The Queen Mother and the Cult in Ancient Israel

by Susan Ackerman
The Queen Mother and the Cult in Ancient Israel
Susan Ackerman
Journal of Biblical Literature
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JBL 11213 (2993) 385-401


In a recent issue of the JBL, Z. Ben-Barak published an article on the status and rights of the gZbirci, or queen mother, in ancient Israel! In it Ben- Barak argued that the gZbtrci was not an official functionary within the Israelite or Judean monarchy; that is, the gZbkci did not lay claim to privilege in either the northern or southern court by virtue of an institutionalized position. To be sure, Ben-Barak noted that there were gZbir6t in the Hebrew Bible who did rise to places of prominence and influence during their sons' reigns, but she suggested that this was effected only by a few authoritative and powerful women through the force of their own personalities. Such authoritative and powerful women included in particular a queen mother who exerted herself in the matter of succession upon the death of her husband, the king, typically by promoting a younger son as heir to the throne in defiance of the generally acknowledged claim of the firstborn (or of the oldest surviving son if the eldest had died or had become unable to rule). Bathsheba, in advocating Solomon's claim to kingship over that of Adonijah, is the paradigmatic exemplar of the ge'btrci who schemed for succession on behalf of her younger son; elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible Ben-Barak cites Ma'acah, the queen mother of AbijamlAbijah2 (a younger son according to 2 Chr 11:18-23); Hamutal, the queen mother of Jehoahaz (the younger brother of Jehoiakim according to the date formulas found in

Z. Ben-Barak, "The Status and Right of the C%irci,"]BL ll0 (1991) 23-34; see also Ben-Barak's earlier article, "The Queen Corlsort and the Struggle for Successiorl to the Throne:' in La femme duns le Proche-Orient antique (Compte rendu de la XXXIIIe Rerlcontre assyriologique inter- natiorlale [Paris, 7-10 juillet 19861; ed. J.-h1. Durand; Paris: Recherche sur les Civilisations, 1987) 33-40.

The term gzbfrcilggberetis used fifteen times in the Hebrew Bible. In Gen 16:4, 8, and 9 it means "mistress" (describing Sarah's relationship with Hagar), and this translation is also required in 2 Kgs 5:3; Ps 123:2; Prov 30:23; and Isa 24:2; 45:5,7. In 1 Kgs 1:19 gzbirci should be translated "queen," referring to the wife of the Egyptian pharaoh. Elsewhere in Kings, and also in Chronicles and Jeremiah (1 Kgs 1513; 2 Kgs 10:13; 2 Chr 15:16; Jer 13:18; 29:2), the term means-queen mother?

The variant names Abijam and Abijah are most probably the result of textual confusion; see

M. Noth, Die israelitischen Personennarrien itn Rahmen der gemeinsmitischen Namengebung (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1980) 234 #117.

2 Kgs 23:31,36); and Nehushta, the queen mother of Jehoiachin (the younger brother of Zedekiah according to 2 Chr 36:9-Ll, but cf. 2 Kgs 24:17, where Jehoiachin is identified as Zedekiah's nephew). Further afield, Ben-Barak notes examples of the same phenomenon from Ugarit, from the Hittite empire, from Assyria, from Y'dy (Ya'diya?) ~am'al, from Babylon, and from Persia. Ben-Barak stresses that in all these examples there was no official role for the queen mother in the standard succession to the throne. It was only the ambitious gEbtr8t, those who craved the highest office in the land for their sons, who used their influence to determine their husbands' heirs.

In advancing this thesis that the gzbtrci in the Hebrew Bible had no official position, Ben-Barak is arguing against, albeit not explicitly, another fairly recent article on the queen mother, this one published by N.-E.A. Andreasen in CBQ? In that article, Andreasen quickly rejects the argument that the queen mother had no institutionalized status. He writes instead that, "it soon becomes obvious from the text that the queen mother was not merely treated with deference by the monarch, but that she held a significant official position superseded only by that of the king himself."4 Andreasen describes this official position as that of "lady counsellor," with counsel being sought especially in regard to the royal succession and also, at least in the case of Bathsheba, in matters judicial and in mediations between political factions (1 Kgs 2:13-25). Andreasen, along with many other commentators, sees the roots of this insti- tutionalized role for the queen mother in Hittite culture, where the queen mother or tawananna had significant responsibilities within the social and political affairs of the king's court.5

The Hittite tawananna, moreover, had responsibilities within the cultic life of Hittite society. Indeed, S. R. Bin-Nun, in her Oxford Ph.D. dissertation, the most recent and up-to-date study available on the tawananna, has argued that in the earliest periods of the Hittite Old Kingdom (and in pre-Hittite Anatolia as well), the title tawananna referred exclusively to a religious func- tionary. Only secondarily, she suggests, in the period of the Hittite empire, does the tawananna assume responsibilities within Hittite social, political, and economic spheres. Yet even then her cultic obligations per~ist.~

Despite, however, this primacy of religious function in the duties of the Hittite queen mother, Andreasen argues that when the office was borrowed into Israel, the

N.-E. A. Andreasen, "The Role of the Queen Mother in Israelite Society:' CBQ45 (1983) 179-94. Ibid., 180.

G. Molin, "Die Stellung der Gebira im Staate Juda:' TZ 10 (1954) 161-75; H. Donner, "Art und Herkunft des Amtes der Koniginmutter im Alten Testament:' in Festschri) Johannes Friedrich zum 65. Geburtstag am 27. August gewidmet (ed. R. von Kienle et al.; Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1959) 105-45; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel: 1,Social Institutions (New YorklToronto: McCraw-Hill, 1961) U8.

S. R. Bin-Nun, The Tawananna in the Hittite Kingdom (Heidelberg: Carl Winter; Universitats- verlag, 1975) 34-50, 107-59.

cultic role of the gzbird was eliminated! On this point, then, Andreasen is in agreement with Ben-~arak, as both of them suggest that there was no official position for the queen mother within institutionalized Israelite religion.

In fact, as Andreasen points out, only a few scholars have advanced arguments supporting an official role for the queen mother in the cult. S. Terrien in 1970 proposed that the queen mother was one element in a constella- tion of religious beliefs and practices -the Jerusalem temple as the omphalos mundi, serpent worship, chthonian divination, a solar cult, and male prostitu- tion involving homosexual and bisexual intercourse -all of which played a role "in the mystical or sacramental aspect of the principle of monarchic suc- ces~ion."~

But Terrien finds today little support among historians of Israelite religion for his reconstructions: the notion of cult prostitution in Israel and throughout the ancient Near East, whether male or female, has been increas- ingly discredited, for example? and fully developed solar worship such as Terrien describes seems to have come to Israelite religion only relatively late and from the east, in the eighth and seventh centuries, that is, through in- creasing Aramean and even Assyrian influenceJO Also garnering only minimal scholarly support today is the 1963 proposal of G. W. Ahlstrom that the cultic responsibility of the queen mother in ancient Israelite religion was to play the role of the bride in the hieros gamos." Currently, however, few historians of religion endorse any reconstruction involving a hieros gamos in Israel, and, to my knowledge, none among those who do allow for an Israelite sacred mar- riage would agree with Ahlstrom's contention that the queen mother (and not the queen or some priestess) functioned as the ritual cons~rt?~

Still, despite the failure of Terrien and Ahlstrom to articulate a convincing role for the queen mother in Israelite religion and also despite the conclu- sions of Ben-Barak and Andreasen that the gzbirci had no official cultic func- tion, I believe that the issue is far from settled. Moreover, I propose that the

Clearly we cannot speak of direct borrowing, given the time gap between the fall of the Hittite empire and the rise of the Israelite monarchy Still, H. Donner has argued that the political structures of Hittite society survived in first-millennium Syria and Carlaarl and from there came to influence the united monarchy in Jerusalem. See Donner, "Art und Herkunft:' 123-30; also Andreasen, "Queen Mother," 181.

S. Terrien, "The Omphalos Myth and Hebrew Religion:' VT 20 (1970) 315-38; quotation from

p. 331.

See E. J. Fisher, "Cultic Prostitution in the Ancient Near East? A Reassessment," BTB 5 (1976) 225-36; R. A. Oden, "Religious Identity and the Sacred Prostitutiorl Accusation:' in The Bible Without Theology: The Theological Tradition and Alternatices to It (San Francisco: Harper & ROM: 1987) 131-53; J. Westenholz, "Tamar, Qed~h,QadiStu, and Sacred Prostitution in Mesopotamia:' HTR 82 (1989) 245-65.

lo See M. Cogan, lnlperialism and Religion: Assyria, Judah, and lsrael in the Eighth and Serenth Centuries B.C.E. (SBLMS 19; Missoula, MT Scholars Press, 1974) 84-87. lL 6.W. Ahlstrom, Aspects of Syncretism in lsraelite Religion (Horae Soederblomianae 5; Lund: Gleerup, 1963) 57-88. l2 See the criticisms of Andreasen, "Queen hlother," 182.

time is ripe to consider the question of the queen mother and the cult anew. The time is ripe because our understanding of what comprised cult in ancient Israel has changed considerably in the past fifteen years. Since the late 1970s, that is, we have seen multiple attempts to redefine the nature of Israelite religion both in the light of new archaeological discoveries and also in the light of more nuanced exegeses of the biblical textJ3 What we have learned from these numerous redefinitions is that the ancient cult allowed a far greater latitude in religious beliefs and practices than the exilic and postexilic editors of the biblical text would admit. We have thus come to doubt the rather homo- geneous picture presented by the biblical writers of Israelite religion. Instead, we have increasingly broadened our parameters in describing what the Israelite cult encompassed. In this paper I propose to seek amid these broadened parameters evidence suggesting that the queen mother did play some role in Israelite religion.

To be sure, the data that will guide this exploration are sparse, since the male-dominated culture that gave us the Bible, still our primary piece of evidence concerning the Israelite cult, tended not to include significant information concerning women's religious activities; those female acts of devotion that are described, moreover, are more often than not denigrated (women's worship of the Queen of Heaven in Jeremiah 7 and 44, for example, or their wailing over Tammuz in Ezekiel 8).Comparative evidence from else- where in the ancient Near East, while essential, cannot truly compensate for this deficit in the biblical text, as the comparative material also typically stems from patriarchal societies that overlooked or devalued women's cult activities. From the start, then, I must admit that the reconstruction offered here is necessarily speculative. Still, while caution is advisable, I do hope to demon- strate that the queen mother did have an official responsibility in Israelite religion: it was to devote herself to the cult of the mother goddess Asherah within the king's court. I will also suggest that this cultic role was primary among other obligations required of the gZbkci. Ultimately I conclude, with Andreasen and against Ben-Barak, that the queen mother did have socio- political responsibilities in ancient Israel, particularly with regard to succes- sion upon the old king's death. But, unlike Andreasen, I believe that these sociopolitical functions cannot be divorced from a cultic role. In fact, I will propose that the queen mother's devotions to Asherah stand behind and are fundamental to the role accorded her in matters of succession.

l3 While by no means the only attempts at such redefinitions, many of the articles collected in the Cross Festschri3 (Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross [ed. P. D. Miller, P. D. Hanson, and S. D. McBride; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987]), especially those of B. Peckham, M. D. Coogan, J. A. Hackett, P, K. McCarter, N. Avigad, \V. G. Dever, J. S. Hollada): and P. Bird, are characteristic of the reevaluations to which I refer.

The biblical text that most explicitly links the gZbir6 with a cultic activity of any sort is 1Kgs 15:13 (2 Chr 15:16), in which Ma'acah, the queen mother of AS^!^ is removed as gZbir615 because she made a mipleset la'GiErci!6 to be translated either "an abominable image for Asherah [the goddess]" or "an abom- inable image of the asherah [the stylized tree that symbolized the goddess in the cult]:'17 The former translation, "an abominable image for Asherah [the goddess]," is in my mind preferable: the definite article prefixed to 'GErci need not preclude our understanding of 'GiEni as a proper name since it is easily explained as appellative, as elsewhere in Deuteronomistic prose (Judg 2:ll, 13; 3:7; 10:6). Certainly the Chronicler understood 'Ciis'er6 in this passage to be a proper name since he transposed mipleset and 'Cier6 (lZ'Ziis'er6 mipleset), leaving us no option but to translate "she made for Asherah [the goddess] an abominable image."18 Moreover, the alternate translation of the Kings text, "she made an abominable image of the asherah [the stylized cult symbol]" borders on the nonsensical: What does it mean, after all, to make an image of an image? In fact, elsewhere in Deuteronomistic prose when 'ZiEr6, the image, is referred to, the noun 'ciSa6 stands alone without mipleset or similar modifier:lg waya'as' 'ah'ab 'et-ha'GiEr6, "and Ahab made the asherah (1Kgs 16:33), for example (note the similar use of 's'h, "to make," in both this passage and 1 Kgs 1513 while contrasting the treatment of 'GiErci as object). Ma'acah, the queen mother, we conclude, is described in 1Kgs 15:13 as worshiping the goddess Asherah by making a cult statue for her?O

'+Iala'acah is identified in 1 Kgs 152 and in 2 Chr U:20-22 as the queen mother of her son AbijamIAhijah (see n. 2 above) and in 1 Kgs 1510 and in 2 Chr 1516 as the queen mother of her grandson Asa. kfa'acah, that is, continued to function as queen mother even after her son the king had died. This should suggest that the gzbtrk commanded at a minimum a semi- independent position in the court, one that was not exclusively dependent on her son the king. This anticipate5 our conclusion below that the queen mother did have an institutionalized posi- tion in the ancient Israelite monarchy

l5 The fact that Ma'acah can he deposed (stcr) as gzbfrk also, as in n. 14 above, anticipates our conclusion that the queen mother did hold some sort of official position within the court.

The noun mipleset, which occurs only in 1 Kgs 15:13 and in the Chronicles parallel, comes from the verb pl!, "to shudder:' Presumably it means "a thing to be shuddered at:' "a horrid thing," or, as here, "an abominable image:'

l7 The biblical tradition is quite emphatic in its understanding of the 'G&k as a stylized wooden tree. Deut 16:21 speaks of "planting" (nata') the 'd8rci; elsewhere in the Bible the cult object is "made" ('a;&), "built" (bank), "stood up" ( 'amad), or "erected" (hesib). If destroyed, the 'ds'drk is "burned" (hi'& or Sarap), "cut down" (krlrat), "hewn down" (gda'), "uprooted (natm3, or "broken" (Sibha). See also below, n. 26.

The Greek uf 2 Chr 15:16 reads te Astart? for MT h'dS~rb. The MT is clearly primitive. 'Vunderstand 2 Kgs 21:7, pesel hdldMrk, in the same way I have analyzed 1 Kgs 15:13 and thus would translate "an image of Asherah:' 20 In a certain sense, to be sure, to argue about translating "asherah [the cult symbol]" or Xsherah [the goddess]" is to quibble over semantics. Most practitioners of ancient Israelite religion, e~idence

It has been suggested that Ma'acah's worship of Asherah was an alien element introduced by her into the Judean cult.21 The primary piece of evidence supporting this claim is Ma'acah's presumed foreign ancestry: else- where in the Hebrew Bible the personal name ma'iik6 does appear as the name of a non-Israelite (Ma'acah, the daughter of King Talmai of Geshur and mother of Absalom; 2 Sam 3:3 and 1 Chr 3:2); this Ma'acah of Geshur, moreover, is apparently the grandmother of the Ma'acah of 1 Kgs 15:13, who is identified in 1 Kgs 15:2 and 2 Chr ll:20-22 as the daughter of Absalom. Ma'acah's foreign heritage, however, need not predicate the conclusion that the Asherah cult Ma'acah promoted was foreign; nor does the fact that King Asa regarded Ma'acah's worship as heterodox necessarily imply such. In fact, certain biblical and archaeological evidence suggests that Asa's opinion was not normative in Judah. A case can instead be made that Asherah worship was customary among the populace. S. M. Olyan has even argued that the worship of Asherah may have been part of the state cult; Asherah may have been worshiped, that is, along with Yahweh in official Judahite religi0n2~ Note in this regard that Ma'acah's image devoted to Asherah stood in all likelihood in Yahweh's Temple in Jerusalem; the Jerusalem Temple is at least the logical place for a member of the royal family to erect a cult statue, first, for reasons of proximity, as Temple and palace stood side by side in Jerusalem, and, second, because the Temple essentially functioned as the private chapel for the monarch.

Moreover, we would be wrong were we to assume that Ma'acah's worship of Asherah in Yahweh's Temple was an anomaly, eliminated when Asa destroyed the cult statue that Ma'acah had made. Rather, by all indications, Ma'acah's cult statue of Asherah was replaced in the Jerusalem Temple after Asa's reforms. Such is at least suggested by 2 Kgs 18:4, in which Hezekiah removes an 'iii6t-ci from Jerusalem as part of his own reforms; this 'ZZt-6, like Ma'acah's and for

suggests, would interpret the cult object asherah as something that is a symbol of the goddess and is in effect synonymous with her. One has only to compare the ancient Israelite understanding of Yahweh's primary symbol in the league cult and in the Jerusalem Temple, the ark, to see how close the relationship was in Israelite religion between cult object and deity. Num 10:35-36, the so-called Song of the Ark, illustrates perfectly the simultaneity of symbol and god in Israelite imagination: "whenever the ark set out, Moses said, '.\rise, 0 Yahweh"'; similarly, "when it [the ark] rested, he [Moses] said, 'Return, 0 Yahweh."' We would expect that the 'G@i,the cult sy~nbol, and Asherah, the goddess, would likewise have been understood by the ancient Israelites as one and the same.

2L See .\hlstrom, Aspects ofsyncretism, 59, 61, who cites also W. F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion oflsrael (2d ed.; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1946) 157-59; and S. Yeivin, "Social, Religious, and Cultural Trends in Judaism under the Davidic Dynasty: VT 3 (1953) 162-64. See too the remarks of P. R. Ackroyd, "Goddesses, Women, and Jezebel:' in Images of Women in Antiquity (ed. A. Cameron and A. Kuhrt; LondonICanberra: Croom Helm, 1983) 255, although note that Ackroyd himself does not agree with the conclusions of hhlstrom, hlhright, and Yeivin.

22 S. hl. Olyan, Asherah and the Cult of Yahweh in lsrael (SBLhlS 34; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988) 9.

the same reasons, presumably stood in Yahweh's Temple. The biblical text is indeed explicit that a third 'GZrci, the one that replaced the statue Hezekiah destroyed, stood in the Jerusalem Temple. Thus 2 Kgs 21:7 describes how Manasseh erected an 'Ggrii in Yahweh's Temple in Jerusalem. This 'liiZr-cistood there until destroyed by yet another reformer, Josiah (2 Kgs 23:6). Josiah also removed from the Jerusalem Temple the vessels made for Asherah as part of her sacrificial cult (2 Kgs 234) and tore down the structures within the Temple compound where women wove garments to be draped as clothing over Asherah's cult statue (2 Kgs 23:7).

These multiple texts suggest that it was the norm in the southern kingdom in the ninth century, the eighth century, and the seventh century to worship both Yahweh and Asherah in the state temple in Jerusalem. The zeal of the reformer kings, Asa, Hezekiah, and Josiah, to remove the Asherah cult was the exception. This conclusion is supported by archaeological evidence, namely, by the much-discussed eighth-century inscription from Khirbet el-QBm, some ten kilometers east-southeast of Lachish.23 While this inscription has proven difficult to read, commentators do agree that paired in it we have from a southern provenance the cult of Yahweh and some allusion to the cult of A~herah.2~

The most satisfying attempt at translation is I? D. Miller's:

23 The editio princeps was by W. G. Dever, "Iron Age Epigraphic Material from the Area of Khirbet el-Kbm," HUCA 40141 (1969-70) 158-89. The inscription was restudied by A. Lemaire, "Les inscriptions de Khirbet el-Qbm et IAshCrah de Yhwh," RB 84 (1977) 597-608; idem, "Date et origine des inscriptiones h6brai'ques et pheniciennes de Kuntillet 'Ajrud:' Studi epigraphici e linguistici 1 (1984) 131-43; idem, "Who or What was Yahweh's Asherah?" BAh 1016 (1984) 42-51. In his reassessment Lemaire proposed reading in the second and third lines of the text a reference to Asherah, a reading Dever now accepts; see Dever, 'Asherah, Consort of Yahweh? New Evidence from Kuntillet 'Ajrbd," BASOR 255 (1985) 22; less completely, idem, "Recent Archaeological Confinnation of the Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel:' Hebrew Studies 23 (1982) 40; idem, "Material Remains and the Cult in Ancient Israel: An Essay in Archaeological Systematics:' in The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth: Essays in Honor of Dacid Noel Freedman in Celebration of his Sixtieth Birthday (ed. C. L. Meyers and M. O'Connor; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1983) 570, 583

n. 17. Other studies of the el-Qbm material include J. M. Hadley, "The Khirbet el-Qom Inscription:' VT 37 (1987) 50-62; K. JaroS, "Zur lnschrift Nr. 3 von Hirbet el-Q6m,"BN 19 (1982) 31-40; W A. Maier, 'fierah: Extrabiblical Ecidence (HSM 37; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986) 172-73; B. Margalit, "Some Observations on the Inscription and Drawing from Khirbet el-Qbm:' VT 39 (1989) 371-78; P D. Miller, "Psalms and Inscriptions," in Congress Volume: Vienna 1980 (VTSup 32; Leiden: Brill, 1981) 311-32; S. Mittmann, "Die Grabinschrift des Sangers Uriahu:' ZDPV 97 (1981) 139-52; J. Naveh, "Graffiti and Dedications:' BASOR 235 (1979) 27-30; M. O'Connor, "The Poetic Inscrip- tion from Khirbet el-Qbm:' VT37 (1987) 224-29; Olyan, Asherah, 23-25; M. S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (San Francisco: Harper & Rou: 1990) 88; 2.Zevit, "The Khirbet el-Qbm Inscription Mentioning a Goddess:' BASOR 255 (1984) 39-47.

" There have been four main proposals on how to understand the crucial readlng 'ktat Khirbet el-Qbm and also in the closely related inscriptions from Kuntillet 'AjrGd. The first, to under- stand 'Srt as "shrine:' cognate with Phoenician 'Srt, Aramaic 'trt', and Akkadian as'irtu, as pro- posed by E. Lipiriski, "The Goddess AJirat in Ancient Arabia, in Babylon, and in Ugarit:' OLP 3 (1972) 101-19, is unviable; see particularly J. Emerton, "New Light on Israelite Religion: The

brk 'ryhw lyhwh

wmsryh 1'Srth hwSc lh

Blessed is Uriyahu by Yahweh;

Yea from his adversaries by his asherah he has saved him.25

Despite Asa's censure, then, we cannot conclude that the gzbirci Ma'acah introduced a foreign cult into the Jerusalem court. Nor, I would argue, should Jezebel, another queen mother who is often regarded by commentators as introducing an alien cult of Asherah into Israel, be so accused. Instead, I sug- gest that she, like Ma'acah, worshiped Asherah while ge'birci as part of the state cult of the northern kingdom.

Here, however, the data are somewhat ambiguous, first because we tend to think of Jezebel only as queen, the wife of Ahab, rather than assigning to her the title of queen mother. But in fact in 2 Kgs 10:13 she is labeled ge'btrci after Ahab's death by relatives of King Ahaziah of Judah. At a minimum, then, Jezebel filled the role of gzbirci in the minds of the editors who included 2 Kgs 10:13in the biblical text. If, moreover, 2 Kgs 10:13 is historically reliable, she was considered ge'birci by members of the southern royal family.

But whether Jezebel as queen mother devoted herself to the cult of Asherah as did Ma'acah is a second ambiguity. Indeed, scholars disagree on whether Jezebel, even when queen, worshiped Asherah in addition to her well- attested allegiance to Baal. The crux of the matter is 1Kgs 18:19, where Elijah summons to his contest on Mount Carmel the "four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel's table." This text seemingly does associate Jezebel with the cult of Asherah; however, subsequent to this passage the four hundred prophets of Asherah do not again appear, at least in the Masoretic tradition. They do appear in v. 22 of the LXX, but as several recent commentators have noted, the phrase hoi prophetai tou alsous26 is marked by an asterisk in Origen's Hexapla, indicating a secondary addition in the Greek?'

Implications of the Inscriptions from Kuntillet 'Ajrud:' ZtiW94 (1982) 2-20, who points out that


aserri never means "shrine" in the Hebrew of the Bible and thus should not have such a meaning in the Hebrew epigraphic corpus. Emerton and others discuss instead two options: (1) to read 'Srt as "asherah," that is, the cult object sacred to the goddess Asherah, or (2) to read 'Srt aseAsherah:' the divine name. P. D. Miller ("The Absence of the Goddess in Israelite Religion," HAR 10 [I9861 246) and P. K. McCarter ("Aspects of the Religion of the Israelite Monarchy: Biblical and Epigraphic Data," in Ancient Israelite Religion, 149) have further suggested that 'Srt should be understood as a hypostatized aspect of the female side of Yahweh. To choose between these options, while an important task for those concerned with the morphology of the el-Q8m and 'Ajrfid inscrip- tions, need not overly concern us here. For the historian of religion, the attempt to differentiate between asherah a sacred symbol, Asherah the goddess, or Asherah a female hypostasis of Yahweh is again, as in n. 20, to quibble over semantics. I believe that in the ancient Israelite imagination the cult symbol of the goddess or a female hypostasis would have been perceived as .4sherah herself.

25 Miller, "Psalms and Inscriptions:' 317. 26 The Greek text almost always renders Hebrew 'cis&? as alsous, "grovd' evidence that supports our understanding of the 'dSf3-6 or cult symbol as a stylized tree (see n. 17 above). 2' J. Day, "Asherah in the Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Literature:']BL 105 (1986)

But this evidence simply means that^'B ha'cii~rd in 1 Kgs 18:19 is most probably a gloss; it need not mean that Queen Jezebel did not worship the goddess Asherah. Certainly there were opportunities in Samaria for her to do so. As we have already noted, 1 Kgs 16:33 reports that Ahab erected an 'Gs'Erciin Samaria. Moreover, since 1 Kgs 16:33 occurs at the beginning of the long cycle of narratives concerning Ahab, we can presume that he erected the 'ciii?r-dearly in his reign. There was, that is, an Asherah cult of some sort in Samaria during the bulk of Ahab's monarchy, and the king participated in it. Jezebel, as Ahab's wife, may well have also participated in it as part of her obligations of marriage.

The inscriptional evidence from Kuntillet 'AjrGd in the eastern Sinai, fifty kilometers south of Kadesh Barnea, also locates a cult of Asherah contem- poraneous with Ahab's reign (the inscriptions are ninth or eighth century) in Samaria?8 An Asherah cult in the northern capital is at least strongly implied by the inclusion of the geographical name Samaria in one of the inscriptions found on the site: brkt 'tkm lyhwh s'mrn wl's'rth, "I bless you by Yahweh of Samaria and by his A~herahlasherah."~9

This inscription, so like the Khirbet

400-401; Emerton, "New Light:' 16; Lipinski, ''Aiirat," ll4; these references are pointed out by Olyan, Asherah, 8 n. 24.

2Vhe bibliography is vast. Preliminary reports can be found in Z. Meshel and C. Meyers, "The Name of God in the Wilderness of Zin," BA 39 (1976) 6-10; Z. Meshel, "Kuntillet 'Ajrhd- An Israelite Site from the Monarchical Period on the Sinai Border," Qadmoniot 9 (1976) ll8-24 (Hebrew); idem, "Kuntillet 'AjrOd-An Israelite Religious Center in Northern Sinai:' Expedition 20 (1978) 50-54; idem, Kuntillet 'Ajritd: A Religious Centerfrom the Time of theJudean Monarchy (Israel Museum Catalogue 175; Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 1978); idem, "Did Yahweh Have a Consort? The New Religious Inscriptions from Sinai:' BARec 512 (1979) 24-35. Significant studies include P. Beck, "The Drawings from Homat Teiman (Kuntillet 'Ajrhd)," Tel Aoio 9 (1982) 3-86; Dever, 'Xsherah," 21-37; idem, 'Xrchaeological Confirmation:' 37-43; Emerton, "New Light," 2-20;

D. N. Freedman, "Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah:' BA 30 (1987) 241-49; h.1. Gilula, "To Yahweh Shomron and to his Asherah," Shnaton 3 (1978179) 129-37 (Hebrew); J. M. Hadley, "Some Draw- ings and Inscriptions on Two Pithoi from Kuntillet 'Ajrud:' VT 37 (1987) 180-2U; Lemaire, "Date et origine," 131-43; idem, "Yahweh's Asherah:' 42-51; Lipinski, 'Aiirat," 101-19; McCarter, 'Xspects of the Religion," 137-49; Maier, 'Merah, 168-72; Miller, 'Absence of the Goddess:' 239-49; Olyan, Asherah, 25-37; Smith, Early History, 83-88; J. Tigay, "Israelite Religion: The Onomastic and Epigraphic Evidence:' Ancient Israelite Religion, 173-75; idem, You Shall Haoe No Other Gods: lsraelite Religion in the Light of Hebrew Inscriptions (HSS 31; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986) 26-30;

M. Weinfeld, "A Sacred Site of the Monarchic Period:' Shnaton 4 (1980) 280-84 (Hebrew); idem, "Further Remarks on the 'AjrOd Inscription:' Shnaton 5-6 (1981-82) 237-39 (Hebrew); idem, "Kuntillet 'Ajrud Inscriptions and their Significance:' Studi gigraphici e linguistici 1(1984) 121-30.

29 In the original announcements of the '.4jr~ld materials ("Kuntillet 'AjrOd-.4n Israelite Site:' U8-24; "Kuntillet 'AjrOd-An Israelite Religious Center:' 50-54; Kuntillet 'Ajrzid), the excavator,

Z. Meshel, understood yhwh Smrn as "Yahweh our guardian" (Sombrbnit).But in 1979 M. Gilula ("Yahweh Shomron:' 129-37) proposed reading instead "Yahweh of Samaria" she^), and almost all commentators, including now Meshel ("Consort:' 31), prefer this translation. See in particular Emerton, "New Light," who points out that a second 'Ajrhd inscription reading yhu:h tmn, which can only be translated "Yahweh of the South:' gives credence to the translation 'Yahweh of Samaria:' Emerton also assembles other e~idence suggesting that our traditional understanding of Hebrew

el-QBm material, has also suggested to many that at least among certain religious circles in Samaria the cult of Yahweh and the cult of Asherah were paired; this pairing is also suggested by two other inscriptions found at Kuntillet 'Ajriid, lyhwh htmn wl's'rth, "by Yahweh of the South and by his Asherahl asherah," and brktk lyhwh tmn wl's'rth ybrk wyimrk wyhy 'm 'dny, "I bless you by Yahweh of the South and by his Asherahlasherah. May he bless and keep you and may he be with my lord:'30

Again, moreover, Olyan has argued that this pairing of Yahweh and Asherah at Kuntillet 'Ajriid and in Samaria should not be regarded as "syncretistic" or "heterodox" within Israelite religion; he proposes instead that the worship of Asherah was a part of the normative religion of the northern kingd0m.3~ Olyan notes several data in support of this conclusion: first, that Jehu in his purge of Samaria is not described as destroying the 'Gier8 that Ahab had previously erected; indeed, according to 2 Kgs 133, this 'Gs'erci remained standing in Samaria after Jehu's death. Since Jehu's targets in his reform were non-Yahwistic elements in the cult, the fact that the 'Gs'Er8was allowed to sur- vive suggests it was perceived as appropriate within official Yahwism.32 That there was an 'Gs'Er8in the state temple devoted to Yahweh at Bethel accord- ing to 2 Kgs 23:15 likewise suggests the 'GiZrci was considered legitimate in the Yahwism of the northern monarchy? Olyan also suggests that despite the virulent attacks on non-Yahwistic cult elements in the northern prophet Hosea, the cult of Asherah is never condemnedP4 implying that the prophet had no objections to an Asherah cult as part of the official religion of the north. Olyan argues that Amos's silence with regard to Asherah worship is equally of significance.35 He concludes, "Based only on an examination of the biblical sources, we argue that the asherah was a legitimate part of the cult of Yahweh . . . in the north . . . in state religion and in popular religi~n."~~

If Olyan is correct that the biblical evidence does suggest that the cult of Asherah was paired with the cult of Yahweh in the state religion of the

grammar, which would not permit proper names such as Yahweh to serve as the nomen regens in a construct phrase, is flawed.

30 The official publication of the Kuntillet 'AjrCd material has not yet appeared, and various commentators differ on the number of relevant inscriptions and their precise readings. We rely here on Tiga); "Israelite Religion," 173-74, and 189 n. 85. Tigay's sources are Meshel's remarks in Kuntilkt 'Ajd and information provided by Meshel to M. Weinfeld and published by Weinfeld in "Further Remarks" (Hebrew), and in "Kuntillet 'Ajrud Inscriptions."

31 Olyan, Asherah, passim. 32 See also on this point Ackroyd, "Goddesses," 253-36; Ahlstrom, Aspects of Syncretism, 31; Freedman, "Yahweh of Samaria:' 248. 33 Ahaziah in Amos 733 calls the Bethel temple "a king's sanctuary" and "a dynastic temple" (for notes on translation, see Albright, Archaeology, 139). 34 HOS4:13 does describe the daughters of Israel who play the harlot "under evergreen oak, styrax tree, and terebinth:' but the 'ds'bri is not explicitly mentioned.

35 Olyan, Asherah, 6-8.

36 Ibid., 13.

northern kingdom, and if in articular the cults of Asherah and Yahweh were a aired in Ahab's Samaria, as indicated by the Kuntillet 'AjrGd material in addition to the biblical text, then Jezebel may well have participated in the cult of Asherah as part of her obligations to state Yahwism. Note here that despite the Deuteronomistic condemnations of Ahab's state cult as syncretistic or even non-Yahwistic because it incorporated Jezebel's worship of Baal, the state religion of Ahab's monarchy in fact remained Yahwism: the sons of Jezebel and Ahab, Ahaziah and Jehoram, both bore Yahwistic names ('GhazyGhC, "Yahweh has grasped; y8hBrim, "Yahweh is exalted), as did their daughter?' Athaliah ('Gtalyah, "Yahweh is great")P8 Athaliah's son Ahaziah, her daughter Jehosheba (jZhBbba', 'Yahweh is ab~ndance")?~

and her grandson Joash (yB'G, "Yahweh has given").

There is every possibility, in short, that Jezebel participated in an Asherah cult during her tenure as Ahab's queen both as part of her marital respon- sibilities and as part of her obligations of state. Moreover, although we can only speculate, I would argue that it is not unlikely that Jezebel continued to participate in an Asherah cult after Ahab's death when she assumed the role of queen mother. To be sure, the only narrative in Kings that describes the widowed Jezebel is the story of her death in 2 Kings 9. But it may be sig- nificant for our purposes that Jezebel is lodged during that scene in her royal residence in Jezreel (1 Kgs 18:45-46) and not in Samaria. She is distanced, that is, from the Baal temple in Samaria most typically associated with her religious allegiancesPO Her cultic attentions in Jezreel thus may have been focused on the state religion of the northern kingdom that paired the cult of Yahweh and the cult of Asherah. It is at least possible, we conclude, that Jezebel as g8bM participated in the worship of Asherah.

It is also possible that one of the most memorable g8btr8t described in the Hebrew Bible, Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel and Ahab, participated in the cult of Asherah. Athaliah was given by her parents to Jehoram, the king of Judah, as wife, presumably as part of a treaty between the northern and southern kingdoms (2 Kgs 8:18). She became gzbirci to their son Ahaziah after Jehoram was killed in battle against the Edomites (2 Kgs 8:20-24), but this

37 There has been some debate on the relationship of Athaliah to Ahab and Jezebel; in 2 Kgs

8:26 and 2 Chr 22:2, Athaliah is called the bat 'omrt, "the daughter of Omri:' whereas in 2 Kgs 8:18and 2 Chr 21:6, she is called the bat 'ah'&, "the daughter of Ahab:' It is generally conceded that bat in bat 'omri should be understood in a more general sense of female descendant; the NRSV, in fact, translates "granddaughter." But cf. H. J. Katzenstein, "Who Were the Parents of Athaliah?" 1EJ 5 (1955) 194-97.

3"a~ed on Akkadian etellu,"to be great, exalted"; the root 'tl is otherwise unknown in Hebrew.

39 Jehosheba is the daughter of Joram, Athaliah's husband, according to 2 Kgs U:2. Her mother's name is not given. But since the names of no other wives of Joram are known, it is reasonable to presume that Jehosheba was Athaliah's daughter.

40 But cf. Y. Yadin, "The 'House of Ba'al' of Ahab and Jezebel in Samaria, and that of Athaliah in Judah," in Archaeology in the Leoant (Kathleen Kenyon Festschrift; Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1978) 127-29.

arrangement was short-lived since Ahaziah was killed while on a visit to Jezreel as part of Jehu's bloody coup (2 Kgs 9:27-28). Athaliah then assumed the throne of Judah for six years until she was deposed as part of a popular uprising led by the high priest Jehoiada (2 Kgs 11:l-20).

Part of Jehoiada's popular uprising involved destroying the Baal temple that was in Jerusalem41 and killing its priesthood. Although the text does not specify that it was in fact Athaliah who was responsible for having this temple built, commentators unanimously assign it to her reign and are also unanimous in suggesting that Athaliah promoted the Baal cult in Judah under the influence of Jezebel and her patronage of the Baal cult in the north. If this is indeed the case, then we might as well expect that Athaliah allied herself with other cults favored by her mother. If, moreover, we have been correct in our assump- tions above that Jezebel both as queen and queen mother participated in the cult of Asherah, we can suggest that Athaliah would have done the same. Indeed, we would expect as much, given our earlier conclusion that devotion to Asherah was a normative aspect of Yahwistic religion in the south. Note in this regard that, as in the case of Jezebel, the Yahwistic names of Athaliah's descendants prove that she participated as required in the state cult.

One final queen mother may have been a participant in the cult of Asherah: this is Nehushta, the queen mother of Jehoiachin (2 Kgs 24:8). The primary piece of evidence here is the gZbtr8's name, ndhus'td' derives most probably from the root nZ@, "serpent:'42 (The alternative, which would derive nZhus'td' from ne'hdiet, "bronze," is much less likelyp3 for while human names taken from the animal kingdom are common in the Semitic world for both males and females, male names based on metals are rare44 and female names are to my knowledge unattested.) Moreover, as the "serpent lady," the ge'bir8 Nehushta bears, I would suggest, an epithet of Asherah, whose associations with snakes are attested in multiple sources. From Egypt comes a Nineteenth- Dynasty plaque showing a goddess, identified as "QudSu, the beloved of Ptah," astride a lion and holding serpents in both hands;45 a similar stele reads "QudSu, lady of the sky and mistress of all the gods" and shows a goddess standing astride a lion holding a serpent in her left handP6 These data suggest that the lion- straddling, snake-bearing goddess depicted on the plaque from the Winchester College collection ~ublished by I. E. S. Edwards, although identified as a

4L Or possibly in its outskirts; see Yadin, "'House of Ba'al,'" 130-32.


See D. Harvey, "Nehushta:' IDB 3. 534b. 43 Pace BDB 639a, s.v. nhS 111. Pace also HALAT 3. 653b, s.v. n@uCta', which derives nzhus'td' from an Akkadian root otherwise unattested in Hebrew, nhS, "to be luxuriant."


In the Hebrew Bible, see only the three individuals named Barzillai ((banel,"iron"): the first an ally of David in 2 Sam 17:27-29; 19:31-40; and 1 Kgs 2:7; the second a priest according to Ezra 2:61 (= Neh 7:63); and the third the husband of Merab according to 2 Sam 21:8.

45 ANEP #470.

ANEP #474; see also #473.

composite deity QudSu-AStart-Anat, is QudSuP7 QudSu, "the holy one,'' is well known from Ugaritic sources as a standard epithet of Asherah. Numerous other Egyptian and some Canaanite representations of a snake-bearing goddess astride a lion, while uninscribed, presumably also depict QudSulA~herah;~~ even without the inscribed comparanda,indeed, we would suggest this because of Asherah's well-known associations with lions49 (at Ugarit the children of Asherah are called her "pride of lions," sbrt ary [CTA 3.5.45; 4.1.9; 4.2.25-261; E M. Cross has argued that Asherah herself is called labi'tu, "lion lady";50 the naked goddess on the bottom register of the tenth-century Ta'anach cult stand who grasps lions with her right hand and her left is surely to be taken as A~herah).~~

Inscriptional evidence also demonstrates Asherah's association with serpents. In the proto-Sinaitic texts she is called dl bln "Lady of the Serpent";52 Cross has interpreted her standard epithet at Ugarit, rbt alrt ym, similarly, translating "the Lady who treads on the Sea (-serpent)."53 If, moreover, Cross is correct in identifying PhoenicianlPunic tnt as A~herah?~

and if he is further

47 I. E. S Edwards, 1Relief of Qudshu-Astarte-Anath in the Winchester College Collection:' INES 14 (1955) 49-51; pictured also in ANESTP #830

48 Egyptian. Edwards lists a total of thirteen comparanda, now in museums in Cairo, Turin, Vienna, Moscow, Copenhagen, Paris, and London, to the QudSu-Astarte-Anat plaque ("Relief," 49). See also ANEP #47l and #472. Canaanite: See, e.g., the reference in K. R. Joines, "The Bronze Serpent in the Israelite Cult:']BL 87 (1968) 246-47 and 247 n. 12; cf. J. B. Pritchard, Palestinian Figurines in Relation to Certain Goddesses Known Throughout Literature (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1943) #36. See also P. Amiet, Art of the Ancient Near East (New York: H. N. Abrams, 1980) pl. 5ll; S. Mitchell, 'Archaeology in Asia Minor, 1985-1989," Archaeological Reports

for 1989-90 (lournal of Hellenic Studies, Supplement) 86 fig. 5. 49 In addition to the discussion here, see Lt', G. Dever, 'Archaeological Confirmation," 39-40 and figs. 3-4; idem, 'Asherah:' 28.

50 J. T. Milik and F, M. Cross, "Inscribed Arrowheads from the Period of the Judges," BASOR 134 (1954) 8-9; F. M.Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebra Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of lsrael (Cambridge, MA: Haward University Press, 1973) 33. But cf. idem, "The Origin and Early Evolution of the Alphabet:' Eretz-Israel 8 (1967) 13* and n. 33; idem, "Newly Found Inscriptions in Old Canaanite and Early Phoenician Scripts:' BASOR 238 (1980) 7, where Cross suggests that labi'tu should be understood as a title of Anat or perhaps refers to a fusion of Anat and Asherah. See further on this Dever, 'Asherah;' 28.

j1 The stand has four registers; on its bottom register is depicted the lion-grasping goddess. The lions are represented again on the third register from the bottom, but in that register they flank a sacred tree. These two lion-flanked icons are best understood as variant representations of the same divine power. That the divine power in question is Asherah is indicated by her associa- tion with sacred trees (above, nn. 17 and 26).


Cross, Canaanite Myth, 33.

j3 Ibid.

54 There is much doubt here. Certain first-millennium evidence argues that tnt may be Astarte, in particular the reading ltnt 'Strt, "to tnt-Astarte," in the Sarepta inscription (for discussion, see Day, "Asherah," 396-97,401). Or tnt may be a conflation of hsherah and Astarte (see R. .4. Oden, Studies in Lucian's De Syria Dea [HSM 15; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 19771 98). Cf. the iden- tity of the goddess of Sidon, who is identified as Elat (= Asherah) in the Ugaritic texts (CT4 14.4.198-199, 201-202) and as Astarte in the Hebrew Bible (1 Kgs U:5, 23; 2 Kgs 23:13). Also

correct that tnt, which he vocalizes tannit, means "serpent" ( ("tannin), this too would demonstrate Asherah's association with serpent^?^ Finally, we note KAI 89, a Punic devotional tablet on which Asherah bears the epithet hwt.56 It is possible that hwt as an epithet means "serpent," cognate with Old Aramaic hwh (Sefire I, A, 31), later Aramaic hiwii, hiwyd', hewya', and Arabic hayya. If such an etymology is correct, it would surely connect Asherah with snake imagery?'

These materials showing the association of Asherah and serpents sug- gest, as we ~osited above, that the queen mother Nehushta, "the serpent lady," is like Ma'acah, Jezebel, and Athaliah to be understood as a devotee of Asherah. She shows her allegiance to the goddess through the very name she bears.

Of the four queen mothers in the Hebrew Bible whom we have iden- tified as devotees of Asherah, three-Ma'acah, Athaliah, and Nehushta-are queen mothers in the southern kingdom of Judah. Moreover, while the fourth, Jezebel, is a northerner, it is important to realize that it is in the words of southerners that she is labeled gZbit-6 (2 Kgs 10:13). Also significant in this regard is that Jezebel reigns in a court much more characterized by a "southern" style of kingship than by typical "northern" fashion: a court, that is, based on a principle of dynastic succession rather than charismatic leadership, a court that builds itself a royal citadel in Samaria modeled after the DavidiclSolomonic fief in Jerusalem, a court involved in foreign alliances and foreign marriages, a court that persecutes dissenters (Elijah), and a court known for its palace

note the way in which Astarte and Asherah interchange as consorts of Baal in the Deuteronomistic history.

55 Cross, Canaanite Myth, 32-33.

5'jSeee, most recently, H. N. Wallace, The Eden Narratice (HSM 32; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985) 152-57; see also M. Lidzbarski, Ephemeris fur semitische Epigraphik 3 (Giessen: Topelmann, 1915) 284-85.

57 Even if this etymology is incorrect (an alternate etymology would associate hut with the root hyh, "to live"), Asherah's association with serpents on the basis of KAI 89 is not severed, since Punic hut is the equivalent of Hebrew hauuci, Eve. This is significant since it has been argued that Eve in Gen 2:4b-3324 is a demythologized Asherah figure (\$'allace, Eden Narratice, U-14, 158). At a minimum Eve, like Asherah, represents fertility ("the mother of all the living"; Gen 3:20). And significantly for our thesis, this Asherah-cum-Eve is associated with a serpent.

A second biblical text might also be adduced in support of Asherah's association with serpents: 2 Kgs 18:4.2 Kgs 18:4 describes Hezekiah's reforms as he purges the cult of elements he perceives to be non-Yahwistic. Two of these elements are the 'riSt?rci, which we argued above sat in the Temple in Jerusalem, and Nehushtan, "the bronze serpent that Moses had made" and to which "the Israelites made offerings:' This Nehushtan must, like the 'aserci,have been located in the Temple, given its Mosaic origins and its place in the sacrificial cult. Can it be that these two objects singled out by Hezekiah as non-Yahwistic elements within the Temple are unrelated? I am inclined to think not. Both the 'GSdrci and Nehushtan, I would suggest, are cult images devoted to Asherah (see similarly Olyan, Asherah, 70-71).

intrigues (the trumped-up charges of the Naboth incident, for example)58 Furthermore, Jezebel is the only northern queen mother whose name we know. Conversely, we know the names of the queen mothers of all the Judean kings except for Ahaz and Jehoram. To put it another way, of the nineteen queen mothers who are named in the Bible, one comes from the period of the united monarchy (Bathsheba), one is a northerner whose court is more "southern" in style than northern and who is called gZbirci by visitors from the south (Jezebel), and the remaining seventeen are gZbirbt in Judah during the period of the divided monarchy. The names of the seventeen gZbirbt of Judah, moreover, are routinely preserved for us as part of the Judean royal archives. The names, that is, are included in the formulaic notices that begin the descrip- tion of the reign of each king of Judah. For kings who reigned before the fall of Samaria, the standard pattern reads, "In the XX year of King PN of Israel, PN began to rule over Judah. He reigned for XX years in Jerusalem; his mother's name was PN, daughter of PN" (1Kgs 15:l-2,9-10; 22:41-42; 2 Kgs 8:25-26; 12:l; 14:l-2; 15:l-2, 32-33; 18:l-2; similarly, 1 Kgs 14:21). After the fall of Samaria, the basic pattern remains, although the synchronization with the king of Israel is obviously eliminated (2 Kgs 21:1, 9; 22:l; 23:31, 36; 24:8, 18). We should compare to these texts the archival notices for the kings of the northern kingdom (1Kgs 14:20; 15:25,33; 16:8, 15,23,29; 22:51; 2 Kgs 3:l;10:36; 13:1,

10; 14:23; 15:8, 13, 17, 23, 27; 17:1), which in the main parallel their southern counterparts, but fail to name an Israelite queen mother.

These data, as many commentators have noted, suggest that the queen mother figured much more prominently in the royal court in the south than she did in the north. To explain this, I propose to turn to the differing ideologies of kingship found in Israel, on the one hand, and in Judah, on the other. These two contrasting ideologies were initially described by A. Alt in his 1951 article "Das Konigtum in den Reichen Israel und J~da:'~~

To be sure, in the forty years since Alt's article first appeared, there have been modifications and refinements of his thesis. Of particular interest to us is the work of E M. Cross and the description he offers of sacral kingship as one feature in the contrasting ideologies of north and south. Here, in addition to depending on Alt for a theory of northlsouth dichotomy, Cross also draws profitably on basic descriptions of sacral kingship in Israel provided by the British and Scandanavian "myth and ritual" schools (while prudently ignoring these schools' more controversial conclusions concerning, for example, the annual New Year's festival).60 Cross's synthesis argues that part of the ideology


See A. Alt, "The Monarchy in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah," in Essays on Old Testa- ment History and Religion (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967) 321-26.

59 A. Alt, "Das Konigtum in der Reichen Israel und Juda:' VT 1(1951) 2-22; reprinted in Kleine Schriften zur Geschichte des Wkes Israel (Munich: Beck, 1959) 2. 116-34; English trans. "Mon- archy," in Essays, 313-35.

" The debate concerning the "divine" character of Judean kingship is, of course, an extensive one; for bibliography and for the history of scholarship, see I? D. Miller, "Israelite Religion:' in

of Judean but not Israelite kingship involved seeing the Davidic king as the adopted son of Yahweh, the divine father;G1 the pertinent texts, all of which Cross assigns to a Jerusalem provenance, are well known: 2 Sam 7:14a; Pss 2:7; 89:20-38 (Hebrew); ll0:l-7; Isa 9:5 (Hebrew). We quote only the adop- tion formula of Ps 89:27-28, to Cross the "ultimate statementn6* of the Judean royal ideology:

He [the king] will cry out to me [Yahweh], "You are my father,
My god and the rock of my salvation:'
I surely will make him my first-born,
the highest of the kings of the earth.

It is this motif of divine sonship in Judean royal ideology that 1 believe can provide a clue for understanding the role of the queen mother in the southern monarchy. For if the Judean royal ideology holds that Yahweh is the adopted father of the king, then is it not possible that the adopted mother of the king is understood to be Asherah, given, as we have noted above, that Asherah was seen by many-in both the state and popular cult -as the consort of Yahweh? The language of divine adoption, that is, may imply not only Yahweh, the male god, as surrogate father, but also Asherah, the female consort, as surrogate mother.

If this is so, the implications for the Judean queen mother are enormous. As the human mother of the king, the queen mother could be perceived as the earthly counterpart of ~sherah, th; king's heavenly mother. The queen mother might even be considered the human representative, even surrogate, of Asherah. Assuming such a correspondence would explain why those queen mothers for whom cultic allegiances are described or hinted at in the Bible are depicted as patronesses of the goddess Asherah. Indeed, according to the logic we have described, it is nothing but appropriate that these women direct their homage to their divine alter-ego. To do so could in fact be construed, within the royal ideology of Judah, as their cultic obligation.

In addition, I would argue that if my hypothesis is correct, we should see the cultic functions undertaken by the Judean queen mothers on behalf of the goddess Asherah as standing in close rklationship to the political respon- sibilities assigned to the gZbir6t within their sons' courts. As I have already indicated, I do agree with Andreasen, against Ben-Barak, that the queen mother in Judah did have an official position within the palace, and I would further agree with Andreasen's description of that position as "lady counsellor^

The Hebrew Bible and Its Modern interpreters (ed.D. A. Knight and G. M. Tucker; Philadelphia: Fortress; Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985), 218-20; more fully but less up-to-date, the survey of A. R. Johnson, "Hebrew Conceptions of Kingship:' in Myth, Ritual, and Kingship: Essays on the Theory and Practice of Kingship in the Ancient Near East and in lsrael (ed. S. IJ. Hooke; Oxford: Clarendon, 1958) 204-35.

Cross, Canaanite Myth, 241-65.

Ibid.. 258.

I would, however, differ with Andreasen by suggesting that one reason the queen mother can fulfill this official role of counselor may stem from the belief that she represents the goddess Asherah within the monarchy. An identifica- tion of the queen mother with Asherah, that is, could give to the gzbfrd power and authority which, like the king's, originate in the world of the divine. Such a divine legitimization would then allow the queen mother to function as the second most powerful figure in the royal court, superseded only by her son, the king. Consider in this regard the issue concerning which the queen mother most often exercises her authority: the matter of the royal succession. Could not the crucial role the gzbirci plays in this transition of power be intimately connected to the cultic function I have proposed for the queen mother as devotee of Asherah? More specifically, if the queen mother is considered the human representative of Asherah in the royal court, she should be able to legitimate her son's claim to be the adopted son of Yahweh. Indeed, the queen mother, assuming that she speaks as the goddess and thus as ~ahweh'; con- sort, is uniquely qualified to attest to her son's divine adoption. Thus the right to determine the succession would most naturally and properly fall to her.

I conclude, then, that it may be artificial to seek to divorce the political role of the Judean queen mother from a cultic function. I also suggest that it may be artificial to deny the primacy of the queen mother's cultic responsibilities.

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