Part 5. Canaanite diety names that became Hebrew words (2)
Shalem: 'the stable one' he is connected to the evening star and is paired with Shahar who is connected to the morning star. The two gods are called the 'celestial ones' and correspond to the Greek Castor and Pollux. (A1) His name appears in the names Jerusalem 'the foundation of Shalem' and two of David's sons, Absalom 'the father is Shalem' and Solomon 'belonging to Shalem'. It is odd that David would name two of his sons after a Canaanite deity -- the god of the city he captured and made into his capitol unless it was to appease the locals. What is more curious is that Solomon is remembered as Solomon by the Jews since he has a more orthodox name given him directly by Yahweh through the prophet Nathan, namely "Jedidiah" "beloved of the Lord" (II Sm 12:25). Any "-iah" name refers to "Yah" from "Yahweh" and so should certainly be more acceptable to the Jews than "Solomon".
Shalem's consort is called Shulmitu or Shlmanitu and is referred to in Assyrian texts as the "Ishtar of Jerusalem". This is important as these two names are thought to correspond to the two lovers in Song of Songs, Solomon and Shulamite. One would assume Song of Songs was included into the Bible on the mistaken belief that it was referring to King Solomon (who never accurately figures in the book) when in fact it is a sexual-love poem between two Canaanite deities. (I8)
El: the word for "god" or "the God". El is the main god especially over the celestial or Mesopotamian gods in the pantheon. He is the typical image of the Old Testament God, he is the father, he is depicted as having a long beard. He is the "Creator of all creatures", the "eternal king", "father of years", " the father of all the gods", "father of the bull". He is called "ab adm" or "father of adam (mankind)". His name occurs 238 times in the Old Testament and in many Hebrew names, namely any ending in "-el" like Michael, Gabriel, Israel. In the Old Testament he is also called El Shaddai ("El the Almighty"), El Elyon ("El the Most High") and El Olam ("El the Eternal"). His abode is at the "springs of the two rivers midst the sources of the two deeps" the head of the Tigris and Ephrates rivers. He rules from a tent (as does God through the Ark of the Covenant).
Accept for his sexual activity, all other aspects of El were transferred to Yahweh. Modern scholars believe "Yahweh" should be "Yahweh-el" meaning "El who brings into being" and so is just another epithet for El. In fact several Bible verses indicate this equation directly; "El is the god of Israel" Gen 33:20, "Yahweh is El of the gods [Elohim]" Jos 22:22, "For Yahweh is the great El, the Great King over all the gods" Ps 95:3, and when Yahweh first reveals himself to Moses "...I am Yahweh...I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai [El the Almighty]" Ex 6:2-3.
El presided over the Heavenly Council of gods, which was considered in the ancient world to be the highest form of government in the universe, one which kings patterned their courts after. The "Assembly of El" or "sons of El" appear in Pss 82:1, 29:1, 89:6 (I10). In fact the most common word for God in the Old Testament is "Elohim" which is plural and means "the gods" even though it is always used as if it were a singular. One exception to its singular usage is in Genesis 1:26 which should read "Then the gods said 'Let us make man in out image after our likeness...'...the gods created man in their image; in the divine image they created them: male and female they created them." The male and female division in mankind is therefore patterned after the same division in the pantheon. El is directly tied to granting child bearing and does so in the Canaanite literature just as Yahweh does with Abraham and Sarah in Genesis. (I9)
Asherah: the mother goddess together with Astarte and Anath represent the three forms of women (and in the mythology they play confused roles). Asherah the mother, Astarte the wife/lover and Anath the sister/virgin all play important roles in the mythology. They correspond to Hera, Aphrodite and Artemis in Greek mythology.
Only Asherah's name is a Hebrew word, and it is only used as the name of a sacred pole dedicated to her (somewhat like a totem pole). (J8) Asherah's name originally meant "one who walks (upon the sea)". She is the mother of all the gods (apparently even El's) and as such she is called the "progenitrix of the gods", El may have won her through a series of cosmogonic battles from an even older deity name Ilib, which would allow for a more typical Oedipal conflict inside the celestial side of the religion but this is my own conjecture after looking at the information. (I11)
Asherah is El's consort and is sometimes known as "Elath" "female El". However in the later literature especially the Old Testament a major shift has occurred and she is now Baal's consort and is called "Baalath" "female Baal" as in the name "Baalath-Gebal" "the female Baal of Byblos" (we shall see more about Baal below). (C1) The sacred poles may be related to the terebinth mentioned above. The sacred pole is thought to be the "tree of life" in the Adam and Eve story (Gen 3) with the rasin cakes which were offered to her as the forbidden fruit (Hos 3:) thereby making the story a condemnation of participating in Canaanite rituals. (N3) However it is clearly a story about the Oedipal conflict. El the "father of adam (mankind)" forbids the son to taste the fruits of the mother, Asherah. When he is caught he blames it on the mother (Eve the "mother of all who live" is psychologically equated to Asherah here) who tempted him. He is castrated (the reference to being naked?) and killed (at least cast out of paradise and doomed to die) but also he keeps the mother Eve with him, so in a sense he wins since she is now his wife and not El's. From a different angle El has cast his son out forever and so is safe with the goddess Asherah in paradise so that in a sense he wins. He even feels secure enough to offer the son hope that some day he may be let him back into paradise. It is interesting that the son never attacks the father directly but only interacts with the other players in the drama. Also, the mother n Paradise is never personified the father appears to be the sole parent.
The sacred pole took several forms; a staff, a tree or even a cross. (J9) There are references to sacred prostitutes both male and female and to making clothes of some kind for the sacred pole (I Kgs 15:12, 22:47 especially II Kgs 23:7) (C1). In every reform the poles were the first thing to go (for example Josiah's Reform II Chr Chapters 33-36). The sacred pole is linked to another type of pole or piller called a "messebah" meaning "to erect" or "set up" (Gen 28:18, Ex 23:24, 34:13) which is more of a commemorative stele, often Baal oriented and phallic (II Kgs 3:2, 0:26-27) (J10). One can only wonder if this pair are related to the two pillars Jachin and Boaz in Solomon's Temple (I Kgs 7:21, II Chr 3:17).
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(c) 1999 Thomas F. Swezey All rights reserved.