The Religion of the Canaanites part 1

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The Religion of the Canaanites part 1

Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Thu Feb 03, 2005 10:54 pm


I thought this might be of some interest to some of you here to read on what kind of justification the bible has to offer for exterminating the Canaanites for their "immorality".
The Religion of the Canaanites
Was the command to exterminate the Canaanites a justifiable act on
the part of God, who ordered it, or on the part of people, who
partially, at least, obeyed it? Was the episode at variance with the
character of God and his people? That it was inconsistent and
unjustified both on God's side and humanity's has been so often
asserted, that a consideration of the moral and religious character
of the Canaanites is a question of utmost importance in solving the
supposed theological difficulties that are commonly adduced.

Professor H.H. Rowley, for example, claims that the divine command to
destroy the Canaanites in general, or Jericho and its inhabitants in
kparticular, and similar episodes in the Old Testament are contrary
to the New Testament revelation of God in Christ, and involve the
erroneous thoughts of the writers or characters in question about
God, which we can now no longer accept as true. Moreover, Rowley
claims that such incidents of wholesale destruction contain that
which is "spiritually unsatisfying" and involve "dishonoring God."

So, this divine command to exterminate from the face of the earth all
men, women, and children belonging to the seven or eight nations of
Canaan is one of the most frequently raised objections to seeing God
as just and loving in the Old Testament. How can God's fairness and
mercy be seen in such blanket and wholesale condemnation of entire

All attempts to mitigate or tone down this command to totally wipe
out the population are ruined on the clear instructions of texts like
Exodus 23:32-33, 34:12-16, Deuteronomy 7:1-5, and 20:15-18. The
presence of the term herem in the sense of "forced destruction"
constantly was applied to the Canaanites and thus they are marked for

Once again we are back to the question, "Will not the judge of all
the earth do right?" It is the question Abraham asked of God, just
before He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. It would seem clear that the
OT does uphold the justice and righteousness of God, even in this
command to eradicate the Canaanites. (Of course, consider the
question Job's friend asked in Job 8:3: "Does God pervert justice?
Does the Almighty pervert what is right?" Job's reply, in Job 9, is,
in essence "yes".)

To place the whole question in perspective, let the principle of
Deuteronomy 9:5 be cited:

It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you
are going in to take possession of their land; but onl account of the
wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out
before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob.

Therefore, there is no attempt to establish a tacit or real moral
superiority for Israel; the text informs us to the contrary in its
explicit statements and narratives. The call of Yahweh cannot be
traced to Israel's superiority in righteousness or numbers, "but it
was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which he swore to
your forefathers." (Deut. 7:6-8).

Ronald Goetz, with some justification, wonders why it is, then,
that "...Israel is helped in spite of her sins, while the Canaanites
are destroyed because of theirs?" The answer does not like, as Goetz
himself observes in the fact that Israel is vastly more righteous
than the Canaanites, for that is indeed a semi-Pelagian Pharisaism
(Pelagianism: a fifth century Christian heresy taught by Pelagius and
his followers that stressed the essential goodness of human nature
and the freedom of the human will. Pelagius was concenred about the
slack moral standard among Christians, and he hoped to improve their
conduct by his teachings. Rejecting the arguments of those who
claimed that they sinned because of human weakness, he insisted that
God made human beings free to choose between good and evil and that
sin was voluntary. Celestius, a disciple of Pelagius, denied the
church's doctrine of original sin. Pelagianism was opposed by
Augustine, bishop of Hippo, who asserted that human beings could not
attain righteousness by their own efforts and were totally dependent
upon the grace of God. Condemned by two councils of African bishops
in 416, and again at Carthage in 418, Pelagius and Celestius were
finally excommunicated in 418; Pelagius' later fate is unknown
[perhaps he changed his name to Robert Schuler]). The answer does not
lie in the righteousness of Israel, but it does lie in the increasing
degrees of guilt that Canaan accrued. Even Jesus appealed to this
principle in dealing with a comparison of cities in his day as judged
over against Sodom and Gomorrah (Mat. 10:15). There had been a
patient waiting from Abraham's time "for the sin of the Amorite...[to
reach] its full measure." (Gen. 15:16)

This is not to say that Israel was permitted or even ordered to treat
all other nations the same way, for Deuteronomy 20:10-15 odrders them
to offer conditions of peace rather than extermination to all otehrs.
However, the verses that follow, namely 16-18, disallowed the same
offer to be given to Canaan. In fact, the Hebrew wars with other
nations (except Canaan) were designed to be only in self-defense.

Why then were the Canaanites singled out for such severe treatment?
They were cut off to prevent Israel and the rest of the world from
being corrupted (Deut. 20:16-18). When a people starts to burn their
children in honor of their gods (Lev. 18:21), practice sodomy,
bestiality, and all sorts of loathsome vice (Lev. 18:23, 24, 20:3),
the land itself begins to "vomit" them out as the body heaves under
the load of internal poisons (Lev. 18:25, 27-30). Thus, "objection to
the fate of these nations ... is really an objection to the highest
manifestation of the grace of God." Green likens this action on God's
part, not to doing evil that good may come (though that does seem
often to be God's methodology: the ends justify the means), but doing
good in spite of certain evil consequences, just as a surgeon does
not refrain from amputating a gangrenous leg even though in so doing
he cannot help cutting off much healthy flesh.

But there is more. Green observes that "...We may object to God's
doing immediately and personally what we do not object to his doing
mediately, through providence. Now nothing is more certain than that
providence is administered on the principle that individuals share in
the life of the family and of the nation to which they belong; and
that, consequently it is right that they should participate in its
punishments as in its rewards....Though many innocent persons could
not but suffer, it was right, because of the relation in which they
stood to the guilty, that this should be so."

One more observation must be made here. Every forcast or prophesy of
doom, like any prophetic word about the future except those few
promises connected with the Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic and New
Covenants (which are unconditional and dependant solely on God's work
of fulfillment), had a suppressed "unless" attached to them. At that
moment that nation turns from its evil way and repents then at that
time the Lord would relent and cease to bring the threatened harm
(cf. Jer. 18:7-10). Thus Canaan had, as it were, a final forty-year
countdown as they heard of the events in Egypt, at the crossing of
the Reed Sea, and what happened to the kings who opposed Israel along
the way. We know that they were aware of such events, for Rahab
confessed that these same events had terrorized her city of Jericho
and that she, as a result, had placed her faith in the God of the
Hebrews (Josh. 2:10-14). Thus God waited for the "cup of iniquity" to
fill up -- and fill up it did without any change in spite of the
marvelous signs given so that the nations, along with Pharaoh and the
Egyptians, "might know that he was the Lord."

The destruction of the Canaanites was on the same principle as the
whole world was judged (except for eight persons) in the Deluge or
the five cities of the plain (including Sodom and Gomorrah), or
Pharaoh's army. Usually those who object to these events are those
who deny any compatibility of the doctrine of eternal punishment of
the wicked with the mercy and love of God.

God's character and the acts he requires are fully consistent with
everything that both testaments would lead us to expect in our God.
The problem usually centers in a deficiency in our view of things and
our ability to properly define terms or grasp the whole of a subject.

Canaanite Morality (an oxymoron)

Despite the paramount import of Canaanite morality and religion in
the realm of theology and general Biblical studies, little was known
about the subject 70 years ago except taht which, on the one hand,
could be gleaned from the Bible, which, however, was ample enough for
faith and on the other hand, that which was preserved in the Graeco-
Roman authors, which was meager enough from the scholar's viewpoint.

Philo of Byblos

The main source of knowledge about Canaanite religion before the new
sources became available after 1930 (primarily the Ugaritic
materials) was Philo of Byblos, the Greek name of ancient Gebal on
the Mediterranean (Josh. 13:5, 1 Kings 5:18), forty-two miles north
of Sidon. Philo lived around 100 AD. He was a native Phoenician
scholar and gathered data for a historical work called Phoenikika
or "Phoenician Matters", designated "Phoenician History" by later
Greek scholars. According to Porphery and Eusebius, Philo translated
the writings of an earlie Phoenician named Sanchuniathon, who was
supposed to have lived at a very remote age, whom W. F. Albright
placed between 700 and 500 BC. Sanchuniathon in turn supposedly got
his material from one Hierombalus under Abibal, king of Berytus, who
is said to have flourished before the Trojan War.

Ugaritic Poetry

The abstract of Phoenician mythology which has been preserved from
Philo through Eusebius (like biblical notices on the same subject)
used to be commonly regarded with suspician by critical scholarship
and considered as mostly an invention by Philo, without any
independent value as a source of knowledge of Phoenician religion.
This skeptical attitude as disappered as a consequence of the
recovery of religious epic literature of Ugarit on the north Syrian
coast (1927-1937).

These significant poetical texts discovered by D.F.A. Schaefer in a
series of campaigns have shown that the gods of Philo bear names in
large part now well-known from Ugarit as well as from other sources.
The Philo myths are characterized by the same moral abandon and
primitive barbarity with fondness for descriptive names and
personifications that are found at Ugarit.

The new sources of knowledge indicate little change in the content of
Canaanite mythology between c. 1400 BC and 700 BC. Many details of
Philo's account, not only in the matter of the names of deities, but
in the mythological atmosphere as well are in complete agreement with
the Ugaritic myths and late Phoenician inscriptions. Scholars are,
therefore, justified in accepting, at least provisionally, all data
preserved by Philo that do not involve subjective interpretation on
his part.


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The Religion of the Canaanites part 2

Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Thu Feb 03, 2005 10:56 pm

This is part 2 of the text that can be found on this site:
The Canaanite Pantheon

As the myths of ancient Ugarit indicate, the religion of the
Canaanite peoples was a crude and debased form of ritual polytheism.
It was associated with sensuous fertility-cult worship of a
particularly lewd and orgiastic kind, which proved to be more
influential than any other nature religion in the ANE.

Canaanite deities, on the one hand, present remarkable fluidity of
personality and function, so that it is often extremely difficult to
fix the particular domain of different gods or to define their
kinship to one another. Physical relationship, and even sex, change
with disconcerting ease. This is one of the grossly irrational
aspects of Canaanite religion, indicative of its corrupt nature. On
the other hand, Canaanite deities have for the most part
etymologically transparent names, a fact which seems to point to the
Canaanite pantheon as representing a cruder and more primitive type
of polytheism.

Miscellaneous epigraphic and literary sources reveal the names of the
chief gods and goddesses of numerous Canaanite citaies in various
periods. The Ugaritic deities are now best known because of the
hundreds of religious texts dating from the fifteenth and early
fourteenth century BC which were found in a library housed in a
building situated between Ugarit's two great temples, one dedicated
to Baal and the other to Dagon. The divinities which figure in the
mythological texts from Ugarit were evidently not peculiar to the
city, but were current among all Canaanites, since they brear only a
vague relationship to the most popular deities worshipped in the city


El is the name by which the supreme Canaanite deity is known. This is
also a name by which God is called in the Old Testament -- El, the
God (Elohim) of Israel (el elohe yisrael: Gen. 33:20). In most prose
it occures more often with an adjunct: El Elyon (the most high God,
Gen. 14:18), El Shaddai (traditionally, God Almighty, Gen. 17:1), El
Hai (The living God, Josh. 3:10), and very commonly in the plural of
majesty, Elohim. In Hebrew poetry El is much more frequent, where it
stands quite often without any adjunct (Ps. 18:31, 33, 48; 68:21; Job

The word El is a generic name for "god" in Northwest Semitic (Hebrew
and Ugaritic) and as such it is also used in the Old Testament for
heathen deities or idols (Ex. 34:14; Ps. 81:10; Is. 44:10). The
original generic term was 'ilum; dropping the mimation and the
nominative case ending (u) becomes 'el in Hebrew. It was almost
certainly an adjectival formation (intransitive participle) from the
root "to be strong, powerful" ('wl), meaning "The Strong (or
Powerful) One."

In Canaanite paganism the el, par excelence, was the head of the
panthon. As the god, El was, in accordance with the general
irrationality and moral grossness of Canaanite religion, a dim and
shadowy figure, who, Philo says, had three wives, who were also his
sisters, and who could readily step down from his eminence and become
the hero of sordid escapades and crimes. Philo portrays El as a
bloody tyrant, whose acts terrified all the other gods, and who
dethroned his own father, murdered his favorite son, and decapitated
his own daughter. The Ugaritic poems add the crime of uncontrolled
lust to his morbid character and the description of his seduction of
two unnamed women is the most sensuous in ANE literature (much of
Ugaritic literature is R rated at best).

Despite all this, El was considered the exalted "father of years"
(abu shanima), the "father of man" (abu adami), and "father bull",
that is, the progenitor of the gods, tacitly likened to a bull in the
midst of a herd of cows. Like Homer's Zeus, he was "the father of men
and gods."


Baal was the son of El, and the reigning king of the gods, dominating
the Canaanite pantheon. As El's successor he was enthroned on a lofty
mountain the the far northern heavens. Often he was considered to
be "the Lord of Heaven" (Baal-shamem); but sometimes distinguished
from the latter, as in Philo, Baal was the god of the rain and storm,
whose voice could be heard reverberating through the heavens in the
thunder. He is pictured on a Ras Shamra stela brandishing a mace in
his right hand and holding in his left hand a stylized thunderbolt
ending in a spear head.

In Ugaritic literature Baal is given the epithet Aliyan, "the one who
prevails". As the giver of rain and all fertility, he figures
prominently in Canaanite mythology in his struggle with Mot (Death),
the god of drought and adversity. In his grapple with Mot, he is
slain. As a consequence, a seven year cycle of scarcity ensues.
Thereupon the goddess Anath, the sister and lover of Baal Aliyan,
goes in search of him, recovers his body and slays his enemy, Mot.
Baal is then brought back to life and placed on Mot's throne so that
he ma insure the revival of vegetation for seven years. This is the
central theme of the great Baal Epic of Ugarit.

Besides the king of the gods and the storm god, Baal was the god of
justice, the terror of evildoers. He was also called "the son of
Dagon", the grain god, who was athe cheif deity of Ashdod (1 Sam. 5:1-
7) and who had temples at Ugarit and Gaza (Judges 16:23).

At Ugarit Baal's consort was his sister Anath, but at Samaria in the
ninth century BC Ashera appears in that role (1 Kings 18:19).
Different places at different periods arranged the pantheon somewhat
differently, but the picture by and large was fairly stable. The name
ba'al itself in Northwest Semitic (Hebrew, Phoenician and Ugaritic)
is the common noun for "master" or "lord" and accordingly,
like 'el, "strong one", could be applied to various gods. Actually,
however, from an early period (by at least the 15th century BC) the
ancient Semitic storm-god Hadad (Akkadian Adad) became "the lord" par


A combination of the sister and spouse of Baal, was one of a galaxy
of three Canaanite goddesses whose character gives a hint of the
depths of the moral depravity to which the Canaanite cults sank. The
other two are Astarte and Asherah. All three were patronesses of sex
and war -- sex mainly in its sensuous aspect as lust, and war in its
aspects of violence and murder. The depraved character of Canaanite
religion is indicated by the character of Anath. An Egyptian text of
the New Kingdom period described Anath and Astarte as "the great
goddesses who conceive but do not bear."

Another equally viscious characteristic of Anath worship was the
fiendish savagery of the composite goddess. A fragment of the Baal
Epic (II.7ff) shows her indulging in a massacre of old and young

She smites the people of the seashore

Destroys mankind of the sunrise....

She piles up heads on her back

She ties up hands in her bundle....

Anath gluts her liver with laughter

Her heart is filled with joy.

Egyptian texts represented Astarte and Anath as goddesses of violence
and war, showing them naked astride a galloping horse, waving weapons
of battle.

Interestingly enough, Anath was given the epithet of "virgin"
and "the Holy One" (qudshu) in her invariable role of a sacred
prostitute. This term qudshu, "the Holy One" is related to the
biblical term translated "holy". It is important to recognize that
among Semitic poeples the idea of "holiness" was applied to anything
that had been dedicated to the service of a deity. The moral
connotation of the term is a later, derived, concept. Even in the OT,
its usage is often just in the sense of "separated" to God.

Anath is represented often as a naked woman bestride a lion with a
lilly in one hand and a serpant in the other. The lilly represented
sex appeal and the serpant represented fertility.

The male prositutes consecrated to her honor were called qadesh
(Deut. 23:18, 1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, 22:46). The feminine qedesha is
also found (Deut. 23:18, Hosea 4:14)


The goddess of the evening star, was like Anath and Ashera concerned
with sex and war and was not always clearly distinguished from them.
In Egypt Anath and Astarte were even fused into one deity called
Antart, while in later Syria their cult was displaced by that of a
composite deity: Anat-Ashtart (Atargatis). Like Anath, Astarte was
both a mother goddess and a divine courtesan, and she shares all the
latter's moral turpitude. (She was also known as Ishtar in Persia,
and the name Esther is a form of this word. Additionally, the English
word "star" comes from this name).


She was the wife of El in Ugaritic mythology, and is the goddess who
is also called Athirau-Yammi: "She Who Walks on (or in) the Sea". She
was the cheif goddess of Tyre in the 15th century BC, and bore the
appellation qudshu, "holiness." In the OT Asherah appears as a
goddess by the side of Baal, whose consort she evidently became, at
least among the Canaanites of the south. However, most biblical
references to the name point obviously to some cult object of wood,
which might be cut down and burned, possibly the goddesses' image (1
Kings 15:13, 2 King 21:7). Her prophets are mentioned (1 Kings
18:19), and the vessels used in her service referred to (2 Kings
23:4). The existence of numerous symbols, in each of which the
goddess was believed to be immanent, led to the creation of numerous
forms of her person, which were described as Asherim. The cult object
itself, whatever it was, was utterly detestible to faithful
worshippers of Yahweh (1 Kings 15:13), and was set up on the high
places beside the "alters of incense" (hammanim) and the "stone
pillars" (masseboth). The translation of asherah by "grove" in some
translations follows a singular tradition preserved in the LXX and
the Vulgate which apparently connects the goddess' image with the
usual place of its adoration.


Mot means "death", and he was Baal's enemy. He is the god of the dead
and all the powers that opposed life and fertility. He was the
favorite son of El, and the most prominent enemy of the god Baal. Mot
was the god of sterility and the master of all barren places.
Traditionally Mot and Baal were perpetually engaged in a seasonal
struggle in which Baal, like many similar harvest deities, was
annually vanquished and slain. Mot, however, was annually vanquished
and killed by Baal's sister and lover Anath, who thus aided Baal's


Or Resheph (from Hebrew reshef, "the burner", or "the ravager"), an
ancient West Semitic god of the plague and of the underworld, the
companion of Anath, and the equivalent of the Bablylonian god Nergal.
He was also a war god and was thus represented as a bearded man,
brandishing an ax, holding a shield, and waring a tall, pointed
headdress with a goat's or gazelle's head on his forehead. Resheph
was worshipped especially at Ras Shamra (Ugarit), Byblos, and Arsuf
(later Apollonia, near Yafo); under the title Mikal (or Mekal) he was
also worshipped at Beth-shean in eastern Palestine and at Ialium in
Cyprus. Resheph was usually believed to be related to Mot, the god of
sterility and death, but he also seems to have been a god of well-
being, plenty, and fertility, and in that respect he may have been a
form of the god Baal.

Shulman (or Shalim)

The god of health. The name is related to the Hebrew word shalom,
which means "peace" or "prosperity".

Koshar (Hothar)

The god of arts and crafts. He seems to be related to the Hebrew
kosher, which means "fit" or "proper".

The General Character of Canaanite Cults

The Ugaritic literature has helped reveal the depth of depravity
which characterized Canaanite religion. Being a polytheism of an
extremely debased type, Canaanite cultic practice was barbarous and
thoroughly licentious. It inevitably had a most serious retarding and
debilitating effect on every phase of Canaanite cultural and
community life. It was inescapable that people should gravitate to
the moral level of the sordid gods they worshipped, or rather that
the gods were a reflection of their society. "Like gods, like priest;
like prist, like people" expresses a law that operates unfailingly.

Canaanite Cults Utterly Immoral

The brutality, lust and abandon of Canaanite mythology is far worse
than elsewhere in the ANE at this time. And the astounding
characteristic of Canaanite deities, that the had no moral character
whatsoever, must have brought out the worst traits in their devotees
and entailed many of the most demoralizing practices of the time,
such as sacred prostitution, child sacrifice and snake worship.

Canaanite Cults Effete and Corrupt

Such an effete and corrupt religion could have no other than a
devitalizing effect on the population. So vile had the practices of
the Canaanites become that the land was said to "vomit out its
inhabitants" (Lev. 18:25) and the Israelites were warned by Yahweh to
keep all his statutes and ordinances "that the land," into which he
was about to bring them, would not "vomit" them out (Lev. 20:22). The
character of the Canaanite religion as portrayed I the Ugaritic
literature furnishes ample background to illustrate the accuracy of
these biblical statements in their characterization of the utter
moral and religious degeneracy of the inhabitants of Canaan, wo were
accordingly to be decimated and dispossessed.

The Character of the Canaanite Cults Justifies the Command to Destroy

It is without sound theological basis to question God's justice in
ordering the extermination of such a depraved people or to deny
Israel's integrity as God's people in carrying out the divine order.
Nor is there anything in this episode or the devotion of Jericho to
destruction that involves conflict with the New Testament revelation
of God in Jesus Christ.

God's infinite holiness is just as much outraged by sin in the NT as
it was in the OT, and the divine wrath is not less in the NT against
those who refuse the forgiveness provided by Christ. Consider what
Jesus said to and about the scribes and Pharisees who opposed him,
the fate of Annanias and Sephira, or the rather apocalyptic judgments
describe in Revelation.

The principle of divine forbearance, however, operates in every era
of God's dealings with people. God awaits till the measure of
iniquity is full, whether in the case of the Amorite (Gen. 15:16) or
the antediluvians consumed by the Deluge (Gen. 6) or the inhabitants
of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19). But God always gives a way to repent
and avoid the judgment (consider God's words in Ezekiel 33, as an
example -- "God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but
rather, that the wicked turn from his evil ways.")

In the case of the Canaanites, instead of using the forces of nature
to effect his punitive endes, he employs the Israelites to be his
ministers of justice. The Israelites were apprized of the truth that
theywere the instruments of the divine judgement (Joshua 5:13-14). In
the light of the total picture the extermination of the canaaites by
the Israelites was just and employment of the Israelites for the
purpose was right. It was, frankly, a question of destroying or being
destroyed, of keeping separated or of being contaminated and

Canaanite Cults Dangeroulsy Contaminating

Implicit in the righteous judgment was the divine intention to
protect and benefit the world. When Joshua and the Israelites entered
Palestine in the 14th century (or 13th), Canaanite civilization was
so decadent that it was small loss to the world that in parts of
Palestine it was virtually exterminated. The failure of the
Israelites to execute God's command fully was one of the great
blunders which theycommitted, as well as a sin, and it resulted in
lasting injury to the nation (Judges 1:28, 2:1-3).

In the ensuing judgment the infinite holiness of Yahweh, the God of
Israel, was to be vindicated saliently against the dark background of
a thoroughly immoral and degraded paganism. The completely
uncompromising attitude commanded by yahweh and followed by the
leaders of Israel must be seen in its true light. Compromise between
Israel's God and the degraded deities of Canaanite religion was
unthinkable. Yahweh and Baal were poles apart. There could be no
compromise without catastrophe.

W.F. Albright wrote:

It was fortunate for the future of monotheism that the Israelites of
the conquest were a wild folk, endowed with primitive energy and
ruthless will to exist, since the resulting decimation of the
Canaanites prevented the complete fusion of the two kindred folk
which would almost inevitably have depressed Yahwistic standards to a
point where recovery was impossible. Thus the Canaanites, with their
orgiastic nature-worship, their cult of fertility in the form of
serpent symbols and sensuous nudity, and their gross mythology, were
replaced by Israel, with its nomadic simplicity and purity of life,
its lofty monotheism, and its severe code of ethics. In a not
altogether dissimilar way, a millennium later, the African
Canaaanites, as they still called themselves, or the Carthaginians,
as we call them, with the gross Phoenician mythology which we know
from Ugarit and Philo Byblius, with human sacrifices and the cult of
sex, were crushed by the immensely superior Romans, whose stern code
of morals and singularly elevated paganism remind us in many ways of
early Israel. (Note: the Romans were apparently descended from
Japheth, so their destruction of Carthage was a fulfillment of Gen.


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Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Thu Feb 24, 2005 11:08 am

Canaanite Religion
The system of gods and goddesses in Phoenician religion was influences and has influenced other cultures. As indicated below, there are too many similarities to be overlooked. In some instances the names of gods underwent very little change when they were borrowed. Even the legends maintained major similarities. For example, Ashtarte in Phoenician and Aphrodite in Greek or Adonis in both. Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian and others had their influences on the Phoenician faith system and borrowed from it.
The Phoenicians worshipped a triad of deities, each having different names and attributes depending upon the city in which they were worshipped, although their basic nature remained the same. The primary god was El, protector of the universe, but often called Baal. The son, Baal or Melqart, symbolized the annual cycle of vegetation and was associated with the female deity Astarte in her role as the maternal goddess. She was called Asherar-yam, our lady of the sea, and in Byblos she was Baalat, our dear lady. Astarte was linked with mother goddesses of neighbouring cultures, in her role as combined heavenly mother and earth mother. Cult statues of Astarte in many different forms were left as votive offerings in shrines and sanctuaries as prayers for good harvest, for children, and for protection and tranquillity in the home. The Phoenician triad was incorporated in varying degrees by their neighbours and Baal and Astarte eventually took on the look of Greek deities.
What remains to be said is that Phoenician faith system evolved and changed as it was influenced by invader who brought along their own deities. Hence, Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman gods found their way to Phoenician temples. This is evident in the writing of Herodotus as well as in the archaeological records.
The temple typically occupied a dominating site in the city along with the palace. Like the palace, it had political, administrative, and economic functions, as well as its distinctive religious functions. It was staffed by priests, singers and other musicians, diviners, scribes, and other specialists. There sacrifices of animals and children (in some Phoenician colonies in the Mediterranean) were offered to the gods.
During Roman Empire, one of the most important cities of Phoenicia was Heliopolis. At Heliopolis (Baalbeck) the Roman emperors, particularly the Severans, constructed a monumental temple complex, the most spectacular elements of which were the Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus and the Temple of Bacchus.

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Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Thu Feb 24, 2005 11:10 am

Cippi and stelae of limestone are characteristic monuments of Punic art and religion, and are found throughout the western Phoenician world in unbroken continuity, both historically and geographically. The majority was set up over urns containing the ashes of human sacrifices, which had been placed within open-air sanctuaries. Such sanctuaries constitute striking relics of the Western Mediterranean Phoenician or Punic civilisation. The will of the gods was discovered in various ways. Use of the Mesopotamian technique of liver divination (hepatoscopy) is evidenced by the discovery of clay liver models (sometimes inscribed with omens) at such sites as Ugarit and Hazor, as well as by abundant written testimony at sites closer to Mesopotamia, such as Mari. Ugarit also had a list of omens based on abnormal births. King Idrimi of Alalakh refers to divining by observation of the flight of released birds.
The correspondence from Mari abundantly testifies to the institution of prophecy--spontaneous pronouncements by cult personnel and occasionally others, delivering messages from the deity. By this means the deity disclosed his or her wishes or gave divine warnings or promises to the king. The Aramaean king Zakir records that he appealed to his god in desperation during a siege and that the god answered him through prophets with promises of deliverance--obviously fulfilled, since the king makes so much of this in his inscription. According to the Egyptian "Report of Wen-Amun," a young man of Byblos went into a trance and resolved a diplomatic deadlock by announcing that the Egyptian envoy whom the local king had refused to see had indeed been sent by the Egyptian god Amun. Biblical narratives portray similar prophetic phenomena in Israel. The gods also revealed themselves through dreams, which again were carefully reported to the monarch by his officers at Mari.
According to later classical sources a central focus of Syrian religion was the rituals surrounding the myth of the dying god. The myth, according to these sources, variously draws on other Middle Eastern or Egyptian traditions but essentially tells of the deity's death and subsequent sojourn in the underworld and of an accommodation reached between the queen of the underworld and the goddess associated with the god that allows him to return to earth for six months of the year. Associated rituals include the sacrifice of a male pig, mourning for the dead god in a funeral procession, cultivating "gardens" in small pots and baskets, and a threshing rite.
The temple, or the temple and palace together, were often raised and/or walled off in a separate precinct or acropolis. The temple was the "house" of the god--often so in both name and form. It was also a storehouse for the god's treasures and hence sometimes particularly thickly walled. The temple staff played a leading role in the life of the city.
In the early 3rd millennium the temples were built on the same plan as houses: a rectangle with the entrance on one of the long sides, with a small altar or a niche for the cult statue opposite the entrance. Sometimes there were benches around the three uninterrupted walls. An outer court contained the main altar, where the larger community could participate in worship. At the beginning of the 2nd millennium the house of the god was extended by the expansion of the niche into an additional room ("cella") and of the entrance into a porch--the form later used by the Phoenician architects of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. There were also outdoor shrines, such as the "high place" at Gezer (near modern Ramla, Israel) with its row of standing stones and monumental stone basin (and surviving charred animal remains). Over the centuries there was an increasing variety of forms at different sites. At particular sites, however, the plans of temples often remained virtually identical, even after previous superstructures had been destroyed.

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Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Thu Feb 24, 2005 11:11 am

This is the 3 part of an article on Canaanite Religion. Its entirly different from the article on what the Bible says on Canaanite religion.
Typical temple furniture included the cult statue, standing stones, bowls and their stands, altars, and benches around the walls. Hazor, in the Jordan Valley north of the Sea of Galilee, has yielded a 13th-century statue of a male deity on a bull-shaped base. In another temple a set of cultic objects, also from the 13th century, was found behind a stone slab: a seated male figure and a group of standing stones, the central one of which has engraved on it a vertical pair of arms with hands outstretched toward a disk and crescent.
The palace too might have a chapel. The palace at Mari, on the Euphrates in eastern Syria, housed a statue of a goddess holding a vase from which she dispensed flowing ("living") water; the water was channeled through the statue to the vase. Wall paintings in the palace depict the same image, as well as scenes of the king being presented to a god and making offerings to a god.
A common religious object, not confined to sacred places, is the "Astarte" figurine, depicting a nude woman, often with exaggerated breasts and genitalia, and sometimes holding a child. This was perhaps a fetish representing the mother goddess and used to stimulate conception, childbirth, or lactation.
The temple was staffed by cultic personnel (priests) under a "chief of priests," and by practitioners of the various other skills required by the functions of the temple. These included singers and other musicians, diviners, scribes, and other specialists, depending on the size of the temple. The temple staff was sustained by some of the sacrifices, by supplies from the estates of the temple or palace, or by direct contributions imposed on the surrounding population. Its essential religious function was the care of the cult statue, the offering of sacrifices, and the performance of other rituals for the welfare of god, monarch, and community.
Typically the monarch and sometimes other members of the royal family played a leading role in the most significant cultic acts and festivals. A king of Sidon refers to himself as "priest of Astarte." One text from a town near Ugarit concerns a sacrifice by the queen.
In tombs formed from subterranean caves beneath the western palace of Ebla during the second quarter of the 2nd millennium, skeletal remains and treasures suggest a cult of deceased monarchs. From Mari and Ugarit researchers have learned of a significant cult of former rulers (called "Healers" at Ugarit)--from putative or mythical figures to the most recently deceased--who supported the reigning monarch with divine blessings. The monarch's expectations of life after death are expressed in an inscription on an 8th-century monumental effigy of the god Hadad from Zincirli (ancient Sam`al) in south-central Turkey. King Panammu directs that his future heir, when making sacrifice to Hadad, pray that Panammu's soul may eat and drink with the god. Phoenician kings of Sidon later refer to a resting place with the Healers, and the same word is used by the Israelites to refer to all the dead.

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Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Thu Feb 24, 2005 11:12 am


This is the last part
People attempted to influence the gods through animal sacrifices, petitions, and vows (promises of gifts contingent on the deity's response to a request for help). Sacrifice was central to the cult. Domestic animals were the main victims--cattle, sheep, and goats--and also birds. There is clear evidence for two types of sacrifice: simple gifts and whole burned offerings. There also is scattered evidence of human sacrifice, probably limited to situations of unusual extremity (contrast the account of the sacrifice of his eldest son by the king of Moab in 2 Kings 3:26-27 with the more abundant evidence of child sacrifice from Carthage and other Phoenician colonies in the west.)
The Canaanite Gods are still being worshipped by people. So far I know there aren’t many people out there who worship the Canaanite pantheon of Gods and I’m not talking about those people who worship couple of Canaanite Gods, but leave out the rest. Ba’al and Astarte are popular deities among Eclectic pagans. Ba’al is one of the most important deities of the Canaanite pantheon. That is why the contemporary religion of the Canaanite pagans is called Baalism. This is what The Mystica, an online encyclopaedia of the occult, mysticism, magic and more, has to say about Baalism: Baalism is a great Near Eastern nature religion, highly developed by the Canaanites or possibly the Phoenicians, who believed that each copulation of Baal and Astarte brought fertility to their land every spring. The divinities included El, the father of the gods; Asherah, the mother goddess; Baal, the god of weather; his consort Astarte, the goddess of fertility; and Mot the god of death. The rituals, ceremonies, and worship were predominately sexual. Baalism had a powerful influence on the Hebrew, Greek, and Roman religions; and also helped develop both Eastern and Western occultism. A.G.H. One of the frustrating things for Canaanite pagans is the fact that there is so little information available through direct sources. Even the calendar of this calendar as the worship of these deities is recreated from secondary, even tertiary sources, rarely primary sources.

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recommended booklist on Canaanite paganism

Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Sun Mar 13, 2005 12:15 pm


This is a booklist I found that recommended books to read for those interested in Canaanite paganism. I shall post it here.
Aubet, Maria E., The Phoenicians and the West, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1987, 1993.
S. H. Hooke Middle Eastern Mythology , Penguin Books, New York, 1963.
John C. L. Gibson Canaanite Myths and Legends, T & T Clark Ltd., Edinburgh, 1977.
Moscoty, Sabatino, The World of the Phoenicians, Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, New York, 1968.
Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. James Pritchard, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1955.
Szneycer, Maurice articles in Mythologies Volume One compiled by Bonnefoy, Yves, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1991.
Sykes, Edgerton Who's Who in Non-Classical Mythology, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993.
M. Coogan Stories From Ancient Canaan
Day, John, Molech:A God of Human Sacrifice in the Old Testament, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1989.
C.H. Gordon Ugaritic Literature, Rome, 1949.
Hall, H. R., The Ancient History of the Near East, Methuan & Co. Ltd, London, 1950.
The Ancient Near East: Supplementary Texts and Pictures Relating to the Old Testament, ed. James Pritchard, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1969.
Ugaritic Narrative Poetry by Simon B. Parker (Editor)
Canaanite Myths and Legends by John C. Gibson
Stories from Ancient Canaan by Michael David Coogan
Goddess Anath: Canaanite Epics of the Patriarchal Age by U. Cassuto
The Ugaritic Baal Cycle by Mark S. Smith

Comparative Mythology

Untold Stories: The Bible and Ugaritic Studies in the 20th Century by Mark S. Smith
Riddle of Resurrection: Dying and Rising Gods in the ANE by Tryggve N. D. Mettinger
The Bible and the Ancient Near East by Cyrus H. Gordon
Hebrew Myths by Robert Graves
The Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai
Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic by Frank Moore Cross
The Early History of God by Mark S. Smith and Patrick D. Miller
Yahweh's Wife: Sex in the Evolution of Monotheism by Arthur Frederick Ide
Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Biblical and Pagan Societies by F. Cryer (Editor)

Cultic Practices and Worship

Semitic Magic: Its Origins & Development by R. Campbell Thompson
The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East by Mark Cohen
Ritual and Cult at Ugarit by Dennis Pardee

Advanced Books

The Royal God: Enthronement Festivals in Ancient Israel and Ugarit by A. R. Petersen
Women in Ugarit and Israel by Hennie J. Marsman
The House of the Father As Fact and Symbol by J. David Schloen
Ritual in Narrative by David P. Wright
Cults of the Dead in Ancient Israel and Ugarit by Theodore J. Lewis
Philo of Byblos : The Phoenician History by Philo of Byblos
Ugaritic Religion by A. Caquot
Ugarit in Retrospect: 50 Years of Ugarit and Ugaritic by Gordon D. Young (Editor)
Eblaitica : Essays on the Ebla Archives by Rendsburg and Winter
The seasonal pattern in the Ugaritic myth of Baalu by Johannes Cornelis de Moor
Canaanite Religion: According to the Liturgical Texts of Ugarit by G. Del Olmo Lete
Handbook of Ugaritic Studies by Wilfred G. E. Watson
Blessing and Curse in Syro-Palestinian Inscriptions of the Iron Age by T. G. Crawford

Academic Articles

Canaanite God Reshep by William J. Fulco (American Orient Essays, No 8)
Death and Afterlife in Ugarit and Israel. Smith, M.S., and Bloch-Smith, E. Journal of the American Oriental Society 108: 277-84. 1988

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Canaanite pagan interview

Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Thu Jun 23, 2005 10:48 pm


On the yahoo! group of Canaanite paganism, a link was posted where a member of the group was interviewed about her beliefs. I thought it might be of interest to the people here to hear it from a Jewish pagan talking about their beliefs.

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The Source

Postby Cleopatra Aelia on Sat Jun 25, 2005 2:24 pm

Salve Orce,

Very interesting articles indeed you posted here.

The mentioning of the gods El and Baal reminded me of this novel I read some time ago - "The Source" by James Mitchener - where you could read how the polytheism evolved to the Jewish monotheism. Though it was just a novel I think he did a good research about Jewish history and was very interesting esp. for one like me who doesn't know that much about the Ancient cultures of what's now Israel. It gave me a good overview.
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