Day 14 — Asherah ( motherhood, fertility, and childbirth)
Asherah, ancient West Semitic goddess, consort of the supreme god. Her principal epithet was probably “She Who Walks on the Sea.” According to texts from Ugarit (modern Syria), Asherah’s consort was El, and by him she was the mother of 70 gods. As mother goddess she was widely worshiped throughout Syria and Palestine
Athirat’s name itself is theorised by certain translators and alternative translations of her title have been tendered that follow this suggested etymology, such as “she who treads on the sea dragon”.
Feminist theologians and some archaeologists hold that the denigration of Asherah in the Judeo-Christian tradition resulted from the male-dominated religious establishment’s repression of feminine depictions of the Divine. Whether as Asherah, Astarte, or any other name, feminine manifestations of the godhead were systematically and sometimes violently opposed by the religious authorities of the Kingdom and its Temple. Each Jewish king had a different relationship to Asherah, the mother goddess of the Canaanites and Jews. One king would take all her images out of the temple, smash her altars and forbid her worship; the next king would haul in new ones and give the all-clear. Back and forth it went like this, for generations: out she went, and then back in, exiled and then pardoned.
Nevertheless, the representations of the divine feminine continue to surface in the archaeology of ancient Israel. She may have been referred to as the Queen of Heaven, although that title more likely went to Anath. Her full title was Lady Asherah of the Sea, and she was a goddess of motherhood, fertility, and childbirth. Her public altars consisted of wooden poles and figures that were erected next to images of her husband. Households used small clay figurines to represent her–and, tellingly, archaeologists haven’t found corresponding male figurines.
Asherah Pillar Figures
Asherah is represented many times in various forms scattered throughout the region. But the most abundant of these are her pillar figurines which were popular from the 10th through the 7th centuries BC. The term “images of Asherah” is often used in the Hebrew Bible and it is thought that these pillar figurines are what the writers of the bible had in mind.
Because the breasts are exaggerated with the hands supporting them, they are thought to symbolize the nurturing aspect of the mother goddess. Predominantly, the pillar figurines were found in private homes, suggesting their domesticity. In a world beset by hardship and drought, likely a concern for fecundity was what attracted the rural Israelites and Judeans to the goddess Asherah, whom they associated with abundance.
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