This video reviews discoveries of artifacts that lead most Biblical archeologists today to conclude that ancient Israelites believed that ‘God had a wife’. This adds credence to the distinctive doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that we are all children of a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. How this doctrine began and continues to be taught in the Church is discussed as well as what it means and does not mean for us today.
Okay. The topic of this Evidences video is on Heavenly Mother, and as I get into the second half of the video in particular, you’ll see why this is an evidence of the Restoration. This is a little tip, Did God Have a Wife? Books like this coming out very plentifully today, and I’ll talk about why here in a minute from archaeology.
The Church put out a Gospel Topics Essay on Heavenly Mother, and this is how they started it: “The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints. While there is no record of a formal revelation to Joseph Smith on this doctrine, some early Latter-day Saint women recalled that he personally taught them about a Mother in heaven. The earliest published references to the doctrine appeared shortly after Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, in documents written by his close associates.”
In fact, the one you can go back to late recollection, but it occurred in 1839 when Zina Young lost her mother to cholera. And she wrote this about the experience. Zina says, “Will I know my mother,” and this is to Joseph Smith, “Will I know my mother as my mother when I get to the other side?” And Joseph said, “You certainly will. More than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in heaven.” Then we have the famous song that was written, it was a poem, became a song,O My Father by Eliza R. Snow. “Truth eternal tells me I’ve a mother there.” One of the stanzas in that. That was in October of 1845. W. W. Phelps did a lot of writing on Heavenly Mother. In 1844, 1845 it began, at least 10 works including poem, articles, commentaries, and literary works there.
If you look at that very last bullet points it says, “In May and June 1845 Phelps published a brief sketch for a story he had been working on entitled The Paracletes, which he claimed was inspired by Joseph Smith. In this story, he envisions prophets foreordained to come to earth and notes that the veil keeps us from knowing the details of these spirits’ pre-existence. However, he knows one detail as a matter of fact, that their premortal life included dwelling with a mother in heaven.” Okay, so I have some very official statements. The First Presidency statement in 1909, “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” And then of course the proclamation on the family issued in 1995 by the First Presidency and the Twelve, “Each person is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”
And then a few more quotes from prophets and apostles, Elder Erastus Snow. “Do you mean we should understand that Deity consists of man and women? Most certainly I do. If I believe anything that God has ever said about himself, I must believe that Deity consists of man and women. There can be no God except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all eternities that exist, nor ever will be, a God in any other way.” President Rudger Clawson, “It doesn’t take from our worship of the Eternal Father to adore our Eternal Mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers, to include our earthly mothers in our affections. We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal prototype. “
This is my favorite, President Harold B. Lee: “We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that the influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all that we can.” Then Barbara Gardner in her book, The Priesthood Power of Women, that just came out in 2019, she’s a religious professor at BYU, and she does an informal survey with her students in her required religion class called The Eternal Family. So, she says here in her book, “I ask all my BYU students enrolled in The Eternal Family, the required cornerstone class at church schools: ‘Of all the doctrines and teachings that stood out to you in the class, what was most impactful?’ Without fail, every semester, the majority of the female students respond that it is the truth and knowledge and open conversation regarding the reality of a Heavenly Mother.”
“One of the quotes we use in class comes from John A. Widtsoe, who confirmed, ‘This glorious vision of life hereafter is given radiant warmth by the thought that we shall find a mother who possesses the attributes of Godhood.'” Back to the Gospel Topics Essay from the Church, “As with many other truths of the gospel, our present knowledge about a Mother in Heaven is limited. Nevertheless, we have been given sufficient knowledge to appreciate the sacredness of this doctrine and to comprehend the divine pattern established for us as children of heavenly parents. Latter-day Saints believe that this pattern is reflected in Paul’s statement that ‘neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.’ Men and women cannot be exalted without each other. Just as we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. As Elder Oaks of the Twelve said, ‘Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.'”
Okay, so there was an interesting study BYU studies did, they call it A Mother There. And this is the conclusion that they did after doing a study, a tremendous study of the past, and this is in BYU Studies Journal, and I’ll link to it at the end. They said, “In this paper we have briefly shown that, historically, there have been substantial discussion and elaboration on the roles and divinity of our Heavenly Mother. It refutes the suspicion that General Authorities have advocated a position of total sacred silence about Her. As Latter-day Saints, we should be deeply reverent when speaking about any sacred subject. The Church leaders may well caution an individual to be respectful and to avoid teaching or unorthodox views about Heavenly Mother. At the same time, we have found no public record of a General Authority advising us to be silent about our Heavenly Mother; indeed, as we have amply demonstrated, many General Authorities have openly taught about her.”
The idea, they call it kind of a folk legend of Heavenly Father trying to protect Her, and that’s why we don’t know anything and there’s no discussion of Her. It was started by, I think, by a seminary teacher and somebody put it in a book, and it just took on a little bit of a life of its own. But not nothing from any Church leaders ever taught that. They go on to say, “While some had claimed that Heavenly Mother’s role has been marginalized or trivialized, we feel that the historical data provides a highly elevated view of Heavenly Mother. The Heavenly Mother portrayed in the teachings we have examined is a procreator and parent, a divine person, a co-creator, a co-framer of the plan of salvation, and is involved in this life and the next. Certainly consideration of these points reinforces several unquestionably important LDS doctrines: divine embodiment, eternal families, divine relationality, the deification of women, the eternal nature and value of gender, and the sacred lineage of Gods and humans. Far from degrading either the Heavenly Feminine or the earthly feminine, we feel that these teachings exalt both.”
Now, a cautionary note from President Hinckley about praying to Heavenly Mother. He did say, “Search as I have, I find nowhere in the standard works an account where Jesus prayed other than to His Father in Heaven or where He instructed the people to pray other than to His Father in Heaven. I have looked in vain for any instance where any President of the Church from Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson, has offered a prayer to our Mother in Heaven. The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.” And then Elder Glen L. Pace to the sisters of the Church. I just shared this in the video released on women and the priesthood. He said in the BYU Devotional in 2010 to the sisters, “When you stand in front of your heavenly parents in these royal courts on high and you look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into their rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.”
Okay, now, Kevin Barney, the Later-day Saint gospel scholar has done some great work on this. He published an essay called Do We Have a Mother in Heaven, and it’s on a FairMormon website. I’ll link to it. And he’s got some excellent things I’ll get into in a second, but he starts out by talking about in the Bible, “The Bible does not say, directly, that we have a Mother in Heaven. That she exists is in large major an inference. Because of this dearth of scriptural information, while we Latter-day Saints acknowledged her existence, we have little doctrine or worship surrounding her. One of the scripture supporting this inference is Genesis 1:26-27: ‘And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the animals. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.’ The parallelism of verse 27 strongly implies that the image of God is both male and female. The Hebrew word ‘selem’, rendered ‘image’ here was used for statues and paintings as resembling their models. And the word ‘demuth’, rendered ‘likeness’, here was used to refer to a resemblance, similitude or pattern as a son is in likeness of his father.” So daughter and mother essentially.
Now, he goes on, and the next couple of slides are really important to understand how archaeology is now catching up the last 50, 60 years. Just a tremendous amount of discovery, especially the last few decades. And that’s why the title, Did God Have a Wife?, biblical archaeologists are finding so many things. And so, to understand, and this is giving a lot of heartburn to our fellow Christian friends who, one God and not this concept of more than one God in any way, shape, or form ever there. And certainly God could not have been married or have a wife in that sense.
So, what we found, as Kevin Barney describes here, he says, “As a result of document discoveries made in the 20th century, we now have a much clearer understanding of the beliefs of the Hebrews concerning God during the age of the patriarchs (and the relation of those beliefs to their Canaanite precedents). The monotheism,” or the one God, “we associate with Israel did not arise in full flower from the beginning; rather it was probably not until the Exile,” to the Babylonians, that was 587 B.C., “that the Jews understood there to be only one God. At the first, the Hebrews worshiped a small pantheon consisting of the high God El, his wife Asherah, their sons Yahweh and Baal, and the other (unnamed) sons of the Gods. The original understanding of God developed over time until it reached the point of belief in Yahweh alone characterized by later Israelite theology. Baal was a very similar God to Yahweh and so was excluded from the Pantheon very early to make way for Yahweh’s claims. El was more complementary to Yahweh and his characteristics, so he was merged into Yahweh (resulting in the compound name Yahweh Elohim translated ‘the Lord God’ in the King James). The other sons of the Gods became the angels; still divine beings, but a lower class of being than the dominant Yahweh.”
So, “The understanding of Asherah changed over time in response to these developments. She was originally the wife of El and the mother and procreatress of the Gods. When El was merged into Yahweh (around the 10th century B.C.), Asherah came to be viewed as the consort,” which means wife, “not of El, but of Yahweh. For instance, an inscription,” this is phenomenal. They found this inscription dated roughly the 9th to 8th century B.C. stating, “I have blessed you by Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah.” And actually, this is a clay vessel, and on the backside of it was actually the the tree of life. So, very powerful stuff. That’s why these kinds of things are being discussed. “Eventually the functions,” as he goes on to say, “of Asherah were also absorbed into Yahweh; then in an effort to put a stop to any independent worship of her, reformers linked her politically to (the now thoroughly discredited) Baal, despite the fact that such a linkage does not seem to have had any historical basis. This reform movement against the worship of Asherah took place from the 8th to the 6th century B.C., and by the time of the conclusion of the Exile, the worship of Asherah as such had been stamped out. The word ‘Asherah’ appears about 40 times in the Old Testament, usually mistranslated in the KJV as ‘groves.’ (following the mistranslations of the Latin Vulgate and the Greek Septuagint).”
“It is sometimes difficult to tell whether the Hebrew reference to Asherah means the Goddess directly or her cult object. Although scholars are not completely certain what this object was, most believe it had been a wooden pole, (perhaps stylized), representing a sacred tree (the Tree of Life). Since it was made of wood, no actual examples of such an object have survived. The pole may have originally been a legitimate symbol associated with the temple, but it appears that as was the case with the serpent pole made by Moses, over time the people came to worship the object idolatrously. This garbling of her divine association and corruption of her worship resulted in the necessity of the reformers suppressing that worship. We should understand, however, that the negative references to Asherah in the Old Testament all stem from this period of reform; there appears to have been an earlier worship of Asherah not marred by adultery that was widely practiced and normative among the Hebrews.”
In fact, they found thousands of, according to Dever here, 3000 figurines of Asherah, and there was always her body would have a tree trunk there to represent the tree of life, essentially. So, where do things go from there? Lady Wisdom. “So as we have seen by the conclusion of the Exile the reformers managed to do away with Asherah worship as such. But worship of the Goddess did not disappear altogether; she was merely transformed into other guises. Perhaps the most successful of these transformations as far as the Biblical text is concerned was the personified Lady Wisdom we find in Proverbs 1-9. Many scholars see here a reworking of the Asherah of old. Consider in Proverbs 8:22-31. Her wisdom is not part of the created, rather she preexists and assists Yahweh in the creation. ‘I was set up from everlasting from the beginning. When he prepared the heavens, I was there. When he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him as one brought up with him.'” I love Proverbs 3:19, “The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth.” Interesting. Okay.
In The Further Transformation of Asherah, “Asherah worship was transformed in numerous other ways as well and thereby kept alive, although under different names and guises. In some circles, she came to be associated with various other goddesses, such as Anat-Astarte. She was also seen as the feminine figure of the two cherubims atop the Ark of the Covenant in the temple. Otherwise, she was transformed in one of two broad ways. First, there was a tendency to associate her with some important human mother figure. Therefore, some sought Eve and, later, Mary, as divine representatives of the Hebrew Goddess. The other way in which she was transformed was to see her as a spiritualized agent or characteristic of Yahweh.” Also known as the Holy spirit. So, those are some of the other theories and things that have come out. Margaret Barker, a Methodist scholar, talks a lot about that.
Okay. Biblical archaeologists and anthropologists, a few quotes here from some of them. William Dever, “recent archaeological discoveries provide both texts and pictorial representations that for the first time clearly identify Asherah as the consort of Yahweh, at least in some circles in ancient Israel.” And another one here, Raphael Patai, “the worship of Asherah as the consort of Yahweh,” meaning his wife, “was an integral element of religious life in ancient Israel prior to the reforms introduced by King Josiah and 621 B.C.” And lastly, David Noel Freed, “Our investigation suggests that the worship of a goddess, consort of Yahweh, was deeply rooted in both Israel and Judah in pre-exilic times.” I love Fiona Givens. She just recently made this comment at a conference in 2019. She said, “so there are a number of sites that have been unearthed that are adding archaeological evidence to this. I am very optimistic because we are the only tradition that have advanced that there is a separate female deity, who is equal in every respect to God. So we were actually further along theologically.” Love that.
Now, Kevin Barney did this really fascinating piece, and the title is a little strong, but, How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven Without Getting Ex-communicated. And he goes on to just talk about, how President Hinckley said we don’t pray to Heavenly Mother, but are there ways that we can honor her and adore her? So, he goes through and gives nine different ways, and I just want to share the last two he shares. So, wisdom, he says, “Since Asherah was recharacterized as personified wisdom, we should repass it as referring to wisdom with an eye attuned to possible nuance illusions to her. And particularly we should read with care the whole of the wisdom literature.” So, Proverbs, Psalms, Job. “In the Jewish tradition, study is perceived as a kind of worship. I have suggested some topics to look for in a fresh and close reading of scripture.” And I’m going to link this. This is if you want a one big one. This is in The Square Two Online Journal, Hidden in Plain View: Mother in Heaven in Scripture. So, Val Larson did a phenomenal, just fascinating. If you look for her, she can be a lot of places in scripture.
So, he goes through that, and then Kevin Barney also says, Appendix B. He lists a bibliography of non-LDS literature on Asherah as an Israelite goddess. And if you go to that, there’s over two dozen books, like the one that I keep holding up here.
And then the last thing I wanted to share was this on number nine, that he shared, and I thought that this is really interesting, of a way to honor… “I see the crowning way to worship our Mother in Heaven as engaging in temple service, whether it’s workers or as patrons. The connection between our Mother and the temple was and is profound. Consider for instance, the following points: ‘Asherah’ means ‘sanctuary,’ ‘holy place,’ and is thus essentially, a synonym for temple. During times favorable to Asherah worship in ancient Israel, there was a statue or other image of Her prominently displayed in the temple. (This image was removed during times unfavorable to Her worship.) The menorah was a stylized almond tree and probably a symbol of the Goddess. It burned olive oil, which was also Her symbol. The two cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies were identified as Asherah and Yahweh. Our modern temple rituals revolve around a creation drama, in which Asherah participated as a master craftsmen. The Garden of Eden narrative prominently features two sacred trees (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life), both of which represent her. One of the most prominent ways that ancient Israelite women worshiped Asherah was by weaving textiles that were then used in the temple. It is not entirely clear what these weavings were – perhaps wall hangings or veils.”
Now, if you’ve looked at this, the statue there, that’s actually… the Church published these pictures of some of the inside of the Salt Lake temple. This is in the celestial room, and it’s called The Women at the Veil. It’s a six foot statue, but it’s created from a little model, the 18 inch, Brigham Young’s son, Don Carlos Young, he purchased this in New York and was used to model this. And some have speculated this is Heavenly Mother. I’d like to think that it is, and we can say that it’s a female character there watching over. And it’s fascinating. He says it was called Angel of Peace. We don’t know who made it, that was the name they gave it, and he said it represented heavenly beings, in general. There’s a paper on this, I’ll link to it. It’s a good read. I think it was BYU Studies. But just know that it was placed at the veil, so that paper talks about the symbolism and revelations about this, that it could be those that have overcome through the blood of the Lamb and that symbolism there. But I love the fact that it’s a female character there on big display in the celestial room.
Okay. And then lastly, I just… This is amazing. I didn’t have time to really go through this in the video or to develop it enough, but Nephi and His Asherah. Dan Peterson did this phenomenal… And you can watch it or read it. But he ties the Tree of Life vision and then how he has that interaction with the angel. Do you understand what’s happening? And then he’s shown the Virgin and this how he would have understood this at his time with this Heavenly Mother imagery that he would have been familiar with. We don’t see any of this as we read it, but he goes through and develops it in this phenomenal way. And then he talks about the wisdom literature and how that is not the kind of words that you see in most of the books of the Hebrew Bible, they talk about the typical themes, but this is much more about motherly, caring, and parental guidance and direction. And this is what you see in 1 Nephi in particular, and 2 Nephi. It’s just a phenomenal thing.
And then, even wisdom, it’s referred to as a female, it carries through even into Mosiah. Mosiah 8:20, “They will not seek wisdom that she should rule over them.” So, really fascinating stuff, and I love the way he concludes this paper. He actually says, at the end, “The inclusion of 1 Nephi to authentically pre-exilic,” meaning pre-Babylonian captivity, “religious symbols, Asherah and wisdom, that could scarcely have been derived by the New York farm boy Joseph Smith from the Bible, strongly suggests that the Book of Mormon is indeed an ancient historical record in the Semitic tradition.” So, fascinating. I hope you enjoyed the video. Subscribe for more.
Church Website – Gospel Topics Essay: Mother in Heaven https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/s…
BYU Studies – Research Article on Teaching about Mother in Heaven in Church History: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/v…
BYU Studies Piece on Statue in Celestial Room of Salt Lake Temple: https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/eye-fait…
Val Larsen article in Square Two on Heavenly Mother in Scripture – Hidden in Plain View: http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleLarsen…
LDS Perspectives Podcast on Heavenly Mother with Rachel Steenblik & Caitlin Connolly https://ldsperspectives.com/2017/05/1…
Margret Barker at 2015 Fairmormon Conference – The Mother in Heaven & Her Children https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilF9N…
Fiona Givens at 2019 Mormon Studies Conference – Feminism & Heavenly Mother: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07Zpv…
Academy for Temple Studies – “The Lady of the Temple” Conference – Introduction Video – from this intro – connect to the other presentations from this conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxYT1…
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.