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Queen of heaven (antiquity)

A statue of Isis nursing her son, housed in the Louvre

Queen of Heaven was a title given to a number of ancient sky goddesses worshipped throughout the ancient Mediterranean and Near East during ancient times. Goddesses known to have been referred to by the title include Inanna, Anat, Isis, Ishtar, Astarte, Astghik and possibly Asherah (by the prophet Jeremiah). In Greco-Roman times Hera, and her Roman aspect Juno bore this title. Forms and content of worship varied. In modern times, the title "Queen of Heaven" is still used by contemporary pagans to refer to the Great Goddess, while Catholics, Orthodox, and some Anglican Christians now apply the ancient title to Mary, the mother of Jesus.


Ancient Akkadian cylinder seal depicting the goddess Inanna resting her foot on the back of a lion while Ninshubur stands in front of her paying obeisance, c. 2334-2154 BC

Inanna was the Sumerian goddess of love and war. Despite her association with mating and fertility of humans and animals, Inanna was not a mother goddess, and is rarely associated with childbirth.[1] Inanna was also associated with rain and storms and with the planet Venus.[2]

Although the title of Queen of Heaven was often applied to many different goddesses throughout antiquity, Inanna is the one to whom the title is given the most number of times. In fact, Inanna's name is commonly derived from Nin-anna which literally means "Queen of Heaven" in ancient Sumerian (It comes from the words NIN meaning "lady" and AN meaning "sky"),[3] although the cuneiform sign for her name (Borger 2003 nr. 153, U+12239 𒈹) is not historically a ligature of the two. In several myths, Inanna is described as being the daughter of Nanna, the ancient Sumerian god of the Moon.[4] In other texts, however, she is often described as being the daughter of either Enki or An.[5][6][7] These difficulties have led some early Assyriologists to suggest that Inanna may have been originally a Proto-Euphratean goddess, possibly related to the Hurrian mother goddess Hannahannah, accepted only latterly into the Sumerian pantheon, an idea supported by her youthfulness, and that, unlike the other Sumerian divinities, she at first had no sphere of responsibilities.[8] The view that there was a Proto-Euphratean substrate language in Southern Iraq before Sumerian is not widely accepted by modern Assyriologists.[9] In Sumer Inanna was hailed as "Queen of Heaven" in the third millennium BC. In Akkad to the north, she was worshipped later as Ishtar. In the Sumerian Descent of Inanna, when Inanna is challenged at the outermost gates of the underworld, she replies:[10]

I am Inanna, Queen of Heaven,
On my way to the East

Her cult was deeply embedded in Mesopotamia and among the Canaanites to the west. F. F. Bruce describes a transformation from a Venus as a male deity to Ishtar, a female goddess by the Akkadians. He links Ishtar, Tammuz, Innini, Ma (Cappadocia), Mami, Dingir-Mah, Cybele, Agdistis, Pessinuntica and the Idaean Mother to the cult of a great Mother-goddess.[11]


The goddess, the Queen of Heaven, whose worship Jeremiah so vehemently opposed, may have been possibly Astarte. Astarte is the name of a goddess as known from Northwestern Semitic regions, cognate in name, origin and functions with the goddess Ishtar in Mesopotamian texts. Another transliteration is ‘Ashtart; other names for the goddess include Hebrew עשתרת (transliterated Ashtoreth), Ugaritic ‘ṯtrt (also ‘Aṯtart or ‘Athtart), Akkadian DAs-tar-tú (also Astartu) and Etruscan Uni-Astre (Pyrgi Tablets).

Astarte riding in a chariot with four branches protruding from roof, on the reverse of a Julia Maesa coin from Sidon

According to scholar Mark S. Smith, Astarte may be the Iron Age (after 1200 BC) incarnation of the Bronze Age (to 1200 BC) Asherah.[12]

Astarte was connected with fertility, sexuality, and war. Her symbols were the lion, the horse, the sphinx, the dove, and a star within a circle indicating the planet Venus. Pictorial representations often show her naked. Astarte was accepted by the Greeks under the name of Aphrodite. The island of Cyprus, one of Astarte's greatest faith centers, supplied the name Cypris as Aphrodite's most common byname. Asherah was worshipped in ancient Israel as the consort of El and in Judah as the consort of Yahweh and Queen of Heaven (the Hebrews baked small cakes for her festival):[13]

"Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger." [14]

"... to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem ..."[15]

Hebrew Bible referencesEdit

Worship of a "Queen of Heaven" (Hebrew מלכת השמים, Malkath haShamayim) is recorded in the Book of Jeremiah, in the context of the Prophet condemning such religious worship as blasphemy and a violation of the teachings of the God of Israel. In Jeremiah 7:18:

The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes of bread for the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to provoke me to anger.[16]

In Jeremiah 44:15-18:

Then all the men who knew that their wives were burning incense to other gods, along with all the women who were present—a large assembly—and all the people living in Lower and Upper Egypt, said to Jeremiah, "We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD! We will certainly do everything we said we would: We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our fathers, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine."[17]

There was a temple of Yahweh in Egypt at that time, the 6th-7th centuries BC, that was central to the Jewish community at Elephantine in which Yahweh was worshipped in conjunction with the goddess Anath (also named in the temple papyri as Anath-Bethel and Anath-Iahu).[18]

The goddesses Asherah, Anath and Astarte first appear as distinct and separate deities in the tablets discovered in the ruins of the library of Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra, Syria). Some biblical scholars[who?] tend to regard these goddesses as one, especially under the title "Queen of heaven".

John Day states that "there is nothing in first-millennium BC texts that singles out Asherah as 'Queen of Heaven' or associates her particularly with the heavens at all."[19] F. F. Bruce, an evangelical (Biblical) scholar differentiates between Astarte and Asherah as two distinct feminine deities.[20]


Apuleius wrote about the Queen of Heaven, referring to Queen Isis

Isis was venerated first in Egypt. As per the Greek historian Herodotus, writing in the fifth century BC, Isis was the only goddess worshiped by all Egyptians alike,[21] and whose influence was so widespread by that point, that she had become completely syncretic with the Greek goddess Demeter.[22] It is after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great, and the Hellenization of the Egyptian culture initiated by Ptolemy I Soter, that she eventually became known as 'Queen of Heaven'.[23]Lucius Apuleius confirms this in Book 11, Chap 47 of his novel, The Golden Ass, in which his character prays to the "Queen of Heaven". The goddess herself responds to his prayer, delivering a lengthy monologue in which she explicitly identifies herself as both the Queen of Heaven and Isis.

Then with a weeping countenance, I made this orison to the puissant Goddess, saying: O blessed Queen of Heaven...

Thus the divine shape breathing out the pleasant spice of fertile Arabia, disdained not with her divine voice to utter these words unto me: Behold Lucius I am come, thy weeping and prayers has moved me to succor thee. I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of powers divine, Queen of Heaven... and the Egyptians which are excellent in all kind of ancient doctrine, and by their proper ceremonies accustomed to worship me, do call me Queen Isis.[24]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Fiore, Silvestro. Voices From the Clay: the development of Assyro-Babylonian Literature. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1965.
  2. ^ Jacobsen, Thorkild. The Treasures of Darkness: a History of Mesopotamian Religion. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1976.
  3. ^ Wolkstein, Diane and Noah Kramer, Samuel, "Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth" - a modern, poetic reinterpretation of Inanna myths
  4. ^ Wolkstein, Diane, and Samuel Noah Kramer. Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. Harper &Row, Publishers, 1983, New York.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Harris, Rivkah (1991), "Inanna-Ishtar as Paradox and a Coincidence of Opposites" (History of Religions, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Feb., 1991)), pp. 261-278
  9. ^ Rubio, Gonzalo (1999), "On the Alleged "Pre-Sumerian Substratum" (Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Vol. 51, 1999 (1999)), pp. 1-16
  10. ^ Wolkstein, Diane and Samuel Noah Kramer. Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. Harper and Row, Publishers, 1983, New York. (Page 55)
  11. ^ Bruce, F. F. (1941), "Babylon and Rome" (The Evangelical Quarterly, Vol. 13, (Oct. 15, 1941)), pp. 241-261
  12. ^ Smith, Mark S (2002), The early history of God : Yahweh and the other deities in ancient Israel (2nd ed.), Grand Rapids WI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., ISBN 0-8028-3972-X
  13. ^ William G. Dever, "Did God Have a Wife?" (Eerdmans, ISBN 0-8028-2852-3,2005) - see reviews of this book by Patrick D. Miller[permanent dead link], Yairah Amit .
  14. ^ Jeremiah 7:17–18
  15. ^ Jeremiah 44:17
  16. ^ Biblegateway, Jeremiah 7, 18.
  17. ^ Biblegateway, Jeremiah 44.
  18. ^ Dr. Raphael Patai: "The Hebrew Goddess": Duke University Press: third edition
  19. ^ Day, John. Yahweh and the gods and goddesses of Canaan. Continuum International Publishing Group - Sheffie (26 Dec 2002). ISBN 978-0-8264-6830-7, p. 146.
  20. ^ Bruce, F. F. (1941), "Babylon and Rome" (The Evangelical Quarterly, Vol. 13, (Oct. 15, 1941)), p. 245
  21. ^ Histories 2.42
  22. ^ Histories 2.156
  23. ^ R.E Witt, "Isis in the Ancient World", 1997, ISBN 0-8018-5642-6
  24. ^ "The Golden Asse of Apuleius: The Eleventh Booke: The Forty-seventh Chapter". Retrieved 2014-02-13.