The Conflict Between Yahweh and Dagon
Posted by foryourfaith on March 3, 2011
When the Philistines invaded Canaan in the early 12th century BC, not only did they take over a portion of the Canaanites land and cities but several of their chief gods as well. One of these was Dagon, a god whose worship goes back to Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC. In the Pantheon of the Canaanites, Dagon ranked very high as the father of Baal, and his temples often rivaled those of Baal.
The name Dagon is closely related to the Hebrew word dagan, meaning “grain.” He was a deity who, among other things, governed the important cycle of the grain crops. Dagon was the principal god worshiped in Ashdod and Gaza, two of the five cities of the Philistine Pentapolis. As a god of the Philistines, he was seen as a rival to Yahweh, the Lord of the Israelites. The story of their conflict covers the centuries of Israel’s conflict with the Philistines.
A confrontation surfaces when Samson was captured and blinded by the philistines. The lords of the five cities of the Philistines brought Samson into Dagon’s temple in Gaza and made sport of him. Although Yahweh had forsaken Samson when be broke his Nazirite vows, the Lord now answered him, empowering him to destroy both the Temple of Dagon and its worshipers.
The next episode of the conflict came some decades later when the misguided Israelites attempted to use the Ark of the Covenant as a magical talisman in battle to give them victory against the Philistines. The Philistines understood the significance of the Ark and expected the worst, crying in terror, “A god has come into the camp.”
Neither side understood Yahweh, the Lord of hosts, however. It was Yahweh who allowed the Ark to be captured by the philistines, like any other war booty, and then to be taken to Dagon’s temple in Ashdod. The first night in the temple the image of Dagon fell down before the Ark; the second night it fell again and broke in pieces with the head and hands lying on the threshold of the temple. This was taken as an evil omen by the Philistines: the First Book of Samuel reports that “the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.”
When David rose to power, the episode of the capture of the Ark was repeated in reverse. The Philistines carried the images of their gods into battle. When Yahweh helped David’s forces to beak through the enemy lines “like a bursting flood,” then “the Philistines left their idols there, and David and his men carried them away” (2 Samuel 5:20-21).
Dagon was a god who was hard to destroy, however, and his worship continued for centuries in his temple in Ashdod. In the time of the Maccabees, almost exactly a thousand years after the arrival of the Philistines in Canaan, the house of Dagon in Ashdod was still an active temple.
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