(Heb. Ashto'reth, עִשׁתֹּרֶת, 1Ki 11:5,33; 2Ki 23:13; Sept. Α᾿στάρτη), also in the plur. ASH'TAROTH (Heb. Ashtaroth', עִשׁתָּרוֹת, Sept. in Jg 10:6; 1Sa 7:4, Α᾿σταρώθ; in Judges ii, 13, αὶ Α᾿στάρται; in 1Sa 7:3; 1Sa 12:10, τὰ ἄλση; in 1Sa 31:10, τὸ Α᾿σταρτεῖον), the name of a goddess of the Sidonians (1Ki 11:5,33), and also of the Philistines (1Sa 31:10), whose worship was introduced among the Israelites during the period of the Judges (Jg 2:13; 1Sa 7:4), was celebrated by Solomon himself (1Ki 11:5), and was finally put down by Josiah (2Ki 23:13). She is frequently mentioned in Connection with Baal, as the corresponding female divinity (Jg 2:13); and, from the addition of the words " and all the host of heaven," in 2Ki 23:4, SEE ASHERAH, it is probable that she represented one of the celestial bodies. There is also reason to believe that she is meant by the "queen of heaven," in Jer 7:18; Jer 44:17; whose worship is there said to have been solemnized by burning incense, pouring libations, and offering cakes. Further, by comparing the two passages 2Ki 23:4, and Jer 8:2, which last speaks of the " sun and moon, and all the host of heaven, whom they served," we may conclude that the moon was worshipped under the names of queen of heaven and of Ashtoreth, provided the connection between these titles is established. SEE IDOLATRY.
The worship of Astarte was very ancient and very widely spread. We find the plural Ashtaroth united with the adjunct Karnaim, as the name of a city, so early as the time of Abraham (Ge 14:5), and we read of a temple of this goddess, apparently as the goddess of war, among the Philistines in the time of Saul (1Sa 31:10). From the connection of this goddess with BAAL or BEL, we should, moreover, naturally conclude that she would be found in the Assyrian Pantheon, and, in fact, the name Ishtar appears to be clearly identified in the list of the great gods of Assyria (Layard, Nin. and Bab. p. 352, 629; Rawlinson, Early-History of Babylon, Lond. 1854, p. 23; Rawlinson, Herodotus, i, 634). There is no reason to doubt that this Assyrian goddess is the Ashtoreth of the Old Testament and the Astarte of the Greeks and Romans. The worship of Astarte seems to have extended wherever Phoenician colonies were founded. Thus we find her name in inscriptions still existing in the island of Cyprus, on the site of the ancient Citium, and also at Carthage (Gesenius, Mon. Phetn. p. 125, 449), and not unfrequently as an element in Phoenician proper names, as ῎Ασταρτος, Α᾿βδαστάρτος, Δελειατάρτος (Joseph. Ap. i, 18). The name occurs, moreover, written in Egyptian hieroglyphics, as Astart (Gesenius, Thes. s.v. For evidence of her wide-spread worship, see also Eckhel, Doct. Num. iii, 369 sq.). It is worthy of remark that Rodiger, in his recently published Addenda to Gesenius' Thesaurus (p. 106), notices that in the inscription on the sarcophagus of a king named Esmunazar, discovered in January, 1855 (see Robinson, Researches, new ed. iii, 36 note), the founding, or at least restoration of the temple of this goddess, at Sidon, is attributed to him and to his mother, Amashtoreth, who is farther styled priestess of Ashtoreth. According to the testimonies of profane writers, the worship of this goddess, under different names, existed in all countries and colonies of the Syro-Arabian nations. She , as especially the chief female divinity of the Phoenicians and Syrians-the Baaltis or female Baal; Astarte the Great, as Sanchoniathon calls her (ed. Orelli, p. 34). She was known to the Babylonians as Mylitta (i.e. possibly מולדתא, the emphatic state of the femn. participle act. Aphel of ילד, genetrix) (Herod. i, 31); to the Arabians as Alitta or Alilat (Herod. iii, 8) (i.e. according to Pococke's etymology [Specin. p. 110], alIlahat, the goddess [which may, however, also mean the crescent moon--see Freytag's Lex. Ar.]; or alHildl, the moon; or, according to Kleuker's suggestion, al-Walid, genetrix [see Bergmann, De Relg. Arab. Anteislamica, Argentor. 1834, p. 7]). The supposed Punic name Tholath, תלת, which Manter, Hamaker, and others considered to mean genetrix, and to belong to this goddess, cannot be adduced here, as Gesenius has recently shown that the name has arisen from a false reading of the inscriptions (see his Monum. Ling. Phaonic. p. 114). But it is not at all open to doubt that this goddess was worshipped at ancient Carthage, and probably under her Phoenician name. The classical writers, who usually endeavored to identify the gods of other nations with their own, rather than to discriminate between them, have recognised several of their own divinities in Ashtoreth. Thus she was considered to be Juno (Augustin. Quaest. in Jud. xvi); or Venus, especially Venus Urania (Cicer. Nat. Deor. iii, 23; Theodoret, In Libr. iii, Reg. Quest. L; and the numerous inscriptions of Bona Dea Coelestis, Venus Coelestis, etc., cited in Miunter's Religion der Karthager, p. 75); or Luna (Herodian, v, 13, where she is named Α᾿στροάρχη; Lucian, De Dea Syra, iv). A part of the Phoenician m.ythus respecting Astarte is given by Sanchoniathon (Euseb. De Prep. Evang. i, 10): "Astarte the most high, and Jupiter Demarous, and Adodus, king of the gods, reigned over the country, with the assent of Saturn. And Astarte placed the head of a bull upon her own head, as an emblem of sovereignty. As she was journeying about the world, she found a star wandering in the air, and having taken possession of it, she consecrated it in the sacred island of Tyre. The Phoenicians say that Astarte is Venus." This serves to account for the horned figure under which she was represented, and affords testimony of a star consecrated as her symbol. The fact that there is a connection between all these divinities cannot escape any student of ancient religions; but it is not easy to discover the precise link of that connection. Ashtoreth was probably confounded with Juno, because she is the female counterpart to Baal, the chief god of the Syrians-their Jupiter, as it were; and with Venus, because the same lascivious rites were common to her worship and to that of Ashtoreth and her cognate Mylitta (Creuzer, Symbolik, ii, 23). But so great is the intermixture and confusion between the gods of pagan religions, that Munter further identifies Ashtoreth-due allowance being made for difference of time and place-with the female Kaliar, Axiokersa, with the Egyptian Isis, with the Paphian Venus, with the Taurian and Ephesian Diana. with the Bellona of Comana, with the Armenian Andhid, and with the Samian, Maltesian, and Lacinian Juno. She has also been considered to be the same as the Syrian fish-deity, the Atergatis of 2 Macc. 12:26, whose temple appears, from 1 Mace. v, 43, to have been situated at Ashteroth- Kamain. SEE ATARGATIS. Her figure (in various forms) is certainly found on the Egyptian and Assyrian monuments (Layard's Nineveh, ii, 169); which likewise contain illustrations of most of the attributes ascribed to her in scriptural as well as profane authorities (see Jour. Sac. Lit. Oct. 1852, p. 88 sq.). As for the power of nature, which was worshipped under the name of Ashtoreth, Creuzer and Munter assert that it was the principle of conception and parturition -that subordinate power which is fecundated by a superior influence, but which is the agent of all births throughout the universe. As such, Mainter maintains (Religion der Babylonier, p. 21), in opposition to the remarks of Gesenius (Jesaias, iii, 337), that the original form under which Ashtoreth was worshipped was the moon; and that the transition from that to the planet Venus (which we will immediately notice) was unquestionably an innovation of a later date. It is evident that the moon alone can be properly called the queen of heaven; as also that the dependent relation of the moon to the sun makes it a more appropriate symbol of that sex, whose functions as female and mother, throughout the whole extent of animated nature, were embodied in Ashtoreth. SEE BAAL. Movers (Phon. 607) distinguishes two Astartes, one Carthaginian- Sidonian, a virgin goddess symbolized by the moon, the other Syro- Phoenician, symbolized by the planet Venus. But it seems most likely that both the moon and the planet were looked upon as symbols, under different aspects and perhaps at different periods, of the goddess, just as each of them may in different aspects of the heavens be regarded as the "queen of heaven" (q.v.).
The rites of her worship, if we may assume their resembling those which profane authors describe as paid to the cognate goddesses, in part agree with the few indications in the Old Testament, in part complete the brief notices there into an accordant picture. The cakes mentioned in Jer 7:18, which are called in Hebrew כִּוָּנִים, kavuanim', were also known to the Greeks by the name χαβῶνες, and were by them made in the shape of a sickle, in reference to the new moon. Among animals, the dove, the crab, and, in later times, the lion were sacred to her, and among fruits the pomegranate. No blood was shed on her altar; but male animals, and chiefly kids, were sacrificed to her (Tacit. Hist. ii, 3). Hence some suppose that the reason why Judah promised the harlot a kid was that she might sacrifice it to Ashtoreth (see Tuch's note to Ge 38:17). The most prominent part of her worship, however, consisted of those libidinous orgies which Augustine, who was an eye-witness of their horrors in Carthage, describes with such indignation (De Civit. Dei, ii, 3). Her priests were eunuchs in women's attire (the peculiar name of whom is קָדֵשִׁים, kadeshim', male devotees, sacri, i.e. cinsedi, Galli, 1Ki 14:24), and women (קדֵשׁוֹת, kedeshoth', female devotees, sacrce, i.e. meretrices, Ho 4:14, which term ought to be distinguished from ordinary harlots, זוֹנוֹת), who, like the Bayaderes of India, prostituted themselves to enrich the temple of this goddess. SEE SODOMITE. The prohibition in De 23:18, appears to allude to the dedication of such funds to such a purpose. As for the places consecrated to her worship, although the numerous passages in which the Auth.Vers. has erroneously rendered אֲשֵׁרָה, Asherah, by grove, are to be deducted, SEE GROVE, there are yet several occasions on which gardens and shady trees are mentioned as peculiar seats of (probably her) lascivious rites (Isa 1:29; Isa 65:3; 1Ki 14:23; Ho 4:13; Jer 2:20; Jer 3:13). She also had celebrated temples (1Sa 31:10). As to the form and attributes with which Ashtoreth was represented, the oldest known image, that in Paphos, was a white conical stone, often seen on Phoenician remains in the figure which Tacitus thus describes, 1.c.: " The statue of the goddess bears no resemblance to the human form: you see around figure, broad at the base, but growing fine by-degrees, till, like a cone, it lessens to a point." In Canaan she was probably represented as a cow. It is said in the book of Tobit, i, 5, that the tribes which revolted sacrificed "to the heifer Baal." In Phoenicia she had the head of a cow or bull, as she is seen on coins. At length she was figured with the human form, as Lucian expressly testifies of the Syrian goddess, which is substantially the same as Ashtoreth; and she is so found on coins of Severus, with her head surrounded with rays, sitting on a lion, and holding a thunderbolt and a sceptre in either hand.
What Kimchi says of her being worshipped under the figure of a sheep is a mere figment of the rabbins, founded on a misapprehension of De 7:13. As the words "flocks (Ashtaroth) of sheep" there occurring may be legitimately taken as the loves of the flock (Veneres pecoris), i.e. either the ewes or the lambs, the whole foundation of that opinion, as well as of the notion that the word means sheep, is unsound.
The word Ashtoreth cannot be plausibly derived from any root or - combination of roots in the SyroArabian languages. The best etymology, that approved by Gesenius (Thes. Heb. p. 1083), deduces it from the Persian sitarah, star, with a prosthetic guttural (i. q. אֶסתֵּר, "Esther," ἀστήρ). Ashtoreth is feminine as to form; its plural ASHTAROTH also occurs (Jg 2:13; Jg 10:16; 1Sa 7:4; 1Sa 12:10; 1Sa 31:10), as is likewise the case with Baal, with which it is in this form often associated (Jg 10:6; 1Sa 7:4; 1Sa 12:10); and this peculiarity of both words is thought (by Gesenius, Thesaur. s.v.) to denote-a plurality of images (like the Greek Hermae), or to belong to that usage of the plural which is found in words denoting lord (Ewald, Hebr. Gram. § 361). Movers, however, contends (Phin. i, 175, 602) that the plurals are used to indicate different modifications of the divinities themselves. In the earlier books of the O.T. only the plural, Ashtaroth, occurs, and it is not till the time of Solomon, who introduced the worship of the Sidonian Astarte, and only in reference to that particular goddess, Ashtoreth of the Sidonians, that the singular is found in the O.T. (1Ki 11:5,33; 2Ki 23:13). SEE ASTARTE.