Goddess Has An Identity Crisis: What Was An Asherah?

Pax Christi everybody!

So I was doing some research on the Semitic goddess Asherah, and I learned some stuff about her I have trouble wrapping my head around.

While there was undoubtedly a goddess who was sure to have been worshipped alongside Yahweh, seen in The Text and extra-Biblical evidence, there are only about 8 places in The Scriptures where her name wasn’t accompanied by a “the”, which might indicate that some “Asherahs” were cult stands, most likely Canaanite ritual objects or practices appropriated for monolatristic Yahwist use.

This doesn’t sound like a wacky proposition; we already have great examples of Pagan or traditional things used to exemplify Yahweh in The Bible already: God is described as “Rider Of The Clouds” and smiting Leviathan at the beginning of time, things attributed to Ba’al Hadad, the universal sea above and below is attested to all across the ANE, Yahweh has Seraphim, or divine cobras, as His servants, and He came down to Moses on a mountain, just like all manner of ANE gods.

But as I said before, this was associated with a deity, and we are unsure if this was forgotten or disregarded by some of the people erecting them. I don’t dispute that her worship was common (though I do dispute that JPFs were supposed to be Asherah and not simply domestic magical talismans) and I am not disturbed by this fact.

What does disturb me is the possibility that someone plastered over her; Abraham planting a tree to God, Jehu the reformer leaving one there…does this mean that they weren’t faithful? The earlier prophets were concerned with Ba’al and don’t speak about the evils of Asherah; is this because The Prophets had yet more to learn of what pleased The Lord and stop erecting these symbols for God, or were they simply okay with the worship of a consort deity they full well knew was embodied in the stand? Surely the thing about The Prophets cannot be, right?
If it is, I find this extremely troubling; why would god allow this worship? Does he not want to be in an honest relationship?

I would like to hear your thoughts.

Oh and I forgot this

This is an article by John Day, who argues that “the Asherah” was a wooden cult stand of sorts that was associated with the goddess, and has nothing to do with the planting of Abraham’s tree.

Sometimes a tree is just a tree.

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I think this question goes right along with what’s already being discussed in the ‘origins of Yahweh’ thread.

I haven’t read your links, but even just based on your commentary and questions here, I gather this would be an excellent example of the divine accomodation to any/all cultures wherever they are at, to “move their needle” toward the true God. In other words, instead of entirely overturning an entire set of cultural practices about what a god or gods are or are supposed to be, God inserts “himself” (there’s an example of a specific cultural accomodation right there) into their practices of thinking of gods as members of this world, perhaps living up on this or that mountain, hurling down their lightning bolts from there, or needing to be appeased by this or that fertility rite, and so forth. God enters ‘himself’ into that pantheonic array as ‘merely’ one of the competitors at first, even though we would now say that we have been granted a much fuller understanding that God is not merely one among any many - or even an elite few.

That isn’t to say that Asherah is just a different name for the true God - I think the scriptures are clear that all these are false gods. But it is to say that whatever practices people had, as they related to whatever gods - some of those practices (like making sacrifices to them) were then used and appropriated by God for a season as God made use of the sorts of developed practices and awareness that people were able to grasp at the time.

[And some practices thoroughly repudiated by God as abominable and with strict commands to the chosen that they were to utterly put away from themselves what their cultural neighbors were doing, such as human sacrifice. …perhaps a good example of a demanded ‘needle jump’ that even the chosen haltingly struggled with in their own unfortunate chapters of disobedience.]

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You’re right, I shouldn’t be losing sleep over this. Coming back to it with a clearer head, I realized that it isn’t the subject matter that bothers me, rather, it was the way in which it was presented. There’s a legion of culture warriors and third-wave feminists out there that have taken findings like this and run with them in an effort to make monotheism look like some kind of evil sexist plot and undermine the Judeo-Christian tradition. Some go so far as to say that veneration of Theotokos is a continuation of Asherah worship! It makes me sick. I just get really sick when the worship of a false ANE goddess is treated like some kind of fantastic victory over the forces of evil and Jesus, who loves everyone and wants to be with everyone, is treated as just another patriarchal oppressor. Any advice for dealing with these feelings?

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