In BBC 2’s recent serial ‘The Bible’s Buried Secrets’ Francesca Stavrakopoulou claims that the original Jewish religion was not mono-theistic. Evidence suggests that there was a female figure too, the goddess Asherah, and that God, in fact, did have ‘a wife’. This female goddess was then edited out of the bible to create the image of Judaism as a strictly mono-theistic faith.
However, the idea of a female figure in early Judaism is not new. In her 2003 publication ‘The Great High Priest’, Old Testament scholar Margaret Barker wrote a chapter on a female figure in the Jerusalem Temple, known as ‘The Queen of Heaven’, or ‘Mother of the Lord’.
“The Lady in the Temple is mentioned in Jeremiah and Isaiah, but there are traces in other Old Testament writings too”, states Barker. Unlike Stavrakopoulou, who describes herself as an atheist, Margaret Barker writes from a decidedly Christian perspective. A former president of the British Society for Old Testament Study, she has published 14 books on the links between the ancient Jewish Temple and early Christian liturgy.
For Barker, the Lady in the Temple was never completely forgotten, but survived in oral traditions and extra-canonical writings. It is this memory which fed into the veneration of the Virgin Mary in early Christianity, when the Lady became known by her ancient title again: ‘The Mother of the Lord’.
Margaret Barker’s book ‘The Great High Priest’ was first published in 2003 and is available from T&T Clark. Her most recent book ‘Temple Themes in Christian Worship’ was published in 2008. Her forthcoming book ‘The Mother of the Lord’ will be published by T&T Clark in 2012.
Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s book ‘Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah’ (2010) is also available from T&T Clark.
Dr. Margaret Barker is an independent Old Testament scholar, a former President of the Society for Old Testament Study, co-founder of the Temple Studies Group and author of 14 books in this field. The Archbishop of Canterbury created her a Lambeth Doctor of Divinity for her research. Barker is also one of a small team of experts assessing the hoard of ancient sealed books, recently found in Jordan.