QUESTION: Hello there, I was just kind of confused why Isaiah 14:4-20 seems to parallel exactly how Athtar overthrew Baal Hadad and enthroned himself atop Mount Zaphon in the Baal Cycle of Ugarit. This is kind of troubling me since it is so similar to the Canaanite account. Why are the mountains the same? and lastly why are both deities described as being the morning stars. Thank you.
Wow, you got me on that one. This is a relatively obscure issue with its parallel with Canaanite religious ideas. Below is a short article I found on the internet about the Canaanite/Ugaritic myth and Isaiah 14: I found it at http://www.christadelphianbooks.org/agora/art_less/i13.html See below for my brief reflection on this question.
“There was [a] text… concerning ‘Baal and Anat’ with which Isaiah must have been familiar. The story at this point concerns finding a replacement for Baal who has just died at the hands of Mot, the god of sterility and the dead. It is suggested that Athtar succeed to the throne of Baal but he soon proves to be inadequate and has to step down to become god of the underworld. The text is as follows:
‘Then Athtar the Awesome climbed Mount Zaphon,
Ascended the throne of Ba’al the Almighty.
But his feet did not reach the footstool,
His head did not touch the headrest.
Then, Athar the Awesome spoke,
. . . . .
‘I cannot serve as king,
I cannot dwell on the heights of Zaphon!’
So, Athtar the Awesome descended,
Stepped down from the throne of Ba’al the Almighty.
He became king of the Underworld,
Lord of the River of the Dead.’
(Victor Matthews, Don Benjamin, Old Testament Parallels 166).
There are some striking similarities between this text and Isa 14:12-15… a couple of strong parallels which more then suggest that Isaiah knew this Canaanite myth and was using it as part of his taunting proverb about the king of Babylon:
Both texts mention ascending to an exalted throne.
Isaiah mentions the “sides of the north” which is the Hebrew word “zaphon” and this is used in the Canaanite text as Mount Zaphon.
Isaiah mentions hell (Heb sheol) and the pit (Heb bowr) while the Canaanite text talks about the Underworld.
Isaiah mentions Lucifer (Heb Helel) which means the morning star or Venus: the Canaanite god Ashtar or Athtar is associated with Venus. [“Before the sun revolves, a very large star named Venus, which varies its course alternatively, and whose alternative names in themselves indicate its rivalry with the sun and moon — when in advance and rising before dawn it receives the name of Lucifer, and being another sun and bringing the dawn, whereas when it shines after sunset it is named Vesper, as prolonging the daylight, or as being deputy for the moon…” — Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis. “In the seasonal Canaanite rite of the dying god, “a substitute is sought for Ba’al in his eclipse, and Athtar the Fierce, originally the god manifest in the bright Venus star and secondarily associated with vegetation, is proposed since his brightness might be thought to qualify him for the place of Ba’al, whose potent advent is signalized in lightning. But the attempt is abortive” — John Gray, Near Eastern Mythology.] Isaiah mentions that Lucifer is the “son of the morning.” The Canaanites also had a god named Shachar which means ‘Dawn’ and he was the father of Athtar. Therefore Athtar (Lucifer) was literally a son of Shachar (Morning) to the Canaanites.
Isaiah is using the Canaanite myth of Athtar’s inability to reign in Baal’s place and he is using it to deride the King of Babylon. The links are undeniable and it is a wonderful twist of this false religion to use it as a taunt.” (TY)
Now for my comments:
Isaiah 14:4-23 is a prophecy of God against Babylon. God is telling his people that, although at a future date they will suffer under the yoke of Babylonia (which happened, beginning in 605 BC, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC), in the end, he will comfort his people and judge Babylon for her cruelties. In this prophecy of the destruction of Babylon (which was fulfilled in 538 BC, by the way), the king of Babylon, presumably Nebuchadnezzar boasts that he will make himself like the Most High. He claims that he will sit upon the sacred mountain (Zaphon). God says that his pride will be brought low. Also, in Isaiah 14:12, God calls Babylon Heb Helel (Lucifer in Greek), the morning star. God is calling Babylon by a name it used for itself.
I fail to see why this would be so disturbing to you. Why is it worrisome that Isaiah has the king of Babylon claiming to rule from Zaphon? This is exactly what Nebuchadnezzar claimed for himself. Apparently Isaiah was well aware of the religions of the Canaanites and of Mesopotamia. I am really struggling to understand why this would trouble you. God uses Isaiah to call out Babylon for its pride and pagan beliefs. How is this inconsistent with the inspiration of this passage? What is wrong with Isaiah accusing Nebuchadnezzar of pride and of claiming to be equal to the gods? What is wrong for God to call Babylon out for claiming to be the morning star? What is wrong with his being aware of passages which are also found in Ugaritic. The worst we could charge Isaiah with is being aware of the pagan religions around him. He certainly is not condoning belief in Baal or the reality of Zaphon as a holy mountain. Perhaps you can explain why this passage bothered you so I can respond.