Shemot 34:13:

כִּי אֶת מִזְבְּחֹתָם תִּתֹּצוּן וְאֶת מַצֵּבֹתָם תְּשַׁבֵּרוּן וְאֶת אֲשֵׁרָיו תִּכְרֹתוּן

For you shall dismantle their altars, break their monuments, and cut down his asheirah trees.

Huh? Why are two out of three idol-worship items possessed by "them," and the last one possessed by "him"?

I had wanted to suggest that perhaps multiple types of pagans used altars and monuments, but only one used the asheirah, but that doesn't sound quite right.
In any event, my father pointed out that this phrasing is changed in Devarim 12:3. That should disprove my guess that the wording changes based on how many pagan groups utilize that particular practice, as (AFAIK) it's the same asheirah in both places.

וְנִתַּצְתֶּם אֶת מִזְבְּחֹתָם וְשִׁבַּרְתֶּם אֶת מַצֵּבֹתָם וַאֲשֵׁרֵיהֶם תִּשְׂרְפוּן בָּאֵשׁ... ‏

And you shall dismantle their altars, and break their monunemts, and their asheirah trees you shall burn in fire...

Now, obviously, the changes in phrases between the verses in Shemos and Devarim can be another question, but I'm primarily interested in the phrases in the verse in this weeks parshah.

Why change the possessives on the nouns in Shemot 34:13?

(all translations mine)

  • 2
    Note that Onkelos does render this in the plural ("וְיָת אֲשֵׁירֵיהוֹן תְּקָצְצוּן"). | R' Zev Wolf Tannenbaum discusses your question here.
    – Fred
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 6:31
  • Thank you for that info, @Fred :) ...I'll have to take a look at that sefer tomorrow, it's kinda late over here. Thanks!
    – MTL
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 6:35
  • Perhaps the singular means the asheirah connected to that altar, while the plural means the asheiros used indepedantly by the idol worshipers. Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 16:08

2 Answers 2


Archaelogy has seen this textual oddity of yours play out repeteadly in their findings. While there are many different statues, jars, and depictions that are found in ancient Israel, there has been one phrase that has shown up repeatedly, which is "His Asheirah." You can find an example of this with this ancient storage jar.

enter image description here

The storage jar shows three anthropomorphic figures and an inscription that refers to "YHWH ... and his Asherah." This is written in the Paleo-Hebrew script. If you would like to see the original article where this picture comes from, you can see it here: http://www.penn.museum/documents/publications/expedition/PDFs/20-4/Meshel.pdf

But this is by no means the only time that archaelogists have found such statements. There have been many fragments and statuettes that have been found that refer to the "YHWH and his wife." For more about this, you can check out the following book:

Did God Have a Wife? by William G. Dever https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=IGR7-OSz7bUC&hl=en

Update In case that book is out of your reach here is a video about the subject. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNd86QlGiYE


I think it could be referring to how pagans would oftentimes combine the different gods together, as in the case of the excavation of Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, in which a picture was found with an inscription about "YHWH and his Asherah". In which case the reference in Shemos could be referring to the Asherah that their god had.

  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post.
    – Scimonster
    Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 17:20
  • 1
    @Scimonster Why isn't it an answer? He is suggesting that the possessive is different because it refers to the god, as opposed to the rest of the possessives refer to the people who worship the god. Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 1:45
  • @yEz Which god?
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 4:52
  • @DoubleAA whichever god is the god of the people whose altar is being smashed. Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 18:16
  • @yEz I see no such antecedent.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 18:47

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