Ugaritic Baal Cycle

Rock Art archaeology news. Baal and Mot cycle Negev Rock art

Ugaritic Baal Cycle, Canaanite Myth

Rock art and Ugaritic cuneiform script illustrate the popularity of the Baal Cycle myth in Canaan. The myth designation as a “cycle” stems from the region alternating dry and rainy seasons. The myth describes the battle between Baal and Mot the two gods and brothers sons of El, the Canaanite supreme god, in order to explain the changing of seasons.

Baal and Mot Myth

According to Baal and Mot myth, these two gods engaged in a constant struggle. Baal is associated with renewal, fertility, and rain, and Mot is associated with death and the Underworld. When Mot comes to life, death engulfs the earth and the scorching summer sun destroys all nature. The rebirth of Baal reflects the seasons’ change with the fertile season arrival. So the cyclical fight symbolically represents the solution for the seasonal weather changes. No one dies in this ongoing cyclical battle since the gods are immortal and therefore they sprout back to life, cyclically, just as nature behaves. The myth explains the alternating cycle of summer, or drought, and the fertile winter rains. From Ugarit text, dated to c. 1500 BC: “there is no rain in its time ‘Ba’al fails’, being swallowed up by Mot, the god of drought “The myth describes their final battle as recorded: (clay tablets Ugarit KTU 1.6.VI:12–22):

They shake each other like beasts; Mot is strong, Baal is strong.
They gore each other like buffaloes; Mot is strong, Baal is strong.
They bite like serpents; Mot is strong, Baal is strong.
They kick like racing beasts; Mot is down, Baal is down.

Their final battle fight takes place on Mount Zephon and it lasts until exhaustion. They fight until the arrival of Shapash (the Sun God), which separates the warring gods and warns Mot that fighting Baal is useless since the supreme god El now supports Baal and will overturn Mot’s throne. The fight terminates and the frightened Mot declares  Baal as the king.

Baal and Mot myth in rock art

Rock Art from Negev Desert, Fig.1, illustrates their final battle. The two brothers are equal in power engaging in an ongoing fierce fight, which includes strikes and kicks. Baal stands with a raised hand and  Mot falls, hit by Baal’s divine weapon; the Thunderbolt. That’s the godly weapon of thunder and lightning, which appears in this rock art as the arrow above his head. The Shapash (in red) separates the quarreling figures as the myth describes.

Research news. Ugaritic Baal cycle rock art negev desert
Fig. 1 Ugaritic Baal and Mot cycle, Negev Desert rock art

The rock art illustrates a struggle between two figures echos the famous regional tale of Baal and Mot myth.  The artist illustrated the frenzied struggle with minimum details and as a spectator, you feel the fight dynamic as if you watching a moving scene. The scene emphasizes the figure’s symmetry and shows their determination to win, which manifests their importance since both are responsible equally for the region’s climate. Their posture reflects the decisive moment and the outcome of this battle. It announces the victory of Baal by showing him standing upright and Mot is falling. Such a scene instills the viewer with a hope that the fertile season arrives soon exactly as the quarreling god’s scene prophesized.

Bibliography

Töyräänvuori J.,  (2012)           Weapons of the storm god in ancient Near Eastern and biblical traditions

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