Part 4. Canaanite diety names that became Hebrew words
It has long been known that certain Hebrew words come from Canaanite gods' names, the question is when did the transition become complete, since if it were very ancient it would no longer have the divine meaning any more than Wednesday means Woden's day or Thursday means Thors' day does to us. However it appears in the Old Testament that as late as the Prophets some of these deities are being condemned by name and so are clearly known to be Canaanite gods and not just words. We should like to look at some of these names to see how they are used.
Mot: the word for 'death', his realm is the 'earth'. He will appear in the Baal Epic below. He is called 'Beloved Mot' in the Canaanite literature but probably only to appease him. He represents sterility as well as death. The phrase 'strong as hell' has ancient equivalents, in Song of Songs 8:6 love is said to be as strong as Mot/death (I5). The story of the execution of Saul's descendants by Yahweh's command in order to appease him and have him lift the three years of famine is now thought to be a reworked Canaanite story about appeasing Mot, especially because of the references to the barley harvest and the wait until the rainy season (N1). As late as Isaiah (after the fall of the Northern Kingdom) the people are condemned for literally making a covenant with death/Mot instead of Yahweh for protection from the impending trials. Mot is clearly a deity in the story (Is 28.14-22) (J6).
Sedheq: the word for 'propriety' or 'justice' - cosmic order. He was a prominent deity in pre-Hebrew Jerusalem and is usually linked with Misor 'righteous' or 'right' in the Old Testament (Is 11:4, 45:19, Pss 9:8, 45:7, 58:1, 82:1, 98:9). He corresponds to Suduk and Misor in Ugarit and to Kittu and Mesharu in Babylonia where they are attendants to the Sun god Shamash (compare to Mal 3:20 "sun of righteous"). His name appears in the names of two Canaanite kings of Jerusalem (before David captured it for the Israelites), Melchizedek 'My king is Sedheq' (Gen 14:18) and Adonizedek 'My lord is Sedheq' (Jos 10:1). His name also appears as just Zadok, Solomon's chief priest (I Kgs 2:35). Isaiah calls Jerusalem 'the city of Sedheq' (Is 1:26) and Jeremiah calls it 'the habitation of Sedheq' (Jer 31:23). Second-Isaiah uses Sedheq as being equal to Yahweh (Is 51:1 61:3), he is the right hand of Yahweh (Is 41:10, Pss 48:11, 85:11,13) and in the Dead Sea Scrolls it is written 'Sedheq will rejoice in the heavenly heights' (DSS 1 Qm col 17 lines 6-8). In Jewish mystical tradition he becomes equal to the Shekinah the female aspect of the divinity that judges. Sedheq as the right hand of Yahweh is connected later to the Messiah, the king who sits at Yahweh's right hand dispensing judgments. A key Messianic prophecy is Jer 23:5 which should read 'the shoot of Sedheq'. He is related to the planet Jupiter in Jewish astrology, the planet of the Messiah. (I6)
Shalah: the word for 'current' as is a river. In Hebrew their are fields of Shalah meaning irrigated fields and fields of Baal meaning watered by the god of thunderstorms - rain. Rivers in the ancient world represented decision or judgment, Shalah corresponds to the river Hubur in Mesopotamian mythology which one crossed to go to the underworld. There is a ritual in Deuteronomy 21:1-9 which is a purification sacrifice to a deity in or represented by a brook (verse 8 is thought to be a later addition) and is very peculiar to other Jewish rituals. Shalah appears in the name Methuselah (Gen 5:21-27) and means 'man of Shalah', this is later changed to Methushael or 'man of Sheol' which carries roughly the same meaning. Methuselah thus was a devotee of a god of the underworld and he is recorded as having lived 969 years, the longest of any person in the Bible. (I7) He is also Noah's grandfather and from calculations of the figures in Genesis he died in the same year as the big flood. Is it chance that a devotee of a water related underworld deity should live so long and then die just before or in the great flood? This seems to hint at something deeper in the flood story but it may be lost to us.
Return to Table of Contents
(c) 1999 Thomas F. Swezey All rights reserved.