1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dagon

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DAGON, a god of the Philistines who had temples at Ashdod (1 Sam. v. 1), and Gaza (Judg. xvi. 21, 23); the former was destroyed by Jonathan, the brother of Judas the Maccabee (1 Macc. x. 84; 148 B.C.). But Dagon was more than a mere local deity; there was a place called Beth-Dagon in Judah (Josh. xv. 41), another on the borders of Asher (ib. xix. 27), and a third underlies the modern Bēt Dejān, south-east of Nāblus. Dagon was in all probability an old Canaanite deity; it appears in the name of the Canaanite Dagantakala as early as the 15th century, and is possibly to be identified with the Babylonian god Dagan. Little is known of his cult (Judg. xvi. 23 seq.), although as the male counterpart of Ashtoreth (see Astarte) his worship would scarcely differ from that of the Baalim (see Baal). The name Dāgōn seems to come from dāg “fish,” and that his idol was half-man half-fish is possible from the ichthyomorphic representations found upon coins of Ascalon and Arvad, and from the fact that Berossus speaks of an Assyrian merman-god.

The true meaning of the name is doubtful. In 1 Sam. v. 4, Thenius and Wellhausen, followed by Robertson Smith and others, read “only his fish-part (dāgō) was left to him”; against this, see the comm. of H. P. Smith and Budde. The identification of Dagon with the Babylonian Dagan is doubted by G. F. Moore (Encyc. Bib., col. 985), and that of the latter with Odacon and Ea-Oannes is questionable. Philo Byblius (Müller, Fr. Hist. Graec. iii. 567 seq.) makes Dagon the inventor of corn and the plough, whence he was called Ζεὺς Ἀρότριος. This points to a natural though possibly late etymology from the Hebrew and Phœnician dagan “corn.” It is not improbable that, at least in later times, Dagon had in place of, or in addition to, his old character, that of the god who presided over agriculture; for in the last days of paganism, as we learn from Marcus Diaconus in the Life of Porphyry of Gaza (§ 19), the great god of Gaza, now known as Marna (our Lord), was regarded as the god of rains and invoked against famine. That Marna was lineally descended from Dagon is probable in every way, and it is therefore interesting to note that he gave oracles, that he had a circular temple, where he was sometimes worshipped by human sacrifices, that there were wells in the sacred circuit, and that there was also a place of adoration to him situated, as was usual, outside the town. Certain “marmora” in the temple, which might not be approached, especially by women, may perhaps be connected with the threshold which the priests of Dagon would not touch with their feet (1 Sam. v. 5, Zeph. i. 9). See further, the comm. on the Old Testament passages, Moore (loc. cit.), and Lagrange, Relig. sémit. p. 131 seq.