The Queen of Heaven (Jeremiah 44)

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Illustration: ‘Ishtar, Queen of Heaven’ statue by Paul Borda.

In the Bible the enigmatic title “Queen of Heaven” appears only in Jeremiah 7:18, 44:17-19, 25, but similar titles occur throughout the ancient Near East and apply to several goddesses. Anat is called the “Lady of Heaven”, and the Canaanite Astarte (Ashtoreth in the Bible) and her Mesopotamian counterpart, Ishtar, also bear the title “Queen of Heaven”. These goddesses are connected to the worship of the planet Venus; astral worship was particularly popular during the seventh century B.C. (2 Kings 21:3, 23:11).

The exiled Judahites conceived of this queen as a fertility goddess (Jeremiah 44:17-18), in whose image the women made “cakes” (44:19). This cultic practice may also be indicated by a discovery at Mari of a baking mold in the form of a naked female with hands supporting her breasts – a well-known fertility motif. Moreover, Jeremiah’s word for these cakes derives from the Akkadian for a type of bread that was often resented to Ishtar. Jeremiah described how a family would gather wood, make a fire, prepare the bread, pour out libations and burn incense (7:18, 44:18). Religious texts dedicated to Ishtar recount very similar steps. The Judahites were apparently following ritual practices associated with the Mesopotamian Ishtar and the Canaanite Astarte/Ashtoreth (1 Kings 11:5). The Queen of Heaven exemplified the religious syncretism that plagued Israel for centuries and ultimately led to God’s judgement upon His people.

Still today, believers in the God of the Bible are wise to beware of a gradual assimilation of unbiblical and even pagan concepts. The notion of a “Queen of Heaven” was just such an assimilation.


 

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