ATARGATIS ə tär’ gə tĭs, ā tär gā’ tĭs (Ατάργατις, the Gr. transliteration of עתרעתה. A variant name, Δερκετώ, owes its origin to the shorter Sem. form, תרעתה). A Syrian goddess of fertility. Atargatis was one of the popular deities of the Hel. period. She was a type of the common mother-goddess figure, the counterpart of Aphrodite. She is related to the familiar Ishtar or Astarte (cf. Ashtoreth in the OT), the symbol of fertility religion which Josiah had opposed (2 Kings 23:13).

She is known in ancient lit. as the Syr. goddess, Dea Syria or Deasura. The chief center of worship was in Hieropolis, in northern Syria. Among other temples were those at Carnaim, in Gilead (2 Macc 12:26), and Khirbet Tannur (described in The Other Side of the Jordan by Nelson Glueck). Her temples, cultic practices, and begging priests are described in detail in Lucian’s work The Syrian Goddess and in the Metamorphoses of Apuleius. The priests, known as Galli, castrated themselves in frenzied orgies. The fertility motif is seen in the association of Atargatis with water, grain, fruit, and foliage.


F. Cumont, Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism (1911); N. Glueck, The Other Side of the Jordan (1940); E. O. James, The Cult of the Mother Goddess (1959).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(Atargatis; the Revised Version (British and American) wrongly ATERGATIS):

Is stated in 2 Macc 12:26 to have been worshipped at Karnion, the Ashtaroth-Karnaim of the Old Testament (compare Ant, XII, viii, 4). The name is found on coins of Membij as `atar-`atah, where `Atar (i. e. Ashtoreth) is identified with the goddess `Atah, whose name is sometimes written `Ati. or `Atah or `Ati was also worshipped at Palmyra, and (according to Melito) in Adiabene.

The compound Atargatis, often corrupted by the Greeks into Derketo, had her chief temples at Membij (Hierapolis) and Ashkelon where she was represented with the body of a woman and the tail of a fish, fish being sacred to her. Herodotus made her the Aphrodite Urania of the Greeks. `Ati may have been originally a Hittite goddess with whom the Assyrian Ishtar (`Atar) came afterward to be identified tory of the kingdom (2Sa 14:14). For the legal and geographical information, see Cities of Refuge; Homicide.