Asherah & Canaanite Isha

Devarim 16:21
Do not plant for yourselves an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the alter of Hashem your G-d …

לא-תטע לך אשרה כל-עץ אצל מזבח יי אלהיך

In parashat Va’etchanan (Devarim 7:1-5), we are commanded to cut off, chop and burn the Asherim of the 7 nations. Among the 7 nations are the Canaanites. In contrast to the 7 nations, Devarim 7:6 tells us, we are consecrated and set apart by Hashem.

Parashat Ekev elaborates on what will happen to us as a nation if we fail to distinguish ourselves from the 7 nations. We honor Hashem by acknowledging our consecration. Considering this, itta אתתא is again (as in other entries, see here for links) distinguished from isha אשה.

Contrasting the etymology of isha אשה and itta אתתא, both meaning “woman”, I found this (in Ikko Kurosawa’s Thai-Japanese Dictionary) regarding the Canaanite origin of the word isha:

Ancient Hebrews of Canaan prayed to one of the Baal Osher inside a grove. It was considered that Osher was goddess who gave birth to other many gods. Asherah was the name that Semite gave to the big mother goddess, Osher. Asherah was a cow of the heavens and her husband was El that took shape of a bull. “Asha” [isha] is it’s etymology, and “Ath” is the same.

Three significant points can be gleaned from this bit of information regarding אשה isha:

  1. Isha is a word of Canaanite origin; a word which gives rise to that which we are commanded to destroy – Asherim.
  2. Though isha shows some indirect connection to את (“Ath”, the chasidim), it lacks connection to תא (which represents the full range of the gevurot as well as a dark receptive cell of the Temple). This aligns with the meaning of Asherah – to go straight, like the straight light aur yashar represented by את. Nevertheless and importantly, the connection of Asherah to aur yashar is indirect, not direct. In other words, Asherah mimics the straight light – like a parrot [1] mimics human speech without understanding, perhaps.
  3. From isha comes Canaanite Asherah, the goddess who gives birth to other gods.

In contrast to Canaanite isha אשה, Aramaic [2] itta אתתא is not derived from the same etymon as the word Asherah, namely אשה. Importantly and in contrast to isha, 4 significant points regarding the word אתתא itta:

  1. Itta is of Aramaic origin; where Aramaic is a sacred language.
  2. Itta not only has direct connection to the chasidim (and aur yashar), but through תא is directly connected to the full range of the gevurot as well. In addition, it contains a dark receptive cell of the Temple and returns light (aur chozer).
  3. With itta, the full range of the chasidim (א to ת) and gevurot (ת to א) are unified in one word; namely, woman. שמע ישראל יי אלהינו יי אחד
  4. While Asherah is a goddess who gives birth to many gods, itta is a woman who may answer the Shema without giving birth to many other gods. ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד
ביום ההוא יהיה יי אחד — ושמו אחד


[1] A parrot, in terms of one who repeats the words of another without understanding.
[2] How The Hebrew Language Grew, Edward Horowitz

Comments particularly encouraged regarding etymology of the words asherah, isha and/or itta.


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