Natib Qadish: Modern Canaanite Polytheism

Canaanite FAQ :

Canaan and Ancient Canaanite Religion

This page gives an overview the culture and religion of the ancient Canaanites, answers frequently asked questions, and clarifies misconceptions about this culture and its religion.

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Where is Canaan?

Canaan is an area of the Ancient Near East that encompasses the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It includes parts of modern Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. The Canaanites were never a cohesive empire, nation, or state, but as a collection of city-states and kingdoms they shared a geographic region and cultural similarities. Please see history for further detail.

 

Map of the area commonly called Canaan.

Map from "Civilizations of the Ancient Near East," edited by J. Sasson, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1995.
The area commonly called 'Canaan' is circled in purple.

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When did the Ancient Canaanites Live?

Some settlements in Canaan have been dated as old as 7000 BCE, but the Canaanite civilization as we know it began in the Early Bronze Age, roughly 3300 BCE (5300 years ago). See history for further detail.

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Were the Canaanites Mesopotamian, Babylonian, or Sumerian?

No. Mesopotamia is a loose geographic term and has no boundaries, but it is generally thought of as located further east than Canaan and is a general term that can encompass Babylonian, Assyrian, and Sumerian cultures. Mesopotamia is often thought of as encompassing the Fertile Crescent, an area around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, but this is further inland than the Canaanites who are located along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Were the Canaanites Jewish, Hebrew, or Israelite?

No. One could almost equally ask if the Celts were Christian Brits. The Israelites have their beginning around 900 or 1000 BCE, while the Canaanites lived in earlier times possibly from around 3300 BCE to about 1200 BCE--earlier than the Israelites, though the exact dates are open to question. It is probable that many, if not most, of the Israelites had Canaanite ancestry, but not the other way around. Judaism begins probably around the time the Israelites come into their own as a people at the end of the 10th century BCE. The biblical book of Deuteronomy, which includes descriptions of "Canaanite" rites, had been assembled roughly five hundred years after the end of Canaanite society.(1)

The term "Habiru"--which may or may not have a connection to the term "Hebrew"--refers to refers to roaming bands of ruffians, some of whom may have had Canaanite ancestry. See the end of the Late Bronze Age in History for more information.

1. Nakhai, Beth Alpert. Archaeology and the Religions of Canaan and Israel. The American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, MA , 2001, p. 67.

See History for more information, or see:

Lemche in Jack Sasson et al., eds., Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1995, p. 1200-1215.
Tubb, Jonathan N. Canaanites. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1998, p. 28-145.

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What Language Did the Canaanites Speak?

The only language scholars really have enough of to look at is Ugaritic, which is sometimes classified as Canaanite but sometimes alternatively classified as only related to the Canaanite dialects. There are elements of Canaanite dialects in the Amarna letters, letters written by Canaanite officials to Egyptian officials in the Egyptian capital of Amarna during Akhenaten's rule; and bits of inscriptions found on different items throughout the region.(1) If you want to learn the language that the deities' stories and the ritual texts are written in, learn Ugaritic.

1. Huehnergard in in Jack Sasson et al., eds., Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1995, p. 2122.

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What are the Oldest Texts describing Canaanite Religion?

The oldest known information about Canaanite religion is left by the Canaanite culture itself, and these texts predate biblical accounts. Ancient clay tablets written in Ugaritic cuneiform and found in the ancient city of Ugarit, a city now called Ras Shamra, detail literature and practices. Ancient scribes wrote these texts around 1200 BCE, about 3200 years ago. Scholars debate whether Ugarit is a Canaanite city by a strict definition, but there is a general consensus that Ugarit exemplifies Canaanite culture. There are about 1500 of these primary texts available.

Of the body of texts, some are mythological literature, and some are priestly crib notes about rituals. The priestly notes leave behind ritual outlines, lists of deities, lists of offerings, month names, and indications of festivals. The literature includes the tales of Aqhat, Kirta, Yarikh and Nikkal's Wedding, The Birth of the Gracious Gods Shachar and Shalim, and the Ba'al Epic. See Library for further details about Canaanite literature. See Resources for further studies on Canaanite literature and priestly texts.

For translations of the priestly texts, see:

Del Olmo Lete, Gregorio. La Religión Cananea Según la Liturgia de Ugarit. Editorial Ausa, Barcelona, 1992.
There is an English Language Version: Canaanite Religion According to the Liturgical Texts of Ugarit. Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, IN, 2004.

Pardee, Dennis. Ritual and Cult at Ugarit. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, Georgia. 2002.

For translations of the literature, see:

Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 1978.

Parker, Simon B., ed. Ugaritic Narrative Poetry. Society of Biblical Literature, U.S.A., 1997.

Smith, Mark S. The Ugaritic Baal Cycle, Volume I: Introduction with Text, Translation and Commentary of KTU 1.1-1.2. E.J. Brill, Leiden, the Netherlands, 1994.

Wright, David P. Ritual in Narrative: The Dynamics of Feasting, Mourning, and Retaliation Rites in the Ugaritic Tale of Aqhat. Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, IN, 2001.

For more information on the Ugaritic texts themselves, their discovery, and their language, see:

Schniedewind, William M. and Joel H. Hunt. A Primer on Ugaritic Language, Culture, and Literature. Cambridge University Press, New York, 2007.

The oldest known texts describing Canaanite religious practices are not in the Bible. In fact, it is likely that the rites described in the Bible are polytheistic Israelite practices, imagined accounts of what they think happened in Canaanite rites, or faded and embellished accounts of what they remember of stories about old Canaanite practices.

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Did the Canaanites Engage in Sexual Rites?

It is commonly thought that the ancient Canaanites must have included sexual rites in their temples, or even large-scale sexual orgies in celebration of the land's fertility. A growing number of scholars today think this is a misconception brought on by biblical and ancient bias, Victorian scholars obsessed with fertility religion, and common unproven assumptions. It is difficult to prove that any of the Ugaritic texts, or Canaanite religious practices in general, have to do with hieros gamos (sacred marriage) either in actual or symbolic consummation. Also, there is no proof at all that the Canaanites had large-scale public sexual orgies.

In the Ugaritic texts, the priests known as the Qadishuma (later in Hebrew "Qedeshim"), are noted only as responsible for singing or making recitations of narrative literature. The first-hand texts themselves make no mention of their sexuality or any sexual rites, even though second-hand non-Canaanite texts label these priests as hierodules (also called sacred prostitutes, or cultic prostitutes).

For a further exploration of this topic, please see Sacred Prostitutes by Johanna H. Stuckey.

The Canaanites did have a sense of ethics, and any large scale public sexual rite that could have included acts of rape, incest, or adultery probably would have been unacceptable. See Were the Canaanites "Sinful"? for further details.

See also Orgies R Us: Sex, Lies, and Prostitution in Canaanite Religion

For more information, See Hennie J. Marsman, Women in Ugarit and Israel, Their Social and Religious Position in the Context of the Ancient Near East, E.J. Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands, 2003, p. 497, 520.
See also Dever, William. Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel . William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids , MI , 2005, p. 34.

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Did the Canaanites Practice Human Sacrifices?

It is often asked or even assumed that the Canaanites engaged in human sacrifice, particularly child sacrifice, but no evidence of adult or child human sacrifice has ever been uncovered in Ugarit.(1) Most scholars have reached a consensus that human and child sacrifice never occurred in Ugarit.(2) The Canaanite archaeological record is also quiet on the issue.

Child sacrifice may have occurred in Phoenicia, Carthage, and occasionally in Iron Age Israel(3), but the evidence is dubious. Although there are large child graveyards, the reasons for these are likely more diverse than child sacrifice, and more likely include reasons such as infant mortality, childhood illness, warfare, and accidental death.

1. Curtis, Adrian. Ugarit (Ras Shamra). William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1985, p. 94-5; Pardee, Dennis. Ritual and Cult at Ugarit. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, Georgia. 2002, p. 233.
2. Clemens, David M. Sources for Ugaritic Ritual and Sacrifice, Volume I: Ugarit and Ugarit Akkadian Texts. Ugarit-Verlag, Münster , Germany , 2001, p.54.
3. Dever, William. Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, p. Dever 217-8.

For Information on Animal Sacrifice, see Do you practice Animal Sacrifice?

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What Offerings or Sacrifices Did the Canaanites Make?

In ancient times, sacrifice played a very important role in religious practices. People often kept livestock and would donate a certain amount of that livestock to the temples. The livestock, usually sheep and goats, sometimes “city doves” (pigeons), and sometimes cattle, would be slaughtered in honor of a particular deity. More rarely, donkeys were sacrificed. Female animals were offered less than male animals(1) because it only requires a couple of male animals to ensure the flock’s reproduction and having too many males used up resources; females were more valuable because they produce offspring.

The meat would then feed certain groups of people, perhaps like the priests, the poor, the orphans and widows, or another part of the community.(2) The animal carcass might have been burned in its entirety in honor of a deity, but often burnt offerings call for only an organ such as the heart, kidneys, or liver. Much of the meat from these sacrificial animals was eaten.(3) Non-animal offerings in ancient times included olive oil, fruit, vegetables, wine, grain, wool, precious metals, cloth, clothing, sandals, incense, and ritual tools.(4) Votive offerings included models of shrines and temples, animals, and even people.

(1) Pardee, Dennis. Ritual and Cult at Ugarit. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA, 2002, p. 226.

(2) Pardee, p. 66. A ritual text suggests that “the woman/women may eat (of the sacrificial meal).

(3) Nakhai, Beth Alpert. Archaeology and Religions of Canaan and Israel. The American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, MA, 2001, pgs.147-8 179-180. In Lachish of the Late Bronze Age, a bronze whisk suggests the preparation of food, and perhaps the partaking of sacral meals, in a religious context. In Lachish of Iron II, there is evidence of sacral meals and food offerings. In Tel Rechov of Iron II, the sacred complex courtyard has ovens for sacral meal preparation.
Del Olmo Lete, Gregorio. Canaanite Religion According to the Liturgical Texts of Ugarit, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, IN, 2004, p. 263. “The same concept of ‘sacrifice’ ([“dabchu”]) implies not only slaughter of the [animal] victim in various forms...but its consumption by the participants. It is in this sense that the texts inform us about what ‘is prepared, consumed, eaten, and drunk.’ In other words, the ‘sacrifice’ is essentially a ‘festival’ that includes a sacred ‘banquet.’
Clemens, David M. Sources for Ugaritic Ritual and Sacrifice, Volume I: Ugarit and Ugarit Akkadian Texts. Ugarit-Verlag, Munster, Germany, 2001, p. 14 also notes that the slaughter of an animal is accompanied by a sacred banquet, feast, or meal.

(4) For lists of items sacrificed or made as offerings, see Pardee 225-7, and Nakhai 42-3. For incense used as an offering, see Wright, David P. Ritual in Narrative: The Dynamics of Feasting, Mourning, and Retaliation Rites in the Ugaritic Tale of Aqhat. Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, IN, 2001, p. 200, 202.

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Did the Canaanites Make Cakes as Offerings to the Queen of Heaven?

We do not know if Canaanite women offered cakes as part of a folk custom.

It is said that Israelite women would make cakes for offering to the "Queen of Heaven." According to the Bible (Jer. 44:19), the cakes, kavanim--a loan word from Akkadian kamanu (cake)--were marked with an image of the feminine divine. Scholars conjecture that the images could have been stars, pubic triangles, or dough formed in a female shape or a "fig" shape.(1) A fig shape is probably based on a hand gesture, an upraised thumb between fingers in a closed fist, which represents female genitalia. The title "Queen of Heaven" could refer to many different goddesses: Ishtar, Astarte, Athtartu, or Asherah. It is possible that this is a polytheist Babylonian--instead of Canaanite--custom that the Israelites picked up.

It is interesting to note that many religious customs the Israelites labeled as "Canaanite" were often actually Israelite. The Israelites may have labeled the customs as "Canaanite" to imply that the customs were somehow foreign and not how true Israelites worship or should worship. For further information, see What about Canaanite Religious Rites as Detailed in the Bible? below.

1. Marsman, Hennie J. Women in Ugarit and Israel : Their Social and Religious Position in the Context of the Ancient Near East. E.J. Brill, Leiden , The Netherlands , 2003, p. 608-9.

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Did the Canaanites Worship at a Bamah or Bamot?

The word bamah (plural bamot) usually translates from Hebrew as a general term meaning "heights" or "high place." (1). This term has not been used uniformly by scholars and thus it can refer to different concepts, however Nakhai states "contrary to biblical descriptions, it [the bamah] was an institution of the monarchy and not a populist manifestation of vestigial Canaanite cult practices."(2) Although the Canaanites, especially of the Middle Bronze Age, did have open air sanctuaries, these may or may not qualify as bamot. In addition to occasional outdoor sanctuaries, the Canaanites performed some religious services such as sacrifices outside the temples in courtyards. The concept of the bamah and its associated practices may actually be more of a formal Israelite institution than a Canaanite one.(3)

It is interesting to note that many religious customs the Israelites labeled as "Canaanite" were often actually Israelite. The Israelites may have labeled the customs as "Canaanite" to imply that the customs were somehow foreign and not how true Israelites worship or should worship. For further information, see What about Canaanite Religious Rites as Detailed in the Bible? below.

1. Dever, William. Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, p. 92.
2. Nakhai, Beth Alpert. Archaeology and the Religions of Canaan and Israel. The American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, MA , 2001, p. 162.
3. Nakhai 56

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What is an Asherah Pole?

This is an Israelite tradition, probably not a Canaanite one. It seems that while all scholars seem to agree that an asherah is a pole, they cannot seem to agree on if the pole represents a goddess Asherah, although many scholars lean towards this idea. Israelites--not Canaanites--sometimes used to have wooden poles (asherah, singular; asherim, plural) standing next to altars to Yahweh. According to the Bible (2 Kings 18:4), Hezekiah finally removes the asherim from the temples.(1)

There are some interesting inscriptions from Iron Age Kuntillet 'Ajrud and Khirbit el-Qom:

The Kuntillet 'Ajrud inscription reads, "Amaryah said to my lord...may you be blessed by Yahweh and his Asherah/asherah. May he bless you and keep you and be with my lord."

The Khirbet el-Qom inscription (8-7th century BCE) reads, "Uriah the rich has caused it to be written, Blessed by Uriah by Yahweh and by his Asherah/asherah; from his enemies he has served him."

It is interesting to note that many religious customs the Israelites labeled as "Canaanite" were often actually Israelite. The Israelites may have labeled the customs as "Canaanite" to imply that the customs were somehow foreign and not how true Israelites worship or should worship. For further information, see What about Canaanite Religious Rites as Detailed in the Bible? below.

1. De Tarragon in Jack Sasson et al., eds., Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1995, p. 2077.

For more information, see :
Binger, Tilde. Asherah: Goddesses in Ugarit , Israel , and the Old Testament. Sheffield Academic Press, Ltd., Sheffield, England , 1997, p. 114-16.
Dever, William. Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, p. 102.
Patai, Raphael. The Hebrew Goddess, 3 rd Enlarged Edition. Wayne State University Press, Detroit , MI , 1990, p. 53.

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Did the Canaanites worship Ashtoreth?

No, the Canaanites did not worship Ashtoreth; they worshipped 'Athtartu, who with a linguistic shift became Ashtartu or Ashtart. This may be the same goddess the Greeks call Astarte who was later equated with Ishtar, though the original 'Athtartu has a different personality and a different role from Ishtar. Unlike Ishtar, instead of a goddess of sex and war, early 'Athtartu is portrayed in Ugaritic literature as more concerned with justice, treaties, and perhaps hunting.(1) 'Athtartu may have an association with the morning star.(2) In Emar, 'Athtartu was known as having militaristic attributes.(3)

When the biblical writers refer to "Ashtoreth" they are deliberately changing 'Athtartu's name to equate her with the Hebrew word for shame, bosheth. The biblical writers did this to discredit the goddess.(4)

It is interesting to note that many religious customs the Israelites labeled as "Canaanite" were often actually Israelite. The Israelites may have labeled the customs as "Canaanite" to imply that the customs were somehow foreign and not how true Israelites worship or should worship. For further information, see What about Canaanite Religious Rites as Detailed in the Bible? below.

1. Tubb, Jonathan N. Canaanites. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1998, p. 74; Parker, Simon B., ed. Ugaritic Narrative Poetry. Society of Biblical Literature, U.S.A., 1997, p.74; Pardee, Dennis. Ritual and Cult at Ugarit. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, Georgia. 2002, p. 169.
2. Pardee p. 108, note #92.
3. Smith, Mark S. The Ugaritic Baal Cycle, Volume I: Introduction with Text, Translation and Commentary of KTU 1.1-1.2. E.J. Brill, Leiden, the Netherlands, 1994, p. 278.
4. McCarter in Nakhai, Beth Alpert. Archaeology and the Religions of Canaan and Israel. The American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, MA , 2001, p. 158, note #30.

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What's the Story about Elijah and the 400 Prophets of Baal?

The story of Elijah and the four hundred prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18: 1-46) represents a war of ideology in literature.

Elijah's ritual involved fixing up an old altar to Yahweh, making a new altar of twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, making a presentation of a bull for sacrifice, pouring out a water libation three times, and invoking Yahweh's name. According to the tale, the prophets of Ba'al offer a bull, invoke Ba'al's name repeatedly, build an altar, and dance ecstatically around the altar while gashing themselves to draw blood. The stronger god would be proven by which god created a fire on their respective altars. Upon Elijah's victory, he has the four hundred prophets rounded up and executed.

We need to remember, however, that this is literature: it is not meant to be understood as historic fact.

For more information, see:

Nakhai, Beth Alpert. Archaeology and the Religions of Canaan and Israel. The American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, MA, 2001, p. 60.
Binger, Tilde. Asherah: Goddesses in Ugarit, Israel, and the Old Testament. Sheffield Academic Press, Ltd., Sheffield, England, 1997, p. 114.
Dever, William. Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, p. 211.
See also your local Bible or Torah.

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Did Israel Conquer Canaan?

"There was no mass destruction or driving out of the Canaanites at any time in biblical history."(1) Israel's conquest of Canaan was not a bloody invasion and genocide of the "sinful" polytheistic locals. The Bible is literature: it is not meant to be understood as historic fact. The biblical writers may very well have included the story of the conquest of Canaan to demonstrate their greatness, but not to detail historic events. If some or most of the Israelites had Canaanite ancestry, they did not expand into Canaan and conquer it; they were already in the land of their ancestors.(2)

1. Gordon, Cyrus. The Ancient Near East, 3rd Edition, Revised. W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., New York, 1965, p. 148.
2. Tubb, Jonathan N. Canaanites. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1998, p. 16.

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Who was Jezebel?

According to the biblical tale, Jezebel was a devotee of Baal, and she was the daughter of the Phoenician king of Tyre. Her name means "Where is Ba'al?"(1) Regardless of whether or not she was sexually promiscuous, she may have been characterized as a harlot because the biblical writers looked upon anyone worshipping other gods as committing a form of spiritual adultery.(2)

1. Parker, Simon B., ed. Ugaritic Narrative Poetry. Society of Biblical Literature, U.S.A., 1997, p. 173 note #166.
2. Patai, Raphael. The Hebrew Goddess, 3 rd Enlarged Edition. Wayne State University Press, Detroit , MI , 1990, p. 284.

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What About Lilith?

In popular thought today, Lilith is often viewed as a misunderstood dark goddess of sexuality, but this simply is not true in ancient lore. There was no male conspiracy that demonized a poor, misunderstood Lilith just because she was a strong female. She is not a poster-child for sexual discrimination, women's rights, or sexuality. She does not hearken back to a fictitious era when matriarchy was the rule, and she is not a part of a secret, forgotten mythology that patriarchy distorted.

Lilith is best known now from Jewish lore in the Talmud as the woman who refused to lie beneath Adam.(1) Before she was cast as this character, she was known in Jewish lore as a demon--not as a liberated woman.(2) The only "male conspiracy" here is not a smear on Lilith's character since she was evil from the beginning, but that she--known earlier as a demon--was deliberately cast in the role of Adam's rebellious first wife.

Before she was known as Adam's first wife, she may first appear as the demon Lilitu in Sumerian lore around 2400 BCE.(3) A Bronze Age fragment of a text written in Akkadian was found in Ugarit: this text mentions Lamashtu, and describes her as a wolf.(4) The characters of Assyrian Lilitu and Babylonian Lamashtu or Lamashshu may have been absorbed into each other to become known as the same entity by the Middle Babylonian period (circa 1150-900 BCE).(5) Lamashtu, a daughter of Anu, was thought to cause illness in babies and small children; Lilitu was also thought to harm babies and children.(6) (Anu is a Sumerian god of the heavens and the king of his pantheon.)

Later ideas of Lilith may also have been influenced by images of the Greek lamiae and the Roman striga.(7)

1. Walls, Neal H. The Goddess Anat in Ugaritic Myth. The Society of Biblical Literature, Scholars Press, Atlanta, GA, 1992, p. 64. Patai, Raphael. The Hebrew Goddess, 3 rd Enlarged Edition. Wayne State University Press, Detroit, MI, 1990, pgs. 223-5. The Talmud was written after the Bible; the Bible may have been collated around 500 CE in Babylon.
2. At least by the eighth century BCE. Patai 223.
3. Patai 221.
4. Clemens, David M. Sources for Ugaritic Ritual and Sacrifice, Volume I: Ugarit and Ugarit Akkadian Texts. Ugarit-Verlag, Münster, Germany, 2001, p. 988.
5. Marsman, Hennie J. Women in Ugarit and Israel: Their Social and Religious Position in the Context of the Ancient Near East. E.J. Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands , 2003, p. 201. See also Trachtenberg, Joshua. Jewish Magic and Superstition. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA, 2004, pgs. 36-7.
6. Marsman 201.
7. Trachtenberg 37.

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What about Canaanite Religious Rites as Detailed in the Bible?

When the biblical writers rail against Canaanite religious practices, often they are really criticizing what were originally Israelite practices. Many of the rites detailed in Deuteronomy were once accepted and regular Iron Age Israelite rites, not Canaanite. Deuteronomy was assembled roughly five hundred years after Canaanite culture had died out;(1) presumably, memory of actual Canaanite rites was lost or distorted. Biblical writers projected an image of the ideal Israelite religion onto the past, and any rites that were originally Israelite but unacceptable to their ideal religion were then labeled as "Canaanite." The biblical version of "Canaanite religion" is a carefully constructed fiction.(2)

It is important to note that Canaanite religion as described by the Bible is not what ancient Canaanites nor modern adherents of Canaanite religion practice. If you want to know what Canaanite religion was like, a recently written scholarly history book is your best help--see Resources for ideas. Also, we must remember that Canaanite religion is not the same as ancient Israelite religion with the addition of more gods, and it is also not "ancient Judaism" or pagan Judaism: we must resist the temptation to treat these similar cultures as if the same when they are not.

1. Nakhai, Beth Alpert. Archaeology and the Religions of Canaan and Israel. The American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, MA , 2001, p. 67.
2. Van der Toorn in Jack Sasson et al., eds., Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1995, p. 2077.

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Were the Canaanites "Sinful"?

No, the Canaanites were likely not "sinful" as characterized in the Bible. We've already seen from previous questions that the Canaanites did not practice human sacrifice, did not engage in temple-sanctioned sexual orgies, and that many of the "Canaanite" rites detailed by the Bible were not Canaanite but older Israelite practices. Biblical writers characterized the Canaanites intentionally as the antithesis of the ideal ancient Israelite in order to demonstrate the ancient Israelite way as the most righteous.(1)

The Canaanites themselves had a developed code of ethics. Indeed, they had a concept of sin which predates the Israelites. Sin, misdeed, encompassed transgressions committed against general moral standards of society(2)--acts such as murder, theft, rape of men and women, adultery and incest (3)-- and acts that throw off the community balance or offend the deities.(4) In order to reestablish balance and to clear sin, the Ugaritans had a ritual reminiscent of the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur, The Day of Attonement.(5)

1. Van der Toorn in Jack Sasson et al., eds., Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1995, p. 2077.
2. Del Olmo Lete, Gregorio. Canaanite Religion According to the Liturgical Texts of Ugarit. Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, IN, 2004, p. 156-8).
3. Marsman, Hennie J. Women in Ugarit and Israel: Their Social and Religious Position in the Context of the Ancient Near East. E.J. Brill, Leiden , The Netherlands , 2003, pgs. 257-9, 284. Avalos in Sasson 627-9.
*Murder committed in self-defense or times of war was acceptable; murder committed for personal gain or revenge was unacceptable.
4. Buccellati in Sasson 1691.
5. Pardee, Dennis. Ritual and Cult at Ugarit. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, Georgia. 2002, p. 79.

 

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Anointed: A Devotional Anthology for the Deities of the Near and Middle East
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All original written work on this site is copyright © 2005, 2008, 2011, 2012 Tess Dawson, unless otherwise noted.
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Natib Qadish: Modern Canaanite Polytheism is a site about Canaanite religion, also called Canaanite revivalism, or Canaanite reconstructionism. This site explores topics of interest for people who practice Canaanite religion, information regarding the ancient Canaanites themselves, and includes both ancient Canaanite religion and its modern counterpart.

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