A goddess of the Syrians.
- 1. Derceto is mentioned indirectly in II Macc. xii. 26, where it is related that Judas in his expeditions came ἐπὶ τὸ Καρνίον, καὶ τὸ Ἀταργατεῖον, or ᾈτεργατίον. This latter word designates the sanctuary of the goddess ᾈταργάτις, and an abridged form of the name is Δερκετώ, which is used by Diodorus ("Sicius," ii. 4) and by Lucian ("De Syria Dea," xiv.). The same name is mentioned in the Talmud ('Ab. Zarah 11b, line 28) in the form (Tar'atah). It is true that some have connected this Talmudical form with the Aramaic ("door"), and have therefore supposed that it contained a reference to the female pudenda. But although Hesychius gives the equivalent Σαλάμβω, derived from σαλάμβη ("hole"; Hitzig, "Bibl. Theol. des Alt. Test." 1880, p. 20; but compare Hoffmann in "Zeit. für Assyr." 1896, p. 245), it must be remembered that the consonant ע had also the sound of γ, as may be seen in ('Azzah = Γάζα, Gaza). Consequently the Talmudic "Tar'atah" (for "Targatah") might be an apocopated form of ᾈταργάτις. The full form, "Tar'atah," has recently been found.
- 2. ('Atar'ateh) has been proved to be the name of a goddess in a bilingual Palmyrene inscription (De Vogué, "Syrie Centrale," 1868, iii. 4) of the year 140, (ᾈταρ)γατες being there used as the Greek equivalent. The same name, , is found on coins, probably minted in the Syrian city Hierapolis. Hence this name is composed of the following two parts: (1) ('Athtar), as the goddess of fecundity and of wells is called in the South Arabian inscriptions (compare Robertson Smith, "Rel. of Sem." i. 97, note; Winand Fell, in "Z. D. M. G." 1900, pp. 245 et seq.); (2) , probably signifying "time" (compare ), perhaps more definitely "favorable time," "favorable circumstances," or "favorable destiny." When combined the two names may signify "'Atar, the daughter of 'Ate," or "'Atar, the mother of 'Ate," for 'Athtar is the all-producing divine power, and a son of Atargatis is mentioned by Athenæus (see Baudissin in Herzog-Hauck, "Real-Encyc." i. 173).Hoffmann's assertion (in "Zeit. für Assyr." 1896, p. 249) that "'Ateh" is a diminutive of "'Atar" is not demonstrable.
- 3. "Atargates" may perhaps be compared with "Ashteroth" of Karnaim ("Ashteroth of the Double Horn"; Gen. xiv. 5), whose temple is mentioned as late as I Macc. v. 43 (τὸ τέμενος ἐν Καρναΐν); for the τὸ Ἀταργατεῖον of II Macc. xii. 26 is also mentioned in connection with τὸ Καρνίον. Lucian ("De Syria Dea," xiv.) says: "Many people are of the opinion that Semiramis the Babylonian, of whom there are many memorials in Asia, also founded the sanctuary of Hierapolis in Syria, but dedicated it not to Juno, but to her mother, Derceto." Lucian himself doubts this, however, for he continues: "I have seen the image of Derceto in Phenicia: a strange sight! The upper half represents a woman; the lower half, from the hips down, the tail of a fish. The goddess at Hierapolis, however, is entirely a woman." Nevertheless, the goddess worshiped in Hierapolis was probably identical, in idea if not in form, with Derceto, who had a temple in Askalon (Philistia).The people of Hierapolis avoided eating fish, "and they do that, according to their belief, for the sake of Derceto." Though Lucian says "There are people in Egypt who eat no fish, yet not to please Derceto," it is doubtful if this is decisive. In 'Ab. Zarah 11b, also, "Tar'atah shebe-Mapeg" ("Mabug" = Hierapolis) is combined with "Ẓerifah shebe-Ashḳelon." Finally, the fish may have been made the symbol of the goddess Derceto on account of its fecundity. A calendar preserved in the Louvre represents the lower half of Derceto's body in the shape of a fish. An excellent copy is to be found in Vigouroux, "La Bible et les Découvertes Modernes," iii. 355.