Astarte And Ishtar
Posted by foryourfaith on April 20, 2011
A major theme recurring throughout the Old Testament and especially in the Prophets is the admonition and punishment of the Israelites for worshiping false gods. The Ten Commandments warn against this, stating “I am the Lord your God . . . You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image” (Exodus 20:2-4).
There are numerous biblical references to warnings about the worship of the gods of the Canaanites, Babylonians, and Assyrians. Canaanite religion contained a pantheon of gods and goddesses who continued to be worshiped throughout biblical times; chief among the goddesses was Astarte, or Ashtoreth. She is known from Ugaritic and ancient Egyptian texts recounting the epic deeds of Baal and his cohorts. Scholars believe that the Canaanite Astarte is identical to the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian goddess Ishtar. In ancient texts and art, Astarte and Ishtar are identified, and have as their symbols the planet Venus.
Astarte is closely associated with Baal, Baal’s sister and consort, Anath, and his mother, Asherah. Within the Canaanite mythology, Baal and the three female goddesses were the centerpieces of a fertility cult. The goddesses appear variously as sexual cult objects, as sacred courtesans, or as the mother goddess, depicted as a nude pregnant woman. Figurines of this sort have been found by archaeologists excavating Canaanite sites.
Ishtar is known from various Babylonian and Assyrian texts, inscriptions, hymns, and artifacts. Like Astarte, she was worshiped as the goddess of fertility, and had as her symbol Venus, the evening star. In one Assyrian hymn, Ishtar is quoted as saying “Ishtar, the goddess of the morning, and Ishtar, the goddess of the evening, am I.”
Temples were built to Ishtar in all the major cities of Babylonia and Assyria. Slaves were often dedicated to her temples, and ancient kings frequently offered her gifts. Sargon is known to have presented her with cedar and cypress wood, and Nebuchadnezzar gave her offerings of animals, birds, fish and wine. Although child sacrifice has been associated with the cult of Astarte, there is no evidence to suggest that this terrible custom was practiced among Ishtar’s devotees.
A fertility goddess, Ishtar was also thought to bestow life, health, and innumerable other blessings upon mankind. On account of this belief, she was frequently beseeched in prayers. Ashurbanipal prayed to her for long life, as did Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, Ashurbanipal’s library was found to contain a number of prayers and psalms dedicated to the goddess. In one, the poet writes: “Her song is sweeter than honey and wine, sweeter than sprouts and herbs, superior indeed to pure cream.”
Despite the prohibition against the worship of false gods, and the prophets constantly inveighing against idolatry, a cult to Ishtar was thought to have flourished in Israel during the tie of the prophet Jeremiah. The cult was especially popular among women, who possessed very little status in the formal worship of Yahweh. Jeremiah speaks out against those who “makes cakes for the queen of heaven.” These cakes were thought to have been shaped in the goddess image, or perhaps in the shape of her symbol, the evening star Venus.
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