13 April 2010

The Horror of Canaanite Religion

I am currently editing a section of Judge which details some of the cultic practices of the Canaanites and the Philistines. They worshiped a pantheon of gods who lived on Mt. Zephon (modern Mount Aqraa in Syria) ruled by the drunken El (Dagon) and Asherah. The gods include the craftsman Chousor, Lightning-wielding Baal, Goddess of war and sex Ashtoreth, Goddess of savagery Anat, sea-god Lotan or Yam, and Mot, the god of death and the underworld.

Like their later Greek and Roman counterparts (Zeus, Hera, Vulcan, Athena, Neptune, and Hades) these gods were known for their all-too-human characteristics. In the Ras Shamra mythologies uncovered in the ruins of Ugarit, Baal sires a decoy of himself on a cow and later turns himself into a bull to rape his sister Anat. Anat wears a belt of the heads and hands of her victims and is depicted wading exultantly through rivers of blood. The gods hold orgies on Mount Zephon, sometimes including humans.

Priests in Canaan were political and religious leaders with absolute power over their followers. They practiced exorcism and various forms of divination. They were assisted by Kurgaru (castrato), Assinu (homosexual priests), Naditu (ritually neutered priestesses), Sinnishat Zikrum (lesbian transvestites), and Qadishtu (female temple prostitutes).

Among the most well-known of their practices was the invocation of "sympathetic magic." During the dry summer season vegetation died when Mot triumphed over Baal, forcing him to withdraw into the depths of the earth. Baal (and the rain) would return only after Anat conquered Mot and Baal could mate with Ashtoreth, ensuring fertility for the coming year. To encourage Baal to do so, Canaanites held huge sexual orgies in which the priests had sex with any and all women they desired. The priests might also re-enact Baal's copulation with cows, and offer sacrifices of infant children. In some cases, Canaanites would appeal to their dead relatives for help in overcoming Mot; this was done by having sex with one's closest living fleshly relative.

Evidence indicates that Canaanites lived in morbid dread of their priests. Marriages and families were shattered by their practices, and the unwanted children of these unions were often slaughtered on altars to Baal or Dagon. Sexually transmitted disease was likely epidemic; rape was perhaps as common as it is in the worst of today's war-ravaged nations. According to Merrill F. Unger: “Excavations in Palestine have uncovered piles of ashes and remains of infant skeletons in cemeteries around heathen altars, pointing to the widespread practice of this cruel abomination.” (Archaeology and the Old Testament, 1964, p. 279) Halley’s Bible Handbook (1964, p. 161) says: “Canaanites worshipped, by immoral indulgence, as a religious rite, in the presence of their gods; and then, by murdering their first-born children, as a sacrifice to these same gods. It seems that, in large measure, the land of Canaan had become a sort of Sodom and Gomorrah on a national scale. . . . Did a civilization of such abominable filth and brutality have any right longer to exist? . . . Archaeologists who dig in the ruins of Canaanite cities wonder that God did not destroy them sooner than he did.”

Writing about the reality of these practices is important, I think. People should know and understand why these nations were condemned to destruction. From a Biblical standpoint, the most humane thing Jehovah could do for them was to kill them, preserve them in His memory, and at a later date resurrect them into a better world.

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