Asherah (Ugaritic: 𐎀𐎘𐎗𐎚 : 'ṯrt; Hebrew: אֲשֵׁרָה‎), in Semitic mythology, is a Semitic mother goddess, who appears in a number of ancient sources including Akkadian writings by the name of Ashratum/Ashratu and in Hittite as Asherdu(s) or Ashertu(s) or Aserdu(s) or Asertu(s). Asherah is generally considered identical with the Ugaritic goddess Athirat (more accurately transcribed as ʼAṯirat).

The Book of Jeremiah written circa 628 BC possibly refers to Asherah when it uses the title "queen of heaven" in chapters 7 and 44.[1] For a discussion of "queen of heaven" in the Old Testament, please see Queen of heaven (Antiquity).

In Ugarit

In the Ugaritic texts (before 1200 BC) Athirat is almost always given her full title rbt ʼaṯrt ym, rabat ʼAṯirat yammi, 'Lady Athirat of the Sea' or as more fully translated 'She who treads on the sea', (Ugaritic : 𐎗𐎁𐎚 𐎀𐎘𐎗𐎚 𐎊𐎎 )

This occurs 12 times in the Ba'al Epic alone.[2] The name understood by various translators and commentators to be from the Ugaritic root ʼaṯr 'stride' cognate with the Hebrew root ʼšr of the same meaning.

Her other main divine epithet was "qaniyatu ʾilhm" (Ugaritic : 𐎖𐎐𐎊𐎚 𐎛𐎍𐎎 : qnyt ʾlm) which may be translated as "the creatrix of the gods (Elohim)".[3]

In those texts, Athirat is the consort of the god El; there is one reference to the 70 sons of Athirat, presumably the same as the 70 sons of El. She is clearly distinguished from Ê¿Ashtart (better known in English as Astarte or Ashtoreth in the Bible) in the Ugaritic documents although in non-Ugaritic sources from later periods the distinction between the two goddesses can be blurred; either as a result of scribal error or through possible syncretism. She is also called Elat ("Goddess", the feminine form of El; compare Allat) and Qodesh 'Holiness'. Athirat in Akkadian texts appears as Ashratum (Antu), the wife of Anu, the god of heaven. In contrast, Ashtart is believed to be linked to the Mesopotamian Goddess Ishtar who is sometimes portrayed as the daughter of Anu while in Ugaritic myth, Ashtart is one of the daughters of El, the West Semitic counterpart of Anu.

Among the Hittites this goddess appears as Asherdu(s) or Asertu(s), the consort of Elkunirsa (from the Ugaritic title, El-qan-arsha : "El the Creator of Earth") and mother of either 77 or 88 sons.

Among the Amarna letters a king of the Amorites is named Abdi-Ashirta, "Servant of Asherah".[4]

In Egypt

In Egypt, beginning in the 18th dynasty, a Semitic goddess named Qudshu ('Holiness') begins to appear prominently, equated with the native Egyptian goddess Hathor. Some think this is Athirat/Ashratu under her Ugaritic name Qodesh. This Qudshu seems not to be either Ê¿Ashtart or Ê¿Anat as both those goddesses appear under their own names and with quite different iconography and appear in at least one pictorial representation along with Qudshu.

But in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods in Egypt there was a strong tendency towards syncretism of goddesses and Athirat/Ashrtum then seems to have disappeared, at least as a prominent goddess under a recognizable name.

In Israel and Judah


Image on the piece of pottery found at Kuntillet Ajrud above the inscription "Berakhti etkhem..."

The majority of the forty references to Asherah in the Hebrew Bible derive from the Deuteronomist, always in a hostile framework: the Deuteronomist judges the kings of Israel and Judah according to how rigorously they uphold Yahwism and suppress the worship of Asherah and other deities. King Manasseh, for example is said to have placed an Asherah pole in the Holy Temple, and was therefore one who "did evil in the sight of the Lord" (2 Kings 21:7); but king Hezekiah "removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Asherah", (2 Kings 18.4), and was noted as the most righteous of Judah's kings before the coming of the reformer Josiah, in whose reign the Deuteronomistic history of the kings was composed.

The Hebrew bible uses the term asherah in two senses, as a cult object and as a divine name.[5] As a cult object, the asherah can be "made", "cut down", and "burnt", and Deuteronomy 16:21 prohibits the planting of trees as asherah, implying that a stylised tree or lopped trunk is intended.[6] At other verses a goddess is clearly intended, as, for example, 2 Kings 23:4-7, where items are being made "for Baal and Asherah".[7] The references to asherah in Isaiah 17:8 and 2:8 suggest that there was no distinction in ancient thought between the object and the goddess.[8] Inscriptions invoking blessings by "Yahweh and his asherah" have been found at two sites in the territory of ancient Judah, and one of these includes a drawing of two figures which may represent Yahweh with Asherah as his consort.[9] It is possible that Asherah was associated with the chief queen in ancient Judah and Israel, and this close association with the royal cult could account for the complete disappearance of the goddess when the monarchy itself became extinct.[10]

William G. Dever has suggested that Asherah was worshiped as the Queen of Heaven (the Hebrews baked small cakes for her festival),[11] but John Day states that "there is nothing in first-millennium BCE texts that singles out Asherah as 'Queen of Heaven' or associates her particularly with the heavens at all."[12]

Figurines of Asherah are strikingly common in the archaeological record, indicating the popularity of her cult from the earliest times to the Babylonian exile.[13] More rarely, inscriptions linking Yahweh and Asherah have been discovered: an 8th century BCE ostracon inscribed "Berakhti etkhem l’YHVH Shomron ul’Asherato" (Hebrew: בירכתי אתכם ליהוה שומרון ולאשרתו‎) was discovered by Israeli archeologists at Kuntillet Ajrud (Hebrew "Horvat Teman") in the course of excavations in the Sinai desert in 1975. This translates as: "I have blessed you by YHVH of Samaria and His Asherah" (or perhaps "... by YHVH our guardian and His Asherah", if "Shomron" is to be read "shomrenu"). Another inscription, from Khirbet el-Kom near Hebron, reads: "Blessed be Uriyahu by Yahweh and by his Asherah; from his enemies he saved him!".[14] Tilde Binger notes in her study, Asherah: Goddesses in Ugarit, Israel and the Old Testament (1997, p. 141), that there is warrant for seeing an Asherah as, variously, "a wooden-aniconic-stela or column of some kind; a living tree; or a more regular statue." A rudely carved wooden statue planted on the ground of the house was Asherah's symbol, and sometimes a clay statue without legs. Her cult images— "idols"— were found also in forests, carved on living trees, or in the form of poles beside altars that were placed at the side of some roads. Asherah poles are mentioned in the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, Judges, the Books of Kings, the second Book of Chronicles, and the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah. The term often appears as merely אשרה, Asherah; this is translated as "groves" in the King James Version and "poles" in the New Revised Standard Version, although no word that may be translated as "poles" appears in the text.

The archaeologist William Dever commented "We do not know for sure what the belief in the god Yahweh meant for the average Israelite. Although the biblical text tells us that most Israelites worshipped Yahweh alone, we know that this is not true... The discoveries of the last fifteen years have given us a great deal of information about the worship of the ancient Israelites. It seems that we have to take the worship of the goddess Asherah more seriously than ever before."[15]

Ashira in Arabia

A stele, now at the Louvre, discovered by Charles Huber in 1883 in the ancient oasis of Tema (modern Tayma - Arabic: تيماء‎) , southwestern Arabia, and believed to date to the time of Nabonidus's retirement there in 549 BC, bears an inscription in Aramaic which mentions Ṣalm of Maḥram and Shingala and Ashira as the gods of Tema.

This Ashira might be Athirat/Asherah. Since Aramaic has no way to indicate Arabic th, corresponding to the Ugaritic th (phonetically written as ṯ), if this is the same deity, it is not clear whether the name would be an Arabian reflex of the Ugaritic Athirat or a later borrowing of the Hebrew/Canaanite Asherah.

The Arabic root ʼṯr is similar in meaning to the Hebrew indicating "to tread" used as a basis to explain the name of Ashira as "Lady of the sea", specially that the Arabic root ymm also means "sea".

See also


  1. ↑ Biblegateway Jeremiah
  2. ↑ Driver, G.R., "Canaanite Myths and Legends", T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1971
  3. ↑ Driver, G.R., "Canaanite Myths and Legends", T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1971
  4. ↑ Noted by Raphael Patai, "The Goddess Asherah" Journal of Near Eastern Studies 24.1/2 (1965:37-52) p. 39.
  5. ↑ K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst, "Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible", p.99
  6. ↑ K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst, "Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible", p.101
  7. ↑ K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst, "Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible", p.102
  8. ↑ K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst, "Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible", p.103
  9. ↑ K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst, "Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible", p.104
  10. ↑ K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst, "Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible", p.104
  11. ↑ William G. Dever, "Did God Have a Wife?" (Eerdmans, ISBN 0-8028-2852-3,2005) - see reviews of this book by Patrick D. Miller, Yairah Amit.
  12. ↑ Day, John Yahweh and the gods and goddesses of Canaan Continuum International Publishing Group - Sheffie (26 Dec 2002) ISBN 978-0826468307 p.146
  13. ↑ Dever, William G. (2005), "Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel", (Eerdmans ISBN 0-8028-2852-3)
  14. ↑ Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, ISBN 0-684-86912-8
  15. ↑ quoted in Thomas L. Thompson, Salma Khadra Jayyusi, "Jerusalem in ancient history and tradition" (T.& T.Clark Ltd, 2004, ISBN 978-0567083609) p.139

Related publications

  • Tilde Binger: Asherah: Goddess in Ugarit, Israel, and the Old Testament (Sheffield Academic Press,1997) ISBN 1-85075-637-6.
  • William G. Dever: Did God Have A Wife? Archaeology And Folk Religion In Ancient Israel (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 2005)
  • Judith M.Hadley: The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah (U of Cambridge 2000)
  • Jenny Kien: Reinstating the Divine Woman in Judaism (Universal 2000)
  • Asphodel P. Long: In a Chariot Drawn by Lions (Crossing Press 1993).
  • Raphael Patai: The Hebrew Goddess (Wayne State University Press 1990 and earlier editions)
  • William L. Reed: The Asherah in the Old Testament (Texas Christian University Press, 1949).
  • Steve A. Wiggins: A Reassessment of "Asherah": A Study According to the Textual Sources of the First Two Millennia B.C.E. (Kevelaer: Verlag Butzon & Bercker; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1993). Second edition: (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2007) ISBN 1-59333-717-5.

External links

Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Asherah. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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