Ashur (Assyria)


The name means "a step" (Proverbs 14:15), and is used metaphorically in Assyriac writings as well as Hebrew to mean "god's footsteps" (cf Job 23:11). Hebrew writings also use the word allegorically to indicate idol-worship, or at the very least a lapsing from YHVH worship (Psalm 37:31 and 73:2).

Ashur is the usual name for ancient Assyria, which is not the same as the land we think of today as Syria. In the Tanach it is sometimes called Aram Naharayim (e.g Genesis 11:31, Joshua 24:2-3Book of Jubilees 9:5). Both Josephus and Onkelos translate Aram Naharayim as Mesopotamia - the Septuagint follows suit - both terms conveying the sense of a "land between the rivers", though whether the rivers in question are the Tigris and Euphrates, as scholars generally suppose, or two smaller rivers, the 
Balikh and the Khabur, both located in the upper sources of the Euphrates, which are stated as being Aram Nahara'im in the Tel Amarna letters. 

I have included the link to the pseudepigraphic Book of Jubilees because it explicitly states that Ur Kasdim, Av-Ram's theoretical place of origin, was the city of "Arphaschshad the brother of Aram", rather than being Av-Ram's at all. 

Genesis 2:14 notes that the Tigris ran east out of Ashur.

Genesis 10:11 says that this is where Nimrod emigrated and built cities.

Genesis 25:3 refers to Ashurim as one of the sons of Dedan (son of Yoktan, son of Av-Raham by Keturah). This may be the same Ashur as is Genesis 10:22, an Arabian tribe rather than the Assyrian kingdom. But clearly the son of Dedan out of Keturah etc is intended to include peoples who wished to confederate and had been absorbed, and an attempt to make everyone’s ancestors Hebrew.

   That last statement is probably more significant than it sounds, because the first Assyrian empire collapsed around 1200 BCE, and remained in a state of disarray until Tiglath-Pileser I established a second empire about a hundred years later; the principal cause of the collapse being the arrival in large numbers of nomadic peoples out of Armenia, known generically as the Aramaeans, specifically as the Mushki (Meshech - מֶשֶׁךְ - in the Tanach, Genesis 10:2 and 1 Chronicles 1:5). The departure of Av-Ram from Ur, and his arrival in Kena'an, may well be a reflection of these events (cf Deuteronomy 26:5 and read here). 

Ashur plays a significant role in the life of Yisra-El at many points of its Biblical history: 

Tiglath-Pileser III was the king to whom King Achaz of Yisra-El wrote (2 Kings 16:7), asking for his assistance when Yerushalayim was besieged; Achaz transformed the Temple into a pagan shrine as payment for Assyrian support; his son was Chizki-Yahu (Hezekiah).

Sargon II (cf Isaiah 20) was the king who completed the defeat of the northern kingdom of Yisra-El begun by his father Shalman-Ezer V; he laid siege to its capital, Shomron (Samaria) for three years. The disappearance from history of the Ten Tribes in 722 BCE was the consequence of this war, as had already been the arrival in the region of a new people, known as the Samarians - or Samaritans in the Christian Bible. Responsibility for that lies with Sargon's father.

Sennacherib, the son of Sargon II, is the man whose armies "came down like a wolf on the fold" in Lord Byron's poem "The Destruction of Sennacherib". Having sacked Babylon he conquered most of the Middle East, including laying siege to Yerushalayim (cf 2 Kings 18-192 Chronicles 32, and Isaiah 37); that he failed to take Yehudah was not the valiance of Chizki-Yah's Yehudah so much as troubles at home which required his return, and led to his assassination. Yehudah finally fell to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586 BCE.

Ezekiel 27:6 has Ashur as a type of cedar; elsewhere Te'ashur (תאשור), which in Arabic is called Sherbin. All trees in the ancient world were associated with gods or goddesses, so can we assume that Ashur is a variant spelling of Asherah, or perhaps a masculinastion, in the same way that Yah was masculinised by the Hebrews? The cedar was unquestionably sacred to Astarte. The Temple in Yerushalayim was built with cedars which King Hu-Ram (Hiram) of Lebanon sent to Shlomo (Solomon) for the purpose, and the design of the Temple was likewise Phoenician. Hu-Ram (the name simply means "the Great"; his king-name was probably Eshmun-Azar, which appears to have been the equivalent in Tsidon of Pharaoh in Egypt - see here for a much later Tsidonian king of the same name) was a worshiper of Asherah, the Phoenician mother-goddess. Among the many shrines which Shlolomo set up - one, we are told, for each of his foreign wives - temples to the mother-goddess under her various names predominate. Worship of Tammuz at the northern side of the altar indicate its continuation well into the 6th century BCE. The raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11) at Bethany (Beit Anatot, the temple of Anat, Canaanite Astarte/Asherah) indicates that it was still alive at the time of - indeed, in the story of - Jesus; Anat, whose shrine it was, was the Canaanite equivalent of Asherah, married to Ba'al as was her Phoenician counterpart. However, willow-worship was the predominant form at both Yerushalayim and Beit Anatot. 

See also ASHER.

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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