Old Testament

Who is the Queen of Heaven in Jeremiah?

picture of chess symbolizing the queen of heaven

Those who are willing to read through the lengthy prophet Jeremiah will come across a phrase which is not mentioned elsewhere—the queen of heaven (cf. Jeremiah 7:18; 44:17-19, 25). Although the Queen of Heaven is mentioned in Catholic writings, it is used there as a reference to Mary, mother of Jesus. Catholics do not wish to equate their usage of “Queen of Heaven” with the book of Jeremiah. However, one cannot miss the subtle irony that the phrase queen of heaven in Jeremiah is a clear reference to idolatry, which is the very same charge leveled against Catholicism and their veneration of Mary.

However, our interest in the queen of heaven is not related to Catholicism. Rather, we want to explore the usage in Scripture. Yet, there is not much known about the queen of heaven from Scripture. Since Jeremiah is the only biblical record of the existence of this queen of heaven, we are left trying to fill in the details. Thus, there have been several major interpretations of the queen of heaven.

The Queen of Heaven as the Mesopotamian Goddess Ishtar

Ishtar was the principle deity in the Mesopotamian religious sphere. She was worshipped by the Assyrians and Babylonians, and featured very prominent in the cities of Nineveh, Uruk, and Arbela. She is typically depicted in the ancient literature as a of goddess of love and sexuality, but also of warfare. The Mesopotamian legend, Epic of Gilamesh records the hero Gilgamesh demeaning Ishtar for the mistreatment of her lovers.

One of the common phrases used to describe Ishtar is “the queen of heaven and earth.” This phrase has caused many to identify Ishtar with the queen of heaven in Jeremiah 7:18 (cf. 44:17-19, 25).

Further evidence for identifying Ishtar with the queen of heaven in Jeremiah could be found in the way Israel worships her. Jeremiah 44:17 records Israel giving offerings and drink offerings to the queen of heaven, and Jeremiah 7:18 (cf. 44:19) indicates Israel made some sort of cakes on her behalf. The word for cakes in Hebrew is related to the Akkadian term for cakes (kamānu). These cakes were frequently used as offerings to the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. Because of the use of this Akkadian word in Jeremiah, it is often assumed the cakes in Jeremiah would be similar, made with a sexualized image of Ishtar.

The Queen of Heaven as the Goddess Astarte

Astarte is a Canaanite goddess who was a consort of Baal, the well-known Canaanite storm and fertility god. Astarte is referred to in the Bible as Ashtoreth. The biblical name Ashtoreth is possibly an intentional mockery of the name Astarte by changing the vowel pointings of the name so that it sounds like the Hebrew word for shame (bosheth).

Astarte is commonly referred to as “the mistress of heaven,” and some scholars note that because she is the only deity in the Canaanite sphere that is frequently associated with the heavens during that first millennium BC, she should be recognized as the queen of heaven in Jeremiah.

This view also aligns with the significant push in recent decades to highlight Canaanite influence rather over Assyrian influence on Israel. However, although it is likely Canaanite influence did exist, there was at least some Assyrian influence in Judah. For example, Ahaz imported the Assyrian model of the altar (2 Kings 16:10), and it is likely there were other Assyrian influences as well.

The Queen of Heaven as the Goddess Anat

Although not as common, some scholars have argued that the queen of heaven should be associated with Anat, a goddess attested in Ugaritic mythological texts. Anat was worshipped by the Amorites, and also apparently in Egypt (at least during the 19th Dynasty).

Epithets for Anat included, “Lady,” “Mistress of Royalty,” and “Mistress of the Highest Heavens.” Although a possible candidate for the title of queen of heaven in Jeremiah, Anat’s popularity seemed to significantly decline in the 1st millennium (during the time of Jeremiah).

The Queen of Heaven as an Mix of Gods

Part of the difficulties in studying the goddesses of the ANE is that there is significant overlap and likely influence. Many scholars see a connection between Ishtar and Astarte, for example, as their names correspond to each other in Ugaritic deity lists which are translated into Akkadian. Similarly, others have argued that Anat was assimilated with other goddesses, like Astarte or Atargatis (a Syrian goddess).

It was not uncommon for cultures to assimilate other gods. For example, the Roman god, Jupiter is linked with the Greek god, Zeus. Although the Roman god, Jupiter, has an intrinsic link with Zeus, they are not the same god—there are differences in how the gods are depicted. Yet, they are undeniably related. This is an example of amalgamation—a culture incorporates a foreign god and makes certain changes to fit their own way of doing things.

Perhaps the same is the case for the queen of heaven in Jeremiah. Evidence for this might be found in the term “Ashtaroth.”

A handful of times Scripture uses the plural “the Baals and the Ashtaroth” (cf. Judg 2:13; 1 Sam 7:4). Both words, Baal and Asthoreth appear in their plural form in these cases. Many have pointed out the Akkadian parallel phrase which was used generically, “gods and goddesses.” However, given the propensity of Scripture to use the singular for Baal and Ashtoreth, it is still possible the plurals are used in these instances to indicate local manifestations of of the Baal and Astarte cults. This could mean different variations of the cultic worship of Baal and Astarte.

Conclusion

So, who was the queen of heaven in Jeremiah? The short answer is we can’t be sure. These are the four major interpretive options that are given. If I was forced to choose, given what I know about human nature, I would guess the queen of heaven was some sort of amalgamation of goddess worship.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

15 Comments

  • Paul Gutekunst

    Looking in after listening to Naked Bible episode 423. Thank you for sharing the commentary. No “dog in the fight” here either. Just some older guy enjoying those moments reading scripture and some question pops up out of the blue. Carry on.

  • Ron Carbone

    Sorry Your statement can not be found in the Bible. Jesus is the New Covenant . He says it when they were having communion at the Last Supper. Jesus raised His cup and said this is the new covenant I make you you. Mary worship is never suggested by Jesus. Mary only appears in the New Testament no more than 5 or 6 times. We are to only pray to God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The only way a person can receive the Holy Spirit that was lost by man in the garden when they sinned is to surrender your life to Jesus Christ , repent and be baptized then begin to live you life for Jesus by reading His Word the Bible. After being brought up a Roman Catholic, not a catholic, someone gave me a Bible and said read it for yourself. 41 years later I am Born Again and still reading the Bible daily. I could no longer identify with Catholicism which teaches one get to heaven by Good Work. I am now an Evangelical Christian, Bible Only. After All Jesus inspired men to write His teachings the Bible. There are just too many things being taught in Catholicism that do not line up with the Word of God. No such thing as receiving the 7 Sacraments of the Church get you into heaven. Show that to me in the Bible.

    • Adrian B.

      We are currently in the Old Covenant. How can we tell: Simple: Jeremiah 31:31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
      This is also spoken two times more in Hebrews 8:10 & Hebrews 10:16.

      Also: The Holy Spirit was never sent to the Children Of Israel UNTIL THE LORD AROSE AFTER CRUXIFICION…..How can we tell? John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he SHALL teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

  • Diana Gable

    My grandson was baptized Catholic. I do not want him to pray to Mary or anyone but God the Father and Jesus Christ the Lord. I am saddened and concerned for Catholics who do so, by following the theology of unscriptural doctrine. My hope is that Jesus taught about stumbling blocks and the punishment of those who cause His sheep to stumble. I talk to my grandson about Jesus and try to educate him to understand that only through Jesus can we come to repentance and salvation.

    • Joseph

      Diana, Mary is very scriptural. she is the New Ark of the Testament. The New Ark of the Covenant. Think about how in the Old Testament the Israelites carried the Ark of the Covenant. This Ark was where Gods Presence was among the Israelites. The Ark of the Old Testament and the Presence of God had disappeared for hundreds of years until Mary and Jesus showed up. The people asked Jesus that if he were the Messiah then where was the Ark of the Covenant. Jesus replied, it is among you if you can believe it. They could not understanded or it was not revealed to them that the New Ark of the Covenant was in the person of Mary. Why ask her intersession? Because in the Old Testament the blood or prayer were deposited on the Ark of the Covenant in the Presence of God. I mean don’t couples decide on their children’s welfare and wellbeing and don’t children ask their parents for help and the things that they need.

    • joanne

      Have you ever asked a friend to pray for you or for a loved one? That is all we Catholics are doing when it comes to Mary. As the Mother of God She prays for us to her Son.
      She is not regarded as a goddess, she is honored as the Mother of God, of Jesus.
      And that is very Biblical as Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, says “And how have I deserved that the Mother of my Lord has come to me.”(Luke 1: 43.
      Do not worry about you son—he is not displeasing God. Remember in Luke, Just after what Elizabeth said Mary says a prayer thanking for his blessing and in it she says from now on all generations will call me blessed. If you call yourself people of the Bible then do not worry about your son rather encourage him to ask such a good friend as Mary to pray for him and those he loves.

  • Carlos

    Too bad brothers was translated into the Greek from the Hebrew when in fact it should have been translated relative meaning those were his cousins. Think about it. Why would Jesus hand the blessed Mary to John the beloved if he had real brothers and sisters? That would be a complete insult. I advise u do more research before u accept the traditions of men. Yes I said it. Traditions of Protestant men.

    • Richard Gamboa

      You make no sense, the words for cousin and brother in greek are different, Jesus had literal half brothers. Jesus said to Mary on the cross, Woman behold your son, was John the literal son of Mary? Roman Catholic traditions for the most part are anti biblical. Ex Roman Catholics for Jesus Christ the True Rock…..NOT PETER.

  • Joseph Louis

    Having come from Catholic background, before receiving Christ. I served as an altar boy from the age of 8 1’2 to 14. Many times, the nuns referred to Mary as the “Queen of heaven and the mother of God. All my years , growing up it was normal for me to hear nuns call Mary the eternal virgin. From my studies of my Catholic background, I learned it was basically the Emperor Constantine who organized the church in order to incorporate his goddess, Ishtar into the Christian religion . He chose to accept Christianity as the right religion for Rome. However, he did not want to turn his back on all his former deities.. Hence incorporation of the “Queen mother of heaven. , After receiving Christ my self, I spoke with a number of Catholic priests who stick to the premise that Mary should be exalted equally with Jesus and that she never bore any other children and that she never had sex with a man. before or after the birth of Jesus. Very confusing , I”d say. So many Catholics will be surprised to find out Jesus Himself claimed He had other brothers and sisters, as well. When He was told His mother and brethren were outside wanting to talk to Him. His response was, “These are my brothers and mother and sisters. Those who do the will of God. “Unfortunately that is one of the main reasons why most Catholics despise Protestant believers. Peter said, .” There is no other name under heaven than the name of Jesus, whereby we must be saved. Paul had to scold the church of Galatia for turning to works instead of salvation by grace and faith in Christ. I was taught by the nuns when I was in my teens that I had to please God by keeping the 10 Commandments all day everyday or end up in hell. I believed God hated me, because all through my teens I was addicted to pornography and masturbation. Thank God, in mercy He introduced Himself and His Son to me when I reached thirty. Now at 80, I’m more in love with God today than I was when we first met. What a wonderful God and Savior! All who come to Him, He will in no wise, cat out. It’s all about repentance and determination to trust in God and His Precious Son for life.

    • Rob Link

      Thanks for sharing your story opened up my eyes more too our LORD & SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST, GOD BLESS YOU BROTHER!!! ☝️🙏🙏🙏☝️✝️♥️👍

    • Michael

      Thank you so much for this insightful commentary. Indeed seeking and having a personal encounter and relationship with God is important. He(Jesus) knocks daily waiting for those who will open up and receive Him.

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