Speaking of Catholica, there is an essay there currently by Dr Ian Elmer, lecturer in Biblical Studies at St Paul’s Theological College (ACU). He quite rightly points to the fact that there is abundant evidence that in early Canaanitic folk religion (as in all Ancient Near Eastern religions), the High God (El or Yahweh) had a consort. It is also true that as the religion of Israel developed toward exclusive monotheism, this consort was vehemently and decisively excluded from Jewish cult and theology.
As he interprets this, it is because:
The “Book religion” was monotheistic, elitist, priestly, literary and male. It conferred prestige and power upon those who served it, the priests and the patriarchy of the exilic community. This process became even more firmly entrenched with the Restoration and, as Dever asserts, the emerging Scriptures became the excusive preserve of a tiny, but increasingly powerful, Jerusalem-based, male literary and theological elite.
Well, that’s one way of looking at it. There is another way. He forgets to tell you that the main impulse for “killing off” El’s consort goddess came not from the priests in Jerusalem, but the prophetic movement, especially starting with Elijah, but continued with Isaiah and drastically rewritten by Hosea and others.
In particular, as the early chapters of Hosea show, by removing the goddess from the scene, a new theology was able to emerge which in fact reintroduced a consort for Yahweh: namely, Israel herself.
Consider this: if God has a divine wife, his love and attention is directed to her alone. God without a divine wife still seeks a bride, but now, not in the regions of heaven – where he alone is divine – but among human beings. And so Israel’s God enters into a divine marriage not with another “divine being”, but with his people. God’s love is directed to his human creatures, rather than bottled up and selfishly retained in heaven.
Of course, it is from this that the whole theology of Christ as bridegroom and the Church as Bride extends.
If, out of some misguided feministic concern, we try to restore the ancient pagan view of God and His Consort, we inadvertantly cut off ourselves from the love of God expressed in the Paschal Mystery (so often interpreted as a recreation story in line with Genesis 2:21-25) by which heaven is wedded to earth, and the Bride comes forth from the wounded side of Christ.
This is why Pope Benedict always reminds us of the necessity of interpreting the Scriptures within the faith of the Church. The high priests of “a tiny, but increasingly powerful, academe-based, male literary and theological elite”, such as “biblical scholars” like Dr Elmer, are not free to make up their own account.