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‘Ashtart, commonly known as Astarte (also Hebrew or Phoenician עשתרת (transliterated Ashtoreth), Ugaritic ‘ttrt (also ‘Attart or ‘Athtart), Akkadian dAs-tar-tú (also Astartu), Greek Αστάρτη (Astártê)), was a major northwest-Semitic goddess, cognate in name, origin, and functions with the east-Semitic goddess Ishtar.
‘Ashtart was connected with fertility, sexuality, and war. Her symbols were the lion, the horse, the sphinx, the dove, and a star within a circle indicating the planet Venus. Pictorial representations often show her naked.
Other major centers of ‘Ashtart's worship were Sidon, Tyre, and Byblos. Coins from Sidon portray a chariot in which a globe appears, presumably a stone representing ‘Ashtart. In Sidon she shared a temple with Eshmun. At Beirut coins show Poseidon, Astarte, and Eshmun worshipped together.
Other cult centers were Cytherea, Malta, and Eryx in Sicily from which she became known to the Romans as Venus Erycina. A bilingual inscription on the Pyrgi Tablets dating to about 500 BCE found near Caere in Etruria equates ‘Ashtart with Uni, that is Juno. At Carthage ‘Ashtart was worshipped along side the goddess Tanit.
Donald Harden in The Phoenicians discusses a statuette of ‘Ashtart from Tutugi (Galera) near Granada in Spain dating to the 6th or 7th century BCE in which ‘Ashtart sits on a throne flanked by sphinxes holding a bowl beneath her breasts which are pierced. A hollow in the statue would have been filled with milk through the head and gentle heating would have melted wax plugging the holes, producing an apparent miracle.
‘Ashtart in Ugarit
‘Ashtart appears in Ugaritic texts under the name ‘Athtart but is of little importance in those texts. ‘Athtart and ‘Anat together hold back Ba‘al from attacking the other gods. ‘Ashtart also asks Ba‘al to "scatter" Yamm 'Sea' after Ba‘al's victory. ‘Athtart is called the "Face of Ba‘al".
‘Ashtart in Egypt
‘Ashtart's first appears in Egypt beginning with the 18th dynasty along with other northwest Semitic deities. She was especially worshipped in her aspect of a war goddess, often paired with the goddess ‘Anat. In the Contest Between Horus and Set, these two goddesses appear as daughters of Re and are given in marriage to the god Set, here identified with the Semitic god Hadad. ‘Ashtart was also identified with the goddess Sekhmet but seemingly more often conflated, at least in part, with Isis to judge from the many images found of ‘Ashtart suckling a small child. Indeed there is statue of the 6th century BCE in the Cairo museum which would normally be taken as protraying Isis with her child Horus on her knee and which in every detail of iconography follows normal Egyptian conventions but the dedicatory inscription reads: "Gersaphon, son of Azor, son of Slrt, man of Lydda, for his Lady, for ‘Ashtart." See G. Daressy, (1905) pl. LXI (CGC 39291).
Plutarch in his On Isis and Osiris indicates that the king and queen of Byblos who unknowingly have the Osiris' body in a pillar in their hall are Melcarthus (that is Melqart) and Astarte (though he notes some instead call the queen Saosis or Nemanûs which Plutarch interprets as corresponding to the Greek name Athenais).
‘Ashtart described by Sanchuniathon
In the description of the Phoenician pantheon ascribed to Sanchuniathon ‘Ashtart appears as a daughter of Sky and Earth and sister of the god El. After El overthrows and banishes his father Sky, Sky sends to El as some kind of trick his "virgin daughter" ‘Ashtart along with her sisters Asherah and the goddess who will later be called Ba‘alat Gebul 'Lady of Byblos'. It seems that this trick does not work as all three become wives of their brother El. ‘Ashtart bears to El children who appear under Greek names as seven daughters called the Titanides or Artemides and two sons named Pothos 'Longing' and Eros 'Desire'.
Later we see, with El's consent, ‘Ashtart and Hadad reigning over the land together. ‘Ashtart, puts the head of a bull on her own head to symbolize her sovereignty. Wandering through the world ‘Ashtart takes up a star that has fallen from the sky and consecrates it at Tyre.
The Masoretic (from "Masorah", which is a body of scribal notes that form a textual guide to the Hebrew Old Testament, compiled from the 7th to 10th centuries A.D.) pointing in the Hebrew Tanach indicate the pronunciation as ‘Ashtōreth instead of the expected ‘Ashtereth, probably because the two last syllables have here been pointed with the vowels belonging to bōsheth 'abomination' to indicate that word should be substituted when reading. The plural form, referring to multiple ‘Ashtarts, is pointed as ‘Ashtārôth.
Astarte and Ashtoreth
Astarte, or Ashtoret in Hebrew, was the principal goddess of the Phoenicians, representing the productive power of nature. She was a lunar goddess and was adopted by the Egyptians as a daughter of Ra or Ptah.
In Jewish mythology, she is referred to as Ashtoreth, supposedly interpreted as a female demon of lust in Hebrew monotheism. This interpretation is also inherited by Christianity. The name Asherah may also be confused with Ashtoreth, but is probably a different goddess.
In Christian demonology, Ashtoreth is connected to Friday, and visually represented as a young woman with a cow's horns on her head (sometimes with a cow's tail too).
The cult of Astarte was one of the main competitors to the early Hebrew monotheism.
There is a serious basis for the opinion that the Greek goddess Aphrodite (especially Aphrodite Urania) is just another name for Astarte. Herodotus wrote that the cult of Aphrodite originated in Phoenicia and came to Greeks from there. He also wrote about the world's largest temple of Aphrodite, in one of the Phoenician cities.
Connection to planet Venus is another similarity to the Aphrodite cult, apparently from the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. Doves sacrificed is another.
For what seems to be the use of the Hebrew plural form ‘Ashtārôth as the name of a male demon see Astaroth.
- Donald Harden, The Phoenicians (2nd ed., revised, London, Penguin 1980). ISBN 0140213759
- G. Daressy, Statues de divinités, (CGC 38001-39384), vol. II (Cairo, Imprimerie de l'Institut français d'archéologie orientale, 1905).
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