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What was the ancient Jewish pantheon?

What was the ancient Jewish pantheon?


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I have read that before the invention of monotheism, the Jews worshipped multiple gods of which traces remain in various texts. So I wonder whether it is possible to reconstruct it and what the gods there were.


One notable thing about the Hebrew Scriptures is that they don't typically claim that there aren't other gods; just that theirs is a jealous God, and thus the only one a Jew should worship.

This kind of attitude isn't really entirely unique in the ancient world. Most cities had their own patron god. A Pantheon was in many ways just the summation of all the regionally-worshipped dieties in an area.

There are mentions of other gods or supernatural beings throughout the Torah. My personal favorite is Leviathan, who based on descriptions in various parts of the Hebrew Scriptures, seems quite similar to the Norse's World Serpent (or perhaps a super fire-breathing sea dragon). Isaiah even prophecies a final battle between God and Leviathan (which God of course will win).

There are also two other supernatural creatures: Behemoth and Ziz, but they don't get as much face-time in the Bible.

Baal is mentioned quite a bit in The Bible as well. However, that is basically a semetic word for "Lord". So essentially when The Bible uses that word it is saying "one of our neighbors' Lord god, rather than our own Lord God."


There isn't a traditional pantheon of deities in historical Judaism. The religion of Judaism dates to Abraham-(circa 2000 BCE) and it is Abraham who is considered to be the Father of Judaism, as well as the Father of Monotheism.

The story of Abraham, however, dates back to a polytheistic age. Remember, Abraham was Mesopotamian and came from the Southern Iraqi town of Ur. During Abraham's time, his Father, Terah, sold idols-(Terah's profession was not an uncommon one within Mesopotamia). In all likelihood, Abraham's family line-(that is to say, his grandparents, great grandparents and beyond), were traditional Mesopotamian polytheists and it is certainly true that Abraham's fellow Mesopotamian countrymen, were centuries old polytheists. In other words, Abraham, though a monotheist for the majority of his life, was still born and raised within a polytheistic family, town and country.

However, Abraham, at an older age, left Mesopotamia en route to the town of Hebron-(located in the Israel/ Palestine region). In permanently leaving Mesopotamia, Abraham would begin a newly independent monotheistic life with his family and particularly, his two sons, Ismail and Isaac. But, when Ismail and Hagar-(his mistress) were expelled from the Hebron region-(at the insistence of Abraham's wife, Sarah), they relocated to Arabia, whereby Abraham would return for a short period of time to help build The Kaaba with his son, Ismail.

Both Judaism, as well as Ismail based monotheism, originated with Abraham. However, both of the above mentioned religions were originally and deeply rooted in Mesopotamian polytheism-(beginning only two generations earlier with Ismail and Isaac's Paternal Grandfather, Terah and his distant family line).


Yes they worshiped other gods When you read the Torah, people use idols throughout. Two examples are Rachel and Michel; Rachel hides her father's idols under herself during a period(1), Michel uses one to make it look like David is sleeping so he can escape the palace(2).

The Author's of the Torah aren't trying to make a secret of it. People worshiped other gods while worshiping YHWH. If anything it they are pretty honest about it.

That does not mean they had a pantheon Where does it say anywhere that YHWH assembled an avenger like team of other gods?
The most you get is complaints from prophets about them. Elijah got pretty hot and bothered about Baal. He states one has to choose between the two, YHWH or Baal, not just make sure YHWH is tops (kings 18). Read "Isaiah 44:9-20" and hear a savage rebuke of idol worship, stating that what they holds in their hands (an idol) is not a god at all.

So overall yes this worshiped other gods and no there was not a sanctioned pantheon in the Jewish faith

  1. Gen 30:34 (Now Rachel had taken the idols and put them inside her camel's saddle and sat on them.) Laban searched the whole tent, but did not find them. 35 Rachel said to her father, “Don't be angry, my lord. I cannot stand up in your presence because I am having my period.” So he searched thoroughly, but did not find the idols.

2.Sam 19:13 And Michal took an image, and laid it in the bed, and put a pillow of goats' hair for his bolster, and covered it with a cloth.


There were no Jews before monotheism. Judaism evolved from local Canaanite cults under the influence of Persian monotheism. Some historians speculate that the earlier Egyptian cult of Aten was the original spark, which was later refined under Persian rule. In either case, the new Jewish national identity was built much later around the Jewish religion.

The biblical stories of struggle between the faithful Israelites and the pagan Canaanites were written hundreds of years later and are not fully historical. If you read them carefully it's clear they were the same people speaking the same language, following slightly different religion.

I understand this is controversial theory whose main proponent is professor Finkelstein from Tel-Aviv University. But I find the narrative quite convincing.


There is a community on the web, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/canaanitepaganism/?yguid=192651149, their theme is just the old Jewish paganism (canaanite?). Surely, you'll find there all these old gods, including Lord El and Lady Asherah.


There were multiple deities.

(There is a wikipedia article on it if you want more detail and additional sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Semitic_religion )

Short version, there were the Els which were the children of the Father god - referenced briefly in Genesis as the 'sons of god' who bred with humanity, often to be claimed as founding components of various cities of the region. (Their names appear throughout the bible), such as El Shaddai: God of Might, El Ohim: Creator God, El Eylon: God of Melchizedek & Salem, and a number of others. There were others such as YHWH (god of Abraham's tribe), Qanna (god of jealousy), and Lucifer (god of prosecution and the morning star).

The majority of these gods were later rolled into one god (with the exception of Lucifer) to create the modern Abrahamic god that we all know and some love.

(Note: List of gods may not be not exact. Some are called out in ancient documents, but others are extrapolated from knowledge of the existence of the roll-up process and its results. Multiple historical events resulted any history of Israel's polytheism largely have been actively and intentionally destroyed.)

As a note, the roll-up process was a result of the unification of Israel which was once an un-associated group of regional warlords who, in order to stand against external invading nations, banded together and intentionally merged their religions and mythologies into one, including creating an shared origin myth of slaves escaping Egypt (which archeology has debunked. - Wikipedia article for followup: Wikipedia-Ancient-Israel-History, possibly to explain their rebellion against Egyptian over-lordship to establish their own territory.))


Pantheon in Rome: The History Behind Its Perfect Ancient Architecture

Today a Christian church, the Pantheon is the best preserved of all ancient Roman buildings and has been in near-continuous use since Hadrian’s reconstruction. From a distance the Pantheon is not as awe-inspiring as other ancient monuments — the dome appears low, not much higher than surrounding buildings. Inside, the Pantheon is among the most impressive in existence. Its inscription, M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIUM·FECIT, means Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time, built this.


Ancient Jewish History: Marduk

Marduk is the patron deity of the city of Babylon.

Although known as a minor god as early as the third millennium, Marduk became an important local deity at the time of the advent of the First Babylonian Dynasty as can be seen mainly from the literary introduction of the Hammurapi Stele and other documents. However, he was elevated to the rank of the chief deity and national god of Babylon only during the Middle Babylonian period and especially during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I (c. 1100 B.C.E. post-Kassite period) and not, as is commonly assumed, during the reign of Hammurapi (1848� B.C.E.). This can be ascertained from the diffusion during the Old and Middle Babylonian periods of the name Marduk as a component of personal names or as a titular deity in legal and other procedures. Apart from its appearance in Jeremiah 50:2, the name Marduk is found in the Bible in personal names such as Evil-Merodach and Merodach-Baladan . In Jeremiah 50:2, the name of Marduk is paralleled by the word bel (Heb. בֵּל), a transliteration of the Akkadian attribute of Marduk, bēlum, "lord" (Sumerian EN), which he inherited in the second millennium from Enlil, the "former" most powerful god of the Mesopotamian pantheon. (According to the Old Babylonian conception expressed in the introduction to the Hammurapi Code, he received at this time only the illilūtu, the governorship of the people, which had formerly rested on Enlil.) The origin of Marduk's name is unknown but there are some suggested etymologies, the most accepted being from Sumerian (A) MAR. UTU (K), "the young bull [or calf] of Samaš [Utu] the Sungod." This explanation was well known in the Babylonian tradition. (For "the 50 names of Marduk" see below.) Another etymology, put forward by Th. Jacobsen, is "the son of the storm" (or "maker of storm"?), Marud(d)uk, which brings the form of his name closer to the Aramaic-Hebrew transliteration. Abusch understands the name to reflect original Sumerian amar.uda.ak, meaning "Calf of the Storm," because Marduk was never a solar deity.

Marduk's rise to the status of national god was slow but exceptionally comprehensive. It is very possible that, apart from being an historical process, his elevation was deeply influenced by his connection – not entirely proven – with Enki (Ea), the benevolent god of wisdom, incantations, and the sweet waters of the deep (Sum. ABZU, Akk. apsû), from Eridu, the most ancient holy city of Sumer.

This connection with Enki was maintained in the theology and practice of the cult of Marduk, e.g., in his identification with Asalluhi, the son of Enki, active in healing or exorcistic incantations, and in the naming of his temple in Babylon Esagila ("the house of the [high] raised head") after that of Enki in Eridu. Thus Marduk emerges as a national and popular god of the "second [younger] generation," who exercises influence in every walk of life as the healer and saviour of the Babylonians. In this capacity he appears in incantations, prayers, hymns, philosophical poems (e.g., Ludlul bēl nēmeqi, "Let me praise the God of wisdom," a variant of which was known also in Ugarit, see Job ), and epics such as the Erra Epic, where the "disappearance" of Marduk because of displeasure wreaks havoc in the world and brings about the temporary rule of Erra, the god of destruction.

Marduk is the hero of Enūma eliš ("When above …"), the Babylonian creation myth. In this myth the Son of the Storm is appointed by the gods to lead the fight against Tiāmat (Heb תְּהוֹם, "Ocean") who has planned to destroy them. In the struggle between these two personified natural elements, Marduk gains the upper hand. At the end of the didactic-cultic epic the assembly of gods praises Marduk with 50 name-exegeses and builds the Esagila in his honor.

Enūma eliš was read aloud in front of Marduk's statue during the akītu (New Year see Klein), Babylonia's most important festival. In these ceremonies the statues of Marduk and his son Nab – (Heb. נְבוֹ) were carried from Marduk's temple in Babylon to the house of the akītu festival outside the city walls. The elaborate ritual of this festival, known chiefly from a late (Seleucid) edition, greatly influenced many theories about supposed parallel developments in the Israelite cult (see Psalms , Kingship ).

The cult and theology of Marduk began its expansion during the renewed expansion of Babylonian culture beyond Babylon in the Middle Babylonian-Assyrian period. Marduk was accepted into the Assyrian royal pantheon after Aššur and other important gods. The Babylonian elaboration of the theology of Marduk, which expressed itself also in speculative identification and the absorption of the functions of other gods into that of Marduk (this was not exclusive to Marduk), as well as the identification of Marduk with the Babylonian national entity, had momentous consequences in that in the course of time Marduk became identified as a symbol of Babylonian resistance to Assyria. The conception of Marduk decisively influenced the cult of Aššur who was also elevated to a parallel or even higher position. Thus, for example, in the Assyrian version of Enūma eliš, Aššur takes the place of Marduk. The tension between the two nations resulted in a most decisive dislike of Marduk in the middle of the first millennium. After the "experiments" of Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon , who were kings of Babylon in every respect, came Sennacherib who during most of his reign was uniformly anti-Babylonian and "anti-Marduk," and who expressed this by destroying Babylon and Esagila. The emblems and statues of Marduk went into "captivity" many times. The return of the statue of Marduk, which was always connected with Babylonian resurrection, was interpreted as a theological change of destiny and as a punishment inflicted by Marduk on Babylon's enemies, as in the case of Sennacherib. Thus, this antagonism became a major issue in the entire destiny of the Ancient Near East in the middle of the first millennium. A very striking example of this antagonism is found in an Assyrian satirical, quasi-theological composition (correctly reinterpreted by W. von Soden) which, far from being an "apotheosis" of the "dead and resurrected Marduk" (as was suggested earlier), is a "mock trial" of Marduk ending probably with his "execution," as a god who – from the point of view of the Assyrians and other peoples – caused much enmity and treachery (see below). This trial is a "logical" continuation of that of the god Kingu and of his execution in Enūma eliš, where Marduk was the judge.

In the time of the final Assyrian period (Esarhaddon, Ašhurbanipal) and the Neo-Babylonian Dynasty, from Nabopolossar on, and again in the Early Persian period (Cyrus), Marduk was the chief god of Babylon. Because they opposed the oppressive measures of Nabonidus, the last Neo-Babylonian king, the priests of Marduk were those who made possible the peaceful occupation of Babylon by Cyrus (539 see also Babylon Mesopotamia ).

Marduk is first mentioned in the West (Syria-Palestine) in Akkadian documents from Ugarit (Middle Babylonian period around 1350 see: Ugaritica, 5 (1968), 792) where, as mentioned, one version of the philosophical treatise Ludlul bēl nēmeqi was known. Also there is an incantation letter against nambul ("The Wrong" "The Bad") directing him to appear before Marduk. The first appearance of Marduk in Palestine occurs in the same period and takes the form of the personal name of Šulum-Marduk in the el-Amarna letters (EA). According to EA 256:20, as interpreted by Albright (in BASOR, 89 (1943), 12ff.), the royal house at ⯺štartu (the contemporary king being A-ia-ab (= Job)) was called "The House of Šulum-Marduk." (Another reading for "house" is advocated by Moran, 309, but the name Šulum-Marduk remains.) Marduk was known also among the Hittites, and Middle Babylonian cylinder seals dedicated to him have been found at Thebes, Greece. In the first millennium Marduk's name appears in Assyrian and Aramean treaties from Sefire that were concluded with King Matiʾilu of Arpad (COS II, 213). In the Bible, apart from Marduk (see above), Bel (his appellative attribute) together with his son Nab – (see above) is mentioned in Isaiah 46:1 and Jeremiah 51:44. In both these prophecies divine judgment (not the judgment of a "rival" as in the case of Aššur) is pronounced against a symbolic polytheistic entity within the framework of a particular stage in history. The historical placement of these verses is difficult. Nevertheless, the announcement of biblical-prophetic judgment is consistent with the attitude of the other antagonists to Marduk and Babylon, described above.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

S.A. Pallis, The Babylonian Akîtu Festival (1926) W.F. Albright, in: BASOR, 89 (1943), 12 E. Dhorme, Les Religions de Babylonie et dɺssyrie (1949), 139� F.M. Th. Boehl, Opera Minora (1953), 282� W. von Soden, in: ZA, 51 (1955), 130� 53 (1957), 229� Pritchard, Texts, 60�, 331𠄴 H. Schmoekel, in: Revue dɺssyrologie et dɺrchéologie orientale, 53 (1959), 183ff. H. Tadmor, in: Eretz-Israel, 5 (1959), 150� W.G. Lambert, in: W.S. McCullough (ed.), The Seed of Wisdom (1964), 3� B. Meissner, Die Keilschrift, ed. by K. Oberhuber (1967), 153𠄴 Th. Jacobsen, in: JAOS, 88 (1968), 104𠄸 P. Artzi, in: EM, 5 (1968), 442𠄵. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPY: W. Moran, The Amarna Letters (1992) J. Klein, in: ABD, 1:138� L. Handy, in: ABD, 4:522� T. Abusch, in: DDD, 543�.

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Ancient Jewish History: The Cult of Moloch

Evidence concerning Moloch worship in ancient Israel is found in the legal, as well as in the historical and prophetic literature of the Bible. In the Pentateuch, the laws of the Holiness Code speak about giving or passing children to Moloch (Lev. 18:21, 20:2𠄴) and the law in Deuteronomy speaks of "passing [one's] son or daughter through fire" (18:10). Although Moloch is not named in the Deuteronomy passage, it is likely that his cult was the object of the prohibition.

The author of the Book of Kings speaks about "passing [one's] son and daughter through fire" (II Kings 16:3 [son], 17:17, 21:6 [son]). II Kings 23:10 speaks about "passing [one's] son or daughter through fire to Moloch." Some scholars interpret the phrase lә-ha⯺vir ba-esh, as a reference to a divinatory or protective rite in which children were passed through a fire but not physically harmed. However, the same phrase lә-ha⯺vir ba-esh is found in an unmistakable context of burning in Numbers 31:23.

Other biblical texts refer to the sacrifice of children. Psalms 106:37� speaks of child sacrifice to the unnamed idols of Canaan. In prophetic sources, Jeremiah 7:31 and Ezekiel 20:25𠄶 speak disapprovingly of sacrificing children to Yahweh (for the "bad statutes" referred to by Ezekiel, see Ex. 22:28� but see Friebel) Jeremiah 19:5 speaks of sacrificing children to Baal Ezekiel 16:21, 20:31, 23:37, 39 of sacrificing children to unnamed divinities as does Isaiah 57:5. In none of these is there a mention of Moloch. Only in Jeremiah 32:35 is Moloch mentioned by name and there he is associated with Baal.

Distinction should be made between human sacrifice as a sporadic deed at a time of crisis and distress, such as the holocaust of the son of Mesha king of Moab (II Kings 3:27), or as an act which serves to express an unusual degree of religious devotion as the binding of Isaac (cf. Micah 6:7), on the one hand, and the Moloch cult which was an established institution with a fixed location (the Topheth), on the other. As the classical sources have it, the sacrifices of children at Carthage, a colony founded by Phoenicians on the coast of Northeast Tunisia, usually came after a defeat and a great disaster – a religious practice based upon an ancient mythological tradition. Thus Phoenician tradition ascribed to Sanchuniaton relates that the god Elos (= El) sacrificed his son following a war which brought disaster upon the state. If the classical reports are accurate, it could be maintained that there is no real connection therefore between the Phoenician-Punic child sacrifices which are sporadic and conditioned by crisis and the Moloch worship which was an institution or cult. In contrast though to the classical reports, the archaeological discoveries at Carthage, which attest some 20,000 burials of infant bones along with animal bones in what are evidently not instances of natural death appear to conflict with the classical reports. There is as yet no evidence of child sacrifice in the Carthaginian homeland, the cities of Phoenicia (Lebanon) proper, where far less excavation has been done.

The Name

The Nature of the Worship

As already indicated above, the legal and historical sources speak about passing children to Moloch in fire. According to the rabbinic interpretation, this prohibition is against passing children through fire and then delivering them to the pagan priests. In other words, according to this interpretation, this refers to an initiation rite. This kind of initiation or consecration is actually attested to in various cultures (see T.H. Gaster, in bibl.) and the Septuagint interprets Deuteronomy 18:10 in a similar manner. This is a Midrash of the rabbis likewise attested by the Septuagint. A similar non-sacrificial tradition, perhaps more ancient, is found in the Book of Jubilees. The Book of Jubilees 30:7ff. connects intermarrriage or rather the marrying off of one's children to pagans with the sin of Moloch. This tradition seems to be echoed in the dissenting opinion of R. Ishmael (cf. Meg. 4:9) in Sifrei Deuteronomy 18, who explains the prohibition of Moloch as the impregnation of a pagan woman, an interpretation lying behind the Syriac translation in Leviticus 18 and 20. The common denominator of all these traditions is the understanding of Moloch worship as the transfer of Jewish children to paganism either by delivering them directly to pagan priests or by procreation through intercourse with a pagan woman. This tradition is in keeping with the general rabbinic tendency to make biblical texts relevant to their audiences, who were more likely to be attracted to Greco-Roman cults and to intercourse with pagan women than to the sacrifice of humans to a long-forgotten god.

In the framework of the penalty clauses of some neo-Assyrian contracts, there is the threat that if one of the parties violates the contract, he will burn his son to Adad the king and give his daughter to Ishtar, or Belet-ṣēri. Some of these documents showed that Adadmilki or Adadᘚrru ("Adad the king") was actually the god to whom children, sometimes firstborn, were burned. Ch.W. Johns, who first published these documents, contended that burning is used here in the figurative sense, meaning dedication (Assyrian Deeds and Documents, 3 (1923), 345𠄶). This figurative interpretation was accepted by Deller and Weinfeld, but context indicates that they are to be taken literally (see CAD Š/II, 53 SAA VI: 102). From the fact that Ahaz, who opened the door to Assyria and Assyrian culture and religion (see e.g., II Kings 16:6ff.), was the first king to indulge in the worship of Moloch, it may be deduced that this was introduced through Assyrian influence, along with other practices such as the burning of incense on the roofs (II Kings 23:12), the sun chariots (23:11), and the tents for the Asherah (23:7). There is no reason to suppose that the Moloch was introduced as a result of Phoenician influence, as is commonly supposed. Were this true, one would expect to find the Moloch worship in Northern Israel, which was overwhelmed by Phoenician influence, especially at the period of the Omri dynasty. No allusion, however, to this practice in the Northern Kingdom has been found. The worship of Moloch, which was practiced at a special site (outside the walls of Jerusalem in the valley of Ben-Hinnom) called Topheth, became firmly established in the time of King Manasseh, his son Amon, and at the beginning of Josiah's reign. If it was completely eradicated by Josiah within the framework of his reform activities (II Kings 23:10), then Jeremiah's references to this worship (7:31, 19:1ff., 32:35) might apply to the days of Manasseh and also to the time of Josiah before the reform (see Y. Kaufmann , Toledot, 3 (1960), 382�).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

Ḥ. Albeck, Das Buch der Jubil๎n und die Halacha (1930), 26ff. O. Eissfeldt, Molk als Opferbegriff im Punischen und Hebräischen… (1935), 46ff. N.H. Tur-Sinai, Ha-Lashon ve-ha-Sefer, 1 (1954 2 ). 81ff. H. Cazelles, in: DBI Supplément, 5 (1957), 1337� R. de Vaux, Studies in Old Testament Sacrifice (1964), 52� M. Buber, Malkhut Shamayim (1965), 99� K. Deller, in Orientalia, 34 (1965), 382𠄶 T.H. Gaster, Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament (1969), 586𠄸. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Weinfeld, in: UF, 4 (1972), 133� M. Smith, in: JAOS, 95 (1975), 477� M. Held, in: ErIsr, 16 (1982), 76� B. Levine, JPS Torah Commentary Leviticus (1989), 258� R. Clifford, in: BASOR, 279 (1990), 55� A. Millard, in: DDD, 34� G. Heider, in: DDD, 581�, incl. bibl. K. Friebel, in: R. Troxel et al. (eds.), Seeking Out the Wisdom of Ancients..Essays … M. Fox (2005), 21�.

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Arguably the most important of these gods was Ba’al (“master”), who is mentioned about 90 times in the Bible. Ba’al was an honorific title of the god Hadad, in much the same way that "Adonai" (“my master”) is an honorific title for Yahweh.

Ba’al/Hadad was the West Semitic storm god, responsible for bringing the rains. His cult was thus particularly important in arid regions, where an especially dry winter could result in mass starvation. The historic books of the Bible recount an ongoing competition between the worship of Yahweh and Ba’al, eventually resulting in the supremacy of Yahweh. It seems however that the Israelite devotion to their intangible deity stemmed in part from Yahweh coming to encompass certain characteristics of the pagan god.

One explicit contest is presented in 1 Kings 18. It sounds like nothing so much as a competition like “Israel’s Next Top God,” in which the prophet Elijah and Yahweh compete for the heart of Israel against 450 priests and their god Ba’al.

The people of Israel assemble in Mount Carmel (roughly where Haifa is today) to view the competition, the story relates. Elijah begins the contest, as prophets do, by chiding the people: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him but if Baal is God, follow him.”

The issue is to be decided by a miracle. Each side sets up a pyre on which a slaughtered bull is to be sacrificed. The priests of Ba’al are to beseech their god to set their pyre ablaze, while Elijah is to do the same with his Yahweh and his pyre.

Predictably, Ba’al’s pyre does not ignite, while that of Yahweh does, even though Elijah doused it with water just to make it harder. The people of Israel choose Yahweh as their god and kill the 450 priests of Ba’al to a man.

To drive home the point of Yahweh's supremacy, the Bible tells us that after this, a storm arrived and heavy rain fell. It is Yahweh who controls the rains, not Ba’al.

The victory of Yahweh

It seems that what this story and other biblical stories like it are telling is that the belief in Yahweh supplanted the worship of Ba’al. In fact it seems that in some ways, Yahweh subsumed Ba’al, taking on his attributes and powers.

In some of the Bible’s more poetic texts, Yahweh is presented as a storm god in very much the same language that Ba’al is described:

At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice hail stones and coals of fire. Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them” (Psalms 18:12-14).

Of course, Ba’al is not the only god of the West Semitic pantheon to be mentioned in the Bible. Ba’al’s father, Dagon, the god of the harvest, also makes an appearance, again in stories aimed at showing Yahweh’s superiority over him.

In 1 Samuel chapter 5 we are told that after the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, they took it to the Temple of Dagon in Ashdod. But this resulted in the miraculous destruction of his cult statue. Yahweh wins again.

Dagon’s father was El, the head of the West Semitic pantheon. The name Israel, shows that El was originally the tutelary god of Israel (it’s right there in the name!), but over time, Yahweh took El’s place:

“When the Most High (El Elyon) divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord's (Yahweh’s) portion is his people Jacob is the lot of his inheritance” (Deuteronomy 32:8-9).

In this ancient text, we can see that El and Yahweh were still perceived as being two separate deities, with Yahweh subordinate to El. But as time went by, El and Yahweh became conflated: the two deities began to be seen as one and the same.

In Exodus 6:3 God tells Moses: "I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty (El Elyon), but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them." Thus the ancients only knew God as El, but as time went by they discovered that El was just another name of Yahweh.

The cult got about: Stela showing king Thutmose IV adoring a goddess, probably Astarte Osama SM Amin FRCP

El had a consort, the goddess Asherah, and as Yahweh took El’s place, Asherah became Yahweh’s consort. We are told that the Asherah was worshipped in the earliest Temple of Jerusalem – not explicitly, but we are definitely told that her symbols were removed from the Temple, so they had to be there in the first place (1 Kings 15:13 and 2 Kings 23:14).

It was only at the very end of the First Temple period, during the reign of King Josiah (the second half of the 7th century B.C.E.) that the cult objects of Asherah were taken out of the Temple, quite dramatically. There are quite a number of references to Josiah's monotheistic reforms, such as:.

"Josiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles and covered the sites with human bones" (2 Kings 23:14, New International Version)

Actually El was the father of many gods besides Dagon, several of whom were explicitly mentioned in the Bible.

Mot, the personification of death, is described in several passages as a deity. In Job 18:13 he is said to have a son, and in Habakkuk 2:5 we are told he opens his mouth wide and swallows souls.

Another of El’s sons was the sea itself, unimaginatively called Yam (the Ugarit and Hebrew word for "sea"), though the Bible calls the god "Rahab". For example Job 26:12 says that God “divideth the sea with his power, and by his understanding he smiteth Rahab.” Legends of a storm god such as Ba’al defeating the sea are very common in the Ancient Near East.

Things you can't look at: Yahweh, and the sun

The sun and the moon, dawn and dusk, as well as other natural phenomena were also deified in ancient West Semitic religions and likely in ancient Israel too, though it is less apparent in the Bible.

It is likely that Beit Shemesh was a center of sun worship since the place name literally means “House of Sun.” Jericho was probably at some point a center for moon worship. The city's name in Hebrew is "Yerikho" and the Hebrew word for the moon is Yarekh, which other West Semitic languages use as the name of the moon god.

Tel Qeiyafa, Beit Shemesh Gil Eliyahu

The Bible does refer to the sun and moon of course, often showing that God has total control over them such is when he stops them in the sky (Joshua 10:13), but it doesn’t refer to them explicitly as personified deities.

Yet the ancient Hebrews clearly adored them just like the other West Semites did. Ezekiel (8:16) recounts seeing people worshiping the sun in the Temple. We can infer this because the bible specifically condemns their worship, and we are told that Josiah took actions to stomp out the cult in the late First Temple period, the second half of the 7th century B.C.E. These actions included removing cult objects from the Temple itself (2 Kings 23:11).

The Bible also recounts that the ancient Hebrews worshipped a god named Moloch, who was associated with the Ammonites and with child sacrifice. This worship too was stamped out by Josiah in the same reform (e.g. 2 Kings 23:10).

The historic books of the Bible were written by a “Yahweh only party” and are thus keenly critical of the worship of other gods in Judah. Still, it is clear from their description that polytheism was the norm in the First Temple period. It was only during King Josiah’s reform that the "Yahweh only party" really took control and began pushing other gods out of Judean minds.

But note that they didn't claim other gods did not exist. They only stated that their worship was forbidden by Yahweh, or as Exodus 34:14 has it: "For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God."

It was apparently only during the Babylonian Exile (about 586 B.C.E. to 500 B.C.E) and the following Second Temple period (500 B.C.E. to 70 C.E.), that Judaism progressed from the belief that Yahweh is the only god that should be worshipped, to the belief that he is the only god that exists. I.e., monotheism was born.

This view is stated clearly in the words of Second Isaiah written at the very end of the Exilic period and the very beginning of the Second Temple period: “This is what the Lord says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6).


Athena Parthenos

An artist&aposs rendition of the Statue Of The Goddess Athena that once existed in the Parthenon.

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

A shrine within the Parthenon housed an extraordinary statue of Athena, known as Athena Parthenos, which was sculpted by Phidias. The statue no longer exists but is thought to have stood 12 meters high (39 feet).

It was carved of wood and covered in ivory and gold. Historians know what the statue looked like thanks to surviving Roman reproductions.

The Athena statue depicted a fully-armed woman wearing a goatskin shield known as an aegis. She held a six-foot tall statue of the Greek goddess Nike in her right hand and a shield in her left hand that illustrated various battle scenes. Two griffins and a sphinx stood on her helmet and a large snake behind her shield.

It’s unclear if the Parthenon served solely as a home for Athena or also as a treasury. It was undoubtedly an awe-inspiring sight for anyone who gazed upon it. Ancient spectators weren’t allowed inside the structure but viewed its splendor from the outside.


El and the Elohim

Much has been made of the fact that the common Hebrew word for God in the Book of Genesis, Elohim, translates to gods in the plural. This is however a narrow view that needs some context.

El in Ebla

The name El first appears in fragmented records from around 2300 BCE. These ancient texts are from the city of Ebla in southern Syria and were written in a difficult to translate Semitic language. Although it is not possible to gain any insight into the cult of El at that time there are indications that he was viewed as supreme amongst the gods.

During this time period Ebla was under the political influence of the city-states of Sumer. The city would eventually be partially destroyed by the Akkadians as they united Mesopotamia into an empire. Despite this misfortune Ebla would survive and so would the worship of El.

El and Enlil/Ellil

El could be seen as an aspect of Enlil, the Sumerian chief god. When spoken in Akkadian Enlil becomes Ellil. Furthermore in Akkadian Ellil is used to designate not only a particular deity but also to indicate any supreme god with the title “Ellil ili” which literally means “Ellil of the gods” but infers “king of the gods.” This connection is strengthened by Ellil’s association with the granting of divine kingship to mortals.

After the Ebla period clear evidence of El vanishes from the historical record for over five hundred years. When El emerges again it is to the west of Ebla in the region that had connected Ebla with Egyptian trade, Canaan. Early sources of information on the Canaanite Pantheon come from the city of Ugarit which was located on the Syrian coast. Dating from around 1200 BCE these texts offer most of the information known about the Canaanite gods.

The lack of evidence for any cults of the god El does not suggest a lack of activity because much of this period’s history is poorly documented. Furthermore when El emerged in the Canaanite Pantheon he was positioned as the “Father of the Gods” with his rank having remained intact something that cannot be said for his Akkadian alter ego Ellil who was suborned by Marduk by the early second millennium BCE.

The Elohim

The myths name El as father to several notable deities including Hadad, Yam, and Yahweh. Hadad, the storm god, is often known simply as “The Lord” or “Baal” and his cult formed the basis for the later Greek god Adonis. One of the possible rivals of Baal was his brother Yahweh. Yahweh is usually understood with the Hebrew stem HWH as “He (the god) who is”. However, Yahweh can also be also be viewed in the context of a “son of god” with a G stem which would imply “He who is revealed (as God).”

Canaanite Pantheons often varied in their traditions as to the exact relationships amongst the gods. Each city also had its own particular patron deity, this process allowed popular worship in Ugarit of Baal, whereas to the east in Ebla, Dagan, the grain god, was revered as the primary son of El.

In the Ugaritic texts the children of El are the ‘ilhm, literally the “sons of God”. In Hebrew the word,‘elôhîym, conventionally transcribed as “elohim” has the same inference meaning “the gods.” However in the Masoretic Hebrew texts the same word is also used to mean “God” as a designation for supreme deity in a fashion similar to Ellil ili.

Elohim as God

The use of Elohim as a reference to “God” in the singular tense is made clear by the verb conjugation. This word use should not be seen as inferring an ambiguity about monotheism on the behalf of the early writers of the texts. Rather it would be easier to understand the influence of polytheistic words on their writings, which were constrained, as in all times, by the limits of language. Although early Jews understood that other people worshiped other gods they acknowledged only one “true” God.

The world view of the ancient writers also informed their wordage. For example, during the Late Bronze Age, around the same time as the Canaanite mythos was active in the Levant, the term Pharaoh came into use as a title for the king of Egypt. Until this time the Egyptian word per-aa, which had been in use since the Old Kingdom, was used to designate the royal court but not the king individually.

During this epoch of history a tremendous amount of power was wielded by a few kings who dominated all of the Near East. From the time of Babylon’s Hammurabi (ca 1800 BCE) with Marduk, to Egypt’s Akhenaten (ca 1350 BCE) with the Aten, empires had consolidated religious beliefs along with political ones.

By the time that Jewish people returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity of the sixth century BCE the Canaanite mythos was no longer a family of gods that connected the cities of the region under the leadership of El. Ugarit, which has provided so much archaeological evidence on the Canaanite gods, was long since destroyed. Also gone was most of the evidence of early Iron Age kingdoms, let alone Bronze Age empires.

All that remained of the Bronze Age world that had written the old myths were the traditions and folklore. Along the coastal regions of Canaan Baal worship was one of the major religions in practice and the storm god’s main rival was Yam, god of the sea. Baal, who is depicted numerous times in the Bible as a rival of the Hebrew god, may have even assumed his father’s duties as chief god.

This contest between the sea and storm gods likely offered little interest to landlocked Jerusalem. So the returning Jews spent the following centuries revitalizing the worship of their city’s patron deity from the old pantheon, Yahweh. In so doing they often referred to him with intentional reminiscence as Elohim to remind the reader that their god was the Supreme God.


What was the ancient Jewish pantheon? - History

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Baal, god worshipped in many ancient Middle Eastern communities, especially among the Canaanites, who apparently considered him a fertility deity and one of the most important gods in the pantheon. As a Semitic common noun baal (Hebrew baʿal) meant “owner” or “lord,” although it could be used more generally for example, a baal of wings was a winged creature, and, in the plural, baalim of arrows indicated archers. Yet such fluidity in the use of the term baal did not prevent it from being attached to a god of distinct character. As such, Baal designated the universal god of fertility, and in that capacity his title was Prince, Lord of the Earth. He was also called the Lord of Rain and Dew, the two forms of moisture that were indispensable for fertile soil in Canaan. In Ugaritic and Hebrew, Baal’s epithet as the storm god was He Who Rides on the Clouds. In Phoenician he was called Baal Shamen, Lord of the Heavens.

Knowledge of Baal’s personality and functions derives chiefly from a number of tablets uncovered from 1929 onward at Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra), in northern Syria, and dating to the middle of the 2nd millennium bce . The tablets, although closely attached to the worship of Baal at his local temple, probably represent Canaanite belief generally. Fertility was envisaged in terms of seven-year cycles. In the mythology of Canaan, Baal, the god of life and fertility, locked in mortal combat with Mot, the god of death and sterility. If Baal triumphed, a seven-year cycle of fertility would ensue but, if he were vanquished by Mot, seven years of drought and famine would ensue.

Ugaritic texts tell of other fertility aspects of Baal, such as his relations with Anath, his consort and sister, and also his siring a divine bull calf from a heifer. All this was part of his fertility role, which, when fulfilled, meant an abundance of crops and fertility for animals and mankind.

But Baal was not exclusively a fertility god. He was also king of the gods, and, to achieve that position, he was portrayed as seizing the divine kingship from Yamm, the sea god.

The myths also tell of Baal’s struggle to obtain a palace comparable in grandeur to those of other gods. Baal persuaded Asherah to intercede with her husband El, the head of the pantheon, to authorize the construction of a palace. The god of arts and crafts, Kothar, then proceeded to build for Baal the most beautiful of palaces which spread over an area of 10,000 acres. The myth may refer in part to the construction of Baal’s own temple in the city of Ugarit. Near Baal’s temple was that of Dagon, given in the tablets as Baal’s father.

The worship of Baal was popular in Egypt from the later New Kingdom in about 1400 bce to its end (1075 bce ). Through the influence of the Aramaeans, who borrowed the Babylonian pronunciation Bel, the god ultimately became known as the Greek Belos, identified with Zeus.

Baal was also worshipped by various communities as a local god. The Hebrew scriptures speak frequently of the Baal of a given place or refers to Baalim in the plural, suggesting the evidence of local deities, or “lords,” of various locales. It is not known to what extent the Canaanites considered those various Baalim identical, but the Baal of Ugarit does not seem to have confined his activities to one city, and doubtless other communities agreed in giving him cosmic scope.

In the formative stages of Israel’s history, the presence of Baal names did not necessarily mean apostasy or even syncretism. The judge Gideon was also named Jerubbaal (Judges 6:32), and King Saul had a son named Ishbaal (I Chronicles 8:33). For those early Hebrews, “Baal” designated the Lord of Israel, just as “Baal” farther north designated the Lord of Lebanon or of Ugarit. What made the very name Baal anathema to the Israelites was the program of Jezebel, in the 9th century bce , to introduce into Israel her Phoenician cult of Baal in opposition to the official worship of Yahweh (I Kings 18). By the time of the prophet Hosea (mid-8th century bce ) the antagonism to Baalism was so strong that the use of the term Baal was often replaced by the contemptuous boshet (“shame”) in compound proper names, for example, Ishbosheth replaced the earlier Ishbaal.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.


A Crash Course in Early Jewish History

How Long Have Jews Been Celebrating Hanukkah?

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The first permanent Jewish diaspora was the settlement in Babylon created by Nebuchadnezzar&rsquos deportations from Judah in the 590s-580s [BCE]. (The Israelites exiled by the Assyrians in the 720s did not long survive as a separate group.) Although the Babylonian Jews returned to Jerusalem in several waves during the Persian period, a sizeable Jewish population continued to reside in Mesopotamia, and&hellipplayed an influential role in Jewish intellectual history beginning in the third century CE.

In Egypt, Jewish settlements were established by Jewish soldier contingents brought there by the Persians. These exilic and postexilic communities were a modest prelude to the remarkable expansion in the numbers and distribution of diaspora Jews that occurred in the Hellenistic era

Diasporas were a common feature of the Hellenistic-Roman world. In the fourth century BCE, colonies of Egyptian, Syrian, and Phoenician merchants were frequently in the seaports of Greece and Italy. After the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greeks and Macedonians constituted an immense diaspora throughout the Near East. Ethnic resettlement and religious diffusion went hand in hand, as settlers brought with them ancestral cults and won for their gods new worshippers among the local population. Although not unique, the Jewish diaspora was outstanding in its ability to preserve and perpetuate its identity at considerable distance from the homeland and over large stretches of time.

Egypt

Several factors guided the spread of the Jewish dispersions in Hellenistic times, of which the political history of the Mediterranean basin was the most important. During Ptolemaic rule of Judea, large-scale Jewish settlement in Egypt began. Under the first Ptolemies, Jewish captives, when freed, established communities throughout the country. The Ptolemies brought in Jewish soldiers and their families, and other Jews migrated from Judea to Egypt probably for economic reasons.

At its height, Egyptian Jewry in Hellenistic time was highly diversified: There were peasants and shepherds, Jewish generals in the Ptolemaic army, and Jewish officials in the civil service and police. At Leontopolis, an Aronide priest form Jerusalem founded a small temple with a sacrificial cult modeled on that of Jerusalem. (The shrine survived for over two centuries until just after 70 CE, but it does not seem to have been an important place of worship for Egyptian Jewry as a whole.)

Alexandria, the capital of the Ptolemies and the intellectual center of Hellenistic civilization, became one of the most populous Jewish communities in the world between the third century BCE and the end of the first century CE, numbering several hundred thousand at least. Alexandrian Jewry included wealthy merchants, bankers, and shippers at one end of the social spectrum and masses of Jewish artisans and shopkeepers at the other. The Ptolemies also founded Jewish colonies in the cities of Cyrenaica (modern-day Libya). The Falashas [or &ldquoexiles&rdquo in Amharic], black Jews of Ethiopia [who refer to themselves as &ldquoBeta Yisrael&rdquo, house of Israel], may stem from Egyptian Jewish contacts during Hellenistic and Roman times.

Asia Minor and Other Northern Settlements

The northern diaspora arose when the Seleucids took control of Judea after 200 CE. Around 210-205, the Seleucid King Antiochus III moved several thousand Jewish soldiers and their families from Babylonia to Asia Minor. Within two centuries, large Jewish communities were to be found in Antioch and Damascus, in the Phoenician ports and in the Asia Minor cities of Sardis, Halicarnassus, Pergamum, and Ephesus.

By the turn of the Common Era, Jews lived on most of the islands of the eastern Mediterranean, such as Cyprus and Crete, in mainland Greece and Macedonia, on the shores of the Black Sea, and in the Balkans. Jewish inscriptions from the early centuries CE have been found in the Crimea and in modern Romania and Hungary.

Rome and Other Western Settlements

When the Roman presence was felt in the Near East, the growth of Jewish settlement further west ensued. By the mid-first century BCE, the Roman statesman Cicero, in his speech in defense of Flaccus, insinuates the Jews were a troublesome element among the Roman masses.

Large masses of Jews were brought to Rome as slaves by Roman generals campaigning in Judea. Ransomed by other Jews and augmented by a steady stream of voluntary migrants, they swelled the Roman-Jewish community, despite occasional government efforts, on one pretext or another, to reduce their numbers. According to satirical remarks in the Roman poets, most Roman Jews were poor and some were beggars, but there were Jewish storekeepers, craftsmen, and actors in Rome and visiting Jewish diplomats, merchants, and scholars.

In the later Roman Empire, cities in southern Italy became important Jewish centers and large settlements appeared in western North Africa and in Spain. Jewish groups were found in Gaul (modern-day France) and in the Roman garrison towns on the Rhine. A remark attributed to the Greek geographer Strabo, partly true in his time (the first century BCE), was certainly characteristic of the Roman Empire at its height: &ldquoThis people has already made it way into every city, and it is not easy to find any place in the habitable world which has not received the nation and in which it has not made its power felt. (Josephus, Antiquities XIV, 115)

The following article is reprinted from Jewish People, Jewish Thought, published by Prentice-Hall.


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Two days with the Celtic gods and goddesses had its moments. But honestly, your feet hurt and you just want your deposit back. As soon as the Dagda hands it over, he gives a jolly wave good-bye and the entire touring company disappears.

Sure, why not? After meeting shape-shifting queens, lovers-turned-swans, and more sacrifices than you can ever talk to your therapist about, why shouldn’t the touring agency disappear into thin air?

But you have to admit, meeting them was a memorable experience. The Celtic pantheon’s focus on nature, Irish history, and magic is unique. So soak your tired toes and rest for a few days. After that, why not explore some more Celtic myths?


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