TA: David Moster
There has been much debate over the use of the Hebrew term ’ăs̆êrâ and its meaning. In the Old Testament, it is used in two senses, as the divine goddess (Asherah) and a wooden representation or cultish object (asherah). Ugaritic texts distinguish Asherah as a motherly deity as well as the consort of El. Other sources including books of the bible, describe the restrictions of making an asherah, or a cultic object. (Deut 16:21).
When examining history, it is common for scholars to make assumptions in order to form conclusions. These assumptions are based on different types of evidence that the scholar finds compelling. Due to the fact that these conclusions are founded on assumptions, the evidence must strongly support his or her claim. In the case of Asherah/asherah, there are many different types of evidence (as stated above). In this paper I will assess the arguments of Ackerman, Emerton and Wyatt and how they have used evidence (biblical or otherwise) to support their conclusions about Asherah/asherah.
In order to sustain her argument that the gĕbîrâ, or queen mother, “play[ed] some role in the Israelite religion” (388), Susan Ackerman uses biblical evidence to link several gĕbîrôt mentioned in the bible, to Asherah. Ackerman starts with Ma’acah and her “worshiping the goddess Asherah by making a cult statue for her” (389). Ackerman makes a case that Asherah worship (similar to that exhibited by Ma’acah) was customary among the people of Ancient Israel. She uses biblical excerpts (2 Kgs 18:4 – 2 Kgs 23:7) to illustrate several instances where ’ăs̆êrîm were erected in the Jerusalem Temple. By citing these texts, Ackerman not only relates the queen mother Ma’acah to both senses of ’ăs̆êrâ, but also “suggests that it was the norm in the southern kingdom… to worship both Yhwh and Asherah in the state temple of Jerusalem.” (391)
Ackerman goes on to back her pairing of Yhwh and Asherah by using the archaeological evidence of the eight-century inscription from Khirbet el-Qôm. P.D. Miller’s translation of the text, refers to asherah in the possessive form, l’ s̆rth, linking the (in this case) cultic object to Yhwh. Ackerman does not spend much time on this detail. The stark different between the two sense of ’ăs̆êrâ are hardly realized in her article. This is drastically different from Emerton, whose argument is largely supported by Biblical Hebrew, specifically cases where ’ăs̆êrâ “has been attached to a third-person masculine singular pronominal suffix: ‘his ’ăs̆êrâ’”. (Emerton 315) I suppose that concentrating on the asherah, as a common noun would not support her argument as well as linking each gĕbîrâ to the Asherah would.
Ackerman then begins to explore the ambiguity of queen mother Jezebel who is rarely thought of as gĕbîrâ apart from 2 Kgs 10:13. She highlights 1 Kgs 18:19, “four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah who eat as Jezebel’s table”, as one of the only excerpts from the Bible that links Jezebel to the Asherah. Seeing as this is the only biblical evidence of Jezebel’s worship of the goddess Asherah, Ackerman then begins to make assumptions using 1 Kgs 16:33, a passage which “reports that Ahab erected an ’ăs̆êrâ in Samaria.” (393) It is then assumed that there was “an Asherah cult of some sort in Samaria during the bulk of Ahab’s monarchy, and the king participated in it.” (Ackerman 393) Ackerman then concludes that as the wife of Ahab, Jezebel would also have participated in worship of Asherah.
Next we return to inscriptional evidence, this time from Kuntillet ‘Ajrûd. The inscription found on the site, brkt ’tkm lyhwh s̆mrn wl’s̆rth, “I bless you by Yhwh of Samaria and by his Asherah/asherah”, is used by Ackerman to suggest “the cult of Yhwh and the cult of Asherah were paired.” (394) This conclusion is also supported by the similarities between this inscription and the Khirbet el-Qôm. This evidence…