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Athirat as Sea Goddess with Hathor headdress and El (Internet)

The Tragic Fertility of Canaan

Ba'al devours children.

To understand the evolving nature of the Old Testament notion of god, it is essential to look closely at the wider and more ancient field of Canaanite deities of Syria-Palestine, for in these, we will find, not only the "god behind God", the Ancient of Days worshipped by Abraham and Jacob and revived by Daniel and the apocalyptics, but also the continuing archetypes which take us all the way back to the primal fertility Gods and Goddesses from which our concepts of deity originally stem.

The Semites are broadly divided into the Eastern, represented by the Assyrians and Babylonians and the Western divided between the Southern in Arabia and Ethiopia and the Northern in Palestine and Syria. The term 'ca-na-na-um' was used by the inhabitants as early as 3500 BC (Aubet). The Hebrew "cana'ani" meant merchant, but the original meaning may have come from Akkadian kinahhu - red-colored wool, which may have in turn given their descendents the name Phoenician.

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Central to the Semitic notion of deity is El, the old fatherly creator god and his consort, Athirat or Asherah. "Both were primordial beings, they had been there always." El, whose name simply meant 'god' was the creator and procreator, overseer of conception, who sired the gods, thus being also called 'Bull El' in continuity with the ancient bull god of fertility. Asherah and El thus form a creation hieros-gamos of male and female, representing the bull and the earth goddess we see emerging from the ancient continuum at Catal Huyuk. El is supposed to have gone out to sea and asked two Goddesses, one presumably being Athirat and the other possibly Anath to choose between being his spouses and being his daughters. They chose the former. Their offspring are Shaher and Shalem, the morning and evening stars, from which Lucifer, the light-bearer, takes his name.

Many of the archetypes we now perceive in Yahweh have their origin in El. He is an original creator god - the 'Creator of Created things', which definitely includes fertility, but may also include the creation of Heaven and Earth as with the Mesopotamian Marduk and Tiamat, whose own mythology may be partly derived from the older Canaanite myths. El was the proberbial old man who is both a father and judge. He was a kingly and kindly figure, benevolent but not uninvolved. He was the god of decrees and the father of the reigning king. "It was his responsibility to ensure that equilibrium was preserved among all the conflicting and competing powers within it." He thus was respected by the other Gods - "Your decree El is wise, your wisdom is everlasting." "It was not for nothing that El was called 'the kindly and compassionate' - a design strangely reminiscent of 'Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate' in Islam. Not that El was inccapable of anger: transgressions in the community ... could provoke him - and then he would prompt neighbouring powers to invade and conquer. To avert such calamities the king had to perform rites of expiation and offer sacrifices" (Cohn 1993 119)


Asherah (Gray)

Asherah, the Semitic name of the Great Goddess, whose origin differs from Astarte, was "in wisdom the Mistress of the Gods", called by the Sumerians Ashnan "the strength of all things", a "kindly and beautiful maiden." The Canaanites called her "She who gives birth to the Gods" and as the "Lady who traverses the Sea" she is Goddess of both the Sea and Moon. In the Old Testament she is identified with her sacred groves.

Although Canaanite mythology varies from city to city, the discovery of extensive records at Ras Shamra of the city of Ugarit, gives us a uniquely detailed view of Canaanite Gods and Goddesses, dating from the author Elimelek around 1370 BC. Kings traditionally ruled as intermediaries of the Gods in maintaining the fertility of the land.

Despite siring the Gods and Goddesses, El and Asherah, no longer remain the only key players in the cosmic drama. As with Sumerian and many other mythologies a cosmic struggle for supremacy arises in which mortal combat occurs. This weaves themes both of maintaining the cosmic order against the turbulent waters of chaos and the barren season of death and of combat associated with new deities arising from social and political change.

In the Canaanite myth, a new and possibly Akkadian outsider, whose name is Ba'al Haddad or Lord enters the situation in hated competition with Asherah and her children by El. He is a young, warlike god of wind and thunderstorms and thus fertility itself. Unlike El, he is not judicious, frequently figuring in situations from which he must be saved. In this respect he displays a significant parallel to Dumuzi (Tammuz) among the Mesopotamians, which will prove to be of significance. He also has the hideous attribute of devouring his own children, consistent with infanticide practices of several semitic patron gods.

Initially Ba'al and Anat are members of El's court. Ba'al attacks El by surprise and castrates him, assuming the power of his fertility. In effect, Ba'al becomes the central intermediary of paternal cosmic order ... "it is Ba'al's responsibility to ensure El's benevolent intention is realized", but he does not replace the primal creative power of El.

El, who loves all the Gods, now calls on his children as chaos gods to avenge his displacement. His son Yamm, Lord of the Sea and the mythical ocean of chaos lying beyond the ordered world, terrorizes the gods into giving up Baal. But Ba'al refuses and conquers Yamm, Ba'al now emerging as the God who overcomes the waters of chaos.

Mot, the next offspring, who is Lord of the Underworld and the barren season then defeats Ba'al, enraging Ba'al's consort Anath, who ironically in the Ugarit form of the myth enters the fray as a Death Goddess upholding the paternal order. When Mot refuses to revive Ba'al, Anath kills and dismembers him, scattering his remains over the land. Baal, now revived, undertakes a full-scale war against all the other gods, who are now referred to as the "Sons of Asherah," and is victorious. The death of Mot is conceived in a seven year cycle as representing the end of seven years of drought and famine.

In her role of Goddess of War and Death , Anath's lust for blood is unbounded: "Anat kills the people living in valleys, in cities and on the seashore and in the land of sunrise, until the cut off heads of soldiers were reaching to her belt and she was wading up to her waist in blood. Violently she smites and gloats, Anat cuts them down and gazes; her liver exhaults in mirth ... for she plunges her knees in the blood of soldiers, her loins in the gore of warriors, till she has had her fill of slaughtering in the house, of cleaving among the tables." After which, she, the Progenetress of Nations washed her hands of the blood of the slain, in dew and rain supplied by her brother Ba'al." (Walker 29, Cohn 1993 126)

"Anath was fertilized by the blood of men, rather than semen, because her worship dated all the way back to the neolithic, when fatherhood was unknown and blood was considered the only substance which could transmit life. Hecatombs of [100] men seem to have been sacrificed to Anath when her image was reddened with rouge and henna for the occasion. Like the Lady of the Serpent Skirt, Anath hung the shorn penises of her victims on her goatskin apron or aegis." "Anath's capacity to curse and kill made even the Heavenly Father afraid of her. When El seemed reluctant to do her bidding, she threatened to smash his head and cover his grey hair and beard with gore. He hastily gave her everything she asked, saying 'Whoever hinders thee will be crushed' " (Walker 30).

In the mythical cycle, "Mot too is [now] revived and once again challenges Baal to single combat. In the midst of the fighting, however, the sun-goddess, Spsi (Shapash), intervenes, advising Mot that no further combat is needed because El is now on the side of Baal. El, always patriarchal and judicious, has discerned that Baal in his defeat and resurrection has manifested a new form of order; as a patriarchal deity El must uphold this new order. The decree is made that Baal will rule during the seasons of fertility and Mot during the seasons of sterility and drought." - Grollier

There are many implications of this mythical cycle that underly the events of the Bible and overshadow and cast the die for the Christian heritage (Grollier Multimedia Encyclopedia 1993):

"Anath annually cast her death-curse anathema on the Canaanite god", fulfilling Mot's slaying of Ba'al and his destruction in turn by her. Mot stood for the barren season that slew its own fertile twin Aleyin, the son of Ba'al. "In typical sacred-king style Mot-Aleyin was the son of the virgin Anath and also the bridegroom of his own mother. Like Jesus the Lamb of God, Aleyin said 'I am the lamb which is made ready with pure wheat to be sacrificed in expiation.' " (Walker 31 [Larousse]).

"After Aleyin's death, Anath resurrects him and sacrifices Mot, telling him he has been forsaken by his heavenly father El." This is precisely the same father to whom Jesus cried " 'Eloi Eloi lama sabaschthani' - El El why hast thou forsaken me? ... and some said 'Behold he calleth for Elias' and one ran and filled a sponge with vinegar and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink saying, 'Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down'. And Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up the ghost." (Walker 31, Mark 15:34

"The sacred drama included a moment when Anath broke Mot's reed scepter, to signify his castration, again foreshadowing a detail of the Christian Gospels. ... Naturally the god-killing Anath was much diabolized in patriarchial legends. Abyssinian Christians called her Aynat "the evil eye of earth". They said she was an old witch destroyed by Jesus, who commanded that she must be burned and her ashes scattered on the wind." (Walker 31)

St. Paul's excommunication curse "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-atha derives from the more ancient curse of Anath:

Ana-tithenai: to set up, dedicate [a curse], maranatha: Our Lord [bridegroom], come.

Another pertinent deity, because of his relationship to Sin, or Nannar, the God of Abraham is Yarikh the moon god. 'The illuminator of myriads (of stars)', 'lamp of heaven', possibly also the crescent moon and 'lord of the sicle' and thereby the father of the Kotharat. He is patron of the city Qart-Abilim. Like Sin, he is a dedicated courtier. After sunset he embraces Nikkal-and-Ib (Ningal) and becomes determined to marry her. He refuses the daughters of Baal and presents a lavish brideprice to Nikkal-and-Ib's family and the two are wed. Baal-Hadad's creatures devour his handmaidens, so he sends them to El. El tells them to go into the wilderness and there birth horned buffalo, which will distract Baal-Hadad.

Nikkal-and-Ib 'great lady and clear/bright/fruit' or 'Great goddess of fruit'. She is possibly the daughter of Dagon of Tuttul, or else of Khirkhib. She is romanced by Yarikh and marries him after Yarikh aranges a brideprice with Khirkhib and pays it to her parents.

Kotharat (was thought to be Kathirat) 'skillful'. They are a group of goddesses associated with conception and childbirth. '...The swallow-like daughters of the crescent moon.' They are also associated with the new moon. They attend Daniel for seven days to aid in the conception of Aqhat and recieve his sacrifice.

Mythical Beginnings and the Evolution of God:

The earliest reliable historical records of the Jews date from around 1200 BC in unfortified villages in hill country far from Canaanite coastal cities. These may have been immigrants from Edom and Moab. The term Hapiru in Egyptian or Hibri (Hebrew) means "the people from beyond" those living on the fringes of society. It is a social rather than an ethnic tern. Rameses II (1304-1237) coopted Hapiru to work on his new capital. Some of these may have migrated in a way mythically described in Exodus. (Cohn 1993 129 Reinach 181)

The Pentateuch, the first five chapters of the Old Testament are unfortunately a collection which was edited between 600 and 100 BC to fit the beliefs and experiences of the current authors, so one can only take them as a figurative account. A variety of ages are given for four original authors listed as J (Jahweh) 9th cent, E (Elohim) 8th cent, D (Dueteronomy) 7th, and P(Priestly) 5th century. All these dates are historically long after the events, however the juxtaposed accounts of these disparate authors gives an underlying account of changing attitudes to generation, sacrifice and deity. The early ages of the Old Testament, before about 1200 BC, including Noah. who has a clear precedent in Sumerian Utnapishtim, illustrated below, Abraham, Jacob and even Moses must thus be regarded as mythical. (Cohn 44, Jay 94)

"Disturbed by the sounds of mankind, the gods, led by Enlil, set forth a deluge. Enki (or Ea) saves the world by warning Ziusudra (Utnapishtim), a dedicated king constantly seeking divine revelations in dreams or incantations, to make an ark and to "make every kind of living creature go up into the ship". The flood frightens even the Gods. The Godess Inanna (Ishtar) laments for man, sending lightning and the coveneant of the rainbow against Enlil. "

With regard to the return from exile, Lysimachus (360-281 BC) also mentions an Egyptian expulsion of Hapiru after the outbreak of a disfiguring disease. Tacitus (56-115 AD) mentions that one Moyses led such a band and "warned them not to look for any relief from god or man, but to trust themselves, taking for their heaven-sent leader that man who should first help them to be quit of their present misery". He records that they successfully displaced another people and founded a city and temple. (Walker 676)

Nevertheless these early writings do reveal a great deal about the transition that occurred early in the founding history of the twelve tribes of Israel. In addition to this involving evolution and change in their ideas of deity, this also emerged from a dynamic tension during a transition between matrilinieal and patrilineal lines of generation, which underly the evolution of paternal diety.

Briffault (v1 372) comments: "the Jewish rabbis themselves, at a comparatively late date acknowledged that the four matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah had occupied a more important position than the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. According to Robertson Smith the tribe of Levi was originally metronymous (matrilineal), being the tribe of Leah."