Asherah and TikTok Apologetics

One of the students in my youth group sent me this TikTok and wanted to know if it was true. He always finds the best stuff to ask about. A lot of people don’t know much about Baal and Asherah, and there’s been a significant amount of theorizing done by different scholars on that point, so I thought I’d share the answer that I sent him. And before you ask, YES, I absolutely sent a teenager a giant answer to a one minute TikTok. He’s a smart guy. He can handle it.

The professor in that video represents one school of thought regarding the creation of the Bible.  I would argue that it’s a very unchristian way of thinking (which is supported by the fact that the creator of this theory is a professed atheist).  The core assumption here is that the Bible isn’t actually true, so much as it is an expression of exploitative power.  Note how Dan said that Josiah wanted to “centralize the cult” and rewrote everything before that date to make Asherah seem evil.  Before that date, “Asherah worship was 100% normative.”  Right there he’s told us that he thinks that the Bible is a document that powerful people created to control others.  A king wrote it to gain better control over his populace.  If you read the article he’s referencing, the woman who created this theory (Francesca Stavrakopoulou) wrote that Asherah worship was banned primarily because of sexism.  Men wanted to control women, and so they had to remove religious iconography that honored femininity.  Both of them assume that the Bible is a tool of oppression created to control people, rather than a book of liberation that is trying to tell us the truth about existence. 

Before I get into what orthodox Christians believe (orthodox meaning those Christians that believe the basic tenants of the faith that have been handed down for a few thousand years), I do want to look at the evidence Dan and Francesca provided.  They gave us some dates as to when the documents were written, and they referenced some archaeological information.  The dates about when the Bible was written are very disputable.  I could get into the weeds about different methods of dating the Bible, but let’s keep it simple.  Problem 1: paper does not preserve well.  How can you know how old an idea is when the primary way of recording said information is so easily destroyed?  Problem 2:  how can you know the date of ideas that were passed down orally before they were written down?  If I tell you a story and it’s so good that you tell it to your kids who tell it to your grandkids and then your grandkids finally write it down, how would a person that found the paper know how old the story was?  They couldn’t!  And that only gets more complicated when you consider that the paper might get destroyed, which would make it even harder to trace the idea.  Whenever someone starts dating the different parts of the Bible and claim that certain parts are “written late,” what they’re usually trying to do is suggest that those parts are suspect.  They are not authoritative.  They are not true.  Given that there’s no way to inerrantly trace the history of the story written on that paper, the claim that certain parts are “written late” boils down to, “I don’t believe that.”  Which is fine.  They’re welcome to say they disagree with what’s written in the Bible at any time.  Many people do.  Pretending that it’s rooted beyond reasonable doubt in the history of the document itself is just inaccurate.

As to the second piece of evidence (that archaeology proves that people worshiped God’s wife before King Josiah), they’re only half write.  There have been archaeological findings that Canaanites worshiped three gods: a dad (El) a mom (Asherah) and their son (Baal).  If it sounds vaguely like the trinity, it really doesn’t the more you get into it.  It’s much closer to the Greek gods than anything else.  They fight with each other, they go on adventures, etc..   This archeological evidence is absolutely true.  The claim that the Bible is making on this point is that some Israelites were tempted to worship like the Canaanites and add a mom and a son to their worship ceremonies, casting God as the Canaanite father God, El.  Was it “100% normative” for all Israelites?  No!  That’s the whole point of the story!  A lot of Israelites were doing it, but they weren’t supposed to be doing it.  That’s why it was upsetting!  To say, “we have archaeological evidence that PROVES that everyone was worshiping Asherah in that era” is impossible, since no archaeological evidence can prove that literally everyone in a region was doing anything; they can only prove popular practices.  The Bible agrees that worshiping Asherah and Baal were popular practices, and the archeological evidence reflects that as well.  The question isn’t “was the common man worshiping Asherah?”  We all agree on this point.  The question is “was that whole God thing just made up after the fact because powerful people didn’t like Asherah and Baal?”  Christianity says no.  These professors say yes.    The truth is not in the evidence; it’s in your core belief.  Is God actually real and has he revealed himself to certain people throughout history?  Or is the Bible a document that primarily exists only to oppress and marginalize people?  At the end of the day, the real question here is much less exciting than it pretends to be: is Christianity true?  And that question has been around since the dawn of Christendom.

We’ve looked at their core assumptions and we’ve evaluated their evidence, so let’s move on to the real feast: what is it that Christians actually DO believe on this particular issue?  We believe that God is actually real and he’s the only god that exists.  He is not the husband of Asherah and the father of Baal because those two are not actually real.  He is also not a biological man.  Jesus was a man in the incarnation, but the triune God in its fullness is not biologically male.  Even that person of the trinity known as the Father is not male.  The name “father” denotes his closeness to us and his love for us, not his biological chromosomes.  Christians believe that this God that really does exists has communicated with certain people since the beginning of time.  The Bible is a record of this, and it sets us free from the tyranny of this world’s power structures by pointing us towards the truth.  If an orthodox Christian were to respond to these professors, I think they’d just be sad that their assumptions about the world are so different from ours.   Where we assume that the Bible is setting people free, they assume it is a tool of oppression.  One of us is right and one of us is wrong.  I’d say that it’s a matter of faith, but that misrepresents what Christian faith is.   It is not a guess that might be wrong and might be right.  It is, to quote Hebrews, “assurance of what we do not see,” (Heb 11:1).  I don’t think that God might exist.  I know he does (though my evidence would probably look as sketchy to those professors as their evidence is to me).  Rather than say that it’s a matter of faith, I’ll keep it simple and just say this: they’re wrong.

Apologetics Battle: Simon Magus vs Peter the Apostle

Apologetics (the art of defending the faith) hasn’t changed nearly as much as you’d expect over the past 2000-ish years. Well… parts of it have certainly changed. After all, if you had a question about Christianity today, I assume you’d look for a pretty official looking book with basic questions and good answers in response. Makes sense. But in the third century, a perfectly legitimate option was picking up a dramatization of a fantasy debate in which the apostle Peter and the sorcerer Simon Magus wage an epic war of words about the big questions in Christianity (as based on the story in Acts 8:9-24). And it’s every bit as awesome as you could imagine.

Ok, a public debate might not sound all that exciting to everyone, but trust me, if those two legendary figures going head-to-head doesn’t get your blood pumping, the details will. Simon Magus rolls into town and becomes the leader of a local cult by explaining to them that he’s God. When the current cult leader (who also claims to be God) objects and tries to beat him with his stick, the stick magically goes through Simon’s body, which leads to the cult leader immediately stepping down from leadership and handing his position over to Simon. Simon also claims to be able to do all kinds of wacky things. He can fly! He can make children grow beards! At one point, he claims to have created a boy out of thin air and then turned him back into air again. Not only did he do this magnificent feat (supposedly), but he claims it as proof that he’s more powerful than the God of the Old Testament. That guy only created humans out of earth and everyone knows that’s way easier than making people out of air.

See? It’s the details that really bring this epic story to life.

The verbal smackdown is just as fun to read. Our debate begins with Peter offering peace to his opponent. Simon’s response?

Do not invoke peace, but rather battle, which is the mother of peace; and if you can, exterminate errors. And do not seek for friendship obtained by unfair admissions; for this I would have you know, above all, that when two fight with each other, then there will be peace when one has been defeated and has fallen. And therefore fight as best you can, and do not expect peace without war, which is impossible; or if it can be attained, show us how.

The Recognitions of Clement, 234

Simon has no chill at all.

All of this is from The Recognitions of Clement, a part of the larger body of work known as the Clementia. Basically, it’s an ancient historical fiction. The author wanted to talk about doctrine, but they spiced things up by using Bible characters. The resulting narrative is surprisingly fun. And effective! I couldn’t help but be a little moved by Peter’s response when one of his assistants asked how God could blame anyone for leaving him if the devil offered them more power:

If your son, whom you have trained and nourished with all care, and brought to man’s estate, should be ungrateful to you, and should leave you and go to another, whom perhaps he may have seen to be richer, and should show to him the honour which he owed to you, and, through hope of greater profit, should deny his birth, and refuse you your paternal rights, would this seem to you right or wicked?”

The Recognitions of Clement, 229

All of the grand spectacle aside, it’s shocking just how relevant most of the the questions that Simon Magus asks Peter are for people today. If Jesus is so great, why does he contradict himself in the Gospels? If God is so good, why did he create evil stuff? Why did God give humans free will? How could the being written about in the Old Testament truly be called a good God? I don’t want to pretend like all of the answers that Peter gives would be totally satisfying to modern ears, but they hold up pretty well on the whole.

In pop culture, there’s this strong sense that we’re so far advanced from the primitive thinkers of the past. The progress that we’ve made over the past 2000 years puts us lightyears ahead of our foolish, backwards ancestors, but when you crack open their books, you can see how ridiculous a statement like that is. We may have some new tools and some new insights into the way the world works, but we’re still fundamentally the same beings working out the same questions. Our ancestors’ thoughts on religion, philosophy, mathematics, and any one of a million other disciplines are often far more advanced than we give them credit for.

As Christians, we have so much to gain from looking back at ancient apologetics. Not only are the historic responses insightful, but reading these documents reminds us that we haven’t entered into a new age in which all of our collective wisdom is outdated. We’re more equipped than we know, and the questions that people are asking aren’t as groundbreaking as we think. There’s truly nothing new under the sun.

Source: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/s/schaff/anf08/cache/anf08.pdf