Before monotheism became the dominant religious practice in the Middle East, there was an extensive pantheon composed of hundreds of gods, demons, and monsters from the Egyptian, Greek, Mesopotamian, and many tribal cultures of the region. Whether from nomadic tribes or conquering empires these gods were mixed, matched and borrowed to create their now nearly-forgotten mythology.
According to Canaanite mythology the twin mountains Targhizizi and Tharumagi support the heavans above an ocean which surrounds the world. The epithets within their language refers to the mountains as breasts and thereby the body of the Earth as feminine. The goddess Asherah was the embodyment of the Earth much in the same way as Tiamat was for the Babylonians or Gaia for the Greeks.
Although at one time the Canaanite pantheon may have been as extensive as the Egyptian or Greek pantheons, it has nearly been erased from memory. In addition, many of the gods and godesses share the same realms of control adding to the confusion as to their identities.
Ba'al - The God of Storms and Fertility. Known as the "Rider of Clouds", Ba'al holds a thunder club and a spear of lightning, which he used to slay the sea -monster, Yamm. When the time came for Baal to replace his father El as ruler of the gods, he was challenged and defeated by Mot, the God of Death. Death could not maintain its hold on him; Ba'al rose again with the coming of spring and so earned his title as King of the Gods.
Tannit - The Moon Goddess and patron diety of ancient Carthage. She was worshipped as a virginal mother goddess and consort of Ba'al Hammon.
El - The Greater God. El was born of the god Samem (Heavan) and the goddess Ars (Earth). He took over as ruler of the gods after emasculating his father. He is creator and father of the gods in the Canaanite pantheon. Also refered to as the Bull God.
Asarte - The planet Venus is associated with Asarte. She is the Queen of Heavan, Goddess of the sky and Consort of El. Asarte is a goddess of sexuality and the violence that comes with passion. Her sphere of influence is similar to Ishtar in Mesopotamia and Aphrodite in Greece.
Anat - The planet Mars is most likely associated with this warrior goddess. Anat is the sister and wife of Ba'al. She is known for her ferocious temper and slaying so many of her enemies in battle that she would be wading knee-deep in their blood. When Ba'al was defeated by Mot she searched for her husband in the netherworld where she encountered Mot. When Mot refused her demand to release her husband from the land of the dead, she chopped him into pieces with a sharp knife, winnowed the pieces of his body, burned him in a fire, ground him up and spread his remains in a field as fodder for the birds.
Mot - God of Death, Ruler of the Underworld. Mot challeged Ba'al's rise to becoming ruler of the gods. He created a famine by openning his mouth so wide that his lower lip touched the earth and his upper lip touched the sky. He licked the stars with his tongue and drank away all Ba'al's rain and moisture in the land. Ba'al died with the end of the growing season. When Ba'al rose again from the dead with the coming of Spring, Mott had little choice but to accept him as king of the gods.
Dagon - The most ancient etymologies for Dagon may have meant that he was originally a god of grain and fertility. However, within the Canaanite maritime tradition he was worshipped God of the Sea. His outstanding feature being that he was a fish from the navel down.
Yamm - Seven-headed monster slain by Ba'al and whose blood became the oceans.
The central figure is Tiamat, a fertility goddess who gave birth to the eleven guardian monsters that surround her. When she was slain by Marduk, (lower left corner) Tiamat's body was split in two and became the earth and sky. Her tears and blood became the seas. Tiamat's consort, Qingu (lower right corner) was defeated in a great battle with Marduk. Qingu was later sacrificed and his blood was mixed with clay to make the first people.
Here is one of western civilization's oldest models of the universe. It holds the roots of many later traditions. It shows a multi-layered universe much like a stepped pyramid or ziggurat. The disk located to the lower center represents a subterranean freshwater ocean called the Abzu. The Abzu was a primordial being and lover to Tiamat that was slain by the god Enki. Just as the blood of Tiamat became the source of all salt water, the blood of Abzu became the source of all fresh water. Enki set up his palace in the body of Abzu and is shown here with his two-faced minister Usmu.
The god Shamesh representing the sun, walks his daily path up the stairs to heaven and down into the depths of the underworld. The wheel in the background shows the Sumerian zodiac, which originally had 18 constellations. In the upper left corner is the god Enki holding the tablets of destiny. In the lower right corner is Nergal, lord of the underworld.
The sacred scriptures of the Middle East are the word of God. The usual means of receiving the word of God is through a prophet, who was chosen by God to relay his messages to humanity. God may communicate with his prophets directly, through angels, visions, and dreams. The prophet in turn will give gods message to religious leaders, rulers, and followers to spread the word among the masses, or he may speak directly to the masses in a public forum. Although the prophets are not known to write the words down themselves, somewhere down the line somebody thought that a message from God was important enough to write down to preserve it for future generations. These written documents have been preserved through the centuries by devout followers who continue to give voice to the word of God.
The three main groups of sacred texts are:
The Torah - This is an ancient Hebrew text which is the foundation of Judaism. It is composed of the first five books of Moses: Genisis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
The Bible - This text is the foudation of Christianity and is composed of the Old Testament, which covers a wide range of ancient Hebrew scriptures, and the New Testament, which includes the four books of the Gospel, the letters of the Apostles, and Revelations.
The Quran - This text is the foundation of Islam and is composed of 114 chapters, which is the word of God as handed down by the Prophet Muhammad.
The three major monotheisic religions of the Middle East share a common concept of creation in their holy scriptures. The Jewish Torah, the Christian Bible, and the Islamic Quran all refer to the creation of the world in seven days. The exact meaning of the texts and their interpretation varies greatly from literal to metaphorical. This puzzle box shows the seven stages of creation and is accompanied by the text from the King James version of the Bible:
First day - In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, And the darkeness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
Second day - And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, And let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
Third day - And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together were called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.
Fourth day - And God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and for years, and let them be lights in the heavans to give light upon the earth." And it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule by day and the lesser light to rule by night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and to rule over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
Fifth day - And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavans." So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And god blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
Sixth day - And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind, And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of god he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and said to them, " Be fruitful and multiply, And fill the earth and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit: you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. And God saw everything he had made, and behold , it was very good. And there was evening and morning , a sixth day.
Seventh day - Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.
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