Why do the Jews in Elephantine consider their god, Yahu, the same god as Yahweh when there are clear differences? For example, Yahweh does not have a wife, but Yahu does.

Now, In answer to your question, I don’t know enough about Hebrew to be sure, but I suspect Yahweh and Yahu were just regional differences in pronunciation for the same God name. Also though Yahweh did not have a wife in post-exile Judah, he certain seems to have had one in Judges and Kings, and she is still being worshipped in Jeremiah. Deuteronomy was the first book to assert that God should be worshipped exclusively, but before the exile your average Joe would not have had access to Deuteronomy. After he reads Deuteronomy (or finds it), Josiah is seen pulling priests and Baal and Asherah out of the temple and killing them. That means that shortly before the exile, all gods must have been worshipped there.

As we’ll see in the next couple of weeks, Proverbs makes a point of saying that Yahweh created the world with and even through Wisdom (Hokmah), who describes herself as a sexual partner of God. Is it possible that works like Proverbs turned the goddess into a metaphor to appease those who still wanted to worship her?

The picture that we get of pre-exile Israel is one that was probably widely polytheistic. If so, it’s not surprising that some Jews emerged from exile without the Torah-centered idea that God should be worshipped exclusively The Jewish community in Elephantine didn’t have access to a Torah, because Ezra and those like him had spent much of exile revising and editing their own personal copy. So it’s not surprising that they did not possess a book that said Anat-Yahu or Asherah or Ishtar couldn’t be worshipped along-side Yahweh.

You can read more about the wide-spread association of Yahweh and his consort Asherah in the Encyclopedia of Jewish women: https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/asherahasherim-bible. The references to God as “mother” in Hebrew suggest that after Deuteronomy, Asherah’s functions were either absorbed into Yahweh or relegated to metaphor and story. 

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