Queen of Heaven

QUEEN OF HEAVEN (Heb. melekheth ha-shāmayim). Some controversy surrounds the philology and significance of this title, but it seems best to regard it as the female deity to whom, with their families’ aid and connivance, Hebrew women made offerings (Jer.7.18; Jer.44.17-Jer.44.25). The most likely identification is with Ashtoreth, goddess of love and fertility, synonymous with the Assyrian and Babylonian Ishtar and the Roman Venus. The “mourning for Tammuz” was associated with her cult (Ezek.8.14). Its ritual was the license and obscenity characteristic of the eastern fertility cults, ever a temptation to the Hebrews and the chief objective of the prophets’ attack on paganism.


QUEEN OF HEAVEN (מְלֶ֣כֶת הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם). An object of Jewish worship in the time of Jeremiah.

Most of the information regarding this cult comes from outside the Bible. The only Biblical clues available are in Jeremiah 7 and 44. Jeremiah 7:18 states that “the children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven.” It is generally agreed that the cakes were made in the shape of a human being. Many such fragments have been found in clay—usually with accented female features. In Jeremiah 44:17 it is recorded that the people intended to “burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out libations to her...in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem....”

The problem is compounded by the use of the unusual MT form (מְלֶ֣כֶת) of the word “queen.” Some consider this an erroneous writing of the normal מַלְכָּה, H4893. Others, including LXX trs., understood it to be מְלָֽאכֶת, meaning “handiwork,” hence τῃ̂ στρατιᾳ̂ του̂ οὐρα̂νου, “to the army of heaven” in Jeremiah 7:18. The Aram. Targ. reads here “stars.”

It is well accepted that this was a borrowed deity. Several of Israel’s neighbors had consorts for their male deities—goddesses and a queen of heaven. In Assyria, the goddess Ishtar was called the “lady of heaven,” whereas in the Ugaritic lit. she is “queen of heaven.” The Canaanite Astarte, or Ashtoreth, was a wellknown fertility goddess. This seems to be the domain of the queen of heaven mentioned in Jeremiah 44, since the people were rejoicing in her for their general welfare and freedom from famine. The people of Ugarit also had Anat, a kind of mother goddess. This name appears in the texts from Elephantine, Egypt. Anat-Yaho was the consort of Yaho (Jehovah). Perhaps this was a recurrence of the queen of heaven cult against which Jeremiah preached.

Bibliography

E. O. James, The Cult of the Mother Goddess (1959); The Ancient Gods (1960), 77-106.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


T. Nicol.