Canaanite Gods Mentioned in the
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
speaking - "So, my father, EL
the bull, won't you bless him? Creator of all, won't you show him your
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."
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,
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
But Kirta the noble replied: "My son,
smash, may HORON smash your head, ASTARTE,
BAAL's other self, your skull."
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
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.
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.
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
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, . . .
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.
|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.
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
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
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.
(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
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
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.
|The Canaanite god of the morning
star. After his failure to replace BAAL he is made ruler of the
|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
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
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 is the father of BAAL
indicating that DAGON is the Canaanite equivalent to the Sumerian moon
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
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 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
5 - Olam is the divine
characteristic of immortality thus EL-Olam is translated as God
- 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
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.
|An obscure Canaanite god, probably
a god of the underworld and perhaps a son of ASTARTE.
|The craftsman of the gods whose
name means "skillful and wise". Similar to the Greek
|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
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