Ugaritic Baal Cycle

Baal and Mot cycle rock art Negev Rock art

Ugaritic Baal Cycle, Canaanite Myth

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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, two gods and brothers, sons of El, the Canaanite supreme god. Their ongoing conflict symbolizes the climate and seasonal changes in the region.

Baal and Mot Myth

According to Baal and Mot myth, these two gods engaged in a ceaseless struggle. Baal is associated with renewal, fertility, and rain, while 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, the winter time, reflect the arrival of the fertile season and the renewal of nature. Since the gods are immortal, no one dies in the ongoing cyclical battle since they sprout back to life cyclically, just as nature does.

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, Fig.1, illustrates a struggle between two figures that echoes the famous regional tale of Baal and Mot myth. In this rock art, the two figures are depicted as equal in power. They are engaged in a fierce fight that 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 that typifies winter time, which appears in this rock art as the arrow above his head. The Shapash (in red) separates the quarreling figures as the myth describes.

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

With minimal details, the artist illustrated their frenzied struggle, resulting in a visual impression of a moving scene. The figure’s symmetry represents their determination to win, as well as their mutual importance since both are equally responsible for the region’s climate. Their posture reflects the decisive moment and the outcome of this battle. Sapash (the red figure) separates the quarreling gods and 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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