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Bronze Age Religion

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Canaanite religion was based on the worship of local deities in local temples, but included widely held myths and rituals. Local gods and goddesses were special manifestations of the great deities of religious epics. Canaanite deities were organized in a pantheon: El the creator, his consort Athirat (Asherah), the storm god Ba'al, and his sister Anat, a goddess of hunting and warfare.

El, the chief god of the pantheon, is identified in Canaanite art as a seated male figure with arms raised as if about to give a blessing. In myths from Ugarit (in Syria) he is described as sitting enthroned in his palace, where he gives his sanction to all decisions among the gods affecting nature and society.

El's female counterpart in myth is the mother-goddess Asherah. As consort to El, Asherah is associated with a cult of fertility and eroticism. Her sacred animal is the lion.

Ba'al ("Master") is one of the major gods of the Canaanite cult and is associated with a holy mountain called Zaphon. Numerous bronze votives show him as a young man with his hand raised in a gesture of victory. The bull was a major symbol of this god. Ba'al was the owner and defender of fertile lands as well as the gods of storms. A popular Canaanite myth describes the battle between Ba'al and a monstrous sea god, Yam. Another myth involves a struggle between Ba'al and Mot, the god of Death and Sterility. Ba'al is closely associated with the goddess Anat (or Astarte), who is his sister, and in some myths, his consort. Anat is a warlike and often cruel goddess.

These mythic deities appear as local deities of Canaanite cities in the southern Levant, both in the Bible and in inscriptions. On the international scene, Canaanite gods and goddesses were equated with their counterparts in Egypt and Mesopotamia. For example, Ba'al is equated with the Egyptian god Seth, since they are both storm gods, and the Egyptian goddess Hathor is equated with a number of Canaanite goddesses, including Anat and Qudushu ("the holy one," a voluptuous goddess of love, lions and snakes).

Overall, precise identification of Canaanite gods and goddesses is difficult due to the fact that depictions of the deities are scarce, found mainly in the form of votives: small bronze statues and ceramic plaques. Inscriptions and texts concerning Canaanite divinities are still more rare.




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