International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
a-she'-ra, ash'-er-im ('asherah; alsos, 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 asratu, esreti (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, 28, 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, 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.
A. H. Sayce