Dagan was a deity of grain, the meaning of his name in North West Semitic languages (Hebrew, Ugaritic), this latter a fact that betrays Dagan’s origins in Syria and Canaan before the spread of his cult throughout the ancient Near East in the late third millennium BCE. As the “corn god”, Dagan was popularly associated with fertility and prosperity, and was held in some traditions as the inventor of the plough. His West Semitic origins are early, his worship being attested in Mari by 2500 BCE, at Ebla by 2300 BCE and clearly continuing in Ugarit in the Late Bronze Age, c.1300 BCE. The Ugaritic texts reveal that Dagan was looked upon as the father of Baal / Hadad and second in rank only to the supreme god El. Dagan nonetheless plays an unimportant role in Ugaritic mythology, his place as a chief god of vegetation being usurped by his son Baal by about 1500 BCE.

Despite his West Semitic origins, Dagan was nonetheless assimilated into the Sumerian pantheon at quite an early date. He seems to have remained a minor deity at first, serving as one of Enlil’s attendants. As such, the goddess šala served as his consort, though some traditions name his wife as Išara. Dagan’s profile in Mesopotamia seems to have risen in the early second millennium BCE, co-incident with the rise of the first great Akkadian-speaking empires. Hammurabi of Babylon, for example, claimed the power of “his creator” Dagan as the source of his ability to conquer the city of Mari, whilst the contemporaneous Assyrian ruler Šamši-Adad I took pride in his worship of Dagan by erecting a temple to the god at Terqa (E.KISIGA, “House of Funerary Offerings”). This apparent connection with the underworld (perhaps reflecting the cyclic growth and decay of the crops) is borne out in an Assyrian poem in which Dagan is depicted seated alongside Nergal and Mišaru as divine judge of the dead. In later Babylonian belief Dagan acted as the imprisoner in the underworld of the seven children of the god Emmešarra (the Seven Gods). A tradition appearing as early the fourth century CE and depicting Dagan as a fish deity is completely incorrect and unfounded.

Select Bibliography

Fleming, D.

“Baal and Dagan in Ancient Syria”, ZA 83 (1993), pp.88-98.

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