Briefly, everyone knows that the Bible is full of myth, and that these myths might come in some sense from an older, ‘pagan’ civilization. Casual readers of the old testament might get the impression that the Canaanites had been wiped out sometime before King David, but this is not the case. The whole area that we think of as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel/Palestine, was inhabited in antiquity right up until the conversions to Christianity and Islam at the End of the Roman Empire by Semitic peoples who embraced many local versions of the same ancient religion that underlay Biblical myth. Jews were only a small part of the population of this area, and, just as today many holy places are shared by Jews and Palestinians, Morton Smith tells the detailed history of a shrine was used on Jan 6 each year by ‘Canaanites’ to celebrate the festival of the wine god Eschol and on the next day by to Jews to celebrate Yahweh’s triumph over Eschol, until St. Helena tore it down and built a church of the Epiphany (celebrating Jesus’ wine miracle at Cana). The temple of Baal at Heliopolis (modern Baalbek) was the largest temple of any kind in the world until the construction of the new St. Peters—but its Corinthian columns are still the largest ever executed (a replica of one is used as a water tower in St. Louis)—I could go on, but suffice to say that the traditional religion of this area was remarkably vigorous right up until the end.
Be that as it may, Ugarit was a city on the coast of Syria that happened to have been burnt down and sacked in the 14th century BC—preserving the clay tablets of the personal library of the city’s priest of Baal—Ilimiku by name—mostly his own compositions. And this is the principal source for our knowledge of the ‘Canaanite’ myth that underlies the Bible. But no one knows of these texts except for a few experts—certainly less than a thousand people in the world can even read the language and script in which the tablets are written (and I am not one of them)—and they are even tedious to read in translation (available for the most part only at Seminary and major university libraries) because the individual tablets are badly preserved. So I set out to make a literary version of these myths that might be appealing to the modern lay reader, and have used not only these tablets but the traces of Semitic myth that one may find in the Bible, in Hesiod and a few other hard to find places. What I have is an introduction that expands on this very message, and four chapters, the first one describing the creation of the world, and three more following the struggles of Baal as described by Ilimiku: against the God of the Ocean, in a struggle to achieve a supremacy recognized by the gods, and against death.
The project is most similar in English literature on the one hand to those of Blake and Milton, insofar as it explores biblical myth, and to Tolkien’s, insofar as it aims to reconstruct a lost mythos working with the broken pieces available to us. Though I make no claim to have equaled their achievement, I hope this gives you an idea of the genre.
An integral part of the concept from the beginning was to illustrate the text using images found on the web—mostly originating from my favored period of art between, let us say, 1840 and 1940, and if possible art published in that period in postcard form. This will remind the alert reader of Eco’s Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, but the idea was well formed in my mind before reading that excellent novel. Patrons of the old Art Magic site may recall my list there of pre-Raphaelite paintings intending to illustrate biblical scenes, but equally applicable to older Semitic myths.
I have just posted a draft of the first chapter dealing with creation in my Live journal:
If you make the effort to look at it, please leave a reply, especially if you find anything profoundly defective about it.