The Gods Of Canaan
Posted by foryourfaith on September 13, 2011
Judging from the myths recorded at Ugarit, the pantheon of gods and goddesses worshipped by the ancient Canaanites was like that of the Greek Olympian deities – a quarrelsome family of individuals with larger-than-life personalities. El, reminiscent of the Biblical Elohim, was the oldest deity and considered to be “creator of creatures” and “father of mankind.” Despite his senior role, he played a minor part in cult and legend. The younger deity, Baal, was chief of the gods and personification of the Storm. Many Urgaritic poems relate Baal’s adventures, such as his incestuous affair with his sister Anath, both in the guise of buffaloes. Another saga concerns Baal’s ambition, as a junior god acquiring new status, for more magnificent accommodation, and his struggles against Yam (“Sea”) and Mot (“Death”), rivals for the favors of El.
The gods were balanced by a complex of great goddesses, with interweaving personalities sometimes hard to distinguish. Thus Astarte shared her warlike character with Anath; but while Anath was generally described as a “maiden,” Astarte was a voluptuous figure, often depicted as a naked fertility goddess. The similarly named Asherah was called the “Lady of the Sea,” whose cult was favored in the Phoenician ports of Tyre and Sidon. There was also a supporting cast of lesser deities, such as Shapash, the sun-goddess and Kothar, god of craftsmanship. In addition, many towns had their local variants of Baal (“the Lord”) or Baalat (“the Lady”), such as the Baal-Zebub (“Lord of the Flies”) who had an oracle at Ekron (2 Kings 1:2). It is against this background that we must see the Israelite struggle to impose the monotheistic cult of Yahweh.
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