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I'm currently reading the Introduction of Stories from Ancient Cananan, eds. Coogan and Smith, and it gives several examples of how Canaanite gods and goddesses appear in several passages of the Hebrew Bible and then are later cleverly camouflaged, by scribes, as a reference to Elohim and Yahweh. Ugarit is a city-state of Canaan, and Baal is the city's patron god. That's not surprising, I've heard all of this before.

It further went on to say:

Some commentators have suggested that Pslam 29 was originally a hymn to Baal; its language is in any case strikingly familiar to a reader of the Baal Cycle.

What are the "strikingly familiar" similarities though (I have not read the Baal Cycle)? Has anyone done a side by side chart of both accounts?

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religionthink.com says that, although debate continues on the details of the hypothesis, almost all scholars agree that Psalm 29’s background is Baal worship, as portrayed in the tablets from Ugarit. There is undoubtedly good reason for this, but there may be other good reasons to alter that hypothesis somewhat.

First of all, the psalm is obviously a hymn to a storm god, and Baal was certainly a storm god. The repeated references to "The voice of the LORD" are references to thunder, but also to lightning. If I do a substitution (replacing words in the KJV Psalm 29):

3: thunder is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the LORD is upon many waters.
4: The thunder is powerful; the thunder [of Baal] is full of majesty.

In verse 5, the reference includes the destructive power of the lightning that comes with the voice of the LORD:

5: The lightning breaketh the cedars; yea, the LORD breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.

The sound is so great as to shake the wilderness (v 8) and to cause deer to calve prematurely (v 9). Verse 10 associates the storm god with floods.

An apologetic interpretation of the Psalm could say that it simply portrays the voice of God as more powerful that the forces of nature, but this is not well supported in the text.


That Psalm 29 is based on a Ugaritic hymn is a hypothesis because there is no smoking gun. There is no ancient Ugaritic hymn that so closely resembles Psalm 29 that we can say, "This is the one." Nevertheless, religionthink.com cites H.L. Ginsberg, who in 1935 proposed that Psalm 29 was originally a Phoenician hymn which had found its way into the Psalter. The reference to Lebanon and Sirion in verse 6, and to Kadesh in verse 8, could be evidence to support a Phoenician origin.

How could a hymn to the storm god have become such a part of Hebrew religion that it comes down to us as a psalm attributed to David? The tradition of the Israelites as arriving from Egypt and conquering Canaan implies that there should be some emnity between the Hebrew people and the remnant Canaanite people to the north. J. W. Rogerson says in, 'Anthropology and the Old Testament', published in The World of Ancient Israel page 27, by the late 1970s a different consensus was emerging, particularly in America, according to which the Israelites had been peasant farmers in Canaan who withdrew or revolted from the influence of the city states and formed a new society with a tribal structure. F. S. Frick agrees, saying in 'Israel as a tribal society' (ibid) that the ‘immigration’ [conquest] model has been largely abandoned. This new understanding of the origins of the Israelite nation means that the people inherited their culture and religion from their Canaanite forebears. Biblical references to Baal need no longer be seen as sporadic episodes, with no lasting impact, of adopting foreign beliefs, but as deep-seated worship of the same gods as the Ugarits.

Spronk ('Beatific Afterlife in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East', page 83) says it is usually taken for granted that religion represents the religion of the inhabitants of Canaan before of Israel as a nation and before the rise of Yahwism and that it been closely related to the Israelite folk religion. Canaanite traditions survived for a long time in the folk religion of Israel and were thus able to be influential as late as the second century BCE.

Baal had been a god of the Canaanites as much as he had been a god of the Phoenicians. With the recognition that the Israelites were actually descendants of the southern Canaanites and that they still, at least initially, worshipped the gods of their forebears alongside Yahweh, we can now see why Psalm 29 contains a vestige of Baal worship. The underlying hymn may have been specifically Phoenician, but could also reflect the common origin and affinity of the Israelites and Phoenicians. To have been attributed to King David and included in the Psalter, it was more than a disreputable foreign import; it was a deep-seated part of Jewish culture and religion.

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  • Thank you very much, Dick, you consistently provide me with with very thorough and balanced perspectives. I appreciate all the scholarly citations. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with me -- I truly appreciate it! Aug 11 '16 at 10:14
  • So this makes me think: how do we determine whether a hymn was adopted and assimilated, or whether it was transformed into a polemic? (This answer is good as is, I don't think you or anyone should be answering that question here DickHarfield).
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 11 '16 at 11:02
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A different (more orthodox) explanation is that the Old Testament authors frequently coopted (or reclaimed) titles and prerogatives from the surrounding ANE pagan competitors.

For example, Baal was portrayed as the cloud-rider, coming with the swift wind, who holds lightning in his hand. As the one true deity, YHWH instead is lauded as the only one who rides the clouds with the wind and thundering lightning. Well, at least until Daniel's vision of 'one like the son of man' and Jesus claiming the title. [THE TRINITY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT (PART 2): THE DEITY OF ISRAEL’S MESSIAH, by Jonathan McLatchie - https://crossexamined.org/the-trinity-in-the-old-testament-part2/]

A very good example is Elijah's showdown with the priests of Baal on Mt Carmel. The context of the showdown was 3 years of drought - embarrassing for the throng of Baal priests, since he was supposed to control the weather and make the land fertile! Elijah (El-i-Yah = My God is YHWH) mocks their inability to get Baal to hear their pleas, then calls on YHWH who sends fire from heaven (lightning, another of Baal's prerogatives). Finally, after slaughtering the Baal priests, Elijah announces the return of rain. So the entire saga is a repeated humbling and humiliation of Baal before the true master of the skies, YHWH.

We can see this also in the Genesis creation account, where humanity is created as the pinnacle of creation by an all-powerful YHWH - versus ANE paganism where generally a pantheon of squabbling deities accidentally makes humans as a throwaway mistake. [Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament, by John D. Currid - https://www.amazon.com/Against-Gods-Polemical-Theology-Testament/dp/1433531836]

We see it also in the Exodus plagues, where it has been postulated that each plague was specifically crafted to show that a certain Egyptian deity did not possess power - only YHWH does, e.g. Hathor the cow-headed could not protect the livestock, Osiris/Anubis/Pharaoah could not protect Egypt's firstborn from death. [Three Ways to Look at the Ten Plagues, by Ziony Zevit - https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/exodus/exodus-in-the-bible-and-the-egyptian-plagues/]

Or how about Sydyk / Sedek, a Phoenician deity whose name means 'righteousness'? The Old Testament attributes true righteousness personified to YHWH - the names Melchizedek (called priest of God Most High) and Adonizedek (a later king of Jerusalem after Mechizedek) have the appelation. [Naked Bible Podcast 166–168, 170 — Melchizedek (Full Version), by Michael Heiser - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvpCqgruSvg]

This is the interpretation I favour currently, I hope it was informative to you.

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    Aug 15 '19 at 6:12

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