Like the Canaanite Asherah of the Bronze Age, the Asherah of the Iron Age -the archeological period when Israel emerged- was connected with trees, snakes, fertility, and sexual rites. Israelites worshiped her, apparently alongside Yehova (Yahweh, Jehova). In this obscure biblical passage, there is a child being saved from a violent YHWH, an operation involving a penis, and wings, worn by a female rescuer.
Notwithstanding all of the hype about monotheism in Rabbinic Judaism, modern research has elucidated that ancient Israel had a goddess whose name was Asherah. Like the Canaanite Asherah of the Bronze Age, the Asherah of the Iron Age -the archeological period when Israel emerged- was connected with trees, snakes, fertility, and sexual rites. Israelites worshiped her, apparently alongside Yehova (Yahweh, Jehova). The equated her and credited her with the urges that drew men and women together. And there are inscriptions suggesting that, during the 8th century, when the Kingdom of Samaria was rising for a second time under King Yeravam (Jeroboam) II, and under his father, Yoash, Asherah was thought to be Yehova's wife and/or sexual partner. There is a beautiful painting by Jonathon Earl Bowser which depicts the Hebrew goddess as a natural metaphor for the sea itself, for she was known as Lady of the Sea. This painting is included on a fascinating website called The Hebrew Goddess, which considers the evolution of Asherah from the Canaanite to the Israelite period.
We shall explore how tales of Asherah, goddess of sex and fertility in ancient Israel, gradually became incorporated into stories and narratives of the very source texts of what would become the Hebrew Bible. Over the centuries, as Asherah's enemies, the priests of monotheism, redacted and edited biblical texts, her stories were changed, although they could not eliminate her entirely. Instead, her identity was hidden, her character humanized to a great extent. Thus today, she is there as the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, as Sarah, wife of Abraham, and as Tzipporah, wife of Moses. And since the tale of Tzipporah is so obscure, particularly with respect to the emergency circumcision that she performs in Exodus 4, perhaps this would be a good place to begin the discussion.
Tzipporah, Wife of Moses, Performs an Emergency Circumcision
Let's begin with that obscure passage from Exodus 4:24-26.
And it was on the way at a lodging-place, & YHWH met him, and tried to kill him
And Zipporah took a flint, and cut off the foreskin of her son,
and cast it at his feet.
And she said, "For you are a bridegroom of blood to me."
And he let him alone.
And she said, "A bridegroom of blood for circumcisions."
Now, what is happening here? First of all, from the text it is not clear whether the YHWH, is trying to kill Moses, or his son, Gershom. However, by circumcising the boy, Tzipporah saves the day, and perhaps it does not matter whether YHWH's intended victim is the father or the son. Why? Because, the story is very similar to a tale from ancient Egypt, one involving Osiris, his wife Isis, and their son Horus.
Isis Saves the Day also by Performing an Operation, also Involving a Male Reproductive Organ
In the story, Osiris is murdered by his evil brother, Seth, who seeks the throne of Egypt.To assure that his murdered brother remains dead, Seth cuts Osiris' body into 14 pieces and scatters them through the land. But Isis gathers the pieces -all but one, that is. For she is unable to locate Osiris' organ. Using her magic wings, however (for Isis was depicted as a bird goddess), she resurrects the lost organ from clay, attaches it to the reassembled body, couples with her resurrected husband, and in doing so becomes pregnant with Horus. Later, she will protect the boy under her magic wings, as well as hide him from the jealous uncle but placing on a lotus leaf to float in the River Nile.
Sound familiar? It should because this part made its way into the Moses birth story in the Bible. But let's hold off on talking about that for a while and focus on the circumcision. One other point to make, as feminist Biblical scholar, Ilana Pardes, has pointed out, Tzipporah is remarkably similar to an ancient goddess of that region, not Asherah exactly, but a similar female deity. And by the way, the name Tzipporah means bird!
So there we go. In this obscure biblical passage, there is a child being saved from a violent YHWH, an operation involving a penis, and wings, worn by a female rescuer. This is all part of a theme of a rescuer goddess, who helps babies, a common tale of the region during ancient times.