Asherah (/ˈæʃərə/)[a] in ancient Semitic religion, is a mother
goddess who appears in a number of ancient sources. She appears in
Akkadian writings by the name of Ašratu(m), and in Hittite as
Aserdu(s) or Asertu(s).
Asherah is generally considered identical with
the Ugaritic goddess ʼAṯirat.
Asherah is identified as the queen consort of the Sumerian god Anu,
and Ugaritic El, the oldest deities of their respective
pantheons, as well as Yahweh, the god of Israel and Judah. This
role gave her a similarly high rank in the Ugaritic pantheon.
Despite her association with
Yahweh in extra-biblical sources, Yahweh
in the Bible commands the destruction of her shrines so as to maintain
purity of worship to
Yahweh Himself. The name Dione, which like
'Elat means "Goddess", is clearly associated with
Asherah in the
Phoenician History of Sanchuniathon, because the same common epithet
('Elat) of "the
Goddess par excellence" was used to describe her at
Ugarit. The Book of Jeremiah, written circa 628 BC, possibly refers
Asherah when it uses the title "Queen of Heaven"[b] in Jeremiah
7:16-18 and Jeremiah 44:17-19, 25.
3 Israel and Judah
5 See also
9 External links
In the Ugaritic texts (before 1200 BC) Athirat is almost always given
her full title rabat ʾAṯirat yammi, "Lady Athirat of the Sea" or as
more fully translated "she who treads on the sea".[c] This occurs 12
times in the Baʿal Epic alone. The name is understood by various
translators and commentators to be from the Ugaritic root ʾaṯr
"stride", cognate with the Hebrew root ʾšr, of the same meaning.
There she appears to champion Yam, god of the sea, in his struggle
Her other main divine epithet was qaniyatu ʾilhm[d] which may be
translated as "the creatrix of the Gods (Elohim)". 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 ʿAshtart 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. In any case, the two
names begin with different consonants in the Semitic languages;
Athirat or Asherah[e] with an aleph or glottal stop consonant (א)
versus ʿAshtart or ʿAshtoreth[f] with an ʿayin or voiced pharyngeal
consonant (ע), indicating the lack of any plausible etymological
connection between the names.
She is also called Elat,[g] "Goddess", the feminine form of El
(compare Allat) and Qodesh, "holiness".[h] Athirat in
appears as Ashratum (or, Antu), the wife of Anu, the
God of Heaven. In
contrast, ʿAshtart is believed to be linked to the Mesopotamian
Ishtar who is sometimes portrayed as the daughter of
in Ugaritic myth, ʿAshtart is one of the daughters of El, the West
Semitic counterpart of Anu.
Hittites this goddess appears as Asherdu(s) or Asertu(s),
the consort of
Elkunirsa ("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".
In Egypt, beginning in the Eighteenth 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. This Qudshu seems not to be either ʿAshtart
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/Ashratum
then seems to have disappeared, at least as a prominent goddess under
a recognizable name.
Israel and Judah
Image on pithos sherd found at
Kuntillet Ajrud below the inscription
Yahweh and his Asherah"
Between the 10th century BC and the beginning of their exile in 586
BC, polytheism was normal throughout Israel; it was only after the
exile that worship of
Yahweh alone became established, and possibly
only as late as the time of the
Maccabees (2nd century BC) that
monotheism became universal among the Jews. Some biblical
scholars believe that
Asherah at one time was worshipped as the
consort of Yahweh, the national
God of Israel. There are
references to the worship of numerous gods throughout Kings: Solomon
builds temples to many gods and
Josiah is reported as cutting down the
Asherah in the temple
Solomon built for
Yahweh (2 Kings
23:14). Josiah's grandfather Manasseh had erected one such statue (2
Further evidence includes, for example, an 8th-century combination of
iconography and inscriptions discovered at
Kuntillet Ajrud in the
northern Sinai desert where a storage jar shows three
anthropomorphic figures and several inscriptions. The
inscriptions found refer not only to
Yahweh but to El and Baal, and
two include the phrases "
Samaria and his Asherah" and
Yahweh of Teman and his Asherah." The references to Samaria
(capital of the kingdom of Israel) and Teman (in Edom) suggest that
Yahweh had a temple in Samaria, while raising questions about the
Yahweh and Kaus, the national god of Edom.
The "Asherah" is most likely a cultic object, although the
relationship of this object (a stylised tree perhaps) to
Yahweh and to
the goddess Asherah, consort of El, is unclear. It has been
suggested that the Israelites might have considered
Asherah as a
Baal due to the anti-
Asherah ideology which was influenced
by the Deuteronomistic History at the later period of Monarchy. In
another inscription called "
Yahweh and his Asherah", there appears a
cow feeding its calf. If
Asherah is to be associated with
Hathor/Qudshu, it can then be assumed that it is the cow that is being
referred to as Asherah.
William Dever's book Did
God Have a Wife? adduces further
archaeological evidence—for instance, the many female figurines
unearthed in ancient Israel, (known as Pillar-Base Figurines)—as
supporting the view that in Israelite folk religion of the monarchal
Asherah functioned as a goddess and consort of
Yahweh and was
worshiped as the Queen of Heaven, for whose festival the Hebrews baked
Asherah is translated in Greek as alsos, grove,
or alse, groves, or occasionally by dendra, trees; Vulgate
in Latin provided lucus or nemus, a grove or a wood
(thus KJV Bible uses grove or groves with the
consequent loss of Asherah's name and knowledge of her existence to
English language readers of the Bible over some 400 years). The
Asherah with trees in the Hebrew Bible is very strong.
For example, she is found under trees (1K 14:23; 2K 17:10) and is made
of wood by human beings (1K 14:15, 2K 16:3-4). Trees described as
being an asherah or part of an asherah include grapevines,
pomegranates, walnuts, myrtles, and willows (Danby:1933:90,176).
Some scholars have found an early link between
Asherah and Eve, based
upon the coincidence of their common title as "the mother of all
living" in Genesis 3:20 through the identification with the
Hurrian mother goddess Hebat.
Asherah was also given the title
Chawat from which the name Hawwah in Aramaic and the biblical name Eve
are derived.[page needed]
Asherah poles, which were sacred trees or poles, are mentioned many
times in the Hebrew Bible.
A stele, now at the Louvre, discovered by Charles Huber in 1883 in the
ancient oasis of Tema,[i] northwestern 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, Shingala,
and Ashira as the gods of Tema.
This Ashira might be Athirat/Asherah. Since Aramaic has no way to
Arabic th,[vague] corresponding to the Ugaritic th
(transliterated 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.
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". It
has also been recently suggested that the goddess name Athirat might
be derived from the passive participle form, referring to "one
followed by (the gods)", that is, "pro-genitress or originatress",
corresponding with Asherah's image as 'the mother of the gods' in
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Asherah.
Ancient Near East
Ancient Near East portal
List of fertility deities
List of Canaanite deities
^ Ugaritic: 𐎀𐎘𐎗𐎚 : 'ṯrt; Hebrew:
^ Hebrew: מְלֶכֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם
^ Ugaritic 𐎗𐎁𐎚 𐎀𐎘𐎗𐎚 𐎊𐎎, rbt ʾaṯrt ym
^ Ugaritic 𐎖𐎐𐎊𐎚 𐎛𐎍𐎎, qnyt ʾlm
^ Ugaritic: 𐎀𐎘𐎗𐎚, ʾaṯrt
^ Ugaritic 𐎓𐎘𐎚𐎗𐎚, ʿṯtrt
^ Ugaritic 𐎛𐎍𐎚, ilt
^ Ugaritic 𐎖𐎄𐎌, qdš
Tayma – Arabic: تيماء
^ "Asherah" in The New Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago:
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 15th edn., 1992, Vol. 1, pp. 623-4.
^ Oxford Companion to World Mythology, p.32
^ Niehr, Herbert (1995). "The Rise of YHWH in the Judahite and
Israelite Religion". The Triumph of the Elohim: From Yahwisms to
Judaisms. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Eerdmans. pp. 54, 57.
^ Binger 1997, p. 74
^ Deuteronomy 12: 3-4
^ Olyan, Saul M. (1988),
Asherah and the cult of
Yahweh in Israel,
Scholars Press, p. 79, ISBN 9781555402549
^ "Therefore pray thou not for this people . . . Seest thou not what
they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The
children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women
knead [their] dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour
out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke me to anger."
(King James Version)
^ Rainer, Albertz (2010), "Personal piety", in Stavrakopoulou,
Francesca; Barton, John, Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and
Judah (reprint ed.), Continuum International Publishing Group,
pp. 135–146(at 143), ISBN 9780567032164
^ a b Gibson, J. C. L.; Driver, G. R. (1978), Canaanite Myths and
Legends, T. & T. Clark, ISBN 9780567023513
^ Noted by Raphael Patai, "The
Goddess Asherah", Journal of Near
Eastern Studies 24.1/2 (1965: 37–52), p. 39.
^ Finkelstein, Israel, and Silberman, Neil Asher, The Bible Unearthed:
Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its
Sacred Texts, Simon & Schuster, 2002, pp. 241–42.
^ a b "BBC Two - Bible's Buried Secrets, Did
God Have a Wife?". BBC.
21 December 2011. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
^ Quote from the BBC documentary: "Between the 10th century and the
beginning of their exile in 586 there was polytheism as normal
religion all throughout Israel; only afterwards things begin to change
and very slowly they begin to change. I would say it [the sentence
"Jews were monotheists" - n.n.] is only correct for the last
centuries, maybe only from the period of the Maccabees, that means the
second century BC, so in the time of Jesus of Nazareth it is true, but
for the time before it, it is not true."
^ Wesler, Kit W. (2012). An Archaeology of Religion. University Press
of America. p. 193. ISBN 978-0761858454. Retrieved 3
^ Mills, Watson, ed. (31 Dec 1999). Mercer Dictionary of the Bible
(Reprint ed.). Mercer University Press. p. 494.
^ "Genesis Chapter 1 (NKJV)". Blue Letter Bible.
^ Ze'ev Meshel, Kuntillet 'Ajrud: An Israelite Religious Center in
Northern Sinai, Expedition 20 (Summer 1978), pp. 50–55
^ Dever 2005
^ Hadley 2000, pp. 122–136
^ Bonanno, Anthony (1986). Archaeology and Fertility Cult in the
Ancient Mediterranean: Papers Presented at the First International
Conference on Archaeology of the Ancient Mediterranean, University of
Malta, 2–5 September 1985. John Benjamins Publishing. p. 238.
ISBN 9789060322888. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
^ Keel, Othmar; Uehlinger, Christoph (1998). Gods, Goddesses, And
Images of God. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 228.
ISBN 9780567085917. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
^ Keel, Othmar; Uehlinger, Christoph (1998). Gods, Goddesses, And
Images of God. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 232–233.
ISBN 9780567085917. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
^ Sung Jin Park, "The Cultic Identity of
Asherah in Deuteronomistic
Ideology of Israel," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche
Wissenschaft 123/4 (2011): 553–564.
^ Dever 2005, p. 163.
^ "Asherah". www.asphodel-long.com. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
^ Jenny Kein, (2000)"Reinstating the Divine Woman in Judaism"
(Universal Publishers; 1 edition (January 15, 2000)
^ Bach, Alice Women in the Hebrew Bible Routledge; 1 edition (3 Nov
1998) ISBN 978-0-415-91561-8 p.171
^ Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times,
Princeton University Press, 1992 p.270.
^ Dever 2005.
^ Baruch Margalit, "The Meaning and Significance of Asherah," Vetus
Testamentum 40 (July 1990): 264–97.
^ Lucy Goodison and Christine Morris, Ancient Goddesses: Myths and
Evidence (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), 79.
^ Sung Jin Park, "Short Notes on the Etymology of Asherah", Ugarit
Forschungen 42 (2010): 527–534.
Barker, Margaret (2012), The Mother of the Lord Volume 1: The Lady in
the Temple, T & T Clark, ISBN 9780567528155
Binger, Tilde (1997), Asherah: Goddesses in Ugarit, Israel and the Old
Testament, Continuum International Publishing Group,
Dever, William G. (2005), Did
God Have A Wife?: Archaeology And Folk
Religion In Ancient Israel, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing,
Hadley, Judith M (2000), The Cult of
Asherah in Ancient Israel and
Judah: The Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess, University of Cambridge
Oriental publications, 57, Cambridge University Press,
Kien, Jenny (2000), Reinstating the Divine Woman in Judaism, Universal
Publishers, ISBN 9781581127638
Long, Asphodel P. (1993), In a Chariot Drawn by Lions: The Search for
the Female in Deity, Crossing Press, ISBN 9780895945754
Myer, Allen C. (2000), "Asherah", Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible,
Amsterdam University Press
Park, Sung Jin (2010). "Short Notes on the Etymology of Asherah".
Ugarit Forschungen. 42: 527–534.
Park, Sung Jin (2011). "The Cultic Identity of
Deuteronomistic Ideology of Israel". Zeitschrift für die
Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft. 123 (4): 553–564.
Patai, Raphael (1990), The Hebrew Goddess, Jewish folklore and
anthropology., Wayne State University Press,
Reed, William Laforest (1949), The
Asherah in the Old Testament, Texas
christian university press, OCLC 491761457
Taylor, Joan E (1995), The Asherah, the Menorah and the Sacred Tree,
Journal for the study of the Old Testament. no. 66: University of
Sheffield, Dept. of Biblical Studies, pp. 29–54,
ISSN 0309-0892, OCLC 88542166
Wiggins, Steve A (1993), A Reassessment of 'Asherah': A Study
according to the Textual Sources of the First Two Millennia B.C.E,
Alter Orient und Altes Testament, Bd. 235., Verlag Butzon &
Bercker, ISBN 9783788714796
Asphodel P. Long, The
Goddess in Judaism – An Historical Perspective
Asherah, the Tree of Life and the Menorah
Jewish Encyclopedia: Asherah
Rabbi Jill Hammer, An Altar of Earth: Reflections on Jews, Goddesses
and the Zohar
University of Birmingham: Deryn Guest: Asherah[dead link] at
Lilinah biti-Anat, Qadash Kinahnu Deity Temple "Room One, Major
Jacques Berlinerblau, "Official religion and popular religion in
pre-Exilic ancient Israel" (Commentary on Yahweh's Asherah.)
ANE: Kuntillet bibliography
Jeffrey H. Tigay, "A Second Temple Parallel to the Blessings from
Kuntillet Ajrud" (University of Pennsylvania) (This equates Asherah
with an asherah.)
David Steinberg, Israelite Religion to Judaism: the Evolution of the
Religion of Israel