Did YHWH have a wife? There are a few ancient Near Eastern scholars today who believe that the God of the Old Testament (YHWH) had a wife or consort, and that there is archaeological evidence for it in Israel [1]. They argue that the story of Israel’s religion, and the exclusivity of YHWH worship in the Old Testament is “propaganda” by those who were in power in Jerusalem (the prophets, kings and leaders, et. al.). What was actually practiced in Israel among the people (folk), was a syncretistic blending of a Canaanite fertility-goddess alongside YHWH. They argue that, this was the true religion of Israel, not what is presented in books like Isaiah and Jeremiah. 

While there is a small kernel of truth to this, it does not tell give us entire picture. It is a view fraught with deeply flawed assumptions. 

While we clearly know that God has revealed Himself in the Old Testament as “Father,” (Jer. 31:9; Isa. 64:8; Isa. 63:16, etc…), there is no evidence in the text whatsoever, that He had a “divine wife” or “consort.” This idea comes primarily from what has been discovered in archaeological excavations throughout Israel, and interpreted by certain scholars. 


The only imagery in the Old Testament of God having a “wife” is His “marriage” covenant with Israel (see, Jer. 3:20, Jer. 2:32, Eze 16:32, Hos. 1:2). Throughout the Old Testament Israel is presented as God’s “bride” who was betrothed to her husband (YHWH) (see, Isa 54:5; Hos. 2:7; Joel 1:8. Through her “adulteries” Israel left God and chased after other “lovers” (see, Jer. 3:20, Jer. 2:32, Eze 16:32, Hos. 1:2, 9:1). God in His mercy, however, remembered His “covenant” with her and continued to pursue His unfaithful “wife” in love, mercy and grace (hesed) (see, Jer. 3:12-14, Hos. 3:1-3, etc…). 

After the Exodus and wilderness wanderings, the nation was commanded to go into Canaan and “drive out” the Canaanites (see, Ex 23:32-33, 34: 15-17). The consequences for not doing so, would be that the pure worship of YHWH would become diluted and defiled by the intermingling of worship with the Canaanite gods. There has been much written on the exact nature and extent of the ‘herem’ command (Hebrew: literally, “devoted to destruction”), and it is not my intent to cover that here [2].


It is my view that the best archaeological and historical evidence for the Exodus and Conquest is found in the early dating scenario (ca. 1446 B.C. & 1406 B.C.). This means that Israel would be moving into the lands of Canaan during the Late Bronze age (LBA).

Apart from the biblical texts in the Old Testament, there are two other sources for our understanding Canaanite culture and religion: historical inscriptions and archaeological remains. Two of the most important ancient sites where archaeologists have learned about Canaanite beliefs and culture are located in Syria at the ancient sites of EblaUgarit.

It was at Ugarit (or Ras Shamra) where a large archive of clay tablets was recovered, and archaeologists discovered the Baal cycle after years of translation work on the tablets  — it was a vitally important story for our understanding of the Canaanite pantheon, as well as cultic beliefs and practices.

Like most cultures of the time, Israel was an agricultural based economy and so the fertility of crops and lands was of paramount importance. Religion and practical matters were intimately bound together. This may be one of the reasons why they became involved with the worship of Baal in general, and Asherah in particular.

Evidence of Baal worship and influence has been found extensively throughout Israel and the Levant. From the 12th through the 6th Centuries B.C. in excavations at multiple sites in Israel, one of the most common cultic-religious artifacts are female fertility figurines (associated with AsherahAstarte & Baal), in addition to bamot (“high places”), or altar sites. 

Fertility figurines associated with Asherah discovered at Lachish and Jerusalem (6-7th Century B.C.)

Many contemporary Near Eastern scholars, such as William Dever, Israel Finkelstein among others believe that these cult objects are evidence of the folk religion of the Israelites from the Late Bronze (LBA) through the Early Iron Age, and they are generally correct. Israel did in fact, participate in the worship of Canaanite gods and goddesses. The looming question, however, is was it normative (or, orthodox)?

Baal, Asherah and Old Testament Israel: Did YHWH have a “Consort?”

Asherah in Hebrew means, “happy” or “upright.” It appears 40 times in the Hebrew Bible typically in conjunction with the definite article “the” (the asherah). The use of the definite article, however, does not rule out Asherah as referring to a personal name as well. This is how the Old Testament writers used it. There has been some discussion by contemporary scholars that the word may also refer to either a goddess or a category of goddess (a type of goddess) [3]. So, it could very possibly refer to a type of goddess (i.e. a fertility goddess), as well as a personal name. 

Between 1975 and 1976, an excavation led by Israeli archaeologist, Ze’ev Meshel led three short seasons of excavations in North Eastern Sinai [4].

Meshel and his team discovered a collection of Hebrew and Phonecian inscriptions painted on plaster walls, pithoi (large clay storage jars), and incised on stone vessels. Since they were discovered the inscriptions have caused quite a stir in the archaeological community. 

One inscription was discovered at Kuntillet Arjud, and a similar inscription was also discovered at Khirbet al-Qom in the West Bank in Israel (then ancient Judah). The inscriptions refer to “Yahweh and his Asherah.” A discussion arose among scholars as to the exact nature of Israelite worship and the close similarities and parallels to the Canaanite theology – i.e., the god El and his consort (or wife), Athirat [5].

Image depicting “Yahweh and his Asherah” on pithos storage jar discovered at Kuntillet ‘Arjud (Sinai)

What it reveals is exactly what the Biblical writers in the Old Testament reported was happening in Israel — that Canaanite gods and idolatry would cause Israel to stumble in her worship of Yahweh (Ex. 23:32-33). So, what is explicitly stated in the biblical text, is discovered graphically in the archaeological remains. These discoveries actually affirm the situation “on the ground” in Israel’s religious life in the Iron Age. 

“The Israelites did what was offensive to Yahweh; they ignored Yahweh their God and worshipped Baalim (plural of Baal) and Asherot (plural of Asherah) – Judges 3:7

In 1 Kings 18:19 the prophet Elijah asked Ahab to summon to Mt. Carmel, “450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah – (Asherah here is associated with the god Baal). It was there, that the true God “answered by fire.”

In 2 Kings 23:4 – Asherah is also associated with Baal during the religious reforms of King Josiah where he ordered the “objects made for Baal and Asherah to be removed from the Temple and burned.”

The Lord speaking through the prophet Jeremiah cried out to Judah:

I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable. The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols” (Jeremiah 2:7-8)

Once again, archaeology affirms the biblical text, in vivid and graphic detail. These discoveries also remind us that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that He desires that we worship Him and Him alone. Apart from Him, there is no other (Isa. 45:51).


[1] In particular, William A. Dever, DId God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (2008), and Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, Third Ed., (1990). 

[2] For a more extensive treatment on this question see, Paul Copan’s, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011)

[3] For instance, see Ellen White, “Asherah and the Asherim: Goddess or Cult Symbol? Exploring the Archaeological Evidence” (06/03/2018) https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/asherah-and-the-asherim-goddess-or-cult-symbol/ (accessed 14 Oct 2018).

[4] Ze’ev Meshel, “Did Yahweh Have a Consort?.” in Hershel Shanks & Dan Cole, Editors, Archaeology and the Bible Vol. 1: Early Israel (Washington, D.C. Biblical Archaeology Society, 1992), 284-295.

[5] For more, see William Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), pp. 176–251., And, André Lemaire, “Who or What Was Yahweh’s Asherah?” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1984.