DAGON (Heb. דָּגוֹן, Akk. Dagān ), the Syrian and Canaanite god of seed, vegetation, and crops. Dagon first appears as an important and widely worshiped deity – but not as a god of crops – in documents of the dynasty of *Akkad (23rd century b.c.e.), which indicate that his cult was well established in the middle and upper regions of the Euphrates around the Balikh and Khabur rivers. This region was also called "the lands of Dagon," as Dagon was recognized there as the "god-king of the land." Temples of Dagon have been located in *Mari and Terqa, the chief cities of this region. There are a number of personal names from this region compounded with the name of Dagon.
During the period of the third dynasty of Ur (21st–20th centuries b.c.e.), the cult of Dagon was introduced into Sumer, perhaps by West Semites. It is significant that the chief "cattlepark" (or, better, "state bank") of the third dynasty of Ur, which was situated near Nippur and where thousands of animals were collected and distributed for various official uses, was called Ṣilluš Dagan ("in-the shelter-of-Dagon"; modern Drehem); on the evidence presented by personal names of various West Semites (*Amorites and Akkadians) active in Ṣilluš Dagan, it is possible that this economic center was originally established by them. Dagon's popularity among West Semites may also be reflected in the fact that his cult reached its height during the Isin dynasty, one of the successors of the third dynasty of Ur in the early Old-Babylonian period (19th century b.c.e.), of West Semitic origin. It is also significant that his cult was important in the time of *Hammurapi (First Babylonian Dynasty; Hammurapi calls Dagon "baniya" (my creator)). However, northern Mesopotamia remained his chief center. It is clear from the Mari documents of the 18th century that Dagon's cult flourished there, since lay and cultic ecstatic prophets from Terza (c. 43 mi. (70 km.) northwest of Mari) delivered the god's words, which they heard in dreams and other ecstatic circumstances, to the king of Mari.
The *Ugaritic documents (15th–14th centuries b.c.e.) are the first to shed light on the Dagon cult among the West Semites living in Syria. There and in Canaan, the etymology of his name alludes to his origins as a god of grain: Ugaritic dgn, Hebrew dagan ("grain"). On the other hand this term, as the Hebrew vocalization shows, was separated from the name of the deity. In the Ugaritic epics, one of Baal's epithets is "Son of Dagon," and there was an important temple in Ugarit dedicated to Dagon. Perhaps he was sometimes held by the Canaanites to be identical with Il, "the father of the gods." Philo of Byblos (first century c.e.), who described the Phoenician religion according to ancient sources, identifies Dagon with Chronos, the father of Greek gods.
A number of personal names in the *Alalakh and Ugarit texts are compounded with the element Dagon. The earliest personal name from central Syria is Dagan-takala (El-Amar na Letters, nos. 317–318), which, contrary to earlier suppositions, does not belong to southern Palestine but to central Syria. All the same, proof of the Dagon cult in Canaan and the coastal regions is found in the name of the two settlements of Beth-Dagon, which are mentioned in the Bible (Josh. 15:14; 19:27), one on the eastern border of the tribe of Asher, and the second in the territory of Judah. A third "Bit Da-gan-na" (Dagan) is mentioned by *Sennacherib as one of the conquests in his third campaign (against the west (701 b.c.e.), including Judah), together with *Jaffa (see D.D. Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib (1924), p. 31, 69).
According to biblical evidence, the Philistines accepted Dagon as their god and set up temples to him in Gaza (Judg. 16:23) and Ashdod (i Sam. 5:1–7). The one in Ashdod was destroyed by the Hasmonean Jonathan (i Macc. 10:83–84). In Beth-Shean there is evidence of a Philistine presence in at least the 12th century b.c.e., mainly in the form of anthropoid clay sarcophagi (see *Philistines). These Philistine mercenaries, very possibly brought to Beth-Shean by Ramses iii after his victory over them, established their rule there after the collapse of Egyptian sovereignty in Canaan. They apparently found a sanctuary of Dagon in the city (on the sanctuaries see *Beth-Shean). The cult of Dagon – and among others that of *Ashtoreth – was possibly established by the Canaanite inhabitants. It is to be noted that according to an El-Amarna letter (no. 289, lines 19–20), people from Ginti (i.e., Gath-Carmel, modern Gath in the Sharon) served as a local garrison in Beth-Shean. These soldiers possibly had a part in the transplanting of the cult of Dagon to this city, but it is also possible that it came directly from central Mesopotamia or Syria (cf. *Marduk). After the battle at Mt. Gilboa, the Philistines exposed the body of *Saul at the temple of Dagon, and his weapons at the sanctuary of Ashtaroth (see i Sam. 31:10, 12; i Chron. 10:10).
H. Schmoekel, Der Gott Dagan (1928); N. Slouschz, Oẓar ha-Ketovot ha-Fenikiyyot (1942), 24, 27; Albright, Arch Rel, index; G. Dossin, in: A. Pasrat (ed.), Studia Mariana, 1 (1950), 49; F.J. Montalbano, in: cbq, 13 (1951), 381–97; em, 2 (1954), 623–5 (incl. bibl.); A. Malamat, in: Eretz Israel, 4 (1956), 78–84; S. Moscati (ed.), Le antiche divinità semitiche (1958), index; D.O. Edzard, in: H.W. Haussig (ed.), Woerterbuch der Mythologie, 1 (1965), 49–50; M.H. Pope and W. Roellig, ibid., 276–8; P. Artzi, in: jnes, 27 (1968), 163–71. add. bibliography: J. Healey, in: ddd, 216–19.
Weather- and vegetation-god of ancient Mesopotamia, whence his cult spread to Syria and Palestine. There was a temple of Dagon at mari in the 18th century b.c. In the tablets from ugarit, baal is termed Dagon's son (see J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament 142), and gradually Dagon's functions as a vegetation-god were transferred to Baal. That the Canaanites venerated Dagon as a vegetation-god can be seen in the fact that in Hebrew, a Canaanite dialect, the word for grain, dāgān, is connected with the name (dāgôn) of this god. As the national god of the Philistines, Dagon had temples at Gaza in Samson's time (Jgs 16.21–23), at Azotus (Ashdod), where the ark of the covenant was brought after its capture from the Israelites (1 Sm 5.1–7; see also 1 Mc 10.83–84, where mention is made of the destruction of this temple by Jonathan), and apparently also at Beth-san, where Saul's cut-off head was displayed (1 Chr 10.10; but cf. 1 Sm 31.10). Dagon's cult in Palestine is attested by the place name Beth-Dagon in Juda (Jos 15.41) and in Aser (Jos 19.27). The erroneous idea of Dagon as a fish-god, suggested by St. Jerome and clearly stated by David Kimchi, goes back to popular etymology (Heb. dāg, fish) and to Kimchi's proposed reading of 1 Sm 5.4: "Only his [Dagon's] fishy part (dāgô) was left on him," where according to the versions, the reading should be "only his trunk (gēwô) was left on him." The fishtailed deity on coins from Arad and Ascalon should not be connected with Dagon.
Bibliography: f. j. montalbano, "Canaanite Dagon: Origin, Nature," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 13 (Washington DC 1951) 381–397.
In the mythology of the ancient Near East, Dagon (or Dagan) was a major deity associated with fertility, vegetation, and military strength. Followers in Mesopotamia* built many temples dedicated to him. Some people believe that Dagon was worshiped as a fish god or a god of the sea, while others identify him as a god of grain and agriculture.
deity god or goddess
A temple dedicated to Dagon at Ashdod (in present-day Israel) is mentioned in the books of Judges and I Samuel in the Bible. In one story, the hero Samson destroys the temple and kills the worshipers inside by pulling down two pillars supporting the building's roof.
See also Samson; Semitic Mythology.