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Did God Have a Wife?

The claim is that God in the Old Testament had a wife named Asherah, and the Israelites worshiped her along with him. So where can we find this wife of God?

Various social media sites have claimed that—in the Old Testament—God originally had a wife whom the Israelites worshipped. This goddess was named Asherah, and she is mentioned at various places in the Hebrew scriptures.

The claim is made that we have no biblical texts that can be confidently dated prior to the reign of King Josiah (640-609 B.C.) that condemn the worship of this goddess. Before that time, it was allegedly normative for Israelites to worship Asherah alongside God.

How accurate are these claims? Not very.

It’s true that there was a goddess named Asherah who was worshipped in the Ancient Near East, and it’s true that some Israelites worshiped her.

But it is false to claim that this was a normative practice among Israelites—and that we have no texts from before the time of Josiah condemning the practice.

To understand the situation, we need to understand how the Israelite religion developed.

As a nation, Israel was descended from the patriarch Abraham, who came from “Ur of the Chaldees” (Gen. 12:28)—meaning he was from Mesopotamia, or modern Iraq.

As a native of Mesopotamia, Abraham was raised in the religion of the area, which centered on various Eastern deities.

But the Bible records that eventually, the true God—the Creator of the universe—called Abraham to leave Mesopotamia and come to the Promised Land of Canaan.

This is discussed in the book of Joshua, which states:

Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Your fathers lived of old beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.

‘Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many’” (24:2-3).

The Bible thus acknowledges that—before God appeared to him—Abraham worshiped other gods, which was the normal practice of people in the Ancient Near East.

When Abraham came to Canaan, it was filled with its own people, who also worshiped a variety of gods.

Later, when Abraham’s descendants spent time in Egypt, they also lived among a polytheistic people.

Being surrounded by polytheistic people meant that the Israelites were tempted to join their neighbors in worshiping other gods, and they sometimes did so.

They even did so during the Exodus, as Moses was leading them out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land. This is illustrated by the golden calf incident (Exod. 32) and by Moses’ instruction to offer their sacrifices to God, saying, “They may no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat-idols after which they were prostituting” (Lev. 17:7, LEB).

People did engage in these practices, but that doesn’t mean it was acceptable to do so. Thus, after the golden calf incident,

Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tables out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.

And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it upon the water, and made the sons of Israel drink it.

And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought a great sin upon them?” (Exod. 32:19-21).

It was similarly recognized that, upon returning to Canaan, the polytheistic inhabitants could tempt the Israelites into being unfaithful to God. Concerning the Canaanites, God says:

You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods.

They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you” (Exod. 23:32-33).

Also, God made a covenant with the Israelites that they would worship only him. This requirement is explicit in the Ten Commandments:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exod. 20:2-4).

The Bible thus depicts orthodox Israelite religion as involving the worship of God alone. However, it frankly acknowledges that unorthodox Israelites could and did worship other deities.

The struggle against this is a major theme in the Bible, and the prophets regularly condemn Israelites for worshiping other gods. You cannot read the Old Testament without repeatedly encountering this theme.

So what about Asherah? She was a goddess worshiped by the Canaanites—as well as other people in the Ancient Near East—and she was often regarded as the wife of the high god.

In the Canaanite pantheon, the high god—the head of the pantheon of gods—was named El, which is the Hebrew word for “God.”

El was also named Yahweh, and some Canaanites regarded Asherah as the wife of Yahweh.

Under the influence of their Canaanite neighbors, some Israelites did worship her—just as they worshiped other gods, like Ba’al and Milcom.

But according to the Old Testament, by doing this, they departed from the normative, orthodox Israelite religion and did things they were not supposed to.

What about the claim that this was normative before the time of King Josiah? Two points need to be made.

First, the theory depends on a very late dating of the biblical texts. There is good evidence that the books of Exodus and Leviticus were written around the time of David and Solomon (c. 1000 B.C.)—long before Josiah.

Furthermore, we have other texts before Josiah condemning the worship of Asherah.

For example, Isaiah 17:8 prophesies that a time is coming when the Israelites “will not have regard for the altars, the work of their hands, and they will not look to what their own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense” to pagan gods.

The Asherim were pole-like religious objects used to worship Asherah, and even liberal scholars acknowledge that Isaiah 17 was written during the time of the prophet Isaiah (eighth century B.C.), well before Josiah (seventh century B.C.).

Even earlier was the event recorded in 1 Kings 15:13: King Asa “removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother because she had an abominable image made for Asherah; and Asa cut down her image and burned it at the brook Kidron.”

Asa reigned between 912 and 870 B.C., and while 1 Kings wasn’t written until later, it records events repudiating Asherah that took place long before Josiah.

Second, the “Asherah worship was normative” view is just cherry-picking Old Testament texts.

If—at one time—it was orthodox for Israelites to worship Asherah, where are the texts praising her?

There aren’t any.

Advocates of this view must argue that any texts that were positive toward her were removed, and new, negative passages were introduced after Josiah.

That’s simply cherry-picking. You can prove anything you want—on any subject you want—if you get to pick evidence you think favors your position and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

For example, you could “prove” that the original thirteen U.S. colonies were founded by Russian immigrants by saying that—later on—all the references to Russian immigrants were mysteriously removed from our historical documents and replaced by references saying the colonies were founded by English colonists.

The fact is, the texts we have in the Old Testament indicate that orthodox Israelites worshiped the true God, that unorthodox Israelites also worshiped other gods like Asherah, and that this practice was condemned from very early times.

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