“The” God from Enlil to Saturn

Dagan, father-god of the Amorites who lived along the Euphrates River in what is Syria today, was Enlil and El by a different name. You’ve probably noticed the similarity between the name of this god and Dagon, chief god of the Philistines. You’re right, they’re one and the same. Over the thousand-plus years between the oldest texts that mention Dagan in Syria and the story of Samson in the Book of Judges, the pronunciation changed a little. The last “a” sound shifted to an “o,” not an unusual change.

But since the worship of Dagan isn’t recorded anywhere in ancient Israel (maybe because the pagans there called him El), you may also be wondering how and when the Philistines transplanted a god from the north of Syria to the Gaza strip. Good question.

Contrary to popular belief, Dagan (later Dagon) was not a fish-god.

Archaeologists digging in the Amuq River valley in southern Turkey since the early 2000s have discovered evidence of a powerful early Iron Age state called Palistin (or Walistin), which was based at a city called Kunalua about fifteen miles southeast of Antioch. This may be the Calneh or Calno mentioned twice in the Bible (Amos 6:2, Isaiah 10:9).[1] Palistin emerged after the Bronze Age collapse around 1200 BC, when the Hittite Empire in Anatolia was destroyed along with most of the kingdoms in the eastern Mediterranean. This new state survived from the eleventh century BC down to about 700 BC, roughly from the time of Samuel and Saul to the time of Isaiah and Hezekiah.

Scholars first assumed that the eleventh century BC pottery they found at Kunalua was Aegean—the Greeks or their cousins. However, some are rethinking that theory and concluding that the pots were local copies of styles “not of Greece but rather of Cyprus and south-west Asia Minor.”[2] That means these people weren’t invaders, but descendants of the survivors of the chaos and destruction of the Bronze Age collapse. In other words, the kingdom of Palistin was probably founded by people who probably knew and worshiped Dagan all along.

You’ve surely also noticed the similarity between “Palistin,” “Philistine,” and “Palestine.” Again, you’re right—scholars are certain it’s the same name. So, how did they get from around the border between Turkey and Syria down to Gaza, on the boundary with Egypt?

Egyptian records document several battles with the Sea Peoples between about 1200 and 1150 BC. This coalition included groups the Egyptians called the Ekwesh, Denyen, Sherden (probably Sardinians), Weshesh, and finally the Peleset, who were almost certainly the Philistines. Scholars have assumed that these battles took place near the Egyptian homeland and that the defeated Philistine invaders were settled along the coast in Canaan in the cities that became infamous in the Old Testament—Gaza, Gath, Ashdod, Ekron, and Ashkelon.

But some scholars have been rethinking this recently, placing those battles in what is now Syria rather than in Egypt:

  1. The land battles between Egypt and the “Sea-Peoples” occurred along the northern frontiers of the Egyptian empire in the Levant.
  2. The naval clashes were most likely raids on the prosperous Egyptian cities of the Nile Delta.
  3. The “Sea-Peoples” were essentially north Levantine (including western Anatolian) populations known as former allies of the Hittites.
  4. There is no textual or archaeological evidence that Philistines were ever settled by the Egyptians in Canaan. There is, however, evidence of their settlement in Egypt and in Syria soon after the battles.
  5. Some of those “Sea-Peoples” established the kingdom of Palistin in the ‘Amuq Plain. Others reached Philistia, probably by sea, as Egyptian rule over the Levant deteriorated.[3]

Not only does this explain how worshipers of Dagan got from northern Syria to the territory of the Philistines on the border of Egypt, it also IDs the kingdom of Palistin as the mostly likely place where the Hittite and Hurrian myths of Kumarbi, “he of Kumar” (the city near Aleppo, which was part of the territory ruled by Palistin), were transmitted to Cyprus and western Asia Minor, where, over the course of several hundred years, they were transformed into stories of the Greek Titan, Kronos.[4]

It’s important to remember that there is little we can know for sure about the entity who wore all these names. In fact, it’s possible that more than one interacted with our distant ancestors under one or more of these identities. We humans do not see clearly into the spirit realm, and besides, these entities have been lying to us since the beginning. The best we can do is try to discern patterns without getting hung up on fine details. As Shakespeare wrote, “that way madness lies.”

Utter disregard for human life and a connection to the underworld are recurring themes with Enlil/El/Dagan, etc. In ancient Sumer, Enlil was the one who decided that creating humankind was a mistake because our noise kept him awake at night. His solution was the global flood, which the Sumerians recorded in their king lists. According to the Epic of Atrahasis, named for the Sumerian Noah, humanity was saved by the intervention of the crafty god Enki, lord of the abzu (“abyss”), who disobeyed the command of Enlil and warned his faithful worshiper, Atrahasis, of the genocide decreed by Enlil.[5]

Make sure you register that deception: The ancient Mesopotamians believed that the lord of the abyss saved humanity from the Flood.

In general, “the” god was considered a cold, distant entity who had to be appeased through sacrifice—often the human variety. This is a well-documented aspect of Baal-Hammon and Kronos. The tophets excavated at Carthage and other Phoenician sites around the Mediterranean have yielded the remains of literally thousands of infants and young children who did not die of natural causes.

Saturn is best known as the god behind the Roman winter festival called Saturnalia, which featured role reversals and a loosening of social norms. For example, masters would wait on slaves, who were allowed to disrespect their owners; courts and schools were closed; people wore clothing normally considered gauche; and most work was suspended for the duration of the holiday.

But Saturn, like his counterparts, had a dark side. The fourth-century Roman poet Ausonius suggested that Saturn received dead gladiators as offerings during his festival,[6] a claim echoed by Macrobius, writing two generations later, in his Saturnalia.[7]

Because you’re a logical thinker, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Saturnalia was based on an earlier Greek holiday called the Kronia, so named for his Greek equivalent Kronos, which was celebrated in mid to late summer. Sacrifices of adult humans to Kronos are attested on the islands of Crete and Rhodes,[8] and he was identified as the Greek equivalent of the Phoenician god Baal-Hammon. As we noted earlier, his name probably means “lord of the Amanus (mountains),”[9] referring to a range in southern Turkey near Mount Zaphon (today called Jebel al-Aqra), the mountain sacred to Baal. This and evidence from southern Turkey of a festival that appears to be a forerunner of the Kronia[10] are solid evidence that the veneration of Kronos began closer to Mesopotamia than to Greece.

The similarity of “the” god’s struggles with his father, Ouranos/Anu, and son Zeus/Teshub (the Hurrian storm-god), make the equation Kronos = Kumarbi a sure thing. Here we come full circle, as the Hurrian god Kumarbi was identified in the ancient world as Dagan, chief god of the middle Euphrates region, and Enlil, king of the pantheon in ancient Sumer.[11] Nippur, the city sacred to Enlil in Sumerian religion, is named as Kumarbi’s home in the Hittite myth called Kingship in Heaven or Song of Emergence.[12]

Thus, Enlil was Kumarbi, Dagan, El, Kronos, Saturn, and Baal-Hammon.

Bad Moon Rising

Archaeologists have not documented human sacrifice in the worship of El, Dagan, and Kumarbi, but there are definite underworld connections for all three. For example, Dagan, chief god of the lands along the Euphrates River in Syria, was called bēl pagrê, which has been variously translated as “lord of corpse offerings, lord of corpses (a netherworld god), lord of funerary offerings, and lord of human sacrifices.”[13] Kumarbi was one of the “primeval gods” of the Hurrians, deities who’d once ruled the world but who, like the Titans of Greek myth, had been banished to the netherworld by the storm-god.[14]

Texts from the Amorite kingdom of Ugarit point to Mount Hermon as the abode of El, and the connections between that mountain and the netherworld are well documented, as we’ve already noted. Amorites in western Mesopotamia and the Levant believed El and his consort Asherah held court on Mount Hermon along with their seventy sons.

Hermon is the northernmost point in Israel today, the border between the Jewish state, Lebanon, and Syria. Below its southeastern slopes was Bashan, the kingdom of Og, called the last of the remnant of the Rephaim.[15] Veneration of the Rephaim was a key element of Canaanite religion, whose depiction in Ugaritic texts is consistent with their portrayal in the Bible as the spirits of mighty kings of old. Careful reading of certain passages of the Bible, especially Isaiah 14:9–21, Ezekiel 32:27, and Ezekiel 39:11, shows that the prophets surely knew of the Rephaim. Their condemnation of those spirits and the veneration thereof is clear.

As mentioned earlier, a god named Rapiu, the singular form of “Rephaim,” was believed to rule at Ashtaroth and Edrei, the same two cities named in the Bible as the seats of Og’s kingdom. Ugaritic religious texts also connect Ashtaroth to the god Molech, further supporting the identity of Bashan as an evil place.

This also gives new meaning to the phrase “bulls of Bashan” in Psalm 22:12, a prophecy of the Messiah suffering on the cross. Dr. Robert D. Miller II correctly observes that the term is “not about famous cattle but about cultic practice.” In his 2014 paper, Miller used archaeology and climatology to show that Bashan, contrary to what you may have heard, was a lousy place to raise cattle three thousand years ago, concluding that “Bulls of Bashan refers not to the bovine but to the divine.”[16]

So, those bulls were not cattle but the spirits of the Rephaim and their masters, the fallen angels who masqueraded as gods. It’s not a coincidence that bull imagery is connected to them in the Bible: The Canaanite creator-god was called Bull El; the root word behind the name Kronos likely means “horned one”;[17] and the name Titan, derived from the tribe named Ditanu or Tidanu, probably originates with the Amorite ditanum, meaning “bison” or “aurochs.”[18]

Then, on the southwest side of Hermon, we find Banias, better known as the Grotto of Pan. This is the cave from which the waters of the Jordan emerged in ancient times. Pagans venerated the site for centuries, and ancient historians wrote that sacrifices were tossed into the waters of the cave where they were accepted by the god therein if the offerings sank.

Not to belabor the point, but the bottom line is that Hermon, El’s mount of assembly, towered over the entrance to the underworld.

Alone among these entities, El of the Canaanite pantheon seemed to deal with humanity in a positive way. In the Legend of Keret, a text from Ugarit dated to about the period of the judges in Israel, El personally intervened on behalf of a king who was distressed over the lack of an heir. Interestingly, King Keret’s domain in the tale is called Hubur, which was the name of a river that played a role in older Sumerian and Akkadian myths similar to that of the River Styx in Greek cosmology—the border between the land of the living and the netherworld.

On the other hand, we must consider El’s favorites to take his place as king of the gods: Yamm, the chaos-god of the sea, and Mot, the god of death. The storm-god Baal had to defeat both in brutal combat to assume kingship. Since life-giving rain for crops, livestock, and our own survival is far more welcome among us mortals than chaos or death, El’s favorites among the gods reveal an inconsistent level of concern for his human creations, at the very least.

To summarize: “The” god of the ancient world was, for the most part, a distant, uncaring entity, often linked to the underworld. At his worst, he demanded the sacrifice of humans, including children, and, in the case of Enlil, was prepared to obliterate the entire human race just for a good night’s sleep. His home, at various points in his career, was the Sumerian city Nippur, the Amorite town Tuttul (near Raqqa in northern Syria), the Amanus mountains, Mount Hermon on the northern border of Israel.

Finally, in the guise of Saturn, considered the founder of the Latin race, he settled in west-central Italy, where Rome would eventually rise under the divine kingship of his son, the storm-god, Jupiter.

[1] “Calneh” in Genesis 10:10 may be a mistranslation of a Hebrew word meaning “all of them,” resulting in the translation “all of them in the land of Shinar” (RSV). See W. A. Elwell & B. J. Beitzel, B. J., “Calneh.” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 405.

[2] Shirly Ben-Dor Evian, “Ramesses III and the ‘Sea-Peoples’: Towards a New Philistine Paradigm.” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 36(3) (2017), 278.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jenny Strauss Clay and Amir Gilan, “The Hittite ‘Song of Emergence’ and the Theogony.” Philologus 58 (2014), 1–9.

[5] “The Epic of Atrahasis.” Livius (http://www.livius.org/sources/content/anet/104-106-the-epic-of-atrahasis/), retrieved 11/9/18.

[6] Ausonius, Eclogue 23.

[7] Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.7.31.

[8] Jan N. Bremmer, The Strange World of Human Sacrifice. (Leuven: Peeters, 2007), 57–58. See also Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, XX. 14.4-7 (ed. Loeb).

[9] Cross, op. cit., 26.

[10] Jan N. Bremmer, “Remember the Titans!” In The Fall of the Angels, C. Auffarth and L. Stuckenbruck, eds. (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2004), 46.

[11] Alfonso Archi, “The West Hurrian Pantheon and Its Background.” In Beyond Hatti: A Tribute to Gary Beckman, Billie Jean Collins and Piotr Michalowski (eds.) (Atlanta: Lockwood Press, 2013), 12.

[12] Ibid., 1.

[13] Brian B. Schmidt, “Israel’s Beneficent Dead: The Origin and Character of Israelite Ancestor Cults and Necromancy.” Doctoral thesis: University of Oxford (1991), 158–159.

[14] Wyatt (2010), op. cit., 600.

[15] Deuteronomy 3:11.

[16] Robert D. Miller II, “Baals of Bashan.” Revue Biblique, Vol. 121, No. 4 (2014), 506–515.

[17] Wyatt (2010), op. cit., 598.

[18] Ibid., 595.


  1. Dear Derek Gilbert,
    thank you so much for sharing your precious insights. I’ve sent you messages before. I’m an art teacher and I read regularly your posts. I have a question about the role of Enki / Jupiter. It seems that Enki came out of the abyss with the Apkallu. There’s a “god” in Hinduism called Yama who is still worshipped as a god of the dead. The connection with the abyss and the association with the Apkallu / Enochian Watchers is obviously bad, but why are they considered bad if they helped humanity to survive? It seems that Enki as a god of deception helped humanity in order to share with them forbidden practices. No people, no occultism, that’s obvious. Am I wrong? I will appreciate immensely your answer.
    Best regards and greetings from Slovenia to you and to your wife Sharon,
    Marisa Monti.

  2. This is so much to digest, but it’s very factual and amazingly biblical the history of it all. I’m amazed at the amount of research and time invested in putting this all together!!’ I can’t wait to get your books!!!!

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