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WorldWide: Ugarit (Ras Shamra, Syria), BAR 22:02, Mar-Apr 1996.

“The Father of the Gods.”

Bronze statue of the deity El discovered at Ugarit.The deity El, head of the Canaanite pantheon, presides from his throne in this gilt bronze statue from ancient Ugarit, near the Mediterranean coast. Identified by his elaborate plumed headgear as El, the god wears a thick mantle and strapped sandals. His long, narrow eyes have lost their original inlay; small holes bored above his ears indicate he once had horns—a symbol of deities.

Archaeologists discovered the statue with three other bronzes in the foundation of a house that also contained bronze figurines of the storm-god Baal and a bull, rings, earrings, pendants, and gold and silver, suggesting that a goldsmith once had his studio here.

Measuring about five and a half inches high, the statue of El dates to the 14th to 13th century B.C., when Ugarit prospered as a Canaanite trade center, exporting bronze and timber along land routes from Egypt to Asia Minor and Mesopotamia and across the Mediterranean to the Aegean Islands. The ancient city was discovered in 1928 by a peasant plowing his field and excavated for the next 30 years by French archaeologist Claude F.A. Schaeffer. The site was not identified until its name—Ugarit—previously known from tablets found at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt, was deciphered in inscriptions from the hoard of cuneiform tablets found at the site.

In the Bible, the name El (and its variant Elohim) designates the Israelite deity Yahweh. In Exodus, God explains to Moses that El is an earlier name for himself- “God (Elohim) spoke to Moses and said to him- ‘I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make myself known to them by my name Yahweh’” (Exodus 6-2–3).

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