Baal Cycles

The Baal Cycles are a series of stories pertaining to the Assyrian god, Baal. He is known as the great conqueror, and he was one of the most well-known gods of the Ancient Near East. In this particular account, a great feast is held at the house of El in the middles of a great mountain. Sea and River, two gods, are sent to request of El the release of Baal. El refuses unless some ransom is paid. Kothar, chief counselor of the gods, gives two clubs to Baal. The two clubs are named Driver and Chaser. Baal takes the clubs and destroys Sea and River. The chorus then sings his praises as the conqueror.

Anat, Baal’s sister, sings the tales of Baal the Conqueror. She goes to El in order to request that Baal have his own house. Evidently, Baal, his wife and children, all live in El’s house. El does not listen to Anat, but sends her to Kothar for counsel. Kothar sends her to Asherah, El’s wife, requesting that she approach El on her behalf. Asherah does so, El listens, and El requests Kothar to oversee the building of a house for El. The house is the heavens, the skies, and it is through a special window in the house that Baal can thunder so that those on earth can hear him.

Baal eventually dies so that he can go to the underworld. El and Anat mourn his death, and El sets up a new god in Baal’s place. Anat, mourning her brother’s death, seeks death herself to ask if he will relinquish Baal. He denies her request, and Anat kills him, and she spreads his carcass throughout the earth, so that anything it touches, plant, animal, or person dies. Anat, unable to locate Baal, goes to the Sun, who sees all. The Sun tells her where Baal is located. Baal and Death fight, and their strength was equal. Just as Death was about to gain victory over Baal, the Sun arose, frightened Death. Baal was once again exalted as Baal the Conqueror.

The significance of the Baal Cycles for biblical studies is that they give a clear picture of the mythology of the Ancient Near East at the time Israel was settling in the land. Baal and Asherah are well-known names in the Old Testament for the gods the Canaanites worshipped, and whom the Israelites were to stay away from. The fact that Baal thunders from the heavens is especially revealing in the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, where Baal was the god of the rain and Asherah the goddess of fertility. Yet, Israel’s God was more powerful than either of them in withholding the rain for three years.

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