Canaan was a region in the Near East, located in the present-day Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, western Jordan and southwest Syria. The largest city-states of Canaan were Jericho (one of the oldest in the region), Ebla (part of the Akkadian Empire during the reigns of Sargon and Naram-Sin), Megiddo, Kadesh, Tyre, Jerusalem, Byblos (the first city in Phoenicia, according to legend, built by the god Cronus) and Ugarit. Although the Canaanite Semitic peoples had their own cultural identities, regardless of whether we are talking about Phoenicians, Ammonites, Amorites, Moabites, Arameans or Israelites, they all belong to the same Canaanite ethnic group. In the 21st century BC, the Amorites left Canaan for Mesopotamia, where they destroyed the last Sumerian royal dynasty and built city-states such as Babylon. The Hyksos, who were also Canaanites, invaded and ruled Egypt for about one hundred years, after which some of them returned to Canaan while others settling in southern Europe as Greeks or Hellenes. The Phoenicians, who in 814 BC founded Carthage in North Africa, were also Canaanites.
The religion of the Canaanites has long been a mystery, the only details about it being found in the Old Testament and in a few chronicles from the beginning of our era. Everything changed in 1928, when a cave accidentally discovered by a farmer led to the excavation of the ruins of Ugarit. The archaeological digs lasted from 1929 to 1970, with a break from 1940 to 1947 due to World War II. Other inscriptions from Levant and tablets from the city of Ebla, discovered in 1964, added to the Ugarit texts, helped researchers learn about the religion of the Canaanites. It was noticed that the religion of Canaan was strongly influenced by its neighboring populations, showing evident Mesopotamian and Egyptian influences. For example, during the Hyksos period, the Canaanite god Baal was matched with the Egyptian Seth, even being represented with the crown of Lower Egypt on his head. The Canaanite goddesses Athtart and Anat were depicted wearing wigs similar to that of the Egyptian goddess Hathor. Yah, the Egyptian moon god, was part of the pantheon at Ebla, and the Hurian goddess Hebat was worshiped in Jerusalem. In turn, the Canaanites influenced the religions of other peoples, such as the Egyptians, who adopted Qetesh, Athtart and Anat into their pantheon. The Greeks, originally Canaanites, kept some elements of their primordial religion. For example, the sharing of Earth between Zeus, Poseidon and Hades is identical to the sharing between Baal, Yam and Mot, and Heracles’ twelve labors are copied from the story of Melkart from the Phoenician city of Tyre.
The Canaanites called their gods Elohim, as evidenced by a tablet dated around 2300 BC, discovered at Ebla, where the god Dagon was the head of a 200 Elohim pantheon, a name that means „Children of El”. El was the supreme god in Canaan, the divine authority and creator of the world. His epithets indicate his areas of competence: „ab shnm” („Father of Years”), „mlk” („King”), „‘b’adm” („Father of Men”), „batnyu binwati” („Creator of Creatures”), „‘El gibbor” („Warrior El”), „qaniyunu ‘olam” („Eternal Creator”) and „‘abu bani ‘ili” („Father of the Gods”). He had many children, the most important of them being Baal Hadad, Yam and Mot. Iconography depicts him with a long beard and sitting, unlike Baal, who appears in motion, throwing a lightning bolt. His symbol was the bull, which is the reason he was represented with a pair of horns on his head and called „toru ‘El” („Bull El” or „The Bull God”). In one myth he is called Elqunirsha („El, the creator of Earth”), while in some texts El-wa-Elyon. The supreme god El is identical to Anu of the Sumerians, Anu of the Akkadians, Ra of the Egyptians, Uranus of the Greeks or Brahma of the Hindus. While the cult of Uranus was not as widely spread in Greece, nor the cult of Anu in the Akkadian world or the one of Brahma in India, where very few temples were dedicated to him, not a single temple dedicated to El was discovered in Ugarit. We can see that the Canaanites also preferred a two-letter name for the supreme god, just like the Sumerians and Egyptians. Besides this El, the leader of the pantheon, there was another, equivalent to Enlil. Although „el” means „god” in the West-Semitic languages, derived from the Akkadian „il / ilu„, it is also the abbreviation of Ellil, the name given by the Akkadians to the Sumerian god Enlil. As noted by ancient authors such as Philo of Byblos or the Phoenician Sanchuniathon, El or Elus was not the supreme god, but the son of Epigeius (sky) and Ge (Earth). This second El, the brother of the god of waters and fertility, Dagon, was in conflict with his nephew, Baal, just as Enlil was with his nephew, Marduk.
In a ritual text with mythological passages, usually called The Birth of the Benevolent Gods, El impregnates two goddesses who give birth to Shahr or Shahar and Shalim, called in Ugaritic „shr w slm” (probably „Dawn and Dusk”), both described as „ilm n’mm wjsmm” („benevolent and merciful gods”). They both had a huge appetite, devouring everything in their path from heaven to Earth with their wide open mouths. God El sent them to the desert, where they searched for food for many years. Not much is known about these two gods, who only appear in this myth, in some votive texts and as a few names of people. But the identification of El as An and Ra sheds light in this case. For the ancient Egyptians, the Sun had three names: Atum at dawn, Ra at noon, and Khepri at sunset. As these three personalities of the Sun do not represent a deity with three names, but three sun gods (leaders) after the Mesopotamian model, where in the Council of Gods Anu had Enlil on his right and Enki on his left, the same thing is found in Canaan. Shahr („Dawn”) is the Sun at dawn (Atum) or Enlil on the right side, and Shalim („Dusk”), the Sun at sunset (Khepri) or Enki on the left of the heavenly father. The city of Jerusalem in Israel, called Urushalim in Abdi-Heba’s Amarna Letters and Yerushalem or Yerushalayim in the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament, was dedicated to the god Shalem, with Jerusalem translated as „Settlement of Shalem”.
Dagon (Dgn in Ugaritic and Dagan, Dagana or Daguna in Akkadian) was worshiped especially in the Middle Euphrates region. He was the god of fertility, grain and fishing, depicted with a fish body, two heads (a human one under the fish one), human legs and a tail (identical to Uan / Oannes in Babylon and Ea / Enki in the Assyro-Babylonian reliefs) or with a human upper part and a fish lower part. According to an Assyrian poem, Dagon judged the dead alongside Nergal, and a Babylonian text called him the keeper of the underground prison in which the seven children of the god Emmesharra were located. Dagon led the pantheon from Ebla and played a special role in Tuttul and Mari. During the Ur III period he was integrated into the official Sumerian cult, with an important sanctuary in Puzrish-Dagon, the cattle center of Nippur. During the Old Babylonian period he had a temple in Isin as well. In the second half of the second millennium BC his cult spread in western Syria and Palestine. During the Iron Age he was popular among the Philistines, being found in city names such as Beth-Dagon. He was also worshiped in Ebla, Ugarit and among the Amorites. Although he had temples in Ugarit and many people bore his name, he is missing from the mythological texts of this city, with the exception of Baal being referred to as „the son of Dagon„. As „bel pagre” („Lord of the Dead Bodies”), Dagon was worshiped in Mari and Ugarit, where sacrifices were offered for the dead. In Ebla, where he ruled a pantheon of 200 Elohim, he was called „Be-Dingir-Dingir” („Master of the Gods”) and „Bekalam” („Master of the Land”). His consort was Belatu („Lady”), both being worshiped in an impressive temple complex called E-Mul („House of the Star”). One quarter of the city and one of the main gates were named after Dagon. In some sources his wife is called Shala, and in others, Ishara. Dagon was called „master” in many cities, such as Tuttul, Irim, Ma-Ne, Zarad, Uguash, Siwad and Sipishu. Among his epithets there are „Ti-lu ma-tim” („Dew of the Earth”) and „Be-ka-na-na” („Master of Canaan”). In the prologue of his famous law code, the Amorite king Hammurabi, founder of the Babylonian Empire, called himself „conqueror of the settlements along the Euphrates with the help of Dagan, his creator„. An inscription about the expedition of the Akkadian emperor Naram-Sin to the Lebanon Mountains reports: „Naram-Sin destroyed Arman and Ibla with the weapon of the god Dagan, who helped increase his kingdom„. A stele of the Assyrian emperor Ashurnasirpal II (Aššur-nasil-apli in original) calls him a favorite of Anu and Dagan. The name of the god can also be found in Mesopotamian royal names: Iddin-Dagan and Ishme-Dagan from Isin or the Assyrian kings Ishme-Dagan I and Ishme-Dagan II. The Dogon tribe in Mali, whose gods were amphibians, adopted his name. This god of water and fertility, with an identical appearance to Enki, worshiped in Mesopotamia, Canaan and Africa, considered the leader of the gods and brother of El is undoubtedly the god of wisdom, the eldest son of the supreme god Anu.
Baal or B’l is the title of several Semitic gods, meaning „lord, master”, which comes from the Akkadian „bel„. They can be distinguished by the epithets that have been attributed to them, referring to their residences, certain cities or mountains. Baal Zephon lived on Mount Jebel el-Aqra in Syria. He had temples in Ugarit and was worshiped in Egypt during the 19th Dynasty. Baal Carmelos was the god of Mount Carmel in Palestine and is mentioned in the Old Testament. When the Phoenicians colonized North Africa, they brought the cult of Baal Hammon, none other than Amun of the Egyptians. The most famous of them is the Ugaritic weather god Baal Hadad, one of the most important deities for the western regions of the Near East. As „Rkb’rpt” (“Rider of the Clouds”) he was present in storms that announced the autumn with thunder and lightning, thick clouds bringing rain and coastal breeze. Like Baal Zephon, his abode was on the cloud-capped peaks of Mount Jebel el-Aqra. Another epithet of his was „zbl” (“Prince”), the origin of the name Baal-Zebub in the Old Testament. His father is Dagon in some texts and El in others. Like the natural phenomena he represents, Baal Hadad is an elemental but unpredictable and unstable force. His name comes from that of Adad, the Akkadian storm god, called Ishkur by the Sumerians, none other than Enlil. In Canaan and Mesopotamia he was depicted with a crown of bull horns, holding lightning and thunderbolts in his hands. Baal Hadad fought with the sea dragon Lotan, like the Egyptian Seth with Apophis, the Indian Indra with Vritra, the Hittite Teshub with Illuyanka or the Greek Zeus with Typhon. In fact, he was even matched by the ancients with Hittite Teshub, Egyptian Seth, Greek Zeus and Roman Jupiter, all these names representing Enlil, the storm god, son of Anu and king of the Earth.
The name Baal Hadad seems to hide two characters. One was the son of El, the other of Dagon. One was the king of the Earth, the other had the title of prince. One was in conflict with the sons of the supreme god El, the other with El himself. The Canaanites gave two names to the god of the Mount Jebel el-Aqra: Baal Hadad and Baal Zephon. As several deities carried the title Baal (“lord, master”), we have two characters in this case as well. The first Baal Hadad is Enlil and the second can only be his nephew, Marduk. When the supreme god, Anu, was hidden under the name El, Baal was his son, Enlil, who fought against his brothers for the throne. When El was Enlil, the brother and enemy of Dagon / Enki, Baal, was Marduk.
Attrt or Athtart in Ugaritic, Ashtart for the Phoenicians, Ashtoret in the Old Testament, Astarte for the Greeks or Uni-Astre for the Etruscans, also known as Asherah or „Lady Asherah of the Sea„, was well known throughout the Near East and Egypt starting in the second millennium BC. In Babylonian texts she is referred to as Ashratu and is considered „The Lady of Abundance and Fertility” and „Anu’s daughter-in-law„. She was the goddess of fertility, sexuality and war, her symbols being the lion, horse, sphinx, dove and planet Venus. In Ugarit, her name shows up in lists of offerings, in texts about sacrifices, in rituals and in lists of gods, but not in personal names. In Ugaritic myths she seems to become irrelevant in favor of Anat, Baal’s lover. Athtart is the wife of El, who bore him 70 sons, but she lives apart from her husband, „by the sea„. She is „the mother of all gods„, including Baal, although she seems to prefer a few of her other children, as in the Baal and Mot myth, where she rejoices at the death of the storm god. Another epithet of hers is „nurse of the gods„, which emphasizes her role as mother goddess. She was also called Elat or Ilt („The Goddess”), the feminine form of El. In the Phoenician pantheon, according to the description of Sanchuniathon, Ashtart was El’s sister and the daughter of the heaven and Earth. After being dethroned and exiled by his son, the god of the sky tried to deceive him by sending him his „virgin daughter„, Ashtart. She gives birth to El’s seven daughters (called by the Greeks titanides or artemides) and two sons, Pothos and Eros. Later, with El’s agreement, Ashtart and Hadad rule the Earth together. To show her sovereignty, the goddess wore the head of a bull on her head. In Phoenicia she was also called Ba’alat Gebal („Lady of Byblos”). Her cult entered Egypt during the 18th Dynasty (between the 16th and 13th centuries BC), often paired with Anat. The two goddesses are described as the daughters of Ra and are given as wives to Seth. The Greeks matched her with Hathor, Sekhmet and Isis. She was worshiped in Israel and Judah as the wife of Yahweh, with the Old Testament claiming that her statue stood for a long time in a place of honor in Yahweh’s Great Temple in Jerusalem. In medieval Jewish folklore she was turned into Astaroth, a demon of desire. Regardless of whether she is called Athtart, Ashtart, Ashtoret, Asherah, Astarte, Uni-Astre, Ashratu or Astaroth, her name certainly derives from that of the Akkadian Ishtar. In a summoning ritual of the main deity of Wicca, Astarte is second on the list of goddess epithets: „Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna”. All of these names and her roles in myths matches her with the Sumerian Ninhursag.
Another manifestation of her was the goddess Qetesh, Quadshu, Qudshu, Qodesh, Qadesh, Qadashu, Qadesha, Qedeshet, Kedesh or Kodesh, adopted also by the Egyptian mythology, names developed from the Semitic root „qdš„, meaning „holy”. On the 19th Dynasty Stele of Kaha Qetesh is depicted naked, riding a lion, flanked by two gods, offering lotus flowers to the Egyptian Min (the god of fertility) and snakes to the Canaanite Resheph (the god of war). These two gods symbolize the two aspects of the goddess, but also her husband and son. Qetesh is called „The Mistress of the Gods” (like Inanna and Ishtar), „The Lady of the Stars in Heaven„, „Great Magician, Lady of the Stars” („Great Magician” was a title of Isis), „Beloved of Ptah” (the title of Sekhmet), „The Eye of Ra, the Unmatched” (like Hathor and Sekhmet), which reveals the true identity of the goddess.
Anat, whose name is ‘nt in Ugaritic texts, was a popular goddess in the western regions of the Near East and Egypt, from the mid-second millennium BC to the Hellenistic era. The goddess is best known from the cuneiform texts found in Ugarit and from her representations on Egyptian monuments. Her epithets „blt ‘nt” („Virgin Anat”) and „‘nt hbly” („Anat the Destroyer”) indicate similarities with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Like her, she is a beautiful and passionate lover, but also a fierce and bloodthirsty warrior, „dressed like a man and fastened with a belt like a woman„. In this combative role she defended the pharaoh from his enemies. In the Myths of Baal from Ugarit she is the daughter of the great god El and her relationship with her father resembles Ishtar’s disrespectful behavior towards Anu in the Epic of Gilgamesh. As indicated by her epithet, „virgin„, she remains unmarried, although the texts allude to intimate relationships with Baal. Their sexual relationship is the subject of a number of Ugaritic texts, commonly known as The Loves and Wars of Baal and Anat. Although the erotic attraction between the two gods is described in detail, the sexual act itself occurs only indirectly. Anat must turn into a cow, which the „bull” Baal rides passionately. Although she is not explicitly associated with procreation and motherhood, she is depicted on Egyptian monuments alongside the fertility god Min. In The Contendings of Horus and Seth she and Astarte are the daughters of Ra who were given to Seth as wives, replacing Isis and Nephtys from the original myth. In an Memphis inscription from the 15th – 12th century BC, Anat is called „Bin-Ptah„, meaning „Daughter of Ptah”. In Elephantine, a papyrus from the 5th century mentions a goddess named Anat-Yahu, worshiped as the lover of the god Yahu in the temple built at the border with Nubia by Jews who fled from the Babylonian conquerors. She is not mentioned as a goddess in the Old Testament, but her name appears in the names of cities such as Beth Anath and Anathoth. The Egyptian wife of the patriarch Joseph is called Asenath, meaning „Holy for Anat”. In the Book of Judges we can find the hero Shamgar, the son of Anat. This „daughter of Ptah”, beloved of one of the two Baals, specifically the one called Yahu by the Jews, who paired with Athart / Ninhursag, can only be Ninhursag and Enki’s daughter, Ninsar / Ishtar.
Kothar-wa-Khasis was the blacksmith of the gods, matched by the Egyptians with their Ptah. He is almost identical not only with Ptah but also with Hephaestus of the Greeks and Gibil of the Sumerians. His Ugaritic name, Ktr.w.hss, could be translated as „Skillful and Wise”. He is described in Ugaritic myths as a blacksmith, silversmith, architect and weapons maker. In the Myths of Baal he builds Baal’s palace, gifts for Asherah and the weapons used by Baal to defeat Yam. He was believed to live in a remote place, called Kptr or Hkpt. The latter can be read as Hikaptah („The House of Ptah’s ka”), the name given to the city of Memphis by the Egyptians. As Ptah, Hephaestus and Gibil represent an aspect of Enki, Kothar’s identity becomes clear.
In the Myths of Baal, Yam („Sea”), the god of the waters, is one of Baal Hadad’s enemies, whom he challenges to fight, ultimately being defeated with the help of Kothar-wa-Khasis’s magic weapons. Also known as the Judge Nahar, he is called „zbl jm” („Lord of the Sea”) and „tpț nhr” („River Prince”). As a deity of great importance to seafaring peoples, he received regular offerings. His palace was located in the abyss associated with the depths of the waters, like Abzu, Enki’s home for the Sumerians. He was called „The Serpent” and was also matched with the seven-headed dragon Lotan. In a myth, Yam was driven from the divine mountain Sappan (now known as Jebel Aqra) by the gods. In the Myths of Baal he is called Yw or Yaw. As a serpent deity, he resembles Apophis of the Egyptians, who also fought against the storm god Seth. As the god of the seas, he is identical to Poseidon of the Greeks and also similar to Enki of the Sumerians and Dagon of the Canaanites. Even his fight with Baal Hadad / Enlil is the same found in all world religions.
In Canaan, Mot was the god of death. The etymology of his name derives from the Semitic „mwt” („to die”) and the Akkadian „mutum” („death”). In Ugaritic mythological texts he is the great enemy of Baal Hadad. His mythical domain is the „deepest part of the Earth„, a land of „decay, filth, saliva and mucus„. It was believed he could sometimes appear as a serpent. The Greek trinity consisting of Zeus, Poseidon and Hades is copied from the Canaanite trinity consisting of Baal Hadad, Yam and Mot. The Underworld god, who sometimes had the aspect of a serpent, enemy of Baal Hadad / Enlil and similar to Hades, is the same Enki.
Reshep is one of the ancient gods, belonging to the pantheon of Ebla. In Ugarit, although he is rarely found in myths, he was popular enough to receive sacrifices regularly. He showed up very often in personal names. His name is believed to be related to „ršp” („fire”). The Egyptians adopted him as well; as the god of afflictions he was invoked to fight against the forces of evil. The Phoenicians left a number of sculptures depicting him in Cyprus, Anatolia and Syria. He was matched since Antiquity with the Babylonian chthonic god Nergal, the destructive aspect of Marduk.
Hauran, Hawran or Horon is a chthonic god who appears as a personal name from the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC to around 600 BC, especially in Syria, Palestine and Levant. He was worshiped in Egypt during the 18th and 19th dynasties. Horon is one of the frightening but popular gods due to the harm he could do to someone’s enemies. He was mentioned in magical texts and curses. He also closely resembles the Mesopotamian Nergal. From his name comes Horos, the name assigned by the Greeks to the Egyptian Haru (known as Horus in English). And Horus and Nergal are the same Marduk.
Shapash was the Ugaritic goddess of the Sun. She is mentioned in votive lists and in a few mythological texts from Ugarit. Her epithet was „nrt ilm” („Torch of the Gods”). Her name is related to „šmš” („Sun”), being the feminine aspect of the Akkadian Shamash. As with the pre-Sargonic Arabs and Hurrians, the solar deity in Ugarit was female. There is no evidence of a strong solar theology having developed in Ugarit, in which to be included elements of divine justice as in Mesopotamia and Egypt, so the minor role and feminine aspect given to Shamash is understandable.
Ashtar or Attar, written in Ugaritic as ‘ttr, was the personification of the masculine aspect of planet Venus as the morning star. He was worshiped in southern Arabia, where he was a combination of the morning and the evening star. In Syria he was the son of Astarte. There is no evidence of a cult of Ashtar in Ugarit, but a Greek text from the 5th century BC mentions his name in connection with the child sacrifices of the Bedouin tribes in Sinai. It is obvious that his name comes from the Akkadian Ishtar, so Ashtar / Attar is nothing but the masculinization of her aspect, which also explains the absence of his cult in Ugarit.
Yarikh, Jerah, Jarah or Jorah was the god of the Moon in the Canaanite religion. Among his epithets there were „Illuminator of the heavens„, „Illuminator of the multitude of stars” and „Master of the scythe”. The city of Jericho (Yeriho in Hebrew) bears his name. Yarikh was matched with the Sumerian Nanna and the Akkadian Sin, namely with Enki. Yarikh’s wife was Nikkal, the Canaanite version of the Sumerian Ningal, the wife of Nanna.
In the second millennium BC, Kamosh or Kamish was widely worshiped in Syria, especially in Ebla and in Karkemish. In the first millennium BC he was the national god of the Moabites. In the Old Testament, where he is called Chemosh, it is said that Solomon brought his cult to Jerusalem and Josiah eradicated it. The Greek tradition matched him with Ares, namely with the Mesopotamian Ninurta, the god of war and the eldest son of Enlil.
A significant deity in Ebla was Malik, after whom many people were named. However, he rarely appears in official cult texts or in offerings lists. His name derives from the word „mlk” („king”). It is suspected that Malik was not a deity per se, but a synonym or an epithet for another deity. Therefore, he could be the same as Moloch, Molech, Molekh, Molok, Molek, Melek, Molock, Moloc, Melech, Milcom or Molcom, who in the first millennium BC was the national god of the Ammonites. His name comes from the same „mlk„, meaning „king”. He is mentioned in the Old Testament, where he is called „the abomination of the children of Ammon” because Solomon established his cult in Judea. It is also said in the Old Testament that children were sacrificed to him by fire in Gehenna or Gehinnom, a valley near Jerusalem. The biblical assertion has been compared to those in Greek and Latin sources, which spoke of child sacrifices in Carthage, a Phoenician colony (also Canaanite). Cleitarchus, Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch mentioned the burning of children as an offering to Baal Hammon, the supreme Carthaginian god, whom they matched with Kronos / Saturn. However, it is suspected that those accounts were exaggerated. After the Romans destroyed Carthage, they adopted an aggressive propaganda campaign of transforming their former enemies into crude and uncivilized beings, and it is possible that child sacrifices were part of that propaganda. In Canaan, archaeologists have not found any evidence of a deity named Moloch, which could mean that biblical editors used the same propaganda as the Romans against their enemies. Nevertheless, in the book Molech: A God of Human Sacrifice in the Old Testament (1989), Professor John Day claims the god Malik was matched with the Babylonian Nergal in two ancient texts. There is a slight similarity between the names Malik and Marduk (the first two letters and the last one), which suggests that Professor Day may be correct.
In the Phoenician period, Melqart or Melek-qart („King of the City”) was the main deity of the city of Tyre and later of its colony, Carthage, which was named after this god. In Akkadian he was called Milqartu. He had the title „Ba’l Shur„, meaning „Lord of Tyre”. He was worshiped throughout the Phoenician and Punic world from Syria to Spain. The Greeks and Romans matched him with the demigod Herakles / Hercules, the son of Zeus and the greatest hero of Antiquity, which remind us of the Mesopotamian Ninurta.
The Elohim of the Canaanites are not different from the deities of other peoples. Although far from complete, Canaanite mythology can help us understand biblical, implicitly Hebrew, Christian and Muslim mythology, essential parts of the history of the gods.