How did scholars conclude that Asherah and Wisdom could be the same goddess?

Well, this is a common assertion among Hebrew scholars. I read a brief summary of the idea on the Bart Ehrman blog (though Ehrman is a New Testament scholar). Most of the articles talk about Wisdom as a “tamed-down” version of a very powerful goddess, perhaps created to appeal to those who were forcefully prevented from worshipping the goddess they had depended on for generations.

Here is a wonderful article on Asherah herself by someone named Asphodel Long, reprinted in a book of feminist biblical scholarship: (Links to an external site.) . This article asserts a connection between the  female figure named Asherah, the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Menorah. Long quotes Proverbs 3.18, who says of Wisdom: “She shall be a tree of life to all who lay hold on her.” Peter Ackroyd argues that as part of this program, Deuteronomists engaged in a campaign to “discredit any cult of goddesses and to classify them as alien rather than part of the Hebrew popular religion” (Ackroyd: 1983: 256).

Asherah worship was usually associated in the bible with trees, one reason the KJV assumed Asherah was a totem and not a goddess. Here’s a quote from Long’s article: “The great rabbi Akibah said ‘ wherever thou findest a high mountain or a lofty hill and a green tree know that an idol is there’ (Danby: 1933:441). Trees described by the rabbis as being an asherah or part of an asherah include grapevines, pomegranates, walnuts, myrtles and willows (Danby:1933:90,176). From this it will be seen that these [medieval] lawmakers denied Asherah as part of the Hebrew religion but recognised her as a divinity worshipped by the “heathen,” and treated her as a living tree or living part of a tree.”

I like the idea that Asherah was herself the tree of knowledge proscribed in Genesis, whose fruit is often thought to be a pomegranate (no apples in the ancient near east). A Greek story about why we have winter tells of Persephone eating a forbidden pomegranate. Anyway, identifying Asherah with the tree of knowledge itself explains why Proverbs makes such a distinction between the good goddess Wisdom and the bad goddess  or “strange woman.” Could they be aspects of the same goddess? That is, assuming that exile scholars associated Asherah herself with foreign women [see Ezra/Nehemiah] in an effort to discredit her, could they have tried to separate the bad woman (Tiamat/Asherah) from the good aspects of the goddess (Wisdom, nurture) that they wanted to preserve? Proverbs instructs men to pursue “wisdom” instead of seeking this goddess, and their wives are appeased by the assertion that feminine wisdom–even as the creation of God–created the world.

For more on the connection between Asherah and Wisdom, see these articles:

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