A goddess of the Canaanites, considered to be the wife of Baal. Ashtoreth is often represented as a nude female with rudely exaggerated sex organs. The worship of this goddess was widespread among various peoples of antiquity, and the name “Ashtoreth” was common in one form or another. The Greek name is Astarte. Ashtoreth is thought to be but another manifestation of the ancient Babylonian mother goddess of sensual love, maternity and fertility, and has been linked with Ishtar and similar fertility goddesses.
The worship of Ashtoreth possibly existed in Canaan as early as Abraham’s time, for one of the cities there was called “Ashteroth-karnaim.” (Gen. 14:5) Also mentioned in Scripture is the city of Ashtaroth, the dwelling place of the giant King Og of Bashan. Its name would indicate that this city may have been a center of Ashtoreth worship.—Deut. 1:4; Josh. 9:10; 12:4.
The singular form ʽash·toʹreth (Ashtoreth) first appears in the Bible with reference to King Solomon’s apostatizing toward the latter part of his reign. At that time Israelites began worshiping the Ashtoreth of the Sidonians. (1 Ki. 11:5, 33) The only other occurrence of the singular form is in connection with King Josiah’s tearing down the high places that Solomon had built to Ashtoreth and other deities. (2 Ki. 23:13) It has been suggested that the Hebrew form ʽash·toʹreth is probably an artificial combination of the Phoenician form of the name of this goddess, ʽstrt, and the vowels of the Hebrew word boʹsheth (shame), to denote abhorrence. The plural ʽash·ta·rohthʹ (“Ashtoreth images,” NW; “Ashtarts,” AT) probably refers to the images or manifestations of this pagan goddess.—Judg. 2:13; 10:6; 1 Sam. 7:3, 4.
The name “Ashtoreth,” according to Gesenius, may be derived from the Persian word sitara, meaning star. Ashtoreth was identified by some ancient writers with the moon and by others with the planet Venus. The Scriptural references to the worship of the sun, moon and stars in connection with the practice of Baalism in Israel suggest that this goddess, viewed as Baal’s wife, may have been identified with one or more heavenly bodies. (2 Ki. 23:5; Jer. 7:9; 8:2) Possibly Ashtoreth is the goddess referred to as the “queen of the heavens” at Jeremiah 7:18 and 44:17, where she is reported as being worshiped by burning incense, pouring out drink offerings and making sacrificial cakes.—See QUEEN OF HEAVEN.
It is commonly recognized that the three major goddesses of Baalism (Asherah, Ashtoreth and Anath) are closely linked, and are frequently confused with one another in their overlapping roles. War, violence and depraved sex practices are closely associated with them.—See SACRED POLE.
Although in the Ras Shamra texts Anath is represented principally as the goddess of war, apparently Ashtoreth also figured in this role. Among the Philistines, Ashtoreth was evidently viewed as a goddess of war, as indicated by the fact that the armor of defeated King Saul was placed in the temple of the Ashtoreth images.—1 Sam. 31:10.
Chiefly, however, Ashtoreth was apparently a fertility goddess. The most prominent part of her worship consisted of sex orgies in the temples or high places devoted to Baal worship, where male and female prostitutes served.—1 Ki. 14:24; Hos. 4:14; see CANAAN, CANAANITE.