Right Wing Watch reports that Faith2Action President Janet Porter “believes that the recent tornadoes that left hundreds dead in the South were a consequence of America’s acceptance of legal abortion and “sexual sin,” along with the supposed mistreatment of Israel.” We’ve seen this many times before of course, from Hurricane Katrina to the Fukushima disaster (and just about every natural disaster in between) but it doesn’t get any easier to swallow and it doesn’t get any worse. God seems content to swat at us in a fit of pique – real Old Testament jealousy and rage – without enacting Sodom and Gomorrah on a grand scale.
In addition to wildfires in Oklahoma and Texas, Porter claims that Americans gave “God reason to at least partially lift His protective Hand from America.” Porter isn’t the only Religious Right leader who said that the tornadoes signaled that America trigged God’s wrath: Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance said the tornadoes were “early warning signals” and “little tastes” of God’s judgment. Porter warns that America continues to risk “God’s wrath against us” until Americans “give their undivided attention to God.
Undivided attention to an undivided God. That’s what’s really at issue here, this belief that anything we devote ourselves to outside of God is some sort of Pagan disease, that we are making idols out of the government or out of liberal ideas or out of the earth itself. And from Old Testament times on this has taken on the shadings of sexual infidelity. Leave it to a bunch of really sexually repressed, misogynist people to think in such twisted terms.
As R. Joseph Hoffman observes, the God of Abraham “has always threatened vengeance of cosmic proportions for not keeping his laws…The Abrahamic god must be understood in terms of two words: exclusivity and judgment.” Schwartz notes the manner in which the biblical narrative paints “inclinations toward polytheism” as “sexual infidelity” and how Israel itself “is castigated for ‘whoring after’ other gods, thereby imperiling her ‘purity.'” The land itself must be kept clean “or its inhabitants will be ejected, ‘vomited’ out of the land…when Israel is not monotheistic, it is filthy and it pollutes the land” (Lev 20.22-25).
When Israel worships a foreign deity, she is a harlot, the land is made barren, and she is ejected from the land” (Jer 3.2-3). The God of monotheism is made the “True” God and the “gods” of polytheism are false. The result, when the opportunity offered, was slaughter, pure and simple. See as examples, 2 Kings 23:20-25 and Deuteronomy 13:13-18 for chilling examples of what happened to those as, George Carlin has put it, “gave the wrong answer to the God question.”
So let’s take a brief step back in time and look at this problem from a factual perspective.
The question of “the one versus the many.”
Historian Morton Smith called the proponents of the idea that there was only one God the “YHWH-alone movement” and as Finkelstein and Silberman explain, it “waged a bitter and continuing conflict with the supporters of the older, more traditional Judahite religious customs and rituals.” Those traditional customs were polytheistic, and included especially the “wife” of God, Asherah.
It’s ironic that one of the great myths of monotheism is monotheism itself. We are meant to believe that the monotheistic Israelites triumphed over enemies great and small in the name of a universal God named YHWH. But there was no “one True God” in the original form of Jewish belief, that is, the form it took pre-seventh century. YHWH was not alone; he had a heavenly counsel (of which he was only the head); he had a consort too, as most gods do: his Asherah.
Asherah makes an appearance as Asratum in cunfeiform texts dated to Babylon’s first dynasty, which held power from c. 1830 – 1531 BCE. Here she is acting as consort to Amurru. But this was not her native turf and it is surmised that her cult came to Mesopotamia with the Amorites. In another inscription she is called the “queen of heaven” and “mistress of sexual vigor and rejoicing.” In Ugaritic texts from Ras Shamra she is the mother of the Gods and “the procreatress of the gods” as well as “creator of creatures” and “creator of the earth” and the Gods are the “seventy sons of Athirat (Asherah).” John Day notes that “It is not as widely appreciated as it should be that there is a direct line of connection between this concept and the later Jewish idea of the seventy guardian angels of the nations.”
In post-exilic Israel, such a divine plurality could not be allowed to continue. The suppression was as brutal as that conducted by a later group of monotheists, the Christians; Paganism and Pagans and everyone who disagreed were exterminated:
He [Josiah] executed the priests of the pagan shrines on their own altars, and he burned human bones on the altars to desecrate them. Finally, he returned to Jerusalem. King Josiah then issued this order to all the people: “You must celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in the Book of the Covenant.” There had not been a Passover celebration like that since the time when the judges ruled in Israel, throughout all the years of the kings of Israel and Judah. This Passover was celebrated to the LORD in Jerusalem during the eighteenth year of King Josiah’s reign. Josiah also exterminated the mediums and psychics, the household gods, and every other kind of idol worship, both in Jerusalem and throughout the land of Judah. He did this in obedience to all the laws written in the scroll that Hilkiah the priest had found in the LORD’s Temple. Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since. (2 Kings 23:20-25)
God, in the book of Deuteronomy, demands genocide. Is it any wonder that our Christofascists are so fond of the Old Testament, and ignore the New? It is not just external enemies who must be destroyed, but even Jewish cities, if they went against this new idea of God. Where in the New Testament can you get stuff like this?
Suppose you hear in one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the street and burn it. Put the entire town to the torch as a burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt. Keep none of the plunder that has been set apart for destruction. Then the LORD will turn from his fierce anger and be merciful to you. He will have compassion on you and make you a great nation, just as he solemnly promised your ancestors. “The LORD your God will be merciful only if you obey him and keep all the commands I am giving you today, doing what is pleasing to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:13-19)
Why don’t people when they hear this stuff in church run screaming into the street? Who can read this and nod their head in approval? And do we want them directing our lives and our government?
When YHWH and his consort ruled together with Baal and the other Gods there was no religious strife in Israel. But now Asherah was among the victims of Josiah’s reforms, and no wonder, given her sexual nature, for to the Yahwists women were cursed. Misogyny cannot abide female sexuality and this made his Asherah a prime target for the reformers, as we see in Deuteronomy 16.21-22:
“You shall not plant any wooden thing as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your God which you shall make. And you shall not set up a pillar which the Lord your God hates.”
Day sees this as evidence that Asherah was regarded “in syncretistic circles as Yahweh’s consort.” William G. Dever concludes an article about YHWH and Asherah by observing how the Deuteronomistic attacks on Baal and Asherah have “been blunted by the tendency of later interpreters to gloss over the persistence of Canaanite religion to enhance the notion of a ‘normative Yahwism.'”
Part of this effort to promote a “normative Yahwism” means making Asherah simply a wooden pole, not an actual goddess. But Susan Ackerman argues that “for the historian of religion to differentiate between Asherah, a sacred symbol, Asherah the goddess, or Asherah a female hypostasis of Yahweh is…to quibble over semantics. I believe that in the ancient Israelite imagination the cult symbol of the goddess or a female hypostasis would have been perceived as Asherah herself.”
But these attacks were very real at the time, as archaeology has demonstrated. Yohanon Aharoni, an Israeli archaeologist who spent 13 years excavating sites in the Negev, discovered at Beer-Sheba a horned altar which had been dismantled and incorporated into the walls of storehouses, “evidently following the reforms of Hezekiah.” At Lachish a pit turned up cult objects beneath the level of the palace courtyard, “which was expanded and paved in the late eighth century BCE” and at Arab, archaeologist Zeev Herzog, who worked with Aharoni at that site, notes that a sanctuary that had been dismantled and “the area they had formerly occupied…covered with a layer of soil, over which new structures were built.”
Just as the America our Founders built will someday be deliberately buried and forgotten beneath the earth.
Keep in mind that it was people acting (so they claimed) for God who did the damage, not God himself. It was people consumed with mindless hate for the Other who engaged in an act of genocide to destroy every other option to YHWH alone. There is a very real parallel to today’s America, where the same small-minded, hateful group of monotheists, a modern YHWH-alone movement, is busily engaged in identifying and destroying our own metaphorical Asherah poles by attacking pluralism, tolerance and diversity and as in the Old Testament identifying it in sexual terms. We are being unfaithful to God and a jealous God will destroy us. He will cast us out, vomit us out and slap us around until we come to our senses.
Naturally, since natural disasters will not cease occurring at any time in earth’s future history, these Christofascists will have an unending supply of ammunition to beat us up with, to threaten us with, to sow fear with. The only solution to the YHWH-alone problem is to make certain that YHWH is not alone. We need Asherah back, as not only a defender specifically of women (she is truly needed in this role) but as a defender of that pluralism, that tolerance, and that diversity that was so integral a part of polytheistic religion and society.
I argued the other day that not all religions are equally crazy. I hope you may now understand where I was coming from.
 R. Joseph Hoffmann, ed. The Just War and Jihad: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, & Islam (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2006), 10-11. Among this god’s enemies are, as Hoffmann identifies this group’s composition, “a blend of idolaters, foreigners, sorcerers, heretics, homosexuals, drunken sons, dismissed wives, disobedient slaves, and above all the catch-all remainder of ‘those who do not do his will.'”
 Regina Schwartz, The Curse of Cain, 18, 63.
 Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed (2001), 248
 Frank M. Cross, “Yahweh and the God of the Patriarchs,” HTR 55 (1962), 256-257. See also idem, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge: Harvard Univeristy Press, 1973) in which Cross demonstrates the similarities between Canaanite religion and that of the Israelites.
 John Day, “Asherah in the Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Literature”, Journal of Biblical Literature 105 (1986), 386-387. For the seventy guardian angels see 1 Enoch 89.59; 90.22-25; Deut 32.8.
 John Day, “Asherah in the Hebrew Bible”, 392. Other pronouncements against Asherah can be found at 1 Kings 14.15; 1 Kings 14.23; 1 Kings 15.13; 1 Kings 16.32; 2 Kings 13.6; 2 Kings 17.10, 16; 2 Kings 18.4; 2 Kings 21.3, 7; 2 Kings 23.4, 6, 14, 15; Judges 6.25-30.
 Susan Ackerman, “The Queen Mother and the Cult in Ancient Israel” JBL, Vol. 112, No. 3 (Autumn, 1993), 392 n. 24.
 Yohanon Aharoni, “Nothing Early and Nothing Late: Re-Writing Israel’s Conquest,” BA 39 (1976), 65. cf. idem, “The Horned Altar at Beersheba,” BA 37 (1974), 2-23.
 Finkelstein and Silberman (David and Solomon (NY: Free Press, 2006), 139-140. For Ussishkin’s report on Lachish see David Ussishkin, “The Level V ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘High Place’ at Lachish” in C.G. den Hertog, U. Hübner, and S. Münger, eds., Saxa Loquentur: Studien zur Archäologie Palästinas/Israels, Festschrift für Volkmar Fritz (Münster, 2003) 205-211. For Arad’s temple see Zeev Herzog, “The Date of the Temple at Arad: Reassessment of the Stratigraphy and the Implications for the History of Religion in Judah,”In A. Mazar, ed., Studies in the Archaeology of the Iron Age in Israel and Jordan (Sheffield, 2001), 156-178.