Department (e.g. History, Chemistry, Finance, etc.)

Religious Studies

College (e.g. College of Engineering, College of Arts & Sciences, Haslam College of Business, etc.)

Arts and Sciences

Abstract

In the early days of Israelite religion, cultic practices and icon worship were common. One example of such practice involves the term asherah. In the Ancient Near East, asherah referred to a sacred object crafted from wood that was located near places of religious gathering. It is also possible that the term asherah is a reference to the ancient goddess Astarte worshipped by Ugaritic cultures. A third possibility, evidenced by the tendency of cultures of the ancient Near East to have little to no separation between deities and their physical representations and the non-static nature of religion, is that the asherim existed originally as a means to invoke the goddess Asherah, facilitating her role in ancient society. Over time, the line between deity and cultic object would have become more defined, simultaneously creating literary confusion for ancient sources such as the Deuteronomist. Whether an entity or an object, asherah was eventually purged from Israelite society. Evidence of attempts to do so lie in the reforms of King Josiah laid out in the second book of Kings. This presentation will explore the possibilities of the nature of asherim through the analysis of ancient texts and the language within used to describe the asherim and their function in Israelite society. It will synthesize the arguments for common perception of asherah and describe the role of the deity and/or relic in non-Israelite cultures of the Ancient Near East. Beyond literary description and analysis, this presentation will focus on material culture remains to describe the actual presence of asherim in Ancient Israelite cultural practice, drawing on data gathered from the excavations of Kuntillet ‘ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom.

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Evidence for the Role of Asherah in Israelite Religion

In the early days of Israelite religion, cultic practices and icon worship were common. One example of such practice involves the term asherah. In the Ancient Near East, asherah referred to a sacred object crafted from wood that was located near places of religious gathering. It is also possible that the term asherah is a reference to the ancient goddess Astarte worshipped by Ugaritic cultures. A third possibility, evidenced by the tendency of cultures of the ancient Near East to have little to no separation between deities and their physical representations and the non-static nature of religion, is that the asherim existed originally as a means to invoke the goddess Asherah, facilitating her role in ancient society. Over time, the line between deity and cultic object would have become more defined, simultaneously creating literary confusion for ancient sources such as the Deuteronomist. Whether an entity or an object, asherah was eventually purged from Israelite society. Evidence of attempts to do so lie in the reforms of King Josiah laid out in the second book of Kings. This presentation will explore the possibilities of the nature of asherim through the analysis of ancient texts and the language within used to describe the asherim and their function in Israelite society. It will synthesize the arguments for common perception of asherah and describe the role of the deity and/or relic in non-Israelite cultures of the Ancient Near East. Beyond literary description and analysis, this presentation will focus on material culture remains to describe the actual presence of asherim in Ancient Israelite cultural practice, drawing on data gathered from the excavations of Kuntillet ‘ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom.

 

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