Did God have breasts?

Artemis (Diana) of Ephesus seems exotic to us today. Is it possible she has more in common with our own God than we realize?

In medieval times, the followers (or alleged followers) of the goddess Diana were greatly feared as witches. It was believed that they could cast curses upon men, change themselves into animals, and fly. They were believed to be in league with the Devil and a plague upon their fellow citizens. They were also believed to be primarily women.

By contrast, the worshipers of the Christian god (er, excuse me, God) were following the path of virtue. They were obedient followers of the one true God and his glorious son, Jesus, who was the very personification of goodness and mercy, love and light. They were saved from their inherent tendency toward wickedness, called to do good works, and promised a place in heaven at the end of it all. Their priests were, of course, exclusively male.

All this misogynistic mythologizing tends to obscure the fact that the God of the Bible and the (again, alleged) goddess of the witches share several important and surprising traits. They both come as a trinity, they both absorbed other deities over time to become uber-gods, and – perhaps most surprising – they may both have had breasts.

(This is a long essay, even for me. I have divided it into four parts for the reader’s convenience. I deal with that last and most controversial claim–that the God of the Bible had breasts–in part 4. You are, of course, free to skip ahead.)

1. Diana absorbs other goddesses on the way to becoming Queen of Heaven:

Diana was originally a goddess of the woodlands, a maiden huntress who spurned romance and men in general. She preferred the company of nine-year old girls, maiden nymphs, and her hounds. She was identified by the Romans as being the same as the Greek Artemis. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and the twin sister of Apollo. Shortly after being born she helped her mother Leto deliver her brother. Because of that she gained a reputation as a comforter and aid to childbearing women, which seems almost paradoxical given her refusal to become a wife and mother herself. Artemis was probably not originally a lunar goddess. However, her character began to change over time as she assimilated two other goddesses into her persona. These were Hecate, the Queen of Night, and Selene, the moon goddess.

Hecate was a goddess of the threshold, who could be found at crossroads, in doorways, and in graveyards. Dogs were sacred to her, especially black ones. Hecate is depicted in the tale of Jason and the Argonauts as the helper to the wicked witch Medea, a willing accomplice to murder and mayhem. However, this may be a demonization of an earlier, more benevolent goddess. She is also identified as the “tender-hearted” and the torchbearer. It is Hecate who hears the maiden goddess Persephone’s cry when the underworld god Hades kidnaps her, and Hecate who helps Persephone’s mother, the Grain Goddess Demeter, find her daughter in the underworld. When Diana merges with Hecate, she becomes a goddess of the night, an identity made complete when she assimilates the moon goddess into her person as well. Selene was a titan of the generation before the Olympian Gods came to power. It was she who carried the moon into the sky each night in a chariot pulled by white horses. These three — Diana, Hecate, and Selene — were represented as a trinity, three gods in one person.

The gorgeous statue of Diana of Ephesus, above, represents yet another merger undertaken by Diana.  This is the direction in which she was developing in the region of Asia Minor (Turkey) during the Roman Empire, at the time when Christianity was also spreading there. The Temple of Artemis where she was worshiped in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This Diana is represented with the characteristics of a very ancient goddess of the region, who was named Cybele. Cybele was called by Romans the Magna Mater, which means the Great Mother. She was believed to be the mother of all the gods and was known as a mountain goddess and earth mother. The crown on top of her head signifies the walls of a city and represents her power to protect the people within the walls.  Her many breasts signify the nourishment she offers her people as the Earth Mother. Her ebony skin may signify the earth.

Cybele was more commonly depicted as she is here, still with the city crown, but placed on a throne flanked by lions. She also paraded around Rome in a chariot pulled by lions.

Cybele was, in late Roman times, already becoming the “Mother of all that exists” as one Roman hymn called her. Another late Roman hymn, quoted in The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image, by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, has this to say about her:

The food of life
Thou metest out in eternal loyalty
And, when life has left us,
We take our refuge in Thee.
Thus everything Thou dolest out
Returns into Thy womb.
Rightly Thou art called the Mother of the Gods
Because by Thy loyalty
Thou hast conquered the power of the Gods.
Verily Thou art also the Mother
Of the peoples and the Gods,
Without Thee nothing can thrive nor be;
Thou art powerful, of the Gods Thou art
The queen and also the goddess.
 

Could Artemis/Diana/Cybele of Ephesus have morphed from greatest of the gods to the one and only God, given enough time and less serious competition for the role? We’ll never know. Another God grabbed the golden ring.

2. The Goddess vs. the God.

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

Ephesian Artemis receives a brief mention in the New Testament, when her worshipers resisted the preaching of Paul, the Jewish Christian who took on the mission of spreading Christian teachings to the Greco-Roman world. Allegedly, the confrontation led to a riot. As the author of the Book of Acts reported events:

About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”

Russian icon, 18th century, of the Apostle Paul.

When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”  Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.

The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander to the front, and they shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly. (Acts 19:23-41)

The “image which fell from heaven” was a black meteor which was worshiped as an image of the goddess Cybele. The confrontation described in this passage seems unlikely in Christianity’s early days, but we can see here the importance and popularity of the merged Cybele-Diana Great Mother. The two religions would most definitely clash once Christianity began gaining a significant following. Christianity won, of course, and history records that the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was torn down in 401 A.D. Arguably, Diana of Ephesus could have eventually evolved to become the God of the western world. Instead, we got Yahweh.

3. Yahweh absorbs other gods on the way to becoming King of Heaven.

Moses and the Burning Bush by Sebastien Bourdon. 17th century.

Just as Diana probably had humble beginnings out in some forest grove somewhere, Yahweh probably got his start among some desert tribe. Who was this god who became God? Some think he was originally a god of the Midianites, the people among whom Moses found a wife. It was in Midian that Moses encountered Yahweh in the form of a burning bush. Wherever he originally came from, Yahweh, like Diana, followed a pattern of absorbing other deities on his way to becoming an uber-god.

The Iron Age occupants of Israel have a reputation as the creators of monotheism, but objective biblical scholars (the ones without a religious motive behind their research) believe that archaeological and religious records indicate this development was slow in coming. To be blunt: most of the Israelites through most of their history were probably, as it turns out, polytheists. And this was not simply a matter of falling into the habit of taking on foreign religion. Rather, the Israelites were probably themselves Canaanites and their original gods appear to have been Canaanite gods. The most prominent of these were Father El, Mother Asherah, Baal the storm god, his sister the warrior Anat and his spouse Astarte (aka Ashtoreth), the Queen of Heaven.  Most of these are, of course, mentioned by name in the Bible.

During Yahweh’s long bid for monotheistic supremacy, some of these rivals were demonized and some were assimilated. Baal and Yahweh often appear as competitors for Jewish affection in the Bible itself, but Yahweh also borrowed his metaphors from Baal. In Psalms, he becomes the Rider on the Clouds, a storm god just like Baal: He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. (Psalms 18:9) Baal’s sister Anat the warrioress is not mentioned in the Bible. However, some of the more unpleasant, bloodthirsty warrior imagery given to God may have been borrowed from her, as it is comparable to descriptions of her in the Epic of Baal. In Deuteronomy 32:42, for example, God says: I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh: the blood of the slain and the captives, the heads of the enemy leaders. In Isaiah 49:26 the devouring and blood drinking is left to the enemy: I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh; they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine. Compare Anat’s delight in battle: For Anat’s hand is victory; For knee-deep She plunges in the blood of soldiery; Up to the neck in the gore of troops. Until She is sated She smites in the house. Fights between the two tables, shedding the blood of soldiery. She also is described as gleefully stacking up the heads of the enemy.

El of Canaan.

Perhaps the most obvious God merger of all is between the two father gods. The Bible refers to God primarily by two names: Yahweh and El. But El is also the father god of the Canaanites, a bearded old king of the gods. There is no real reason (outside of religious apologetics) to think that the Canaanite God El is a different person than the Hebrew God El.

Even more interesting, the particular El who made a covenant with Abraham was called El Shaddai. El Shaddai is translated into English as God Almighty. Scholars now agree that this translation is wrong. What they do not agree upon is what might be the correct translation of El Shaddai. The majority opinion is that this means the God of the Mountain, which makes perfect sense given that old Daddy El of the Canaanites lived in a mountain where he led the council of the 70 gods. There is, however, a second opinion which would, if it is true, revolutionize everything we understand about our God. According to Professor David Biale, the more likely interpretation of El Shaddai is the God with Breasts. Which brings us to our next point.

4. Maybe our God has breasts too.

The word shadu, in Akkadian, means mountain; the word shad, in Hebrew, means breast. One of these is likely the root of the name El Shaddai. But is “he” the God of the Mountain or the God with the Breasts? I think the likely answer to this question is BOTH.

But let’s backtrack a bit, starting with a timeline of the major events relevant to determining just who El Shaddai was. First, Father Abraham left Ur in Mesopotamia (where they spoke Akkadian) and  moved to Canaan (aka the land of milk and honey). Subsequently he began the family from whom all Israel descended. During his exciting life he had the distinct honor of personally encountering a god who called himself El Shaddai. Whether Abraham was real or not is a matter for debate but his lifetime, legendary or real, would have been around 2,000 BC, give or take a couple hundred years. Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat  Jacob (aka Isra-El), and Jacob begat Joseph, who led the family to Egypt when the milk and honey dried up for awhile. All of these patriarchs of Israel were blessed by El Shaddai, a fact recorded with flowery language about being fruitful and multiplying. El Shaddai, in Genesis, acted like a fertility god.

Somewhere around 1400-1300 BC, the whole Egypt thing turned into kind of a bad deal and the Israelites were led out of there and back toward Canaan by Moses. This famous leader, who, again, could be either real or legendary, encountered a God too. He introduced himself (from a flaming bush) as Yahweh. This desert deity, we are assured by a later priestly editor, was identical to the God with whom Abraham interacted: God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am Yahweh. To Abraham, Isaac and Jacob I appeared as El Shaddai, but I did not make my name Yahweh known to them.’ (Exodus 6:2-3). Well thank goodness we got that settled.

Some centuries after they finally settled in Israel, folks decided they wanted a king.  One of the most famous of these was David and it may have been in David’s time, around 1,000 BC, that somebody thought maybe they ought to start writing this stuff down. After that, a number of books were written, rewritten and spliced together over several centuries. Some things weren’t written down until after Israel was destroyed by Assyria and the Babylonians sacked Judah (the southern kingdom in which Jerusalem stood) and took everybody who was anybody off to Babylon. Priestly editors put a lot of the Hebrew Bible together then, in about 500 BC. (Some say later). In later texts, El Shaddai appears as a war god, completely consistent with Yahweh. The older conception, says Professor Biale, was probably the one associated with fertility in Genesis. One of the oldest of these is the blessing conferred upon Joseph, the “prince among his brothers” by his father Jacob, who is on his death bed. Jacob says his favorite son will be blessed

…because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty [Shaddai], who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast [shadayim] and womb.” Genesis 49:25

Notice the pairing of Shaddai with shadayim, the word for breast(s). Could this be the original meaning of Shaddai? The one who blesses with “his” breasts? If so, we are in some pretty strange territory here. A thousand years have passed between the time when Jacob gave his blessing and the time when it was recorded. The author is deliberately making wordplay here. But why? Is he carrying on an old but forgotten tradition or making an allusion which would be accepted by his reader in his  own time?

I think we should keep in mind archaeologist William Dever’s assertion here that Yahweh and El were each believed  by their worshipers to have been married to this woman:

Asherah

This Goddess is Asherah, often mentioned in the Bible as one of the “false” gods of other peoples who was wrongly worshiped by the Israelites. Modern archaeological evidence suggests, however, that she was actually a local goddess, the Mother Goddess of both Canaan and Israel, and the wife of both El and Yahweh. (Hear the archaeologist speaking about those discoveries here and learn more about Asherah in my previous series on her, beginning here.)  Notice the prominent display of her breasts. Is she offering her devotee milk? Imagine believing in a God who would literally suckle you. With her breasts, Asherah offers nourishment to her people. She is the source of life and an aid to mothers, in much the same way as was the Ephesian uber-Diana. Does El Shaddai have the same power? After conferring the blessings of breast and womb upon his son, Jacob goes on to talk about the “blessings of ancient mountains” and the “bounty of everlasting hills.” We have seen this combination of associations in the Magna Mater. Is it possible that El Shaddai combines them as well? It turns out that shadu, Akkadian for mountain comes itself from the earlier Akkadian word for breast. Isn’t it possible, suggests Biale, that it continued to mean both?

I like this argument. In fact, Biale says, it could be taken one step further: If you are going to have a monotheistic God, why not give him/her the trademark traits of both the Mother and Father Goddesses? Why not call this God by a name which immediately calls to mind both Father of the Mountain and Mother of the Breast?  If  God as El Shaddai takes his name from both mountain and breast, then perhaps “he” has assimilated Asherah. Now, like Cybele, El Shaddai IS mountain and breast, mother earth, feeding her people and making them fertile.

A monotheistic God must be more than a father to his people. He needs also to be a comforting mother and a source of life (fertility) to his people. He needs to be not just God but God/dess, transcending gender. Sometimes he succeeds in this in the tradition. For example, in Isaiah 66:13, God says: As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you… When he fails to do this and becomes too much the angry, bearded man in the sky he has had to be balanced, in Christian tradition, by the ever merciful mother Mary. (To whom Diana’s Ephesian titles Queen of Heaven and Mother of God(s) were given. More on that here. )

In the the long journey toward monotheism, Goddess eventually lost out to God. Asherah was largely forgotten as was Diana of Ephesus. Diana became the goddess of the witches and not the God of the western world. God’s breasts were forgotten. Perhaps his beard grew too long for them to be noticed anymore.

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15 Responses to Did God have breasts?

  1. Richard Katz says:

    You’re really soft pedaling some harsh stuff here …
    Shaddayim is Hebrew for breasts. Why would it ever have been anything else? The olde Jews made the same kind of dumb mistakes with elohim, which means gods. They call our one god (aka God) Elohim , never mind that it is plural. Really. (I could cite chapter and verse, believe me; and prayers, too.) The Monotheist Mafia just cooked up the whole monotheism thing out of whole cloth. My curiosity about it started with noticing the shin on the outside of all the mezzuzzim. Hmmmm, why is that?

    Whenever I tell a Jew who is walking around with a shin made out of silver on a chain around his neck that the Hebrew word shaddayim means tits, he takes it off and puts it in his pocket and says “I’m glad you told me that.” Not that Jewish men don’t like breasts, it’s just not manly — it’s like, weird — to idolize or objectify them.

    The reason I said “soft pedaling” is that you could have put into this story the part about where did all the ashera go, and Ashera the entity. You make it sound like she just devolved, or just faded away, or whatever. I don’t think so. That Bible, or Torah, that you quote here and there is pretty clear in Chronicles that ALL ashera were to be burnt; and if they were ceramic or stone, to be ground into DUST. And I’m pretty sure I learned about this, or at least got started to look all this up, from reading on your website.

    So let’s tell it like it is. Shaddayim means breast(s) and probably always did. Mountains … heh. I like that. Israelis have a way of speaking in exaggeration that’s very interesting, but you have to hear it in person — like saying “one, two, three … a LOT” but the word for “a LOT” is just the word for “four.” If you have four of something, wow, that’s a LOT. So you have breasts and you say “MOUNTAINS” that’s both funny and means big. Nothing wrong with that, and not anything that we even mention any more much. But only an IDIOT would take such a saying literally; and only somebody who was stuck in a room engineering a political document — a manifesto, or a Book of Mormon-like tract — would cook up something as dumb as El Shaddai and think he was saying “King of the Mountain” (you know, god of the mountain.) But think “Mad Men” here, and “It’s Toasted”: Sometimes you just get away with it, no matter how dumb it is; people just get with it and adopt it and you’re a hit with it. The “One God” thing — man, was that ever a HIT.

    Really — the women in their carms (groves) with the ashera never really knew what hit them. The takeover was so complete that the nicest carm of them all up North was henceforth called Carm – El.

    • Carisa says:

      Thanks Richard. First of all, let me say what a great comment. I really enjoyed reading it. As the Bible with which I was thumped as a child was the Christian one, I am not so familiar with the alphabet magicks. The whole idea of modern folk running about with the symbol of the breasted God hanging around their necks is just, well, awesome. The frosting on the cake is, if Wikipedia is to be believed (and I’m not saying it is), the hand gesture for shin was borrowed by Leonard Nimoy and became the hand signal used by Vulcans when they say their blessing. When I discovered this “fact” I had such a geek meltdown that I temporarily became one with the universe.

      Live long and prosper Richard.
      (BTW I’d still really like to see that comic book.)

      • mythocosmology says:

        @Richard commented:
        “So you have breasts and you say “MOUNTAINS” that’s both funny and means big”.
        Yes very funny – but also very logical when placing both Mountain and Breasts in the right Mytho-Cosmological context.
        “Mountain” represent mythological “a white shape high in the Sky” and it describes the white Milky Way contours running all over the Earth.
        The southern Milky Way contours is mythological symbolized as an animal or human female, hence the symbols of the physical creation and the Milky (Way) feeding from breast. Here the mytheme of “caves” represent the female “Cosmic Womb”.
        Link: – http://www.native-science.net/MilkyWay.MotherGoddess.htm

  2. Thank you for this article. As to the former who commented. I can say Asherah never left and is still with us.
    Many which is written about and heard or coming to the surface in these times will be understood in the light of the past where names had more meaning than just letters. It is frequency to make the soul known.

  3. Medusa says:

    Thanks for this provocative post, Carisa. I really like the statue of Artemis of Ephesus you show. In fact, coincidentally (?), about a month ago, I selected i I selected it for a project I’m working on :-)

    Re: Shaddai and El, I’ve heard or read the theory that this can be considered an appropriation of Goddess traits to give the male deity more power, as has been common in many cultures.

    Blessings.

    • Carisa says:

      Thanks Medusa,
      I am not sure whether I believe in coincidence anymore myself. For example, I’ve still been attending that Catholic church I wrote about earlier and they began singing the song El Shaddai shortly after I began the research for this post. It’s like She’s hiding in plain sight. I first saw this picture of Artemis, I believe, on the Suppressed Histories Archives.

      I find it very believable that El would have taken on Asherah’s traits in order to obtain her powers. I also think it is possible that they were simply fused into one deity. I personally have much more trouble accepting that Yahweh is God than I have with El Shaddai.

  4. Eileen says:

    I am enjoying reading these posts. I have only recently begun exploring the concepts and history of the Feminine Divine and I am saddened by the destruction of her as the Patriarchal society came to the fore. As a Protestant, we further “killed” Mary, relegating her to the Advent season. I therefore really loved this description and the posts about the “breasted” God. (and, how sad that even the idea of breastfeeding makes our modern selves a little squeemish. ) It helps me relate more to a diety that is “me” as well as “he”. Thanks for this site.

    • Carisa says:

      Thanks for reading, Eileen. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. I also find the feminine face(s) of the divine easier to relate to. I think that the more we relate to her, as individuals and as a culture, the more truly alive we will feel. Protestantism, for the most part, feels very austere and cold to me. I prefer Catholicism, despite its patriarchal overlay, though I think they are a bit in denial about the extent to which they carry on older pagan faiths (not a bad thing in my view). Wherever I find Her, veiled or unveiled, in church or outside of it I feel more connection than I do with Father God(s).

      • mythocosmology says:

        @Carisa, you replied to Eileen:
        “I prefer Catholicism, despite its patriarchal overlay, though I think they are a bit in denial about the extent to which they carry on older pagan faiths (not a bad thing in my view). Wherever I find Her, veiled or unveiled, in church or outside of it I feel more connection than I do with Father God(s).

        I understand your preferation to Catholicism and I also think they are a bit in denial regarding the female deity aspects, which is very strange indeed. I mean ALL humans are born from a woman (even the priestst) and subsequently the female aspect should be equal to the male aspects all from the human to the divine levels.

        Of course the main and supreme deities comes in couples. Otherwise there wouldn´t be any creation at all. Link: http://www.native-science.net/Forefather.Worship.htm

        (Maybe your better worshipping choise would be those from Native People?)

  5. Pingback: Did God have breasts? | Maniolas

  6. Zeke says:

    Another great source about multi-breasted Goddess

    “Then there came forth from that place the great power of the great light Plesithea, the mother of the angels, the mother of the lights, the glorious mother, the virgin with the four breasts, bringing the fruit from Gomorrah, as spring, and Sodom, which is the fruit of the spring of Gomorrah which is in her. She came forth through the great Seth.

    Then the great Seth rejoiced about the gift which was granted him by the incorruptible child. He took his seed from her with the four breasts, the virgin, and he placed it with him in the fourth aeon (or, in the four aeons), in the third great light Davithe.”

    -The Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians

  7. Susan Burns says:

    The ancient Hebrew letter “shin” means “teeth” or fangs. Shaid (Heb) is a demon destroyer or devourer but is very closely related to the Hebrew word for “breasts”. In other words, life (breasts) and death (fangs) are a part of the same function. It is true! Without death there can be no life. All animal and plant life require organic material to reproduce and grow. The only way to obtain organic material is from the decomposition of an organism that was once alive. Apparently, the ancients figured this out quite early.

    Davir is Hebrew for “Word of God”. The Word of the Goddess is “devour”.

  8. Share says:

    F.Y.I.
    To connect Yahweh to the Midianites that Moses met up with read 1Chronicles 1:32, then check out the connection by looking up “Midian” in Wikipedia. It is amazing how Moses just happened to come a cross a tribe of Midianites in the middle of the desert that were still serving Yahweh when other Midianites, as well as other peope groups in the area did not serve Yahweh. Wonder what the odds are on that?

  9. Reblogged this on goatgirldotorg and commented:
    fab

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