Phoenician Religion

Phoenician religion was inspired by the powers and processes of nature. Many of the gods they worshiped, however, were localized and are now known only under their local names. A pantheon was presided over by the father of the gods, but a goddess was the principal figure in the Phoenician pantheon
Gods and Goddesses
Faith System of Gods and Goddesses
The system of gods and goddesses in Phoenician religion was influenced by and has influenced other cultures. As indicated below, there are too many similarities to be overlooked. In some instances the names of gods underwent very little change when they were borrowed. Even the legends maintained major similarities. For example, Ashtarte in Phoenician and Aphrodite in Greek or Adonis in both. Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian and others had their influences on the Phoenician faith system and borrowed from it.

The Phoenicians worshipped a triad of deities, each having different names and attributes depending upon the city in which they were worshipped, although their basic nature remained the same. The primary god was El, protector of the universe, but often called Baal. The son, Baal or Melqart, symbolized the annual cycle of vegetation and was associated with the female deity Astarte in her role as the maternal goddess. She was called Asherar-yam, our lady of the sea, and in Byblos she was Baalat, our dear lady. Astarte was linked with mother goddesses of neighboring cultures, in her role as combined heavenly mother and earth mother. Cult statues of Astarte in many different forms were left as votive offerings in shrines and sanctuaries as prayers for good harvest, for children, and for protection and tranquillity in the home. The Phoenician triad was incorporated in varying degrees by their neighbors and Baal and Astarte eventually took on the look of Greek deities.

What remains to be said is that Phoenician faith system evolved and changed as it was influenced by invader who brought along their own deities. Hence, Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman gods found their way to Phoenician temples. This is evident in the writing of Herodotus as well as in the archaeological records.

Baal, El, Ruler of the Universe
Baal (ba'al), plural Baalim (ba'allm) [Semitic, = possessor], name used throughout the Old Testament for the deity or deities of Canaan. The term was originally applied to various local gods, but by the time of the Ugarit tablets (14th cent. B.C.), Baal had become the ruler of the universe. Baal (Hadad) is regularly denominated "the son of Dagan," although Dagan (biblical Dagon) does not appear as an actor in the mythological texts. Baal also bears the titles "Rider of the Clouds," "Almighty," and "Lord of the Earth." He is the god of the thunderstorm, the most vigorous and aggressive of the gods, the one on whom mortals most immediately depend. Baal resides on Mount Zaphon, north of Ugarit, and is usually depicted holding a thunderbolt. Baal, also known as El. In 1978, Israeli archaeologists excavating at an eighth century B.C. site in the eastern Sinai desert found several Hebrew inscriptions mentioning Ba'al and El in the form of "Elohim," a name used to refer to God in the Hebrew Bible. Further, whenever the Jews refer to God or our God they use "Eloh, Elohaino or Elohim."

The Ugarit tablets make him chief of the Canaanite pantheon. He is the source of life and fertility, the mightiest hero, and the lord of war. There were many temples of Baal in Canaan, and the name Baal was often added to that of a locality, e.g., Baal-peor, Baal-hazor, Baal-hermon. The Baal cult penetrated Israel and at times led to a syncretism. The practices of holy prostitution and child sacrifice were especially abhorrent to the Hebrew prophets, who denounced the cult and its "high places" (temples). This abhorrence probably explains the substitution of Ish-bosheth for Esh-baal, of Jerubbesheth for Jerubbaal (a name of Gideon), and of Mephibosheth for Merib-baal. The substituted term probably means "shame." The final detestation of the term is seen in the use of the name Beelzebub (see SATAN), probably the same as Baal-zebub. 1 Kings 11.4-8; 2 Kings 1. The Baal of 1 Chron. 4.33 is probably the same as RAMAH 3. As cognates of Baal in other Semitic languages there are Bel (in Babylonian religion) and the last elements in the Tyrian names Jezebel, Hasdrubal, and Hannibal.

Astarte, Queen of Heaven
Also spelled ASHTART, great goddess of the ancient Near East, chief deity of Tyre, Sidon, and Elath, important Mediterranean seaports. She was called Asherar-yam, our lady of the sea, and in Byblos she was Baalat, our dear lady. Astarte was linked with mother goddesses of neighboring cultures, in her role as combined heavenly mother and earth mother. Cult statues of Astarte in many different forms were left as votive offerings in shrines and sanctuaries as prayers for good harvest, for children, and for protection and tranquillity in the home.

Hebrew scholars now feel that the goddess Ashtoreth mentioned so often in the Bible is a deliberate compilation of the Greek name Astarte and the Hebrew word boshet, "shame," indicating the Hebrew contempt for her cult. Ashtaroth, the plural form of the goddess's name in Hebrew, became a general term denoting goddesses and paganism.

King Solomon, married to foreign wives, "went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians" (I Kings 11:5). Later the cult places to Ashtoreth were destroyed by Josiah. Astarte/Ashtoreth is the Queen of Heaven to whom the Canaanites had burned incense and poured libations (Jer. 44).

Astarte, goddess of love and war, shared so many qualities with her sister, Anath, that they may originally have been seen as a single deity. Their names together are the basis for the Aramaic goddess Atargatis.

Astarte was worshipped as Astarte in Egypt and Ugarit and among the Hittites, as well as in Canaan. Her Akkadian counterpart was Ishtar. Later she became assimilated with the Egyptian deities Isis and Hathor, and in the Greco-Roman world with Aphrodite, Artemis, and Juno, all aspects of the Great Mother.

Anath, Goddess of Love and War
Anath, also spelled ANAT, chief West Semitic goddess of love and war, the sister and helpmate of the god Baal.

Considered a beautiful young girl, she was often designated "the Virgin" in ancient texts. Probably one of the best known of the Canaanite deities, she was famous for her youthful vigor and ferocity in battle; in that respect she was adopted as a special favorite by the Egyptian king Ramses II (reigned 1279-13 BC). Although Anath was often associated with the god Resheph in ritual texts, she was primarily known for her role in the myth of Baal's death and resurrection, in which she mourned and searched for him and finally helped to retrieve him from the nether world.

Egyptian representations of Anath show a nude goddess, often standing on a lion and holding flowers. During the Hellenistic Age, the goddesses Anath and Astarte (q.v.) were blended into one deity, called Atargatis (q.v.).

Adon (Adonis), Handsome and Young God
The son of Cinyras and Myrrha, according to Greek Mythology. He was a young god who was worshiped at a country shrine of Aphka at the source of the river Nahr Ibrahim. His name was/is used by the Jews whenever they encountered the name of "Yahweh" (YHWH) in prayer and they pronounced (and still pronounce) it "Adonai".

Lucian (second century A.D.) relates that the death of adon(is) was marked by annual rites of mourning when the river became red with the god's blood. One legend of his death happens around the love affair between him and the goddess Ashtarte which another god envied. He, in the form of a wild boar, attacks and kills Adonis and where his blood fell there grows red poppies every year. However, as Ashtarte weeps for his loss, she promises to bring him back to life every spring.

The legend of Adonis carries over to Greek Mythology but the story changes slightly there.

In Greek Mythology, he was Aphrodite's beloved. In fact, he was so handsome that both Aphrodite and Persephone quarreled over him. When their violent dispute was brought before Zeus, it was ruled that for a third part of the year Adonis was to dwell by himself; for a third part with Aphrodite; and for a third part with Persephone.

There is another myth that tells of his death. Aphrodite had warned Adonis against the dangers of the hunt, telling him to be especially wary of any wild beasts that would not turn and flee but stood firm Because he was so fond of hunting, he paid no heed to Aphrodite. As a result, he was mortally wounded by a wild boar. In his memory, she transformed his body into an anemone.

According to this version, Persephone restored him to life on the condition that he spend six months of the year with her and the rest with Aphrodite.

In Greek mythology, Adonis was a handsome young shepherd loved by APHRODITE. The offspring of a love affair between King Cinyras of Cyprus and his daughter Myrrha, Adonis was born from the trunk of the myrrh tree into which his mother had been changed by the gods. Aphrodite left the infant Adonis in the care of PERSEPHONE, the queen of the underworld, who also fell in love with him. While hunting, Adonis wounded a wild boar, which turned on him and killed him. Aphrodite pleaded that he be restored to her, but Zeus decided that both goddesses should share him for eternity: Adonis would spend the spring and summer with Aphrodite and the rest of the year with Persephone in the underworld. The anemone, the wild flower that each year blooms briefly and then dies, is said to have sprung from his blood. Adonis, imported probably from the Phoenicians, came to be revered as a dying-and-rising god. Athenians held Adonia, a yearly festival representing his death and resurrection, in midsummer.

Melqart, God of Tyre, King of the Underworld
Melqart, Son of Baal (or El, Ruler of the Universe), God of Tyre, King of the Underworld, Protector of the Universe symbolized the annual cycle of vegetation and was associated with the female deity Astarte in her role as the maternal goddess. Also, he was considered the Herakles or Hercules of the Tyrians though he came from a more distant past than the Greek Heracles/Hercules.

Melqart was also known as Eshmun by the Sidonians. The Greeks equated Melqart with Heracles who was held to be the mythical founder of the Macedonian dynasty. Melqart was also known by other names -- like other Phoenician gods and goddesses. He was known as Baal- Adon- Eshmun- Melqart and also as Thasian Heracles because he was worshipped on the island of Thasos. Also, a Temple of Melqart is known to have been on the island of Sancti Petri near Cadiz.

Many historians such as Josephus Flavius refer to Melqart and Heracles interchangeably. Also, Herodutus, Theophrastus (Arsistotle's pupil) and Horace the Roman wrote about Melqart's Temple in Tyre. It had two pillars one of pure gold and the other of emeralds which shone brilliantly at night. Melqart made Tyre a Phoenician Jerusalem whose kings minted Tyrians coins with Melqart riding on the Phoenician Hippocampus (seahorse/monster). This unique position of Tyre in Phoenician mythology survived into the Christian Era as an amazingly modern city. The remains of the Temple of Eshmun (Sidon's Melqart) have been found in Sidon.

The fame and name of Melqart travelled to the far corners of the Phoenician colonies around the Mediterranean and the other dominions and territories where the Phoenicians settled. The famous Pillars of Hercules of Gibraltar were actually known as the Pillars of Melqart but as time went by and the two gods became combined into one, the Pillars became those of Heracles or Hercules.

Tanit, Chief Goddess of Carthage
Tanit, also spelled TINITH, TINNIT, or TINT, chief goddess of Carthage, equivalent of Astarte. Although she seems to have had some connection with the heavens, she was also a mother goddess, and fertility symbols often accompany representations of her. She was probably the consort of Baal Hammon (or Amon), the chief god of Carthage, and was often given the attribute "face of Baal." Although Tanit did not appear at Carthage before the 5th century BC, she soon eclipsed the more established cult of Baal Hammon and, in the Carthaginian area at least, was frequently listed before him on the monuments. In the worship of Tanit and Baal Hammon, children, probably firstborn, were sacrificed. Ample evidence of the practice has been found west of Carthage in the precinct of Tanit, where a tofet (a sanctuary for the sacrifice of children) was discovered. Tanit was also worshiped on Malta, Sardinia, and in Spain.