Asherah pole

An Asherah pole is a sacred tree or pole that stood near Canaanite religious locations to honor the Ugaritic mother goddess Asherah, consort of El.[1] The relation of the literary references to an asherah and archaeological finds of Judaean pillar-figurines has engendered a literature of debate.[2]

“Asheroth” redirects here. It is not to be confused with Ashteroth.

The asherim were also cult objects related to the worship of Asherah, the consort of either Ba’al or, as inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom attest, Yahweh,[3] and thus objects of contention among competing cults. In translations of the Hebrew Bible that render the Hebrew asherim into English as “Asherah poles”, the insertion of “pole” begs the question by setting up unwarranted expectations for such a wooden object: “we are never told exactly what it was”, observes John Day.[4] The traditional interpretation of the Biblical text is that the Israelites imported pagan elements such as the Asherah poles from the surrounding Canaanites. In light of archeological finds, however, some modern scholars now theorize that the Israelite folk religion was Canaanite in its inception and always polytheistic; this theory holds that the innovators were the prophets and priests who denounced the Asherah poles.[5] Such theories inspire ongoing debate.[6]

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Asherim are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, Judges, the Books of Kings, the second Book of Chronicles, and the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah. The term often appears as merely אשרה, (Asherah) referred to as “groves” in the King James Version, which follows the Septuagint rendering as ἄλσος, pl. ἄλση and the Vulgatelucus,[7] and “poles” in the New Revised Standard Version; no word that may be translated as “poles” appears in the text. Scholars have indicated, however, that the plural use of the term (English “Asherahs”, translating Hebrew Asherim or Asherot) provides ample evidence that reference is being made to objects of worship rather than a transcendent figure.[8]

The Hebrew Bible suggests that the poles were made of wood. In the sixth chapter of the Book of Judges, God is recorded as instructing the Israelite judge Gideon to cut down an Asherah pole that was next to an altar to Baal. The wood was to be used for a burnt offering.

Deuteronomy 16:21 states that YHWH (rendered as “the LORD“) hated Asherim whether rendered as poles: “Do not set up any [wooden] Asherah [pole][9] beside the altar you build to the LORD your God” or as living trees: “You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your God which you shall make”.[10] That Asherahs were not always living trees is shown in 1 Kings 14:23: “their asherim, beside every luxuriant tree”.[11] However, the record indicates that the Jewish people often departed from this ideal. For example, King Manasseh placed an Asherah pole in the Holy Temple (2 Kings 21:7). King Josiah’s reforms in the late 7th century BC included the destruction of many Asherah poles (2 Kings 23:14).

Exodus 34:13 states: “Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherim [Asherah poles].”

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