Conservative Judaism/Asherah


Will you please explain the following.

Inscriptions have been found in Israel naming a pair of gods, Jehovah (YHVH) and his consort Asherah, send blessings in the couple's name.

The consort Asherah seems to be a female companion of Go_d or a female goddess?


Dear Murel,

Thanks for writing - holidays, research and work prevented me from answering earlier. My apologies.

Initially I thought to reject the question because of my own lack of currency with the subject, but it was interesting!

I found the following in responsible literature - with some excerpts and also references for you to follow up in the library or online.

Note that the book reviewer finds the author to be less than current or adequate to an "exciting" title for a book - Ahituv on Dever's book below!!

Thanks for understanding

Rabbi Dov

Reference for this article which is a book review:
Ahituv, Shmuel. “Did God Have a Wife?.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Sep/Oct 2006, 62-66. (accessed 6/12/2014)

Did God Have a Wife?
By Shmuel Ahituv

Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel
William G. Dever  (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), xiv+344 pages, $25.00 (hardcover)

“Did God Have a Wife?” is a sexy title to sell a book, but it is also a pivotal question in the author’s treatment of folk religion in ancient Israel. By the end of the book, I was not convinced that YHWH, the God of Israel (often written Yahweha), had a wife. On the other hand, I am not sure that he did not have a wife at a certain earlier phase in his history. The archaeological as well as textual evidence is ambiguous, although I believe the scales tip toward a negative answer.
The author is a well-known American archaeologist, with a fluent pen, who writes a readable book, with bits of gossip here and there, sometimes winking knowingly at his audience. He begins his book as a teacher, with an air of ex cathedra self-appraisal. He grades colleagues, some of them his former students, for their studies in religion, archaeology, anthropology and feminist studies.
In his introduction he declares that “This is a book about ordinary people in ancient Israel and their everyday religious lives, not about the extraordinary few who wrote and edited the Hebrew Bible ... My concern in this book is popular religion, or, better, ‘folk religion’ in all its variety and vitality.” He defines the difference between establishment religion and folk religion (or religions, as he prefers) in such a way as to sever from the study of religion any speculations on the divine, that is, theology. He restricts himself to the study of the religious practice of ordinary people. But this severance is almost impossible; even ordinary people, unsophisticated though they may be, have their own speculations, however crude they might be, about God(s). Otherwise these ordinary people would not bother to practice their religion.
The author declares his intent “to demonstrate that a cult of Asherah did flourish in Ancient Israel.”
The goddess Asherah emerges mostly from 14th–12th-century B.C.E. texts found at the city of Ugarit, on the Mediterranean coast of Syria. The language of the texts is Ugaritic, a branch of West Semitic, the same linguistic family as Hebrew. Written in alphabetic cuneiform on clay tablets, these Ugaritic texts contain myths about the goddess Asherah in the Semitic pantheon. Asherah of the Sea, as she is called there, was the consort of the old god El, the head of the pantheon, and she was the “creator of the gods,” their mother.
There is a chronological gap of at least 400 years between the Ugaritic texts and the Bible, however. One cannot jump directly from Late Bronze urban Ugarit to Iron Age rural Israel.
The Bible, on the other hand, is almost the sole source for studying Asherah in ancient Israel, notwithstanding the few archaeological texts of c. 800 B.C.E. (to be discussed later).
A most important point, wholly missing from Dever’s book, is any consideration of the fact that Asherah is totally absent from the Phoenician inscriptions of the first millennium B.C.E.b There is not a single mention of Asherah in this corpus, not even as a theophoric component in Phoenician personal names. It seems as if Asherah evaporated, vanished—or never existed—in the Iron Age (the first millennium B.C.E.), the age of Biblical Israel, at least as far as the Phoenician corpus is concerned.
‘Asherah appears 40 times in the Hebrew Bible. However, as is widely known and as Dever recognizes, “Much of the time the term ‘asheŻraŻh [in the Bible] apparently refers [not to a goddess but] to a wooden pole, or even a living tree. According to the several verbs used, this object [‘asherah] should be cut down, chopped into pieces, and destroyed, probably by being burned. Thus, it is clear that the ‘asheŻrîm (masculine plural for ‘asherah) were prohibited cult symbols associated with ‘Canaanite’ religious practices.” To the extent that this is true, the Biblical ‘asherah was not a goddess at all, but a cult symbol much like a standing stone.
Only in five cases in the Bible where ‘asherah is mentioned can there be any question. In all other Biblical references it is clear that ‘asherah is simply a wooden pole or a tree.
Because Asherah, the goddess, and ‘asherah, the wooden cult symbol, are written identically in Hebrew, which meaning is intended depends on the context. Let’s look at these five cases where the context is not absolutely clear.
In 1 Kings 15:13 the text speaks of the king’s mother who “made a for the asherah.” The meaning of miphleṣet is ambiguous, but it is not “an abominable image made for Asherah,” as the translation used by Dever has it. Rather miphleṣet indicates that the asherah is something that makes one shudder or tremble (palaṣut, a shudder).1 This awful ‘asherah was made of wood, however, and King Asa cut it and burned it in the Kidron Valley near Jerusalem. It is by no means clear that the reference is to a statue of a goddess.
In 2 Kings 21:3, 7 we are told that King Manasseh “made an ‘asherah, like Ahab king of Israel,” and “he put the statue of the ‘asherah that he made” in the Temple. However, his grandson, King Josiah, “removed all the vessels made for the Baal and the Asherah and the Host of Heaven and burn[ed] them” in the Kidron Valley (2 Kings 23:4). So this asherah, too, was wooden—a goddess or a cult symbol?
The most problematic Biblical verse is 2 Kings 23:7: “And he [Josiah] tore down the houses [i.e., rooms] of the kedeshim [most probably cult servants; there is no justification for describing these servants as male-prostitutes, as the New Jewish Publication Society translation does] that were in the House of YHWH, where the women were weaving batim for the Asherah.” The meaning of batim here is unclear. It would normally mean houses. Did the women weave tents for the Asherah? Dever suggests emending batim (houses), to read badim (garments, cloth, textiles). This emendation not only contradicts the principle of text interpretation known as lectio difficilior (the difficult reading is the preferred one), but the plural badim (singular bad) is used only in Late Biblical Hebrew. So Dever’s suggested emendation must be rejected.
What about the “450 prophets of the Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table” in 1 Kings 18:19? The story of Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al continues in the Hebrew text, but the prophets of Asherah are not mentioned again. True, they are mentioned in the text in the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. On the other hand, they are not mentioned in 1 Kings 18:40, where only the prophets of Baal, but not the prophets of Asherah, are slaughtered by the people. Long ago the well-known Biblical scholar Julius Wellhausen proposed that “and the 400 prophets of the Asherah” in 1 Kings 18:19 was a later interpolation into the text.
Last, it has sometimes been suggested that Jezebel, the Tyrian wife of Ahab, brought with her into Israelite society the cult of Asherah. But, curiously enough, as I noted earlier, Asherah is never mentioned in the many Phoenician surviving inscriptions of the first millennium B.C.E.
In any event, the overwhelming references to the ‘asherah/Asherah in the Bible, are not to a deity, but to an artifact, most probably a wooden pole or a tree.
If ‘asherah were a goddess, we would expect her to have a temple, or at least an altar. But the Biblical texts never mention a temple or an altar for the ‘asherah. It never has its own temple or its own altar; it is always part of the paraphernalia of an altar. Thus, in the story of Gideon, the Lord orders Gideon to “pull down the altar of the Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the ‘asherah which is beside it” (Judges 6:25). Elsewhere the Israelites are similarly commanded to obliterate the Canaanite altars and their paraphernalia: standing stones (maṣṣevot; singular, maṣṣevah) and sacred trees/pillars (‘asherot; plural of ‘asherah) (see Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 7:5; 12:3, etc.). Erecting maṣṣevot and ‘asherot beside altars to YHWH was often the custom in ancient Israel, as we learn from its Deuteronomistic prohibition: “You shall not plant/set up an ‘asherah, any kind of tree, beside the altar of YHWH your God that you make. And you shall not erect a maṣṣevah, such as YHWH your God detests” (Deuteronomy 16:21–22).
Now let us turn to the archaeologically recovered ancient inscriptions on which Dever relies, found at Khirbet el-Qom (Biblical Makkedah) in the Judean Shephelah (low hill country) and at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud in the northern Sinai.
At these sites, the name Asherah/‘asherah is mentioned in blessing formulae. At Makkedah the inscription reads: “Blessed is Uriyahu to YHWH and his Asherah/‘asherah.” At Kuntillet ‘Ajrud two inscriptions read: “I bless you (plural) to YHWH of Samaria and his Asherah/‘asherah” and “I bless you (singular) to YHWH of Teman and his Asherah/‘asherah.”
These inscriptions never mention Asherah/‘asherah alone. Asherah/‘asherah is mentioned only in connection with YHWH. True, it can be argued, as Dever does, that Asherah here is the consort of YHWH, but one cannot dismiss the argument that it was his sacred tree/pole. The epigraphic evidence is ambiguous.
Dever also relies on some crude drawings of figures that appear on the pithoi (large storage jars), on which the inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud are written. He speculates that one of these figures is the feminine consort of YHWH referred to as Asherah in the inscription. But Dever should have known that the late Pirhia Beck (whom he quotes) has demonstrated that these crude drawings—which include Bes, a distorted Egyptian dwarf god—has nothing to do with the elegant calligraphic inscriptions. The drawings were overwritten on the inscriptions, with no regard to the texts!
Dever also relies on non-inscriptional archaeological evidence for his contention that YHWH had a wife—the hundreds of figurines found in Judah from the end of the eighth century B.C.E. to the early sixth century B.C.E.. Dever contends that these figurines represent Asherah, consort of YHWH. Archaeologists commonly call these figurines “pillar figurines” because the lower part of the body is pillar-like (and hollow). The upper part is a woman supporting her large breasts. Dever insists they are Asherah: “These figurines clearly represent ‘Asherah’ (not ‘Astarte’), the principal Israelite female deity and patroness of mothers.”
If these figurines really represent a goddess (which I doubt), it is surely not the extinct Asherah, but the famous Astarte who was popular at this time in Phoenicia; her name runs through the Bible as the consort of Baal. Most of the Biblical references pair Baal and Astarte, as in the Akkadian ilani u ishtarti, “gods and goddesses.”
But I very much doubt that these figurines represent a goddess at all. Dever quotes University of Judaism scholar Ziony Zevit who refers to these figurines as “prayers in clay.” Zevit’s description of these figurines is right! They were used by women who prayed for lactation; hence the large breasts. It is not unlike some religious pilgrims today who, for example, leave a replica of a foot at a holy site as a prayer to heal an ailing foot.
Dever is unfortunately unreliable concerning any textual material. He does not read Hebrew or any other ancient language. Moreover, he makes a fool of himself when he discusses the Bible. A few examples (of many):
Dever writes: “That Isaiah was a patrician is also indicated by his status as an aristocratic advisor, almost a Prime Minister, under kings like Ahaz and Hezekiah.” Only God knows where Dever finds a hint to the effect that Isaiah served as a prime minister. Isaiah never acted as an advisor or a prime minister; he was a prophet. He was asked to pray for Hezekiah and for the delivery of Jerusalem, not to serve as prime minister.
Dever writes: “Hoshea, the last king of ... Israel ... [before the Assyrian destruction in the eighth century B.C.E.] is blamed for the catastrophe because he ‘set up pillars and Asherahs on every high hill and under every green tree, and there burned incense on all the high places (bāmôt)’” (2 Kings 17:10–11). It is not Hoshea who is blamed, Professor Dever, but Israel. The text reads “they” not “he.”
Dever quotes 1 Kings 16:32 as referring to the Temple in Jerusalem, but the Biblical text actually refers to the Baal temple that Ahab built in Samaria.
Dever writes that Passover “was to be celebrated at the full moon on the tenth day of the first month in spring.” Impossible, the full moon is always the 15th day of the month!
These examples could be multiplied—from Egyptian texts and late Jewish texts, as well as Biblical texts. Dever notes with approval the remark of a colleague that “the Hebrew Bible is ‘mute’ if you do not know Hebrew.” Back to school, professor!

[Tikva S. Frymer]
Source Citation   (MLA 7th Edition)
Frymer, Tikva S. "Asherah." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 562. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 12 June 2014.


ASHERAH (Heb. אֲשֵׁרָה), in the Bible both a Canaanite goddess and a wooden cult object.
The Goddess

A Canaanite fertility and mother goddess. Asherah is now well known from the Ugaritic texts, where she is called rabbatu atiratu yammi ("Lady Athirat of the Sea"). The name is most probably to be understood as a feminine participle of the verb ʾṯr (Heb. ʾshr "to go, to tread"), thus meaning "The Lady who Treads upon the Sea." It is possible that the name goes back to some early myth in which Athirat defeated the rebellious Yamm, although in the Ugaritic text this deed was accomplished by Baal and in the Egyptian story by Astarte. Alternatively, it is possible that the name indicates some connection of Asherah with the sea. She has been identified by some with the Cyprian Aphrodite, the goddess intimately connected with harbors (as well as with love). Asherah is apparently (although not explicitly) the consort of El, the father and creator of the gods (she is called qaniyatu el-îma, "The Progenitress of the Gods"), who are accordingly called "the [70] children of Asherah." Similarly, the gods are also called "sons of Qudšu" ("holiness"), which, like ʾelat ("goddess"), is to be taken as an epithet of Asherah. The title "Qudšu" connects Asherah to the Egyptian figurines of nude goddesses commonly identified as fertility figurines. They show a nude goddess en face, frequently with a lion, and are inscribed QDŠ (qudšu).

Asherah was popular throughout the ancient Near East. In the Old Babylonian sources, Ašratum is listed as the consort of Amurru and occasionally of Anu (the Babylonian counterpart of El). In the el-Amarna letters, one of the kings of Amurru is known as ʿAbdi-Aširti ("the servant of Asherah"), and a letter from Tell Taanach from the 15th century B.C.E. refers to an uban (for umman) Aširat ("a sage of Aširat"). A Late Hittite tablet contains a myth in which Asherah tries unsuccessfully to seduce Baal and complains to Elkunirša (El-qnhʾrs; "El the world-Creator," cf. Gen. 14:19) that Baal has insulted her. In the Ugaritic Epic of Keret, Asherah is called "Asherah of the Sidonians, goddess of the Tyrians," and was thus intimately connected with the cities of the Phoenician coast. She was brought into the court worship of Israel by *Jezebel , the daughter of the king of Tyre, who also brought with her the cult of the Tyrian Baal. Thus it is related that Elijah vanquished the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who "dined off Jezebel's table" (I Kings 18:19). Earlier, Maacah, the mother of King *Asa , built an abominable image for Asherah (la-Asherah) and was therefore removed from the post of queen mother (I Kings 15:13; II Chron. 15:16). The last case of royal worship of Asherah was in the time of Manasseh, who placed an idol of Asherah in the Temple (II Kings 21:7), from which it was removed by Josiah (II Kings 23:6). During the Israelite period, the worship of Asherah was generally connected with the worship of Baal; the phrase "Baalim and Asheroth" is used to designate foreign gods in general (e.g., Judg. 3:7), and the term Asheroth is used as a synonym for "goddesses."
The Cult Object

There are also references in the Bible to some object called an Asherah which can be built, planted, erected, or constructed; is placed near the altar; and is destroyed by chopping it down and burning it. It therefore seems that Asherah, which is never described in the Bible, is some cult object made out of wood. The traditional explanation of the Asherah as a sacred grove can probably be rejected on the grounds that it seems to have been a man-made object. It is not known whether this object was an image of the goddess Asherah placed near the altar (no evidence at all exists for this), a sacred pole representing her, or an object of some other sort. These objects reportedly found during excavations at Qatna, Megiddo, and Ai are charred pieces of wood, and there is no proof of their identity. The use of the Asherah is found in both Israel and Judah, and is intimately connected with the use of bamot and maẓẓevot (I Kings 14:23) as one of the elements borrowed from the surrounding religions. It is probable that the use of the Asherah was originally connected with the worship of the goddess Airat. In the 1970s inscriptions from the ninth-century site of Kuntillet Ajrud in the Sinai and from the eighth-century site of Khirbet al-Qom on the West Bank were discovered. These mention yhwh šmrm w'šrth and yhwh tmn w'šrth. These phrases have been interpreted as "Yahweh of Samaria and his Ashera," and "Yahweh of Teman and his Asherah." On this interpretation Asherah would have been Yahweh's consort. Others have rendered 'šrth as "his (Yahweh's) consort," arguing that the original divine name Asherah had become a common noun. Still others maintain that 'šr represents an alternative form of the name of the goddess, either Ashirta, attested as a theophorous element in proper names, or Asheretah. Others have taken 'šrth as a reference to the cultic object, translating "Yahweh of Samaria/Teman and its asherah" (II Kgs. 13:6).

W.F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (1968), index; Pope, in: H.W. Haussig (ed.), Woerterbuch der Mythologie, 1 (1965), 246–9 (incl. bibl.); Y. Yamashita, "The Goddess Asherah" (dissertation, Yale, 1963); W.L. Reed, The Asherah in the Old Testament (1949); IDB; Pritchard, Texts, 129–55. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Day, in: ABD, 1:483–87 (with bibliography); N. Wyatt, in: DDD, 99–105 (with bibliography).

Source Citation   (MLA 7th Edition)
Pope, Marvin H. "Baal Worship." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 9-13. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 12 June 2014.
Name and Etymology

The word baʿl, common Semitic for "owner, master, husband," became the usual designation of the great weather-god of the Western Semites. In spite of the fact that the word is used as the theophorous element in personal names, such as Eshbaal, Merib-Baal, Jerub Baal, it was long believed that the term remained an appellation and did not become a proper name, except in the case of the Mesopotamian Bel and in late theological speculation. The basis for this view was the fact that in biblical usage the plural of the term, with the article, "thePage 10  |  Top of Article Baalim," appears to designate minor local gods (Judg. 2:11; 3:7; 8:33), while the singular of the word in combination with other terms apparently designated minor or local gods, such as Baal-Berith, Baal-Gad, Baal-Hamon, Baal-Hazor, Baal-Hermon, or, in the feminine form, a goddess, Baalat-Beer, Baalat-Gebal. Further, in biblical usage when applied to the great weather-god, the singular regularly has the article, "the Baal," which suggests that the word was not regarded as a proper name. Nevertheless, despite the biblical tendency to avoid the use of the word as a proper name, it is now quite clear that by pre-Israelite times the term had become the usual name of the weather-god of Syria-Palestine. In the El-Amarna letters the logogram for the weather-god is conventionally read Addu, but that it is sometimes to be read Baʿluis indicated by the addition of the phonetic complement-lu, as well as by the names like Mut dIm written syllabically as mu-ut-ba-aḫ-lum. In the El-Amarna letters Canaanite clients addressed the Egyptian king as "My Baal, my Addu." In the Ugaritic mythological texts Baʿlu (bʿl) is the name of the god which is used more than twice as often as his next most frequent name, Haddu (hd). The latter name (Amarna, Addu) is to be related to Arabic hadda ("break," "crash") with reference to thunder. The variant form Hadad (hdd) is attested to only once in Ugaritic.

That there were minor Baalim also at Ugarit is indicated by a god list in Akkadian (see Ugaritica, 5, p. 44 ll. 4–10; reconstructed text) which after the great "Weather-god, Lord of Mount Ḫazi" presents six other "weather-gods," numbered two through seven. In the parallel Ugaritic list, which is unfortunately very fragmentary, the "Weather-god, Lord of Mount Ḫazi" apparently corresponds to Baal Ṣapān, while those following are termed simply Baalim (bʿlm). It may be, however, that these extra Baalim are Baal's attendants, mentioned as the seven or eight lads whom Baal is ordered to take with him in his descent into the netherworld.
Other Titles and Epithets

Besides the names Baal and Haddu, the Ugaritic texts furnish a variety of other titles, such as "Mighty Baal" (ʾaliyn bʿl) and "Prince, Lord of Earth" (zbl bʿl ars). The latter title has a biblical echo in the corrupted form Baal-Zebub (II Kings 1:2ff.), from an original Baal-Zebul, which is preserved in this form in the New Testament (Matt. 10:25, 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15, 18). A frequent epithet is "Cloud Rider" (rkb ʿrpt) which has an almost identical parallel in Psalms 68:5. A vivid description of theophany in a thunderstorm is found in Psalms 18:7–15 (= II Sam. 22:8–16). Of special interest is the designation ʿAliy (ʿly) which is twice applied to Baal in the Krt Epic:

To the earth Baal rained,
To the field rained ʿAliy.
Sweet to the earth was Baal's rain
To the field the rain of ʿAliy.

Before the discovery and recognition of this name in Ugaritic, H.S. Nyberg had restored it in Deuteronomy 33:12; I Samuel 2:10; II Samuel 23:1; Isaiah 59:18, 63:7; and Hosea 7:16. Since the Ugaritic verified the antiquity and authenticity of this divine name, additional instances have been alleged in the Psalter and in Job.

A common designation of Baal in the Ugaritic myths is bn-dgn "son of Dagān"; but Baal is also considered the son of El who is called "Bull El his [i.e., Baal's] father; El King who begot him [Baal]" (tr il abh; il mlk dyknnh). Since El and Dagān are distinct deities, this seeming confusion over Baal's paternity needs explanation. A solution has been supplied by a tradition ascribed to the ancient Phoenician priest Sakkunyaton (Greek Sanchuniathōn) that when El-Kronos defeated Ouranos, he captured in the battle Ouranos' pregnant concubine and gave her to Dagān. The divine child was named Demarous, one of the cognomens of Zeus-Baal-Hadad. The Semitic original of this name has been recognized in one of Baal's names in Ugaritic:

Then said Mighty Baal:
Foes of Hadd why haste ye?
Why haste ye opponents of Dmrn?

(The name is to be connected with the root ‡dmr, "be strong, brave," and is probably the same as that of Abraham's son Zimrān (‡damarān), the -n afformative being preserved in the genitive case of the Greek form Demarountos). Thus, according to Sakkunyaton, Baal's natural father was Ouranos and Dagān became his foster-father, while El-Kronos effected the transfer. That Baal appears to be a relative newcomer in the Ugaritic pantheon has been generally recognized, and it may be that Sakkhunyaton's story about Baal's paternity reflects a mythologizing of the process by which Baal was integrated into the family of El.
Baal's Residence

Baal's abode was Mount Ṣapān, identified as Jebel el-Aqraʿ ("Mount Baldy") some 30 mi. north of Ugarit. A god Baal Ṣapān was known from Egyptian and Akkadian sources before the discovery of the Ugaritic documents. In an Akkadian catalogue of Ugaritic deities Baal Ṣapān is listed as dIM be-el huršān ḫa-zi, "Storm-God, Lord of Mount Ḫazi" (see above; Ḫaz [z] i being the Hurrian name of Mount Ṣapān which survives in the Greek and Latin Kasios/Casius as the name of the storied mountain of the gods). Isaiah 14:13 alludes to this divine abode as "the Mount of Assembly in the recesses of ẓafon" (har moʿed be-yarkete ẓafon), the latter phrase being the equivalent of Ugaritic mrym ṣpn or ṣrrt ṣpn, the height or fastness of Ṣapān. The cosmic character of ẓafon leads to its use as a synonym for "sky" in Job 26:7: "who stretched out ẓafon on emptiness who suspended earth on naught." That ẓafon designated the "north" in Hebrew is presumably due to the fact that Mount Casius lies directly north of Palestine. In Psalms 89:13 ẓafon and yamin, in parellelism with Tabor and Hermon, hardly designate the directions north and south; yamin is almost certainly a corruption of Amana, the southern portion of the Taurus mountains, the alteration of ʾamanah to yamin being occasioned by the misunderstanding of ẓafon asPage 11  |  Top of Article the direction rather than the name of the holy mountain. In Psalms 48:2–3, Mount Zion is equated with "the recesses of ẓafon" (the phrase quoted above from Isa. 14:13). The association of the name Baal-Zephon with Israel's exit from Egypt (Ex. 14:2, 9; Num. 33:7) has been made the basis of intriguing speculation by Eissfeldt.
Baal in the Ugaritic Myths

The bulk of the Ugaritic mythological texts is concerned with the activities of Baal. In correlating the sequence of events, Baal's victory over the sea-god, Yamm, is probably to be placed near the beginning of the action, since it was presumably this exploit which gained him the dominant position among the gods, just as *Marduk achieved preeminence by defeating the sea-monster Tiamat. With the help of wonder weapons supplied and blessed by the versatile Koshar (the craftsman god), Baal was able to defeat and rout the sea-god. It has been suggested that this clash was indirectly a conflict between Baal and El, with Yamm serving as champion for the venerable El, as the Titans fought on behalf of Kronos in the Greek version of the myth and the stone colossus Ulikummi for Kumarbi in the Hurrian-Hittite version which is roughly contemporary with the Ugaritic texts.

The biblical allusions to YHWH's victory over the sea preserve echoes of the older exploit of Baal (cf. Isa. 27:1, 30:7, 51:9–10; Ezek. 29:3–5, 32:2–6; Nah. 1:4; Hab. 3:8; Ps. 74:13–14, 89:9–10, 93:1ff.; Job 3:8, 7:12, 9:13, 26:12–13, 38:8–11, 40:25). YHWH's victory over the waters is connected either with the rescue of Israel at the Exodus (Ps. 114) or with eschatological victory (Isa. 27:1). The eschatological traits were taken over with the Canaanite myths. The triumph of Baal recounted in the myths and perhaps reenacted in ritual drama gave assurance of help in the present and the future as in the past. The prize of the victory was kingship over the gods and the enthronement ritual guaranteed the natural order of life and the welfare of the society. The motifs of these myths were adopted and adapted in Jewish and Christian eschatology.

The longest of the texts deals with the construction of Baal's house on top of Mount Ṣapān. A complaint is made to Bull El, father of the gods, that Baal has no house like other gods. Apparently in anticipation of developments the artisan god Koshar had cast furnishings of gold and silver. Asherah, mother of the gods, was prevailed upon to intercede with El to gain permission for the building. El is praised for his wisdom in granting the request since now it is insured that Baal will give his rain in season. The building materials, gold, silver, and lapis lazuli, were procured and the architect-builder Koshar was invited to dinner and consultation. Koshar twice recommended that a window be installed and Baal twice vetoed the suggestion, although Koshar insisted that Baal would have to reconsider. Baal's objection to the window somehow concerned his three daughters and the sea-god (Yamm), but the text is broken at this point. (The suggestion that Jer. 9:20 presents a parallel is mistaken since the Ugaritic text mentions the sea-god and not Death (Mot) in connection with the window.) Baal's house was constructed in an extraordinary fashion. For seven days a fire burned inside the building, and when it subsided, the house was plated with gold, silver, and lapis lazuli. Baal rejoiced and celebrated with a banquet. After a sortie against the sea-god, Baal returned to his house and ordered Koshar to install a window; Koshar laughed, reminded Baal of the debate, and complied. Through the window, a cleft in the clouds, Baal gave forth his holy voice which convulsed the earth and sent his enemies scurrying to the hills and woods. Issuing a challenge to his enemy Mot (death), who presumed to rule gods and men, Baal dispatched his messengers to Mot's infernal, filthy abode, warning them not to get close to Mot's rapacious jaws.

The sequel to this action is furnished by the group of texts which recount Baal's confrontations with Mot. In the first encounter, Baal is invited to a banquet at which he is to be both guest and main course. Baal's response to Mot's invitation to come and be devoured is abject surrender: "Thy slave am I, thine eternal." Before descending to the realm of death, Baal copulates with a heifer and begets a male offspring. After a textual gap, there is a report that Baal's corpse has been found. El and Anath mourn violently, mutilating their faces and bodies. With the help of the sun-goddess Shapsh, Anath locates the dead Baal, carries him to the height of Ṣapān, and weeping buries him with funerary sacrifices. Ashtar the Awful (ʿttrʿrẓ) was then nominated to replace Baal, but when he ascended the throne, his feet did not reach the footstool nor his head the top and so he declined to reign on the heights of Ṣapān and descended from Baal's throne, but ruled over all El's earth. Since the root ʿtr in Arabic is connected with artificial irrigation, it is apparent that Ashtar's failure to measure up to Baal represents the inadequacy of irrigation as a substitute for natural rainfall.

Baal's sister-consort Anath demanded that Mot release her brother. Mot refused and boasted how he had mangled Baal. Anath then dismembered Mot, scattered and burned the pieces, and gave them to the birds. Baal's resurrection followed Mot's demise, the good news being transmitted through a dream of El:

In a dream of Beneficent El Benign,
A vision of the Creator of Creatures,
The skies rained oil,
The wadies flowed honey.
So I knew that Mighty Baal lives,
The Prince, Lord of Earth, exists.

The fields were still parched from the drought and again Anath and Shapsh set out to find Baal. Next both Mot and Baal appear reconstituted and reactivated and again in conflict. They clash violently until both are prostrate and the Sungoddess warns Mot not to fight with Baal lest El hear and overthrow him. This time, Baal puts up a fight and holds Mot off in battle. Thus it is clear that Baal, representing the life-giving rains, fluctuates in his ability to withstand the power of Mot, who represents drought, sterility, and death.
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YHWH Versus Baal

The worship of Baal in Syria-Palestine was inextricably bound to the economy of the land which depends on the regularity and adequacy of the rains. Unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia, which depend on irrigation, the Promised Land drinks water from the rain of heaven (Deut. 11:10–11). During the summer months the rains cease, but the temporary drought is no threat unless it is abnormally prolonged. Figs and grapes ripen during the dry season and the grain harvest also takes place before the rains resume. In a normal good year, when the rains come in due season, there is no hiatus in productivity, for the land yields its increase, the trees produce their fruit, the threshing overlaps, the vintage overlaps the sowing, and there is food aplenty, prosperity, and peace (Lev. 26:4–6). But not all years are good, and in a bad year, or a series of bad years, when the rains fail, the skies become like iron, the land like brass, and man's toil is futile for the earth will not yield its increase (Lev. 26:19–20). A series of bad years, which were apparently believed to come in seven-year cycles (cf. Gen. 41; II Sam. 1:21), would be catastrophic. Thus in any year anxiety about the rainfall would be a continuing concern of the inhabitants which would suffice to give rise to rites to ensure the coming of the rains. Thus the basis of the Baal cult was the utter dependence of life on the rains which were regarded as Baal's bounty.

Biblical narrative incorporates tales of Baal worship into the traditions of the wilderness wandering, thus tracing Baal worship to the earliest period of Israel's existence. At Shittim they attached themselves to Baal-Peor, ate sacrifices for the dead, and indulged in sacred sexual orgies (Num. 25:1–11; Ps. 106:28). Life in a land dependent on rainfall enhanced the appeal of the Baal cult and its pervasive influence persisted through the centuries, as the unrelenting protests of the prophets and the sporadic efforts at reform attest. Horrendous and repulsive aspects of the worship – sexual excesses and perversions (Isa. 57:3–10), perhaps including copulation with animals (Hos. 13:2) such as Baal himself performed in the Ugaritic myth – are depicted in the prophetic tirades. Virtually all reference to Baal's consort, the violent "Virgin Anath" – with whom Baal copulates by the thousand in one of the Ugaritic mythological fragments – has been excluded from the Bible, but the goddesses Ashtart (Judg. 2:13) and *Asherah (Judg. 6:30; II Kings 16:32–33) are associated with him.

The conflict of Yahwism and Baalism reached a crisis with Elijah's challenge to Baal's prophets to settle the question whether it was Baal or YHWH who really supplied the rain (I Kings 18). The spectacular victory for Yahwism did not have a lasting effect. Extra-biblical evidence for the flourishing Baal cult at Samaria in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E. was furnished by Harvard University excavations in the form of personal names containing Baal as the theophorous element, such as bʾybʿl, "Baal is my father," bʿl zmr, "Baal sings" or "Baalis strong," bʿl zkr, "Baal remembers," bʿl mʿny, "Baal is my answer," etc. Jehu's massacre of the Baal worshipers (II Kings 10:18–28) did not eradicate bull worship (II Kings 10:31). In Judah the murder of the queen mother, *Athaliah , and of Mattan, priest of Baal, and the smashing of the altars and cult images in the Baal temple (II Kings 11:18) did not wipe out the cult (II Kings 12:3–4). Ahaz fostered Baal worship (II Chron. 28:2); Hezekiah attempted to eliminate it; Manasseh his son again gave it royal support (II Kings 21:3); and Josiah in his turn purged the Temple of YHWH of the utensils made for Baal and Asherah (II Kings 23:4).

The contest on Mount Carmel was reported as demonstrating that Baal was an impotent non-entity and that the rain came only from YHWH. This viewpoint was developed as the basic and final argument against Baalism. With Baal's functions accredited to YHWH, it was natural and fitting that some of Baal's titles would also be taken over. Portions of ancient Baal liturgy were adapted to the praise of Israel's God, as the Ugaritic poems have shown. To accommodate Baal ideology to Yahwism required some radical transformations. The summer drought did not mean that YHWH had died (like Baal), nor did the return of the rains signal the resurrection. The rains were fully controlled by YHWH who called them from the sea and poured them out on the surface of the earth (Amos 5:8b; 9:6b). He could, and did, withhold the rain from one city and lavish it on another (Amos 4:7). None of the foolish practices of the heathen could bring the rains; only YHWH could and did (Jer. 10:11–13; 14:22). If the rains failed and drought and death came upon the land and people, it was not because Mot had mangled Baal and made the glowing sun-goddess destructive; it was rather YHWH's way of meting out merited punishment to a faithless and sinful people (Deut. 11:17; I Kings 8:35–36; Jer. 3:2–3). The continued worship of Baal was given as one of the causes for the destruction of Judah (Jer. 19:5ff.). Payment of the full tithe to the food stores of the Temple, some thought, would guarantee that YHWH would open the windows of heaven and pour down overflowing blessings (Mal. 3:10; cf. Avot 5:11 on the connection between tithing and rain). The prophet Haggai attributed the drought and scarcity in his day to the failure to rebuild the Temple (Hag. 1:7–11).

When the rain failed, it was inevitable that some would question YHWH's power and resort to Baal. In distress some would naturally revert to the old ways of reviving or reactivating the rain-god – prayer, mourning, self-laceration, dancing, and water-pouring (I Kings 18:26–28; Hos. 7:14–16). The right remedy, according to Israel's prophets, was to repudiate Baal completely and to seek and return to Israel's true God (Isa. 55:6–13; Jer. 4:1–2; Hos. 14:2).

O. Eissfeldt, Beitraege zur Religionsgeschichte des Altertums I (1932); H.L. Ginsberg, Kitvei Ugarit (1936); J. Oberman, Ugaritic Mythology (1948); A.S. Kapelrud, Baal in the Ras Shamra Texts (1952); M. Dahood, in: Studi Semitici, 1 (1958), 75–78; N. Habel, Yahweh Versus Baal: A Conflict of Religious Cultures (1964); J. Gray, The Legacy of Canaan (rev. ed., 1965); H.B. Huffmon, Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts (1965), 174; W.F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (1968); Albright, Arch Rel; S.M. Paul, in: Biblica, 49 (1968), 343–6; U. Oldenburg, The Conflict Between El and Baʿl inPage 13  |  Top of Article Canaanite Religion (1969). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: W. Hermann, in: DDD, 132–38; M.S. Smith, The Ugaritic Baal Cycle (1994).

[Marvin H. Pope]
Source Citation   (MLA 7th Edition)
Pope, Marvin H. "Baal Worship." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 9-13. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 12 June 2014.
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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2587501786
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