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Asherah pole

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Tel Rehov exhibition at the Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv: a rectangular altar designed in the form of a city gate. A tree incised on the facade and flanked by two female figures is thought to represent Asherah.
13th-century BC statuette depicting the goddess Asherah nursing the twins Shahar and Shalim. Her symbols, the sacred tree and the ibex, appear on her thighs. The figurine may have been held by women in childbirth.

An Asherah pole is a sacred tree or pole that stood near Canaanite religious locations to honor the goddess Asherah.[1] The relation of the literary references to an asherah and archaeological finds of Judaean pillar-figurines has engendered a literature of debate.[2]

The asherim were also cult objects related to the worship of Asherah, the consort of either Ba'al or, as inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom attest, Yahweh,[3] and thus objects of contention among competing cults. Most English translations of the Hebrew Bible translate the Hebrew words asherim (אֲשֵׁרִים ’ăšērīm) or asheroth (אֲשֵׁרוֹת ’ăšērōṯ) to "Asherah poles".[4]

References from the Hebrew Bible[edit]

Asherim are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, Judges, the Books of Kings, the second Book of Chronicles, and the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah. The term often appears as merely אשרה, (Asherah) referred to as "groves" in the King James Version, which follows the Septuagint rendering as ἄλσος (alsos), pl. ἄλση (alsē) and the Vulgate lucus,[5] and "poles" in the New Revised Standard Version; no word that may be translated as "poles" appears in the text. Scholars have indicated, however, that the plural use of the term (English "Asherahs", translating Hebrew Asherim or Asherot) provides ample evidence that reference is being made to objects of worship rather than a transcendent figure.[6]

The Hebrew Bible suggests that the poles were made of wood. In the sixth chapter of the Book of Judges, God is recorded as instructing the Israelite judge Gideon to cut down an Asherah pole that was next to an altar to Baal. The wood was to be used for a burnt offering.

Deuteronomy 16:21 states that YHWH (rendered as "the LORD") hated Asherim whether rendered as poles: "Do not set up any [wooden] Asherah [pole][7] beside the altar you build to the LORD your God" or as living trees: "You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your God which you shall make".[8] That Asherahs were not always living trees is shown in 1 Kings 14:23: "their asherim, beside every luxuriant tree".[9] However, the record indicates that the Jewish people often departed from this ideal. For example, King Manasseh placed an Asherah pole in the Holy Temple (2 Kings 21:7). King Josiah's reforms in the late 7th century BC included the destruction of many Asherah poles (2 Kings 23:14).

Exodus 34:13 states: "Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherim [Asherah poles]."

Asherah poles in biblical archaeology[edit]

Biblical archaeologists have suggested that until the 6th century BC the Israelite peoples had household shrines, or at least figurines, of Asherah, which are strikingly common in the archaeological remains.[10] Thus, the pro-Yahwist prophets and priests were the "innovators" whilst Asherah worshippers were the "traditionalists".[11]

Joan E. Taylor suggests the temple menorah’s iconography can be traced to representations of a sacred tree, possibly “based on the form of an asherah, perhaps one associated in particular with Bethel.”[12] However, Rachel Hachlili finds this hypothesis unlikely.[13]

Raphael Patai identified the pillar figurines with Asherah[14] in The Hebrew Goddess.


So far, the purpose of Asherah poles are unknown.[4]

Due to its role in Iron Age Yahwism, some suggest they were embodiments of Yahweh himself. Evidence for the latter includes pro-Yahwist kings like Jehu not destroying Asherah poles, despite violently suppressing non-Yahwist cults.[15] In addition, the Yahwist inscription of Kuntillet ʿAjrud in the Sinai Peninsula pairs Yahweh with Asherah. Scholars believe Asherah is merely a cultic object or temple but others argue that it is a generic name for any consort of Yahweh.[16]

Ronald Hendel argues a middle ground is possible, where the Asherah pole is a symbol of the eponymous goddess but is believed to be the mediator between the worshipper and Yahweh, where she becomes the "effective bestower of blessing".[17]

Stéphanie Anthonioz says that early references to Asherah poles in the Hebrew Bible (i.e. Deuteronomy 16:21–22) were built on the awareness that Yahweh had a consort, from the perspective of many Israelites. With the exception of Deuteronomists, many Near Easterners believed symbols and cult images, like the Asherah pole, were reflections of the divine and the divine themselves in their anthropomorphized forms.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sarah Iles Johnston, ed. Religions of the Ancient World, (Belnap Press, Harvard) 2004, p. 418; a book-length scholarly treatment is W.L. Reed, The Asherah in the Old Testament (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press) 1949; the connection of the pillar figurines with Asherah was made by Raphael Patai in The Hebrew Goddess (1967)
  2. ^ Summarized and sharply criticized in Raz Kletter's The Judean Pillar-Figurines and the Archaeology of Asherah (Oxford: Tempus Reparatum), 1996; Kletter gives a catalogue of material remains.
  3. ^ W.G. Dever, "Asherah, Consort of Yahweh? New Evidence from Kuntillet ʿAjrûd" Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research,1984; D.N. Freedman, "Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah", The Biblical Archaeologist, 1987; Morton Smith, "God Male and Female in the Old Testament: Yahweh and his Asherah" Theological Studies, 1987; J.M. Hadley "The Khirbet el-Qom Inscription", Vetus Testamentum, 1987
  4. ^ a b Day 1986, pp. 401–04.
  5. ^ Day 1986, p. 401.
  6. ^ van der Toorn, Becking, van der Horst (1999), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in The Bible, Second Extensively Revised Edition, pp. 99-105, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, ISBN 0-8028-2491-9
  7. ^ Wooden and pole are translators' interpolations in the text, which makes no such characterization of Asherah.
  8. ^ Various translations of Deuteronomy 16.21 compared.
  9. ^ Day 1986, p. 402 – "Which would be odd if the Asherim were themselves trees", noting that there is general agreement that the asherim were man-made objects
  10. ^ Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher (2002). The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Sacred Texts. Simon and Schuster. pp. 242, 288. ISBN 978-0-7432-2338-6.
  11. ^ William G. Dever, Did God have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel, 2005
  12. ^ Taylor, Joan E. (1995). "The Asherah, the Menorah and the Sacred Tree". Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. 20 (66): 29–54. doi:10.1177/030908929502006602. ISSN 0309-0892. The shape of the Temple menorah, which appeared like a cut and pruned almond tree, may have been based on the form of an asherah, perhaps one associated in particular with Bethel.
  13. ^ Hachlili, Rachel (2001). The Menorah, the Ancient Seven-armed Candelabrum: Origin, Form, and Significance. BRILL. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-90-04-12017-4.
  14. ^ Thompson, Thomas L.; Jayyusi, Salma Khadra, eds. (2003). Jerusalem in ancient history and tradition: Conference in Jordan on 12 - 14 October 2001 (Volume 381 of Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series, Illustrated). London: T & T Clark. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-567-08360-9.
  15. ^ Sommer, Benjamin D. (2011). The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (1st ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 44–49. ISBN 978-1107422261.
  16. ^ Smoak, Jeremy; Schniedewind, William (2019). "Religion at Kuntillet ʿAjrud". Religions. 10 (3): 211 – via MDPI.
  17. ^ Hendel, Ronald (2005). Remembering Abraham: Culture, Memory, and History in the Hebrew Bible. Oxford University Press. pp. 3–30. ISBN 978-0-19-978462-2.
  18. ^ Anthonioz, Stéphanie (2014). "Astarte in the Bible and her Relation to Asherah". In Sugimoto, David T. (ed.). Ishtar / Astarte / Aphrodite : Transformation of a Goddess. Orbis biblicus et orientalis. Vol. 263. Fribourg: Academic Press. pp. 134–135. ISBN 978-3-525-54388-7.


  • Day, John (September 1986). "Asherah in the Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Literature". Journal of Biblical Literature. 105 (3): 385–408. doi:10.2307/3260509. JSTOR 3260509.