William Dever, a well known archaeologist and professor who writes in a style accessible to everyone, tackles the thorny topic of polytheistic practices in ancient Israelite society. He offers a thorough discussion of the theoretical issues for researching the topic, including the ideological issues, and then lays out the archaeological, inscriptional, and textual record. He seeks to understand the difference between the prescribed religion of the Deuteronomist writings of the priests and elites that make up so much of the Bible, and the probable religious practices of the everyday people. The accounts of Hezekiah and Josiah removing the high places and Asherah in 2 Kings, combined with Deuteronomy’s injunction not to set up the Asherah next to the altar of the Lord, beg the question of what was going on at these times to be opposed, and how widely were these expressions of religious life practiced. It is a fascinating investigation, with implications not only for historical studies, but also, for example, for feminist interpretation. Bibliography, indexes.
Mark D. Nanos, Ph.D., University of Kansas, is the author of Mysteryof Romans, winner of the 1996 National Jewish Book Award, Charles H. RevsonAward in Jewish-Christian Relations.