Part 7. My Summary of The Baal Epic
I shall now give my own summary of the Baal Epic (T1). It starts with El building a house for his son Yamm the sea god. Astarte also wants a house but the text is unclear. Yamm sends messengers to El to request that Baal be given to him to lord over, the other gods are frightened by this, but Baal rebukes their cowardice. El grants Yamm's request but Baal doesn't go along with it, he picks p a cudgel and a bludgeon to kill Yamm. Astarte tries to talk Baal out of resisting (but then supports him? text is broken). Then Astarte intervenes to stop Baal from killing Yamm once he's got him down.
Baal then sends messengers to Anath to explain to her why he needs to get his own hose (evidently he has moved p a notch in the pantheon by defeating Yamm). Then Baal and Anath go to see Asherah who is frightened at their first arrival (does she expected to be raped?) but she agrees to appeal El on Baal's behalf to get a house. She rides off to El's house alone, she rejects El's sexual advances and appeals to him for a house for Baal. El puts her down "Am I a slave, an attendant of Asherah?" but then grants her request. Asherah and Anath are both happy and Baal orders his house be built. That takes six days of fire to purify the gold and silver and the seventh day the bricks are laid. They slaughter rams and lambs and have a big party and Baal assumes his new throne.
Baal starts getting a little uppity and refuses to pay tribute to Mot (the god of death and the underworld) who decides to put him in his place.
Mot eats Baal "like a lamb". Baal is frightened and offers to be Mot's slave but it's too late. Baal is dead "the prince, lord of earth is perished".
El is broken up when he hears, he puts on sackcloth and a loincloth and worries about "What becomes of the people?...What of the masses?" and vows to go find him. (This seems to reflect the popularity of Baal versus the authority of El). Anath sacrifices groups of seventy animals while Asherah's sons argue over who will get Baal's throne, finally one of them takes over. Anath tracks down Mot and demands Baal back, when he sees uncooperative she hacks him into little pieces, grinds him up, winnows him and spreads him over the fields like some sort of divine fertilizer. There is a break in the text and then suddenly Baal is alive. "Existent the Prince, Lord of Earth!" (recall Saul's son Ishbaal 'the lord/Baal exists' it is thought that most references in the Old Testament to the "Living God" originally meant Baal). Baal then takes revenge on Asherah's sons. Mot is also alive and the sun goddess Shapsh convinces him to back off in his quarrel with Baal. Finally, Baal rewards his supporters.
The traditional interpretation of the epic is that it reflects the agricultural cycle. The control of the flooding is Baal's conflict with Yamm, the rainy season is when Baal is on the throne, the harvest corresponds to the winnowing of Mot and the cycle starting over with Baal's resurrection. While this is probably true we can still look at the strictly mythological aspects of the story.
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(c) 1999 Thomas F. Swezey All rights reserved.