Asherah (//)[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 to Asherah when it uses the title "Queen of Heaven"[b] in Jeremiah 7:16-18 and Jeremiah 44:17-19, 25.
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 with Ba'al.
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 Akkadian texts appears as Ashratum (or, Antu), the wife of Anu, the God of Heaven. In contrast, ʿAshtart is believed to be linked to the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar who is sometimes portrayed as the daughter of Anu while in Ugaritic myth, ʿAshtart 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 ("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 or ʿAnat 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.
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 statues of Asherah in the temple Solomon built for Yahweh (2 Kings 23:14). Josiah's grandfather Manasseh had erected one such statue (2 Kings 21:7).
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 "Yahweh of 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 relationship between 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 consort of 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 period, Asherah functioned as a goddess and consort of Yahweh and was worshiped as the Queen of Heaven, for whose festival the Hebrews baked small cakes.
The word 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 association of 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]
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 indicate 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.
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". 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 Ugaritic literature.
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