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The ancient god Dagon

Dagon was a major northwest Semitic god, the god of grain and agriculture according the few sources to speak of the matter, worshipped by the early Amorites, by the people of Ebla, by the people of Ugarit and a chief god (perhaps the chief god) of the Biblical Philistines. His name appears in Hebrew as דגון (in modern transcription Dagon, Tiberian Hebrew Dāḡôn), in Ugaritic as dgn (probably vocalized as Dagnu), and in Akkadian as Dagana, Daguna usually rendered in English translations as Dagan.


In Ugaritic the word dgn also means 'grain'. Similarly in Hebrew dāgān, Samaritan dīgan is an archaic word for 'grain', perhaps related to Middle Hebrew and Jewish Aramaic word dgnʾ 'be cut open' or to Arabic dagn 'rain-(cloud). Sanchuniathon also says Dagon means Siton, that being the Greek word for 'grain'. Sanchuniathon further explains: "And Dagon, after he discovered grain and the plough, was called Zeus Arotrios." The word Arotrios means 'ploughman', 'pertaining to agriculture'.

Another theory relating the name to Hebrew dāg/dâg 'fish' is discussed in a later section of this article called Fish-god tradition.

Non-Biblical sources

The god Dagon first appears in extant records about 2500 BCE in the Mari texts and in personal Amorite names in which the gods Ilu (Ēl), Dagan, and Adad are especially common.

At Ebla (Tell Mardikh), from at least 2300 BCE, Dagan was the head of the city pantheon comprising some 200 deities and bore the titles BE-DINGIR-DINGIR 'Lord of the gods' and Bekalam 'Lord of the land'. His consort was known only as Belatu 'Lady'. Both were worshipped in a large temple complex called E-Mul 'House of the Star'. One entire quarter of Ebla and one of its gates were named after Dagan. Dagan is called ti-lu ma-tim 'dew of the land' and Be-ka-na-na, possibly 'Lord of Canaan'. He called lord of many cities: of Tuttul, Irim, Ma-Ne, Zarad, Uguash, Siwad, and Sipishu.

An interesting early reference to Dagan occurs in a letter to King Zimri-Lim of Mari, 18th century BCE written by Itur-Asduu an official in the court of Mari and governor of Nahur (the Biblical city of Nahor) (ANET, p. 623). It relates a dream of a "man from Shaka" in which Dagan appeared. In the dream Dagan blamed Zimri-Lim's failure to subude the King of the Yaminites upon Zimri-Lim's failure to bring report of his deeds to Dagan in Terqa. Dagan promises that when Zimri-Lim has done so: "I will have the kings of the Yaminites [coo]ked on a fisherman's spit, and I will lay them before you."

In Ugarit around 1300 BCE Dagon had a large temple and was listed third in the pantheon following a father-god and Ēl, and preceding Baīl Ṣapān (that is the god Haddu or Hadad/Adad). But in the Ugaritic mythological texts Dagon is mentioned solely in passing as the father of the god Hadad. According to Sanchuniathon Dagon, the brother of Ēl/Cronus and like him son of Sky/Uranus and Earth, was not truly Hadad's father. Hadad was begotten by 'Sky' on a concubine before Sky was castrated by his son Ēl whereupon the pregnant concubine was given to Dagon. Accordingly Dagon in this version is Hadad's stepfather. Otherwise Dagon has practically no surviving mythology.

Dagan is mentioned occasionally in early Sumerian texts but becomes prominent only in later Akkadian inscriptions as a powerful and warlike protector, sometimes equated with Enlil. Dagan's wife was in some sources the goddes Shala (also named as wife of Adad and sometimes identified with Ninlil). In other texts is wife is Ishara. In the preface to Hammurabi's law code, King Hammurabi calls himself: "the subduer of the settlements along the Euphrates with the help of Dagan, his creator". An inscription about an expedition of Naram-Sin to the Cedar Mountain relates (ANET, p. 268): "Naram-Sin slew Arman and Ibla with the 'weapon' of the god Dagan who aggrandizes his kindgon." The stele of Ashurnasirpal II (ANET, p. 558) refers to Ashurnasirpal as the favorite of Anu and of Dagan. In an Assyrian poem Dagan appears beside Nergal and Misharu as a judge of the dead. A late Babylonian text makes him the underworld prison warder of the seven children of the god Emmesharra.

The Phoenician inscription on the sarcophagus of King Eshmunʿazar of Sidon (5th century BCE) relates (ANET, p. 662): "Furthermore, the Lord of Kings gave us Dor and Joppa, the mighty lands of Dagon, which are in the Plain of Sharon, in accordance with the important deeds which I did."

Dagon is sometimes identified with Matsya, the fish avatar of Krishna. A statue in Keshava Temple, Somnathpur, India depicts this.

Dagan was sometimes used in royal names. Two kings of the Dynasty of Isin were Iddin-Dagan (c. 1974–1954 BCE) and Ishme-Dagan (c. 1953–1935 BCE). The name of the second of these kings was later used by two Assyrian kings: Ishme-Dagan I (c. 1782–1742 BCE) and Ishme-Dagan II (c. 1610–1594 BCE).

Dagon in Biblical texts and commentaries

In the Tanakh Dagon is particularly the god of the Philistines with temples at Beth-dagon in the tribe of Asher (Joshua 19.27), in Gaza (Judges 16.23, which tells soon after how the temple is destroyed by Samson as his last act). Another temple was in Ashdod (1 Samuel 5.2–7, 1 Maccabees 10.83;11.4). There was also a second place known as Beth-Dagon in the Judah (Joshua 15.41). Josephus (Antiquities 12.8.1; War 1.2.3) mentions a place named Dagon above Jericho. Jerome mentions Caferdago between Diospolis and Jamnia. There is also a modern Beit Dejan south-east of Nablus. Some of these names may have to do with grain rather than the god.

The account in 1 Samuel 5.2–7 relates how the ark of Yahweh is captured by the Philistines and taken to Dagon's temple in Ashdod. The following morning they found the image of Dagon lying prostrate before the ark. They set the image upright, but again on the morning of the following day they found it prostrate before the ark, but this time with head and hands severed, lying on the miptān translated as 'threshold' or podium. The account continues with the puzzling words raq dāgôn nišʾar ʿālāyw which means literally "... only Dagon was left to him." (The Septuagint, Peshitta, and Targums render "trunk of Dagon" or "body of Dagon", presumably referring to the lower part of his image.) Thereafter we are told that neither the priests or anyone ever steps on the miptān of Dagon in Ashdod "unto this day". The word miptān occurs again in Zephaniah 1.9 where Yahweh declares: "And on the same day I will punish all who leap over the miptān, who fill their masters' house with violence and deceit."


Marcus Diaconus, in the Life of Porphyry of Gaza, writes of the great god of Gaza, then known as Marnas (Aramaic Marnā the " Lord"), who was regarded as the god of rain and grain and invoked against famine. He was identified at Gaza with Cretan Zeus, Zeus Krêtagenês. That Marnas was the Hellenistic expression of Dagon is probable in every way. His temple the Marneion was burned by order of the emperor in 402, the last surviving great cult center of paganism. Full details of the destruction of the temples and libraries of Gaza are at Porphyry of Gaza.

Fish-god tradition

Rashi records a tradition that the name Dāgôn is related to Hebrew dāg/dâg 'fish' and that Dagon was imagined in the shape of a fish. David Kimhi (13th century) interpreted the odd sentence that only Dagon was left to him to mean "only the form of a fish was left", adding: "It is said that Dagon, from his navel down, had the form of a fish (whence his name, Dagon), and from his navel up, the form of a man, as it is said, his two hands were cut off."

John Milton uses this tradition in his Paradise Lost Book 1:

                                      ... Next came one
Who mourned in earnest, when the captive ark
Maimed his brute image, head and hands lopt off,
In his own temple, on the grunsel-edge,
Where he fell flat and shamed his worshippers:
Dagon his name, sea-monster,upward man
And downward fish; yet had his temple high
Reared in Azotus, dreaded through the coast
Of Palestine, in Gath and Ascalon,
And Accaron and Gaza's frontier bounds.

Various 19th century scholars such as Julius Wellhausen and William Robertson Smith believed this tradition to have been validated from the occasional occurrence of a merman motif found in Assyrian and Phoenician art including coins from Ashdod and Arvad. It seemed reasonable that the chief god of a coastal folk like the Philistines might be so imaged.

However no findings have ever explicitly supported the merman interpretation, though nothing actually denies it, and it is no longer generally accepted though sometimes still put forth.

References and external links

  • ANET = Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 3rd ed. with Supplement (1969). Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691035032.
  • Dagon in Etana: Encyclopædia Bibilica Volume I A–D: Dabarah - David (http://www.cwru.edu/univlib/preserve/Etana/encyl_biblica_a-d/dabareh-david.pdf) (PDF).
  • Feliu, Lluis (2003). The God Dagan in Bronze Age Syria, trans. Wilfred G. E. Watson. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 9004131582
  • Fleming, D. (1993). "Baal and Dagan in Ancient Syria", Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie 83, pp. 88–98.
  • Matthiae, Paolo (1977). Ebla: An Empire Rediscovered. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0340229748.
  • Pettinato, Giovanni (1981). The Archives of Ebla. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0385131526

Some parts of the above derive from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.

Dagon in Fiction

Dagon has also been used as a figure of the fictional Cthulhu Mythos as one of the Great Old Ones. The traditional fishy Dagon seems to have inspired H. P. Lovecraft in creating his story "Shadow Over Innsmouth", first published in 1936. This story is one of Lovecraft's best known ones as it introduced the Deep Ones, a race of water-breathing humanoids, servants to Dagon and Cthulhu. Though they strongly resemble fish and frogs, they can cross-breed with mainstream humanity and produce hybrids. This story also introduced their undersea city of Y'ha-nthlei and the port town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, USA, mainly populated by these hybrids. The Deep Ones and their hybridic descendants are recurring figures in the stories of August Derleth and other of Lovecraft's "successors". Innsmouth has often been the setting of these stories. He is also called Father Dagon and is mate to a similar being, Mother Hydra, possibly synonymous with the Outer God Hydra.

From H. P. Lovecraft's short story "Dagon":

Vast, Polyphemus-like, and loathsome, it darted like a stupendous monster of nightmares to the monolith, about which it flung its gigantic scaly arms, the while it bowed its hideous head and gave vent to certain measured sounds... Once I sought out a celebrated ethnologist, and amused him with peculiar questions regarding the ancient Philistine legend of Dagon, the Fish-God; but soon perceiving that he was hopelessly conventional, I did not press my inquiries.

Fred Chappell also a wrote a novel called Dagon. While the novel was partially rooted in Cthulhu Mythos, Chappell tried to unite Lovecraft's Dagon with the historical one. The novel was awarded the Best Foreign Novel Prize by the French Academy in 1972.


External Links

fi:Dagon it:Dagon


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