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Ugaritic Baal Cycle

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

Ugaritic Baal Cycle, Canaanite Myth

The archaeological discoveries of Ugarit tablets have helped the Bible research scholars to understand better the region’s cultural context from the Bronze Age. One of the more popular myths circulating in Canaan was the Baal Cycle myth recorded in rock art and Ugaritic cuneiform script. The designation of the myth as a “cycle” is due to the region’s seasonal behavior. This Canaanite myth describes Baal and Mot conflict as an attempt to explains nature behavior specifically the season’s changes. The myth cyclical promise of rain alleviated people’s minds about water scarcity and the Baal Cycle myth being “the known truth” assured the desert nomads of the coming rainfall in the winter.

According to Canaanite myth Baal and Mot, the two brothers and sons of El the Canaanites supreme god, engaged in a constant struggle. Baal is associated with renewal, fertility, and rain, and Mot is associated with death and the Underworld. They fight seasonally, as the weather is changing, and no one dies in this ongoing cyclical battle since gods are immortal and they sprout back to life, cyclically, just as nature behaves. 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. 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 “

Baal and Mot Myth

The myth describes their final battle (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. Finally, Shapash (Sun God) arrives and 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 struggle in rock art

Rock Art from Negev Desert, Fig.1, illustrates their final battle. The two brothers are equal in power engaged in an ongoing fierce fight, which includes strikes and kicks. One figure is standing with his hand on top, this is Baal, and the second figure is falling, this is Mot, hit by Baal’s divine weapon; the Thunderbolt a weapon of thunder and lightning, appears in this rock art as the arrow above his head.  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 figure’s symmetry and their determination to win manifest their importance since both are responsible equally for the region’s climate. 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. 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 scenario instills the viewer with a hope that the fertile season is coming 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

More deciphering, in a new book Rock Art in Israel, available online.

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