Asherah, or Ashtoreth, was the name of the chief female deity worshiped in ancient Syria, Phoenicia, and Canaan. The Phoenicians called her Astarte, the Assyrians worshiped her as Ishtar, and the Philistines had a temple of Asherah (1 Samuel 31:10). Because of Israel’s incomplete conquest of the land of Canaan, Asherah-worship survived and plagued Israel, starting as soon as Joshua was dead (Judges 2:13).
Asherah was represented by a limbless tree trunk planted in the ground. The trunk was usually carved into a symbolic representation of the goddess. Because of the association with carved trees, the places of Asherah worship were commonly called “groves,” and the Hebrew word “asherah” (plural, “asherim”) could refer either to the goddess or to a grove of trees. One of King Manasseh’s evil deeds was that he “took the carved Asherah pole he had made and put it in the temple” (2 Kings 21:7). Another translation of “carved Asherah pole” is “graven image of the grove”.
Considered the moon-goddess, Asherah was often presented as a consort of Baal, the sun-god (Judges 3:7, 6:28, 10:6; 1 Samuel 7:4, 12:10). Asherah was also worshiped as the goddess of love and war and was sometimes linked with Anath, another Canaanite goddess. Worship of Asherah was noted for its sensuality and involved ritual prostitution. The priests and priestesses of Asherah also practiced divination and fortune-telling.
The Lord God, through Moses, forbade the worship of Asherah. The Law specified that a grove of trees was not to be near the altar of the Lord (Deuteronomy 16:21). Despite God’s clear instructions, Asherah-worship was a perennial problem in Israel. As Solomon slipped into idolatry, one of the pagan deities he brought into the kingdom was Asherah, called “the goddess of the Sidonians” (1 Kings 11:5, 33). Later, Jezebel made Asherah-worship even more prevalent, with 400 prophets of Asherah on the royal payroll (1 Kings 18:19). At times, Israel experienced revival, and notable crusades against Asherah-worship were led by Gideon (Judges 6:25-30), King Asa (1 Kings 15:13), and King Josiah (2 Kings 23:1-7).