Question: Was Yahweh a member of the Phoenician pantheon??

[Draft: Aug 29/2009]

This question came in a while back and was similar to the one on IAO (iaonot1st.html)…

Hello Glenn

My name is ABC, and I was wondering if you could help me. I was looking on a website a while ago about Phoenicia and the pantheon of the gods they had was on there and the man who's website it is had Yahweh in the pantheon and he said that Yahweh was added because he was part of the pantheon for a while and he was the father of El. and it has bothered me a lot. ...thank you for your time

I responded:

ABC, see if you can find a scholarly reference for this at that site—I have searched all of my scholarly/technical books on the Phoenician pantheon and there is NO MENTION of Yah or Yahweh that I can finddoes the site give a current, scholarly footnote? If not, then you have no reason to actually believe such a claim, or any evidence upon which to accept it, friend. Here’s some of the data I dug up for this, and you will see that there is ZERO mention of Yah, or Yahweh—

Background: Phoenicia was actually only an Iron Age culture, being differentiated only in that period from the more generalized Canaanite culture (which did NOT have Yah or Yahweh in their pantheon—as is widely known).

The word Phoenician comes from an ancient Greek nickname for the people and cities of the eastern Mediterranean littoral during the first millennium. Phoenicia lies along a narrow coastal strip for roughly two hundred miles, from the island of Aradus (modern Arwad) in the north to Tyre in the south. The Lebanon mountain range to the east has throughout history created a political and cultural barrier between the coast and inland Syria. While rain falls in the region only during the winter months, mountain springs provide water the rest of the year for the rich agricultural land along the sea. The land is limited, however, and the cities founded around the natural harbors of the coast remained small. The great coniferous forests that once blanketed the mountains were the major natural resource of ancient Phoenicia and the basis for an active export trade in lumber, wood, oil, and resin. … The present essay deals with the "classical" Phoenicians of the Iron Age (ca. 1200-332), though this civilization did not spring into history without antecedents. The Iron Age Phoenicians represent a later phase of the general Canaanite culture that goes back into the third millennium and beyond. They were still Canaanite, but are distinguished from their ancestors and neighbors by their own unique culture. [OT:POTW, 183f]

Here are excerpts on Phoenician religion from a few scholarly resources, and notice that while the general ‘title name’ of the head/main deity EL is mentioned in some of these (since this ‘title’ is present in several of the relevant cultures), Yah/Yahweh never is:

With respect to the ancient Canaanite religion, the Phoenician religion of the Iron Age presupposes an ideological break, which implies profound religious, ideological and socio-political changes at the end of the second millennium. The Phoenician pantheon seems to reflect cities shut in on themselves at the beginning of the first millennium, which must have favoured a gradual move towards strictly local religious variants. So it is not correct to speak of the Phoenician pantheon or the Phoenician religion because each city, shut in around its king and its god, had its own local pantheon.

The most significant changes that took place in the Phoenician religion after the crisis of 1200 BC appear not to have their origin in the preceding Canaanite context. Indeed, in a very short time the great deities of the Ugaritic-Canaanite pantheon, like El, Dagan or Anat, disappear, and deities that had been marginal until then, like Ashtart -Astarte - come to the fore. Nevertheless, the most important novelty is the appearance of human sacrifice, unknown, apparently, in the second millennium, and the birth of 'national' gods with no known pre-decents, like Melqart, Eshniiin and Reshef.

Another important novelty in the Iron Age cults is animal sacrifice, so well described by Leviticus, as well as human sacrifice. This latter, also known by the biblical name of 'Moloch sacrifice', would develop in a special way in the Phoenician enclaves in the west, where it appears linked with fertility rites and the monarchy. In Phoenicia, human sacrifice was very sporadic and disappeared in the middle of the first millennium.

From the beginning of the first millennium, we are struck by the very limited number of gods in the public pantheons. There are no triads and Canaanite polytheism disappears. In its place, pairs of deities arise and concentrate the power and the functions of the old Canaanite pantheon in themselves. Each Phoenician city has its own pantheon made up of a pair of gods. This phenomenon makes very clear, among other things, how strongly individualist the Phoenician cities of the Iron Age were.

In Byblos, the central position was occupied by Baalat Gebal, the 'Lady of Byblos', of very ancient local tradition, who not only protected the city and the royal dynasty, but reigned over the city jointly with her partner, the god Baal Shamem. In Sidon we find the same divine pairing, but in this city it is Astarte and Eshmun who dominate. In Berytos, the chief divinity was also female: Baalat. Apart from the goddess of Byblos, none of these gods have important predecessors in the second millennium.

In the city of Tyre, by contrast, the chief divinity was masculine: Melqart, the protector of the city, symbol of the monarchic institution and founder of colonies. Astarte, Baal Shamem and Baal Hammon play a supporting part.

About the seventh century BC the Phoenician pantheon is becoming increasingly complex and the sway and influence of some of the gods increases, gods who, like Tanit and Baal Hammon, will be enormously popular in the west. Particularly interesting for us is the figure of Melqart, so closely linked with Phoenician trade and expansion through the Mediterranean. Melqart has no known antecedents in the second millennium and his personality and religious cult are documented only from the time when Tyre gained sway over the other Phoenician cities. His figure takes shape, then, from the tenth century BC and has its roots in the reign of Hiram I. He was god both of fertility and of the sea and the Tyrians called him 'Lord of Tyre', that is, Ba'al de Sor. His name itself, Melqart, means 'king of the city' (melek-qart), showing that the origin of his cult has eminently urban roots. However, this does not rule out other attributes peculiar to this god, as we shall see. Consequently, the god represents the power of the monarchy and also possesses certain human characteristics, since the foundation of cities and colonies is attributed to him. Furthermore, some myths refer to Melqart as a hunter.” [OT:PW, 126-127]


Less is known about Phoenician religion than that of most other peoples of antiquity. This is primarily because the Phoenicians’ own literature has not been preserved. One cannot be sure that information from ancient Ugarit in nearby Syria correctly reflects religious practices and beliefs of the Phoenician cities. Nor should it be assumed that the religion of Phoenicia’s colonies was transported without modification from the mother country. Unfortunately, what the OT says about Canaanite religion does not differentiate the beliefs or practices of individual Phoenician cities. The following information has been gleaned almost exclusively from Phoenician sources.

Several general names appeared in Phoenician religion. El was both the Semitic word for god and a specific god who was head of the pantheon. Baal simply means “lord” but it also applies to the son of El. Baalat means “lady” but it often designated a specific deity as the Baalat of Gebal or Byblos. Milk (Hebrew, melek) was a “king” or “ruler” but it might form part of a name of a deity such as Melqart (“ruler of the city”), chief god of Tyre.

As in the Greek city-states, Phoenician cities had patron deities that were not necessarily the head of the pantheon. On the female side there was really only one deity worshiped in all the cities, the mother and fertility goddess Ashtart or Astarte (Heb. Ashtoreth), the Babylonian Ishtar. She was regarded as the genetrix of the gods and man as well as plants. Promiscuity characterized her conduct and religious prostitution was carried on in her name.

Baalat Gebal, who symbolized fertility and thus corresponded to Astarte, was the preeminent deity of Byblos, but Adonis was also very important. As the young god who died and was resurrected, he was linked to the annual death and rebirth of vegetation.

Astarte was also predominant in the pantheon of Sidon, as is demonstrated by numerous inscriptions, temples built in her honor, and the fact that kings and queens called themselves her priests. The male deity most involved in Sidonian life was Eshmun, thought to correspond to Adonis in function. By the Greeks he was identified as Asklepios, god of healing.

The chief god of Tyre was Melqart, the Baal or lord of Tyre. Since an annual feast of resurrection was celebrated in his honor, he was equated with Eshmun of Sidon and Adonis of yblos. The Greeks identified Melqart with Heracles or Hercules. When Tyre came to dominate the other Phoenician cities, Melqart rose to a place of prominence in their pantheons. Melqart would have been the Baal introduced to Israel in the days of Ahab, who married Jezebel of Tyre. The main female deity of Tyre was Astarte. Hiram built temples at Tyre to both Melqart and Astarte, and Solomon brought the worship of Astarte (Ashtoreth) to Jerusalem in his day (1 Kgs 11:5). Her shrine remained to plague the Jews until the reform of Josiah late in the 7th century b.c. (2 Kgs 23:13). No doubt Elijah’s mocking that Baal might be asleep and needed to be awakened referred to his function as a god of nature and his involvement with the annual death and rebirth of nature (1 Kgs 18:27–30).

The places for worship of Baal were either high places in the hills (consisting of an altar and a stone pillar representing the Baal; and a tree or pole representing Astarte) or stone enclosures with an altar, a stone pillar, and a tree. Sometimes they were covered temple buildings. Sacrifices consisted of animals and vegetables, and in times of great disaster, of human beings. Great religious festivals were held in observance of the god’s connection with the rhythm of the seasons. When he and nature died there were mourning, funeral rites, and perhaps self-torture. The spring festival, which celebrated his resurrection and new life in nature and which sought fertility of nature, commonly was accompanied by sacramental prostitution. The idolatry, human sacrifice, and sexual promiscuity connected with Baal worship brought upon it God’s special condemnation.” [Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Map on lining papers. (1690). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House., s.v. Phoenicia, Phoenician.]


Phoenician Polytheism. The very concept of divinity in NW Semitic religion is fuzzy. Divinities achieve definition relatively: in relation to one another and in relation to human beings. The mutual relations of divinities are expressed in the schematic associations called pantheons. The organizing principles of pantheons are analogical. Human structures organizing power, generative and coercive, provide the lines of analogy. Thus divinities may associate in triadic nuclear families (father/mother/son); or as conjugal pairs; or as kin groups spanning several generations. Alternatively they rank in power strata like the population of a city-state. Minor groupings of deities are iconic and thereby mutable.

The pantheons of Phoenician city-states have been described as incorporating a divine triad consisting of a god and goddess with a divine male child begotten by them (Teixidor 1977: 35–39; van den Branden [1981: 36] extends the triad beyond the nuclear family of parents and child). But the triad is imagistic rather than structural (a point missed by van den Branden 1981, argued in essence by Xella 1981: 14–15). The iconography of Astarte, for example, includes erotic groupings of three female deities (Delcor 1986: 1080 and pl. 20). The motif of a dying-rising god, traditionally linked with the triadic arrangement of divine families, need not be coupled with triadism.

Paired deities are a more enduring element of Phoenician religion (Servais-Soyez 1986). The pair Elyon and Baalat have been associated with Byblos on the basis of combined epigraphic and literary evidence (Moscati 1968: 31–32). At Tyre, Astarte is coupled with Melqart (Herakles) in texts (Moscati 1968: 34–35) and iconography (Delcor 1986: 1081). At Carthage the god Baal Hammon is paired with the goddess Tinnit from the early 5th century onward (CIS I 5510 is probably the earliest textual evidence).

The phylogeny of divine beings was expressed in theogonic myths. Apart from Ugaritic texts with theogonic interests (see CANAAN, RELIGION OF), the only extant Phoenician theogony is from the Phoenician History of PHILO OF BYBLOS (the detailed investigation of this text by Movers [1848] still repays close reading; the most extensive recent analysis is by Schiffmann 1986).

2. Dynamics of Pantheons. It is a commonplace that the ranking and grouping of divinities in pantheons mirrors the social and political relations of human society. The occupational specializations of urban society are likewise represented in the restricted ambit of any single deity. The pantheons of Phoenician cities were dynamic: new deities were assimilated or invested; old deities waxed or waned in prominence; some became senescent. …The dynamism of Phoenician polytheism accounts for the considerable discontinuity between Bronze Age and Iron Age pantheons of the same regions (noted by Xella 1981: 12–13). The historical development of Phoenician religion involved innovation, openness to elements of non-Phoenician origin, and periodic divestment of innovative elements (Garbini 1981). First-millennium Phoenician pantheons, for example, show the emergence of guardian deities, such as Shadrapa, Horon, Sid, and Bes, to a new prominence (Garbini 1981: 33–36). Two-element divine names are widely diffused in the 1st millennium: Milk-Astarot (see Pardee 1988 on this name), Tinnit-Astarot, and Baal Hammon are examples; “double-gods,” e.g., Eshmun-Milqart, also show a renewed prominence in the late Iron Age.” [Freedman, D. N. (1996, c1992). The Anchor Bible Dictionary (5:362). New York: Doubleday., s.v. “PHOENICIAN RELIGION”]

And finally,

Although there are now over six thousand Phoenician and Punic inscriptions extant and the corpus of archeological material grows larger each year, there is relatively little in this material that defines Phoenician religious concepts. We know the major deities, but have little idea of their nature. There are temples in the homeland and colonies, but the cultus practiced there is practically unknown. Without appropriate native written sources, then, Phoenician religious practice can only be described in the broadest terms.

There is, of course, some descriptive material in the works of classical writers and the Old Testament. But these express the Hellenized viewpoint of Greek and Latin authors or the openly anti-Phoenician bias of the Hebrew prophets. The Late Bronze Age literature of Ugarit is of limited value except as a general background, since it represents the pantheon, ritual, and beliefs of an earlier time that does not always apply to Iron Age Phoenicia. The one native author whose work is partially preserved is likewise of doubtful value. Philo of Byblos, writing in the first century A.D., is known only from quotations, almost exclusively in Eusebius. Philo is said to have translated from Phoenician an earlier history by Sanchuniathon; what little is preserved is concerned with creation, the early history of the gods, and the discovery of the necessities of life such as food, fire, boats, and medicine. There is probably some basis for believing that Philo does record a few genuine Phoenician beliefs, but his work is heavily overlaid with Hellenistic, especially euhemeristic, thought.

The deities honored in Iron Age Phoenicia are a mixture of gods and goddesses known from earlier Canaanite times and new ones who are evidenced only from the early first millennium. In some cases, the relative importance of the older deities has changed. For example, El, creator and king of the gods at Ugarit, is mentioned only once in texts from the homeland. Astarte, of minor importance at Ugarit, plays a dominant role in Iron Age Tyre and Sidon. While the extant texts are full of references to numerous deities, it is not possible to trace a national Phoenician pantheon. This should be expected since there was no national Phoenician state that would have required one. At Tyre, Melqart ("King of the City") was the chief deity, perhaps its dynastic god, while El may have been considered the head of the local pantheon. Other Tyrian deities include Baal-Shamem, Baal-Saphon, Astarte, and Eshmun, though the latter two are principally associated with Sidon. Other Sidonian deities are Baal-Sidon, Astarte/Face-of-Baal, and perhaps Reshep. The most important deity of Byblos was Baalat Gubla ("Mistress of Byblos") (= Anat or Astarte), with a long history at that city. Baal ("the Lord") and Baal-Shamem ("Lord of Heavens") also appear at Byblos. Shadrapa ("Shad the Healer") and Tannit are mentioned in texts from Sarepta, and Melqart, Eshmun, and Shadrapa were worshiped as gods of healing in the temple at Amrit. Even from this partial list, it is evident that an individual deity may be primarily associated with one city, as well as be prominent elsewhere.

The frequent term baal simply means "lord," and it is difficult to determine which deity is meant in any given case. Baals are often associated with mountains: Baal-Saphon, Baal-Lebanon, Baal-Hammon (= Amanus), Baal-Shamem (usually identified as Hadad, though on uncertain evidence), Baal-Addir, Baal-Marqod, and Baal-Malage. In each instance, the meaning is "lord of" a place or attribute, though the deity involved can only be surmised. Baal-Sidon, for example, is probably Eshmun and Baal-Tyre is probably Melqart, but there is no conclusive proof to support this.

Wherever the Phoenicians established settlements or colonies, they took their deities with them. A well-known example is the construction at Samaria of a temple to Baal-Tyre by Ahab of Israel when he married Jezebel, a princess of Tyre (1 Kings 16:31-32, which refers to her father as king of the "Sidonians," used interchangeably with "Tyrians" in several traditions). In so doing, Ahab followed the example of Solomon who worshiped Astarte of Sidon (1 Kings 11:5) in shrines that were not torn down until the reforms of Josiah over two centuries later (2 Kings 23:13). [OT:POTW, 201f]

As I noted in the article on IAO, the forms YH and YHU do show up in Syria early, but they do not show up in Canaanite pantheons at all (e.g. Ugarit):

Its (the name YHWH) earliest appearances are in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5; which has been dated to the 11th century b.c.), on the Mesha Stele (9th century; ANET, 320), in an ostracon from Kuntillet ˓Ajrud (8th century; Freedman 1987: 246), and in the Arad and Lachish Letters (6th century; ANET, 569, 322). … To move outside of the Levant, we find Egyptian name lists which include a Syrian site, Ya-h-wa (No. 97), which is identical to Yahweh. A Rameses II (1304–1237 b.c.) list is found in a Nubian temple in ˓Amarah West with six names (Nos. 93–98) following the designation “Bedouin area.” Nos. 96–98 have been found at Soleb in Nubia on an Amon temple of Amenhotep III (1417–1379). No. 93, Sa-˓ra-r, has been identified with Seir (Edom) and related to the biblical references (Deut 33:2) which associate Yahweh with Seir and Paran. This could be taken as evidence the name was known in Edom or Midianite territory ca. 1400 b.c. (EncRel 7: 483–84). … However, Astour (IDBSup, 971) notes that the writing “S-r-r” is incorrect as opposed to the spelling in other Egyptian inscriptions. Furthermore, three of the sites, including Yi-ha, on Rameses III’s temple in Medinet Habu, are in a Syrian context suggesting that Ya-h-wa/Yi-ha was also in Syria. Thus the name is not associated with Edom or Midianites but does seem to appear as early as 1400 b.c. in Syria. … From a later time, the 8th century b.c., two Aramean princes have names with the element “Yau.” This has been taken to mean that some Arameans may have worshipped Yahweh (Rankin 1950: 95). This could relate to the earlier connection of the Patriarchs with the Arameans, e.g., Jacob’s sojourn with Laban, the eponymous ancestor of the Arameans (Genesis 29–31). The divine name is not found in any cuneiform texts. … The formative -yw in some personal names from Ugarit (ca. 14th century b.c.) is not a divine element and has no connection with the name Yahweh. [Freedman, D. N. (1996, c1992). The Anchor Bible Dictionary (6:1012). New York: Doubleday, s.v. “Yahweh”]

Always, always, always check for current, scholarly references to such claimsand if they have them, LOOK THEM up to see if they actually SUPPORT the position… If they do NOT have credible references, then you are under no ethical obligation to take the claims seriously… speculation and non-grounded asserts have no evidentiary force, and ‘no response is required’ on your part—other than to NOT ‘grant them’ such force!

I hope this helps--glenn

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