The Agora
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In the OT the Heb word is used to denote both the name of the Canaanite goddess, well-known from the Ugaritic texts, and also a wooden cult-object that was her symbol.

The ancient versions failed to recognize that OT Asherah was the name of a goddess, and it was only with the discovery of the Ugaritic texts that scholars as a whole were convinced that this was one of the basic meanings of the word in the OT. The places where the name Asherah seems to denote the goddess rather than her cult object are 1Ki 15:13; 18:19; 2Ki 21:7; 23:4, in addition to Jdg 3:7, where the plural form Asheroth appears. In 2Ki 23:4 the name Asherah is likewise paralleled with that of Baal, as well as with the host of heaven, thereby indicating that Asherah is a deity. Referring to Josiah's reformation in 621 BC it states, "And the king commanded Hilkiah, the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the priests of the threshold, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of Heaven." Both 1Ki 15:13 and 2Ki 21:7 speak of the image of Asherah, passages in which it is natural to suppose that Asherah is the goddess. In the former passage we read of Asa's removing Maacah, his mother, from the position of queen mother, because of the abominable image for Asherah which she had made. Asa cut down the image and burned it in the Kidron valley. 2Ki 21:7 mentions a graven image of Asherah that Manasseh placed in the temple of Jerusalem.

Jdg 3:7 uses the plural form Asheroth -- "And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, forgetting the Lord their God, and serving the Baals and the Asheroth." Some scholars wish to emend Asheroth to Ashtaroth, which is paralleled with the Baals in Jdg 2:13; 10:6; 1Sa 7:3,4; 12:10. However, the fact that Asheroth is the more difficult reading inclines one to believe that it is the correct reading here. It is not clear whether "Asheroth" refers to different local manifestations of the goddess Asherah or is a way of referring to Canaanite female deities generally. The same uncertainty applies to the precise meaning of the terms "Baals" and "Ashtaroth."

The LXX usually rendered Asherah by "grove", which accounts for the translation in the KJV. The Mishnah similarly understood the Asherim to be living trees that were worshiped, eg, grapevines, pomegranates, walnuts, myrtle, and willows. It is quite clear, however, from a number of OT references that the Asherim were man-made objects; verbs used in connection with them include "make" (1Ki 14:15; 16:33; 2Ki 17:16; 21:3, 7; 2Ch 33:3), "build" (1Ki 14:23), and "erect" (2Ki 17:10), which are inappropriate for living trees. It should also be noted that Jer 17:2 speaks of "their Asherim beside every luxuriant tree", which would be odd if the Asherim were themselves actual trees. This makes it impossible to suppose that the Asherim were living trees. Some claim more moderately that the Asherim were sometimes living trees. Deu 16:21 might suggest this, often rendered as it is: "You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your God, which you shall make." However, the word can mean "wood" as well as "tree", and since all the other references to the Asherah in the OT indicate that it is a man-made object, including various references elsewhere in Deu, it is more natural to suppose that this is the meaning here.

That the Asherah cult object symbolized the goddess Asherah in some way is clear from the fact that both are mentioned in similar contexts in the OT. Thus, 2Ki 21:3, where we read that Manasseh "erected altars for Baal, and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served them", can be compared with 2Ki 23:4, where we read of "all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven" (ABD).


"The Asherah in particular (the word means 'the way to happiness') was the phallic symbol of the sex-orientated cults which dominated the pagans of that era to an extent which has not been outmatched in any civilization until twentieth-century decadence really got into its stride" (WHez).

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