The Monday book comes from Paul Garrett this week.
Throughout history, deities have been both male and female; whether the Sumerian gods of Enki and Nammu, the Egyptian Isis and Osiris, or the pantheon of the Greeks and Romans. It seems Judeo-Christianity is one of the few religions with a singular male deity.
In When God Had A Wife, The Fall and Rise of the Sacred Feminine in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, Lynn (Bear and Company, 2019) Picknett and Clive Prince put forth the theory that this was not always so, even after the time of Jesus. Picknett and Prince relate the history of Judaism from the Egyptian enslavement through the 4th century BCE. Using the Bible and over 100 other sources, they attempt to prove that the so-called “sacred feminine” has been a major part of religious practice throughout the history of both sects.
Worship of a female goddess took many forms, until about 400 BCE when Nehemiah “discovered” the book of Deuteronomy. (Quotation marks by the authors; they posit that he actually wrote it.) Up until that time the Jews worshiped a goddess named Asherah, among others who is the female counterpart to Baal. Asherah was a goddess of fertility and nurture. Hundreds of small Asherah statues litter ancient Jewish sites, including Jerusalem. There is some evidence that they once adorned the courtyards of the Jewish Temples. Asherah statues usually have large breasts and a prominent pubic triangle. This is not meant to be erotic. The breasts represent nurture and the pubic area creation.
The Old Testament mentions Asherah more than half a dozen times, mostly in Judges and Kings. One of the most interesting is from Judges 6:25-30 wherein the townspeople demanded the life of Gideon’s son after they found Gideon had cut down the Asherah statue.
Even though repressed by the religious elites, female worship did not go away, but took the form of Wisdom. According to the authors, the word wisdom (Sophia) in biblical writing echoes the sacred feminine, even when uttered by Christ.
In the New testament it gets more controversial. According to the authors, Jesus also had a female counterpart, Mary Magdalene, who took on the role of goddess. The Church falsely accused her of being a prostitute as a means of discrediting her. The Magdalene controversy is interesting, with some so-called Gnostic gospels, even indicating Mary was Jesus’ wife. The Church labeled the Gnostic texts heretical in the first Millennium, BCE.
The authors theorize that with Mary Magdalene out of the picture, it became clear that there was a void that needed to be filled, hence Mary, Mother of Jesus (the Madonna) was recruited to take her place, resulting in various Madonna cults arising throughout Christendom.
This is obviously a controversial topic among modern Christians. It occurs to me that only a few hundred years ago these authors might have been burned at the stake. But all nature is binary: up/ down, left/ right, dark/light good/evil, male/female, yin/yang. Why should the same balance not occur in the deity?
Was the sacred feminine suppressed by the chauvinistic church, or is it yet another of the myriad cults and fads in Judeo-Christianity that have come and gone through the centuries? After thousands of years, I doubt that the controversy will be laid to rest any time soon.