ASHTORETH (Heb. עַשְׁתׁרֶת), Canaanite goddess. Possibly, the deliberate corruption of the name ʿštrt (ʿaštart or ʿašteret) is meant to conform to the vocalization of the Hebrew word boshet ("shame"; see *Euphemism and Dysphemism). Ashtoreth is the preeminent goddess in the Bible, and the plural Ashtaroth is a generic term for goddesses, used together with *Baal(im) as a collective term for illicit worship (e.g., Judg. 2:13, "Baal and Ashtaroth"; i Sam. 7:3, "strange gods and Ashtaroth"; Judg. 10:6; i Sam. 7:4; 12:10, "Baalim and Ashtaroth"). In Israel, her worship is associated with the Sidonians, but Solomon in his later years went after "Ashtoreth, goddess of the Sidonians" (i Kings 11:5), and *Josiah destroyed the cult places which Solomon had built on the "Mount of Corruption (see: *Mount of Olives) for Ashtoreth, the abomination of the Sidonians" (ii Kings 23:13). Ashtoreth (Greek Astarté) is known from the Ugaritic texts, where, however, her role is overshadowed by that of her alter ego, the goddess Anath. Both Astarte and Anath are the sisters and consorts of Baal and share the dual character of goddesses of love and of war; both are also associated with horses and the hunt. According to Ugaritic texts, Anath and Ashtoreth also share the same abode. It seems therefore that Anath and Ashtoreth are different aspects of the same goddess. This supposition is corroborated by the figure of the Aramaic goddess Atargatis, whose name results from a conflation of the names Astarte and Anath.
Astarte is a fierce warrior goddess and the goddess of sexual love (eros) and fertility. Like her Akkadian counterpart Ištar, she is an astral deity and is associated with the evening star. The name ʿAttart is a feminine form of the name ʿAttar, a god known from Ugarit and South Arabian sources, and associated with the morning star. The name is also known from the inscription of King *Mesha of Moab (1. 17, in: Pritchard, Texts, 320), where Ashtar-Chemosh occurs as a variant of Chemosh, the name of the national god of Moab. Since Ashtoreth as warrior goddess carries the full title ʿAštart-šem-Baʿal both in Ugarit (e.g., Pritchard, Texts, 130) and in the Eshmunazor (ibid., 505, 1.18) inscriptions from Sidon 1,000 years later, it has been suggested that the name is derived ultimately from some root meaning "sparkle" and "splendor," but the evidence is far from conclusive. As the goddess of reproduction, her name became a common noun meaning "increase [of the flock]" in Deuteronomy 7:13; 28:4, 18, 51. (But it is possible that "increase," or "womb of flock," was the original meaning.) As witnessed by numerous personal names, Astarte was already popular in the Late Bronze Age. She played a large role in the cult at Ugarit, and her name appears often in ritual texts and sacrificial lists. From Egypt there is the Astarte papyrus (19th dynasty, in Pritchard, Texts, 17–18), an Egyptian recounting of the Canaanite myth of the revolt of the sea, in which Astarte is given as bride to the sea god Yamm, who is ultimately defeated. (In the Baal cycle from Ugarit, Astarte appears as the ally of Baal in his defeat of Yamm.) There are also numerous Egyptian representations of her as a naked young girl seated astride a stallion, carrying a bow and arrow or javelin and shield. The so-called Astarte Plaques, clay figurines of a mother goddess generally associated with the fertility cults, may be another representation of the goddess. She is most probably the "Queen of Heaven," for whom the women of Judah kneaded cakes, libated, and burned incense in order to assure fertility and plenty (Jer. 44:17–19; cf. Jer. 7:18).
W.F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (1968), 113–8; Albright, Arch Rel, 74–77; J. Leclant, in: Syria, 37 (1960), 1–67; A.H. Gardiner, in: Studies… F. L Griffith (1932), 74–85; M. Pope, in: H.W. Haussig (ed.), Woerterbuch der Mythologie, 1 (1965), 250–2 (incl. bibl.); J. Gray, in: idb, 1 (1962), 255–6; Pritchard, Texts, 129–55; H. Gese et al., Die Religionen Altsyriens, Altarabiens und der Manúäer (Die Religionen der Menschheit 10.2) (1970), pp. 137ff. and 161 ff. add. bibliography: N. Wyatt, ddd, 109–14
[Tikva S. Frymer]