Ishtar was the prototype for the Greek Aphrodite and Roman Venus and a host of other deities—and was identified with the planet Venus as the morning and evening star. The Bible equates the worship of pagan deities with the worship of demons (Deuteronomy 32:16-17 Deuteronomy 32:16-17 16 They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger.
17 They sacrificed to devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.
American King James Version×; Psalms 106:35-38 Psalms 106:35-38 35 But were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. 36 And they served their idols: which were a snare to them. 37 Yes, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters to devils, 38 And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.
American King James Version×; 1 Corinthians 10:20 1 Corinthians 10:20But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that you should have fellowship with devils.
American King James Version×). And it’s intriguing to see that Scripture refers to Satan in his rebellion as Lucifer, the morning star (Isaiah 14:12 Isaiah 14:12How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations!
American King James Version×). The devil is the real personage behind the false deity.
The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary mentions the androgyny or gender ambiguity of Ishtar in its note on Deuteronomy 22:5 Deuteronomy 22:5The woman shall not wear that which pertains to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination to the LORD your God.
American King James Version×(2009, Vol. 1, p. 493), citing an enlightening source we now turn to— Gender and Aging in Mesopotamia: The Gilgamesh Epic and Other Ancient Literature by Rivkah Harris (2000).
Ishtar, Harris explains, “is androgynous, marginal, ambiguous … She is betwixt and between … Central to the goddess as paradox is her well-attested psychological and physiological androgyny. Inanna-Ishtar is both female and male … [in one place stating] ‘Though I am a woman I am a noble young man’” (pp. 160, 163).
She shattered all gender and socioeconomic distinctions—being both a royal queen and “the harlot of heaven … set out for the alehouse” (p. 166). And in all this she was the role model for her followers. Among her powers was this from a Sumerian poem: “To turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man are yours, Inanna” (p. 160).
In the Descent of Ishtar we are told of some participants in her cult: “The male prostitutes comb their hair before her … They decorate the napes of their necks with colored bands … They gird themselves with the sword belt … Their right side they adorn with women’s clothing … Their left side they cover with men’s clothing …” (p. 170). The revel and competition ended in a bloody spectacle of self-cutting (compare 1 Kings 18:28 1 Kings 18:28And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out on them.
American King James Version×).
Harris states: “Their transvestitism simulated the androgyny of Inanna-Ishtar. It was perhaps the inversion of the male/female binary opposition that thereby neutralized this opposition. By emulating their goddess who was both female and male, they shattered the boundary between the sexes” (pp. 170-171). This was seen as a way of rising above the prison of the flesh.