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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Asherah

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ASHERAH . In RV [Note: Revised Version.] Asherah (plur. Asherim , more rarely Asheroth ) appears as the tr. [Note: translate or translation.] of a Hebrew substantive which AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , following the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] and Vulgate, had mistakenly rendered grove . By OT writers the word is used in three distinct applications.

1 . The goddess Asherah . In several places Asherah must be recognized as the name of a Canaanite deity. Thus in 1 Kings 18:19 we read of the prophets of Baal and of Asherah, in 1 Kings 15:13 (= 2 Chronicles 15:16 ) of ‘an abominable image,’ and in 2 Kings 21:7 of ‘a graven image’ of Asherah, also of the sacrificial vessels used in her worship ( 2 Kings 23:4 ), while Judges 3:7 speaks of the Baalim and the Asheroth. These references, it must be allowed, are not all of equal value for the critical historian and some of our foremost authorities have hitherto declined to admit the existence of a Canaanite goddess Asherah, regarding the name as a mere literary personification of the asherah or sacred pole (see § 3), or as due to a confusion with Astarte (cf. Judges 3:7 with Judges 2:13 ).

In the last few years, however, a variety of monumental evidence has come to light (see Lagrange, Études sur les religions semitiques (1905), 119 ff.) the latest from the soil of Palestine itself in a cuneiform tablet found at Taanach showing that a goddess Ashirat or Asherah was worshipped from a remote antiquity by the Western Semites. There need be no hesitation, therefore, in accepting the above passages as evidence of her worship in OT times, even within the Temple itself.

The relation, as to name, history, and attributes, of this early Canaanite goddess to the powerful Semitic deity named Ishtar by the Babylonians, and Ashtart (OT ‘Ashtoreth’) by the PhÅ“nicians, is still obscure (see KAT [Note: Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament.] , Index; Lagrange, op. cit .). The latter in any case gradually displaced the former in Canaan.

2 . An image of Asherah . The graven image of Asherah set up by Manasseh in the Temple ( 2 Kings 21:7 ), when destroyed by Josiah, is simply termed the asherah ( 2 Kings 23:6 ). Like the idols described by the prophet of the Exile ( Isaiah 41:7; Isaiah 44:12 ff.), it evidently consisted of a core of wood overlaid with precious metal, since it could be at once burned and ‘stamped to powder’ (cf. 2 Chronicles 15:16 for the corresponding image of Maacah), and was periodically decorated with woven hangings (Luc. ‘tunics’) by the women votaries of Asherah ( 2 Kings 23:7 ). There is therefore good warrant for seeing in the asherah which Ahab set up in the temple of Baal at Samaria (cf. 1 Kings 16:33 with 2 Kings 10:28 ) according to the emended text of the latter passage it was burned by Jehu but was soon restored ( 2 Kings 13:6 ) something of greater consequence than a mere post or pole. It must have been a celebrated image of the goddess.

3 . A symbol of Asherah . In the remaining passages of OT the asherah is the name of a prominent, if not indispensable, object associated with the altar and the mazzçbah (see Pillar) in the worship of the Canaanite high places. It was made of wood ( Judges 6:26 ), and could be planted in the ground ( Deuteronomy 16:21 ), plucked up or cut down ( Micah 5:14 , Exodus 34:13 ), and burned with fire ( Deuteronomy 12:3 ). Accordingly the asherah is now held to have been a wooden post or pole having symbolical significance in the Canaanite cults. How far it resembled the similar emblems figured in representations of Babylonian and Phœnician rites can only be conjectured.

When the Hebrews occupied Canaan, the local sanctuaries became seats of the worship of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] , at which the adjuncts of sacred pole and pillar continued as before. The disastrous results of this incorporation of heathen elements led to the denunciation of the asherahs by the prophetic exponents of Israel’s religion ( Exodus 34:13 , Jeremiah 17:2 , Micah 5:13 f., and esp. Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:2 ff; Deuteronomy 16:21 ), and to their ultimate abolition ( 2 Kings 18:4; 2 Kings 23:4 ff.).

4 . Significance of the asherah . The theory at present most in favour among OT scholars finds in the asherahs or sacred poles the substitutes of the sacred trees universally revered by the early Semites. This theory, however, is not only improbable in view of the fact that the asherahs are found beside or under such sacred trees ( Jeremiah 17:2 , 1 Kings 14:23 , 2 Kings 17:10 ), but has been discredited by the proved existence of the goddess Asherah. In the earliest period of the Semitic occupation of Canaan ( c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 2500 2000), this deity probably shared with Baal (cf. Judges 3:7; Judges 6:25 etc.) the chief worship of the immigrants, particularly as the goddess of fertility, in which aspect her place was later usurped by Astarte. In this early aniconic age, the wooden post was her symbol, as the stone pillar was of Baal. Bearing her name, it passed by gradual stages into the complete eikôn or anthropomorphic image of the deity as in Samaria and Jerusalem.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Asherah'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/a/asherah.html. 1909.

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