Judges 16:23, 24: Into Dagon's Lair

Verse 23:[1] Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.

The End of All False Worship

[They gathered into one] Either at that time only, to praise their god for the capture of Samson; or a day recurring annually brought a solemnity and a festive assembly; but on this year this capture of Samson greatly augmented the festivity (Bonfrerius).

The lords of the Philistines gathered them together; either upon some annual or customary solemnity; or rather, upon this special occasion, to praise Dagon for this singular favour. And they did not appoint this solemn service as soon as Samson was taken, but some considerable time after, as appears by the growth of Samson’s hair in the mean time, because they would give sufficient time and warning for all their friends and allies to come thither, and for the making of all necessary preparations for so great an occasion.

[Dagon their god] This god is specific to the Philistines, and it is evident from this passage, and from 1 Samuel 5:2; 1 Chronicles 10:10; 1 Maccabees 10:83[2] (Bonfrerius). [Whence he received his name, and of what sort this god was, there is no agreement among interpreters.] 1. Some derive it from דָּג/ dag/fish, because he was represented in the form of a fish (Menochius, Serarius, Bonfrerius, Junius, Piscator). He was a fish in his lower part (Junius). From the navel down he had the figure of a fish, but the form of a man above; that is, in the same manner in which superstitious antiquity formed and worshipped Triton[3] and Nereids[4] (thus Serarius, Bonfrerius, Malvenda out of the Hebrews): so that it is not strange that in 1 Samuel 5:4 hands are ascribed to Dagon, but there is silence concerning feet, when these monstrous fish are wont to be ἄποδες, without feet. Many think that Dagon is none other than Atargatis,[5] that is, אַדִּר דָגָה, Addir-dagah, the magnificent and illustrious fish. To others she is called Derketo, or Derketis (Bonfrerius, Malvenda, Serarius). Concerning this goddess thus Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library 3, In Ashkelon there is a temple of the goddess Derketo, with the face of a man, and with the remaining part of the body resembling a fish. Lucian has a similar thing in Concerning the Syrian Goddess (Bonfrerius). [But this opinion does not satisfy Bochart.] The Septuagint Elders on 1 Samuel 5 write that the vestiges of the feet of the idol Dagon fell upon the threshold, and they would never have added that, if they believed Dagon to have ended in a fish. For fish are called νήποδες/footless, because they are without the use of feet. This is the principal thing, that in the time of Nehemiah it was not taboo to the Tyrians to sell fish.[6] Therefore, from whatever source that superstition of the Syrians took its origin, whereby they thought it to be a sin to touch or to eat a fish, it is more recent than Nehemiah, so that there is no one that does not know that the cult of the idol of Dagon was much more ancient. Therefore, to my judgment the opinion of the ancients is better, in which Dagon and Atargatis, or Astarte, are completely different deities. Thus to Philo of Byblos Dagon is Saturn’s brother, and Astarte is Saturn’s wife. In that very place Dagon is rendered as Σίτων/Siton in Greek,[7] the grain-producing one, because דָּגָן is grain. And a reason for the name is added; because he discovered grain and the plow, he was called Ζεὺς ἀρότριος, Zeus of husbandry. And so he had his name, not from his form, but from the discovery of crops. Thus Philo out of Sanchuniathon, who, as Eusebius testifies, wrote a Phœnician history before the times of the Trojan War, that is, about the age of Jephthah, as we demonstrate elsewhere. Why should I not lend more credence to so ancient a writer concerning his own people, than to the Rabbis of the Hebrews born yesterday and today, and who are not consistent with themselves? Indeed, Rabbi Levi attributed to Dagon the form of a man; Rabbi Salomon, a fish; Rabbi David, a figure mixed of both (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:13:855). They derive דָּגוֹן/Dagon from דָּגָן/Dagan/grain, and explain that he is the God of grain, or grain-producing, namely, so that he might be Jupiter, or Janus,[8] or Ceres (certain interpreters in Malvenda). But thus he would rather be called Daganon. Moreover, all agree that fish were held in the highest veneration among the Syrians and Phœnicians (as testify Cicero in his Concerning the Nature of the Gods 3, and Diodorus in his Historical Library 2:2), and also among the Egyptians (as Plutarch testifies in On the Worship of Isis and Osiris and Symposiacs 8:8) (Serarius). Dagon was Triton of the maritime peoples; of which sort were the Philistines (Junius). Dagon is from דָּג/dag/fish, not from דָּגָן/ dagan/grain. They are exalting fish above man, when the nations made them deities, which are Tritones[9] to the Greeks. Such in the feminine gender were the Nereides and Sirens: in which appearance the goddess of the Phœnicians was Derketo, and to others Atargatis. Pliny[10] and the Greek and Latin Scholiasts on Aratus[11] make mention of this. I think that the Greeks interposed the letter R; but his name among the Phœnicians was דגתא/Dageto, a feminine fish (Grotius).

Dagon is by most supposed to be an idol, whose upper part was like a man, and whose lower part was like a fish; whence there is mention of Dagon’s hands, but not of his feet, in 1 Samuel 5:4. And this place being near Egypt, where some of their gods were worshipped in the form of fishes, and being near the sea, it seems most probable that it was one of the sea gods of the heathens, and that it had in some part the resemblance of a fish.

Verse 24:[12] And when the people saw him, they (Dan. 5:4) praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us (Heb. and who multiplied our slain[13]).

[1] Hebrew: וְסַרְנֵ֣י פְלִשְׁתִּ֗ים נֶֽאֱסְפוּ֙ לִזְבֹּ֧חַ זֶֽבַח־גָּד֛וֹל לְדָג֥וֹן אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֖ם וּלְשִׂמְחָ֑ה וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ נָתַ֤ן אֱלֹהֵ֙ינוּ֙ בְּיָדֵ֔נוּ אֵ֖ת שִׁמְשׁ֥וֹן אוֹיְבֵֽינוּ׃

[2] 1 Maccabees 10:83: “The horsemen also, being scattered in the field, fled to Azotus, and went into Beth-dagon, their idol’s temple, for safety.”

[3] In Greek mythology, Triton, son of Poseidon and Amphitrite, was the messenger of the sea. He is usually represented as a merman.

[4] In Greek mythology, the Nereids, the fifty daughters of Nereus and Doris, were sea nymphs, usually associated with the Ægean.

[5] In classical antiquity, Atargatis was the chief goddess of northern Syria. She was associated with fertility; but, as the mistress of her people, she was responsible for their protection and care. She is sometimes portrayed as a mermaid.

[6] See Nehemiah 13:16.

[7] Σίτος is grain.

[8] Janus was the two-faced Roman god of doorways and gates. Looking forward and looking back, he is also the god of changes and transitions, and thus of planting and harvest.

[9] The Tritones were mermen, attending Neptune.

[10] Natural History 5:23.

[11] Aratus (c. 310-c. 240 BC) was a Greek poet. His most influential work, Phænomena, is a description of the heavenly bodies and their movements.

[12] Hebrew: וַיִּרְא֤וּ אֹתוֹ֙ הָעָ֔ם וַֽיְהַלְל֖וּ אֶת־אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֑ם כִּ֣י אָמְר֗וּ נָתַ֙ן אֱלֹהֵ֤ינוּ בְיָדֵ֙נוּ֙ אֶת־א֣וֹיְבֵ֔נוּ וְאֵת֙ מַחֲרִ֣יב אַרְצֵ֔נוּ וַאֲשֶׁ֥ר הִרְבָּ֖ה אֶת־חֲלָלֵֽינוּ׃

[13] Hebrew: וַאֲשֶׁ֥ר הִרְבָּ֖ה אֶת־חֲלָלֵֽינוּ׃.

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