Monday, November 26, 2007

All About Asherah
Although the word "Asherah" does not appear in many Bible translations, including the King James Version or the New Revised Standard Version, it does appear 39 times in the New International Version and also 39 times in the New Living Translation. The Hebrew word for Asherah is translated as "groves" in the King James Version and "poles" in the New Revised Standard Version. There are actually a total of forty references to Asherah in the Hebrew Bible. Most of them are found in the book of Deuteronomy, always with a negative connotation. Here are a few prime examples:

You must break down their pagan altars and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols (Deuteronomy 7:5,

Break down their altars and smash their sacred pillars. Burn their Asherah poles and cut down their carved idols. Erase the names of their gods from those places! (Deuteronomy 12:3, NLT)

You must never set up an Asherah pole beside the altar of the LORD your God! (Deuteronomy 16:21, NLT).

The native religion of the Canaanites centered on El, the male creator god, and his wife Asherah. Baal was the son of their union. Baal later replaced El and became the chief male diety of Canaan. Later, in an act of incest, Baal married his own mother (i.e.Asherah), who was worshipped as a mother goddess and the chief female diety of Canaan.As Mother Goddess, Asherah was widely worshiped throughout Palestine and Syria. Inscriptions from two locations in southern Palestine suggest that she was also worshiped as the wife of the Hebrew God Yahweh. Exactly how Asherah became associated with the Hebrew God Yahweh is unclear. Certainly, the Bible has nothing positive to say about Asherah. Yahweh commanded the destruction of all idols representing Asherah. Nevertheless, the fact that Asherah was worshipped simultaneously as both the wife of Yahweh by the Israelites and the wife of Yahweh's number one rival, Baal, by the Canaanites should make one pause to ponder.

Baal was primarily a fertility god. He appeared mainly as a man with the horns of a bull, carrying thunderbolts in his hand(s), just like his father 'El. He also appeared in the form of a serpent. Both the bull and the serpent were worshiped as gods of fertility. Baal was worshipped by the Canaanites as a fertilizing, life-giving, and life-renewing diety who fulfilled his function through his mother turned wife/mistress: Asherah, "The Mother Goddess," a.k.a. "The Mother of All Living."

The word "asherah" was used not only to refer to the goddess herself, but also to a wooden cult object associated with her worship. In the Bible, Asherah is linked to Baal typically by reference to an “Asherah pole.” Wooden figures were involved in her worship, but it is not clear how. Some sources suggest a wooden pole was set into a stone base as a phallic symbol (Cavendish, p. 133). Others suggest a sacred tree or even a sacred grove of trees (Richards 60).

All sources concur that cult prostitution, both male and female, was a major element of the worship of Asherah and Baal. The cultic practices of the Canaanites included sacred groves, trees, and carved wooden images of Asherah. Also included were animal sacrifices at high places, divination, and snake worship. Sexual rites were supposed to ensure fertility of people, animals, and lands.Asherah was sometimes identified with Ashtoreth or Astarte. Not only was she worshiped as the Mother Goddess by the ancient Canaanites, she was also worshipped by the Phoenicians. Her symbol was the stem of a tree deprived of its boughs, shaped into an image, and planted in the ground. These religious symbols ("groves") are mentioned frequently in Scripture (Exodus 34:13; Judges 6:25; 2 Kings 23:6; 1 Kings 16:33, etc.). The Bible establishes that Baal worship and Asherah worship went hand in hand. According to Judges 3:7, the Israelites did evil because they abandoned the Lord and served the Asherahs and the Baals.