The Asherah and Baal "Pillar" Worship of Ancient Israel

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

17 August 2004

Usar/wsr (Osiris) associated with a sacred tree (Aser) and pillar. Perhaps this Egyptian motif, via the Phoenicians, became the Asherah/Asherim of the Israelites ? Note the linen skirt being worn by the Tet/Djet pillar. The dressing of the pillar in linens may be what is alluded to in 2 Kings 23:7

"...the women did weaving for Asherah..." (p.69, E.A. Wallis Budge. Egyptian Religion. New York. Bell Publishing Co. [1900], 1959)
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Soul of Osiris or USAR (w-s-r) as a bird in the tree from which the Tet Pillar is hewn. The Book of the Dead calls the tree the ASER TREE (E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Religion)
Tet Pillar, multi-colored. Tomb painting. (fig.39, p.63.Erik Hornung. Tal der Konige. Die Ruhestatte der Pharaonen.Weltbild Verlag. Augsburg. 1995)
Tet Pillar, note DRAPERIES hanging on either side of the pillar. Tomb wall painting. (fig. 159, p.201. Erik Hornung. Tal der Konige. Die Ruhestatte der Pharaonen.Weltbild Verlag. Augsburg. 1995)
Most scholars understand Asherah is a goddess hence some may "wonder" how a pillar associated with a male god, Osiris, would be linked to a goddess ?

According to a Greco-Roman account, Osiris was conned into getting into a chest at a party thrown by his brother and rival, Seth, who sought his life. After getting into the chest it was nailed shut and tossed into the Nile where it reached the Mediterranean Sea and drifted ashore at Byblos in Phoenicia. There it became entangled in a tree, which in turn was cut down and made into a pillar at the local king's palace. Isis, Osiris' wife, found the pillar, cut it open and took Osiris' dead body from it back to Egypt. She instructed the Byblians to worship the pillar for it was a god, Osiris. They were to dress it in linens, just as the Egyptians dressed the Djet pillar in Egypt. So, I would argue that the pillar, associated with a male god, became associated with a goddess, Isis, who in Egyptian art was "assimilated" to the cow-goddess Hathor. Now Hathor in Egyptian funerary texts was called the "Lady of Byblos." She admitted all the dead to the underworld and had the power to provide them sustenance with food and drink. Hathor was frequently portrayed as a pillar-goddess in Egyptian art forms. So, Isis/Hathor is associated not only with the Osirian Djet pillar of Byblos but also with Hathor the pillar-goddess, "the Lady of Byblos." Hathor assumed many different forms in Egyptian myth, a pillar, a tree, a serpent, a spotted cat, a lioness, a cow, and the avenging "eye" of Re the sun-god. Isis could assume the form a Kite (a type of bird) accompanying the dead in some funerary texts. In the Greco-Roman Byblos myth, Isis becomes a bird flying about the Osiris pillar at Byblos, perhaps an allusion to the Egyptian concept of her being a Kite accompanying the dead ?

Griffiths on Hathor and Isis :

"Hathor, in contrast, has a basic significance of her own, and a close affinity to Isis. Her name means "House of Horus"; perhaps "house" here refers to the celestial domain of the Falcon god...But her early claim to be the mother of Horus may be more probably implied. A kind of rivalry with Isis emerges here, and also a medium of influence, since the cow form of Hathor is sometimes transferred in part to Isis. Hathor, like Isis, is a goddess of love, but in less inhibited form; she is a goddess too of the dance, music, and drunken abandon. An anthithesis results, since Isis is a goddess of love in its socially accepted form, with mother-hood as its dominant theme. There are episodes, however, in which Horus and his mother Isis appear in dire conflict..." (p. 170. J. Gwyn Griffiths. "Isis." Donald B. Redford. Editor. The Ancient Gods Speak, A Guide to Egyptian Religion. New York. Oxford University Press. 2002)

Meltzer on the "blurring" of the Hathor-Isis imagery, both claiming to be "the mother of Horus" who was also alluded to as being a _Pillar_, Egyptian: iwn (note that Hathor, Horus' mother, is associated with a Pillar as well as Horus' father, Osiris the Djet Pillar) :

"Hathor (herself identified with Isis) also appears as the mother of Horus...Horus the successor was also referred to as Iunmutef ("Pillar of His Mother"), which was used as a funerary priestly title (often the deceased's eldest son). The Great Sphinx at Giza was identified during the New Kingdom as Harmakhis (Hr-m-3kht, "Horus in the Horizon")." (p. 166-167. Edmund S. Meltzer. "Horus."  Donald B. Redford. Editor. The Ancient Gods Speak, A Guide to Egyptian Religion. New York. Oxford University Press. 2002)

We are told that Solomon had a Phoenician-Sidonian princess for a wife (1 Kings 11:1, 5) and that he employed Phoenician craftsmen in the building and decorating of the Temple at Jerusalem and that he worshipped the Phoenician-Sidonian goddess, Ashtoreth (1 Kings 11:33). Perhaps the "Asherah Pillar" was a Phoenician "contribution" to the temple at Jerusalem? If  Isis-Hathor was called Baalat, "Lady," is it possible that her husband Osiris became known as Baal, "Lord," of the Pillar by the Phoenicians ? We are told that Israel also had a temple dedicated to Baal and that "his" pillar was destroyed by Jehu :

2 Kings 10:27 RSV

"And they demolished the pillar of Baal, and demolished the house of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day."

Below, a photo of a stela found at Byblos of King Yehaw-milk "yehaw is king" presenting a libation in a bowl to "the Lady of Byblos." Seated on an Egyptian style throne is Hathor with raised arm and lotus staff, wearing a headdress composed of cow horns holding a sun disk. Above is a winged sun disc with tail feathers. (for photo cf. figure 130. James B. Pritchard. Editor. The Ancient Near East, An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. Vol. 1. Princeton, New Jersey. Princeton University Press. 1973. paperback). In Egyptian myth, Isis and Hathor are both called the mother of Horus, who can assume several different forms, such as a Sphinx called Harmachis "Horus in the Horizon" (the rising sun at dawn), or a sun disc with wings and tailfeathers called "Horus of Behdet," who in this form destroys Egypt's enemies, easily seeing them on the earth from his position in the heavens. Could Yehaw-milk be a Phoenician form of Hebrew Yahweh? Pritchard identifies the stela as being of the 5th or 4th century BCE (cf. pp. 220-221 for the text on the stela) :

"I am Yehawmilk, king of Byblos, the son of Yehar-ba'l, the grandson of Urimilk, king of Byblos, whom the mistress, the Lady of Byblos, made king over Byblos...I have made for my mistress, the Lady of Byblos, this altar of bronze...with the bird (?) of gold that is set in a (semiprecious) stone...May the Lady of Byblos bless and preserve Yehawmilk, king of Byblos, and prolong his days and years in Byblos, for he is a righteous king." 
Below, Hathor seated on Egyptian style throne, similar to that appearing on the Byblos stela of King Yehaw-milk (above). Hathor is being presented an offering by Queen Nefertari, wife of Ramesses II ,ca. 1279-1212 BCE (cf. p. 88. "Women In Egypt." David P. Silverman. Editor. Ancient Egypt. New York. Oxford University Press. 1997)
Below, Queen Nefertari, wife of Ramesses II, presents offerings to Isis, who's imagery, cow horns and solar disc, resembles that of Hathor's (cf. above). Both wall murals are from Nefertari's tomb. (pp.294-295. "La Tomba de Nefertari." Kent R. Weeks. La Valle Dei Re, Le Tombe E I Templi Funerari Di Tebe Ovest. White Star. Vercelli, Italia. 2001)
Below, Osiris as the Djet/Tet pillar wearing a linen funerary garment. (cf. p. 171. Jean Francois Champollion. 
Le Pantheon Egyptien. [reprint of 1823 edition]. Inter-Livres. Archeve d'imprimer sur les presses de Mame Imprimeurs 37000 Tours. Depot legal no. 37502 Septembre 1996)