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ASHTORETH (ăsh'tō-rĕth). A goddess of the Canaanites, worshiped all along the seacoast from Ras Shamra (Ugarit) southward through Phoenicia and Philistia. The plural Ashtaroth (niv “the Ashtoreths”) is found commonly and refers to the idols representing her. Her male consort was apparently Baal, and the two were worshiped with lewd rites. In Judg.2.11-Judg.2.23 we are told that Israel forsook their God and served “Baal and the Ashtoreths.” The prophet Samuel brought about a great revival, but before Israel could be saved from the Philistines, they had to give up Ashtoreth and turn to the Lord (1Sam.7.3-1Sam.7.4). Israel kept fairly close to the Lord through the times of Samuel, Saul, and David, and the early days of Solomon, until that “wise” man lost his wisdom by marrying various heathen women for political reasons. They succeeded in turning his heart from the Lord to worship of the Ashtoreth and other idols (1Kgs.11.4-1Kgs.11.8). These idols remained more than three and a half centuries till Josiah defiled and demolished them (2Kgs.23.13-2Kgs.23.14). Biblical scholar Gesenius related the name Ashtoreth to the Persian word “sitarah” or “star” and connected it with Venus, goddess of love.

ASHTORETH ăsh’ tə rĕth (Heb. עַשְׁתֹּ֔רֶת, pl. Heb. עַשְׁתָּרֹֽות, cognate to Sumer. Inanna, queen of heaven).

The origin of the name and character of the goddess.

Ashtoreth among the Canaanites.

The people of Israel must have come in contact with the cult of Ashtoreth as it existed among the other Asiatics and W. Semites of Egypt. After the Exodus they were in constant conflict with the worship of the fertility and vegetation deities of the natives of Syria-Pal. The goddess ’Athtart appears frequently in the Ugaritic tablets from Ras Shamra; she is a foremost character in some eleven contexts. She is the companion of Ba’al in several epics and has numerous appellations: ’Athtart of the Field, ’Athtart the Majestic, and others. In a list of offerings to various shrines, a Temple of ’Athtart is listed. In the legend of King Keret she is titled, “‘t t r t š m b’ l”, “’Athtart Name-of Ba’al” (II K. vi 56.); while her charm and appeal are often compared to the goddess Anath, both are goddesses of combat and battle. Anath is more often associated with Ba’al in the Ugaritic texts than ’Athtart, who is much more prominent in later Phoen. times. However the interchange of functions and attributes is a common feature of the development of ancient Near Eastern pantheons. It is clear from the Ras Shamra tablets that the second radical consonant in the name is a שׁ&sub3'; pronounced “th” and simulated in other orthographies as either a sibilant or a dental. The polar attributes of these deities, love and war, are shown in their artistic representations which show at all dates certain characteristics drawn from the prehistoric figures. Although the cult practices and rituals, as well as the depiction of the goddess, were always reminiscent of the earlier and cruder forms, yet her comprehension in the minds of her devotees reached extraordinary heights of poetry and drama, some aspects of which were later sublimated by the Hebrews to the worship of Jehovah.

Ashtoreth in the Old Testament.

In the OT, as in certain of the Ugaritic legends, a male deity Ashtar seems to be involved who, like Ashtoreth, has astrological significance. The place of this male deity in the Canaanite pantheon is as yet unclear. The name Ashtoreth appears in the sing. only in 1 Kings 11:5, 33; 2 Kings 23:13. Its earliest and most common usage is in the fem. pl. form with the pl. form Ba’alim, as in Judges 2:13. It was common for each local town in a system of archaic religious states to have a “Lord and Lady,” as Lord and Lady of X; such formulas occur frequently, as in the case of the complete mixing of Jehovah and Ba’al in Judges 8:33, where the Israelites were worshiping Ba’al-berith, “Lord of the Covenant,” or the town name of Ba’al-Shalisha, “Lord of Shalisha.” Throughout history the Jews were constantly tempted to worship this pagan goddess and attend her rituals, and it was this forbidden practice which finally led to Israel’s captivity and the seventy years in Babylon. There is no doubt, from the nude statuettes with exaggerated breasts and pudenda and the frequent association of sexual license mentioned by both Biblical and classical authors in connection with Ashtoreth, that her rituals were offensive to the Jews at many points. Her cult was kept alive well into the Christian era and was prob. finally eliminated by the spread of Islam throughout the Near E in the early Middle Ages.


A. H. Gardiner, “The Astarte Papyrus,” Studies Presented to F. L. Griffiths (1932), 74-85; K. L. Tallqvist, “Akkadische Götterepitheta,” Studia Orientalia 7 (1938); J. J. Stamm, Die akkadische Namengebung (1939); J. B. Pritchard, Palestinian Figurines in Relation to Certain Goddesses Known Through Literature (1944); A. Moortgat, Tammuz (1949); G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends (1956); T. H. Gaster, Thespis (1961); C. F. Pfeiffer, Ras Shamra and the Bible (1962); J. Aistleitner, Wörterbuch der Ugaritischen Sprache (1963); S. N. Kramer, The Sumerians (1963); N. C. Habel, Yahweh versus Baal (1964); C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (1965), # 1941.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

ash’-to-reth, ash-to reth (`ashtoreth; plural `ashtaroth; Astarte):

1. Name and Origin

2. Attributes of the Goddess

3. Ashtoreth as a Moon-Goddess

4. The Local Ashtaroth

1. Name and Origin:

The name of the supreme goddess of Canaan and the female counterpart of Baal.

The name and cult of the goddess were derived from Babylonia, where Ishtar represented the evening and morning stars and was accordingly androgynous in origin. Under Semitic influence, however, she became solely female, but retained a memory of her primitive character by standing, alone among the Assyro-Bab goddesses, on a footing of equality with the male divinities. From Babylonia the worship of the goddess was carried to the Semites of the West, and in most instances the feminine suffix was attached to her name; where this was not the case the deity was regarded as a male. On the Moabite Stone, for example, `Ashtar is identified with Chemosh, and in the inscriptions of southern Arabia `Athtar is a god. On the other hand, in Atar-gatis or Derketo (2 Macc 12:26), Atar, without the feminine suffix, is identified with the goddess `Athah or `Athi (Greek Gatis). The cult of the Greek Aphrodite in Cyprus was borrowed from that of Ashtoreth; whether the Greek name also is a modification of Ashtoreth, as has often been maintained, is doubtful.

2. Attributes of the Goddess:

In Babylonia and Assyria Ishtar was the goddess of love and war. An old Babylonian legend related how the descent of Ishtar into Hades in search of her dead husband, Tammuz, was followed by the cessation of marriage and birth in both earth and heaven, while the temples of the goddess at Nineveh and Arbela, around which the two cities afterward grew up, were dedicated to her as the goddess of war. As such she appeared to one of Assur-bani-pal’s seers and encouraged the Assyrian king to march against Elam. The other goddesses of Babylonia, who were little more than reflections of the god, tended to merge into Ishtar who thus became a type of the female divinity, a personification of the productive principle in nature, and more especially the mother and creatress of mankind. The chief seat of the worship of Ishtar in Babylonia was Erech, where prostitution was practiced in her name, and she was served with immoral rites by bands of men and women. In Assyria, where the warlike side of the goddess was predominant, no such rites seem to have been practiced, and, instead, prophetesses were attached to her temples to whom she delivered oracles.

3. Ashtoreth as a Moon-Goddess:

In Canaan, Ashtoreth, as distinguished from the male `Ashtar, dropped her warlike attributes, but in contradistinction to Asherah, whose name and cult had also been imported from Assyria, became, on the one hand, the colorless consort of Baal, and on the other hand, a moon-goddess. In Babylonia the moon was a god, but after the rise of the solar theology, when the larger number of the Babylonian gods were resolved into forms of the sun-god, their wives also became solar, Ishtar, "the daughter of Sin" the moon-god, remaining identified with the evening-star. In Canaan, however, when the solar theology had absorbed the older beliefs, Baal, passing into a sun-god and the goddess who stood at his side becoming a representative of the moon--the pale reflection, as it were, of the sun- -Ashtoreth came to be regarded as the consort of Baal and took the place of the solar goddesses of Babylonia.

4. The Local Ashtaroth:

Hence there were as "many Ashtoreths" or Ashtaroth as Baals. They represented the various forms under which the goddess was worshipped in different localities (Jud 10:6; 1Sa 7:4; 12:10, etc.). Sometimes she was addressed as Naamah, "the delightful one," Greek Astro-noe, the mother of Eshmun and the Cabeiri. The Philistines seem to have adopted her under her warlike form (1Sa 31:10 the King James Version reading "Ashtoreth," as Septuagint), but she was more usually the moon-goddess (Lucian, De Dca Syriac., 4; Herodian, v.6, 10), and was accordingly symbolized by the horns of a cow. See Ashteroth-karnaim. At Ashkelon, where Herodotus (i.105) places her most ancient temple, she was worshipped under the name of Atar-gatis, as a woman with the tail of a fish, and fish were accordingly sacred to her. Elsewhere the dove was her sacred symbol. The immoral rites with which the worship of Ishtar in Babylonia was accompanied were transferred to Canaan (De 23:18) and formed part of the idolatrous practices which the Israelites were called upon to extirpate.

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