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Astarte as a Sphynx.(From Prisse d'Avennes, "Histoire de l'Art Egyptien.")

Astarte is the Phenician name of the primitive Semitic mother-goddess, out of which the most important of the Semitic deities were developed. She was known in Arabia as "Athtar," and inBabylonia as "Ishtar." Her name appears in the Old Testament (I Kings xi. 5; II Kings xxiii. 13) as "Ashtoreth," a distortion of "Ashtart," made after the analogy of "Bosheth" (compare Jastrow, in "Jour. Bibl. Lit." xiii. 28, note). Solomon is said to have built a high place to her near Jerusalem, which was removed during Josiah's reform (I Kings xi. 5, 33; II Kings xxiii. 12). Astarte is called in these passages "the abomination of the Zidonians," because, as the inscriptions of Tabnith and Eshmunazer show, she was the chief divinity of that city (see Hoffmann, "Phönizische Inschriften," 57, and "C. I. S." No. 3). In Phenician countries she was the female counterpart of Baal, and was no doubt worshiped with him by those Hebrews who at times became his devotees. This is proved by the fact that Baalim and Ashtaroth are used several times (Judges x. 6; I Sam. vii. 4, xii. 10) like the Assyrian "ilani u ishtarati" for "gods and goddesses."

Astarte as the Goddess of Love.(From Ball, "Light from the East.")

Astarte, wherever worshiped, was a goddess of fertility and sexual love. A trace of this among the Hebrews appears in Deut. vii. 13, xxviii. 4, 18, where the lambs are called the "ashtarot" of the flock. It is usually assumed that Astarte Worship was always a foreign cult among the Hebrews; but analogy with the development of other Semitic deities, like the Phenician Baal, would lead to the supposition that Astarte Worship before the days of the Prophets may have somewhat prejudiced that of Yhwh. The problem is a difficult one, the references to the cult in the Old Testament being so few and so vague. The reaction against Baal and Astarte, inaugurated by the Prophets, had a profound effect upon the moral life of Israel (see "Jour. Bibl. Lit." x. 72-91; Budde, "Religion of Israel," ch. ii-v.). Jeremiah (vii. 18; xliv. 17, 18) and Ezekiel (viii. 14) attest various forms of this worship in their time, which may refer to a direct importation from Babylonia. The sacrificial use of swine's blood (Isa. lxv. 4, lxvi. 3) may be a reference to a form of the cult similar to that known in Cyprus, where swine were sacred to Astarte ("Jour. Bibl. Lit." x. 74, and "Hebraica," x. 45, 47).

Astarte with Dove.(From a Phenician terra-cotta in the Musee du Louvre, Paris.)
  • E. Meyer, Astarte, in Roscher, Lexikon der Griechischen und Römischen Mythologie;
  • Barton, in Hebraica, ix. 133-165, x. 1-74;
  • idem, Semitic Origins, ch. vii.;
  • W. Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, Index.

See also Ashtoreth.

J. Jr. G. A. B.
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