(uh sshee' rah) A fertility goddess, the mother of Baal, whose worship was concentrated in Syria and Canaan and the wooden object that represented her. The King James Version translated Asherah “grove” and the proper noun “Ashtaroth.”
The Hebrew word for Asherah occurs 40 times in the Old Testament. “Asherah” has been translated in a variety of ways because of uncertainty concerning its meaning. The association of the word with pagan worship is unquestioned by scholars. Most modern translators of the Bible have treated “Asherah” as a proper noun.
The writers of the Old Testament referred to the image of Asherah as well as to “prophets” belonging to her and to vessels used in her worship (1 Kings 15:13,
1 Kings 18:19;
2 Kings 21:7,
2 Kings 23:4;
2 Chronicles 15:16). Over half of the Old Testament references to Asherah can be found in the books of Kings and Chronicles.
Deuteronomy 12:3 instructed the Israelites to cut down and burn up the Asherim (plural form of Asherah).
Deuteronomy 16:21 prohibited the planting of a tree as an “Asherah.”
The writers of the Old Testament did not provide an actual description of an “asherah” or the origin of the worship of Asherah. Other religious writings from the Ancient Near East indicate that “Asherah” was the Hebrew name for an Amorite or Canaanite goddess who was worshiped in various parts of the Ancient Near East. The biblical writers sometimes did not make a clear distinction between references to Asherah as a goddess and as object of worship. According to ancient mythology, Asherah, the mother goddess, was the wife of El and mother of seventy gods, of whom Baal was the most famous. Asherah was the fertility goddess of the Phoenicians and Canaanites. She was called “Lady Asherah of the Sea.” See Canaan.
Scholars who have studied art work from the Ancient Near East have suggested that some figures in drawings could be representations of the fertility goddess Asherah. Drawings of plain and carved poles, staffs, a cross, a double ax, a tree, a tree stump, a headdress for a priest, and several wooden images could be illustrations of an Asherah. Passages such as
2 Kings 13:6;
2 Kings 17:16;
2 Kings 18:4;
2 Kings 21:3; and
2 Kings 23:6,2 Kings 23:15 have been interpreted as a definition of an asherah as a wooden object constructed or destroyed by man. The object stood upright and was used in the worship of a goddess of the same name.
The Asherah existed in both the Southern and Northern Kingdoms of Israel. Jezebel of Tyre apparently installed Asherah worship in the north when she married King Ahab (1 Kings 18:18-19). The principle cities in which the objects were located were Samaria, Bethel, and Jerusalem. According to
1 Kings 14:23, the people “built for themselves high places, and pillars, and Asherim (plural) on every hill and under every green tree.” See Baal; Idolatry.