My partner and I travel as much as we can to holy sites of antiquity; some people buy nice cars, we save up for plane tickets. (I promise I'm going somewhere with this.) As we visit more and more such sites, we have developed our own personal taste for restoration. Particularly, we are finicky about the guiding philosophy and practice of restoration in different cultures. We've noted that the Italians, for example, seem to favor making a restoration that looks all of a piece (rendering patches and reconstructions as untraceable as possible) while the Greeks appear to hold authenticity highest in regard; if they must insert a piece into a column for the column to stand, they make it obvious in color and craftsmanship so that there can be no doubt as to which parts are authentic. What does this have to do with anything? Reviewing a book like When God Had A Wife can be a tricky business. Heck, just reading it can be as well. Our authors, Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, have done a tremendous amount of research in constructing their narrative. To stretch the metaphor, however, their construction nevertheless relies on some amount of patching to hold it together, and what the reader must decide is whether they have simply shored up their arguments with modest, necessary fill, or if they have used their material to build something that was never there. My personal conclusion is that they've done more building than patching, but it's still an interesting read and your conclusions may differ.
What exactly is the narrative in question? Simply put, in the earliest iterations of Judaica there was a divine that more closely resembled what we think of as pagan religions today, with a sacred female as well as male aspect, rather than the masculine-dominant faith as it has normally appeared. The earliest parts of this argument are easy enough to follow: even the most ardent skeptics (usually) can't find fault with the idea that any faith that has to have a rule against other gods is acknowledging the existence of other gods, QED. From Exodus to Psalms, frequent mentions exist of other gods. From there, however, we are taken into increasingly murky territory that soon leaves you with two choices: trust your guides, or don't. Unless you've got your own background in ancient languages and archeology, the persuasiveness of Picknett and Prince are what you have to go on as they build their case that Asherah was the wife of Yahweh and was worshiped on equal footing in the early Jewish temples. They exhaustively cite their sources and incorporate their source material liberally. That still leaves the question I explained earlier - are they patching cracks or pouring concrete as they see fit?
Picknett and Prince are compelling writers. They are prolific authors and presenters, justifiably so. If it is in your wheelhouse to explore the idea of the sacred feminine being subjugated over time by patriarchal social and political structures, you'll find a lot here to interest you. I learned a lot from When God Had A Wife, I just don't think they took me all the way to their end.
~ review by Patricia Mullen
Author: Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince
Bear & Company, 2019
pp. 326, $16.00