McClintock Biblical Encyclopedia: Dagon

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McClintock Biblical Encyclopedia: Dagon

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(Heb. Dagon', ãָּâåֹï Sept. and Josephus, Äáãώí ), the national god of the Philistines. Some have derived the name from ãָּâָï , grain (Sanchoniathon, Fragm. ed. Orelli, p. 26, 32; Bochart, Hieroz. 1:381; Beyer, ad Seld. p. 285); but the derivation from ãָּâ , a fish, with the diminutive (i.e. endearing) termination on (Gesenius, Thes. p. 320), is not only more in accordance with the principles of Hebrew derivation (Ewald, Heb. Gram. § 312, 341), but is most decisively established by the terms employed in 1Sa_5:4. It is there said that Dagon fell to the earth before the ark, that his head and the palms of his hands were broken off, and that “only Dagon was left of him.”

If Dagon is derived from ãָּâ , fish, and if the idol, as there is every reason to believe, had the body of a fish with the head and hands of a man, it is easy to understand why a part of the statue is there called Dagon in contradistinction to the head and hands, but not otherwise. That such was the figure of the idol is asserted by Kimchi, and is admitted by most modern scholars. It is also supported by the analogies of other fish deities among the Syro-Arabians (see Herod. 2:72; AElian, Anim. 10:46; 12:2; Xenoph. Anab. 1:4, 9; Strabo, 17:812; Diod. Sic. 2:4; Cicero, Nat. Deor. 3, 15; comp. Miunter, Rel. d. Karth. p. 102; Movers, Phoniz. p. 491 sq.; Creuzer, Symbol. 2:78 sq.). Besides the ATERGATIS (q.v.) of the Syrians (which was the female counterpart of Dagon), the Babylonians had a tradition, according to Berosus (Berosi Quae supersunt, ed. Richter, p. 48, 54), that at the very beginning of their history an extraordinary being, called Oannes, having the entire body of a fish, but the head, hands, feet, and voice of a man, emerged from the Erythraean Sea, appeared in Babylonia, and taught the rude inhabitants the use of letters, arts, religion, law, and agriculture; that, after long intervals between, other similar beings appeared and communicated the same precious lore in detail, and that the last of these was called Odakon ( ᾿ÙäÜêùí ). Selden is persuaded that this Odakon is the Philistine god Dagon (De Diis Syris, p. 265), a conclusion in which Niebuhr coincides (Gesch. Assurs, p. 477), but from which Rawlinson dissents (Herod. 1:482). The resemblance between Dagon and Atergatis (q. d. àִãִּéø and ãָּâ , great fish) or Derketo (which is but an abbreviation of the last name) is so great in other respects that Selden accounts for the only important difference between them — that of sex — by referring to the androgynous nature of many heathen gods. It is certain, however, that the Hebrew text, the Sept., and Philo Byblius (in Euseb. Praep. Ev. 1:10) make Dagon masculine ( ὁ Äáãώí ). The fish-like form was a natural emblem of fruitfulness, and as such was likely to be adopted by seafaring tribes in the representation of their gods. (See Gotze, Dissert. de ἰ÷èõïëáôñåßᾷ , Lips. 1723.)

The most famous temples of Dagon were at Gaza (Jdg_16:21-30) and Ashdod (1Sa_5:5-6; 1Ch_10:10). The former was employed as a theater (see Faber, Archdol. 1:444, 436), and was once overthrown by Samson (Judges 16). The latter temple was destroyed by Jonathan in the Maccabaean wars (1Ma_10:84; 1Ma_11:4; Josephus, Ant. 13:4, 5). There would also seem to have been a third in the vicinity of Jericho, which was demolished by Ptolemy (Joseph. War, 1:2, 3); and the site of which Schwarz claims (Palest. p. 163) to have discovered in a stream still bearing the name of Duga, or fish-river: it is but a relic of the ancient Doch, or DOCUS SEE DOCUS (q.v.). Traces of the worship of Dagon likewise appear in the names Caphar-Dagon (near Jamnia), and Beth-Dagon in Judah (Jos_15:41), and Asher (Jos_19:27). SEE BETH-DAGON.

Besides the female figure of Atergates, there have lately been discovered among the Assyrian ruins (Botta, pl. 32-35) figures of a male fish-god, not only of the forms given above (Layard, Nineveh. 2:353), but occasionally with a human form and feet, the fish only covering the back like a cloak (Layard, Babylon, p. 301). Colonel Rawlinson has also deciphered the name dagon on the cuneiform inscriptions (q.v.). See Roser, De Dagone, in Ugolini, Thesaur. 23, Sharpe in Bonomi's Nineveh. 3d ed. p.169.