Does God have a girlfriend?

This question was posed to me by a teenager riding on the bus down to one of our youth group’s winter retreats: “If I have a girlfriend, why can’t God have one?” Of course, the simple answer is that, no, God does not have a girlfriend. He is both self-existent and ontologically different than His creation. He has no need for a girlfriend. He experiences perfect love within the Trinity, and our relationships with others are meant to reflect that love not the other way around (1 John 4:7-8).  

However, there is something that does complicate this answer a bit.

Because, if you do a simple google search, you might discover websites that claim that God did, at one time, have a girlfriend or wife.[1] And some serious biblical scholars also hold this position too.[2] In fact, in some circles, it is common to hear that YHWH was connected to the Canaanite goddess Asherah, whether that be in a marriage-type relationship or as a lesser deity used to impart blessing. They would even read the Genesis 2 creation account as a mythological interpretation of YHWH’s marriage (or divorce) to this goddess. Adam is symbolic of the LORD and Eve of Asherah.[3] So, what’s going on with all of that?

What’s up with the goddess Asherah?

Asherah, also known as Astarte or Anath, was one of the top goddesses within Canaanite religion. She was thought of as mother goddess and the wife of the high god El. The Canaanite peoples worshiped Asherah because it was believed that she held power over fertility. And certain symbols were used within this worship. It is very common to see a depiction of Asherah with snakes or serpents around her. Trees or tree branches are also on a number of different icons depicting the goddess. Sometimes, the goddess is simply depicted as a tree. [see picture]

This photo is of a relief found in the palace of Ashurnasirpal. It depicts two male worshiper standing next to an Asherah tree.

It is also true that Asherah, or at least the worship of this deity, makes an appearance in the Old Testament. Exodus 34:13 commands the Israelites entering into the Promised Land to cut down any Asherah shrines they might find. Deuteronomy 16:21 extols the people of Israel to not plant any “tree” beside the alter of the LORD as worship to Asherah.  

Nevertheless, and despite these commands, it does not seem like Israel had a problem blending their religion with Canaanite worship. We read in Judges 2:12 that, once in the Promised Land, Israel began to worship these foreign gods alongside YHWH. But even Israelite kings fell into this trap. Ahab erected an Asherah idol within Israel (1 Kings 16:33), and Jezebel, Ahab’s Phoenician wife, welcomed at least 400 prophets of the goddess into the northern kingdom (1 Kings 18:19). Manasseh even placed an Asherah shrine within Solomon’s temple (2 Kings 21:7) in Jerusalem.

The Lord did send certain covenant enforcers to try to put an end to this idolatry. Micah warned the southern kingdom that God was going to uproot their Asherah poles (Micah 5:14), Isaiah tells the people that the Lord will have no regard for the goddess or her worship (Isaiah 17:8), and Jeremiah describes the deception the people of Judah are under because of the green trees of Asherah (Jeremiah 17:2). Ultimately, though, these prophets were unsuccessful and God’s people were sent into exile as punishment, in part, because of Asherah worship.

Did God have a girlfriend?

The scholars that claim that God had a girlfriend mostly base their conclusions off of the iconography, figurines, and shrines uncovered within archeological digs. But just from looking at Old Testament scripture, it should not surprise us to find Asherah idols within Israel. Israel was filled with idolatry!

Just because the people of God were idolatrous, and were comfortable blending Canaanite religion with Israelite religion, doesn’t mean that YHWH had a girlfriend. The “folk” religion that the people were practicing does not match the “book” religion given to us within scripture.[4] And if we were to divorce this folk-understanding from our interpretation of Genesis 2, we would see that this story wasn’t trying to give a mythological interpretation of Asherah and YHWH’s relationship. Instead, and on a certain level, it might be trying to do almost the opposite.

The creation accounts in Genesis depict YHWH as the creator God who exists completely outside of creation. He then makes male and female in his image. In Genesis 2 specifically, we see both a “tree of life” and a “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Surely an ancient Israelite would have made connections between these trees and the fertility-tree of Asherah. There’s even a snake that shows up in the next chapter! However, in Genesis 2 and 3’s telling, these trees are not divine, and the serpent is a created being. And after the first couple sins, fertility is made more difficult. The point? Only YHWH has control over life, death, and fertility. There is no Asherah that holds any power whatsoever.  

Conclusion

So, what’s the answer? Did God have a girlfriend? Absolutely not. Ancient Israelites might have worshiped Asherah as the wife of YHWH but that was not a reflection of reality.


[1] For three such examples, see: https://www.ancient-origins.net/human-origins-religions/asherah-0010611 or https://www.seeker.com/gods-wife-edited-out-of-the-bible-almost-1766083399.html or http://www.nbcnews.com/id/42154769/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/did-god-have-wife-scholar-says-he-did/#.XjRpzmhKjIU

[2] See William Dever,  Did God Have A Wife: Archeology and Folk Religion of Ancient Israel, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005).  

[3] See Howard N. Wallace, The Eden Narrative, Harvard Semitic Monographs 32, (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1985) 154-172.

[4] This is a distinction that Dever makes within his book. See footnote 2 for the bibliographic information.

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