The most prevalent religious system in the immediate Canaanite context was the worship of Baal. Amongst numerous sources we have the Old Testament and the sacred scripts of Ugarit. Baal religion revolved around the cycles of nature necessary for survival and prosperity in the ancient world, primarily growing crops or raising livestock, as well as the growth of human populations. For a variety of reasons human fertility was an important concern. Lack of fertility in times of stress was widespread. Egyptian texts support these curious phenomena.
Stress was the result of conflict and dissatisfaction between the sky Gods of the Cosmos. The Babylonian creation hymn, Enuma Elish, describes a great battle among the gods. However out of this battle between the Sky Gods order returned from chaos. The astral deities returned to their rightful place in the heavens and re-established the cycles of nature.
To the Babylonians the Cosmos was an ongoing struggle between order and chaos. Fertility, of humans, growth of crops and the abundant supply of productive weather fell under the influence of Baal. The ancients firmly believed that by their actions they could manipulate and control the gods. In other words, rather than the gods’ being sovereignty in control of people, people were in control of the gods. Furthermore, rather than the gods’ always initiating relationships with people, the people had to initiate relationships with the gods. This way of thinking no doubt related to the uncertainties of life in the ancient world.
Baalbek Temple prostitutes – Holy and Sacred acts
In particular the Ugarit tablets are explicitly concerned with fertility, cast in terms of human sexuality. Worship of Baal involved imitative magic, the performance of rituals, including sacred prostitution. Sexual acts by both male and female temple prostitutes were understood to arouse Baal who then brought rain to make Mother Earth fertile when crops were abundant; Baal was praised and thanked for his abundant rain.
It is in this context that drought had such impact throughout the biblical traditions. Not only was lack of rain a threat to survival, it was also a sign that the gods of the Baal myth were unhappy. Which were understood to bring vitality to Baal in his struggle with the other Gods? It takes little imagination to see the connection between the human sexual act and rain watering the earth to produce fruit. The religion gives assurance of some stability in the physical world, assisted by humans.