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I came across an article that indicated that Thomas Römer argues that the Ark of the Covenant had a statue of Yahweh on top, and possibly even a statue of 'Yahweh's Asherah'. I can't think of a single place in the Bible with anything at all like this suggested, so where did he get this idea? Is it possible that this comes from 2 Kings 23:4, where the king ordered the high priest to remove objects made for Baal and Asherah from the temple? If the temple had been misused in this way could the same thing have happened to the Ark?

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  • This is an interesting question. I added a biblical reference in the hope that the article will be re-opened. Commented Apr 10 at 22:56
  • @DanFefferman It's much better to let the original question asker edit their own questions. They may or may not have been thinking of that verse. If you want you can always ask about that verse in your own question.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Apr 11 at 0:17
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    @curiousdannii ..Thank you fore reopening this question. (My post has received 2 down votes so far, so apparently people think there must be a better answer!) Commented Apr 13 at 0:56
  • @curiousdannii Or people may think it's insufficient. Of course the data on this matter is sparse anyway, so no answer can say very much at all!
    – Traildude
    Commented May 29 at 18:32
  • Why is this post and the solitary answer (which appears well sources and high effort) being downvoted? Can the downvoter share what they don't like about this question? Commented May 29 at 22:15

2 Answers 2

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Yes. Innumerable possibilities exist in the multiverse including those involving idols of Mickey Mouse and the tooth fairy as gods to be worshiped. However, the late-dating of Torah is then absolutely necessary to avoid violating the commandment:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. – Exodus 20:4-6 ESV

The penalty for breaking this or other commandment was death. This commandment is clarified by the statement regarding not worshiping them, which then permits the requirement that images of two cherubim were to be located on the ark.

And naturally, it’s also possible that Moses didn’t write Torah because it’s definitely possible that Solomon’s hypothesized son, Q (or possibly Gary), was the actual author.

It’s also possible that the goal is to demonstrate that YHWH is simply another Canaanite god with similarities (including consorts) to many other gods and goddesses in the ANE and thus YHWH is reduced to a charming historical footnote of mysticism in history prior to Modern Rational Atheism (MAR). Thus, some eminent scholars dedicate a lot of energy to MAR the scriptures.

There’s a lot of confusion between Asherah, a phallic pole, and Ashtoreth, a goddess also known as Astarte or Ishtar (Easter). There's also possible connection to the maypole celebration, which celebrates the fertility of Spring. Scandalized Puritans were successfully able to outlaw the maypole in 1644, at least for a few years.

In most places in the Tanakh the difference between Asherah the phallic pole and Ashtoreth the goddess is clear through context, but not always. For example, in 2 Chronicles 15:16, the Hebrew text references Asherah, which is puzzling in his case. Unfortunately, the Dead Sea Scrolls preserve only a tiny fragment of 1 and 2 Chronicles, chapters 28 and 29, however the Septuagint translation of this verse references the goddess Ashtoreth, which makes more sense in context:

“And Asa removed Maachah, the mother of the king to not be officiating to Ashtoreth. And he cut to pieces the idol, and incinerated it at the rushing stream Kidron.” – 2 Chronicles 15:16 ABP

Incidentally, a retired professor wrote a scholarly article or letter about the confusion in Biblical Archaeology Review many years ago, but I can't find it. Here's another reference:

https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/asherah-and-the-asherim-goddess-or-cult-symbol/

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  • +1. You pulled no punches! Commented May 30 at 13:24
  • Thank you, Nephesh! You're right, I prefer honest straight jabs over the more scholarly poisoned darts. ;-)
    – Dieter
    Commented May 31 at 17:25
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We do get some hints of such things in the Bible:

2 Kings 18

It was he {Hezekiah} who removed the high places, shattered the pillars, cut down the asherah, and smashed the bronze serpent Moses had made, because up to that time the Israelites were burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)

2 Kings 23

4 Then the king {Josiah} commanded the high priest Hilkiah, his assistant priests, and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the Lord all the objects that had been made for Baal, Asherah, and the whole host of heaven... 6 From the house of the Lord he also removed the Asherah to the Wadi Kidron, outside Jerusalem; he burned it and beat it to dust... 7 He tore down the apartments of the cult prostitutes in the house of the Lord, where the women wove garments for the Asherah.

Although none of these passages indicates that an asherah was located in the Holy of Holies, they do show that Asherah (or an asherah) was worshiped in the Temple of Yahweh at certain times. This is the biblical basis (not very strong) for scholars such as Thomas Römer speculating that statues of both deities may have once being places on/in the ark. Regarding a statue of Yahweh there is possible archaeological evidence of such things in other locations. Statues of the god El are well-attested, and El is sometimes identified with Yahweh even in the Bible. There is also evidence suggesting that Asherah was considered to be Yahweh's consort (or vice versa) in certain Israelite sanctuaries. Asherah was well known as El's consort. An article describing Romer's findings suggests that he thought the ark at one time contained statues of both Yahweh and Asherah.

Römer believes the Ark might have contained statues representing Yahweh and Asherah rather than the tablets of the Ten Commandments.

enter image description here A a statue of the god El.

One reason for this is that is only in Deuteronomy that we learn of the tablets being placed in the ark. (10:1) Many modern scholars think that Deuteronomy was written in the time of King Josiah. So Romer theorizes that the statue of Asherah (as well as of Yahweh) was destroyed in Josiah's time and replaced with stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. Earlier, King Hezekiah had similarly destroyed the bronze serpent that the Israelites had worshiped after bringing it with them in the Exodus.

Conclusion: It is probably not accurate to say that Romer thinks a statue of Yahweh and/or Asherah was placed "on top of" the ark. He does think such statues were once contained in the ark and were later replaced by the 10 commandments. Although this runs counter to the biblical text, the Bible is clear that Asherah was formally worshipped from time to time in the Temple of Jerusalem.

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  • I think perhaps most telling is the presence of "apartments of the cult prostitutes in the house of the Lord": if they'd gone that far, what limits would they have had?
    – Traildude
    Commented May 29 at 18:44
  • @Traildude... I think what Romer suggests is that the statues of Asherah and Yahweh (or El) represent a more primitive tradition that was replaced with "no images" and "Yahweh-only". Keep in mind that he and other critical scholars see the Torah (especially Deuteronomy) as coming relatively late compared to the traditional view that they were written by Moses. Commented May 29 at 21:45

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