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Relief of Minoan Lady at Akrotiri, Santorini (Courtesy Micki Pistorius)

The Resurrection of Asherah, Mother-Goddess of Humankind

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Scant referrals in the Bible alert to the presence of a vilified female deity destined to be banished into oblivion. Yet the Biblical referrals obscure the beloved benevolent mother-goddess Asherah, also called Ashratum/Athirat, who was worshipped in sacred groves on mountain summits throughout the Levant. Cuneiform tablets dating to the Early-Bronze Age (6000 BC) unearthed in the  city of Ugarit  (present-day Syria) reveal long before the Assyrian invasions, in Semitic religion, Asherah was established as the mother-goddess, consort of El, the Canaanite word referring to a deity or god. Some considered her to be the mother or consort of Ba’al and she was often worshipped in tandem with him.  Asherah was represented by a wooden pole or pillar, harking back to her veneration in sacred groves. Traces of her even exist as far as Sumer where she was known as the consort of the Sumerian god Anu.  Later, Asherah was also considered to be the consort of Yahweh, the god of Israel. Given such prominence as a mother-goddess and consort, why did this deity fade into obscurity?

Asherah, Canaanites’ goddess of motherhood and fertility. (Matanya / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Asherah, Canaanites’ goddess of motherhood and fertility. (Matanya /  CC BY-SA 3.0  )

Asherah Revered by Solomon

King Solomon of Israel (970 to 931 BC) had erected mountain sanctuaries for Asherah and made a thousand burnt sacrifices including incense for her.  Despite his adoration of her – which would later be regarded as a flagrant defiance of Yahweh by priests and prophets alike - King Solomon was still favored by Yahweh who granted him wisdom and riches. What or who changed Yahweh’s mind? When King Solomon, who had a penchant for foreign wives, brought Asherah down from the mountains and into the city, he had apparently gone too far.  According to the priests and prophets, Yahweh was offended and promised to “tear Israel from Solomon’s hand”. Unfortunately, one has only the priests’ word on Yahweh’s supposed feelings about Solomon’s so-called deviant behavior.

Solomon prays at the temple in Jerusalem. (James Tissot / Public domain )

Solomon prays at the temple in Jerusalem. (James Tissot /  Public domain  )

Upon Solomon’s death, Israel was split into the northern Israel ruled by Jerobeam I, an official of Solomon, and the smaller Judah ruled by Rehobeam, Solomon’s son. Rehobeam, influenced by his wife, Maacah, perpetuated in worshipping Asherah: “ Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord.  By the sins they committed they stirred up his jealous anger more than those who were before them had done. 

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Top Image Relief of Minoan Lady at Akrotiri, Santorini (Courtesy Micki Pistorius)

By Dr Micki Pistorius

Comments

Jonathon Perrin's picture

Fascinating piece about a forgotten goddess of the Bible! It took centuries for the people of Israel and Judah to develop pure monotheism, and they worshipped many deities along the way, such as the "Queen of Heaven", and of course Asherah as Yahweh's consort. The ancient mind found it much preferable for its God to have a wife!
The archaeological finds of Asherah's name alongside Yahweh's help to also confirm the Biblical accounts of her long and contentious presence in Israel - accounts which have often been mistaken as late-period fabrications.
What I found most interesting was Asherah's possible origins with the Minoans. I had not yet heard about this intriguing theory, but Asherah's odd title of "She who walks on the Sea" certainly seems to suggest an unexplored maritime history. The Minoans certainly influenced cultures around the Near Eastern world during the Late Bronze Age period of relative peace and prosperity, and it certainly seems possible that they could have influenced this important deity.
Thank-you for an intriguing article and follow-up research topic! 

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