London: God had a wife who was edited out of the Bible, a leading British academic claims.
Francesca Stavrakopoulou, of the University of Exeter, and an atheist, says God, also known as 'Yahweh', had a partner called 'Asherah' who was worshipped, the Daily Mail reports.
She says God's wife was presented as a deity in Israel, who sat alongside him.
Stavrakopoulou, who has a doctorate in theology from the University of Oxford, has confirmed she does not believe in God.
'I'm an atheist with a huge respect for religion. I see what I do as a branch of history like any other,' she says.
She says archaeological evidence, including inscriptions, figurines, ancient texts as well as the Bible, indicate that God was also coupled with a goddess. She was worshipped alongside him in his temple in Jerusalem, she says.
She discovered that Yahweh had to see off a number of competitors to achieve his position as the one and only God of the ancient Israelites.
The biblical texts name many of them - El, Baal, Molek, Asherah. It appears the other gods were worshipped alongside Yahweh.
The goddess Asherah was worshipped in Yahweh's temple in Jerusalem. In the Book Of Kings, it says that a statue of Asherah was housed in the temple and that female temple personnel wove ritual textiles for her, she says.
'What, then, was her relationship to Yahweh?' she asks.
'She was a powerful fertility goddess. But perhaps most significant of all, Asherah was also the wife of El, the high god at Ugarit - a god who shares much in common with Yahweh.'
Stavrakopoulou also says Eve has been 'unfairly maligned' and should not have been blamed for the 'Fall of Man'.
Eve was perhaps not the first woman because the Garden of Eden was not mentioned in the original Old Testament, she says.