(1.) Heb 'asherah, properly a wooden image, or a pillar representing Ashtoreth, a sensual Canaanitish goddess, probably usually set up in a grove (2Ki 21:7; 23:4). In the Revised Version the word "Asherah" (q.v.) is introduced as a proper noun, the name of the wooden symbol of a goddess, with the plurals Asherim (Ex 34:13) and Asheroth (Jg 3:13).
(2.) Heb 'eshel (Ge 21:33). In 1Sa 22:6; 31:13 the Authorized Version renders this word by "tree." In all these passages the Revised Version renders by "tamarisk tree." It has been identified with the Tamariscus orientalis, five species of which are found in Palestine.
(3.) The Heb word 'elon, uniformly rendered in the Authorized Version by "plain," properly signifies a grove or plantation. In the Revised Version it is rendered, pl., "oaks" (Ge 13:18; 14:13; 18:1; 12:6; De 11:30; Jos 19:33). In the earliest times groves are mentioned in connection with religious worship. The heathen consecrated groves to particular gods, and for this reason they were forbidden to the Jews (Jer 17:3; Eze 20:28).
(See ASHTORETH.) Translated rather "Asherah," the image of the goddess. So 2Ki 23:6, where it is nonsense "Josiah brought out the grove (Asherah) from the house of the Lord"; Manasseh had "set this graven image of Asherah in the house" (2Ki 21:7; 22:7; compare Jg 3:7). Also a "grove" could not be "set up under every green tree" (2Ki 17:10; 1Ki 14:23; 18:19; Ex 34:13). In Ge 21:33 it is a different word, "Abraham planted a "grove" (eshowl) in Beersheba," rather "a tamarisk tree," a hardy evergreen fitted to be a memorial to his posterity that the well was theirs.
The Asherah was upright, fixed or planted in the ground; of wood, so that it was capable of being "cut down and burned" (Jg 6:25-26; see 1Ki 15:13). "Maacbah had made an idol Asherah" (not" IN grove".) The worship of Asherah like that of Astarte or Ashtoreth, was associated with Baal worship. Astarte is the personal goddess, Ashcrah her conventional symbol in some one of her attributes. The sacred tree in Assyrian sculptures is similar, a symbol of the goddess of nature. The stone "pillar" (as the Hebrew for "image" ought to be translated, Ex 34:13) was Baal's symbol; as the wooden pillar or tree was Astarte's (2Ki 18:4).
The attempt to combine this with Jehovah worship is the subject of the prohibition (Ex 34:13). The Hebrew word translated "plain" (elon) signifies a grove or plantation; that of Mamre (Ge 13:18), of Moreh (Ge 12:6), of Zaanaim (Jg 4:11), of the pillar in Shechem (Jg 9:6), of Meonenim (Jg 9:37), of Tabor (1Sa 10:3). Groves were associated with worship from ancient times, as the passages just quoted show. Pliny states that trees were the first temples. Their shade, solitude, and solemn stillness suggested this use. The superstitious abuse of them to idolatry and licentious rites caused the Divine prohibition of them for religious purposes; which prohibition Israel disregarded (Jer 17:2; Eze 20:28).
Trees were also used for national assemblies (Jg 9:6,37), for burying the dead (Ge 35:8; 1Sa 31:13). Some trees are specially-noted: the tamarisk (eeshel) under which Saul abode in Gibeah (1Sa 22:6); the terebinth in Shechem under which Joshua, after writing the law of God, set up (Jos 24:26) a great stone as a witness; the palm tree of Deborah (Jg 4:5); the terebinth of enchantments (Jg 9:37 margin, (See MEONENIM); of wanderers (Jg 6:11, (See ZAANAIM) ); 1Sa 14:2, "a pomegranate tree in Migron" (1Sa 10:3).
Tree worship, perhaps a distortion of the tradition of the tree of life and the tree of knowledge (Genesis 3), may be traced in Egypt, Arabia, Syria, Assyria, Persia, India, Thibet, Siam, China, Japan, Ceylon, the Philippine isles. The Druids venerated oak groves (Pliny, H. N., xvi. 44; Tacitus, Annals xiv. 30). The black priests in Africa alone may enter the sacred groves. The Etrurians worshipped a palm-tree.
Apart from Ge 21:33, to be presently mentioned, 'grove' is everywhere in AV a mistaken tr, which goes back through the Vulgate to the Septuagint, of the name of the Canaanite goddess Asherah. The 'groves,' so often said to have been, or to be deserving to be, 'cut down,' were the wooden poles set up as symbols of Asherah. See further the art. Asherah.
A. R. S. Kennedy.
1. eshel, a tamarisk, or perhaps any large tree. Abraham planted a memorial tree in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of Jehovah. Ge 21:33. The same word is translated 'tree' in the A.V. in 1Sa 22:6 ('grove' in margin) and 1Sa 31:13.
2. asherah, asherath. The word 'grove' naturally suggests a row of trees, but that this cannot be the meaning is evident from groves being set up 'under every green tree.' 1Ki 14:23; 2Ki 17:10. Manasseh set a graven image of the grove that he had made in the temple, which Josiah removed, burnt, and ground to powder. 2Ki 21:7; 23:6. This was doubtless made of metal, but the groves were of wood, as we learn from their being cut down, and burnt. Jg 6:25-26; 2Ki 23:14-15. One passage speaks of groves being planted, De 16:21; another, of their being made, and another, of their being built. 1 Kings 14: 15, 23. They are constantly associated with idols and images, and Jg 3:7 speaks of their being served along with Baalim.
On the whole it seems most probable that they were wooden symbols of a goddess, in the form of images or pillars, or mere stems of trees inserted in the earth. In 2Ki 23:7 we read that women wove 'hangings' for the groves, but these were literally 'houses' or 'tents,' which implies that they enclosed the groves, probably for impure purposes, for immorality was almost constantly associated with idolatry. Kalisch and others suppose that the name Asherah has reference to the Syrian goddess Astarte, and it is so translated by the LXX in 2Ch 15:16. F?rst refers it to the Phoenician nature-god. The many references to the idols, images, and groves show how far Israel had departed from the living God and fallen into idolatry.
1. A word used in the Authorized Version, with two exceptions, to translate the mysterious Hebrew term Asherah, which is not a grove, but probably an idol or image of some kind. [ASHERAH] It is also probable that there was a connection between this symbol or image, whatever it was, and the sacred symbolic tree, the representation of which occurs so frequently on Assyrian sculptures.
2. The two exceptions noticed above are
and 1Sam 22:6 (margin). In the religions of the ancient heathen world groves play a prominent part. In the old times altars only were erected to the gods. It was thought wrong to shut up the gods within walls, and hence trees were the first temples; and from the earliest times groves are mentioned in connection with religious worship.
Ge 12:6-7; De 11:30
Authorized Version "plain." the groves were generally found connected with temples, and often had the right of affording an asylum.
GROVE. It is proper to observe, that in order the more effectually to guard the Israelites from idolatry, the blessed God, in instituting the rites of his own worship, went directly counter to the practice of the idolatrous nations. Thus, because they worshipped in groves, he expressly forbade "the planting a grove of trees near his altar," De 16:21. Nor would he suffer his people to offer their sacrifices on the tops of hills and mountains, as the Heathens did, but ordered that they should be brought to one altar in the place which he appointed, De 12:13-14. And as for the groves, which the Canaanites had planted, and the idols and altars which they had erected on the tops of high mountains and hills for the worship of their gods, the Israelites are commanded utterly to destroy them, De 12:2-3. The groves and high places do not seem to have been different, but the same places, or groves planted on the tops of hills, probably round an open area, in which the idolatrous worship was performed, as may be inferred from the following words of the Prophet Hosea: "They sacrifice upon the tops of mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks, and poplars, and elms," Ho 4:13. The use of groves for religious worship is generally supposed to have been as ancient as the patriarchal ages; for we are informed, that "Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the Lord," Ge 21:33. However, it is not expressly said, nor can it by this passage be proved, that he planted the grove for any religious purpose; it might only be designed to shade his tent. And this circumstance perhaps is recorded to intimate his rural way of living, as well as his religious character; that he dwelt in a tent, under the shade of a grove, or tree, as the word ???, eshel, may more properly be translated; and in this humble habitation led a very pious and devout life. The reason and origin of planting sacred groves is variously conjectured; some imagining it was only hereby intended to render the service more agreeable to the worshippers, by the pleasantness of the shade; whereas others suppose it was to invite the presence of the gods. The one or the other of these reasons seems to be intimated in the fore-cited passage of Hosea: "They burn incense under oaks, and poplars, and elms, because the shade thereof is good," Ho 4:13. Others conceive their worship was performed in the midst of groves, because the gloom of such a place is apt to strike a religious awe upon the mind; or else, because such dark concealments suited the lewd mysteries of their idolatrous worship. Another conjecture, which seems as probable as any, is, that this practice began with the worship of demons, or departed souls. It was an ancient custom to bury the dead under trees, or in woods. "Deborah was buried under an oak, near Bethel," Ge 35:8; and the bones of Saul and Jonathan under a tree at Jabesh, 1Sa 31:13. Now an imagination prevailing among the Heathen, that the souls of the deceased hover about their graves, or at least delight to visit their dead bodies, the idolaters, who paid divine honours to the souls of their departed heroes, erected images and altars for their worship in the same groves where they were buried; and from thence it grew into a custom afterward to plant groves, and build temples, near the tombs of departed heroes, 2Ki 23:15-16, and to surround their temples and altars with groves and trees; and these sacred groves being constantly furnished with the images of the heroes or gods that were worshipped in them, a grove and an idol came to be used as convertible terms, 2Ki 23:6.