Gods of Jerusalem: when Yahweh had a companion Goddess
“Asherah”, known across the ancient Near East by various other names, such as Astarte and Ishtar, was an important deity. Originally acknowledged as God’s wife, Yahweh was at one time worshiped with a companion.
In biblical text the Goddess Asherah was worshiped in the temple Solomon built for Yahweh in Jerusalem. In the Book of Kings, we’re told that a statue of Asherah was housed in the temple and that female temple personnel (2 Kings 21:7) wove ritual textiles for her. Ancient texts, amulets and figurines unearthed primarily in the ancient Canaanite coastal city called Ugarit, now modern-day Syria, include reference to Yahweh and Asherah. Inscriptions are found asking for blessings together from Yahweh and Asherah, which reveals that God was not alone and his wife was a revered Goddess who had a part in religious practice and belief. All of these artifacts describe that Asherah was a powerful fertility goddess. As time passed, and over centuries, Asherah has been carefully edited out by authors who put bible texts together, to clear the way for focus on the worship of a single male god, Yahweh.
A fertility goddess, Asherah, known as Ishtar, was also thought to bestow life, health, and innumerable other blessings upon mankind. On account of this belief, she was appealed to in prayers. Ashurbanipal prayed to her for long life, as did Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, Ashurbanipal’s library was found to contain a number of prayers and psalms dedicated to the goddess. In one, the poet writes: “Her song is sweeter than honey and wine, sweeter than sprouts and herbs, superior indeed to pure cream.”
Despite the prohibition against the worship of false gods, and the prophets constantly inveighing against idolatry, a cult to Ishtar seems to have flourished in Israel during the time of the prophet Jeremiah. The cult was especially popular among women, who possessed very little status in the formal worship of Yahweh. Jeremiah speaks out against those who “make cakes for the Queen of heaven.” These cakes were thought to have been shaped in the goddess image, or perhaps in the shape of her symbol, the evening star Venus.
J. Edward Wright, president of both The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and The Albright Institute for Archaeological Research agrees that several Hebrew inscriptions mention “Yahweh and his Asherah.” He also says “Many English translations prefer to translate ‘Asherah’ as ‘Sacred Tree'”. “This seems to be in part driven by a modern desire, clearly inspired by the Biblical narratives, to hide Asherah behind a veil once again.” The ancient Israelites were polytheists “with only a small minority worshiping Yahweh alone before the historic events of 586 B.C.” In that year, an elite community within Judea was exiled to Babylon and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. This led to “a more universal vision of strict monotheism: one god not only for Judah, but for all of the Abrahamic nations.”
The Hebrew Bible uses the term asherah in two senses, as a cult object and as a divine name.As a cult object, the asherah can be “made”, “cut down”, and “burnt”, and Deuteronomy 16:21 prohibits the planting of trees as asherah, implying that a stylized tree or lopped trunk is intended. At other verses a goddess is clearly intended, as, for example, 2 Kings 23:4–7, where items are being made “for Baal and Asherah”. The references to asherah in Isaiah 17:8 and 2:8 suggest that there was no distinction in ancient thought between the object and the goddess.
Note: History has a way of being adjusted to fit the agenda of men, especially those in power. What we read and are taught to believe can vary according to the historians whims, or for the coins they were and are paid.