c. 586 BCE, Egypt

The Bible includes several hostile references to goddess worship by Israelites. One reference which gives the goddess worshipers a voice is in Jeremiah, chapter 44. The great prophet Jeremiah is among a group of Judeans who have taken refuge in Egypt after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (586 BCE). He rebukes them dramatically for idolatry. Their reply follows.

Jeremiah 44:15: Then all the men who knew that their wives had burned incense to other gods, with all the women who stood by, a great multitude, and all the people who dwelt in the land of Egypt, in Pathros, answered Jeremiah, saying: 16"As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you! 17But we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble. 18But since we stopped burning incense to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine." 19The women also said, "And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, did we make cakes for her, to worship her, and pour out drink offerings to her without our husbands' permission!?"

{New King James translation}

(Note on the Hebrew text: in an interesting example of censorship, the Masoretes who added vowel points to the text around 800 C.E. have made the title of the goddess ",em>m’lekhet hashamayim", which sounds like "the handiwork of heaven" – a way of saying "remember this is just an idol." But all translators agree that the pronunciation should be "malkat hashamayim", the Queen of Heaven.){ see the "Two Babylons" by Hislop}

Some suggest that these cakes for the Queen of Heaven are direct ancestors of the hot cross buns of today. See http://www.helleniccommunity.com/arts/hotcrossbun.shtml.

"Queen of Heaven" was adopted in Christianity as a title of Mary, the mother of Jesus. There is an interesting on-line shrine to her under this title at http://www.geocities.com/reginamundi77/.

Both Jeremiah and the worshippers of the Queen of Heaven are presented as sharing a theology of reward and punishment. To them, the destruction of Jerusalem was a punishment for the recent neglect of worship of the Queen of Heaven under the reign of reforming monotheistic kings. To Jeremiah, the destruction was a delayed punishment for the generations of idol worship that came before the monotheistic reforms – not necessarily a convincing argument.

Strikingly, elsewhere in the book of Jeremiah (chapter 31) the prophet creates, in a few poetic lines, an image of the ancestral mother Rachel as an intercessor who draws down God’s compassion for her people – a kind of alternative goddess image which has remained beloved among the Jewish people ever since:

 To be continued . . .