Middle Eastern Mythologies
The Hebrews and Canaanites
What was the nature of Canaanite mythology?
Although there were many local versions of the Canaanite pantheon, a generally consistent series of deities and deity types emerges from these versions. First of all, there is a concept of a high god who takes precedence over all others. He is a storm god associated with weather and fertility and creation. He is a somewhat distant figure. A Semitic word for “god” is el or il. Thus, we have the Hebrew Elohim and the Arabic al-ilah or Allah. Deity lists in Ugarit dating from the second millennium B.C.E. refer to El and to Elib (Ilib), the “father god.” The Greeks associated El with Kronos, the father of Zeus. Another term for the high god was Dagan (Dagon). His name refers to grain and he is directly related to the concept of fertility.
Goddesses were important among the Canaanites. They were typically the means by which the nature of their male counterparts were actualized. Thus, the Phoenician Ashtart, or Astarte, as the Greeks called her, was “the name of Baal.” Athirat (Asherah), the consort of El, is “the Mother of Gods.”
But the most popular and significant concept of the high god was Baal in his many forms: son of El, storm and weather god, dying god whose death means draught and whose return means renewed fertility. Baal was strong enough even to rival the concept of Yahweh among many of the Israelites in Canaan. His complex mythology is contained in a cycle that dominated Canaanite mythology.