1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Astarte

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ASTARTE, a Semitic goddess whose name appears in the Bible as Ashtoreth.[1] She is everywhere the great female principle, answering to the Baal of the Canaanites and Phoenicians[2] and to the Dagon of the Philistines. She had temples at Sidon and at Tyre (whence her worship was transplanted to Carthage), and the Philistines probably venerated her at Ascalon (1 Sam. xxxi. 10). Solomon built a high-place for her at Jerusalem which lasted until the days of King Josiah (1 Kings xi. 5; 2 Kings xxiii. 13), and the extent of her cult among the Israelites is proved as much by the numerous biblical references as by the frequent representations of the deity turned up on Palestinian soil.[3] The Moabites formed a compound deity, Ashtar-Chemosh (see Moab), and the absence of the feminine termination occurs similarly in the Babylonian and Assyrian prototype Ishtar. The old South Arabian phonetic equivalent ‘Athtar is, however, a male deity. Another compound, properly of mixed sex, appears in the Aramaean Atargatis (‘At[t]ar-‘athe), worn down to Derketo, who is specifically associated with sacred pools and fish (Ascalon, Hierapolis-Mabog). (See Atargatis.)

The derivation of the name Ishtar is uncertain, and the original attributes of the goddess are consequently unknown. She assumes various local forms in the old Semitic world, and this has led to consequent fusion and identification with the deities of other nations. As the great nature-goddess, the attributes of fertility and reproduction are characteristically hers, as also the accompanying immorality which originally, perhaps, was often nothing more than primitive magic. As patroness of the hunt, later identification with Artemis was inevitable. Hence the consequent fusion with Aphrodite, Artemis, Diana, Juno and Venus, and the action and reaction of one upon the other in myth and legend. Her star was the planet Venus, and classical writers give her the epithet Caelestis and Urania. Whether Astarte was also a lunar goddess has been questioned. As the female counterpart of the Phoenician Baal (viewed as a sun-god), and on the testimony of late writers (Lucian, Herodian) that she was represented with horns, the place-name Ashteroth-Karnaim in Gilead (“Ashteroth of the horns”) has been considered ample proof in favour of the theory. But it is probable that the horns were primarily ram’s horns,[4] and that Astarte the moon-goddess is due to the influence of the Egyptian Isis and Hathor. Robertson Smith, too, argues that Astarte was originally a sheep-goddess, and points to the interesting use of “Astartes of the flocks” (Deut. vii. 13, see the comm.) to denote the offspring. To nomads, Astarte may well have been a sheep-goddess, but this, if her earliest, was not her only type, as is clear from the sacred fish of Atargatis, the doves of Ascalon (and of the Phoenician sanctuary of Eryx), and the gazelle or antelope of the goddess of love (associated also with the Arabian Athtar).

The literature is vast; see G. A. Barton, Amer. Journ. of Sem. Lang. vols. ix. x., and his Semitic Origins; Driver, Hastings’ Dict. Bible, i. pp. 167-171; Zimmern, Keilinschr. und das alte Test.³ pp. 420 sqq.; Lagrange, Études d. Relig. Sem. pp. 123-140; and the articles Adonis, Aphrodite, Artemis, Baal. (S. A. C.)

  1. The vocalization suggests the Heb. bōsheth, “shame”; see Baal.
  2. Add also the Hittites; for Sutekh, the Egyptian equivalent of the male partner, see W. M. Müller, Mitt. d. vorderasiat. Gesell. (1902), v. pp. 11, 38. Astarte was introduced also into Egypt and had her temple at Memphis. See also S. A. Cook, Religion of Ancient Palestine, Index, s.v.
  3. Such figurines are in a sense the prototypes of the Venus of Medici. On the influence of her cult upon that of the Virgin Mary, see Rösch, Studien u. Krit. (1888), pp. 265 sqq.
  4. A model of an Astarte with ram’s horns was unearthed by R. A. S. Macalister at Gezer (Pal. Explor. Fund, Quart. Statement, 1903, p. 227 with figure facing).