QUEEN OF HEAVEN
(melekheth ha-shamayim, although there is another reading, mele'kheth, "worship" or "goddess"):
Occurs only in two passages: Jeremiah 7:18; 44:17-19,25, where the prophet denounces the wrath of God upon the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem who have given themselves up to the worship of the host of heaven. This is no doubt a part of the astral worship which is found largely developed among the Jews in the later period of their history in Canaan. It is first mentioned in 2 Kings 17:16 as practiced by the men of the Northern Kingdom when Samaria had fallen and the ten tribes were being carried away into captivity. Moses is represented as warning the Israelites against the worship of the sun and moon and stars and all the host of heaven, practiced by the people of Canaan (Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:3) and the existence of such worship among the Canaanites and neighboring nations is attested from an early period (compare Job 31:26-28). The worship of the heavenly bodies was widely spread in the East and in Arabia; and the Babylonian pantheon was full of astral deities, where each divinity corresponded either to an astral phenomenon or to some circumstance or occurrence in Nature which is connected with the course of the stars (Jeremias, The Old Testament in the Light of the Ancient East, I, 100). From the prophets we gather that before the exile the worship of the host of heaven had become established among all classes and in all the towns of Israel (Jer ubi supra; Ezekiel 8:16). In that worship the queen of heaven had a conspicuous place; and if, as seems probable from the cakes which were offered, she is to be identified with the Assyrian Ishtar and the Canaanite Astarte, the worship itself was of a grossly immoral and debasing character. That this Ishtar cult was of great antiquity and widely spread in ancient Babylonia may be seen from the symbols of it found in recent excavations (see Nippur, II, 236). How far the astral theorists like Winckler and Jeremias are entitled to link up with this worship the mourning for Josiah, the lamentations over Tammuz, the story of Jephthah's daughter, and even--the narrative of the misfortunes and the exaltation of Joseph, is questionable. But that the people of Judah in the days before the exile had given themselves over to the worst and vilest forms of heathen worship and incurred the grievous displeasure of Yahweh is made clear by the denunciation of the worship of the queen of heaven by Jeremiah.
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