(assh' tuhrahth) is the plural form of Ashtoreth, a Canaanite goddess of fertility, love, and war and the daughter of the god El and the goddess Asherah. 1. The Old Testament uses the plural form, Ashtaroth, more than the singular form, Ashtoreth. The only references to Ashtoreth come in
1 Kings 11:5,1 Kings 11:33;
2 Kings 23:13. The Hebrew scribes replaced the vowels of the name Ashtart or Ashteret with the vowels from the Hebrew word for shame, boshet, to bring dishonor to the memory of the goddess. This exchanging of vowels formed the word Ashtoreth. The Greek form of the name is Astarte.
In Canaanite mythology, she appears to be the sister of the goddess Anath and the spouse of the god Baal. Anath also was the spouse of Baal, as well as the goddess of love and war. Some confusion, therefore, exists with regards to Ashtaroth's relationship to Anath. Anath and Ashtaroth may have referred to the same goddess, or they may have been two separate deities. Among the people of Palestine, Ashtaroth may have taken over Anath's role. The Egyptians gave the title “Lady of Heaven” to Astarte, Anath, and another goddess, Qudshu. In Moab, Astarte was the spouse of the major god, Chemosh. The Babylonians and Assyrians called her Ashtar and worshiped her as goddess of fertility and love. The people of the Ancient Near East during the Hellenistic and Roman periods referred to her as Aphrodite-Venus.
Apparently, the word “ashtaroth” at one time meant “womb” or “that which comes from the womb.” This word, “ashtaroth,” appears in
Deuteronomy 7:13 and
Deuteronomy 28:4,Deuteronomy 28:18,Deuteronomy 28:51 to describe the young of the flock. This use may demonstrate the link between the goddess Ashtaroth and fertility.
The biblical writers often coupled Baal with Ashtaroth as a designation of pagan worship (Judges 2:13;
1 Samuel 7:3-4;
1 Samuel 12:10). In addition to her worship by the Canaanites, the Old Testament mentions the people of Sidon (1 Kings 11:5) and the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:10) as reverencing her. At Beth-Shan, the Philistines erected a temple to Ashtaroth (1 Samuel 31:10). The reference to the Queen of Heaven (Jeremiah 7:18) may have Ashtaroth in mind, but this is uncertain. The Israelites worshiped her, and the biblical writers specifically refer to Solomon's leadership in promoting the worship of Ashtaroth (1 Kings 11:5). She was only one of many foreign deities revered by the Israelites. Josiah destroyed the shrines built to her (2 Kings 23:13).
2. Egyptian documents dating from the eighteenth century B.C. onward refer to a city called Ashtartu or Ashtarot in the region of Bashan.
Joshua 21:27 mentions a city with the name Be-eshterah in Bashan, while a man named Uzzia is called an Ashterathite (1 Chronicles 11:44). Og, king of Bashan, reigned in the city of Ashtaroth (Deuteronomy 1:4;
1 Chronicles 6:17). The sons of Machir received it as a part of their inheritance in the land (Joshua 13:31).
Once the city is called Ashteroth-karnaim (Genesis 14:5) or “Ashtaroth of the two horns.” A seventeenth century B.C. stone mold for making bronze figurines of Astarte was uncovered at Nahariyah. She was represented as a woman with two horns on her head. Many other clay figurines of Astarte have been found at sites throughout Palestine. The city's name, Ashtaroth, may reflect that she was worshiped by the citizens of this settlement.
The city is located at modern Tel Ashtarah about 20 miles east of the Sea of Galilee. It was located on a major branch of the Via Maris, or Way of the Sea and in the King's Highway, the major highway for traffic east of the Jordan.