Canaanite Gods Mentioned in the Bible

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Gods of Canaan as Described by the Ugarit Tablets

The Canaanite culture originated at the same time as the Babylonian culture out of the chaos surrounding the Semitic Amorite invasion / infiltration of Sumeria beginning around 2,200 BC. By the time cultural stability was restored around 1800 BC the Babylonians existed in Mesopotamia while the Canaanites (Phoenicians) existed along the Mediterranean. Tablets describing the Canaanite gods including BAAL were found in the ruins of the Canaanite city of Ugarit (also known as Ras Shamra) located on the modern coast of Lebanon. These tablets were dictated by the chief priest of Ugarit to a scribe between 1375 and 1345 BC. The city itself was destroyed around 1200 BC by the Sea Peoples at nearly the same time that the Israelites emerged into history.

 

Excerpts from the Story of Aqhat

BAAL speaking - "So, my father, EL the bull, won't you bless him? Creator of all, won't you show him your favor?"

An action of the goddess ANAT - "She stamped her feet and left the earth; then she headed toward EL at the source of the two rivers, in the midst of the two seas' pools; she opened EL's tent and entered the shrine of the King, the father of Time."

 

Excerpts from the Story of Kirta

The dream of patriarch Kirta - "For in his dream EL came down, in his vision the Father of Men. Later EL says - raise your hands to heaven, sacrifice to the bull, your father EL; serve BAAL with your sacrifice, the son of DAGON with your provisions."

The assembly of the gods arrived, and BAAL the conqueror said: "Come now, EL, the kind, the compassionate: bless Kirta the noble,"

EL speaking - She will bear Yassib the Lad, who will drink the milk of ASHERAH, suck the breasts of the virgin ANAT, the two wet nurses of the gods."

The gods pronounced their blessing and went, the gods went to their tents, and the council of EL to their divines homes.

son of Kirta speaking to his dying father- BAAL's mountain, father will weep for you, Zaphon, the holy stronghold, the holy stronghold will lament, the stronghold wide and broad:

. . . BAAL's rain for the earth, and the rain of the Most High for the fields; for BAAL's rain benefits the earth, and the rain of the Most High the fields,

And EL the kind, the compassionate, replied: "who among the gods can expel the sickness, drive out the disease?" . . .But none of the gods answered him. Then EL, the kind, the compassionate, replied: "My sons, sit down upon your thrones, upon your princely seats. I will work magic, I will bring relief: I will expel the sickness, I will drive out the disease."

But Kirta the noble replied: "My son, may HORON smash, may HORON smash your head, ASTARTE, BAAL's other self, your skull."

 

The BAAL Fertility Story

In the tablets known as the BAAL cycle the god BAAL is temporarily killed in an explanation of the cycle of fertility produced by the changing seasons. For ancient peoples the lack of a god's production was evidence that the god was either dead pr imprisoned. This story (of which only a small part is reproduced below) also roughly parallels Enuma Elish in which the Babylonian god MARDUK is made king of the gods. In this story BAAL is made king of the gods. A significant difference between the stories is that here BAAL battles DEATH (a son of ASHERAH) instead of ASHERAH (the Canaanite goddess of the deep) whereas in the Enuma Elish MARDUK battles TIAMAT (the Babylonian goddess of the deep) directly.

The story begins with some gods complaining to EL that BAAL does not have a great house like themselves. EL then allows BAAL to build a house on the god's mountain Zaphon. BAAL then must send for the builder Kothar-wa-Hasis of Egypt.

ASHERAH and her sons shouted, the goddess and her pride of lions: "But BAAL has not house like the other gods, no court like ASHERAH's sons: EL's home, his son's shelter, lady ASHERAH-OF-THE-SEA's home, the home of the beautiful brides, the home of PIDRAY, maid of light, the shelter of TALLAY, maid of rain, the home of ARSAY, maid of floods." But EL, the kind, the compassionate replied . . "Let a house like the other gods be built for BAAL, a court like ASHERAH's sons." And lady ASHERAH-OF-THE-SEA replied: "You are great EL, you are truly wise; your gray beard truly instructs you . . .Now BAAL will begin the rainy season, the season of wadis in flood; flash his lightning to the earth.

BAAL speaking to his messengers - Cross Byblos, cross Qaal, cross the islands on the far horizon: proceed, ASHERAH's fisherman; advance, holy and most blessed on; then head toward Egypt, . . . Kaphtor is is royal house, Egypt is the land of his inheritance . . .At KOTHAR's feet bow down and adore, prostrate yourself and worship him; and speak to KOTHAR-WA-HASIS, repeat to the clever craftsman: 'Message of BAAL the conqueror . . '"

Then BAAL opened a slit in the clouds, BAAL sounded his holy voice, BAAL thundered from his lips . . . the earth's high places shook. . . . So BAAL was enthroned in his house. "No other king or non-king shall set his power over the earth. I will send no tribute to EL's son DEATH, no homage to EL's darling, the hero. Let DEATH cry to himself, let the darling grumble in his heart; for I alone will rule over the gods; I alone will fatten gods and men; I alone will satisfy earth's masses."

BAAL called to his lads . . .head toward Mount Targuziza and toward Mount Tharumagi, toward the mounds that block the way to the underworld. Raise the mountain with your hands, the hill on top of your palms; then go down to the sanitarium of the underworld; you will be counted among those who go down into the earth. Then head toward the midst of his city, the swamp, muck, his royal house, phlegm, the land of his inheritance. But divine powers, be on your guard: don't approach EL's son, DEATH.

For some reason (part of the tablet is missing) DEATH convinces BAAL to become his vassal and come to the underworld where BAAL is killed.

Unknown god speaking - We arrived at the pleasant place, the desert pasture, at the lovely fields on Death's shore. We came upon BAAL: he had fallen to the ground. BAAL the conqueror has died; the prince, the lord of the earth, has perished.

ANAT speaking - BAAL is dead: what will happen to the peoples? DAGON's son: what will happen to the masses? Let us go down into the earth in BAAL's place. SUN, the god's torch, went down with her. When she had finished weeping, had drunk her tears like wine, she called to SUN, the god's torch: "Lift BAAL the conqueror onto me." SUN, the god's torch obeyed; she lifted up BAAL the conqueror; she put him on ANAT's shoulders. She (ANAT) brought him up to the peaks of Zaphon; she wept for him and buried him. . .

She headed toward EL at the source of the two rivers, in the midst of the two sea's pools. She opened EL's tent and entered the shrine of the king, the father of time. At EL's feet she bowed down and adored, she prostrated herself and worshipped him. She raised her voice and shouted: "Now let ASHERAH and her sons rejoice, the goddess and her pride of lions: for BAAL the conqueror had died, the prince, the lord of the earth, has perished."

EL called to lady ASHERAH -OF-THE-SEA: "Listen lady ASHERAH-OF-THE-SEA give me one of your sons; I'll make him king." . . . and lady ASHERAH-OF-THE-SEA replied: "Can't we make ATHAR the awesome king? Let ATHAR the awesome be king!" Then ATHAR the awesome went up to the peaks of Zaphon; he sat on BAAL the conquerors throne: his feet did not reach the footstool, his head did not reach the headrest. And ATHAR the awesome spoke: "I can't be king on the peaks of Zaphon." ATHAR the awesome descended, he descended from BAAL the conqueror's throne, and he became king of the underworld, the god of it all. . . .

The virgin ANAT left; she headed toward SUN, the gods' torch; she raised her voice and shouted: "Message of the bull, EL, your father, the word of the kind one, your parent: 'SUN, the furrows in the fields have dried, the furrows in EL's fields have dried; BAAL has neglected the furrows of his plowland. Where is BAAL the conqueror? Where is the prince, the lord of the earth?'" And SUN, the god's torch replied: "Pour sparkling wine from its container, bring a garland for your relative; and I will look for BAAL the conqueror." And the virgin ANAT replied: "Wherever you go, may EL protect you."

The SUN apparently using the some magic in the garland revives BAAL who then must fight to leave the underworld.

BAAL seized ASHERAH's sons; he struck RABBIM on the shoulder; he struck the WAVES with his club; he pushed sallow DEATH to the ground. BAAL returned to his royal chair, to his dais, the seat of his dominion.

DEATH finds BAAL and they fight again in Zaphon.

They kicked each other like stallions - DEATH fell, BAAL fell. SUN shouted from above: "Listen, EL's son DEATH: how can you battle with BAAL the conqueror? How can you keep the bull, EL, your father, from hearing you? He will surely undermine the foundations of your throne, he will surely overturn your royal chair; he will surely smash your scepter of judgment." EL's son DEATH became fearful; EL's darling, the hero, was terrified; DEATH was afraid of her voice, . . .

SUN judged the Rephaim, SUN judged the divine ones: "Gods, DEATH is yours; KOTHAR, your friend is yours, and your acquaintance HASIS. In SEA - DESIRE and DRAGON - KOTHAR-WA-HASIS wandered, KOTHAR-WA-HASIS roamed.

ANAT or ANATH

Amorite warrior goddess adopted by the Canaanites. The first mention of her cult is from the city of Mari during the reign of Zimri-lim (1780-1758 BC). She is often described as a virgin yet also as a wet nurse and lover indicating that word "virgin" had a looser meaning to ancient peoples then at present. "Virgin" seems to have meant one who was eligible and desirable for marriage. This seems to be the source for the confusion surrounding the translation of Isaiah 7:14 - "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." The oldest Greek Bible called the Septuagint uses the word "virgin" in this passage which the King James, New American Standard, and New International versions follow. In contrast the oldest Hebrew Bibles (use the word "alma" instead of virgin meaning a young woman of marriageable age not yet married which is followed by the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

ASHERAH

The Canaanite mother of all the gods representing life giving and the primeval sea (the deep). She was the principle goddess of the coastal cities of Sidon and Tyre. In the Ugarit tablets ASHERAH is spelled "atrt" which is translated into English as ATHIRAT. Since ASHERAH is the consort of the creator God EL she derives from the Sumerian goddess NAMMU, the consort of the Sumerian creator god AN, and seems to be the equivelent of the Babylonian goddess of the deep, MUMMU-TIAMAT, who also has life forming ability. When only the chaotic sea (the deep) is meant ASHERAH is refered as ASHERAH-OF-THE-SEA. Her sons with EL (described as a pride of lions) are WAVES, DEATH, and RABBIM (meaning "the many" so it may represent the many droplets of a stormy sea mist.)

ASHERAH, besides being carved in a female likeness was also symbolized by a pole. The Greek author, Philo of Byblos, states that the Phoenicians (the Greek name for Canaanites) "consecrated pillars and staves after their names" (the names of gods) (in Eusebius, Praep. Evang. 1.10.11)

Judges 6:25: Pull down the alter of BAAL which your father has, and cut down the ASHERAH that is beside it:

1 Kings 15:13 He also removed his mother Maacah from being queen mother, because she had made an abominable image for ASHERAH; Asa cut down her image and burned it at the Wadi Kidron.

1 Kings 18:19: Now therefor have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred fifty prophets of BAAL and the four hundred prophets of ASHERAH, who eat at Jezebel's table.

2 Kings 17:10: they set up for themselves pillars and ASHERAH's on every high hill and under every green tree;

2 Kings 17:16: They rejected all the commandments of Yahweh their Elohim and made for themselves cast images of two calves; they made ASHERAHs, worshipped all the host of heaven, and served BAAL.

2 Kings 21:7: The carved image of ASHERAH that he had made he set in the house . . .

2 Kings 23:4: The king (Josiah) commanded the high priest Hilkiah, the priests of the second order, and the guardians of the threshold, to bring out of the temple of Yahweh all the vessels made for BAAL, for ASHERAH, and for all the host of heaven;

2 Kings 23:7: He (Josiah) broke down the houses of the male temple prostitutes that were in the house of YAHWEH, where the women did weaving for ASHERAH

Jeremiah 17:2: while their children remember their altars and their ASHERAHs beside every green tree, and on the high hills,

Deuteronomy 7:5: but this is how you must deal with them; break down their alters, smash their pillars, hew down their ASHERAHs, and burn their idols with fire.

Deuteronomy 12:3: Break down their alters, smash their pillars, burn their ASHERAHs with fire, and hew down the idols of their gods.

Micah 5:13: and I will uproot your ASHERAHs from among you and destroy your towns.

ASTARTE

(Hebrew astart") is rendered ASHTORETH in most of the older biblical translations due to the insertion of the vowels from the Hebrew word "boset" meaning "shame" to form "astoret". This method of insult is also used for some personal names, specifically Eshbaal of 1 Chronicles 8:33 and 9:39 who is called Ish-bosheth in 2 Samuel 2:10 and 2:12. ASTARTE is the sister of BAAL, equivalent to the Akkadian ISHTAR, and derived from the Sumerian goddess INANNA. She is a goddess of war, love, storms, the evening star, and of the storehouse. She is also called the queen of heaven

1 Kings 11:5: For Solomon followed ASTARTE the goddess of the Sidonians and MILCOM the abomination of the Ammonites.

2 Kings 23:13: The king (Josiah) defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the Mount of Destruction, which King Solomon had built for ASTARTE the abomination of the Sidonians, for CHEMOSH the abomination of Moab, and for MILCOM the abomination of the Ammonites.

Judges 2:13: and they abandoned YAHWEH and worshipped BAAL and the ASTARTEs

Judges 10:6: The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh, worshipping the BAALs and the ASTARTEs, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines.

1 Samuel 7:4 So Israel put away the BAALs and the ASTARTEs, and they served YAHWEH only.

ATHAR

The Canaanite god of the morning star. After his failure to replace BAAL he is made ruler of the underworld.

BAAL

BAAL means "lord" and is an euphemism for the Canaanite god HADAD in the same way that the Bible now translated Yahweh as Lord. HADAD was the storm god bringing life giving rain and he was the son of DAGON. He resided on a mountain called Zaphon. He is equivalent to the Akaddian ADAD which is derived for the Sumerian god ISHKUR. His daughters are: PIDRAY (meaning misty or cloudy) the maid of light, TALLAY (meaning dewy) the maid of rain, and ARSAY (meaning earthy) the maid of floods. The Greek god ZEUS is derived from BAAL. Some Biblical passages mentioning BAAL follow:

2 Kings 28-29: Thus Jehu wiped out BAAL from Israel. But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to commit - the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan.

1 Kings 16:31b-32 he (King Ahab) took as his wife Jezebel daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and went and served BAAL, and worshipped him. He erected an alter for BAAL in the house of BAAL, which he built in Samaria.

2 Kings 10:25-27: As soon as he (King Jehu) had finished presenting the burnt offering, Jehu said to the guards and to the officers, "Come in and kill them; let no one escape." So they put them (all the prophets of BAAL) to the sword. The guards and the officers threw them out, and then went to the citadel of the temple of BAAL, and burned it. Then they demolished the pillar of BAAL, and destroyed the temple of BAAL, and made it a latrine to this day.

Hosea 2:16-17: On that day, says Yahweh, you (Israel) will call me, "My husband," and no longer will you call me, "My BAAL." for I will remove the names of the BAALs from her mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more.

DAGON

DAGON is the father of BAAL indicating that DAGON is the Canaanite equivalent to the Sumerian moon god SUEN. The first reference to the worship of the god DAGON is found in the inscriptions of Sargon of Akkad (a Semitic kingdom) dating to 2,200 BC and located in the middle Mesopotamian region around the city of Mari. Consequently, the god DAGON originated out of the northern Semitic tradition and not out of the Sumerian tradition. The Bible reports that the at least some Philistines adopted DAGON as one of their gods in the cities of Ashdod, Beth-shan, and perhaps Gaza.

The Semitic root of DAGON is "dgn" meaning grain. Interestingly the wife of the Sumerian god ENLIL (the father of SUEN) was NINLIL (also called SUD), the goddess of grain. The Semitic tradition apparently transferred the power of grain growth from the wife of ENLIL to his son. A possible reason for this switch may be related to the harvest moon tradition of the northern hemisphere in which the full moon at harvest time seems especially bright. DAGON is mentioned in the Bible as follows:

Judges 16:23: Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to their god DAGON, and to rejoice; for they said, "Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand."

1 Samuel 5:1-3: When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod; then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of DAGON and placed it beside DAGON. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was DAGON, fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the YAHWEH. So they took DAGON and put him back in his place.

1 Chronicles 10:10: They (the Philistines) put his (King Saul's) armor in the temple of their gods, and fastened his head in the temple of DAGON.

EL and Elohim

EL is the supreme creator god of the Canaanites who lives with the other gods on Mount Zaphon (similar to Mount Olympus of the Greeks but located at the mouth of the Orontes river near the border between Turkey and Syria). He is the father of all the gods and men and is often addressed as such by the Canaanite gods. He is the god of the earth and the air who is represented by a bull. He is derived from the Sumerian god AN. In the Bible EL is translated as God. Elohim is the plural form of EL yet in most places in the Bible it is used in the singular sense so it is also translated as God instead of gods. Strict monotheism was not fully developed in Israelite thought until their exile to Babylon. Before then Yahweh (translated as Lord in the Bible) was the god of Israel and Judah (officially their only god) whose principle power and characteristic was that of justice and righteousness. Because he judged other peoples and gods he soon came to be seen as the supreme God (the equivalent of EL), and finally as the only God for all people. Echoes of Israel's earlier stages of understanding are found in some old psalms as follows:.

  • Psalm 82:1: Elohim has taken his place in the assembly of EL, in the midst of the elohim He holds judgment.
  • Psalm 29:1: Ascribe to Yahweh, O sons of EL, ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength.
  • Psalm 89:6: For who in the skies can be compared to Yahweh, who among the sons of EL is like Yahweh,

The Semitic concept of sonship meaning "belonging to" or "having the characteristics of" as in the phrase "son of Judah" or "son of man" means that the "sons of EL" could be viewed either as individual gods or as differing characteristics of the god EL. The differing characteristics view is reflected in the following passages.

1 - One characteristic is that of location or tribe identification as exemplified by the passage where Jacob erects an alter to EL - the God (elohe) of Israel at Shechem:

  • Genesis 33:20: There he erected an alter and called it EL-Elohe-Israel.

2 - Another characteristic is the one of the covenant (berith in Hebrew) as exemplified by EL-Berith

  • Judges 9:46: they entered the stronghold of the temple of EL-berith
  • Judges 8:33: As soon as Gideon died, the Israelites relapsed and prostituted themselves with the BAALs, making BAAL-berith their god.
  • Judges 9:4: They gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the temple of BAAL-berith . . .

3 - Elyon is the divine characteristic of the heavenly location and is thus translated as "Most High" in the following passages.

  • Genesis 14:18-20: And King Melchizedek of Salam brought out bread and wine; he was priest of El-Elyon. He blessed him and said, "Blessed by Abram by El-Elyon, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be El-elyon who has delivered your enemies into your hand!" (Salam is Zion according to Psalm 76:2)
  • Psalm 73:11: And they say, "How can EL know? Is there knowledge in Elyon?" Such are the wicked;
  • Psalm 107:11: for they had rebelled against the words of EL, and spurned the counsel of Elyon.
  • Deuteronomy 32:8-9: When Elyon apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of EL (LXX and Qumran texts); Yahweh's own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share.
  • Psalm 18:13: Yahweh also thundered in the heavens, and Elyon uttered his voice. (same as 2 Samuel 22:14)
  • Psalm 21:7: For the king trusts in Yahweh, and through the steadfast love of Elyon he shall not be moved.
  • Psalm 47:2: For Yahweh, the Elyon, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.

4 - Shaddai is the divine characteristic of unconquerable power and is thus translated as "Almighty".

  • The oracle of Balaam in Numbers 24:16: the oracle of one who hears the words of Elohim, and knows the knowledge of Elyon, who sees the vision of Shaddai, who falls down, but with his eyes uncovered:
  • Psalm 91:1: You who live in the shelter of Elyon, who abide in the shadow of Shaddai, The blessing of Jacob in Genesis 49:25: by the hands of the Mighty One (Abir) of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, by EL, your father, who will help you, by Shaddai who will bless you

5 - Olam is the divine characteristic of immortality thus EL-Olam is translated as God Everlasting.

  • Genesis 21:33: Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Berr-sheba, and called there on the name of Yahweh, El-Olam.
  • Psalm 75:9: I will praise olem (forever): I will sing praises to the Elohim of Jacob.
  • 1 Kings 1:31: May my lord King David live olam (forever).

6 - Finally EL is part of several important names in the Bible such as IsraEL - meaning "may EL persevere", and BethEL - meaning "house of EL", a city located 10 miles north of Jerusalem.

The plural form EL, "Elohim", originated when the sons of EL were considered separate beings yet it was still used after the functions of the various gods were seen to be simply differing characteristics of the same one God. This development is similar to the transition in usage of the phrase "United States" . Today we say the United States "is" (singular) instead of "are" (plural) despite its plural form and its original meaning as a combination of states.

HORON

An obscure Canaanite god, probably a god of the underworld and perhaps a son of ASTARTE.

KOTHAR-WA-HASIS

The craftsman of the gods whose name means "skillful and wise". Similar to the Greek Hephaistos.

SUN

The Canaanite goddess Shapash (or Shapshu) who was called the god's torch and was the judge of the gods. She is derived from the Sumerian god UTU (but notice the change in gender).

 

The above excerpts from the Ugarit tablets describing the characteristics of the Canaanite gods are taken from the book: Stories From Ancient Canaan, edited and translated by Michael David Coogan, Westminster Press, 1978. This is copyrighted information presented under the Fair Use Doctrine of the United States Copyright Act (section 107 of title 17) which states: "the fair use of a copyrighted work...for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright." In practice the courts have decided that anything which does not financially harm the copyright holder is fair use. For more information on copyright law and the web see CNET Features - The Law and the Web:Copyright Law.
Source: Rochester United Methodist Church

 

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