Canaanite Gods, Goddesses

Canaanite Gods, Goddesses

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Before the 1920s the only thing known about Canaanite religion was what appeared in the Hebrew Bible, written from a Jewish perspective. But thanks to painstaking research, archaeologists are now able to paint a better picture.

The principal deity of Canaanite religion is El, a sky god who was worshiped from time immemorial. The Hebrews appropriated his name, using it to form the many names of God found in the Bible, Elohim being the first. It is found also in the name given to Jacob, Israel ("he wrestles with El," meaning "God"), and is preserved in the name Allah (El-Yah), used by Muslims and Arab Christians. We find it as well in names of prophets such as Joel, Elijah, and Elisha.

El is the father of all gods and the supreme leader of all the gods of the mountains. That is why so much biblical literature describes Moses, Jesus, and others going up into the mountains to talk to him. In Canaanite literature El is pictured as an ancient, revered old man who likes to drink a lot and often gets drunk at parties.

Baal, El's son, and Baal's wife (or perhaps sister, concubine, or all three), Anat, were important earth gods—that is, gods of vegetation and fertility. They may be roughly compared to the Mesopotamian gods Tammuz and Ishtar. Sacrifices were made every year, especially at the Canaanite New Year festival, to ensure a good crop in the coming season. Together with Baal's consort, Astarte (Asherah, Ashtoreth), they were the principal gods so vilified by the Hebrew prophets. Worship of these gods was conducted by employing vivid sexual symbolism. Male worshipers, representing Baal, publicly joined sacred prostitutes, representing Astarte. These acts were considered an important sacrament to ensure fertility of the soil and bountiful harvests in the coming year. Needless to say, this kind of worship grated on Hebrew sensibilities, steeped as they were in the strict sexual codes of the book of Leviticus. (Even a cursory reading of the Bible, however, reveals that the sensibilities of the Hebrew prophets were outraged far more than those of the common people, who seemed rather intrigued with sacred prostitutes.)

Although there were many other lesser gods in the Canaanite pantheon, Molech deserves special attention, if only for the fact that he is such a historical enigma. Aside from the Hebrew Bible we know absolutely nothing about him. He figures prominently in the books of Leviticus, Kings, and Jeremiah as the object of God's wrath because he demanded infant sacrifice. This practice was so common that Abraham didn't bat an eye when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac.

But aside from the biblical references, which must be viewed as having a cultural bias against the Canaanites, Molech is not mentioned in any Canaanite texts yet discovered.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.