Asherah: Mother in Heaven

One of the most significant doctrines restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith is a knowledge that deity does not exist on a principle of celibate solitude (let alone incorporeal corporality). God is God because he rules over his posterity, which flows unto him without compulsory means forever and ever (D&C 121:46). To quote the prophet Brigham Young: “He that has overcome and is found worthy, will be made a king of kings, and lord of lords over his own posterity, or in other words: A father of fathers.”[1]

This priceless pearl of truth, of the existence of a Heavenly Mother who partners with God the Father in promoting and advancing his plan of happiness, was once had among mankind but lost at a moment students of the scriptures would least suspect. Those familiar with the Book of Mormon may assume this doctrine was one among the items termed by Nephi as “plain and precious truths” that he prophesied would be lost in time, but a closer examination may prove otherwise:

  • “When [the scriptures] proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord…. Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God. And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb… there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book” (2 Nephi 13:24 – 26, 28, emphasis added).

Note that it was specifically “the fulness of the gospel” that went forth in purity. The gospel is a specific set of instructions and leads to the Holy Ghost, who leads to the comprehension of all mysteries (see the blog post, The Necessity of the Holy Ghost in the Fulness of the Gospel). These instructions are what went forth in purity, and which were subsequently altered, which caused the gentiles who inherited the Bible to “stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them” (2 Nephi 13:29). Indeed, the doctrine of the Heavenly Mother was lost prior to the time of Christ and the apostles and was not necessarily part of those instructions that went to the gentiles in Peter’s day.

So when was this doctrine lost? To find the answer, we must look to see when polytheism was yet had among Israel.

Neither Plain nor Precious:
the Deuteronic Reformation

The timing of the removal of a female deity, or female aspect of deity, was in the time of King Josiah in the 7th century B.C. But the trail has been lost to readers of the English Bible. In fact, even the Bible Dictionary explains this phase of King Josiah’s life in glowing elegiacs:

  • “(1) King of Judah, 641–610 B.C. (see 2 Kgs. 22–242 Chr. 34–35). While still young, he made, under the guidance of Hilkiah, a thorough religious reformation, which extended to the northern tribes. He restored the temple, destroyed idolatrous images and the high places, put down the idolatrous priests, and celebrated a great Passover (2 Kgs. 23:21–23). During this reformation a book of the law was found by Hilkiah (2 Kgs. 22:8–92 Chr. 34:15–16). It made at once a great impression and led to the centralizing of all sacrificial worship at Jerusalem and the abolition of local idolatrous sanctuaries or high places. Josiah became involved in the war between Assyria and Egypt, and, though Pharaoh Necho disclaimed enmity, Josiah met him in battle at Megiddo and was defeated and slain (2 Chr. 35:20–25; see also 2 Kgs. 23:29–30Jer. 22:10–12, 18Zech. 12:11)” (Bible Dictionary, “King Josiah”, emphasis added).

As the story goes, Hilkiah, the high priest during King Josiah’s reign, achieved a sweeping religious reformation whose impetus stemmed from his supposed discovery of a copy of the law given to Moses found secreted within a wall of the temple in Jerusalem. Though the scriptural account speaks reverently of this incident, what else would be expected from a record written by the victors of the religious contentions of the day? As author Margaret Barker has noted:

“We now recognize that King Josiah enabled a particular group to dominate the religious scene in Jerusalem about 620 bc: the Deuteronomists. Josiah’s purge was driven by their ideals, and their scribes influenced much of the form of the Old Testament we have today.”[2]

When Hilkiah read the newly discovered book of the law, King Josiah rent his garment.

That the reformation may have accomplished certain good alongside certain bad in Israel is beside the point. Our concern at the moment is to understand whether the notion of a female deity was among the items thrown out by the zealous Deuteronomists who prevailed upon King Josiah to endorse their views. It is assumed, in this essay, that Hilkiah’s “discovery” of the law was a fabricated deus ex machina planted to vouchsafe and cement his power, and the power of the Deuteronomists, in Judea.[3]

In the midst of Josiah’s purge of non Deuteronic religious items, verse 6 of the 23rd chapter of 2 Kings says that King Josiah “brought out the grove from the house of the LORD” (emphasis added). This and other references to a “grove” are misleading unless the King James translators would have us believe that groups of trees had encumbered the temple as untended weeds. The term in the Hebrew is אֲשֵׁרָה֩ asherah and was only translated as “grove” in the King James version of the Bible after its true meaning was lost to previous translators in the Greek and Latin (the translation of “grove” is a testament to “the consequent loss of Asherah’s name and knowledge of her existence to English language readers of the Bible over some 400 years”[4]).

The New International Version of the Bible corrects this error:

  • “[King Josiah] took the Asherah [tree] from the temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people. He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes that were in the temple of the Lord, the quarters where women did weaving for Asherah” (2 Kings 23:6-7, NIV, the word ‘tree’ is substituted for “pole” used to denote her effigy).

An understanding of what the “Asherah tree” was will demonstrate how it was that this moment in Biblical history marked the end of an era of recognition for the divine mother in Israel. But first, a second witness speaks to us from the dust of the truth of this precious loss:

Laman, Lemuel, and the Orthodox Majority

The Book of Mormon begins with the story of an infamous pair of brothers, Laman and Lemuel, who are portrayed as doubting their visionary father, Lehi, at every turn of the narrative. As de facto antagonists to the Lord’s plan for Lehi, these two appear to embody all things adversarial. Nephi—their patriarchally allied, younger brother—cuts to the chase when he tells them:

  • “The Lord commanded my father that he should depart into the wilderness; and the Jews also sought to take away his life; yea, and ye also have sought to take away his life; wherefore, ye are murderers in your hearts and ye are like unto them. Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God” (1 Nephi 17:44-45, emphasis added).

Interestingly, Nephi equates the attitudes of Laman and Lemuel to those of the people of Jerusalem. This may have been a purposeful comparison on more than just the level of stoning the new prophets; for, as one author noted, “Laman and Lemuel appear to have been orthodox, observant Jews. Nephi—who has a vested interest in revealing their moral shortcomings—never accuses them of idolatry, false swearing, Sabbath breaking, drunkenness, adultery, or ritual uncleanness.”[5]

Jews Mourning in a Synagogue by William Rothenstein

Based on the timeline surrounding Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem, Laman and Lemuel’s adherence to all things Jewish would have been in support of the Deuteronomic reforms established a short time before by King Josiah, as was the popular practice in Jerusalem in their day. To demonstrate just how carefully Laman and Lemuel may have sought to observe these precepts, a short summation of some of those orthodox Deuteronomic precepts will be listed (I credit Neal Rappleye and his scholarship for these insights[6]):

  1. Sacrifice and offerings were to be performed only by Levites.[7]
  2. Visions and dreams were not to be considered revelation.[8]
  3. Jerusalem, the great city, was protected by a Davidic covenant and could not be destroyed.[9]

Now compare this with what constitutes Laman Lemuel’s primary complaints against their father:

  1. Their murmurings begin right after their father, a non-Levite descendant of Manasseh, offers sacrifice in the wilderness (see 1 Nephi 2:7, 11-12).
  2. They consider their father false prophet (c.f. “visionary man”) for his claim that God spoke to him in dreams and visions (see 1 Nephi 2:11).[10]
  3. “Neither did they believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets” (2 Nephi 2:13).

In that same verse, Nephi emphasizes the fact: “They were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem” (Ibid.). That Laman and Lemuel thought highly of the Deuteronomists is evident in their complaints against their father and younger brother who do not accept all the innovations introduced by King Josiah. They even said directly:

  • “We know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses [given the ‘second time’ (deuteros nomos) through King Josiah]; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words; yea, and our brother is like unto him” (1 Nephi 17:22).

Though not mentioned directly, it appears safe to presume that Laman and Lemuel, who were observant Deuteronomists, would have wholeheartedly joined with King Josiah in rejecting the “Asherah tree,” as opposed to their father and brother. But it’s also interesting to note that Nephi’s stance was perhaps not settled until after departing Jerusalem. That he was considering his brothers’ orthodoxically-informed arguments against their father seems to be implied by the text:

  • “Laman and Lemuel…did murmur against their father…. And he did confound them, that they durst not utter against him…. And…I, Nephi, being exceedingly young,…did cry unto the Lord; and behold he…did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers” (1 Nephi 2:12,14,16).

Nephi did not know who was right initially, but exercised enough faith in personal revelation to obtain an independent witness of the validity of his father’s teachings. But just how different were his father’s teachings from the Deuteronomists?

Lehi, Nephi, and the Unorthodox Vision

Lehi and his believing son, Nephi, were open to God’s operations precluding certain innovations of the Deuteronomists, as has been demonstrated above, but can we extend that to the belief of deific figures beyond the person of Jehovah? The text of the Book of Mormon does not allow for insight into what Lehi or Nephi’s original beliefs about the potential for a pantheon were, but not long after obeying God’s call to the wilderness, they became the recipients of visions whose substance included such revolutionary concepts.

First Lehi and then Nephi are given a vision today referred to as the Vision of the Tree of Life. Though Lehi first obtained the dream, Nephi’s vision of the same is recorded in greater detail and is the version from which we will be citing. In it certain symbols are employed, among which we find the following:

  • A river of filthy water (see 1 Nephi 8:13; 12:16)
  • A great and spacious building on one side of the river (see 1 Nephi 8:26; 11:36)
  • A tree bearing pure white fruit opposite the building (see 1 Nephi 8:10-11; 11:8)
  • A rod of iron leading to the tree (see 1 Nephi 8:19; 11:25).

Though cardinal directions are not set forth in the vision, relative placements of items allow us to construct a rudimentary map of the landscape of Lehi’s dream. The following map would be accurate whether the rod of iron led down from the top of the map to the tree of life or whether it led up to it from the bottom (as depicted):

Lehi’s dream as seen from above

To better understand the implied interplay of the elements set forth in Lehi’s dream as pertains to his own cultural context and understanding, more will need to be understood concerning the Asherah tree thrown into the Kidron by King Josiah.

The Asherah Tree

An Asherah figurine discovered in Jerusalem

Depictions of Asherah have certain common elements that make them fairly easy to identify. Believed to be revered as a goddess of fertility, she was always depicted with the most recognizable female physical attributes as a recurring trifecta:

  • Her hair extending from her head,
  • Her arms and breasts extending from her heart, and
  • Her hips extending from her waist.

She is also typically depicted as holding in her hands either some vegetation as a symbol of life, such as lotus flowers, sheaves of wheat, or simply blossoming almond branches. In this mode she personifies the tree of life.[11]

Note the stylized hair, arms/breasts, and hips, along with the lotus flowers
Besides holding vegetation, she is often flanked by mirrored animal life

Egyptian iconography follows with Asherah depicted as either the tree of life itself or as a woman who, again, holds the lotus:

The woman holds a single lotus flower over Hathor, the cow, who symbolizes the womb

As a tree, the Mesopotamian motif involved the representation of her three defining features as branches extending from three main junctions:

Mesopotamic stylized depictions of the tree of life with the requisite number of branches
Hebrew writing from a ewer depicting a stylized tree of life flanked by animals; the writing above says, “the tree [of] ‘Elath”

The last image above, found written upon an ancient Israelite ewer, includes the identification of the 6-branched, 7-headed tree of life motif as “The tree [of] `Elath” (‘Elath is the femine version of El, which means “God” in Hebrew).[12] The connection between the Asherah as the tree of life—a stylized 6-branch, 7-headed tree—and the menorah should become visually obvious at this point.[13]

The menorah, matching the stylized tree of life, or Asherah tree, with the sephirot mapped to its body

That the menorah itself, whose construction is prescribed in Exodus 25:31-40, was intended to be a representation of the tree of life is not scripturally stated (unless it was removed by the Deuteronomists). But its sacred construction is noteworthy and consistent with the most ancient traditional images of Asherah who represented life. The sacred nature of the tree image consisted in its connecting heaven down to earth and beneath to the underworld; as a mirror of the Kabbalistic tree of life, the menorah mapped the sepherot at its roots, branch junctions, and ends.

But with the drastic reforms undertaken under King Josiah, the tenure of Asherah as a female deity with a conscious place in the temple came to an end. As Joan Taylor notes:

  • “By the time of the Babylonian captivity the asherah had been absent from the Jerusalem temple for less than fifty years. According to the calculations of Raphael Patai, during the 370 years that Solomon’s temple stood, an asherah was there for 236 years in total.”[14]

It is interesting to note that the first temple at Jerusalem was suffered to be destroyed within a generation after the rejection of the Divine Mother, a striking parallel to the subsequent destruction of the second temple suffered roughly a generation after the Jews cast out and expelled the Divine of Son, Jesus Christ.

Great and Spacious: A Defiled Temple

When the Hebrew writers of the Old Testament chose a word to describe the temple of Solomon, the word used was היכל hekhal (“a large building”; cognate with the Sumerian 𒂍𒃲 É.GAL [“big house”]).[15] Originally the Gods worshipped in that place mirrored more closely what is found in ancient Canaanite worship: a divine father and mother, El and Asherah, who presided over a family of divine beings among whom was Jehovah.[16] A hint of this still wafts through the Old Testament where, perhaps, the Deuteronic revisionists hand has been relatively spared:

  • “עֶלְיוֹן֙ (‘el·yō·wn) assigned nations their lands; he determined where peoples should live. He assigned to each nation a heavenly being, but Jacob’s descendants he chose for יְהֹוָ֖ה (Yah·weh)” (Deuteronomy 32:8-9, Good News Translation, original Hebrew added).[17]

In Lehi’s dream mentioned above, divine displeasure with the dogmatic and systematic refutation of multiple deities by those at Jerusalem was forcefully and symbolically demonstrated. It will be recalled that Lehi, and later Nephi, saw a “large and spacious building” (1 Nephi 11:35), which is the reduplicative emphatic of היכל hekhal, which means “a large, big building” and is actually the Biblical reference to Solomon’s temple. But in the vision it was no longer a place of purity or holiness before the Lord; it was just a very large building.

An artist’s depiction of Solomon’s temple

Nephi is given to understand that in the dream it represents “vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men” and that the river that divides it from the tree of life is specifically the indignation of plural deities, “the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God” (Ibid., emphasis added). The people who were in the ‘large, big building’ were described as mocking the people who humbly sought the truth of God’s word:

  • “And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit [of the tree of life]” (1 Nephi 8:27).

The scriptural requirement for the clothing to be worn in the temple was explicitly to be fine just as the people wore in the dream: “Weave the tunic of fine linen and make the turban of fine linen. The sash is to be the work of an embroiderer” (Exodus 28:39, NIV, emphasis added). Thus what Lehi may have seen in his dream was the literal portrayal of the attitudes of the orthodox Jewish majority he had personally witnessed in Jerusalem, which we have noted was espoused by his eldest sons, Laman and Lemuel. Indeed, the truth of God having a Son, or of Jehovah being the son of a greater God, was mocked as foolishness and rejected specifically by the religious establishment—those who wore the tunics, turbans, and sashes in the temple.

Perhaps related is the man in the white robe Lehi followed. When Lehi first enters into his dream, he is only aware of the “dark and dreary wilderness,” until he is met by “a man…dressed in a white robe” (1 Nephi 8:4-5). It is nearly universally taken for granted that this man is an angel, and that perhaps due to the juxtaposition of Nephi’s experience with an angel in his version of the dream; but a careful comparison of the roles these men individually play reveals that there is little semblance between the two outside of a holy garb. In fact, whereas Nephi’s guide introduces him to further light and knowledge, Lehi’s appears to do the opposite. Lehi recounts:

  • “He came and stood before me…. And bade me follow him. And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste. And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me…. And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a…field. And it came to pass that I beheld…a tree” (1 Nephi 8:5-10, emphasis added).

That the dreary waste into which Lehi’s holy man led him for hours with no end in sight, and that it was not until Lehi prayed unto God that he found himself in a tended field, suggests strongly that the contrasted landscapes represent his spiritual state both while under the guidance of men whose outward appearance seemed near to God but whose hearts were far from Him and thence after going to God directly for guidance, respectively. As the priests of the temple in Jerusalem were personified by the people in the great and spacious building, could it be that the man who sought to lead Lehi into a never-ending spiritual waste was the very adversary to God himself? Joseph Smith taught that the Devil does in fact take this exact form to deceive man:

  • “As no man knows the things of God, but by the Spirit of God, so no man knows the spirit of the devil, and his power and influence, but by possessing intelligence which is more than human, and having unfolded through the medium of the Priesthood the mysterious operations of his devices; without knowing the angelic form, the sanctified look and gesture, and the zeal that is frequently manifested by him for the glory of God, together with the prophetic spirit, the gracious influence, the godly appearance, and the holy garb, which are so characteristic of his proceedings and his mysterious windings.
  • “A man must have the discerning of spirits before he can drag into daylight this hellish influence and unfold it unto the world in all its soul-destroying, diabolical, and horrid colors; for nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God. Thousands have felt the influence of its terrible power and baneful effects. Long pilgrimages have been undertaken, penances endured, and pain, misery and ruin have followed in their train; nations have been convulsed, kingdoms overthrown, provinces laid waste, and blood, carnage and desolation are habiliments in which it has been clothed.”[18]

With the understanding in place that Lehi and Nephi were seeing the temple in Jerusalem, though defiled, in their dream, the physical placement of the tree of life now offers a stunning last witness not only to the real-world landscape of the dream but also to the greatest symbolism yet contained in it.

Jerusalem as seen from above

The Tree and her Fruit:
The Comforting Angel

Lehi and Nephi saw that across from the defiled temple, separated by a valley and river, was a tree whose “beauty…was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow” (1 Nephi 11:8, emphasis added). Nephi is given to understand at first that the fruit represents the Son of the divine Father:

  • “And behold this thing shall be given unto thee for a sign, that after thou hast beheld the tree which bore the fruit which thy father tasted, thou shalt also behold a man descending out of heaven, and him shall ye witness; and after ye have witnessed him ye shall bear record that it is the Son of God” (1 Nephi 11:7).

Interestingly, despite this understanding concerning the fruit in place, Nephi presses the angel to know exactly what the tree represents (Ibid., vv. 9 – 11). The vision continues and Nephi records in chiastic parallel:

  • “And it came to pass that I looked and beheld…a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white…. A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins. And [the angel] said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh” (Ibid., vv. 13, 15, 18, emphasis added).

This is a very explicit symbolic interpretation of the tree that is left for the reader to conclude upon as Nephi quickly takes the narrative in the direction of other elements of the dream and a sweeping vision of the life of Jesus Christ. The language that Nephi uses to describe the virgin Mary is the same as the language he uses to describe the tree of life.

(It should not be mistaken that this essay is endeavoring to prove that the virgin Mary is Heavenly Mother—that conclusion is outside the purview of the evidence available.[19] All that should be concluded thus far is that the tree is positively a reflection of the feminine aspect of deity. That God should have a son is only one aspect of polytheism rejected by King Josiah; that the divine son should be the product of a divine father joining with a divine mother before the world was, and that the divine mother was Asherah, constitutes the fulness of the panned polytheistic doctrines of Lehi’s day.)

To better understand how that Lehi’s tree of life represents Asherah, the divine mother and consort of the Most High God, it is necessary to understand the significance of the tree’s physical placement in Lehi’s dreamt landscape.

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives by Edward Lear

The Mount of Olives lies directly across the Kidron valley from the temple mount. Here you will find the olive press known as Gethsemane. Lehi’s vision places the tree of life directly across the river from the ‘large, big building’ discussed above. If the building was indeed the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem defiled by the attitudes and teachings therein, then the only conclusion is that the tree of life, or Asherah, is presented as bearing its fruit in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The question then is when ever was Asherah, or Heavenly Mother, with her son in the Garden of Gethsemane? The scriptures may give the concealed answer:

  • “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed Him…. And He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, where He knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me. Yet not My will, but Yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And in His anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:39, 41-44, Berean Study Bible edition, emphasis added).

No moment in scripture records the presence of two divine beings joined together in Gethsemane other than this one. Could it be that Lehi’s dream unlocks the identity of the angel who strengthens the Son of God? It is the opinion of the author that no being from all the heavens could be better suited to giving strength to the Son of God at this trying moment than his own mother. If we, who are evil, may obtain strength and comfort from our earthly mothers, how much more then can the Heavenly Mother strengthen her Son, they being holy!

Conclusion

Whether or not the angel who came to Christ on Gethsemane was Asherah, the divine mother, or not, it does not alter the witness brought about by Lehi and Nephi that the removal of Asherah from the doctrines of the Jews was a great error and constituted the loss of a most precious truth. This archeological fact reinforces the truth of a divine mother as witnessed by three prophets key to the restoration of this doctrine in our latter-day: Lehi, Nephi, and Joseph Smith.

Not only is the knowledge of a divine mother restored in these latter days, but also the doctrine that—by men and women joining together in holy rites—the marriage unit may become glorified in the world to come so that we may join El, Asherah, Jehovah, and others in the pantheon as members in deed:

  • “Verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise…. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them” (Doctrine & Covenants 132:19-20, emphasis added).

One of Joseph Smith’s successors, Lorenzo Snow, learned the following in revelation in 1840:[20]

As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be.

Asherah stands next to the Most High, even God the Father, to witness to her daughters upon the earth of their divine potential, to become, as it were, trees of life planted in a grove of worlds yet to be:

As woman now is, Asherah once was:
As Asherah now is, woman may be.
Springing Up by Rebecca Sorge Jensen

Footnotes:

[1] Brigham Young, “Necessity of Continued and Faithful Labor—Kingly Nature of the Priesthood—Power Attainable Through It—Condition of the Nations Contrasted With that of the Saints—Future Glory and Greatness of the Kingdom of God,” Journal of Discourses [JOD] 10:355.

[2] Margaret Barker, “Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion,” in The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, ed. John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 2006), 71.
The same author has also explained:
“We can never know for certain what it was that Josiah purged or why he did it. No original versions of the actual texts or records survive from that period, but even the stories as they have come down to us in various sources show that this was a time of major upheaval that was not forgotten” (Margaret Barker, “What Did King Josiah Reform?” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, 538).

[3] “The most plausible scenario in this particular alternative world at least given the tenor of the Biblical account would be that Hilkiah and/or Shaphan concocted the deception and beguiled Josiah into believing it, he being more credulous than the inquisitive child mentioned above, since we have to assume that some of the arguments offered here would also have occurred to anyone who was about to become involved in the ramifications of the discovery” (David Henige, “Found But Not Lost: A Skeptical Note On The Document Discovered In The Temple Under Josiah,” in The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, Vol. 7 (2007), 16).

[4] “Asherah.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 April 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asherah#cite_ref-47

[5] Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 39.

[6] See Neal Rappleye, “The Deuteronomist Reforms and Lehi’s Family Dynamics: A Social Context for the Rebellions of Laman and Lemuel” in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, 16 (2015): 87-99.

[7] See David Rolph Seely, “Lehi’s Altar and Sacrifice in the Wilderness,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/1 (2001): 66-67.

[8]  See Kevin Christensen, “The Temple, the Monarchy, and Wisdom: Lehi’s World and the Scholarship of Margaret Barker,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely, eds. (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2004), 452-457.

[9] “The reforms of Josiah — in conjunction with Judah’s perception of the invincibility of their city promised in the Davidic covenant and the miraculous deliverance of the city during the reign of Hezekiah — reinforced the people’s belief that the great city of Jerusalem could not be destroyed” (David Rolph Seely and Fred E. Woods, “How Could Jerusalem, ‘That Great City,’ be Destroyed?” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, 605).

[10] “Both John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper have noted that ‘visionary man’ is an appropriate translation of the Hebrew חזה (ḥôzeh). Roper adds that the pejorative usage of ‘visionary man’ by Laman and Lemuel was more than mere ridicule or name-calling — it was actually the strong accusation that he was a false prophet” (Rappleye, “The Deuteronomist Reforms and Lehi’s Family Dynamics: A Social Context for the Rebellions of Laman and Lemuel,” 92).

[11] If Asherah held snakes, she personified the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If she held both snakes and vegetation, she personified both the trees of the knowledge of good and evil and that of life, respectively, at the same time. This symbolism may represent the fact that it is only by and through woman that man can both populate the earth through progeny and find exaltation as a God. In other words, she is the key or gateway to the God-man, offering to the God a posterity of flesh and blood necessary for the immortality of that posterity, and offering to the mortal eternal glory through the continuation of the lives in the eternal worlds (eternal life):

An Egyptian style relief of Asherah, holding both the lotus flower and snakes to both a god and a mortal, discovered in the Canaanite city of Ugarit.

[12] Ruth Hestrin, “Understanding Asherah” BAR, Sept./Oct. 1991, pp. 50-52-59.

[13] “The ewer was seen as a kind of ‘missing link’ to prove that Mesopotamian iconography directly influenced the iconography of the menorah, which is both a lampstand and a stylized almond tree” (Joan Taylor, “The Asherah, the Menorah, and the Sacred Tree,” in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 20 (1995), 30).

[14] Ibid., 40.

[15] “Solomon’s Temple.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 April 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon%27s_Temple.

[16] Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2002), 7.

[17] It seems then fortunate that King Josiah, in hearkening to Hilkiah, retained Jehovah of all the secondary deities beneath El and Asherah who could have been chosen, as it was he who was the lawgiver upon Mount Sinai, he who ministered to Israel in behalf of the Heavenly Father, and he who came in the flesh to redeem Jacob (see Leviticus 27:34; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; 3 Nephi 15:5). Nonetheless, erased was the memory of a divine parentage. And with it went the aspiration and doctrine to become as such, which Christ came to confirm:
“If the woman had not separated from the man, she should not die with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. Because of this, Christ came to repair the separation, which was from the beginning, and again unite the two, and to give life to those who died as a result of the separation, and unite them. But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed, those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated” (The Gospel of Phillip, translated by Wesley W. Isenberg, Coptic Gnostic Library Project [2020], http://gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html).

[18] Richard Galbraith, Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 205 (online: https://scriptures.byu.edu/stpjs.html#205).

[19] This may be a theological hole suited for the oblique reference of the “holy anointing” alluded to in Doctrine and Covenants 132:
“If a man receiveth a wife in the new and everlasting covenant, and if she be with another man, and I have not appointed unto her by the holy anointing, she hath committed adultery and shall be destroyed” (v. 41, emphasis added).
No further explanation exists about this ordinance and its attendant duties or ramifications; there is an interesting account from the apocryphal Gospel of Bartholomew summarized thusly by Hugh Nibley:
“Just before the birth of Christ, the veil was rent in the temple. On that occasion she saw an angel in the temple at the veil. He took her by the right hand, after she had been washed and anointed, wiped off, and clothed with the garment. She was hailed by him as a blessed vessel. ‘And he took me by the right hand and there was bread on the altar in the Temple and he took some and ate it and gave some to me. And we drank wine together. And I saw that the bread and wine had not diminished.’… All this happened in the temple” (Hugh Nibley, “Unrolling the Scrolls—Some Forgotten Witnesses,” Talk given in Glendale, California, in 1967, emphasis added).
Brigham Young states emphatically that Jesus could only be sired by a tabernacled man, hence the need for Mary to have received the ‘holy anointing’ prior to marrying Joseph the carpenter:
“When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. And who is the Father? He is the first of the human family; and when [Jesus] took a tabernacle, it was begotten by his Father in heaven, after the same manner as the tabernacles of Cain, Abel, and the rest of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve” (JOD 1:50).

[20] Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Co., 1884), 47.

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