the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Ash´toreth (1 Kings 11:5) is the name of a goddess of the Sidonians (1 Kings 11:5; 1 Kings 11:33), but also of the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:10), whose worship was introduced among the Israelites during the period of the judges (Judges 2:13; 1 Samuel 7:4), was celebrated by Solomon himself (1 Kings 11:5), and was finally put down by Josiah (2 Kings 23:13). She is frequently mentioned in connection with Baal, as the corresponding female divinity (Judges 2:13); and, from the addition of the words, 'and all the host of heaven,' in 2 Kings 23:4, it is probable that she represented one of the celestial bodies. There is also reason to believe that she is meant by the 'queen of heaven,' in Jeremiah 7:18; Jeremiah 44:17; whose worship is there said to have been solemnized by burning incense, pouring libations, and offering cakes.
According to the testimonies of profane writers, the worship of this goddess, under different names, existed in all countries and colonies of the Syro-Arabian nations. She was especially the chief female divinity of the Phoenicians and Syrians, and there can be no doubt was worshipped also at ancient Carthage. The classical writers, who usually endeavored to identify the gods of other nations with their own, rather than to discriminate between them, have recognized several of their own divinities in Ashtoreth. Thus she was considered to be Juno or Venus, especially Venus Urania.
As for the power of nature, which was worshipped under the name of Ashtoreth, Creuzer and Münter assert that it was the principle of conception and parturition—that subordinate power which is fecundated by a superior influence, but which is the agent of all births throughout the universe. As such, Münter maintains that the original form under which Ashtoreth was worshipped was the moon; and that the transition from that to the planet Venus was unquestionably an innovation of a later date. It is evident that the moon alone can be properly called the queen of heaven; as also that the dependent relation of the moon to the sun makes it a more appropriate symbol of that sex, whose functions as female and mother, throughout the whole extent of animated nature, were embodied in Ashtoreth [BAAL].
The rites of her worship, if we may assume their resembling those which profane authors describe as paid to the cognate goddesses, in part agree with the few indications in the Old Testament, in part complete the brief notices there into an accordant picture. The cakes mentioned in Jeremiah 7:18, were also known to the Greeks, and were by them made in the shape of a sickle, in reference to the new moon. Among animals, the dove, the crab, and, in later times, the lion, were sacred to her; and among fruits, the pomegranate. No blood was shed on her altar; but male animals, and chiefly kids, were sacrificed to her. The most prominent part of her worship, however, consisted of those libidinous orgies, which Augustine, who was an eye-witness of their horrors in Carthage, describes with such indignation. Her priests were eunuchs in women's attire (1 Kings 14:24), and women (Hosea 4:14), who, like the Bayaderes of India, prostituted themselves to enrich the temple of this goddess. The prohibition in Deuteronomy 23:18 appears to allude to the dedication of such funds to such a purpose. As for the places consecrated to her worship, although the numerous passages in which the Authorized Version erroneously speaks of groves, are to be deducted (as is explained below), there are yet several occasions on which gardens and shady trees are mentioned as peculiar seats of (probably, her)lascivious rites (Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 65:3; 1 Kings 14:23; Hosea 4:13; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:13). She also had celebrated temples (1 Samuel 31:10).
As to the form and attributes with which Ashtoreth was represented, the oldest known image, that in Paphos, was a white conical stone. In Canaan she was probably represented as a cow. In Phoenicia, she had the head of a cow or bull, as she is seen on coins. Sanchoniathon states that 'Astarte adopted the head of a bull as a symbol of her sovereignty;' he also accounts for the star which is her most usual emblem, by saying that 'when she passed through the earth, she found a fallen star, which she consecrated in Tyre. At length, she was figured with the human form, as Lucian expressly testifies of the Syrian goddess—which is substantially the same as Ashtoreth; and she is so found on coins of Severus, with her head surrounded with rays, sitting on a lion, and holding a thunderbolt and a sceptre in either hand.