Tablets from Ugarit and Canaanite religion (Joshua 1)

The land Joshua was commanded by God to enter was that of the Canaanites. Although the Old Testament provides us with some information concerning these non-Israelite people and their religion, we gain much of our knowledge from the writings of a people not far removed from the Canaanites themselves. Ugarit, a city in northern Syria, has yielded a huge archive of tablets dating from approximately 1400 B.C. Though not located in Canaan proper, Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra) shared many close cultural ties with the Canaanites, including a similar religious system and language.

The language in which the tablets from Ugarit were written is now simply called Ugaritic. It is closely related to Hebrew and is of great value in helping scholars to better understand ancient Hebrew. These tablets include texts of various kinds and incorporate a great number of mythological and ritual religious elements. The deities they mention constitute the pantheon (list of officially recognized gods) of Ugarit and of the Canaanite people.

The highest deity was El, the aged father god. His consort or partner was Athirat, a sea goddess also known in the Old Testament as Asherah. The principal player in the major mythological text from Ugarit is Baal (possibly El’s grandson), the mighty storm god and fertility deity who figures so prominently in many of the Old Testament historical and prophetic books. In the battles depicted in the Baal cycle, this notorious god defeated the deities Yam (the sea) and Mot (death). His consorts were Anat, a warrior goddess who also was his wife-sister, and Astarte. Other features of Canaanite religion attested at Ugarit include animal sacrifices, seasonal festivals and belief in an afterlife. Child sacrifice, a recurring motif of Canaanite religion in the Old Testament, is not mentioned in Ugaritic texts.


 

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