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Asherah:
The Canaanite/Hebrew Goddess Who Might Not Have Been

By Barry Chametzky
(Written for Ecclasia)

 

In the Old Testament, there are forty references to “Asherah” in nine books: Exodus, Deuteronomy, Judges, Kings 1 and 2, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, and Chronicles 2. Confusion arises when one tries to decipher what “asherah” means. And, when we add its masculine and feminine plural forms (asherim, ashtaroth, or ashtoreth) as well as these other related forms (Ashratum, Atharath, Astoreth, Elath, Eliat, Asheroth, and Athirat) the meaning gets more obfuscated. Even after very careful analysis, scholars often disagree on the true meaning of “asherah.” Research basically falls into two categories. Either we are talking about a wooden object, a grove, a living tree, or a sacred plant beside an altar, or we are referring to a wooden object and the goddess who dwells within it ).

We see several direct Old Testament references that support the idea that an asherah is a living tree, stump, wooden image, or a sacred plant: 1) In Deuteronomy 16:21 we read “You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar.” 2) In Ex 34:13 we read that “But ye shall break down their altars […] and ye shall cut down their Asherim.” 3) In II Ki xxiii: 6 we read that the asherah was removed from the Lord’s house and was “burned […] at the brook Kidron, and [was] stamped [into] powder.” Judith Hadley, in her book on Asherah, mentioned that one could not burn and beat a goddess into dust but one could do that with the image of a goddess (p. 71). 4) Finally, in 1 Kings 16:33 we see that the asherah is a man-made object:  “And Ahab made the Asherah” thus implying not a tree or plant, but a wooden image.

Clearly, there is Biblical proof that asherah was some sort of wooden object. But now let us turn our focus to Asherah as a goddess and what she represented. As a goddess, Asherah had an important role in life during Biblical and pre-Biblical times and was known by many different names. Some of these names are as follows: "Lady of the Sea", Goddess of Healing, “She Who Walks on (or in) the Sea”, "she who gives birth [to the gods]", "wet-nurse of the gods”, “Queen of Heaven” and “Qaniyatu Elima.” She was indeed a “’Jill’ of all trades”, so to speak.

There are several Biblical references that either state or strongly imply that Asherah was a goddess. 1) In II Kings xxi:7, we read “And he set the graven image of Asherah, that he had made, in the house of which the Lord said to David and Solomon his son […]”. Clearly Asherah is portrayed as a deity here. 2) One of the Ten Commandments tells us that thou shall not have any other gods before me. In 1 Kings 14:15 we see: “The Lord will strike Israel...because they have made their Asherim.” This implies that Asherah was an idol and thus a goddess to which one worshipped. 3) In I Kings 18:19 we see a reference to the 400 prophets of Asherah who dined at Jezebel’s table. The fact that the writer could talk about prophets of Asherah indicates her existence as a Goddess.    

If there were still any doubt as to whether asherah referred to a wooden object or a goddess, let us now turn to a few non-Biblical references which support the theory that Asherah was indeed a goddess.    

In the late 1920’s, French archeologists made a major discovery. During the excavations in the ancient city of Ugarit, now Ras Shamra in northern Syria, they uncovered thousands of clay tablets with texts. These tablets, dating from circa 14th century BCE, provide us an insight into the sociology of that time as well as the religion that was ultimately suppressed in the Bible. In these texts Asherah and several other Deities are mentioned by name. In fact, “Asherah is mentioned 19 times and described as one who ‘Gives Birth to the Gods’.” Clearly, she is a deity. Also, we see that Asherah is “paired with El, the senior god of the Canaanite pantheon, creator of heaven and earth,  […]. As consort of El she is the supreme Mother deity and this role is most prominent in the Ugaritic texts”.

In subsequent archeological excavations, two storage jars, dating from circa 750 BCE, with inscriptions in red ink were discovered. The inscription “I bless you by Yahweh of Teman and by his Asherah May he bless you and keep you and be with (you), my Lord I have blessed you by Yahweh smrn [of Samaria? Our guardian?] and by his asherah” strongly implies that Asherah was a goddess and that she was Yahweh’s consort.

Finally, in two figures found at the same time as the jars give further evidence to the theory that Asherah was a goddess. These figures showed a woman sitting holding a musical instrument. Based on her garments, her hairstyle, the seat on which she sat and the musical instrument she held, there is very compelling evidence that Asherah was a goddess.

We have long been taught that the Hebrew people believed in only one God and that graven images were in violation of the First Commandment. Indeed we see numerous statements in the Bible attesting to this. However, what is not clearly mentioned is that the Hebrew people did worship multiple gods among whom was Asherah. In spite of the bastardization of Asherah’s name and her denigration when the Hebrew people turned from goddess worship to a male-centered religion, we clearly have proof of her existence. She was a deity who had been worshipped and adored by many people for many years.  

Appendix A: The complete list of Old Testament references to Asherah:

Exod. 34:14.
Deut. 7:5; 12:3; 16:21.
Judg. 3:7; 6:25, 26, 28, 30.
1Kings 14:15, 23; 15:13; 16:33; 18:19 (sing.).
2Kings 13:6; 17:10, 16; 18:4; 21:3, 7; 23:4, 6, 7, 14, 15.
2Chron. 14:3; 15:16; 17:6; 19:3; 24:18; 31:1; 33:3, 19; 34:3, 4, 7.
Isa. 17:8; 27:9.
Jer. 17: . .
Mic. 5:14.

Bibliography and “Webography”:

Hadley, Judith M., The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess. Cambridge University Press: 2000.

The Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic Text.  A New Translation. The Jewish Publication Society of America:1955

SpiralGoddess.com
Olrcweb.bham.ac.uk/deryn/asherah
Northernway.org
Kirkland.cc.mi.us/honors/goddess
Infoplease.com

 

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This page last updated March 10, 2004