Athirat, Asherah, Ashratu: a reassessment according to the textual sources
Wiggins, Steve A.
This dissertation was undertaken partially in response to previous studies on the goddess Asherah. These studies have tended to gather together information from the various cultures in which 'Asherah' appears, and the information is generally presented as a portrait of the goddess. This dissertation approaches the problem from a different perspective. The primary issue addressed is: did the goddess 'Asherah' develop in the same way in all the cultures in which she appears? In order to answer this question, this study considers the evidence as contained in the written records of the first two millennia B.C.E.The mythology preserved in the tablets written by Elimelek in ancient Ugarit is the primary source of information on the goddess Athirat. After considering this mythology, it should be possible to examine Athirat's role in other mythologies, and to attempt to distil her essential characteristics and nature.Within the Ugaritic mythology of Elimelek, she appears most active in the 'Palace of Baal' episode in the Baal Cycle. In this culture Athirat appears primarily in relationship to other gods. She is the consort of El, the head of the pantheon. In the Elimelek tablets her title is rbt alrt ym.This title indicates an unspecified relationship with the sea. She is the mother of the gods but does not, however, appear as an amorphous 'mother goddess'. Her role as a mother is limited to divine children and royal children. She appears to be the rabitu, the 'queen mother'. Although Athirat is associated with the head of the pantheon, she maintains a connection with mortal women. This may account for her emblem, which is a spindle.A goddess Asherah may appear in the Old Testament. Certain passages seem to require a goddess interpretation for the word asherah. In other texts asherah designates a cultic object. If Asherah does appear as a goddess in the Old Testament, her characteristics are difficult to discern.She does not, however, appear as the consort of Baal or as a fertility goddess.Ashratu appears in Mesopotamian sources. The information within these texts are our oldest records of the goddess, and point to her Amorite origins. She is the consort of Amurru and she is connected with the steppe.That she had a temple and active cultus is amply attested in the materials.Ashratu is also attested in a Hittite version of a Canaanite myth. She is known from a number of Epigraphic South Arabian inscriptions. These inscriptions may point to a solar nature in that culture.TThe Khirbet el-Qom and Kuntillet £Ajrud inscriptions may refer to a goddess Asherah, but more likely they denote a cultic object. Their interpretation is uncertain since they cannot be explained adequately with our present knowledge of Hebrew grammar.Conclusions are drawn on the basis of the information available from these individual cultures, each within its own context.