Religions of Ancient Millennia

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Background to Religions in E. Mediterranean

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First Millennium B.C.

In the 1st millennium the written documentation shrinks to formulaic inscriptions, very occasionally developed into more expressive literary miniatures. Gods are often referred to in these texts by titles or by new names, so that it is often difficult to ascertain their relationship to the deities of the 2nd millennium, or indeed to determine their individuality in relation to one another. It appears that there was a tendency in this millennium to concentrate all divine power in one deity, as has been noted of Mesopotamia and as is most obviously and extremely the case in Israel.

The storm god, Hadad, appears as the chief god of the Aramaeans in northern Syria in the 9th and 8th centuries. The moon god (under the name Sahar) also is prominent in this area. Some rulers speak of their own dynastic deity. A king who owes his position to the Assyrian emperor refers to the latter and the dynastic deity equally as "my master."

It is clear that several different deities are referred to by the form Baal-X ("Lord of X"). Hadad is probably represented by Baal-Shamen ("Lord of the Heavens"). El appeared under the tile Baal-Hammon -- rarely on the mainland, but abundantly in the Phoenician colonies of Africa; under this name he becomes the chief deity of Carthage. In the Phoenician heartland the supreme goddess of Byblos--presumably Asherah--is called simply Baalat Gubl ("the Lady of Byblos"). Anath becomes much less visible during the 1st millennium than at Ugarit. Athtart (Astarte), on the other hand, becomes more prominent. At Sidon, as earlier at Ugarit, she is referred to as "the Name of Baal," perhaps indicating that she was called upon as a mediator with the supreme Baal (Hadad). Alongside other long-familiar deities such as Resheph and Shamash appeared certain new names, including Eshmun (especially at Sidon), Melqart ("king of the [underworld] city"; especially at Tyre), and, of course, Yahweh (in Israel--but also represented at least in personal names at Hamath and Larnaca). According to the Hebrew Bible, Asherah and Astarte were both worshiped in Israel during the first half of the millennium, and Hebrew inscriptions attest to a pairing of Yahweh and Asherah.

Chemosh, known from Ebla and Ugarit, reappears as the national god of Moab. King Mesha of Moab interprets Israel's occupation of his country as a consequence of Chemosh's anger with his land. He claims that, at Chemosh's direction, he reconquered land occupied by Israel, and he attributes his success to Chemosh. He reports that he dedicated the Israelite inhabitants to Chemosh by slaughter and says that Chemosh will henceforth dwell in these territories. This is recorded on the Moabite Stone (now in the Louvre, Paris) a stela that commemorates these events and Mesha's building of a sanctuary for Chemosh in gratitude. The formal identity of these expressions and this kind of religious interpretation of events with those found in some of Israel's literature encourages the surmise that they may also have been shared by the Ammonites with respect to their national god, Milcom. The Philistines, traditionally believed to have originated in Crete, were one group of the Sea Peoples that moved from the Aegean Sea to the southeastern Mediterranean. They settled in southeastern Palestine after being repulsed by the Egyptians. Their religion, while it retains some Aegean and Egyptian elements from the Philistines' origins and route of migration, appears largely indistinguishable from Canaanite religion in general. The Bible refers to the gods of the Philistines by the familiar Canaanite names Dagon, Baalzebub, and Ashtart. The name of Asherah has been found inscribed on storage jars in a cultic room at Ekron. ( S.B.P.)


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