- Mar 2022
during the First Temple period: the Hebrew Bible tells of numerous places of worship dedicated to Yahweh outside Jerusalem, including those founded by Joshua (Joshua 8:30), “the people” (Judges 21:4), Samuel (I Samuel 7:17), King Saul (I Samuel 14:35), King Jeroboam (I Kings 12:26-33), David (II Samuel 24:25), and Elijah (I Kings 18:32).
Cities in Israel named after Semitic gods of the ancient Near East.
Jerusalem was likely originally Ir Shalem ('The City of Shalem') because the central shrine was dedicated to the Canaanite god Shalem, aka Salem, the personification of the Evening Star.
Shahar, the twin brother of Shalem, was the personification of the Morning Star and was presumably the tutelary god of Zareth-Shahar. This town is in modern day central Jordan and was mentioned in Joshua 13:19.
While the original Zareth-Shahar didn't survive into modernity, another town dedicated to the same god may have existed on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee at a site known by the Arabic name for the morning star. A kibbutz named Ayelet HaShachar was built there after 1915. Ayelet HaShachar is a poetic biblical term for the Morning Star (Psalms 22:1).
Jericho may have taken it's name from the tutelary god Yareakh, the moon god.
Similarly the site Beit Yarekh may attest to that moon god being worshiped there as well.
The sun god Shemesh may have created the eponymous names for cities Beth-Shemesh ('House of Shemesh', Joshua 15:10), En-Shemesh ('Spring of Shemesh", Joshua 15:7), and Ir-Shemesh ('City of Shemesh", Joshua 19:41). The modern day city Beit Shemesh was established in 1950 at a site with the Arabic place name 'Ain Shems which was believed to be the site of the ancient city Beth-Shemesh.
The storm god Baal is the root of cities including Kiryat Baal (Joshua 18:14), Baal Perazim (II Samuel 5:17), Gur Baal (II Chronicles 26:7), Baal-Gad (Joshua 11:17), Baal-Hermon (Judges 3:3), and Baal-Hazor (II Samuel 13:23). There are also cities Baal-Peor (Numbers 23:28) and Ball Shalishah (II Kings 4:42).
Canaanite god El was the tutelary god of the town Bethel mentioned frequently in the Old Testament including in Genesis 12:8. The Palestinian town Beitin is thought to be the site of the ancient Bethel. Beit El, an Israeli settlement, was created near it in 1977.
Dagon was the namesake of Beth Dagon (Joshua 15:41). It continued until 1948 when the Palestinian town Bayt Dajan was depopulated leading up to the Israeli War of Independence. The site is now an Israeli town called Beit Dagan.
Reshef, an ancient Semitic god from Elba and later identified with Apollo lent his name to the todays Arsuf, which is also known as Apollonia. During the Persian period, the Phoenicians had named a town there for Reshef.
Horon, possibly a desert god with power over animals and snakes, is the inspiration of Beth Horon (I Chronicles 7:24). A modern settlement Beit Horon was founded in 1977.
Reshef was believed to have been is far from certain. He may have been a god of fire (Song of Songs 8:6), a storm god (Psalms 78:48) or a god of pestilence (Habakkuk 3:5).
Reshef may have been a god of fire (Song of Songs 8:6), a storm god (Psalms 78:48) or a god of pestilence (Habakkuk 3:5).
people had guessed based on his name that he was a god of grain (Hebrew: dagan) or fish (Hebrew: dag), but these are no more than guesses.
Based on linguistic guesses, the Semitic god Dagon may have been a god of grain (Hebrew: dagan) or fish (Hebrew: dag).
This was a very ancient god already worshiped extensively in Ebla (southwest of Aleppo) in the 23rd century BCE. He was later adopted by the Philistines as a national god.
Dagon was a god worshiped in Ebla (southwest of Aleppo) in the 23rd century BCE and was later adopted by the Philistines.
In ancient times, it was common for towns to be named for the town’s main shrine and the tutelary deity worshipped therein. Thus many of the towns and cities mentioned in the Bible, even those said to have been home to Israelites, have the names of foreign gods embedded in them.
- indigenous knowledge
- Semitic religions
- Indigenous astronomy
- ancient Near East
- First Temple period
- Old Testament
- place names
References to other Semitic gods in the Old Testament. Some general basics which will require some delving into translations and further research for stronger foundations in early Semitic religions.
“This is what the Lord says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6).
Jewish monotheism doesn't emerge until the end of the Babylonian Exile (~586 - 500 BCE) period and the beginning of the Second Temple period (500 BCE - 70 CE) when the religion moves from acknowledging the existence of other gods to saying there is only one god. (Isaiah 44:6).
The Bible also recounts that the ancient Hebrews worshipped a god named Moloch, who was associated with the Ammonites and with child sacrifice. This worship too was stamped out by Josiah in the same reform (e.g. 2 Kings 23:10).
Jericho was probably at some point a center for moon worship. The city's name in Hebrew is "Yerikho"; and the Hebrew word for the moon is Yarekh, which other West Semitic languages use as the name of the moon god.
It is likely that Beit Shemesh was a center of sun worship since the place name literally means “House of Sun.”
Legends of a storm god such as Ba’al defeating the sea are very common in the Ancient Near East.
Storm gods like Baal are commonly seen defeating the sea in legends in the ancient Near East.
Link this to mention of Rahab in Job 26:12.
Mot, the personification of death, is described in several passages as a deity. In Job 18:13 he is said to have a son, and in Habakkuk 2:5 we are told he opens his mouth wide and swallows souls.
Mot, one of the other sons of El, is described as a deity who has a son in Job 18:13 and as one who opens his mouth wide and swallows souls in Habakkuk 2:5.
Dagon’s father was El, the head of the West Semitic pantheon. The name Israel, shows that El was originally the tutelary god of Israel (it’s right there in the name!), but over time, Yahweh took El’s place:“When the Most High (El Elyon) divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord's (Yahweh’s) portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance” (Deuteronomy 32:8-9).
In the West Semitic pantheon of gods, El was the father of Dagon who was in turn the father of Baal. El Elyon is mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and his name is a root word of the endonym Israel.
- Deuteronomy 32
- Isaiah 44
- ancient Near East
- Habakkuk 2
- Beit Shemesh
- Babylonian Exile
- Job 18
- place names
- moon gods
- Semitic religions
- Second Temple period
- 2 Kings 23
- moon worship
- sun worship
- storm gods
- Old Testament