Asherah (//; Ugaritic: 𐎀𐎘𐎗𐎚 : 'ṯrt; Hebrew: אֲשֵׁרָה), in Semitic mythology, is a mother goddess who appears in a number of ancient sources. She appears in 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).
Asherah is identified as the wife or consort of the Sumerian god Anu and Ugaritic El, the oldest deities of their respective pantheons. This role gave her a similarly high rank in the Ugaritic pantheon. 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", stating: "pray thou not for this people...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."(Hebrew: לִמְלֶכֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם) in Jer 7:18 and Jer 44:17–19, 25. (For a discussion of "Queen of Heaven" in the Hebrew Bible, see Queen of Heaven.)
|Deities of the ancient Near East|
|Religions of the ancient Near East|
In the Ugaritic texts (before 1200 BCE) 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. 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)".
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 (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. In any case, the two names begin with different consonants in the Semitic languages; Athirat/Asherah (Ugaritic : 𐎀𐎘𐎗𐎚 : aṯrt) with an aleph or glottal stop consonant א and `Ashtart/`Ashtoreth (Ugaritic : 𐎓𐎘𐎚𐎗𐎚 : ʿṯtrt) with an `ayin or voiced pharyngeal consonant ע), indicating the lack of any plausible etymological connection between the names.
She is also called Elat (Ugaritic : 𐎛𐎍𐎚 : ilt) ("Goddess", the feminine form of El; compare Allat) and qodesh 'Holiness' (Ugaritic : 𐎖𐎄𐎌 : qdš). 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.
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 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/Ashrtum then seems to have disappeared, at least as a prominent Goddess under a recognizable name.
In Israel and Judah
Between the 10th century BC and the beginning of their exile in 586 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 Jews. Some biblical scholars believe that Asherah at one time was worshiped 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 during his reign and Josiah is reported as cutting down the statues of Asherah in the temple Solomon built for Yahweh. (Josiah's grandfather, Manasseh, had erected this 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 an inscription that refers to "Yahweh … and his Asherah". The inscriptions found invoke not only Yahweh but El and Baal, and two include the phrases "Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah" and "Yahweh of Teman and his Asherah."  There is general agreement that Yahweh is being invoked in connection with Samaria (capital of the kingdom of Israel) and Teman (in Edom); this suggests that Yahweh had a temple in Samaria, and raises a question over 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. Further evidence includes the many female figurines unearthed in ancient Israel, supporting the view that Asherah functioned as a goddess and consort of Yahweh and was worshiped as the Queen of Heaven.
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), 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 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".
- "Asherah" in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 15th edn., 1992, Vol. 1, pp. 623-4.
- OCWM 2000, pp. 32.
- Oxford Companion to World Mythology, p.32
- Binger 1997, p. 74
- Olyan, Saul M. (1988), Asherah and the cult of Yahweh in Israel, Scholars Press, p. 79, ISBN 9781555402549
- 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
- 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.
- "BBC Two - Bible's Buried Secrets, Did God Have a Wife?". BBC. 2011-12-21. Retrieved 2012-07-04.
- 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."
- 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, "Archaeology and fertility cult in the ancient Mediterranean", (University of Malta, 1986) pp.238ff.
- Keel, Othmar, and Uehlinger, Christoph, "Gods, goddesses, and images of God in ancient Israel" (Fortress Press, 1998) p.228.
- Keel, Othmar, and Uehlinger, Christoph, "Gods, goddesses, and images of God in ancient Israel" (Fortress Press, 1998) p.232-3.
- 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.
- Binger, Tilde (1997), Asherah: Goddesses in Ugarit, Israel and the Old Testament, Continuum International Publishing Group, ISBN 9781850756378
- Dever, William G. (2005), Did God Have A Wife?: Archaeology And Folk Religion In Ancient Israel, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, ISBN 9780802828521
- 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, ISBN 9780521662352
- 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
- Patai, Raphael (1990), The Hebrew goddess, Jewish folklore and anthropology., Wayne State University Press, ISBN 9780814322710
- 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 at Archive.org
- El (god) in Ugarit.
- Lilinah biti-Anat, Qadash Kinahnu Deity Temple "Room One, Major Canaanite Deities"
- Kuntillet inscriptions
- 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.)
- Israelite Religion
- David Steinberg, "Israelite Religion to Judaism: the Evolution of the Religion of Israel"
- Asherah: Goddess of the Bible? (Cornell University course project)