Posted by: religionthink | April 27, 2008

On the Goddesses of Canaan: A Short Essay.

On the Goddesses of Canaan: A Short Essay.

A essay contribution to the Synchroblog, Women In Greek Myths blog site

By A. D. Waymn

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Then Anat went to El, at the source of the rivers, in the middle of the bed of the two oceans. She bows at the feet of El, she bows and prosternates and pays him respects. She speaks and says: “the very mighty Ba’al is dead. The prince, lord of the earth, has died” Found by C. Schaeffer in 1933

In a recent Biblical Archeology Review magazine article there was a discussion on several finds concerning house shrines. The small house shrine, published by Biblical Archeology Review1, launched even more support for the hypothesis that the deity Yahweh may have had a consort. All throughout Old Testament literature the priestly cast wrote against the worship of a goddess and attempted to remove her and all such ideas from the literature and culture. Later in exilic and post exilic texts, the goddess worship was seen as and compared to adultery. It is in these text the even the very idea of womanhood was look poorly upon.

Else will I strip her naked And leave her as on the day she was born: And I will make her like a wilderness, Render her like desert land, And let her die of thirst. I will also disown her children; For they are now a harlot’s brood, In that their mother has played the harlot, She that conceived them has acted shamelessly — Because she thought, “I will go after my lovers, Who supply my bread and my water, My wool and my linen, My oil and my drink.”

(Hos 2:5-7 NJPS-TNK)

Texts like Isaiah, Hosea, and Jeremiah all speak on such topics, and in their chastisements and laments against corruption and injustice, the topic of adultery is a common theme. However, it must be pointed out that the Asherah pole remained in the Hebrew temple until the reformation of King Josiah, also, the Hebrew texts of the duel between Yahweh and Baal on the mountain with Elijah, where the priests of Baal were killed but the priestesses of Asherah were spared. Such an example shows the presence of and toleration, to some extent, the acknowledgement of a goddess, even if the priestly caste of the state religion, and the Yahweh cult disapproved.

“And then Anat went to battle in the valley,

she fought between the two cities:

she killed the people of the coast,

she annihilated the men of the east.

Heads rolled under her like balls,

hands flew over her like locusts,

the warriors’ hands like swarms of grasshoppers.”2

After the Hebrews took over the land of the Canaanites and started to settle in farming communities, the old warrior deity, Yahweh, started to become obsolete, thought through out the literature he is constantly dueling with Baal his Canaanite counterpart, he also had to share the spotlight with the goddesses also, the most popular being Asherah, Astarte, Anat. Research that covers this struggle and debate can be found in the book, The Hebrew Goddess. by Raphael Patai. In the Ugaritic literature and else where we find others that may have been lesser known goddesses that may have a played small functions. Sifting through such a list is difficult because over time, as with gods, the goddesses also were combined together and played the same role. Below in this short essay we will look two of these lesser known goddesses of Canaan and their functions.

Shapshu, goddess of war and the sun We find references to this goddess in Ugaritic literature where she functions as a messenger of El advises Baal in the epic to go to the underworld with his servants and daughters and fight Mot, the god of Death. When Baal does not return she asks Asherah for a son to set up as king in the place of the mighty Baal but the candidate does not meet the requirements. It humorously appears he was to small to fill the role as the text conveys.

“Listen, Lady Asherah-of-the-Sea:

give me one of your sons; .

I’ll make him king,”

And Lady Asherah-of-the-Sea replied:

“Why not make Yadi-Yalhan king?” But El the Kind, the Compassionate, replied: “He’s much too weak to race,

to compete in spear-throwing with Baal,

with Dagon’s son in contest.” And Lady Asherah-of-the-Sea replied: “Can’t we make Athtar the Awesome king?

Let Athtar the Awesome be king!”

Then Athtar the Awesome

went up to the peaks of Zaphon;

he sat on Baal the Conqueror’s throne:

his feet did not reach the footstool,

his head did not reach the headrest.3

Another little known goddess, or goddesses, Kathirat, were associated with wisdom and also of child birth meets with, also plays an important role in Ugaritic literature. Here in the Ugaritic text of Aqhat, we find the hero Danel in want of a son. He entertains and feasts to the goddess and her helpers seven days and then counts the months to the birth of his son. The request is granted.

“Then Danel, the Healer’s man,

the Hero, the man of the god of Harnam,

slaughtered an ox for the Wise Women,

he gave food to the Wise Women,

drink to the Singers, the Swallows.”4

Such ideas may better help us understand Hebrew poetry such as the Song of Solomon, and the texts concerning Abraham and Sarah, for all have the same themes. Another would be the story of Kathirat and Nikkel. Kathirat brings everything that is needed to the wedding of Nillel , the goddess of the “fruits of the Earth” in her marriage to Yarikh the god of the Moon. 5 Also such ideas and texts such as in Isaiah and such announcements of messianic nature may also be influenced by such ideas.

Old gods and goddesses never die. Any an avid reader of anthropology, mythology, and religion will be able to see these Gods and Goddesses morph into other functions and roles as the needs and influences of the society change. As with the gods, so to the goddesses compete for roles of dominance and elbow their way in and get elbowed out of pantheons by the more powerful. Even though in Hebrew literature the references were minimized and at times possibly edited out, we know that the idea of the goddess played an important role in early Hebrew culture 6. At times texts by the Hebrews may have been written in direct contrast to popular epics of their neighbors. We end with a rather humors reply to Jeremiah which underlies the layperson’s view of the Goddess as compared to the priestly view.

Thereupon they answered Jeremiah — all the men who knew that their wives made offerings to other gods; all the women present, a large gathering; and all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt: “We will not listen to you in the matter about which you spoke to us in the name of the LORD. On the contrary, we will do everything that we have vowed — to make offerings to the Queen of Heaven and to pour libations to her, as we used to do, we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty to eat, we were well-off, and suffered no misfortune. But ever since we stopped making offerings to the Queen of Heaven and pouring libations to her, we have lacked everything, and we have been consumed by the sword and by famine. And when we make offerings to the Queen of Heaven and pour libations to her, is it without our husbands’ approval that we have made cakes in her likeness and poured libations to her?”

(Jer 44:15-19 NJPS-TNK)

1. See: A Temple Built for Two Did Yahweh Share a Throne with His Consort Asherah?”By William G. Dever http://www.bibarch.org/bswb_BAR/indexBAR.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=34&Issue=2&ArticleID=11

2. Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978. pg. 90

3. Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978. pg. 111

4. Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978. pg. 35

5. Hooke, S.H., Middle Eastern Mythology, Penguin London 1963 pg. 93

6. See the essay by the author on Psalms 23 compared to the text concerning the Canaanite War goddess Anat- http://wayman29.wordpress.com/2007/02/28/psalm-23-you-spread-a-table-for-me-in-full-view-of-my-enemies/

Extra Reading on the topic:

Goddess Worship and Women Priestshttp://www.womenpriests.org/classic/swidler3.asp

The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah – http://www.utoronto.ca/wjudaism/journal/spring2002/hadley.html

The Pagan File Blog http://alkman1.blogspot.com/2007/01/canaanite-pantheon.html

A. D. Wayman is the creator of http://www.religionthink.com

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Responses

  1. Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the
    Truth and stop the Abrahamic religious madness once and for all time.

    The Abrahamic religions are the world’s biggest danger to peace and have been the primary instigators of world slavery, (Islam and Christianity) and genocide of non-Christian pre-industrialized societies. Today Islam and Christians and Jews are on a collision course in the Holy Land.

    I am asking all people who have access to modern research to step forth and follow the increasing evidence that the foundational Hebrew story of Abraham and Sarah is a corruption of lost in translation even more ancient Hindu Vedic gods, Brahma and Sarasvati with Melchizedek, the mysterious “King of Salem” being the Hindu prince, Meliksadaksina, and other variations of lost in translation Sanskrit words appearing in the Hebrew versions as Hebrew names and terms.

  2. Steve Lewis Thank for adding your opinion. However, I believe that if you looked hard enough every religion had a hand in the issues you bring up. Their were raiding parties who identified with the god Indra. Any belief can be converted into a tool of slice and dice. And any religion can be turned to peace, just like in the later Vedic texts. Do not do what you hate to your neighbor. Each transformed the Myth into it’s own culture and interpreted it differently. we are still doing it today.

  3. […] Religion Think: On the Goddesses of Canaan: A Short Essay […]

  4. Yes, we are still doing it today. Yesterday, Israelis acting on their Abrahamic myths that teach them to hate their Gentile neighbors killed several children and one old man I think. That was yesterday. Today somewhere in Afghanistan or Iraq Muslim men are torturing some innocent person and the same at Gitmo with a born-again Christian in office.

    Please, no more facile answers. Let’s start doing something about the Abrahamic carnage! Only intellectuals with historical truth on their side can defeat these modern religious throwbacks ruining the world for everyone else.

    Tell your scholar friends to stop letting Abrahamic religionists get away with murder in the name of their myths. It’s as simple as that!

    Stephen

  5. Steve Lewis-I still hold to the view that it is not only the Abrahamic myths that are used as a tool for destructive ends. The literature clearly shows this. This is not a political site, but a site comparing religious literature.

    Even without you, the warriors standing in the adverse hosts, shall all cease to be. Therefore, be up, obtain glory, and vanquishing (your) foes, enjoy a prosperous kingdom. All these have been already killed by me. Be only the instrument, O Savyasâkin! Drona, and Bhîshma, and Gayadratha, and Karna, and likewise other valiant warriors also, whom I have killed, do you kill. Be not alarmed. Do fight. And in the battle you will conquer your foes.-BHAGAVADGÎTÂ

    Wishes for wealth have gone to Indra, longing for him in war for light and at libation,
    Eager for glory, laboring with praise songs: he is like home, like sweet and fair nutrition.
    Call we for you that Indra, prompt to listen, him who hath done so much for men’s advantage;
    Who, Lord of envied bounty, to a singer like me brings quickly booty worth the capture.
    When the sharp-pointed arrow, O thou Hero, flieth mid any conflict of the people,
    When, Faithful One, the dread encounter cometh, then be thou the Protector of our body.
    Further the holy thoughts of Vamadeva be thou a guileless Friend in fight for booty.
    We come to thee whose providence protects us: wide be thy sway for ever for thy singer.
    O Indra, with these men who love thee truly, free givers, Maghavan, in every battle,
    May we rejoice through many autumns, quelling our foes, as days subdue the nights with splendor.
    Now, as the Bhrgus wrought a car, for Indra the Strong, the Mighty, we our prayer have fashioned,
    That he may, ne’er withdraw from us his friendship, but be our bodies’ guard and strong defender.
    Now, Indra! lauded, glorified with praises, let power swell. high like rivers for the singer.
    For thee a new hymn, Lord of Bays, is fashioned. May we, car-borne, through song be victors ever.-Hymn XVI Rig Veda

  6. Sorry, I actually believe religion requires moral responsibility but I guess that’s an option here. If these myths stood only as esoterica I wouldn’t need to speak out but that’s not the case and no one can truthfully deny Abrahamic religionists are not responsible for the vast majority of human warfare in the last 2000 years.

  7. amazing how you consistently demonstrate no understanding of what you are reading…..

    Yahweh never had a consort….Israel was the center of God’s heart. as it was to bring forth the Messiah. False gods were condemned.

    marianne
    http://heavenawaits.wordpress.com/

  8. Thanks for the comment. There is a difference between theological history and secular history.

  9. […] Meanings * Between Old and New Moons* Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism* Goddess in a Teapot Full Circle* Earthwise News and Notes Religion Think – On the Goddess of Canaan*And even though it couldn’t have been intentionally part of this sychroblog, there’s a […]


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