This page contains a brief history of Canaan and exploration and discussion of the tales that come from our sacred texts. Although many people use the word "mythology," I prefer the word "literature" because the term "myth" is often used to lessen a tale's legitimacy. Scribes from the Canaanite city of Ugarit wrote the original tales about 3200 years ago, and scholars believe that people told these tales as part of an oral tradition many years before scribes pressed them into clay tablets.
History ideally consists of “cold, hard fact.” Unfortunately, “cold, hard fact” is a slippery concept. Much information has been lost over the years…just ask your elders: there are parts of their pasts that they cannot remember, and likewise memory regarding ancient history is fuzzy at best. Historians often conflict in their theories regarding the Canaanites and the ancient Near East, and there is often a strong biblical bias regarding the study of this area of the world. If you are interested in further, more in-depth study, please see the Resources and Links.
The people we know as Canaanites had a patchwork history because of the almost constant unrest in the region. Canaan is a geographical region comprised of various city-states with similar ethnographic populations and languages, however they never banded together to form one coherent political entity.(1) Their power lay not in military or political might, but in trades and commodities. The "super-powers" of the ancient Near East often conquered and dominated Canaan, but the people continued. The area we call Canaan covers the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea (see map below); this includes parts of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan. The area we call the ancient Near East includes the Mesopotamian empires of Assyria, Babylon, Sumer; Hatti (the Hittites), the Hurrians (also referred to as the Mittani Empire because of their powerful capital city of Mitanni), the Bedouin, and various other groups. Below is an all-too-brief simplified overview of Canaanite history.
Map from "Civilizations of the Ancient Near East," edited by J. Sasson, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1995.
The area known as Canaan is circled in purple.
Canaananite culture probably develops out of the earlier Natufian and Sultanian cultures possibly by around 3300 BCE. One of the first Canaanite city-states is called Ebla.(6) The Eblaites left behind some of their texts, mostly of an administrative sort, so we know a little about life in Ebla but we do not have much information regarding their religion or literature. In this time, the area experiences an influx of people, or a rise in an indigenous culture, called the Amorites. The Amorites have a similar cultural background to the people of Canaan and integrate with the population; they even come into some political power.(7) King-lists in Canaan as well as Mesopotamia mention Ditanu, a deceased king with an Amorite name.(8) During the end of the Early Bronze Age, because of social unrest, Canaan undergoes a “dark age” of civilization.
Civilization gradually returns to Canaan. The state of Yamkhad, north of the area usually considered as Canaan, becomes a power in the region; Aleppo (Halab, Khalab) is its capital.(9) The Middle Bronze Age perhaps marks the peak of Canaanite civilization. Most of our information regarding Bronze Age Canaanite religion comes from the city state of Ugarit, modern-day Ras Shamra, on the northern corner of, or just beyond, what scholars often think of as the geographic location of Canaan. Ugarit flourishes in the Middle Bronze Age throughout the Late Bronze Age.
Canaan tends to have a mixed population because it is a trade crossroads for overland trade routes to Mesopotamia in the west, Anatolia (the Hittites) in the north, Egypt to the south, and sea routes to Cyprus and other locations. The Hittites become a dominant force in the region, after conquering Aleppo in the 17th century BCE.(10) Dominance fluctuates in the region: by the end of the century, Yamkhad regains power, but in the 14th century BCE the Hittites regain their position. (11)
Akkadian becomes the “international” language of the age in the second millennia BCE,(12) and much of the administrative texts and letters to foreign powers found in Ugarit are written in the 300 sign-cuneiform writing. Ugarit has developed a 30-sign cuneiform alphabet, possibly the first alphabet in the world, and writes their religious and mythological texts using this system. Cuneiform is a method of writing using a wedge-shaped writing stylus to imprint signs onto clay, which is then baked into tablets.
The Hurrians, who gain in strength, argue with the Hittites over the domination of Canaan and eventually take over Canaan from the Hittites. The Hurrians and Egypt vie for power over Canaan. The Hyksos, perhaps a population element from southern Canaan, manage to conquer Egypt for a very short time and establish the capital city Avaris in lower Egypt.(13) The Hurrians take control of northern Canaan. Egypt eventually overthrows the Hyksos around 1587 BCE and invades Canaan to take back the land it lost with a little extra for interest.(14) Starting in 1500 BCE to recent times, foreign powers have dominated the area of Canaan.
Egypt has regained control of its own territories and has conflicts with the Hurrians regarding the control of Canaan. Because the Hittites are beginning to gain power once again, the Egyptians and the Hurrians become reluctant allies, dividing up Canaan: northern areas for Hurrian rule, southern areas for Egypt.(15) The Hittites end up dominating the Hurrians, and take over ruling the northern part of Canaan.
Egypt undergoes a period of social unrest around 1500 BCE.(16) Akhenaten seeks to impress his Aten worship on the empire and overthrow the power of the temples. He moves Egypt's capital to Amarna. This period of time is known in Canaanite history as the Amarna Age;(17) many letters still survive detailing relations between Canaanite city-states and Amarna. The Hittites take advantage of Egypt's weakness and begin to push southward into what had been Egyptian-ruled territory.(18) Ugarit at this point is either under Hittite rule or decides to side with the Hittites, their closest neighbor, around 1368.(19)
Seti I (Nineteenth Dynasty) manages to make a treaty with Hittites, but peace didn't last long. Nineteenth Dynasty Egypt maintains domination at least over southern Canaan. Ramses II is victorious over the Hittites at Battle of Qadesh 1296 BCE.(20) Ramses II is probably responsible for ensuring the survival of strategic Canaanite cities while forcing others into decline. (21)
The Hittites and Egyptians later become uneasy allies because of the growing Assyrian Empire. A group of people called the “Sea Peoples” conquer the Hittites and migrate into Canaan. The Sea Peoples was a collective name applied to several peoples which may include the Philistines (22), and the Sherden (23). These peoples may well have had iron weapons,(24) which would make them formidable in battle against weaker bronze technology. Egypt finally leaves Canaan around the middle of the 12th century BCE and Canaan collapses.(25). Ugarit finds itself utterly destroyed at this time from wars and natural disasters.
Around this time, we begin to see the first mention of a migrant population known as the Habiru—they may or may not be related to the Hebrew peoples. The Habiru social group consists of unwanted population elements, such as outlaws and refugees from many different ethnicities. The term “Habiru” took on a negative connotation during this time.(26) Period of social unrest and civil devastation ensues.
Scholars cease to call the area Canaan and begin to refer to the northern coastal areas as Phoenicia, and the smaller southern area Israel or Palestine. Phoenicia inherits its culture from the Canaanites,(27) possibly more than Israel who tries in some ways to separate itself from the cultural continuum of the ancient Near East. Israel probably came into being around the end of the 10th century BCE.(28) Originally, it is said that the Israelites were united under David and Solomon, but broke apart into Israel and Judah after Solomon's death around 928 BCE,(29) but many scholars now dispute the creation of Judah, and doubt that there was an empire led by David and Solomon.(30)
In 924 BCE Egypt, under the rule of Sheshong I (Twenty-second Dynasty) again tries to rule in Israel. During this time, Assyrians rise in power. Phoenicians, Israelites, Egyptians, and Arabs form a tenuous alliance to fight against Assyria at the battle of Qarqar in 853 BCE.(31) The alliance is victorious, but autonomy in the area is short lived when the Assyrians return in 841 BCE and gain dominance over the region.(32)
The Phoenicians manage to squeeze out prosperity during this era because of their strategic position: their ports on the Mediterranean Sea support their trade industry,(33) and in 730 BCE the Phoenician city of Tyre establishes a colony in North Africa, Carthage.(34) Later, in 635 BCE Carthage would continue the trend Tyre started and establishes the colony of Ibiza.(35) By the end of the 8th century, Assyria has reached its height and has Phoenicia and Israel under its rule; Assyria even manages to control Egypt for a short time. New actors on the stage, Babylon, Media, and Lydia subdue Assyria and by the end of the 7th, beginning of the 6th century, the empire of Assyria crumbles.(36)
Without Assyrian domination, Phoenicia and Israel are “up for grabs.” Egypt spars with Babylon in 609 for control of the region, and Israel falls under Egypt's rule. Egyptian rule in Israel is short-lived because in 605 BCE Babylon defeats Egypt at Carchemish and Israel is under Babylon's control.(37) The Babylonian Empire loses strength while the Persian Empire grows. The Persians subdue Babylon in 539 BCE and unite all Phoenicia and Israel into one province. The area sees improvement in prosperity under Persian.(38) Even Egypt falls to Persia in 525 BCE.(39)
Alexander the Great in 332 BCE begins a sweeping conquest and takes over Egypt, Phoenicia, and Israel.(40) Phoenicia and Israel are divided by the Greeks to be ruled by the Selucids in the north (Phoenicia) and the Ptolemies in the south (Israel and Egypt). It looks very similar to the old Egypt versus Mesopotamia argument over the area, except under new Greek management.(41)
Carthage, the former Phoenician colony, has problems of its own with Rome which lead to the First Punic War (264-241 BCE) and the Second Punic War (223-202 BCE).(42), but Carthage still manages to establish a colony in Spain, Carthago Nova in 228 BCE.(43) When Rome defeats Carthage in 146 BCE, the Numidians inherit Carthegenian culture.(44)
After the decline of the Greeks, the Phoenicians fell under Roman domination, Arabic domination, and Turkish domination to end in the 19th century CE.(45)
1. Nakhai, Beth Alpert. Archaeology and the Religions of Canaan and Israel. The American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, MA , 2001, pgs. 6-8.
2. Bar-Yosef, Ofer. “The Natufian Culture in the Levant. Threshold to the Origins of Agriculture.” Evolutionary Anthropology, Wiley-Liss, Inc., 1998, p. 162-4.
3. Tubb, Jonathan N. Canaanites. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1998, p. 28.
4. Tubb 32
5. Tubb 35
6. Lemche in Jack Sasson et al., eds., Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1995, p. 1200.
7. For more on the Amorites, see Whiting in Sasson, 1231-8.
8. For more on Ditanu, see Smith, Mark S. The Ugaritic Baal Cycle, Volume I: Introduction with Text, Translation and Commentary of KTU 1.1-1.2. E.J. Brill, Leiden, the Netherlands, 1994, p. 113.
9. Lemche in Sasson 1201
10. Lemche in Sasson 1203
11. Lemche in Sasson 1203
12. Huehnergard in Sasson 2122
13. Lemche in Sasson 1205
14. Tubb 70
15. Tubb 73, Nakhai 119
16. Gordon, Cyrus. The Ancient Near East, 3rd Edition, Revised. W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., New York, 1965, p. 87.
17. Tubb 78
18. Tubb 78
19. Astour in Gordon Young, ed. Ugarit in Retrospect: Fifty Years of Ugarit and Ugaritic. Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1981, p. 19. Parker, Simon B., ed. Ugaritic Narrative Poetry. Society of Biblical Literature, U.S.A., 1997, p. 2.
20. Gordon 143
21. Tubb 82
22. Dothan in Sasson 1267
23. Tubb 93
24. Curtis 47
25. Lemche in Sasson 1208
26. For more about the Habiru, see Lemche in Sasson 1207, Ahlstrom in Sasson 589, and Tubb 80.
27. Tubb 140
28. Lemche in Sasson 1212
29. Tubb 116
30. Lemche in Sasson 1212
31. Tubb 117-8
32. Tubb 118
33. Lemche in Sasson 1213
34. Tubb 143
35. Tubb 143
36. Lemche in Sasson 1214
37. Tubb 120
38. Lemche in Sasson 1214-5
39. Tubb 133
40. Lemche in Sasson 1215
41. Lemche in Sasson 1215
42. Tubb 144
43. Tubb 144
44. Tubb 145
45. Lemche in Sasson 1215
Much of the information we have regarding the mythology of Canaan comes from the clay tablets found in Ugarit, modern-day Ras Shamra in Syria. A farmer plowing his fields accidentally came across the site and from 1928 through to the present day, archaeologists have been excavating this city-state. The tablets are generally in poor condition, chunks have broken off, parts of the text may have crumbled away, and in the case of a text that involves more than one tablet, we are generally unsure of what order in which to read the tablets. I provide here my abbreviated version gleaned from others’ interpretations of the texts, to give a taste of what the stories are about. By all means, please check out Resources and read the tales for themselves, and read many different translations because each scholar has his or her own version. There are poetic devices and a great deal of information available in the stories that any brief synopsis cannot adequately reproduce. I also suggest visiting the Inner Sanctuary in order to better understand the deities and what they represent.
For more information, please see:
Ba’al versus Yam
Yam and Ilu have come together at a feast to discuss an attack on Ba’al. Ilu has chosen Yam as king, and therefore, Yam plots to protect his kingship from the most likely threat: Ba’al. Ilu and Yam also make plans to build Yam’s palace. The establishing of a palace acts as a symbol for the establishment of rightful kingship; Ilu notifies Kathir-wa-Khasis, the craftsman Deity, to build Yam’s palace.
Shapshu, the Goddess of the Sun has a chat with Athtar (possibly an astral God and a God of Irrigation). 'Athtar is upset because he has no palace and thus his kingship is not established.
Ba’al sends a messenger to Yam regarding his newly appointed kingship. Ba’al has the messenger curse Yam. Yam, in retaliation, prepares his messengers to go speak to the Assembly of Deities on Mount Lal. Instructing them on how best to insult the Assembly and giving them explicit instructions, Yam sends them on their way. The Assembly sees the messengers coming. They fear bad news and they lower their heads in response. Ba’al encourages the Assembly to raise their heads and informs them that he will answer Yam’s message. The messengers do not bow their heads to honor the Assembly—a supreme insult—and proceed to speak Yam’s harsh words. Yam demands to have Ba’al and his wealth delivered to him. Responding to the insult, Ba’al tries to strike the messengers, but Athtart and Anat restrain him from harming the messengers.
Ba’al delivers himself to Yam, and both verbally battle one another. Kathir has created two magic clubs for Ba’al: Yagarrish to “drive” Yam from his throne, and Ayyamarri to “expel” Yam from his throne. Yagarrish strikes Yam in the middle of his body, but only serves to slow him down; Ayyamarri strikes Yam on the head knocking him unconscious. Ba’al is proclaimed the victor, and holds a feast to celebrate.
Other enemies, allies of Yam, have risen up and 'Anat goes to subdue them. In a gory battle, she collects hands and heads of the enemies she has slaughtered and bathes in their blood. When she finishes the battle, she is still full of bloodlust and thus begins a war in her own home. She sets up her furniture and does battle. Afterwards, she bathes and beautifies herself.
Ba’al Builds His Palace
Messengers of Ba’al arrive at 'Anat’s home. Anat begins to tremble because she fears bad news that some of Yam’s allies are still alive and seek to harm Ba’al. The messengers are there to invite her to Ba’al’s celebration feast, telling her that he will share his secret of lightning with her if she comes. Anat flies over to Ba’al’s feast.
Confiding in 'Anat, Ba’al shares with her that because he has no palace, his kingship cannot be ensured, and he wishes her to go speak with her father, Ilu, in order to gain his permission to have a palace built. 'Anat agrees to go visit Ilu on Ba’al’s behalf. Arriving at Ilu’s home on a mountain at the source of two rivers, 'Anat threatens to make her father’s beard run red with blood if he does not obey her wishes. The text is broken at this point, and we can only assume that Ilu ignored 'Anat’s threats because the story continues with Ilu’s permission yet to be garnered.
Since 'Anat’s threats seemed futile, she and Ba’al devise a new plan. They commission Kothar-wa-Khasis to create magnificent gifts for Athirat in order to win her favor. When they encounter Athirat, she is spinning thread by the seashore. 'Anat has killed many of her offspring, who were also allies of her son Yam, so when she sees Ba’al and Anat, her muscles give way in fear. Upon seeing the gifts, gifts of a footstool, a couch, a table, and a ceremonial bowl of precious metals, she is greatly relieved. She listens to Ba’al’s plight and has her servant prepare her donkey for travel to Ilu’s abode.
When she reaches Ilu's sacred mountain, he lovingly and joyously offers her refreshment and his affections. She proceeds to ask him for his permission for the building of Ba’al’s palace. He teases her and asks her if they themselves should be the bricklayers. Nonetheless, Ilu gives his permission. The house, according to his proclamation, shall be built of cedar, lapis, gold, silver, gems (or ore), and brick.
Kathir-wa-Khasis builds the palace and sets fire in it acting as a magical catalyst and a final touch. He tells Ba’al that he should have a window constructed in the palace, but Ba’al refuses, perhaps fearing that an enemy should run off with one of his daughters. Ba’al has a housewarming feast and then goes on a military campaign. Shortly after Ba’al’s arrival home, he realizes that if he has a window constructed in the palace, he would be better able to cause his rain to fall down to earth. Ba’al calls Kothar back to build a window; Kothar is not surprised, and basically says “I told you so…,” then constructs the window. At the end of this tale, we see an overconfident Ba’al who decides to try his kingship by contacting Mot, the only one who could threaten his kingship.
Ba’al versus Mot
Ba’al plans to send his messengers, Gapn and Ugar to Mot. He gives them instructions and warns them to keep a respectable distance between themselves and the hungry God of Death. He advises them to give appropriate gestures of respect by bowing to Mot. Mot grows annoyed at the messengers and returns them to Ba'al with a message of his own. He invites Ba’al to his home as a guest of honor at a dinner—rather as the main dish. Ba’al becomes afraid and realizes that he has overstepped his bounds in taunting Mot. Gapn and Ugar return to Mot bearing a message of Ba’al’s subservience to him.
Ba’al goes to Mot, and is not heard from again. At Ilu’s mountain, messengers appear carrying news of Ba’al’s death. Ilu engages in mourning rites: cutting his skin, shaving his beard, wearing coarse clothing. Ilu is worried about the fate of humanity because of the storm God’s demise. Anat learns of Ba’al’s death and she, too, engages in mourning rites. She finds his body and buries him and offering sacrifices of livestock.
Now, with an opening in the office of kingship, Ilu consults Athirat as to who he should name king next. She offers their son 'Athtar as king. 'Athtar goes to Ba’al’s throne and sits upon it, but when he sees his feet do not reach the ground, he realizes he is too young for kingship and voluntarily steps down.
Meanwhile, 'Anat has gone to pay Mot a visit, attacking him and treating his body as if it were grain: cutting him down, winnowing him, and parching him, then throwing the seed as food for the birds. Ilu, back at his divine mountain at the source of two rivers, has a prophetic dream that Ba’al has returned to life. He rejoices and sends Anat to ask Shapshu to search for him. 'Anat blesses Shapshu with the protection of Ilu in her search.
With Ba’al found, he is restored to his kingship. Some time has passed and Mot returns, even angrier. He is angry with Ba’al for how 'Anat treated him like grain and asking Ba’al to send him one of his brothers so he may devour him. Ba’al instead sends one of Mot’s own brothers; Mot realizes too late that he has devoured one of his own siblings. Disgusted and enraged he picks a fight with Ba’al. From her view in the sky, Shapshu witnesses the whole argument. She tells Mot that Ilu will take away his kingship if he continues fighting with Ba’al. Suitably cowed, Mot relents. The text ends with Shapshu as the guardian of the Rapi’uma, the spirits of the deceased. Kothar is named as her protector as she travels nightly over the seas to the underworld.
For a good look at many different theories regarding the Ba'al texts, see Smith, Mark S. The Ugaritic Baal Cycle, Volume I: Introduction with Text, Translation and Commentary of KTU 1.1-1.2. E.J. Brill, Leiden, the Netherlands, 1994. The theory of the Ba'al texts as a seasonal cycle is just one theory of many; Smith covers several different views including cosmogonic, historic/political, and limited exaltation theories, as well as the seasonal cycle theory.
Wright in Wright, David P. Ritual in Narrative: The Dynamics of Feasting, Mourning, and Retaliation Rites in the Ugaritic Tale of Aqhat. Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, IN, 2001, p. 5, says of the seasonal cycle theory: "But these interpretations may also be disputed because of the questionable supposition that myth is necessarily connected with ritual, and more particularly, because of the hypothetical and even arbitrary character of many of the observations and conclusions," p. 5.
At the beginning of the tale, King Kirtu finds his house in chaos: his entire family has died, his wife and all his heirs to the throne have died of different tragedies. Some have died from illness, and some from war. King Kirtu finds himself alone. He sends out a mournful plea to compassionate Ilu. Ilu, moved by his plea, sends King Kirtu a prophetic dream. Kirtu must bathe and paint himself, make offerings, then conscript a huge army of every capable man in his kingdom. He and the army should march to the city of Udm where they will set up camp outside the city walls and do nothing for a week. The king of Udm, Pabil, will be so perturbed by the army looming outside his walls that he will make offers to King Kirtu to leave him and his kingdom alone. Kirtu should refuse these offers and demand King Pabil’s daughter Churaya. With Churaya as his wife, Kirtu’s dynastic line could continue. Ilu declares that Churaya and Kirtu will have many children and Ilu names Thitmanit, the eighth and youngest child, a daughter, shall be the heir instead of the eldest son. It was possible, according to some scholars, that in Canaanite culture at large, the father could name as “firstborn son and heir” any of his children.
Kirtu does as Ilu has foretold; he ritually cleanses and prepares himself, he makes the adequate sacrifices, he prepares the army, and he marches for Udm. On the way to Udm, he strays from Ilu’s plan: he stops by Athirat’s temple in Sidon to curry her favor by promising a great deal of silver and gold to her to gain her favor.
At Udm, Kirtu and his army camp for seven days. As Ilu has fortold, a worried King Pabil appears and offers Kirtu much gold, livestock, and servants if he will take his army and leave the kingdom. Kirtu counters the offer with a request for the beautiful daughter Churaya. Although King Pabil and the kingdom adore their kind-hearted princess, Pabil agrees to the union. Kirtu and Churaya are married and Kirta holds a celebration feast back in his kingdom. The Deities were invited to the feast and they bestow their blessings upon the newly wedded couple.
Many years go by, the text says seven, but that is often a euphemism for several; Huraya has given birth to her eight children and they have grown. Athirat has waited all this while for Kirtu to fulfill his promise to her and he has not; she strikes him down with a slow, debilitating illness. King Kirtu from his sickbed, instructs his wife to fulfill a role of his in organizing and holding a feast to invite all his trusted captains and advisors to quietly share with them Kirta’s dire condition. The land is connected to the king, and it too shows signs of his weekness by becoming infertile.
Ilha’u, a younger son of Kirtu’s, learns of his father’s ailments and goes to visit him. He mourns that someone so strong, seemingly immortal, should suffer such a terrible fate, and he cries about the injustice that his father should share the common fate of mortals: death. Kirtu asks Ilha’u not to mourn for him, but instead to call Thitmanit to him to mourn instead of him. But he also makes a request to Ilha’u not to tell Thitmanit of his condition, but to tell her that he is busy making sacrifices and is preparing for a banquet. Perhaps he does not wish his youngest child to worry over him because he knows how fond she is of him.
Ilha’u does as his father instructs him and tells Thitmanit that their father is preparing a feast. Thitmanit sees through the charade and demands to know how long the king has been in his sickbed. She mourns and weeps when Ilha’u speaks the truth that their father has been ailing for three months, then reveals to her that it would be wise for them to begin making funeral arrangements as Kirtu nears the “sunset” of his life.
Ba’al hears the prayers for a restoration of King Kirtu’s health, and Ba’al beseeches Ilu for help. Ilu inquires of the Deities if anyone will or is able to cure Kirtu. No one answers. Realizing he will have to remedy the situation somehow, Ilu constructs a dragon of mud that he empowers with magic. Shataqat, the dragon, flies to Kirta’s sickbed and, using a wand, strikes the illness from his body and washes the fever-induced sweat from him. Kirtu, restored, calls to his wife to bring him a meal.
The eldest son, Yatzib, has been plotting since Kirta had fallen ill. Wanting the kingdom for himself, Yatzib confronts Kirta to tell him that due to his illness, he is not fit to rule and he has slackened in his duties to the kingdom. In response, a fully restored Kirta issues a nasty curse upon Yatzib, wishing that Choron should crush Yatzib’s skull. There is perhaps more to the story, but we may never know the end because the text breaks off at this point.
King Dani'ilu has a similar problem to King Kirtu’s problem in the previous story. He has no heir to the throne. Try as he and his wife may, they have not been able to produce a child. Dani'ilu mourns that he will have no son to fulfill a son’s duties toward his father: being his heir, preserving his memory after death, fulfilling his religious duties of partaking of offerings at the temple, making household repairs and assisting with household chores, and caring for his father should he become inebriated.
Dani'ilu makes offerings to the Deities and sleeps outside, perhaps atop a roof, for a week. Ilu, moved by Dani'ilu’s plight, sends the Katharat to him. Ilu holds his cup up to Danil to demonstrate that his blessing is upon the man.
Dani'ilu honors the seven Goddesses by holding a seven-day feast in their honor. By the end of the feast, Dani'ilu and his wife conceive a child. They name the child Aqhat. Years pass and Aqhat has come of age. Kathir-wa-Khasis gifts the youth with a special bow. Aqhat presumably makes use of the bow in a hunting trip one day; 'Anat spies him and becomes intensely envious, wanting the bow for herself. She speaks with Aqhat, offering him gold and silver, and even immortality in trade for the bow. Aqhat refuses—he has no need for gold or silver, and he believes the gift of immortality is a flat-out lie, knowing that he will suffer the fate of all humanity. He tells her that if she wants the bow so badly, she should gather together the materials for Kathir to make one for her. He also chides 'Anat, asking her what a girl could want with a bow.
An enraged 'Anat goes to speak with Ilu, demanding his permission for her to obtain Aqhat’s bow. Ilu does not give his express permission; he merely states that it matters not whether he will give his permission, she will do what she wants anyway. 'Anat leaves Ilu’s presence and proceeds to plot with her warrior buddy Yatspan.
The plan is that she will fly among a flock of vultures taking Yatpan with her and dropping him off right atop of Aqhat. He will deliver a killing blow upon Aqhat. Their plot succeeds, and Aqhat’s napshu—his spirit—leaves like a misty fog out his nostrils. Something happens to the bow and it gets broken in the process. 'Anat mourns for now Aqhat and the bow are both lost, she gained nothing in the process; and as the prince is connected with the land, because he has died the land is beginning to perish.
Aqhat’s sister, Pughat, is blessed with a certain wisdom regarding astrology and herbalism. She takes note of the barrenness of the land and begins to fear the worst. Upon imparting her knowledge to her father, King Dani'ilu, he has a donkey dressed with riding ropes and prepares to go look for any viable vegetation in the land. Messengers come to the king and tell him the terrible news that his son is deceased.
Dani'ilu lets out a hearty curse upon the cities near the site of Aqhat’s death. He tries to capture each vulture that has eaten of his son’s corpse in order to see if they carry the remains of his son so that he can gather the remains together to give them a proper burial. Aqhat’s death is mourned for seven years, after which Dani'ilu gives Pughat permission to avenge Aqhat’s death. Pughat prepares by bathing and painting herself, clothing herself in a warrior’s vestments, then wearing women’s clothing to cover them.
When she finds the camp, Yatspan, not knowing who she is, invites her in and offers her hospitality. In raising a toast to Ilu and himself, bragging upon his deed, he has sealed his own fate. It is possible that she poisoned the wine that Yatspan is drinking. The text is missing at this point. Scholars assume that the story ends with the restoration of Aqhat, either by his return to life, or by the avenging of his death; and fertility would then return to the land.
Embedded within this text are notes regarding ritual activities, so it is to the reader’s advantage to consult a resource and read the entire text . Ritual participants invite the Gracious Gods to come and partake of the feast table, sharing in food and drink. Participants wish peace to the local administrators and the monarch.
Mot is compared to a grapevine in need of pruning. Mot, as God of Death, is pictured as holding a scepter of bereavement in his hand. It seems that Mot is to receive the treatment of an overgrown grapevine, being pruned and trained like a vine.
Participants are to repeat this section regarding Mot’s treatment as a grapevine seven times, and are then to sing a hymn of Athirat and Rahmayyu. Athirat and Rahmayyu may be two individual Goddesses, or they may be one and the same. Participants are then to simmer milk products with herbs in them, to give an offering of incense, to give an invocation to the Deities, and to sing a hymn seven times.
The text then goes into mythological material.
The lady/ladies are outside doing chores or bathing when Ilu happens to be out taking a walk. He spies her/them and becomes aroused. Ilu hunts some food and offers it to the lady/ladies and says that if she/they would share the meal with him and call him “father,” then he would be her/their kin as father forever more. However, if she/they should share the meal with him and call him “husband,” then he would be her/their husband forever more.
She/they decide to share the meal with Ilu and call him “husband.” They make love and conceive twins, Shachar and Shalim, dawn and dusk respectively, or morning and evening star. Shachar and Shalim, when newborns and as small children have voracious appetites. Ilu makes an offering or builds a home for them out in the desert (the text/translations are not clear.)
When the children are older, they meet with a man that is called the “Watchman of the Fields” or the “Guardian of the Sown Land.” The man shares his hospitality with them, sharing what he has of food and drink. The text breaks off at this point.
Yarikh, God of the Moon, is enchanted with Nikkal-wa-Ib, beautiful Goddess of the Orchards. Khirkhib, the “Summer King” negotiates with Yarikh for Nikkal’s hand in marriage. Khirkhib offers one of Ba’al’s daughters to Yarikh but it is Nikkal who has his heart, and he would marry only her.
Yarikh brings many engagement gifts to Nikkal’s family. Each person in Nikkal’s family plays a role in measuring and counting out how much Yarikh has given them: all the vineyards, all the silver and gold, and all the lapis lazuli. After the family has agreed that the gift is appropriate, they give their blessing for the marriage to take place.
The Katharat, the seven Goddesses of Conception, come to the wedding to bless Nikkal. At this point in the text, the Katharat are called upon to bless another couple, a human couple for which the text was probably written, in celebration of their marriage.Music accompanies this Hymn to Nikkal and Yarikh; check out a couple of reconstructions of Ugaritic music: Syria Museum's article "The Oldest Song in the World"
Whisper of Stone: Natib Qadish, Modern Canaanite Religion
available in bookstores and online.
Retailers: Order through National Book Network (NBN) or contact me: admin at canaanitepath.com
Anointed: A Devotional Anthology for the Deities of the Near and Middle East
Available through some bookstores on request, and online. Proceeds go towards funding more anthologies and to charities. For details about charities see Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
Order through Amazon.com or through Bibliotheca Alexandrina
Retailers: Order through Ingram Baker & Taylor or contact me: admin at canaanitepath.com
Email: admin at canaanitepath.com
All original written work on this site is copyright © 2005, 2009 Tess Dawson, unless otherwise noted.
Please do not use without permission, proper crediting, and a link to my site.
All original artwork and photographs on this site are copyright © 2005, 2008, 2011 Tess Dawson, unless otherwise noted.
Please do not use without permission, proper crediting, and a link to my site.
Natib Qadish: Modern Canaanite Polytheism is a site about Canaanite religion, also called Canaanite revivalism, or Canaanite reconstructionism. This site explores topics of interest for people who practice Canaanite religion, information regarding the ancient Canaanites themselves, and includes both ancient Canaanite religion and its modern counterpart.