When my book on Asherah was first published in 1993, some reviewers criticized my humble effort to sort out the identity of this goddess without resorting to iconography. As I had anticipated this, in the text itself I provided what I thought was a reasonable rationale for my decision. It is a sad fact that ancient polytheists seldom captioned their imagery. Some images so clearly resemble the character of deities described in the myths that correlations are almost certain. Asherah, alas, lacks that privilege.
No item from ancient West Asia has yet been recovered that bears an inscription identifying the portrait as Asherah. We simply do not know what the ancients believed she looked like. This hasn’t prevented modern scholars from assigning an Aserah value to certain favored artifacts with a great deal of certainty. So much certainty, in fact, that we don’t know which certainties to trust. If iconic emblems for Asherah existed, that might provide a way of connecting images to the goddess. Unfortunately, snakes, lions, and “twigs” — the usual suspects — could fit just about any goddess with a little twisting. So we are forever left with iconic ambivalence.
Of all the artifacts recovered from the Levant, where Asherah was actively worshipped, only one, it seems to me, is a potentially clear match. Not as alluring as the Asherahs of popular imagination, she is actually described as a matronly figure, the consort of patrician El. The El images that seem beyond question illustrated him comfortably seated on his throne of state, hand raised in a sign of blessing (or waving good-bye). One image found at Ugarit presents a feminine counterpart in posture and pose. This is likely the image of Asherah. Younger, sexier goddesses need not apply. This one instance reminds us of just how little we know of the immense divine world of Ugarit. If we are careful in our explorations, however, there is much to be learned.