The Middle East is the birth place of the Abrahamic religions; the two dominant religions of the modern world, Christianity and Islam, were born there. Prior to them, Judaism was already present there, and it was the monotheistic Jews that the Romans met and had conflicts with.
Few people in the western world realize that Judaism, and by extension Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i faith, are essentially Written by the Winners
versions of older Semitic religions present in the Levant. The gods of the pre-monotheistic Arabs, Canaanites, pre-monotheistic Hebrews, Phoenicians, and other Semitic groups were dominant in what is now is exclusively Muslim, Jewish and Christian territory, and the Phoenicians got them spread around the Mediterranean and North Africa. The Assyrians, Akkadians, and Babylonians, on the other hand, adopted Sumerian mythology
in a similar fashion to the Roman appropriation of Greek mythology that occurred centuries later. Despite their geographical superiority to Greek and Egyptian deities, these old gods of the Levant are barely remembered by modern people, largely due to the historical efforts of the Christians and Muslims to eliminate competition to their religions. Nowadays, only the gods that were literally demonized (in that they became demons in Judeo-Christian theology), such as Moloch, have any presence in the popular imaginarium.
Knowledge on Canaanite mythology is scarce, but we do have an idea about its cosmology. The world was created by Elion
(El for god, ion for upper, uppermost together) and his wife Beruth
(which means the city); from them were born all the gods of the Levant (Elohim
; in modern Hebrew it means God
but used to mean 'Godly beings' and can be seen as the prototype for the Abrahamic angels). The mountains Targhizizi and Tharumagi held the firmament up above the earth-circling ocean, Heaven being the god Shamayim, and the dead went to Sheol (the Underworld; the concept survives in modern Judeo-Christian beliefs, although many equate it to Hell, despite the fact the Bible/Torah says it not to be - just a place removed from God's love/light). Many influences from classical religion
ensued. Several concepts in Semitic mythology are shared with both ancient Greek religion and Egyptian tradition
; indeed, many deities are analogous to classical ones, while others were literally exported from Egypt. Eventually, the worshipers of one of the Elohim, Yahweh, rose to power and destroyed the rest of the religion and wrote everything from their point of view
, and the rest is history.
Modern Hebrew paganism is still practiced in the form of "Jewitchery", although needless to say Jew pagans are rare and heavily frowned upon by the other Jews. Here's a list of the most well known deities
, although more information can be obtained in The Other Wiki
According to the myths:
- A Kind of One: El is both a generic word for god and the name of a singular father god. Scholars have not really reached a definite conclusion on whether the singular El and Elion were two different figures or if singular El was an aspect of Elion (El tends to be more humanized than Elion and the two seem to be separated in some listings).
- Abhorrent Admirer: One myth of Eshmun has him originally as a mortal who was fleeing from an infatuated Astarte. To make it clear how much he wanted to be away from her he castrated and killed himself. That was not good enough however because Astarte was able to bring him back to life.
- Animal Motifs: Lionesses for Tanit.
- Blood Knight: Anat, who prattles off a long list of famous individuals she killed, maimed or otherwise humbled. She even picks a fight with El when he tells her she is about to act in folly and as a result he lets do as she wishes and suffer from her own mistakes.
- Canon Immigrant: Astarte is considered homogenous with the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna/Ishtar, and is identified with the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Greek goddess Aphrodite.
- Demoted to Extra: Many of the Semitic gods were adopted by Egypt but their former importance rarely carried over. Anat, Ashera and Ashirat for example were combined together and called Qadeshtu, essentially deleting four very different figures. They also turned king of the Elohim Baal-Hadad into Set, god of foreigners (hence his storm powers), and Astarte into Isis. This happened to Melqart so often we hardly know anything about it in comparison to the figures it was equated with.
- Different as Night and Day: Shachar was day, Shalim was night and they were twins.
- Divine Ranks / Our Gods Are Different: Elion was essentially what modern people see God as, whereas the Elohim were essentially the morally flawed pagan gods. Elyon is a name in the Bible, most famously in Numbers and Psalms(usually rendered as "Most High") but it is almost always used interchangeably with Elohim (rejecting the divine ranks). Sometimes Elohim refers to men or angels instead though it refers to God enough times, perhaps as a holdover from the Hebrew's polytheistic past. When Ezekiel relays "...and I The Lord will be your God." it was originally "...and I YHWH will be your Elohim."
- Dual Wielding: Kothar-was-Khasis once saved Baal-Hadad from Yam by beating him away with two clubs. Anat may be depicted doing this with knives.
- Genius Loci: Shamayim, the god of Heaven. Also in the Bible but not treated much like a living entity there. Beruth too if you take Elion's marriage to her/it literally(it means city, and now you know why the Bible keeps referring to cities as virgin daughters and wives). Maybe Baal-Berith/El-Berith too.
- God of Evil: The pantheon has technically three: Mot (death), Yam (the sea) and Yahweh (war), although only the first was seen as the absolute evil, since he wasn't worshiped. It was the last one who successfully ended the lives of all the original servants of the other gods, though, and whose worship is justified by modern Christians and Muslims for their atrocities.
- The only surviving mentions of Yahweh by Canaanites are in reference to the God of Israel, whose name is purposefully garbled, so it is questionable if other similar words were in reference to Yaw or Yam instead. Yahu may be YHWH, Amorite Yahwi and Egyptian Yhw definitely are but are still only in theophoric names or in reference to Israel. Yahweh was most likely seen as just another Elohim by most Hebrew tribes but the only time anyone other than the Israelites seems to go into any details of YHWH is when they are discussing Israelites. YHWH's war god status was probably a reflection of the usual relations.
- God of Good: Sydyk is close enough as being either god of justice or righteousness. Shalim, despite being associated with the Netherworld, was also associated with night and peace (it is strange to modern audiences used to Sheol being called hell).
- Green Thumb: Nikkal, the goddess of fruits and orchards to whom the oldest notated song on record is dedicated to. There is also Dagon, the god of crops and grain as well as Asherath, goddess of trees. Baal-Hammon could be turned to for vegetation needs too as he was a fertility god.
- Healing Magic: Eshmun, who had a staff just like Hermes/Mercury. Resheph brought plagues but could also heal their symptoms.
- Hijacked by Jesus: Moloch and the Ba'als (several separate deities sharing the same epithet) were literally demonized by the Christians, the later turned into a composite thing called Beelzebub. Israelites created two figures out of one by both demonizing Baal-Zephon as Beelzeboul and accepting Zephon as an angel minus the Baal. (Baal means lord and Zephon means out looking, they believed Zephon was a good guy looking out for them but not something to worship). Anat becomes Ishtar's mother Antu in later Akkadian texts (Ishtar's earlier equation with her mother Athirat is the least of the problems with this) and the angel Anathiel in the Zohar.
- Human Sacrifice: The Israelites claimed this was done for Moloch (well Milcom, scholars are convinced it's another word for Moloch) while the Greeks and Romans claimed this was done for Baal-Hammon. Even if this is true all three of those societies did this themselves at some point or another. Emperor Tiberius had to put down some child sacrifices being done by the cult of Tank (a nickname for war goddess Tanit).
- Its Pronounced Tropay: Ancient Hebrew does not have a "W" sound as modern English speakers know it. (This is how one gets get Jehovah out of Yahweh).
- Insult Backfire: A common insult in those days was to tear down a revered landmark and replace it with a toilet. When the Israelites did this to the temple of Baal-Peor though it was considered an outstanding show of reverence for "the lord of openings".
- Knife Nut: Anat again
- Kraken and Leviathan: Lotan, who would later become the biblical Leviathan. Lotan is harder to define than the Bible analog(which is saying something) and can be interpreted as a pet of Yam or a part of Yam himself, as a seven headed serpent or literally being seven living seas.
- Light 'em Up: Subverted with Attar the morning star, who was strangely associated with water (morning dew?)note . Oh yes, he did usurp Baal-Hadad's throne while the sky god was dead and was spectacularly thrown out of heaven by the Elohim in response, why do you ask? Shachar played this trope straighter.
- Love Goddess: Qadeshtu, it is debated among scholars whether or not her worship amounted to "sacred prostitution".
- Lunacy: Yarikh the moon god. He was the husband of Nikkal and provided the water for her orchards (the Hebrews explanation for nighttime condensation). One of his epithets was "lord of the sickle". The crescent moon&star combo seen throughout antiquity and associated with Mohammadan Islam nowadays started with him.
- Making a Splash: Yam, the sea god and his rival Baal-Hadad the storm god, as well as some other deities associated with water obviously like Yaw, judge of the rivers.
- Monster Progenitor: Athirat/Astarte is sometimes referred to as the first god and mother of the Elohim through El. Sometimes El is described as the first god and the father of them through Astarte. Sometimes Elion is the first god and created the rest for the sake of the "city" or the "covenant". As of now there does not seem to be enough data to straighten the whole thing out.
- Not So Different: In the Bible has a few different occasions where the Israelites or Jews provoke God's wrath by shaping golden calves for worship. There is some evidence the other Hebrew tribes had just as much disdain for those idols by records of a negative figure known as Atik, "the quarrelsome calf of El", who was slain by Anat.
- Odd Job Gods: Several cases, as to be expected from any pantheon. Baal-Marqod, Lord of the Dance, for instance, the Kotharat, divine midwives and maybe Kothar anything(see below). Resheph was known to be a deer god in addition to his other listed jobs. Tanit became goddess of weaving in Egypt as Neith but strangely did not lose her war goddess status.
- Order Versus Chaos: This is the rivalry between Baal-Hadad and Yam. Both are known for causing storms but Baal-Hadad's are beneficiary while Yam's are destructive and associated with the unpredictability of sea waves.
- Our Angels Are Different: Actual angels are only truly present in the Abrahamic branches of the Semitic religions, but the gods had servants. The phrase Elohim in the Bible has been interpreted to mean angels when it is not directly referring to God, but the Elohim here all acted and were worshiped independently from Elion, instead of being his servants and messengers.
- Playing with Fire: Moloch, the god of fire. Also Ishat, "the bitch of the gods".
- Rage Against the Heavens: Paghat aims to take revenge on Yatpan and Anat for their accidental murder of her brother Aqhat and for their accidental bringing of a drought. Since Yatpan is a shape shifter though she does not realize he is with her when she sets out for revenge (the end of the story has not yet been found).
- Resurrective Immortality: The gods could die through enough violence against them but could be restored back to life. The amount of effort needed to resurrect them seemed to be proportional to the nature of the death, Anat had to cut Baal-Hadad free from Mot, who had eaten him. Mot comes back to life seven years after Anat goes through a prolonged effort to make sure there is nothing left of him too. Baal-Hadad and Yam also killed one another at various points only for each of them to be brought back to life by Elion. They could apparently grant this kind of immortality to mortals too, as many offered it to Aqhat in exchange for his bow but he refused.
- Shock and Awe/Bolt of Divine Retribution: Baal-Hadad, the sky god. These traits were later given to Yahweh in the Bible.
- Spell My Name with an S: Because of the shared language, many names of Biblical figures show up among the records though not always without a little variation. Some like Elion to Elyon are probably different interpretations of the same thing, others like Danel the judge and Daniel the adviser are probably coincidental and unrelated beyond etymology.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Of all the old Semitic deities, only YHWH has survived to the modern day as the sole deity of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
- Swallowed Whole: Mot to people, animals and other Elohim. He considers cooked food an insult which is revealed when Baal-Hadad tries to be nice and invites him to a feast, which ends with him eating Baal-Hadad instead of anything served. It backfires on him when Baal-Hadad makes him eat his own family...though why he complains about this is lost to time as from what we know the Elohim are his family and he had no problem eating Baal-Hadad.
- In some versions rather than eating Baal-Hadad Mot swallows a cow that he and the other Elohim mistake for Baal-Hadad, which says a lot both about Mot's ability to swallow and the gods' vision. (Naturally Baal-Hadad does not need to be resurrected by Anat in this version after she kills Mot in "revenge").
- The Archer: Resheph, who shot diseased arrows to cause plagues like Apollo. In Egypt he was for some reason associated with chariots instead. For the mortals we also have Aqhat, whose bow was made by Kothar-was-Khasis and was the envy of the Elohim, so much that Aqhat was killed for it, only for Yatpan to drop the bow in the sea. In Egypt Tanit became Neith who used archery to fend off evil spirits trying to steal the preserved remains of the dead.
- The Power of Creation:Kothar-wa-Khasis(meaning skillful and wise), he also opened Baal-Hadad's window to let the rain out.
- The Power of the Sun: Shapash, the sun goddess. She typically tried to mediate conflicts between the Elohim to prevent Elion from getting involved and protected humanity from Mot after he killed Baal-Hadad. On the other hand she also ruled in favor of Yam, who was not very popular among the Canaanites.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: After being badmouthed by Baal-Hadad, Elion allows Yam to overthrow the sky god and become the new king of the Elohim. Yam proves to be very oppressive to the other gods though and tries to use their agony to blackmail Ashera into sleeping with him, so the gods beg Elion to forgive Baal-Hadad and let him be king again, which Elion does. They then cast Yam out of heaven. In the epic of Baal it is El and Baal-Hadad who have the feud and Yam does not successfully become king, though they might just be two separate events rather than contradictory stories.
- Walk on Water: An Astarte/Athirat epithet was "She who treads on the sea", though it may have been referring to the sea god Yam, a perennial enemy in the mythology.
- War God: Anat, Tanit and by popular theory so is Yahweh, who became identified with El (hence the Tanakh's particularly harsh demonization of Astarte, El's consort), from there El is pretty easy to confuse with Elion and suddenly Yahweh has taken over the entire religion. Interestingly, all three of them were virgins.
- We Hardly Knew Ye: Rahmay, Elion's wife who disappears from the texts after being married to him.