Ugaritic Baal Cycle, Canaanite Myth
The distinctive rock art interpreted here depicts the Canaanite Baal Cycle myth. The Baal Cycle myth was widely circulated in Canaan, as evidenced by rock art and text in Ugaritic cuneiform script. The term cycle refers the regional climate pattern which alternates between dry and rainy seasons.
The myth depicts a struggle, between Baal and Mot, the sons of the Canaanite supreme deity El, as a metaphor for the changing seasons in the region. Baal symbolizes renewal, fertility, and rain, while Mot represents death and the underworld. When Mot gains power in the Summer, the hot sun decimates all life. Conversely, Baal's return in Winter marks the beginning of the fertile season and the renewal of nature. As the gods are immortal, their cyclical battle never ends, just like nature's behavior. Taken from Ugarit text, dated to c. 1500 BC. The myth describes their final battle as recorded: (clay tablets Ugarit KTU 1.6.VI:12–22):
'Baal returns to reign over earth but Mot does not give up. He battles Mot again and for a moment, it seems that Baal will lose his life. However, El, affected by the prophecy he had seen in his dream, concludes that the Rain god, Baal, is most worthy to reign over the country. He sends Shafash, the Sun god, to break up their fight and inform them that Baal is now the earth king.'
Baal and Mot myth in rock art
The rock art found in the Negev Desert (Fig.1) showcases a strugle between two distinct symbols, mirroring the regional myth of Baal and Mot. The two figures are evenly matched, engaging in a fierce fight involving strikes and kicks. Baal is depicted in a victorious position, standing with a raised hand, while Mot is falling, hit by Baal’s divine weapon; the Thunderbolt. This known Baal symbol that represents thunder and lightning typifying weather phenomena in wintertime. In between the two figures, Shapash is depicted in red. Shapash was considered the goddess of the sun and was associated with justice and law in the Canaanite religion. In the Baal and Mot myth, Shapash separates the quarreling figures, as depicted in the rock art.
Fig.1 Ugaritic Baal and Mot cycle, Negev Desert rock art
The artist depicted the struggle between Baal and Mot with minimal details. Despite the simplicity of the artwork, the figures convey a frenzied struggle, resulting in a visual impression of a moving scene.
The symmetry of the figures represents their determination to win, as well as their mutual importance since both are equally responsible for the region's climate. The posture of the figures reflects the decisive moment and the outcome of the battle. Baal is shown standing upright with a raised hand, indicating his victory over Mot, who is falling. The figure of Shapash, represented by the red color, separates the quarreling gods and announces the victory of Baal. This is shown by Baal's upright posture, indicating his triumph over Mot. The scene instills the viewer with hope that the fertile season will soon arrive, exactly as prophesized in the Baal and Mot myth.
The Baal Cycle myth holds great significance in the history of Canaan, as it reflects the recurring patterns of weather with the changing seasons in the region. The myth of Baal and Mot, two sons of the supreme deity El, represents the alternating seasons in the region. The Rock art found in the Negev Desert visually portrays the tale of their final battle, won by Baal with the help of Shapash, the Sun god.
BibliographyTöyräänvuori J., (2012) Weapons of the storm god in ancient Near Eastern and biblical traditions
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