Studying Ancient Canaanite Myths, Part 4: the Baal Cycle

Dear Reader,

Last time we looked at the Canaanite Story of Aqhat. This time, I would like to turn to the third and final story in Coogan’s book, the Baal cycle. If you are familiar with the Old Testament, you should have heard of Baal. He is the primary god of the people of Ugarit and their neighbors. He seems to have been a big temptation for the Israelites, one which they did not always resist.

Once again, I would suggest reading Coogan’s introduction to the myth, though I would not read it to the children. I prefer them to hear the story unfold and to come to it gradually. Stop periodically and have them tell you what they think is happening. If they can’t figure it out, you can help them out (that is why you have read the intro). Here are some of my thoughts on topics that could be discussed:

1. The first bad guy in our story is the Sea. Does this ring any bells? Many myths begin with the Sea or waters needing to be tamed. Genesis 1 also begins with the water that must be divided. The sea equals chaos for the Israelites. They were not big sailors and had a great fear of the waters. Can you think of other times when water equals danger in the Old Testament?

2. Notice that El is called “the Bull.” This should also be going bing-bing in your head. When the Israelites set up idols, what form did they usually take? That’s right, a bull or calf.

3. What does Baal do when he conquers Sea? He drinks him! I love this detail.

4. I will admit I skipped most of the second section in which Anat does battle. It is not completely clear to me who she is battling and why at this point. It is a gory sequence and Coogan’s translation uses the word “b-tch” at one point. Preview it before reading it aloud to see what you think.

5. Baal wants a house. What is the god’s house (you can read about the levels of meaning here in Coogan’s introduction to the tale)? You could take time to compare this to the Lord’s house, ie the temple, in the Bible. Whose idea was building the temple? How did God feel about it?

6. As in the Aqhat story, I love how Anat speaks to her father El when she wants something. And his response: “how gentle you can be . . .” This is not a healthy family.

7. Asherah’s approval must also be won. What are her driving influences (hint: I see two)?

8. For the significance of a window for Baal’s house, read Coogan’s introduction. Initially, Baal rejects the idea of a window. Why does he change his mind? How is he feeling at this point? What does the Bible say about pride?

9. Baal’s ego drives him to the point that he defies Death. How does Death respond? It is funny (weird funny, not ha-ha) that even their most powerful god is subject to Death and immediately quakes in his boots when threatened by Death.

10. Notice the mourning rites that El and Anat observe when Baal goes down to Death.

11. Now the gods  need a new king. Asherah proposes one of her sons (one of her major concerns: see question 7). They are each rejected for some reason. Why? My kids loved the picture of the god who is too small to even sit in Baal’s throne.

12. With no hope left but to get Baal back, Anat makes pretty short work of Death. Once again, as in Aqhat, it is the female that must make things right though the male is always seen at the hero.

13. Baal and Death will have future battles. Relate this to the climate in Canaan (see Coogan’s intro again). They remind me of some pairs of brothers I know that are always wrestling.

14. What limitations do the Canaanite gods have? The earth’s fertility depends upon Baal, but he is not invincible. How do you think you would have felt to live in such a world?

That’s what I’ve got. Once again, if you read through these myths, I’d love to hear any insights you come up with.

Nebby

One response to this post.

  1. […] The Ancient Near East includes a number of cultures. While they all have similarities, there is also some variation. We tried to include both Mesopotamian and Canaanite myths. I used Padraic Colum’s Myths of the World which I got on Kindle. It is nice because it gives some introduction to what we find in each of the cultures as well. For Mesopotamia, we also got a few of the storybooks by Zeman by tell the epic of Gilgamesh. There are three I believe that they each tell part of the story so you want to read them in order. Though these are picture books, they do a great job. For Canaan, I used Coogan’s Stories from Ancient Canaan. These are tales from Ugarit, a Canaanite town which was destroyed by fire. The destruction meant that the clay tablets on which the stories were written were baked hard and survived. It is interesting to see the similarities and differences here with one of Israel’s close neighbors. What we have is somewhat fragmentary. Coogan gives good introductions to each. I recommend prereading so you can give context and read selections. I blogged on these myths when we studied them previously. You can see one of those posts here. […]

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