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.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.