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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [1]

Atargatis (RV [Note: Revised Version.] less correctly Atergatis ). In addition to the sanctuary of this goddess (= Gr. Derceto) at Carnion ( 2Ma 12:26 ), other shrines were situated at Hierapolis and Ashkelon. Here sacred fish were kept, and at the latter place the goddess was represented as a mermaid, resembling the supposed form of the Philistine Dagon (wh. see). Some expositors, because of the ancient name of Carnion, i.e. Ashteroth-karnaim, have identified the goddess with Astarte. The name, however, a compound of ‘Athar (= PhÅ“n. ‘Astart, Heb. ‘Ashtoreth [wh. see]) and of ‘Atti or ‘Attah , which latter term appears as a god’s name upon inscriptions, shows her to be Astarte who has assimilated the functions of ‘Atti. This etymology, together with her mermaid-form and the fact that fish were sacred to her, apparently makes her a personification of the fertilizing powers of water.

N. Koenig.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [2]

( Ἀταργάτις , Strab. 16, p. 785 [ Ἀταργατίου Δὲ Τὴν Ἀθάραν ..... Οἰ ῞Ελληνες Ἰκάλουν ] v. r. Ατεργάτις , also Ἀτεργάτης ) is the name of a Syrian goddess whose temple ( Ἀταργατεῖον v. R. Ἀτεργατεῖον ) is mentioned in  2 Maccabees 12:26. It was destroyed by Judas Maccabaeus ( 1 Maccabees 5:43-44), from which passage it appears to have been situated-at Ashteroth-Karnaim. Her worship also flourished at Mabug (i.e. Bambyce, afterward called Hierapolis),: according to Pliny (Hist. Nat. 5, 19), who also states that Atergatis is the same divinity as Derceto, Δερκετώ (Diod. Sic. 7:4), or Dercetio (Ovid, Met. 4, 45). Besides internal evidences of identity (see Creuzer, Symbol. 2, 76 sq.), Strabo incidentally cites Ctesias to that effect (16, p. 1132). Derceto was worshipped in rhenicia and at Ascalon (where fountains containing sacred fish are still kept Thomson, Land and Book, 2, 330) under the form of a woman with a fish's tail, or with a woman's face only and the entire body of a fish (Athen, 8:346). Fishes were sacred to her, and the inhabitants abstained from eating them in honor of her (Lucian, De Dea Syria, 14). Farther, by combining Diodorus (2, 4) with Herodotus (1, 105), we may legitimately conclude that the Derceto of the former is the Venus (Aphrodite) Urania of the latter. Lucian compared her with Here, though he allowed that she combined traits of other deities (Aphrodite, Rhea, Selene, etc.). Plutarch (Crass. 17) says that some regarded her as "Aphrodite, others as Here, others as the cause and natural power which provides the principles and seeds for all things from moisture." This last view is probably an accurate description of the attributes of the goddess, and explains her fishlike form and popular identification with Aphrodite. Lucian also mentions a ceremony in her worship at Hierapolis which appears to be connected with the same belief, and with the origin of her name. Twice a year water was brought from distant places and poured into a chasm in the temple; because, he adds, according to tradition, the waters of the Deluge were drained away through that opening (De Syria dea, p. 883). Compare Burns, ad Ovid, Met. 4, 45, where most of the references are given at length; Movers, Phoniz. 1, 584 sq. Atergatis is thus a name under which they worshipped some modification of the same power which was adored under that of Astarte (q.v.). That the Ἀτεργατεῖον of  2 Maccabees 12:26 was at Ashteroth-Karnaim, shows also an immediate connection with Ashtoreth (q.v.). Whether, like the latter, she bore any particular relation to the moon or to the planet Venus, is not evident. Macrobius (Sat. 1, 23, p. 322, Bip. ed.) makes Adargatis to be the earth (which, as a symbol, is analogous to the moon), end says that her image was distinguished from that of the sun by the direction of the rays around it (but see Swinton, in the Philosoph. Transactions, 41, pt. 1, p. 245 sq.). Creuzer maintains that those representations of this goddess which contain parts of a fish are the most ancient, and endeavors to reconcile Strato's statement that the Syrian goddess of Hierapolis was Atergatis, with Lucian's express notice that the former was represented under the form of an entire woman, by distinguishing between the forms of different periods (Symbolik, 2, 68). This fish form shows that Atergatis bears some relation, perhaps that of a female counterpart, to DAGON (See Dagon) (q.v.). There is an antique coin extant representing this goddess (Swinton, in the Philosoph. Transactions, LXI, 2, 345 sq.).

No satisfactory etymology of the word has been discovered. That which assumes that Atergatis is דָּג אִדּיר , Addir' Dag, i.e. magnificent fish, which has often been adopted from the time of Selden down to the present day, cannot be taken exactly in that sense. The syntax of the language requires, as Michaelis has already objected to this etymology (Orient. Biblioth. 6, 97), that an adjective placed before its subject in this manner must be the predicate of a proposition. The words, therefore, would mean "the fish is magnificent" (Ewald's Hebr. Gram. § 554); Michaelis himself, as he found that the Syriac name of some idol of Haran was תרעתא , which might mean Aperture (see Assemani, Bibl. Or. 1, 327 sq.), asserts that that is the Syriac form of Derceto, and brings it into connection with the Greatfissure in the earth mentioned in Lucian (ut sup. 13) which swallowed up the waters of the Flood (see his edition of Castell's Lex. Syr. p. 975). On the other hand, Gesenius (Thesaur. sub voce דגון ) prefers considering Derceto to be the Syriac דרגתא for דגתא , 1 Fish; and it is certain that such an intrusion of the Resh is not uncommon in Aramaic. (For other etymological derivations, see Alphen, Diss. De Terra Chadrach, c. 5.) It has been supposed that Atargatis was the tutelary goddess of the first Assyrian dynasty (Dercetadce, fr. Derceto; Niebuhr, Gesch. Assur'S, p. 131, 138), and that the name appears in Tiglath- or Tilgath Pileser (Ibid. p. 37).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [3]

a - tar´ga - tis ( Ἀταργάτις , Atargátis  ; the Revised Version (British and American) wrongly Atergatis ): Is stated in 2 Macc 12:26 to have been worshipped at Karnion, the Ashtaroth-Karnaim of the Old Testament (compare Ant , Xii , viii, 4). The name is found on coins of Membij as עתר־עתה , ‛atar - ‛atah , where ‛Atar (i.e. Ashtoreth) is identified with the goddess ‛Atah , whose name is sometimes written עתי , ‛Átı̄ . ‛Atah or ‛Ati was also worshipped at Palmyra, and (according to Melito) in Adiabene. The compound Atargatis, often corrupted by the Greeks into Derketo, had her chief temples at Membij (Hierapolis) and Ashkelon where she was represented with the body of a woman and the tail of a fish, fish being sacred to her. Herodotus made her the Aphrodite Urania of the Greeks. ‛Ati may have been originally a Hittite goddess with whom the Assyrian Ishtar ( ‛Atar ) came afterward to be identified.