blind to the fact, that most
interpreters of archaological (written or artifactual) has a
propensity to claim "cultic significance" or "fertility cult"
whenever they happen to come across something they do not understand.
It is quite common, but from its common-ness does not automatically
follow that it is also correct.

Tilde
Tilde Binger
University of Copenhagen
Dptm.of Biblical Studies
Kcbmagergade 44-46
DK-1150 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone +45 35 32 36 58
Fax   +45 35 32 36 52
e-mail [log in to unmask]

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Diotima's address: http://www.uky.edu/ArtsSciences/Classics/gender.html

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