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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [1]

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 PhÅ“nician 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.

Holman Bible Dictionary [2]

The Hebrew word for Asherah occurs 40 times in the Old Testament. “Asherah” has been translated in a variety of ways because of uncertainty concerning its meaning. The association of the word with pagan worship is unquestioned by scholars. Most modern translators of the Bible have treated “Asherah” as a proper noun.

The writers of the Old Testament referred to the image of Asherah as well as to “prophets” belonging to her and to vessels used in her worship ( 1 Kings 15:13 ,  1 Kings 18:19;  2 Kings 21:7 ,  2 Kings 23:4;  2 Chronicles 15:16 ). Over half of the Old Testament references to Asherah can be found in the books of Kings and Chronicles.  Deuteronomy 7:5;  Deuteronomy 12:3 instructed the Israelites to cut down and burn up the Asherim (plural form of Asherah).   Deuteronomy 16:21 prohibited the planting of a tree as an “Asherah.”

The writers of the Old Testament did not provide an actual description of an “asherah” or the origin of the worship of Asherah. Other religious writings from the Ancient Near East indicate that “Asherah” was the Hebrew name for an Amorite or Canaanite goddess who was worshiped in various parts of the Ancient Near East. The biblical writers sometimes did not make a clear distinction between references to Asherah as a goddess and as object of worship. According to ancient mythology, Asherah, the mother goddess, was the wife of El and mother of seventy gods, of whom Baal was the most famous. Asherah was the fertility goddess of the Phoenicians and Canaanites. She was called “Lady Asherah of the Sea.” See Canaan.

Scholars who have studied art work from the Ancient Near East have suggested that some figures in drawings could be representations of the fertility goddess Asherah. Drawings of plain and carved poles, staffs, a cross, a double ax, a tree, a tree stump, a headdress for a priest, and several wooden images could be illustrations of an Asherah. Passages such as  2 Kings 13:6;  2 Kings 17:16;  2 Kings 18:4;  2 Kings 21:3; and 2Kings 23:6, 2 Kings 23:15 have been interpreted as a definition of an asherah as a wooden object constructed or destroyed by man. The object stood upright and was used in the worship of a goddess of the same name.

The Asherah existed in both the Southern and Northern Kingdoms of Israel. Jezebel of Tyre apparently installed Asherah worship in the north when she married King Ahab ( 1 Kings 18:18-19 ). The principle cities in which the objects were located were Samaria, Bethel, and Jerusalem. According to  1 Kings 14:23 , the people “built for themselves high places, and pillars, and Asherim (plural) on every hill and under every green tree.” See Baal; Idolatry .

James Newell

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words [3]

'Ăshêrâh ( אֲשֵׁירָה , Strong'S #842), "Asherah, Asherim (pl.)." This noun, which has an Ugaritic cognate, first appears in the Bible in passages anticipating the settlement in Palestine. The word's most frequent appearances, however, are usually in historical literature. Of its 40 appearances, 4 are in Israel's law code, 4 in Judges, 4 in prophetic books, and the rest are in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles. 'Ăshêrâh refers to a cultic object representing the presence of the Canaanite goddess Asherah. When the people of Israel entered Palestine, they were to have nothing to do with the idolatrous religions of its inhabitants. Rather, God said, "But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves [ ‘asherim ] …" (—Exodus 34:13). This cult object was manufactured from wood (—Judges 6:26;—1 Kings 14:15) and it could be burned (—Deuteronomy 12:3). Some scholars conclude that it was a sacred pole set up near an altar to Baal. Since there was only one goddess with this name, the plural ( ‘asherim ) probably represents her several "poles." '

Ăshêrâh signifies the name of the goddess herself: "Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves [' ăshêrâh ] four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table" (1 Kings—18:19). The Canaanites believed that ' ăshêrâh— ruled the sea, was the mother of all the gods including Baal, and sometimes was his deadly enemy. Apparently, the mythology of Canaan maintained that 'ăshêrâh —was the consort of Baal, who had displaced El as their highest god. Thus her sacred objects (poles) were immediately beside altars to Baal, and she was worshiped along with him.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [4]

Asherah ( A-Shç'Rah, and plural Asherim ).  2 Kings 23:14, R. V. The Greek and Latin name of a Phœnician goddess or idol, A. V. "grove." Asherah is closely connected with Ashtoreth, or Asheroth, R. V., and her worship. Elijah asked that 400 prophets of Asherah that ate at Jezebel's table be gathered at Carmel.  Judges 3:7; comp. 2:3;  Judges 6:25;  1 Kings 18:19. Ashtoreth was the Hebrew name of the goddess; Asherah mistranslated "grove" in the A. V., is retained as Asherah in the R. V. It means an image or statue of the goddess, made of wood. See  Judges 6:25-30;  2 Kings 23:14. See Ashtaroth.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [5]

Ash'erah. (Straight). The name of a Phoenician goddess, or rather of the idol itself, (Authorized Version, "Grove" ). Asherah is closely connected with Ashtoreth and her worship,  Judges 3:7. Compare  Judges 2:3;  Judges 6:25;  1 Kings 18:19. Ashtoreth being, perhaps, the proper name of the goddess, whilst Asherah is the name of her image or symbol, which was of wood. See  Judges 6:25-30;  2 Kings 23:14.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [6]

 Exodus 34:13 Judges 6:25 2 Kings 23:6 1 Kings 16:33 2 Kings 21:7

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [7]

See Pagan Gods And Goddesses

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [8]

( אֲשֵׁרָה , Assherah'; Auth.Vers. "grove,' after the Sept. Ἄλσος ; Vulg. Lucus), a Canaanitish (Phoenician) divinity, whose worship, in connection with that of Baal. spread among the Israelites already in the age of the judges ( Judges 3:7;  Judges 6:25), was more permanently established later by the Queen Jezuebel in the land of Ephraim ( 1 Kings 16:33;  1 Kings 18:19), but at times prevailed in the kingdom of Judah also ( 2 Kings 18:4;  2 Kings 21:3;  2 Kings 23:4;  2 Chronicles 31:1 sq.). (See Grove). She had prophets, like Baal ( 1 Kings 18:19), and her rites were characterized by licentiousness ( 2 Kings 23:7;  Ezekiel 23:42) Her images, אֲשֵׁרִים , or אֲשֵׁרוֹת , were of wood ( Judges 6:26), (as appears ever from the words used to ex press their annihilation, Gesen. Thes. p. 162; Movers Phoniz. p. 567), which were erected sometimes together with those of Baal, as Θεοὶ Σύμβωμοι , over the altar of the latter ( Judges 6:25); at one time even in, the Temple of Jehovah at Jerusalem ( 2 Kings 21:7;  2 Kings 23:6); besides, there is mention of בָּתִּים (Houses) tents or canopies, woven by the women for the idol ( 2 Kings 23:7), which circumstance in itself would be indicative of a connection with the worship of Baa' ( Judges 3:7;  Judges 6:25;  1 Kings 16:32 sq.;  1 Kings 18:19) That Asherah is an identical divinity with Astoretl or Astarte is evident from the translation of the Sept at  2 Chronicles 15:16;  2 Chronicles 24:18, from that of Symmachui or Aquila at Judges iii, 7;  2 Kings 17:10 (as also from the Syriac at  Judges 3:7;  Judges 6:25; see Gesen Thes. p. 163); and this was the prevailing opinion of the Biblical antiquarians up to Movers, who (Phsnizn p. 560) thinks that Asherah should be distinguished from Astoreth, and declares Asherah to be a sort of Phallus erected to the telluric goddess Baaltis (Dea Syra, whence the goddess herself was then called Asherah, i.e. Ὀρθία ) , while Astarte should be considered a sidereal divinity. (See Astarte).

It may appear strange that the same divinity is mentioned under two names in the historical books of the O.T., and it remains doubtful in what sense Astarte might have been called Asherah; the identity of the two idols however, is evident from  Judges 2:13 (see  Judges 3:7); and this invalidates also the objection that there is no mention of obscene rites in the worship of Astarte ( 2 Kings 23:7). It does not appear from 2 Kings 23, that Asherah and Astoreth were two distinct divinities, for the only distinction made here is between the different places of worship;  2 Kings 23:6 mentions an Asherah erected in the Temple in Jerusalem (see  2 Kings 21:7), and  2 Kings 21:13 speaks of the idols which were on the high-places before Jerusalem (since the times of Solomon? see  1 Kings 11:7);  1 Kings 11:14 is connected with  1 Kings 11:13, and treats of the same idols, while  1 Kings 11:15 refers to another locality (see  2 Kings 23:10). Finally, though Asherah is never expressly called a Sidonian divinity like Astarte, yet she is mentioned ( 1 Kings 16:33;  1 Kings 18:19) with the idols introduced by Jezebel (see De Wette, Archol. p. 323 sq.). Hence Bertheau (Richt. p. 66 sq.) declares himself also in favor of the identity of Astoreth with Asherah, supposing, however, that the former might have been the name of the goddess, and the latter that of her idol (see Movers, p. 565), and agrees with Movers in thinking that אֲשֵׁרָה signifies Erect (pillar), and is indicative of the Phallus worship. But though Asherim and Asheroth are so often mentioned separately from statues that we could hardly think these terms to have been used likewise to signify carved idols, but are rather inclined to suppose they must have been something more rough and simple (though, perhaps, not a mere tree, as in  Deuteronomy 16:21; see  Daniel 11:45); yet from this it does not follow that the word should originally have signified the (wooden) Fetish; and against the translation with Recta we might adduce, that To Be Erect is more properly expressed in the Hebrew by the verb יָשִׁר than by אָשִׁר ; and if we would grant the above distinction in such passages as  1 Kings 18:19;  2 Kings 23:4, undoubtedly עִשְׁתּרֶת should have been written. Consequently we must let the Phallus character of Asherah also rest as it is; and until more correct explanations can be given, we must be content with the result that Asherah is essentially identical with Astarte; and both these are not differing from the Syrian goddess, whose rites were of obscene character, who is certainly reflected in the Cyprian Aphrodite, and is furthermore blended with the Western mythological representations. (See J. van Yperen, Obs. crit. de sacris quibusd. fluvalibus et Ashera dea, in the Bibl. Hagan. 4:81-122; Gesenius, Comment. z. Jesa. ii, 338; Stuhr, Relig. d. Orients, p. 439; Vatke, Relig. d. 1 lt. Test. p. 372; Dupuis, Orig`ne d. cultes, i, 181; iii, 471; Schwenk, Mythol. d. Senmiten, p. 207 comp. Augustine, De civ. Dei, 4:10; ii, 3.) (See Ashtoreth)

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [9]

a - shē´ra , ash´er - im ( אשׁרה , 'ăshērāh  ; ἄλσος , álsos , mistranslated "grove" in the King James Version, after the Septuagint and Vulgate):

1. References to the Goddess

2. Assyrian Origin of the Goddess

3. Her Symbol

4. The Attributes of the Goddess

Was the name of a goddess whose worship was widely spread throughout Syria and Canaan; plural Asherim .

1. References to the Goddess

Her "image" is mentioned in the Old Testament ( 1 Kings 15:13;  2 Kings 21:7;  2 Chronicles 15:16 ), as well as her "prophets" ( 1 Kings 18:19 ) and the vessels used in her service ( 2 Kings 23:4 ). In Assyria the name appears under the two forms of Asratu and Asirtu; it was to Asratu that a monument found near Diarbekir was dedicated on behalf of Khammu-rabi (Amraphel) "king of the Amorites," and the Amorite king of whom we hear so much in Tell el-Amarna Letters bears the name indifferently of EbedAsrati and Ebed-Asirti.

2. Assyrian Origin of the Goddess

Like so much else in Canaanite religion, the name and worship of Asherah were borrowed from Assyria. She was the wife of the war-god Asir whose name was identified with that of the city of. Assur with the result that he became the national god of Assyria. Since Asirtu was merely the feminine form of Asir, "the superintendent" or "leader," it is probable that it was originally an epithet of Ishtar (Ashtoreth) of Nineveh. In the West, however, Asherah and Ashtoreth came to be distinguished from one another, Asherah being exclusively the goddess of fertility, whereas Ashtoreth passed into a moon-goddess.

3. Her Symbol

In Assyrian asirtu , which appears also under the forms asrātu , esrēti (plural) and asru , had the further signification of "sanctuary." Originally Asirtu, the wife of Asir, and asirtu , "sanctuary," seem to have had no connection with one another, but the identity in the pronunciation of the two words caused them to be identified in signification, and as the tree-trunk or cone of stone which symbolized Asherah was regarded as a Beth-el or "house of the deity," wherein the goddess was immanent, the word Asirtu, Asherah, came to denote the symbol of the goddess. The trunk of the tree was often provided with branches, and assumed the form of the tree of life. It was as a trunk, however, that it was forbidden to be erected by the side of "the altar of Yahweh" ( Deuteronomy 16:21; see  Judges 6:25 ,  Judges 6:28 ,  Judges 6:30;  2 Kings 23:6 ). Accordingly the symbol made for Asherah by his mother was "cut down" by Asa ( 1 Kings 15:13 ). So, too, we hear of Asherim or symbols of the goddess being set up on the high places under the shade of a green tree ( Jeremiah 17:2; see  2 Kings 17:10 ). Manasseh introduced one into the temple at Jerusalem ( 2 Kings 21:3 ,  2 Kings 21:7 ).

4. The Attributes of the Goddess

Asherah was the goddess of fertility, and thus represented the Babylonian Ishtar in her character as goddess of love and not of war. In one of the cuneiform tablets found at Taanach by Dr. Sellin, and written by one Canaanite sheikh to another shortly before the Israelite invasion of Palestine, reference is made to "the finger of Asherah" from which oracles were derived. The "finger" seems to signify the symbol of the goddess; at any rate it revealed the future by means of a "sign and oracle." The practice is probably alluded to in  Hosea 4:12 . The existence of numerous symbols in each of which the goddess was believed to be immanent led to the creation of numerous forms of the goddess herself, which, after the analogy of the Ashtaroth, were described collectively as the Asherim.