, Research Paper
A Look at the Canaanite Pantheon
The Canaanite Pantheon is a very complex matter that is fascinating to anyone interested in either history or religion. In order to achieve a be3tter understanding of this topic one must first have a small body of knowledge concerning the Canaanites themselves. IN this paper I will first discuss who the Canaanites actually were. This will include their origin, their location, and their language. After establishing this base knowledge I will then discuss the Canaanite religious system. At that time I will bring forth the major topic of my paper the Canaanite Pantheon.
Much of what we originally knew of the Canaanites came from the biblical account of early history. According to the bible the Canaanites descended from a man named Canaan the fourth son of Ham who was one of the sons of Noah. Over time these people became known as Canaanites. The Canaanites occupied a section of land bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Jordan River to the east. Its northern boundary was the ancient nation of Phoenicia and the Sinai Peninsula to the south. Most of the land was unfit for cultivation because it was dry, mountainous and rocky. However along the coastal plains and river valleys much fertile farm land could be found. The composition of the land played an important role in the religion of the Canaanites.
The Canaanites began to settle in the area known as Canaan well before 2000 B.C. The Canaanite civilization became dominant between 2100 B.C. and 1500 B.C. also known as the Middle Bronze Age. The Canaanite civilization had various classes ranging in nobility to lower class peasantry. Much of what we know about Canaanite language has come from the discovery of ancient Ugaritic texts found at Ras Shamra. These texts were written using alphabetic cuneiform, a language developed solely by the Canaanites. The texts found at Ras Shamra are almost entirely religious in nature and serve as the primary source of knowledge of Canaanite religious practices.
Many gods anchored the Canaanite religion. These gods were often worshiped in very elaborate ritual. Various religious personnel such as priest oversaw these religious ceremonies. The worship of these gods occurred at very different places. These places ranged from small outdoor altars to massive stone temples (Youngblood 241-244). The Canaanite Religion developed like most early religions as an attempt to explain occurrences in nature. Many of the activities of nature such as the seasons were said to be caused by different gods. This helps demonstrate the need for such a large pantheon (Holder 3).
The Canaanite Pantheon has many members. The most important gods in the Canaanite Religion are El, Baal, Mot and Yam. There are a few Goddesses who also play roles within the religion. These gods play a significant role in nature and the everyday life of the Canaanite people. The Canaanites had many other gods often referred to as craft deities. These craft deities are related to items such as pottery.
The head of Canaanite pantheon is El. El was the greatest god in all the assembly
(Mullen 59). Although he is scene as the supreme god no temple dedicated to his worship has been located yet (Youngblood 60). El is credited with the creation of the world in Canaanite mythology. There is no account for El?s method of creation, but it is obvious Canaanites regarded El as the creator god. El is also considered the father of all of the major gods of Canaan. These sons include the goddesses Yam, Mot and Ba?al. El?s daughters include the goddess Anat, and Astarte. El?s mate who bore the gods to him is Asherah. Besides being known as the father god and creator god El is also known as King. The nature of kingship is somewhat unsure though, however it is well documented that he rules both gods and people of earth. It is also made clear that power given to the gods to rule comes directly from El (Mullen). How El attained this kingship is a question that is not easily answered. At this time rule was usually established by warfare, but no account of such an event has been found. Despite his great power El chose to stay in the background assigned power duties to his other gods and goddesses (Youngblood 243).
The most prominent god in the Canaanite pantheon is Ba?al. Ba?al was often portrayed as the god of vegetation. Also Ba?al was the god of fertility along with being the storm god. Canaanites used Ba?al?s characteristics to explain much what takes place in nature. Ba?al influenced the growth of crops, the rains and the various seasons according to Canaanite mythology. Because of Ba?al?s relation to fertility he is given a female consort Anat. In the Canaanite Pantheon Anat is considered to be both the wife and sister of Ba?al (Holder 3). Anat assumes the role of role of goddess of war, love and fertility. Anat often slayed Ba?al?s enemies, and openly mourned his death(Kapelrud 40). .
As time passed Ba?al begin to take a leading role in the Canaanite Religion. His rise to kingship was different than El?s though. Ba?al could only ascend to power because El allowed it. Also Ba?al fought battles with competing gods to rise to power among the gods. Ba?al was involved in many conflicts in order to reach supremacy. His major conflict was against Yamm, the son of El. Yam had become a very powerful king. Ba?al became a slave to Yamm by El?s decree(Mullen 55). Ba?al is then forced to go to war with Yamm in order to reestablish the order of power within the pantheon. The other gods of the pantheon decided to assist Ba?al in his effort to win the throne(Kapelrud 42). One of these gods supplied Ba?al with special weapons to defeat Yamm. Ba?al uses one of these magic weapons to slay Yamm. Even with Ba?al?s defeat of Yamm he did not gain immediate supremacy because El would not grant him a temple. El finally made the decree to permit the building of the temple for Ba?al after Anat and Ashera pleaded with him. The building of this temple solidifies Ba?al?s place of supremacy among the gods(Mullen 56-59).
As soon as Ba?al becomes king of the gods he is once again challenged for power. Mot the god of sterility and death challenges Ba?al?s power. Mot also known as the god of the underworld commands Ba?al to descend to his domain, which Ba?al does without resistance. Ba?al is ordered to take all things under his control, such as rain, with him. This helps explain the dry summer months. Before descending Ba?al mates with the goddess Anat to insure a fertile future (Kapelrud 46-47). Soon after Ba?al disappearance Anat appealed to Mot to allow the return of Ba?al. Mot refused and Anat seized him and fought with no avail. As more time passed El commanded that Ba?al be found. When Ba?al is found he and Mot engage in a short but fierce battle. As in the battle with Yamm, Ba?al received help from the other gods. Ba?al slayed Mot with the help of the sun goddess and assumed complete control over the gods once again(Mullen 78-81).
The god Yamm that is previously mentioned is another major deity. Yamm is granted a palace by El and rules as ?lord? over the gods. Yamm does not attain power through a conflict such as Ba?al, but is merely appointed king based on his relationship with El. Yamm is quickly challenged for power bye Ba?al. Ba?al slayed Yamm easily as described earlier in this paper (Kapelrud 42).
Another major god in the Canaanite pantheon is Mot god of the underworld. Mot aspires to be king over all the gods and challenges Ba?al. The god Mot is used by the Canaanite people to explain the pestilence of summer. He serves as an antagonist to Ba?al in a yearly battle. The Challenge that mot presents to Ba?al is different from that of Yamm?s because Mot has no claim to the throne as Yamm did(Mullen 75-77).
The Canaanite Pantheon developed over time as to fill the psychological need of the people. These god?s were used to explain how life works on a daily basis. This is seen in the relationship of the gods to each other and the conflicts which they engage in. These conflicts can be used to explain the changes in weather, the lack of crops, or any other natural phenomenon that people are uncomfortable with. Another interesting part of the Canaanite pantheon is the relationship of El to the other gods. He assumes the role of a patriarch over his family of gods. This role is identical to that of an aging father who is still in charge of his family even though he does not take an active role in all occurrences. The Canaanite pantheon is an exciting area of history to study because it helps to understand the mind set of the ancient near east man and allows us to see life as it was seen by the people who lived in this time period.
Holder, John W. ?Religion and Theology: A Journey into the Experiential.? Journal of Religious Thought 47.1 (1990) 5-18.
Kaplerud, Arvid S. The Ras Shamra Discoveries and the Old Testament. Norman: Norman Oklahoma Press 1963.
Mullen, E. Theodore, Jr. TheAssembly of the Gods. Scholars Press 1986.
Youngblood Ronald F. Nelson?s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers 1995.