Did God Have a Wife?, by William G. Dever. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005. 344 pp.
William Dever has constructed yet another masterful blend of artifact analysis and a social construct that is an easy read and readily engages the reader. The ease by which the reader is led to Dever's understanding of ancient Israel illustrates Dever's exceptional writing ability and his overall knowledge of the constructed cultural environment he espouses. His influence within the scholastic world of biblical archaeology is without dispute with presentations, articles and books penned and published. Each publication has expounded on his understanding of ancient Israel; one that he claims is primarily dependent on recovered artifacts.
In Did God Have a Wife? Dever quickly lets the reader know that he has as a specific purpose to "… demonstrate that the cult of Asherah did flourish in ancient Israel" (p. 45). While this is an important pivot point around which the entire book revolves, it is also important to understand that Dever is writing from a secular viewpoint as a "nominal Jew," with maybe just a touch of feminist agenda mixed in as well. The fact that Dever does not hide these influences is commendable. It must also be understood that these are the underpinnings that drive his comments stating that the Bible is a revisionist construct and is therefore unreliable. Similarly, when he maintains that he will "… employ archaeological data … for understanding the practices (if not the beliefs) of Israelite folk religion (p. 9)," he is also operating within a secular, nominal-Jew, feminist framework. The focus on a secular understanding and the need for pure empirical understanding becomes for Dever pillars upon which his entire analysis rests. This becomes a limiting factor on what he is willing to incorporate into his analysis of the artifacts.
Do not misunderstand, Dever utilizes scripture and has a very complete index annotating the scripture used in the thesis. The concern is with how Dever uses the scripture. Since Dever considers the Hebrew Bible to be the creation of a group of imperialistic men determined to make their world conform to a specific ideal, he has to minimize if not ignore the possibility that the Hebrew Bible was inspired by God. Biblical passages that call for an abandonment
of pluralistic gods and for an allegiance to one pure God are tossed into the intellectual garbage heap as being examples of a central priestly and governmental attempt to cancel out the undesirable practices of the common people. This minimization process must occur within Dever's archaeological paradigm because only archaeology can "… provide a corrective to texts and thus may constitute an equal or even superior source of information (p. 74)." For Dever, if the material remains suggest that there was a folk religion that contradicts the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew Bible must ipso facto be wrong, or at best be an attempt by Jerusalem's elite to squash a popular folk religion. Dever's analysis is consistently void of any possibility that the Hebrew Bible has a divine origin and that biblical passages that he regularly minimizes were meant to be a counter to the folk religion being practiced in the land. This lack of even contemplating the possibility of a divine God providing a revelation via a written artifact is a significant shortfall of the book. One can ask: What might have been William Dever's conclusions if he had at least allowed for the possibility described above? Would an interpretation of Hosea or Amos from a different set of lenses that considered the scripture quoted as being God's response to the acknowledged folk religion have resulted in a different set of conclusions? Unfortunately, we will not be able to obtain an answer, since Dever undoubtedly would totally reject such ideas based on his admitted paradigm.
Thus Dever's book with its catchy title must be taken for what it is; a collection of material artifacts that support his preconception that the Bible is a human attempt to curtail a folk religion. For Dever, the Bible cannot be seen as the means by which God revealed to man His displeasure with His people's insistence at emulating neighboring cultures'religious beliefs, including the need for their God to have a wife. Use of Did God Have a Wife? by evangelical Christians can be beneficial, however, because it illustrates that the cultural peer pressure surrounding the Israelite nation resulted in the proliferation of a religious understanding that God did have a wife and her name was Asherah.
Donald C. McNeeley Virginia Beach, VA