Scholar says God had a wife; students skeptical

A scholar in England believes God had a wife, but St. Thomas students are skeptical.

A biblical scholar believes God had a wife, but most St. Thomas students don’t agree. (Lizzy Schmitt/TommieMedia)

Francesca Stavrakopoulou, an atheist biblical scholar at the University of Exeter in England, referred back to the ancient Israelites, saying they worshipped a goddess, named Asherah, alongside Yahweh. Because Christianity has its origins in the ancient Israelites, this could mean that today’s monotheistic Christianity, meaning Christians worship only one God, strayed from its origins.

Junior Laura Carlson doesn’t agree with Stavrakopoulou.

“I think that is the strangest thing I have heard this whole year,” Carlson said.

The Rev. Erich Rutten, director of Campus Ministry, said he might understand where Stavrakopoulou is coming from.

“The groups around ancient Israel had kind of a couple as their main god and goddess … a married couple,” said Rutten.

He said the idea of one god came with time.

“I do think there was a development from an idea of Yahweh [as] the king god,” Rutten said. “He was the most powerful, but there were other gods, but then that grew over time to say, ‘No, there is just one god, there’s only one: Yahweh.’”

Sophomore Caitlin Heaney said she doesn’t agree with Stavrakopoulou’s findings because she said she believes “God is the epitome of love” and “doesn’t need a wife.”

Rutten agreed with Heaney.

“You’ve heard the phrase ‘God is love’. That’s not just a warm fuzzy saying about OK, God has that quality among other qualities. It really is a saying about what is the nature of God,” Rutten said. “God is this interplay of relationships, this interplay of love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

There is, however, a spousal relationship in the church.

“The spousal relationship gets played out between this monotheistic God and the community, Israel, so that, ‘I will be your God and you will be my people,’ that’s the spousal relationship,” Rutten said.

Lizzy Schmitt can be reached at

27 Replies to “Scholar says God had a wife; students skeptical”

  1. It sounds to me as though the students quoted above have derived their notions of the biblical god from their pastors rather than actually reading the bible.

  2. The very idea that God has a wife is so anti-Catholic it’s offensive to even see such a story coming from a Catholic University. [And most things don’t offend me].

  3. ” The very idea that God has a wife is so anti-Catholic it’s offensive to even see such a story coming from a Catholic University.” 
    Sir I find that offesive! Tommie media is not a catholic publication (as far as I know).

    we have been brought up with many engrained philosophies that we are unwilling to use our brains to question those philosophies. 

    So what if he had/has a wife, does that make him less of a God.

    “I will be your God and you will be my people, that’s the spousal relationship.” There is no indication of a spousal relationship between God and his people anywhere in the bible. If anyone has a quotation of such in the bible I would definitely welcome the instruction.

  4. “For your Maker is your husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and your Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.” [Isaiah 54:5]

    There you go, Paul. Although I agree with you in principle. Most Catholics seem blissfully unaware, for example, that the Biblical god routinely condones, commands, and carries out acts of genocide, wholesale slaughter of innocent women and children, and torture. I suspect Matthew would also find these ideas offensive, yet there they are in the Bible.

  5. I’m really confused by this article. Dr. Stavrakopoulou is an atheist, so clearly she doesn’t think God had/has a wife because she doesn’t believe in God. Of course, it may be that she believes the ancient Israelites believed God has a wife, but I’m not sure why that would be controversial–besides the scriptural and historical indications that this is possible/likely (and she is not the first person to assert this), Rev. Rutten said that the idea of one God came with time. There’s no contradiction in saying that at one point in time the ancient Israelites believed in a marriage between two gods, and at another time, they believed God was one.

  6. Paul: the ENTIRE Song of Songs. The dialogues between King David and Yahweh. “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” The *covenant*, for heck’s sake. It’s hard to miss the (stormy) spousal relationship between God and His people in *any* book of the Bible, including the N.T.

    Chris’s observation about the general level of Biblical illiteracy — and the failure of high school apologetics courses to prepare young Catholics to address some pretty shocking things in the O.T. — are, unfortunately, on-target. God is, nevertheless, love. Whatever else we encounter in the O.T. (much of it quite dark), that fundamental fact shines through the O.T. with overwhelming strength. The idea that Jews after the time of, say, the Babylonian Exile worshipped more than one supreme being strikes me less as theologically challenging and more as just plainly contrary to the plain facts of Jewish history and scripture. But, then, maybe Dr. Stavrakopoulou had some fantastic evidence that I missed.

  7. Do I find Biblical genocide offensive, Chris? No. So please don’t assume anything.

    Mr. Rutten also is not a traditional Catholic. I don’t expect him to espouse Catholic teachings. The Post Vatican II Church is a different religion than the Church pre-Vatican II.

  8. Sir Plese, are you one o’ them sedevacantists? If so, would you mind at least identifying your religion as “SSPX Catholic” and the “post-Vatican II Catholic Church” as, perhaps, the “Roman Catholic” or “Latin Rite Catholic” Church, so people who aren’t extreme theology geeks will have a glimmer of what you’re talking about (or can look it up on The Google)?

    And I’m not really clear where Fr. Rutten said anything that violates SSPX theology. Nor am I clear why you call him “Mr.” Rutten. Even if you think he’s a heretic, his Holy Orders are as valid as Russian Orthodoxy’s, which makes him “Fr.” to you and me regardless of taste or intercommunion. But this begins to digress quite radically from the topic.

  9. You are correct that discussions of that sort differ radically from the topic so I won’t say much except that yes I’m a sedevecantist and that the Novus Ordo ordinations are protestant – unlike those done by the orthodox. To call Mr. Rutten by the title “Fr.” would be theologically incorrect.

  10. Not to further this derail, but it doesn’t seem any more theologically problematic, given the sedevacantist view, than referring to UST as Catholic…

  11. Mr. Plese, doesn’t your support of same-sex marriage, which you have spoken openly of on this site, constitute an embrace of relativism and theological modernism?

  12. Also, Mr. Huber, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, drawing on over two milennia of Apostolic Tradition, which the Bible is a part of (the biblical canon was approved the same time as the first version of the Roman Canon, which is the prayer that the priest prays during the consecration of the Eucharist during the Mass (the transubstantiation occurs during this prayer).
    If it was up to every person to determine what the Bible meant, we’d end up with over 6 billion interpretations of the Bible which would all contradict each other at least partially. There needs to be a way to determine which interpretation of the Bible is correct. Even Satan can quote scripture, as demonstrated during the Gospel account of Christ’s temptation by Satan in the dessert, and so it is necessary to have an authoritative interpretation of what the Bible says. We should be thankful that we have the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (the Pope and all the Bishops in communion with him) charged with safeguarding the sacred Apostolic Tradition of the Church, and rendering an authoritative interpretation of the Bible is among the tasks involved with that.
    Alright, I’ve had my fun. I’ve leave it to you guys to finish the conversation, but I thought I’d lend my good friend James Heaney a hand :)

  13. UST is at least Catholic by heritage even if they are not currently Catholic.

    Michael Blissenbach, I retract my previous statements which I acknowledge to have been in error.

  14. James, how on earth do you reconcile these atrocities with the idea that the Old Testament deity represents the pinnacle of love? It seems to me that doing this robs the word “love” of its meaning entirely.

  15. Chris, in my post, I only meant that Fr. Rutten and Caitlin were right, in that the overpowering message of the O.T. — the “atrocity passages” aside — is the love of God for His people. Many of the most poetic passages depicting that relationship are in the O.T. It’s a valid conclusion to draw from the bulk of the O.T., and no sure sign of an unsophisticated theology “derived from their pastors and not from actually reading the Bible.” (Not that you have any way of gleaning this from the article, but I happen to know that Caitlin has pushed a few UST professors *very* hard about the “atrocity passages” herself.)

    And rightly so. The objection strikes at the heart of Biblical faith. I had hoped to sidestep it, but you asked directly. I do not have space for even the start of a complete answer — even if I had one. The objection is as old as Marcion, and the conversation about it goes all the way from Tertullian to Papa Benny’s Deus Caritas Est. There are lots of proposed ways of accounting for a loving God committing (the word is apt) genocide. Much depends on details that we simply don’t have from the Biblical accounts. Some argue that *everyone* in the targeted cities was wicked, so God’s wrath was just. Others think it was okay in O.T. times, but would…

  16. evil after Christ. Some argue that the account is wrong, that it was either a parable or a lie, and that these massacres (and similar ones), if they happened at all, were no more justified than sacrificing Jephtah’s daughter. Another camp thinks of it as just a very stern lesson from Yahweh. Those are just the simple ideas. Every suggestion has merits and defects.

    Personally, I think it’s important to take the God’s-eye view of the situation. God is, after all, the author of all our lives… but He is also the author of all our deaths. God kills *everybody,* often in brutal ways. He is the ultimate genocide, with many tools in His lethal toolbox. In my view, the Biblical massacre problem is not really any different from the wider theological problem of evil (and death).

    I’m not going to solve evil in 168 characters, but I think you asked the right question about “love.” Love, in its simplest, highest form, is an act whereby a person wills the good of another person. Sometimes, God can bring about great personal good by inflicting unjust suffering. (Often, when I say that, I get an eye-roll. Then I suggest the short story “Everything That Rises Must Converge”.) The greatest example is the Cross. I think that’s where any answer must begin.

    Sorry it’s…

  17. An interesting and thoughtful answer. But wouldn’t a more parsimonious view be to simply acknowledge that the Bible is a collection of fables and myths written by men and lacking any profound evidence of a transcendent inspiration? I think the best question to ask is how to best make sense of the Bible from an empirical perspective, not how we can explain away or obfuscate its frequent cruelty if we begin with the unwarranted assumption (or faith, if you prefer) that it was authored by a divine power.

  18. I agree with you that, if we were to start with the Bible and only the Bible, it has little to recommend itself as a particularly divinely inspired text. Frankly, it drives me nuts when peeps make the case that the book is just SO AMAZING that it MUST be written by a divine power. (Not incidentally, the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not A Higher Power” argument is the *main* empirical argument I’ve seen made for the authority of the Qu’ran. I think Christians, on the whole, take the revelatory claims of Islam far too lightly. Muslims use standards of evidence that are *very* similar to Evangelical Christian ones. So why don’t Evangelicals convert? I digress.) So I don’t start there. At least, not in the O.T.

    I am compelled to Christianity by two things: philosophical arguments pointing to some kind of unified creator-God-being, which seem sound to me, despite the problem of evil (of which the O.T. is one facet); and historical testimony about Jesus, his miracles, and resurrection, which also seem sound to me. Jesus and his Church, which seems to be in some sense divinely ordained, both took the O.T. as somehow divinely inspired. Therefore I must take it seriously as well. To dismiss it lightly would be less parsimonious, as it would seem to lead to contradiction (for me).

  19. I’d be interested to hear which philosophical arguments for God you believe are sound. You clearly know your stuff, and yet every one I’ve come across was easily refutable. Even when I was a devout Christian I didn’t think much of the philosophical proofs. Also, I don’t suppose you’ve ever run across Raymond Bradley’s argument for atheism from miracles?

  20. Sorry I’m late; finals are not making TM-stalking easy. I’ll make it up to you with a ridiculously overlong reply.

    It took me years to formulate what I considered a definitive rejection of Anselm. Descartes’s ontology is circular, but might be salvageable. Some limited design arguments *could* work depending on the future of astronomy. Pascal’s Wager argues for action regardless of truth, which angers me; I think it works nevertheless (and I despise it for doing so).

    The strongest ones, however, are all neatly summarized by Aquinas in Summa I-Q2A3. He invented none of them, but he formulated them with monumental concision, so I refer to it. From the Cartesianism of my adolescence, I have come to believe that the first three of the “five ways” work quite well. So does the fifth. There are many common objections, but I have found they usually only show a flawed reading of the argument. People most commonly go wrong on the first three ways in one of — ha — three ways:

  21. (1) They think Aquinas is trying to go from “aliqua moveri” to the Christian God in one paragraph. He isn’t; Q2A3 only deduces the existence of “prime mover(s)”, a very modest claim. Even Dawkins, in one of his demi-mystical rants about the multiverse, ultimately conceded it, though I’ve no doubt he doesn’t realize that. It takes the *entirety* of Prima Pars (70-odd pages in small and astoundingly concise text) for Aquinas to deduce a simple, immaterial, personal, eternal, and (in *some* sense) good entity in which we *might* see a resemblence to the Christian conception of God. As a revealed, historical religion, Christianity cannot be proved true from first principles and Aquinas does not try. If we take the argument in Q2A3 on its own terms, rather than the terms most casual commentators try to impose on it, it is an impregnable case. The next few arguments in Prima Pars are a lot more interesting and controversial, but they are very rarely discussed because people suppose that Q2A3 is the be-all and end-all of the Thomistic proof of God.

  22. (2) They don’t understand the terms. The most frustrating case is when I see smart people — serious people — translate “motus” as “motion” in a Newtonian sense. Of *course* the “first way” crumbles if you take “motion” that way! But Aquinas, writing long before Newton’s birth, meant “motus” in an Aristotelean sense, which is vastly more general and, for our purposes, much more powerful. Practically every important term in the argument (“necessity”, “cause”, “potency” in particular) similarly succumbs to misunderstanding, because modern readers think they can just pick up the Five Ways without reading the Physics and the Metaphysics first. (Why is that? Would they try reading a Calc II textbook without learning algebra first?) These misunderstandings open the argument to objections, especially when the infinite regression shows up.

    (3) They try to simplify the arguments, or translate them into modern English, which invariably leads to loss of precision. This last lot usually ends up thinking that the Second Way has something to do with causal regression *in time*. Always unfortunate.

  23. The key to understanding the Fifth Way was given me by F.C. Copleston: it is not, like most first-years think, another argument from design, vulnerable to all their many weaknesses, but an argument from order itself.

    Lastly, I can’t make heads or tails of the Fourth Way. I don’t put stock in it, though I would like to one day better understand what exactly it’s saying.

    If you’re referring to Bradley’s “Rivalry of Religions,” then no, I’m not familiar with it; I just Googled it when you mentioned it. I am familiar with Hume’s argument from contrary miracles, on which Bradley seems to build. Hume never had much traction with me, because, in order to succeed, he has to first flatten a myriad of complex theologies with both compatible and incompatible parts into simple, self-contained, opposing camps, *then* must assume that every miracle in every religion is accepted on a similar evidentiary basis, which is false. I skimmed Bradley’s piece and didn’t find anything particularly new, but I will keep it open in a tab until after exams when I have time to read it. I have another friend who wants me to read a long W.V.O. Quine article on empiricism which I’m also saving, so Bradley will make a nice accompaniment.

    Good luck with finals!

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