Erich Lessing

Each people in the ancient Near East had its national god—Chemosh for the Moabites, Dagon for the Philistines, Ba‘al (shown here, in a mid- to late- second-millennium B.C.E. statue from Ugarit, Syria) for the Phoenicians—and each god had a female counterpart, usually called Asherah, Ashtoreth or Astarte. According to Ephraim Stern, author of the accompanying article, many Israelites incorporated these aspects of religious practice—a female consort, carved images of the divinity—into the worship of their god, Yahweh. They did this, Stern adds, even long after Solomon is said by the Bible to have built an exclusive home in Jerusalem for Israel’s god.