Asherah and the Asherim: Goddess or Cult Symbol?

Exploring the Biblical and archaeological evidence

taanach-cult-stand

This four-tiered cult stand found at Tanaach is thought to represent Yahweh and Asherah, with each deity being depicted on alternating tiers. Note that on tier two, which is dedicated to Asherah, is the image of a living tree, often thought to be how the asherim as a cult symbol was expressed. Photo: © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem/Israel Antiquities Authority (photograph by Avraham Hay).

Who is Asherah? Or perhaps, what is asherah?1 The Hebrew means “happy” or “upright” and some suggest “(sacred) place.” The term appears 40 times in the Hebrew Bible, usually in conjunction with the definite article “the.” The definite article in Hebrew is similar to English in that personal names do not take an article. For example, I am Ellen, not the Ellen. Thus it is clear that when the definite article is present that it is not a personal name, but this does not eliminate the possibility of it being a category of being (i.e., a type of goddess). There are only eight cases where the term appears without an article or a suffix—suffixes in Hebrew can be used to express possession, e.g., “his,” “their,” etc. Interestingly, the plural of the term, asherim, occurs in both masculine and feminine forms.

This diversity of grammar leads to the two questions at the beginning of this article: Who is Asherah? What is asherah? The reference may be to a particular goddess, a class of goddess or a cult symbol used to represent the goddess. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish what meaning is intended (cf. Judges 3:7).

This goddess is known from several other Ancient Near Eastern cultures.2 Sometimes she is known as “Lady Asherah of the Sea” but could be taken as “She who walks on the sea.” As Athirat, a cognate name for Asherah, she is mother of 70 children (this relates to the Jewish idea of the 70 guardian angels of the nations). Arguments have been made that Asherah is a figure in Egyptian, Hittite, Philistine and Arabic texts. Egyptian representations of “Qudshu” (potentially the Egyptian name for Asherah) show her naked with snakes and flowers, sometimes standing on a lion. Whether this should be interpreted as Asherah is contested and thus should be viewed with caution. Another suggestion is Asherah is also the Hittite goddess Asertu, who is married to Elkunirsa, the storm god (she is often viewed in connection with the regional storm god).

As Athirat in Arabian inscriptions there is a possibility that she is seen as a sun goddess (this is perhaps a connection in Ugaritic literature as well). In Phoenician, she is the mother goddess, which is different from Astarte, the fertility goddess; there is some debate regarding a confusion of the two relating to 1 Kings 18:19. In Akkadian, she might be Asratum, the consort of Amurru (chief deity of early Babylon). The connection is made because the Akkadian kingship (early 14th century B.C.E.) takes the title “servant of Asherah.”

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The Ugaritic texts provide the most insight into the goddess. Ras Shamra (located on the Syrian coast) texts, discovered in 1929, portray her as Athirat, the wife of El. Their sexual encounter produces dusk (Shalim) and dawn (Shahar), among others. Her relationship with Baal is complicated, and it is suggested that Baal has killed large numbers of her children.3 In these texts, she intercedes with El to get Baal a palace, after Anat’s (his “sister” and her “daughter”) request is refused. She supplies a son to reign after Baal descends into the netherworld. The relationship is further complicated by debates as to whether she is the mother of Baal or his consort or both. The idea of her being a consort comes from later Phoenician sources, where scholars have associated Asherah with Tinnit. Yet, the connections are tentative, and many scholars question the association. A hypothesis also suggests that Baal usurped El’s position and also took his consort, Asherah, which would make the relationship very oedipal.

kuntillet-ajrud

This inscription found on a pithos at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (similar to an inscription found at Khirbet el-Qom) refers to “Yahweh and his Asherah.” This has led some scholars to believe that in popular religion Asherah was understood to be the wife of Yahweh, much the same as she under her cognate Athirat was considered to be the wife of El. Photo: Courtesy Dr. Ze’ev Meshel and Avraham Hai/Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology.

Asherah or asherim refer to more than just the person of the deity. These terms are often, especially in the Biblical texts, used for consecrated poles. These poles represent living trees, with which the goddess is associated. Some scholars believe that asherim were not poles, but living trees (like the one depicted on the Tanaach Cult Stand). The poles were either carved to look like trees or to resemble the goddess (this could also be reflected in the numerous pillar figurines found throughout Israel). Remains of these poles are determined by postholes and rotted timber, which resulted in differently hued soil. There is great debate as to whether the cult symbol lost its ties to Asherah (and became a religious symbol on its own without the worshippers knowing anything about the goddess who originated it) or is seen as a representation of Asherah herself (similar to the way the cross is a representation of Jesus to Christians).

The relationship between Asherah and Israel is a complicated one.4 Does the text refer to the goddess or her symbol?5 Jeroboam and Rehoboam fostered Asherah worship (1 Kings 14:15, 23). Worship of Asherah was highly encouraged by Jezebel, with the presence of 400 prophets who held a place in the court of her husband King Ahab (1 Kings 18:19). Worship of Asherah is given as a reason for deportation (2 Kings 17:10,16). Attempts to eradicate the worship were made by Asa, Josiah, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Gideon (Exodus 34:13-14; Deuteronomy 7:5; Judges 6:25-30; 1 Kings 15:13/2 Chronicles 15:16; 2 Kings 23:4,7/2 Chronicles 34:3,7; 2 Kings 21:7/2 Chronicles 33:3,19; 2 Chronicles 19:3; 2 Kings 18:4). However, devotion to the cult symbol remained (Isaiah 27:9; Jeremiah 17:1; Micah 5:14). It is particularly interesting that objections to Asherah are found mostly in Deuteronomistic literature, rather than in the prophets. In both cases, the authors are much more concerned about the worship of Baal rather than Asherah.

This apparent lack of concern might be due to a popular connection between Yahweh and his Asherah. Inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (on a pithos; see image above) and Khirbet el-Qom (on walls) contain the phrase “Yahweh and his Asherah.”6 Some take this to mean it was believed that she was seen as the wife of Yahweh and represents the goddess herself. Yet, the presence of the suffix could suggest that it is not a personal name. This has led others to believe it is a reference to the cult symbol. A more obscure opinion claims it means a cella or chapel; this meaning is found in other Semitic languages, but not Hebrew. Because of the similarities between El and Yahweh, it is understandable that Asherah could have been linked to Yahweh. While some readers might find the idea that Yahweh had a wife disturbing, it was common in the ancient world to believe that gods married and even bore children. This popular connection between Yahweh and Asherah, and the eventual purging of Asherah from the Israelite cult, is likely a reflection of the emergence of monotheism from the Israelites’ previous polytheistic worldview.
 


 
ellen-whiteEllen White, Ph.D. (Hebrew Bible, University of St. Michael’s College), is the senior editor at the Biblical Archaeology Society. She has taught at five universities across the U.S. and Canada and spent research leaves in Germany and Romania. She has also been actively involved in digs at various sites in Israel.
 

 

Notes:

1. One of the most influential studies on Asherah is Saul M. Olyan, Asherah and the Cult of Yahweh in Israel, Society of Biblical Literature Monograph Series (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988). Olyan’s study provides background for this piece.

2. For a detailed study of Asherah outside of the Biblical texts, see Walter A. Maier, Asherah: Extrabiblical Evidence, Harvard Semitic Monographs (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986).

3. Olyan, Asherah, pp. 38–61.

4. For one of the best treatment of Asherah and Israel, see Judith M. Hadley, The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess, University of Cambridge Oriental Publications (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

5. For a really good analysis of the Biblical passages involving Asherah, see C. Frevel, Aschera und der Ausschliesslichkeitsanspruch YHWHs, Bonner biblische Beitrage (Weinheim: Belz Athenaum Verlag, 1995).

6. For more details, see William Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), pp. 176–251.
 


 

Visit the BAS Library for more on Asherah:

Shmuel Ahituv, “Did God Have a Wife?” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2006.

Ephraim Stern, “Pagan Yahwism: The Folk Religion of Ancient Israel,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2001.

William G. Dever, “Folk Religion in Early Israel: Did Yahweh Have a Consort?” in Hershel Shanks and Jack Meinhardt, eds., Aspects of Monotheism (Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1996), pp. 27–56, 127–129.

J. Glen Taylor, “Was Yahweh Worshiped as the Sun?” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1994.

Ruth Hestrin, “Understanding Asherah—Exploring Semitic Iconography,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 1991.

André Lemaire, “Who or What Was Yahweh’s Asherah?” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1984.

Ze’ev Meshel, “Did Yahweh Have a Consort?” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1979.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Puzzling Finds from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud

High Places, Altars and the Bamah

Judean Pillar Figurines

How Bad Was Jezebel?
 


 

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  1. Flint says

    You have proven without doubt the disobedience of the chosen people of יהוה, to run after the gods of other nations. I think the mere evidence of their present condition easily confirms that as well. None the less, they were and have been instructed not to do this by the WORD of יהוה. Baruch haba b’shem Adoni YAHUAH….

  2. Paul says

    Though we have only 3 archaeological references that are indicative of a priestly blessing in the name of “Yahweh and His Asherah,” the prevalence of this goddess in ancient Israel was downplayed by the author of Deuteronomy, which recieved its final composition in the second temple period after the Jews eradicated all traces of this goddess. In the final revision of the history of the first temple period, Asherah is only a foreign deity that needed to be banned, though the Samaritans and Edomites still worshiped her after the Jews returned from captivity in Babylonia.
    In the above article the author mentions Asherah as being the mother of the 70 gods of the Canaanite pantheon. Their father was El, and it is from this deity that the name Elohim is derived, meaning “God” or “gods” (70 gods or offspring of El). The extra-biblical information we have concerning Asherah comes from the city of Ugarit from the 14th-12th-centuries B.C.E.:
    “Asherah of the Sea, as she is called there, was the consort of the old god El, the head of the pantheon, and she was the ‘creator of the gods,’ their mother” (“Did God Really Have a Wife?” by Shmuel Ahituv, BAR, Sept./Oct. 2006, p.64).
    It’s possible that the divine name “Yahweh Elohim” that appears in connection with the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3 may refer to “Yahweh and His Asherah.”

  3. Paul says

    Correction: According to Ephraim Stern in “Pagan Yahwehism; The Folk Religion of Ancient Israel” in the May/June 2001 issue of BAR (p.28), it was the Jews in Judea (former Judahites) and the Samaritans (former mixed population settled in Samaria by the Assyrians) who discontinued the use of the clay goddess figurines, while it was the Idumaens (former Edomites) who also dwelt in the province of Judah and Galileans (populated by mostly Phoenicians) that continued the worship of the goddess during the period of the post-Exilic Persian Empire.

  4. Paul says

    The Wikipedia page on Khirbet el-Qom is about one of the sites where a reference to “Yahweh and His Asherah” was found in a double tomb near Hebron and the account of Abraham purchasing the Cave of Machpelah (Genesis 23:9) or the Cave of the Two Tombs that was for Sarah (who was possibly a priestess of the moon god Sin), was given a connection to the first ancestors in the book of Zohar:
    “When Abraham first entered the cave, he saw a light, then dust scattered, revealing two graves. Meanwhile Adam arose in his image, saw Abraham, and smiled, so Abraham knew he was destined to be buried there” (“The Zohar” by Daniel Matt, vol.2, p.221).
    “He (Abraham) saw a light radiating from the cave, so there he prayed, and there the blessed Holy One spoke with him. Therefore he asked for it, since his desire focused constantly on that site” (p.221).
    There is also a connection with Abraham whom the Hittites referred to as a prince and an ancient tradition of self-governance in Canaan; “Hear us my lord, you are the prince (nesi) of God among us” (Genesis 23:6). According to Giovanni Pettinato in “Archives of Ebla; An Empire Inscribed in Clay” (p.278-279), it is suggested that the word “nesi” referred to “ruler” in ancient Ebla and is related to the Egyptian term “nsw” or “king (of upper Egypt)” and the Sumerian term “ensi” or “ruler” and that these terms were imposed into the vocabulary of Sumer and Egypt when the Canaanite exerted their influence over them. Hence the term “nesi” is related to the word “ns” which means “to lift up,” and in the Sumerian term “ensi” it refers to a ruler in the capacity of having his/her legitimacy derived from the local deities in their respective cities.

  5. Yaakobi says

    I think Ashera was all of the above: A goddess (in Ugarit it was the proper name of a specific goddess); A title for goddesses (such as “the great goddess”, “the queen goddess” or “the spouse of the god X or Y”); And, of course, a Cult Symbol – such as a sacred tree, or a pole in a shape of a tree, or even a “Menorah” in a shape of a tree – which stood in temples, and symbolized (at least originally, in the earlier days), the presence of these goddess in the worship sites…

    The suffix in the form of affiliation modifier (אשרתהו = “his Asherah”) which is found in the inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom, and which, in Hebrew, is typical for nouns and not for proper names, may refer to either a still cult object (in the form of a noun), or to a title of a goddess (then “Yahweh and his Asherah” might mean “Yahweh and his queen-goddess”)… As for the suffix in the plural form which we find the Bible – this is typical to the manner in which the Bible refers to other gods too, such as “Ba’al” (we find the form “Be’alim” which means “Ba’als”) and “A’ashtoret” (we find the form “‘Ashtarot” which means “‘Ashtarots”)…

    And here are some pictures to wrap it all up:

    http://img2.timg.co.il/forums/1_153651851.JPG

    http://img2.timg.co.il/forums/1_153688877.JPG

  6. Paul says

    Perhaps I’m opening a “Pandora’s Box,” but this goddess never really was eradicated from Judaism because the sacred tree of Asherah was so universal in ancient times so that (almost) everyone would understand that the position of the Tree of Life in the middle of the garden (Genesis 2:9) referred to the all-pervading cultural influence where this iconic image appeared everywhere like the pithos from Kuntilet Ajrud depicting two ibexes flanking a stylized tree and on the cult stand from Tanaach on the third tier from the bottom that features two goats flanking a tree, with both examples having depictions of lions that are identified with Asherah. Hence the woman being proclaimed as the Hurrian goddess Hepa, Heba, Heva, or Eve, the “mother of all living (hai)” (Genesis 3:20), that is also “Eywa,” the mother creation goddess in the film “Avatar.”
    In the Kabbalah it is the attribute referred to as “Binah,” means “understanding”; “God founded the earth with wisdom and established the heavens with understanding (Binah)” (Proverbs 3:19); In a possible reference to the goddess; “Say to Wisdom, ‘You are my sister,’ and proclaim Understanding (Binah) a kinswoman” (Proverbs 7:4). I would guess that Eve was acquiring the attributes of the Queen of Heaven in a microcosmic way when she said, “I have gotten a man with the help of Yahweh” (Genesis 4:1) and there is no longer mention of Elohim since the woman is a partner with Yahweh. No wonder those clay figurines were so popular, enabling immediate access to the goddess, while the serpent is planning his trap like acting inquisitive to find out which fruit is prohibited and she says something like “Oh, I heard those cannabis cookies are a way too potent and those chocolate chip cookies are high in calories,” and the serpent knows that the ingredient in chocolate makes her feel satisfied and she is not “desiring for her husband” (Genesis 3:16) It also states that God would put enmity between (bein) the woman and the serpent and between (bein) her descendants and serpent (Genesis 3:15), whose head is located at the lowest part of the human brain where the baser instincts are located.
    “The Talmudic explanation of Binah is ‘understanding one thing from something dissimilar.’ It is related to the word Bein meaning ‘between.’ Thus, Binah implies distance and separation. When you look at something logically, you have placed yourself at a distance from it” (“Innerspace” by Aryeh Kaplan, p.58).

  7. Paul says

    “…He will bruise your head and you will bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
    In the beginning of the history of Israel as well as the beginning of history of many peoples, it mentions that Abraham’s wife was named Sarai which means princess and Nahor’s wife’s name was Milcah which means queen but in Assyrian, “Sarru” means king and” Malika/Malku” means prince.When God changes their name in Genesis 17 Abraham is told that “kings” shall issue from him (17:6) using the term “malekim” for kings but in Sarah’s case, she is told that” rulers” of people shall issue from her, using the term “malekai” and depending on which vernacular you are using, the “y” as a suffix can mean “my ruler.”

  8. Paul says

    If you look at the Anchor Bible Series on the book of Psalms you will notice that they are full of expressions borrowed from Canaanite mythology. The account of the visitation by angels at the terebinth of Mamre (cult shrine centered on a sacred tree) has its parallel in the Tale of Aquat, who like Isaac, was blessed by a divine entity. The story starts with Aquat’s father Daniel (Ezekial 15:14,20) who upon seeing the approach of the craftsman god Kothar wa-Khasis (skillful and clever), tells his wife to prepare a lamb. Abraham prepares a calf for the visitors (Genesis 18:7) which happens to be the symbol of the fertility god Baal, who is noticably absent from the Tale of Aquat, perhaps off on a journey or just retired (1 Kings 18:27):
    “Seven years shall Baal fail, eight the Rider of the Clouds. No dew, no rain; no welling up of the deep, no sweetness of Baal’s voice.”
    Tradition has it that Abraham chased the calf until it led him to the Cave of Macpelah which he later purchased from the Hittites, and they also worshipped a storm god that they borrowed from the Hurrians, Teshub. The Hittites also had a pair of bull gods named “Hurri” and “Surri” and “Hurri” is obviously connected to the Hurrians, or “mountain folk,” while the name “Surri” is derived from the word “Sar” which means “lord, king,” perhaps referring to a ruling class. This name brings to mind the founder of the Akkadian Empire, Sargon, or “Sarukin” (legitamate king) and his descendant on the throne who was the last functioning emperor, “Sharkalisharri” (king of all kings). In a break with previous rulers, Sargon didn’t appropriate the highest religious office but instead appointed his daughter as high priestess of the moon god. He thus divided the administration of government between this Czar’s militaristic empire-building sphere and the cultic-religious sphere with his daughter in her capacity as patroness of the arts.
    http://www.transoxiana.org/0108/roberts-enheduana.html

  9. HRH Elizabeth F says

    I watched a documentary on this made by PBS which is now on You Tube if i may say the name ?
    [The goddess Asherah (Astarte) – is the name of the wife of the God of Israel? ]. Asherah is not Eve, nor is she the wife of God for God does not have a wife ( Jesus has a Bride ie the Church) . From what i know Asherah is a false god(dess) which the Children of Israel worshiped and abandoned God for. Micah 5:14 shows God ‘s anger towards them

  10. G B ELDRED says

    Right on Elizabeth F
    You have it right! If Jezebel had the goddess Asherah Astarteas the one she worshiped.. One should know it was nothing to do with The Lord God most High Jehovah. No where in the Bible does it say God had a wife.. Do not take what great people have written in books and say it is right. They are not the last word, only the Bible . The Lord God Jehovah is perfect, man is not.

  11. Lisa says

    SACRED POLE
    The Hebrew word ʼashe·rah′ (pl., ʼashe·rim′) is thought to refer to (1) a sacred pole representing Asherah, a Canaanite goddess of fertility (Jg 6:25, 26), and (2) the goddess Asherah herself. (2Ki 13:6, ftn) However, it is not always possible to determine whether a particular scripture is to be understood as referring to the idolatrous object or to the goddess. A number of modern Bible translations, though, have rendered the original-language word as “sacred pole(s) [or post]” but transliterated it when the reference is apparently to the goddess. (AT, JB) Others have not endeavored to make a distinction but have simply transliterated the Hebrew word (RS) or have consistently translated it “sacred pole(s).” (NW) In the older translations of the Bible, the Hebrew word has usually been rendered as “grove(s).” (KJ, Le) But this rendering is inappropriate in such texts as Judges 3:7 and 2 Kings 23:6 (KJ), which speak of serving “groves” and bringing out the “grove” from the temple at Jerusalem.
    The Sacred Poles. The sacred poles apparently stood upright and were made of wood, or at least contained wood, the Israelites being commanded to cut them down and to burn them. (Ex 34:13; De 12:3) They may have simply been uncarved poles, perhaps even trees in some instances, for God’s people were instructed: “You must not plant for yourself any sort of tree as a sacred pole.”—De 16:21.
    Both Israel and Judah disregarded God’s express command not to set up sacred pillars and sacred poles; they placed them upon “every high hill and under every luxuriant tree” alongside the altars used for sacrifice. It has been suggested that the poles represented the female principle, whereas the pillars represented the male principle. These appendages of idolatry, likely phallic symbols, were associated with grossly immoral sex orgies, as is indicated by the reference to male prostitutes being in the land as early as Rehoboam’s reign. (1Ki 14:22-24; 2Ki 17:10) Only seldom did kings such as Hezekiah (and Josiah) come along, who “removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars to pieces and cut down the sacred pole.”—2Ki 18:4; 2Ch 34:7.
    Asherah. The Ras Shamra texts identify this goddess as the wife of the god El, the “Creator of Creatures,” and refer to her as “Lady Asherah of the Sea” and “Progenitress of the Gods,” this also making her the mother of Baal. However, there apparently was considerable overlapping in the roles of the three prominent goddesses of Baalism (Anath, Asherah, and Ashtoreth), as may be observed in extra-Biblical sources as well as in the Scriptural record. While Ashtoreth appears to have figured as the wife of Baal, Asherah may also have been so viewed.
    During the period of the Judges, it is noted that the apostate Israelites “went serving the Baals and the sacred poles [the Asherim].” (Jg 3:7, ftn; compare 2:13.) The mention of these deities in the plural may indicate that each locality had its Baal and Asherah. (Jg 6:25) Jezebel, the Sidonian wife of Ahab the king of Israel, entertained at her table 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the sacred pole, or Asherah.—1Ki 18:19.
    The degraded worship of Asherah came to be practiced in the very temple of Jehovah. King Manasseh even placed there a carved image of the sacred pole, evidently a representation of the goddess Asherah. (2Ki 21:7) Manasseh was disciplined by being taken captive to Babylon and, upon his returning to Jerusalem, showed he had profited from that discipline and cleansed Jehovah’s house of idolatrous appendages. However, his son Amon resumed the degrading worship of Baal and Asherah, with its accompanying ceremonial prostitution. (2Ch 33:11-13, 15, 21-23) This made it necessary for righteous King Josiah, who succeeded Amon to the throne, to pull down “the houses of the male temple prostitutes that were in the house of Jehovah, where the women were weaving tent shrines for the sacred pole.”—2Ki 23:4-7.

  12. Paul says

    In response to Elizabeth F. (#10); While it’s true that the goddess Asherah is not Eve, the man’s calling his wife Eve (life) was to associate her with the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:20), since they were about to be expelled from Paradise. This sacred tree is not exclusive to the Canaanite Asherah, but is a symbol that can be traced back to Sumerian civilization. Commentator Yaakobi (#5) provided a link that included an image of a king giving audience to two women, one of whom is holding a seven-branched tree (not unlike the Jewish Menorah), thus the connection of Eve with this tree gives her a universal status.
    Commentator Lisa (#12) brought up the subject of these Canaanite gods being like a family, and to this I’ll quote from “The Hebrew Goddess” by Raphael Patai (p.120):
    “The chief of all gods was El, the father god, often called ‘bull of his father.’ His wife Asherah, also referred to as ‘Lady Asherah of the Sea,’ was the mother of all the gods whom she suckled in her breasts. Their son Baal, also called Aliyan, Prince, King, and Rider of Clouds, was the god of rain, and fertility, who periodically died and again came to life. Their daughter Anath usually referred to as the Virgin or the Maiden Anath, or simply as The Girl, was the goddess of love and female fecundity, as well as of war and the hunt, who enjoyed fighting as much as she did love making, was bloodthirsty, tempestuous and unrestrained.”
    “A Hittite myth of unquestionably Canaanite origin is the one in which the tetrad (group of four gods) of Elkunirsa (that is, the Canaanite El qone eretz, ‘El, Creator of the Earth’), his wife Ashertu (Asherah), their son Baal-Hadaad, the Storm-god, and their daughter Ishtar (Astarte or Anath) figures prominently.”
    Patai connects these family tetrads with the four letter name of YHVH that is described in the mystical book of Zohar (p.116):
    “One passage in the Zohar, for instance, states that ‘the letter Y in the name YHWH is called Father and stands for Wisdom, the first H is the Supernal Mother, called Understanding; and the W and the second H are the two children, a son and a daughter, who were crowned by their Mother” (Zohar III, 290b).
    Note how Yahweh is spelled with a V instead of a W but normally pronounced with a W, but in the example given by commentator Flint (#1) who typed it as “Yahuah,” this is closer to the correct pronunciation, since the letter V in Hebrew is also a U. When pronouncing “The Name,” it is the letter U that is heard with a barely audible V. I think this is where the ancient Israelites erred when they borrowed from the pre-existing Canaanite tetrad and assumed that though Yahweh possessed the attributes of a storm-god at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16, 20:18), they could just make a molten image of the god Baal that people mistook as a substitute for Yahweh (Exodus 32:4). Aside from Aaron, most folks would have missed the reference to Baal’s epithet, “Rider of Clouds,” as having such subtleness as a boat sailing above the clouds, barely causing friction in the air.

  13. Kurt says

    Does It Matter How We Worship God?
    Archaeologists have found hundreds of terra-cotta figurines in Jerusalem and Judah, mainly in the ruins of private homes. Most were depictions of a nude female with exaggerated breasts. Scholars identify these figurines with the fertility goddesses Ashtoreth and Asherah. The figurines are believed to have been “talismans abetting conception and childbirth.”
    How did the Israelites view these local centers for mixed worship? Professor Ephraim Stern of Hebrew University observed that many of these high places were probably “dedicated to Yahweh [Jehovah].” Inscriptions found at archaeological sites seem to support this view. For example, one says, “I bless you by Yahweh of Samaria and by his asherah,” and another says, “I bless you by Yahweh of Teman and by his asherah!”
    These examples illustrate how the Israelites compromised by mixing the pure worship of Jehovah God with shameful pagan practices. The result was moral degradation and spiritual darkness. How did God view this form of compromised worship?
    God’s Reaction to Mixed Worship?
    God expressed his indignation and denunciation of the Israelites’ debased form of worship through his prophet Ezekiel, saying: “In all your dwelling places the very cities will become devastated and the high places themselves will become desolated, in order that they may lie devastated and your altars may lie desolated and be actually broken and your dungy idols may be actually made to cease and your incense stands cut down and your works wiped out.” (Ezekiel 6:6) There is no doubt that Jehovah viewed such worship as totally unacceptable and rejected it.
    Jehovah God foretold how the devastation would take place. “Here I am sending . . . Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will devote them to destruction . . . And all this land must become a devastated place.” (Jeremiah 25:9-11) True to those words, in 607 B.C.E., the Babylonians came against Jerusalem and completely destroyed the city and its temple.
    Regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, Professor Stern, quoted above, notes that the archaeological remains “are a clear reflection of the biblical sources (2 Kings 25:8; 2 Chronicles 36:18-19) describing the destruction, burning, and collapse of houses and walls.” He further observes: “The archaeological evidence for this phase in Jerusalem’s history . . . can be counted among the most dramatic at any biblical site.”
    What Lesson for Us?Find the answer:http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200270520

  14. Kurt says

    Yet the name Jerusalem continued to be used as symbolic of something greater than the earthly city. The apostle Paul, by divine inspiration, revealed that there is a “Jerusalem above,” which he speaks of as the “mother” of anointed Christians. (Ga 4:25, 26) This places the “Jerusalem above” in the position of a wife to Jehovah God the great Father and Life-Giver. When earthly Jerusalem was used as the chief city of God’s chosen nation, it, too, was spoken of as a woman, married to God, being tied to him by holy bonds in a covenant relationship. (Isa 51:17, 21, 22; 54:1, 5; 60:1, 14) It thus stood for, or was representative of, the entire congregation of God’s human servants. “Jerusalem above” must therefore represent the entire congregation of Jehovah’s loyal spirit servants.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200273085
    A woman who is not in slavery. This term is used with reference to Abraham’s wife Sarah and “the Jerusalem above.” From the time that Jehovah God liberated the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and gave them the Law at Mount Sinai till the termination of the Law covenant in 33 C.E., Jehovah treated the nation of Israel as a secondary wife. (Jer 3:14; 31:31, 32) However, the Law did not give the nation of Israel the status of a free woman, for it showed the Israelites up as under subjection to sin, hence slaves. Most appropriately, therefore, Paul compared the enslaved Jerusalem of his day with the servant girl Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, and Jerusalem’s “children,” or citizens, with Hagar’s son Ishmael. In contrast, God’s original wife, the Jerusalem above, has, like Sarah, always been a free woman, and her children are likewise free. To become a free child of the Jerusalem above, having “her freedom,” it is necessary to be set free by the Son of God from the bondage of sin.—Ga 4:22–5:1 and ftn on 5:1; Joh 8:34-36.

  15. hani says

    I think there is a small error in the date mentionned above for the Akkadian kingship which was about the 24th century B.C.E. and not the 14th.

  16. Laura says

    If you are interested in reading some really great fiction that is built around the time period of this discussion you should check out Angels at the Gate by T.K. Thorne. Her debut novel, Noah’s Wife won ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year for Historical Fiction.

  17. Carla says

    Laura, I read Noah’s Wife and loved it. Really and truly loved it! Historical fiction is my favorite and I am really looking forward to reading Angels at the Gate.

  18. Tina says

    I read T.K. Thorne’s book “Noah’s Wife” and couldn’t put it down. I’m looking forward to her next book coming out! Angels at the Gate.

  19. Jean says

    I read Thorne’s _Noah’s Wife_. The book immerses you in that time (5500 BCE). I felt like I was peering into the past and felt their struggles just to survive – especially women.

  20. DALLAS says

    Hasn’t the “asherah” issue been settled? Isn’t it a sacred grove, but often mistaken for a goddess or divine consort by modern readers? (Confused with Astoret?)

  21. Paul says

    Generally, D., “asherah” refers to a sacred pole or tree and “astoret” isa type of shrine with dovecotes built in to the design on top (sometimes including model representations of doves, a symbol of Astarte, like the commentators #16-20) and yes the shrines can also be associated with Asherah. The sancuary at Tel Arad, however, included two sacred stone pillars and since we know this was “House of Yahweh,” the smaller of the two pillars is thought to represent Asherah, not unlike the male and female cherub mounted on the ark of the covenant in the Jerusalem temple. .

  22. Kurt says

    Some secular chronologist’s argue that Jerusalem was not destroyed in 607 BCE, but in 587 BCE, and provide what they claim is archaeological evidence to support this. If 607 BCE is wrong, then the “seven times” prophecy ending in 1914 CE would be wrong also.
    This website outlines plainly the scriptural chaos caused by 587 BCE which men like Franz and Jonsson don’t like to talk about. We, the authors, once believed in 587, but after a careful examination of the scriptural evidence, can see that 587 is wholly wrong. “Oh, if only it was a matter of believing the Bible, then we would believe in 607 too” is what they, in so many words, said. Well, the Bible overwhelmingly rubbishes 587 and makes it abundantly clear that 607 is the only possible date.
    Please prayerfully examine the chapters below, and the appendix which covers more complex arguments. Please begin with chapter one, Why is 607 BCE Important?
    http://www.jehovahsjudgment.co.uk/607/

  23. Frank says

    Asherah was the wife and mother of Nimrod. Her real name was Simiramis. She was called by many names, and worshipped by many cultures as a “goddess.”

  24. Deborah says

    It is also possible, and perhaps more likely, that the reference to “Yahweh and His asherah” is using the word asherah with the article because it is a reference to the two “pillars” of God at the entrance to the Temple; the pillar on the south called Jakin and the pillar on the north called Boaz.
    2 Chronicles 3:17
    See also http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0011_0_09825.html

  25. Miles says

    We are all familiar with Double entendre. In myth a name can be any of these: God/Goddess, Place, Experience, Revelation or even an evocation. It depends on the conversation and who is having it and for what purpose. The tree of life is another way of saying sex. A carving depicting the receiving or giving of life is a myriad process. It can be brutal or sensual or mystical or reverential or factual or representative, mass produced cheap rubbish …..etc etc etc. One of the best ways to appreciate the word(s) is to treat the as rhythm or mantra and try to find its onomatopoeic reality……

  26. Kathleen says

    The Israelites did not have a polytheistic world view. Ur did, and Abraham came OUT of Ur because God took him from His people and this is where the monotheism came from. The tribes of Israel were the children of Abraham, raised to believe in the ONE God. If you are going to try to present archeological findings in the light of the truths of the Bible.. how about you stick with the TRUTHS revealed by those ancient writings which is that the Israelites worshiped ONE God, not many. The idea of a wife came from pagan teachings that they often fell into following after.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Much To Talk About- 79 | theologyarchaeology linked to this post on November 8, 2014

    […] #3. Ancient Cults Do Not Shed Light On The OT– http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/asherah-and-the-asherim-god… […]

  2. – Meet the House of David at the Met linked to this post on November 17, 2014

    […] Yahweh on one and three and Asherah on two and four. While this might seem scandalous to some, the connection between Yahweh and Asherah can be also be found at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet […]


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