Asherah is most famous for being the wife of God. Based on two poorly understood sets of ancient inscriptions, it has become scholarly orthodoxy that Yahweh had a spouse and she was Asherah. This book, which is my revised Edinburgh doctoral dissertation, explores what we really know about this goddess.
The chapters explore, firstly, the material from Ugarit, then Mesopotamia, Israel (the Bible), and inscriptions. Originally the book did not address iconography for the basic reason that no inscribed image is explicitly identified as Asherah. The second edition of the book has articles in it which address aspects of the visual artifacts associated with the goddess.
A word about the second edition: I wasn’t intending to “double dip” with this book. Like any grad student I wanted my dissertation to be published. My advisor suggested the well-known “Ancient Near East” series AOAT, published in Germany. Typical of European academic presses, they did a small initial print run and let the book go out of stock indefinitely. (For those of you who’ve worked with me as an editor, believe me, I know how this feels!) Colleagues asked when it was coming out in paperback so they could afford a copy. AOAT is a hardcover series, priced for the library market.
Unwilling to relinquish the rights to the book, Verlag Butzon & Bercker und Neukirchener Verlag kept the status quo ante. When I was hired by Gorgias Press, I asked the owner if he’d try to get the rights. I wanted to start a new series called Gorgias Ugaritic Studies, and we needed a quorum. I also explained that a paperback edition would likely sell. The text is exactly the same as the original edition, but with the “value added” journal articles I’d published on Asherah. It ended up being hardcover only edition and more expensive than the original. Sorry about that, folks. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to read the book.
Who Was Asherah?
The single-most important resource for understanding Asherah is the obscure site of Ras Shamra in northern Syria. Known as Ugarit in ancient times, this city-state left a trove of incredibly important clay tablets that have been overlooked repeatedly by the media, and sometimes by academics. These tablets predate the Bible and give rich information about the divine world of “the Canaanites.” Scholars now realize that Israelites were virtually indistinguishable from “Canaanites,” but that doesn’t impact the general public’s view of these differing cultures. Nevertheless, the Ugaritic tablets contain the most sustained information about Asherah from the ancient world.
This book contains the most thorough study of Asherah at Ugarit available in English. Most other books on the goddess focus on the fragmentary inscriptions found at Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom. Or perhaps the piecemeal material available in the Hebrew Bible. To get a clear picture of Asherah, Ugarit must be taken into account. There she was the consort of the high god El, or Ilu. She had the power of the rabitu, or “queen mother” of the gods. She isn’t associated with trees or lions or serpents in the surviving texts. All of this flies in the face of scholarly orthodoxy, so it has been predictably ignored.
Today Asherah is best known as “God’s wife.” The evidence for this is slim. I suspect it was likely believed in popular religious thought in ancient Israel, but I’m not satisfied by the paltry nature of the evidence.
About the Book
As is typical of a first book and revised dissertation, A Reassessment of Asherah had a limited print run and was high priced. For reasons that I understand but don’t comprehend, academic publishers don’t think individuals buy such books (well…). They price them near $100 because libraries (used to, at least) pay a lot more than a mere mortal will for a book. Unfortunately a paperback has never been issued. Because of the way the library market works, hardcover editions of academic titles sell better than paperbacks. Publishers have the stats to back this up. In any case, between these two editions you’ll likely find one at a large university library near you.
The dissertation upon which the book is based was completed in 1992 at the University of Edinburgh under the direction of John C. L. Gibson and Nicolas Wyatt. It was published the following year and reissued in expanded form but with the original text unchanged, in 2007. The additional material for this second edition was comprised of the academic articles I’d written about the goddess. In other words, if you have access to the second edition there’s nothing from the first edition that you won’t find there. Besides, the typesetting is better in the reissued version.
Let’s hope the weather’s nice for a wedding!