[b-hebrew] question about Ashtarte/ Asharah and Book of Ester

Pastor Mark Eddy markeddy at adams.net
Mon Oct 13 12:58:37 EDT 2003

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Dora Smith" <villandra at austin.rr.com>

> The book of Ester is believed to be a story built around an early spring
> festival taht featured the Canaanite great mother goddess Ashtarte/ Asharah.

It is more often (and more correctly) believed that Esther is a story to explain the distinctly Jewish
festival of Purim in late winter. See 2 Macc. 15:36 and Josephus Antiquities 11,6,13. The Zondervan
Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible summarrizes thus: "Attempts have been made by those who reject the
historicity of the Book of Esther to find the origin of the Feast of Purim in a Maccabean, Persian,
Parthian, Zoroastrian, Hellenic, or Babylonian source. They are mutually negating and lack conviction." Be
careful about believing the first explanation that you read. Many other scholars contradict it!

> In the fashion of all great mother goddesses as their societies morphed into
> patriarchal societies with patriarchal hierarchies of gods, she became the
> wife of teh high god and the mother god, one of whose most important
> functions was to intervene in her role as queen of heaven, with the moody
> male king god, on behalf of people.   This transformation occurred worldwide
> from the Aztecs to the Virgin Mary.

This parahgraph assumes the undemonstrated existence of pre-patriarchal societies. As far back as written
history covers, the societies of the ancient Near East were patriarchal. I can search through my notes for
my masters' thesis on this topic, if you need evidence for this assertion. I believe that the gods and
goddesses of the non-monotheistic ancient societies were equally moody. I can't speak about the Aztecs,
but as a Christian, who has studied both the New Testament and Church history, I can assure you that the
Virgin Mary was most definitely NOT based on any goddess myth (though the worship of her in some circles
did later take on certain practices that had pagan roots). Mary was an historical person, who gave birth
to the historical person Jesus, who gave public, physical proof that God the Father is not a myth.

> The book of Ester places Ester in a role that looks startlingly like that of
> Ashtarte, as she marries a mood-disordered king, and then intervenes with
> him for the lives of her people.   Her depiction as a pure maiden is
> consistent with depictions of the Aztec mother of the sun god, the Mithran
> mother of Mithras, and the Virgin Mary.

The book of Esther places Esther in a role that looks extremely similar to that of a beautiful woman who
is added to the harem of a typical anicient Near Eastern despotic monarch, like Xerxes. Why would she not
intervene with her totally human husband for the lives of her people? Her depiction as a pure virgin is
also consistent with the desires of flesh-and-blood men throughout history (see the Koran's depiction of
heaven, with all the virgins available to the faithful men who get there!). And yes, Joseph in Matthew
chapter 1 wanted to marry a virgin. Most men did. I did. That doesn't make every virgin bride a goddess!
The unique virgin conception of Mary was already predicted in Isaiah 7:14. It is hardly a reflection of
the cult of Mithras. Neither did the story of Esther come from such a source!

> The goddess Ashtarte, Canaanite form Asherah, was widespread across the
> ancient Near East.

With this all agree.

> The Persian invasion of the Near East would have
> converted Ashtarte to a pure and demure maiden whose main function was to
> intervene with gods and moody kings for her people if Near Eastern myth had
> not already pretty much done that.

How do you know what the Persian invation "would have" done? If they already had such myths, why add to
them and convert their gods and goddesses into purely human characters?

> In Canaan, among the Israelites, and in atleast some circles and aspects of
> official Yahwistic cult, Ashtarte/ Asherah continued to play her role as
> wife of El, Queen of Heaven, and confusingly enough, wife or sister of
> Ba'al, until the Return from Exile, when the Puritan reformers stamped out
> all elements of traditional religion.

Esther was post-exilic. Everyone agrees that at least by that time Israel had strongly rejected all
goddesses. Just read Jeremiah or 2 Kings. Israel had also rejected any form of polytheism. Just read
Daniel. All evidence of the mingling of Asherah with Yahwistic elements came from before the exile. All
the Prophets agree that Israel and Judah were punished for such adoption of the worship of Asherah. Those
who were in charge of accepting Esther into the canon would not have accepted it, if it in any way was
connected with the worship of Asherah. Why call Asherah worship "traditional." It may have been
traditional for some resendents of Canaan, but an objective reading of the Hebrew Scriptures shows that it
was always rejected by those who led the worship of YHWH. Jezebel and Athalia, Israel and Judah's greatest
fans of Ashera, are strongly criticized by the "official Yahwistic cult," as their views are embodied in
the Hebrew Scriptures, both before and after the exile. Ezra demanded that Israelite men divorce any
Canaanite wives, so that there would be no mixing of the "official Yahwistic cult" with Canaanite myths.

> I am wondering what story or myth from Babylonian, Persian, or even
> Israelite life, the book of Ester is modelled on.

This seems backward. It was more likely that myths turned people into gods than that myths turned gods
into people. Most myths seem to have resulted from the human need to explain the unexplainable, or because
later generations had forgotten the explanation for something that was very ancient. Purim was not
ancient. It was not mentioned in the Torah or Prophets. It was a later development in Judaism. It
originated among the exiles. There was no need to create a myth to explain it. The Israelites of that
period had no desire to adapt pagan myths into their religion. We have no record of "myths from ...
Israelite life." All that exists today for our study are the Hebrew Scriptures, archaeological finds, and
a few inscriptions and papyri. None of them, to my knowledge, describes a precursor of the story of

> Someone please fess up.   It seems like such a story almost certainly
> exists.
Why do you think so?

Mark Eddy

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