A very prominent documentary-making company contacted me today. It is in the research stage of planning a documentary on Asherah. I am overwhelmed that I have been asked for advice and that the old girl has finally received some public interest. Scholars are generally accustomed to spinning in smaller and smaller circles of specialization that have little draw for the wider public. Having said that, Asherah is, my own interests aside, a most fascinating deity.
One of the greatest obstacles to modern readers on ancient religion is the fact that gods don’t neatly fit into predetermined categories. We like to think of deities as the “god/goddess of –” where the blank is filled by some natural phenomenon. This is a fallacy that I once whimsically coined the “divine genitival construct.” It is easy to think of Baal as the god of rain, but he is so much more than that! I tell my students that they must think of deities as “persons” first; they are fictional characters, and like good fictional characters they have many aspects to their personalities. They are complex, multilayered, and often conflicted. This is especially the case with Asherah. She is a goddess who represents the royal female. Kind of hard to picture. Not queenship, but the power behind the throne. She is more familiar in the form of Hera in Greek mythology – the primary spouse who tries to keep a philandering husband in line. She is, however, a powerful goddess. She is mother of the gods, the character without whom no other lesser deities would exist. By extension, she is the producer of the gods who make our world possible.
Publications continue to emerge claiming all manner of hypostases for Asherah, many of which are unfounded. I believe it is because we all need the sacred mother, the female authority figure. Our society, still hopelessly patriarchal, yearns for the goddess who understands. Unfortunately, that is not this historical Asherah, it is the Asherah of the modern imagination. If she helps to assuage some of life’s inequities, however, even a mythical Asherah may still serve a valuable function today.