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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Ashtoreth

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ASHTORETH . This deity, especially known as the Sidonian goddess for whom Solomon erected a shrine, later destroyed by Josiah ( 1Ki 11:5; 1 Kings 11:33 , 2 Kings 23:13 ), was worshipped by all Semitic nations. In her temple at Ashkelon, the Philistines hung the armour of Saul ( 1 Samuel 31:10 ). In Bashan, the cities Ashtaroth or Be-eshterah and Ashteroth-karnaim presumably derived their names from the fact that various Ashtoreth-cults were located there. At Ashteroth-karnaim (‘horned Ashtaroth’) one might even be justified in supposing from the name that ‘Ashtoreth was represented with the horns of a cow or a ram. Mesha, king of Moab, dedicated his prisoners to a composite goddess ‘Ashtar-Chemosh. Indeed, her existence in S. Arabia is evidenced by the probably equivalent male god ‘Athtar. In Abyssinia, she was called Astar; in Assyria and Babylonia, Ishtar (used also in the pl. ishtarâti to denote ‘goddesses,’ cf. ‘Ashtaroth , Judges 2:13; Jdg 10:6 , 1 Samuel 7:13; 1 Samuel 12:10 ); in Syria, ‘Atbar, and in PhÅ“nicia, ‘Astart, whence the Hebrew ‘Ashtoreth, with the vowels of bôsheth (‘shameful thing’) substituted for the original. See Molech, Baal.

The character of this goddess, concerning which the OT makes no direct statement, is most clearly depicted in the Assyro-Babylonian literature. Here she appears as the goddess of fertility, productiveness, and love on the one hand, and of war, death, and decay on the other, a personification of the earth as it passes through the summer and winter seasons. To her the sixth month, Elul, the height of the summer, is sacred. In this month, through her powers, the ripening of vegetable life takes place, represented by Tammuz, whose coming is heralded by Ishtar’s festival in Ab, the fifth month. From this period of the year, the crops and verdure gradually decay, and finally disappear in the winter. Thus, since Ishtar has failed to sustain the life which her powers had created, popular belief made her the cause of death and decay. She therefore became a destructive goddess, who visited with disease those who disobeyed her commands, and even a goddess of war (cf. 1 Samuel 31:10 ). However, filled with remorse, because she had destroyed the vegetable life (= Tammuz, the consort of her youth), she sets out to the lower world in search of healing waters to revive Tammuz. During this quest (winter) the propagation of all life ceases. Successful in her search, she brings forth the new verdure, and once more assumes the role of a merciful goddess, to whom all life is due.

At a later period, when all gods had obtained a fixed position to each other and the necessity of assigning an abode to them was felt, the gods were identified with the heavenly bodies. Thus Ishtar was given the planet Venus, whose appearance at certain seasons as morning-star and at other times as evening-star paralleled the growth and decay of nature. Hence, in accordance with one theological school of the Babylonians, which considered Sin (moon) the ruler of the luminaries of the night, Ishtar was also known as the ‘daughter of Sin.’ By others she was designated as ‘daughter of Anu (lord of heaven),’ and even as the ‘sister of Shamash (sun),’ since, as the evening-star Venus disappears in the west, and reappears in the east to be called the morning-star.

The cults of this goddess were extant at various localities of Babylonia and Assyria. At some of these, both phases of her character were worshipped, side by side, with equality; at others, more importance was attached to one of her aspects. Thus at Uruk (Erech) in her temple E-Anna (‘house of heaven’) she was both a goddess of fertility and a martial deity in whose service were Kizretl, Ukhati, and Kharimati, the priestesses of Ishtar. At Agade, Calah, and Babylon greater stress seems to have been laid upon the milder aspect, and it is doubtless with the worship of this side of Ishtar’s nature that the religious prostitution mentioned by Greek writers was connected (Hdt. i. 199; Strab. xvi. i. 20; Ep. Jeremiah 42:1-22 f.; Luc. de Dea Syr . 6 f.). Among the Assyrians, three Ishtars, viz., Ishtar of Nineveh, Ishtar of Kidmuru (temple at Nineveh), and Ishtar of Arbela, were especially worshipped. This warrior-nation naturally dwelt upon the martial aspect of the deity almost to the exclusion of her milder side as a mother-goddess, and accorded to her a position next to Ashur, their national god. Indeed, Ishtar was even designated as his wife, and since he ruled over the Igigi (spirits of heaven), so she was said to be ‘mighty over the Anunnaki ’ (spirits of the earth).

Thus Ishtar is the goddess whom Ashur-nazir-pal (b.c. 1800) aptly calls ‘queen of the gods, into whose hands are delivered the commands of the great gods, lady of Nineveh, daughter of Sin, sister of Shamash, who rules all kingdoms, who determines decrees, the goddess of the universe, lady of heaven and earth, who hears petitions, heeds sighs; the merciful goddess who loves justice.’ Equally does Esarhaddon’s claim, that it was ‘Ishtar, the lady of onslaught and battle,’ who stood at his side and broke his enemies’ bows, apply to this deity a goddess, to whom the penitent in the anguish of his soul prays

‘Besides thee there is no guiding deity.

I implore thee to look upon me and hear my sighs.

Proclaim peace, and may thy soul he appeased.

How long, O my Lady, till thy countenance be turned towards me.

Like doves, I lament, I satiate myself with sighs.’

N. Koenig.

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

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