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:
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,
Isa. 17:8; 27:9.
Jer. 17: . .
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