I received an email today asking this question:
“Mike – is this a good rendition? I read where an early rendition of Deuteronomy 33.2-3, when Asherah’s influence had not yet been fully subordinated reads: ‘YHWH came from Sinai and shone forth…. at his right hand his own Asherah’.”
Short answer: No — this is a hack job. But I thought this one deserved some paleobabble love.
The source for the question was this piece of click-bait by Anya Leonard: “Asherah: God’s Forgotten Wife.” The link takes you the Ancient Origins website, a site that tries to appear academic, but is nothing more than a non sequitur candy store for ancient alien theory and alternative history (using that last term as loosely as possible).
Back in 2011 I blogged “Yahweh and Asherah: More Archaeo-Porn for the Masses.” That post is relevant for this latest sleight-of-hand nonsense. Consider this an archeoporn Asherah update.
Briefly, there are several inscriptions known from Israel and its near-environs that contain the phrase “Yahweh and his Asherah” (at least that’s a possible translation). We had to translate these in grad school and read some studies of them. It’s good stuff. It validates the biblical record that there was heterodox worship of Yahweh in Israel. No kidding. Shocker. Some Israelites (who had never seen a Bible and practiced idolary) thought that Yahweh had a wife/consort. Like I said, that’s sort of expected from the free-for-all description the Bible provides about the spiritual condition of Israel.
Nevertheless, writers like Anya Leonard (who is uncredentialed in the fields of Semitic languages and biblical studies) want to insert the idea of Yahweh at Sinai with his wife. Well that’s nice. Let’s just stick an idea we like into the text and call it “secret Bible teaching.” That’s the sort of nonsense Ancient Origins is known for.
I can show you how Leonard made up her idea (not sure if it’s clever or clumsy — probably both, and the result is certainly misleading). Look at this image:
This is the Hebrew text of Deut 33:2 according to the Masoretic Text (the one that’s been in the Jewish community since the first century AD — and centuries before as the Dead Sea Scrolls showed us). This particular digital edition is the Lexham Hebrew Bible, which lists textual variants / options. In this case, you can see in the green box (top) what the Hebrew text is. The two options below show how the four consonants of MT can be divided or kept together — manuscript traditions reflect both, which accounts for the difference in English translations and an ancient translation like the Septuagint (see below). What Ms. Leonard has done is indicated in the red. She’s altered the last two consonants (read right-to-left). Her two consonants look very much like what is in the Masoretic Text. If you go with her spelling, the text reads “Asherah.” Too bad there are no ancient manuscripts of Deut 33:2 that support such a thing. But, hey, it’s the Ancient Origins staff; this is what they do. Just say that the biblical text once read XYZ but it was changed — but don’t bother to provide data for such an assertion. (And in this case that’s impossible, so this time the issue isn’t merely neglect, it’s an intention to mislead). I wonder how Ms. Leonard would feel if I asserted that her post “once read” something I made up and it got her click-bait traffic?
Think this is just me? Nope. Here are two text-critical discussions from major commentaries on Deuteronomy. The first writer is Jewish (Jeffrey H. Tigay, Deuteronomy. The JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996, 319). The second is Christ
ian (Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy 21:10–34:12. Vol. 6B. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002, p. 833).
Notice how both these authorities “missed” Ms. Leonard’s Asherah? Yeah, me too. Funny.
Those who have read my book The Unseen Realm have seen Deut 33:2 before. On pp. 165-166 I show the MT and LXX versions of the passage to discuss the matter of angels dispensing the law, mentioned several times in the New Testament. I also posted R. Hess’s lengthy description of the “Yahweh and his Asherah” texts at the companion website to The Unseen Realm. If you’re interested in real scholarship, check that stuff out — and ignore Ancient Origins.