By Abbey Mikha
The goddess Aphrodite is the mother of all, yet she is considered by some as a mythical being, which originated in ancient Greece. Many historians and scholars though have also associated her with earlier civilizations. There is evidence that she existed from the dawn of time, from the beginning of civilization, and from the foundation of religion on earth. According to the evidence found, some scholars attest to that Aphrodite was an epithet for the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who was later called Ishtar by the Assyrians, Ashtart by the Canaanites, and Ashtoreth by the Hebrews. In this essay these old theories will be reconsidered, not to cause more division in beliefs, rather to move away from concrete beliefs, and reintroduce the idea that no religion, whether ancient or modern is absolutely original, especially those religions who deny the rights of the woman, and the presence of The Woman. As Paul Friedrich notes in his book The Meaning of Aphrodite, “The love symbol, Aphrodite, has been proclaimed as having universal human relevance” (1).
Historiography of Aphrodite and Related Matters
The ancient love goddess has many origins and many histories (2). Many scholars from perhaps even before the time of Herodotus attest to that the worship of Aphrodite was of eastern origin (3). There was a continuous debate where some academics like Lewis Richard Farnell and James Fraser tried to prove this (4). Then there were various views like those of Stephanie Budin, which gave their view on syncretism of the various goddesses of ancient times. Those who did believe Aphrodite was eastern in origin usually connected her to the goddess Inanna of the Sumerians, Ishtar of the Assyrians, Ashtart of the Canaanites, and Ashtoreth of the Hebrews.
Where it concerns the stories of Inanna, Ishtar, Ashtart, and Ashtoreth it should be noted that translations of some ancient text were done by J.B. Pritchard, Stephanie Dalley, Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer (5). The idea behind trying to prove where Aphrodite is from, that she is actually the goddesses Inanna, Ishtar, Ashtart, and Ashtoreth which are also one in the same being, is that if such a connection truly exists amongst various religious figures, pantheons, and various cultures, like those of the Sumerians, Assyrians, Canaanites, Hebrews, and Greeks then it can also be noted that there must be other similar connections with all the various cultures of the world.
We are all human beings; we all belong to one earth, and that means we all need to learn to coexist peacefully. If people were more tolerant of ancient religions and not directly consider them as pagan, then we might learn something from the evolution of religion on earth. The world though seems to be heading in the direction of intolerance. So many times it has been said that people of various religions actually worship one God with different names. If this message could be spread amongst the human race and introduced into the education systems of the world, there might be less wars and hatred amongst peoples and nations.
The goddess Aphrodite was said to be born from the sea, the sea being a symbol for the unknown and mysteriousness, and many images depict her rising from waves (6), but Epimenides, an early Greek sage, taught his followers that Aphrodite was the daughter of Kronos, father of Zeus, in the generation before the Olympians (7).
Zecharia Sitchin on the Annunaki Including the goddess Inanna
Zecharia Sitchins books and theories are all based on the knowledge that the Sumerians gave to us. In the ruins of Sumerian cities excavated by archaeologists in the past century and a half, hundreds, if not thousands of the texts and illustrations that were found dealt with astronomy (8). On cuneiform tablets the Sumerians repeatedly wrote about a planet they called Nibiru, which literally means “Planet of the Crossing.” That is where Zecharia Sitchin says the Anunnaki or Nefilim (as called in the Hebrew Bible) came from. The term Anunnaki literally means, “Those Who from Heaven to Earth Came” (9). According to Zecharia Sitchin (who recently passed away at the age of 90) the goddess Inanna was one of those Annunaki. Zecharia claims that all the ancient gods can be traced back to Sumer. Some people blame Zecharia Sitchin for the Mayan Calendar hype, which supposedly proposes that this calendar, and the world, will end in 2012. In his good bye video Zecharia at 90 he clearly stated that the world was not coming to an end so soon and he agreed more with the Newtonian theories of how much time there is left on Earth.
Aphrodite, Inanna, Ishtar, Ashtart, and Ashtoreth
There is an eternal earthly truth in the statement by Mark Morford and Robert Lenardon that, “the contrast between myth and reality has been a major philosophical concern at least since the time of the Pre-Socratics” (10), Myth though is a cultural phenomenon that has evolved from the beginning of civilization. It is not there for us to cloud our consciousness; rather it is there for us to make clearer what we cannot understand and to perhaps answer many of our unanswerable questions. The truth is that Aphrodite‘s story has eternal universal values and a spiritual truth. Perhaps she is a gift from another world to this world.
Deborah Boedeker mentions how Pausanias believed that Aphrodite was worshipped by the Assyrians. It is interesting to note that the Greeks called Assyria by the name of Syria by dropping the vowel at the front of the word, whereby Ashur became Shure, and later became Syria. Nonetheless, she says that Aphrodite and Ishtar‘s association with the sky “could thus provide a basis for identifying Aphrodite with a goddess like Astart Queen of Heaven or Ishtar Daughter of Anu” (11). Similarly to Aphrodite, Ashtart is even called the Holy Queen (12).
Miroslav Marcovich also asserts that Aphrodite was an immigrant goddess from Lebanon, and Syria (13). He emphasizes that as far back as 3000 B.C there existed a Sumerian goddess named Inanna, who he says her Akkadian name was Esh-tar (14). He also says that she is “particularly well represented in Canaan, a fact of importance for Israel, as Ashtar(t), Ashtoret, Ashtoreth, and Astarte” (15). Ishtar is also sometimes called the “Queen of Heaven”, as the planet Venus, as the Morning Star and the Evening Star full of grace (16).
Paul Friedrich states that, “Inanna appears at the dawn of history as the dominant divinity of the Sumerians, architects of the most innovative civilization after the Neolithic” (17). He contends that the name Aphrodite is actually a non- Greek word that could be related to others names. He states that Aphrodite like her grandmother Ishtar has the epithet heavenly. Miroslav Marcovich contends that the Virgin Mary “inherited from Aphrodite the functions of Queen of Heaven, the Morning Star full of Grace” (18).
In his book The Meaning of Aphrodite, Paul Friedrich also tries to trace the origins of Aphrodite. He expresses that although Aphrodite was one of the more interesting gods, she has been ignored by Historians. He says that they seem to “edge away from a discussion of her” (19). Friedrich concludes that, “Early Greek religion was significantly Semitic in origin” (20). It is interesting to note that Friedrich mentions that, “a conflated Inanna-Ishtar rite of marriage probably underlies the wedding rites of the Song of Solomon (21).
Furthermore, similarities between Aphrodite, Inanna, Ishtar, Ashtart, and Ashtoreth are symbols like the dove as their bird, the alters for burning incense and perfume, and the famous oriental garden of Aphrodite, and Ashtoreth which was filled with fruits and flowers (22). A strange yet interesting similarity between the Aphrodite of Cyprus and that of the Assyrian goddess Ishtar is a supposed Babylonian custom whereby some women of the land prostituted themselves at the temple of Aphrodite or Ishtar by having intercourse with a stranger (23). This may be a myth, but this among other things is the reason Ishtar is also sometimes called the holy prostitute.
Another similarity between the various goddesses is the tales of their lovers. Aphrodite‘s most famous lover is certainly Adonis, but Adonis existed long before the Greeks gave him this name (24). To the people of ancient Mesopotamia his name was Tammuz and Dumuzi. The Sumerians tell the tale on cuneiform tablets where the goddess Inanna wanted to marry. She questioned her brother Utu on who should be her partner. She said, “Who will share my bed with me, brother” (25)? In the end Dumuzi the shepherd god proves himself worthy to Inanna by telling her about his virtues (26). After the marriage to Dumuzi Inanna dared to defy the universe and do many courageous things. She even traveled to the underworld, where her sister, Ereshkigal, was queen (27). This tenacious quality in Inanna strikes a chord with the personalities of Aphrodite, Ishtar, Ashtart, and Ashtoreth who were likewise fearless.
In his book Venus a Biography Andrew Dalby states that women throughout ancient times prayed to these goddesses: “Ishtar and Inanna, like Aphrodite and Venus, acknowledged the prayers and responded to the magic practices of women who hoped by this means to make themselves beautiful, to be desired by all, or to be loved faithfully by one person to the exclusion of all others.” Similarly to the way humans today pray to God.
Analysis of Stephanie Budins Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism View
Stephanie Budin believes that scholars have for a long time recognized an “interpretation syncretism, between Aphrodite and the Phoenician goddess Ashtart” (28). She says that “the origin of this syncretism is usually attributes to the eastern origins of Aphrodite herself, whereby the Greek goddess evolves out of the Phoenician, as is suggested as early as the writings of Herodotus” (29). She believes that Aphrodite was “Orientalized by the Greeks to an extent.” She says:
“I argue here that the perceived syncretism actually emerged differently on the island of Cyprus than throughout the rest of the Mediterranean. On Cyprus, the syncretism emerged out of identification between the two goddesses of Cyprus—Aphrodite and Ashtart. In Greece, by contrast, it evolved out of a slow orientalizing of Aphrodite combined with a Greek tendency to equate almost all eastern goddesses. As a result, the identification between Aphrodite and Ashtart was quite general, and both goddesses were syncretized not only with each other, but also with a full range of Mediterranean goddesses” (30).
Budin says that interest in Near Eastern influences on Greek culture has grown in the past century. However, she believes that:
“This inquiry has long been hampered by one basic misconception concerning the early relationship between these two goddesses: that Aphrodite evolved, to on extent or another, out of Levantine Ashtart. Based on this hypothesis, it is inevitable that one would assume that the Aphrodite-Ashtart syncretism dates back to the origins of Aphrodite herself, and that the syncretism as the ancient Greeks saw it was merely the result of historical fact” (31).
She also indicates that deities of the same gender in one or more pantheons are seen as being the same god or goddess in ancient Greece (32). Budin also says that “Long-term parallelism may eventually cause amalgamation to occur, so that a new deity, or a new conception of the old deities, comes into existence” (33). She continues:
“This is due to the Greeks own understanding of the universalism of their pantheon. That is to say, the Greeks believed that all peoples worshipped the same deities, although obviously with different names and different customs…As such, as the Greeks came into contact with different cultures, rather than recognizing the individual characters and identities of the foreign‖ deities, the Greeks equated them (interpretation) with their own gods” (34).
She also says that the Greeks seemed to also believe that Ashtart was just another name for Aphrodite, and vice versa for the Phoenicians (35). Budin addresses the issue of sacred prostitution and says that, “Selling sex for the profit of a deity was invented by Herodotus in Book 1.199 of his Histories” (36). She concludes that sacred prostitution is a myth, and should not be used as evidence to support the Aphrodite- Ashtart syncretism. She says that, “When the early Semites came into contact with the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, they adjusted some of their deities to have them align with the Sumerian pantheon” (37). She says that the difference between Ashtart and both Ishtar and the Sumerian Inanna is that she does not “manifest or revel in her own sexuality” (38).
In the end though she acknowledges that, “The common belief is that Aphrodite emerged out of Ashtart, thus Ishtar->Ashtart->Aphrodite” (39). In contrast to this, Budin argues that, “While both Ashtart and Aphrodite did evolve from Ishtar, this was a parallel development, although not synchronic; both goddesses evolved separately, developing their own, distinct personae along the way” (40). She continues that “Ashtart clearly maintained the belligerent aspects of Ishtar, while Aphrodite, possibly having more militaristic qualities in Cyprus and very early Greece, maintained the more erotic aspect of the Mesopotamian goddess” (41).
However she says, “It is evident that the Greeks thought of Aphrodite as oriental long before they knew the name Ashtart. Aphrodite appears as “The Cypriot” as early as Homer, and the Syrian by the 6th century (42). In regards to Aphrodite‘s mate Budin says that, “It is universally accepted that Adonis derives from the Near East. His name is clearly a Hellenization of the title Adon, meaning Lord (43).
In regards to the matter of Aphrodite having evolved from earlier more ancient eastern goddesses, Stephanie Budin contends that the Ashtart-Aphrodite syncretism is an exaggeration. She says that, “While it is true that some evidence does show that Aphrodite Ourania specifically was equated with Palestinian Ashtart, alternate data reveal Aphrodite as Anaitis, Atargatis, and even Isis (44).
Stephanie Budin‘s view is very interesting, but she could not deny the many similarities between Aphrodite and the various Eastern goddesses. She mentions many interesting differences, but in her very thoughtful and detailed essay she could not declare that Aphrodite was or is exclusively Greek and there are many more similarities than differences between Aphrodite and the goddesses Inanna, Ishtar, Ashtart, and Ashtoreth.
This essay first discussed the historiography of Aphrodite. Then it reflected on the recently passed Historian Zecharia Sitchin‘s theories about the Annunaki and the goddess Inanna. There was also an analysis of Stephanie Budins Aphrodite-Ashtart syncretism view. According to the evidence found, some scholars attest to that Aphrodite was an epithet for the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who was later called Ishtar by the Assyrians, Ashtart by the Canaanites, and Ashtoreth by the Hebrews.
The truth is that European civilization has been greatly influenced in many ways by the world of the Greeks. It is often forgotten that the Greek civilization, religion, and culture was also largely influenced by other more ancient empires and cultures. When we remember the olden civilizations like those of the Sumerians, Assyrians, Canaanites, and even the ancient Hebrews, we become fairer in regards to history, if that is at all possible.
It has been said many times that as a human race we must know our past in order to know our future. That also includes the distant past of many thousand years ago. To know ones past is to better know ones fate and not just as an individual but as a species. Aphrodite, Innana, Ishtar, Ashtart, and Ashtoreth are all part of that past which leads the human race to its Mother.
1. Paul Friedrich. The Meaning of Aphrodite. (The University of Chicago Press, 1978), 2
2. Andrew Dalby. Venus a Biography. (London: Paul Getty Museum Press, 2005), 11.
3. Friedrich. The Meaning of Aphrodite. (The University of Chicago Press, 1978), 12.
4. Friedrich. The Meaning of Aphrodite. ( The University of Chicago Press, 1978, 13.
5. Dalby. Venus a Biography. (London: The J. Paul Getty Museum Press, 2005), 137.
6. Dalby. Venus a Biography. (London: The J. Paul Getty Museum Press, 2005), 9.
7. Dalby. Venus a Biography. (London: The J. Paul Getty Museum Press, 2005), 10.
8. Zecharia Sitchin. Genesis Revisited. (Vermont, Bear & Company. 2002), 15.
9. Zecharia Sitchin. Genesis Revisited. (Vermont, Bear & Company. 2002), 19.
10. Mark Morford, and Robert Lenardon. Classical Mythology. (New York and London, Longman Publishing Group, 1991), 7.
11. Deborah Boedeker, Aphrodite Entry into Greek Epic, (Netherlands, Bibliotheca Classica Batava, 1974), 4.
12. Stephanie Budin. “A Reconsideration of the Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” Numen Vol. 51, No. 2 (2004) Published by: BRILL, 108.
13. Miroslav Marcovich, “From Ishtar to Aphrodite,” Journal of Aesthetic Education Vol. 30, No. 2. 1996, 45.
14. Marcovich, “From Ishtar to Aphrodite,” Aesthetic Education, 45.
15. Marcovich, “From Ishtar to Aphrodite,” Aesthetic Education, 45.
16. Marcovich, “From Ishtar to Aphrodite,” Aesthetic Education, 48.
17. Friedrich. The Meaning of Aphrodite. (The University of Chicago Press, 1978), 13.
18. Marcovich, “From Ishtar to Aphrodite,” Aesthetic Education, 48.
19. Friedrich, The Meaning of Aphrodite, (Chicago Press, 1978), 1.
20. Friedrich, The Meaning of Aphrodite, (Chicago Press, 1978), 22.
21. Paul Friedrich. The Meaning of Aphrodite. (The University of Chicago Press, 1978). 16.
22. Marcovich, “From Ishtar to Aphrodite,” Aesthetic Education, 51.
23. Friedrich. The Meaning of Aphrodite. (The University of Chicago Press, 1978), 199.
24. Dalby. Venus a Biography. (London: The J. Paul Getty Museum Press, 2005), 63.
25. Dalby. Venus a Biography. (London: Getty Museum Press), 63.
26. Dalby. Venus a Biography. (London: Getty Museum Press), 63.
27. Dalby. Venus a Biography. (London: Getty Museum Press, 2005), 63.
28. Stephanie Budin. “A Reconsideration of the Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” Numen Vol. 51, No. 2 (2004) Published by: BRILL, 95.
29. Budin, “Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 95.
30. Budin. “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 95.
31. Budin. “A Reconsideration of the Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 95.
32. Budin. “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 97.
33. Budin. “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 98.
34. Budin. “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 98.
35. Budin. “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 101.
36. Budin. “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 102.
37. Budin. “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism, ” 104.
38. Budin. “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 107.
39. Budin. “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 110.
40. Budin. “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 110-111.
41. Budin, “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 111.
42. Budin. “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 121.
43. Budin, “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 122.
44. Budin, “A Reconsideration of Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” 133.
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Abbey is a writer and blogger interested in humanitarian issues. Abbey is striving to be a mental health consultant. She is writing her second book, "Not The End" and she hopes to speak to mental health communities all around the world using her story and experience with mental health to give hope to others struggling.
All articles at the Assyrian Thinker website are the copyright (©) 2016 Abbey Mikha