Kevin Barney in the latest Dialogue has a brilliant article, entitled How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated). This article was a mind blowing read, I think it is interesting to consider the role of Asherah in daily Hebrew life. But it is how this article opened my mind to another possibility which I would like to discuss.
In the accounts of the war between the tribes of Israel and Canaanites the Israelites are told to give no quarter to their enemies. Often they were told to wipe out the whole civilization.
In the archaeological record there is some question of the actual warfare during the period and the fact that it appears more likely that Canaanites were the original Israelites. As I have talked about before historical records of ethnic cleaning in ancient times are often non-existent in actual archaeology.
The Bible often gives the impression of a massive movement of Israel from Egypt. In the KJV it reads the following passage as:
17 But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee:
18 That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the Lord your God.
Yet of course the Canaanites were not completely destroyed. Though one could argue their powerbase was. So in considering the article mentioned at the first of this entry I have wondered if we do not really understand what the Lord is referring to when he says utterly destroy.
It almost appears it is a cultural destruction rather than physical one. If you do a search of Canaanites in the bible it appears pretty common that they were not wiped out, in some cases they gave tribute to Israel or in others they simply co-existed. It makes one think that they were far more numerous than the Israelites and still had some sense of influence.
So where am I going with this? I see the destruction of the Canaanites as asked for as more a cultural destruction, one that basically was not achieved until the reformer days in Isaiah’s day. For the most part Canaan’s worship and practices were not really “destroyed” from Israel until the removal of the 10 tribes. Where I think most of the Canaanite remnant existed.
Barney makes the argument that before the reformation in Josiah’s Israel there is plenty of evidence of a strong worship of Asherah who had at that point become an idol in Israel. Barney argues this is a corruption of Mother in Heaven (at least in my interpretation of what he said) and that the role she was playing in Israelite society was subsumed by Yahweh.
If this idol worship grew out of the original Canaanite style of worship, or proto-Israel, it makes sense why this worship as a whole was devalued and Canaanite culture is seen as flawed and evil. For these reformers and later returnees there seems to be a suppression of any sort of Canaanite cultural influence in the remaining Jews. Being a Canaanite appears to be equivalent to being an idol worshipper.