Asherah

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Asherah
אֲשֵׁרָה
Goddess of motherhood and fertility
Lady of the Sea
NMMI IMG 8966.JPG
Major cult center Middle-East
Formerly Jerusalem
Symbol Asherah pole
Consort El (Ugaritic religion)
Elkunirsa (Hittite religion)
Yahweh (ancient Israelite religion)
Offspring 70 sons (Ugaritic religion)
77 or 88 sons (Hittite religion)

Asherah (/ˈæʃərə/; 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 ʼAṯirat.

Asherah is identified as the consort of the Sumerian god Anu and Ugaritic El,[1] the oldest deities of their respective pantheons.[2][3] This role gave her a similarly high rank in the Ugaritic pantheon.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] (For a discussion of "Queen of Heaven" in the Hebrew Bible, see Queen of Heaven.)

In Ugarit[edit]

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 Baʿal Epic alone.[7] The name is 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)".[7]

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 ("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".[8]

In Egypt[edit]

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. 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[edit]

Between the 10th century BC and the beginning of their exile in 586 BC, polytheism was normal throughout Israel;[9] 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.[10][11] Some biblical scholars believe that Asherah at one time was worshiped as the consort of Yahweh, the national God of Israel.[10] 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. 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[12] where a storage jar shows three anthropomorphic figures and an inscription that refers to "Yahweh ... and his Asherah".[13][14] 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."[15] 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.[16] 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.[16] It has been suggested that the Israelites might consider 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.[17]

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.[13]

Asherah poles, which were sacred trees or poles, are mentioned many times in the Bible.

Ashira in Arabia[edit]

A stele, now at the Louvre, discovered by Charles Huber in 1883 in the ancient oasis of Tema (modern TaymaArabic: 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 ), 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.[18]

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".[19] 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.[20]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Asherah" in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 15th edn., 1992, Vol. 1, pp. 623-4.
  2. ^ OCWM 2000, pp. 32.
  3. ^ Oxford Companion to World Mythology, p.32
  4. ^ Binger 1997, p. 74
  5. ^ Olyan, Saul M. (1988), Asherah and the cult of Yahweh in Israel, Scholars Press, p. 79, ISBN 9781555402549 
  6. ^ 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 
  7. ^ a b Gibson, J C L; Driver, G R (1978), Canaanite myths and legends, T. & T. Clark, ISBN 9780567023513 
  8. ^ Noted by Raphael Patai, "The Goddess Asherah", Journal of Near Eastern Studies 24.1/2 (1965:37–52) p. 39.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b "BBC Two - Bible's Buried Secrets, Did God Have a Wife?". BBC. 2011-12-21. Retrieved 2012-07-04. 
  11. ^ 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."
  12. ^ Ze'ev Meshel, Kuntillet ‘Ajrud: An Israelite Religious Center in Northern Sinai, Expedition 20 (Summer 1978), pp. 50–55
  13. ^ a b Dever 2005
  14. ^ Hadley 2000, pp. 122–136
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ a b Keel, Othmar; Uehlinger, Christoph (1998). Gods, Goddesses, And Images of God. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 228. ISBN 9780567085917. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  17. ^ Sung Jin Park, "The Cultic Identity of Asherah in Deuteronomistic Ideology of Israel," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 123/4 (2011): 553–564.
  18. ^ Baruch Margalit, "The Meaning and Significance of Asherah," Vetus Testamentum 40 (July 1990): 264–97.
  19. ^ Lucy Goodison and Christine Morris, Ancient Goddesses: Myths and Evidence (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), 79.
  20. ^ Sung Jin Park, "Short Notes on the Etymology of Asherah," Ugarit Forschungen 42 (2010): 527–534.

References[edit]

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