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Death and the Underworld
Medieval depiction of Hell personified as fearsome monster, based on Old Testament descriptions of Mot.
|Major cult center||Ugarit|
|Deities of the ancient Near East|
|Religions of the ancient Near East|
Mot (Phoenician: 𐤌𐤕 mūt, Hebrew: מות māweṯ, Arabic: موت mawt) was the ancient Canaanite god of death and the Underworld. He was worshipped by the people of Ugarit, by the Phoenicians, and also by the Hebrews of the Old Testament. The main source of information about his role in Canaanite mythology comes from the texts discovered at Ugarit, but he is also mentioned in the surviving fragments of Philo of Byblos's Greek translation of the writings of the Phoenician Sanchuniathon and also in various books of the Old Testament.
Forms of the name
In Ugaritic myth, Mot (spelled mt) is a personification of death. The word is cognate with forms meaning 'death' in other Semitic and Afro-Asiatic languages: with Arabic موت mawt; with Hebrew מות (mot or mavet; ancient Hebrew muth or maveth/maweth); with Maltese mewt; with Syriac mautā; with Ge'ez mot; with Canaanite, Egyptian, Berber, Aramaic, Nabataean, and Palmyrene מות (mwt); with Jewish Aramaic, Christian Palestinian Aramaic, and Samaritan מותא (mwt’); with Mandaean muta; with Akkadian mūtu; with Hausa mutuwa; and with Angas mut.
Religion and mythology
The main source of the story of Mot 'Death' is Ugaritic. He is a son of 'El, and according to instructions given by the god Hadad (Ba'al) to his messengers, lives in a city named hmry ('Mirey'), a pit is his throne, and Filth is the land of her heritage. But Ba'al warns them:
that you not come near to divine Death,
lest he made you like a lamb in his mouth,
(and) you both be carried away like a kid in the breach of his windpipe.
Hadad seems to be urging that Mot come to his feast and submit himself to Hadad.
Death sends back a message that his appetite is that of lions in the wilderness, like the longing of dolphins in the sea and he threatens to devour Ba'al himself. In a subsequent passage Death seemingly makes good his threat, or at least is deceived into believing he has slain Ba'al. Numerous gaps in the text make this portion of the tale obscure. The sun stops shining as its goddess Shapash joins Ba'al's sister 'Anat in burying him. 'Anat then comes upon Mot, seizing him, splitting him with a blade, winnowing him in a sieve, burning him in a fire, grinding him under a millstone, and throwing what remains in the end over a field for birds to devour.
El, Baal's father, dreams that Baal is alive, and sends Shapash to bring him back to life because the land had become dry.
After seven years, Death returns, seeking vengeance and demanding one of Ba'al's brothers to feed upon. A gap in the text is followed by Mot complaining that Ba'al has given Mot his own brothers to eat, the sons of his mother to consume. A single combat between the two breaks out until the sun goddess Shapash upbraids Mot, informing him that his own father El will turn against him and overturn his throne if he continues. Mot concedes and the conflict ends.
Influence on the Passover
The Jewish tradition of Passover may have begun as a ritual connected with the myth of Mot killing Baal. [Citation needed] Passover is held at the end of the rainy season, which could symbolize the death of Baal, as he was the god of rain. In the myth, Mot eats Baal like a lamb. During Passover, the priests eat lamb. However, the bones of the lamb are not broken, possibly signifying that Baal will return in the fall. [Citation needed] During the festival, the priests prepare the body of the lamb in a similar fashion as Anat kills Mot. The festival may have started with the belief that by participating in the death of Baal, they would insure that rains would not come during the spring, as rain in the spring could ruin the crops.
A Phoenician account survives in a paraphrase of the Greek author Philo of Byblos by Eusebius, who writes of a Phoenician historian named Sanchuniathon. In this account Death is a son of 'El and counted as a god, as the text says in speaking of 'El/Cronus:
But earlier in a philosophical creation myth Sanchuniathon has referred to great wind which merged with its parents and that connection was called Eros 'Desire':
From its connection Mot was produced, which some say is mud, and others a putrescence of watery compound; and out of this came every germ of creation, and the generation of the universe. So there were certain animals which had no sensation, and out of them grew intelligent animals, and were called "Zophasemin", that is "observers of heaven"; and they were formed like the shape of an egg. Also Mot burst forth into light, and sun, and moon, and stars, and the great constellations.
The language here is confusing, a bad summary and possibly corrupt, and the form Mot here is not the same as Muth which appears later. But it may be that the full and coherent account would have made clear that muddy and putrescent Death is the source of life.
In Hebrew scriptures, Death ("Maweth/Mavet(h)") is sometimes personified as a devil or angel of death (e.g., Habakkuk 2:5; Job 18:13). In both the Book of Hosea and the Book of Jeremiah, Maweth/Mot is mentioned as a deity to whom Yahweh can turn over Judah as punishment for worshiping other gods.
- Ben Sasson, Haim Hillel (1976). A History of the Jewish People. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 11–12. OCLC 3103763.
- Cassuto, U. (1962). "Baal and Mot in the Ugaritic Texts". Israel Exploration Journal. 12 (2). JSTOR 27924890.
- Tamara Prosic. The Development and Symbolism of Passover.
- Elon Gilad (April 2, 2015). "Was Passover Originally an Ancient Canaanite Ritual to Stop the Rains?".
- Eusebius of Caesarea, Praeparatio Evangelica, Book 1, chap. 9–10, trans. E. H. Gifford (1903) http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/eusebius_pe_01_book1.htm
- Cassuto, U. (1962). "Baal and Mot in the Ugaritic Texts". Israel Exploration Journal. 12 (2): 81–83. JSTOR 27924890.
- Handy, Lowell (1995). The Appearance of the Pantheon in Judah in The Triumph of Elohim. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans. pp. 40. ISBN 0-8028-4161-9.