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Ugaritic Baal Cycle

Rock art Baal and Mot cycleNegev Rockart

Ugaritic Baal Cycle, Canaanite Myth

In Canaanite belief, a constant struggle between good and evil expressed in the myth of Baal and Mot. Baal and Mot were the sons of El, the supreme god of the Canaanites. Baal is associated with fertility and rain and Mot is associated with death and the Underworld. Baal and Mot Cycle a known Canaanite myth circulated through the region describes their conflict as an attempt to explains nature behavior specifically the season’s changes. In this cyclical war, they are killed but since gods are immortal they come back to life, cyclically just as nature behaves. According to the myth, the death and rebirth of Baal is the cause of seasons change in the region,  the reason for the alternating cycle of summer or drought and the winter rains. From Ugarit text “there is no rain in its time ‘Ba’al fails’, or ‘Ba’al is dead’, being swallowed up by Mot, the god of drought and sterility”

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 warns Mot that fighting Baal is useless since El now supports Baal and will overturn Mot’s throne. Mot is afraid and declares that Baal is now the king.

Baal and Mot struggle in rock art

Fig.1 is a Rockart from Negev Desert that illustrates this last battle. We see a depiction of strife between two figures with characteristics that fit the Baal and Mot myth.  Both figures have a bird’s beak, indicating they are gods living in the sky as birds do. As brothers, they are equal in size and power, both engaged in an ongoing fierce fight, which includes strikes and kicks. One figure is standing with his hand on top, this is Baal. Mot is falling, hit by Baal’s weapon; the Thunderbolt a unique Baal symbol, the arrow above his head.

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

This one of a kind rock art, from thousand found in the Negev Desert, that illustrates a struggle between two figures, a famous tale in the region that narrows down it to the well known Baal and Mot myth.  This simple picture is full of movement and with few details, it tells us the whole story in a single glance. The artist illustrated their frenzied struggle with minimum details. As a spectator,  you feel the fight dynamic as if you watching a moving scene. Their final 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 in falling posture. The engraver’s message is that the good forces will prevail!

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

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