The perspective of the religious history of Ancient Israel which dominates the Old Testament scriptures is that of a puritanical faction of the entire religious-ideological spectrum which resisted the syncretistic tendency to merge or absorb the religious cult of Jehovah-Elohim of the Semitic nomadic pastoralist ancestors of the Hebrews with the religious Asherah cult of the sedentary-agricultural Canaanite tribes among whom the Hebrews settled.
Scholars of the ancient Afro-Asiatic cultures of the Near East have long acknowledged the existence of two "religious schools of thought" in late prehistoric and early historic times, each maintaining distinct lines of religious cosmological theories in which the over-seeing cosmogenetic principle was either exclusively male or female. Early dynastic references to "Fathers" and "Mothers" in the Heliopolitan Ancient Egyptian traditions, for instance, have been interpreted as evidence of theologies of different origins merging in the evolution and emergence of early historic societies and cultures.
It is believed that the religious tradition which ascribes cosmic origins to a female principle originated among early sedentary-agricultural peoples settled into relatively large tribal units. The cosmic principle of the early sedentary-agricultural peoples, identified as the material creatrix in nature, and specifically with the earth on which the farmer depended for his living, was worshiped as the Earth Mother Goddess, or otherwise in maritime societies (the Phoenicians, for instance), as the "goddess of the Sea," for water was taken as representative of the amniotic fluid-matrix of origin.
The Father-God or Father-Spirit worshiping cultures, however, were commonly nomadic-pastoralist or hunting groups and mountain peoples generally organized is smaller clannish units.
The cross-cultural ethnographic evidence is commonly taken to indicate that in the transition from late Neolithic to early Historic times, a pattern in which nomadic-pastoralist and hunting peoples settled among sedentary farming societies and intermingled, either peacefully or by conquest, stimulated the emergence of early Historic civilization and the syncretistic merging of the cult of "father deities" with the cult of "mother deities," as represented, for instance, in the pan-Mediterranean tradition of the Mother-Goddess and her male consort, who might either be a "husband" or a "son" of the Mother Goddess.
The tendency of nomadic tribes to worship a male creator deity rather than a creatrix goddess is widely attested to. Ancient nomadic desert and mountain peoples such as the ancient Hittites had strong and prominent sky deities. The Semitic nomadic-pastoralist ancestors of the Hebrews (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) were also worshipers of nameless sky-atmospheric deities with the generic identity El (Arabic: Al-lah), who, in the case of the Hebrew clans, later acquired the name JEHOVAH/YEHOWAH (YHWH) after theological identification of their tribal El-deity with the deity of nomadic Canaanite brass-smith clans known as the Kenites.
A sky-atmospheric deity in contrast to an earth-mother-goddess material creatrix principle is an abstract principle to his devotees who may tend, understandably, to avoid graven-image portraiture or representations of the deity: Thus, Moses would lecture the Hebrews (Exodus 4:15): "Take heed, therefore…for you saw no manner of similitude on the day Jehovah spake unto you in Horeb…lest you corrupt yourselves and make graven images in the similitude of anything…in the likeness of male or female…"
In connection with the tendency of abstractization of masculine sky deities, was the concept of abstract spirit-body metaphysical duality. In the fusion of the complementary schools of thought, and emergence of concepts of divine androgyny, the Great Mother deity was often a "virgin goddess" who had a fatherless son, representing the male principle. Thus, in Canaanite religious traditions, the Mother Goddess, or Asherah, was the mother of the gods ("lady of seas").
1. Geddes and Grosset(1997); Ancient Egypt: Myth and History.
2. Saul M. Olyan. Asherah and the Cult of Yahweh in Israel. Society of Biblical Literature, 1988
3. Willliam G. Dever. Did God have a Wife? Archeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. Eerdmans Pub Co, 2008.
JohnThomas Didymus is the author of "Confessions of God: The Gospel According to St. JohnThomas Didymus"