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 Bet Dejgn, south-east of Nablus.
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. XV1. 23 seq.), although as the male counterpart of Ashtoreth his worship would scarcely differ from that of the Baalim.
The name Dagon seems to come from dag "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. Athenius and Welihausen, followed by Robertson Smith and others, read "only his fish-part (daga) was left to him"; against this, see the comm. of HP Smith and Budde. The identification of Dagon with the Babylonian Dagan is doubted by GF Moore (Encyc. Bib., col. 985), and that of the latter with Odacon and Ea-Oannes is questionable. Philo Byblius (Muller, Fr., Hist. Graec. iii. 567 seq.) makes Dagon the inventor of corn and the plough, whence he was called Zeus. This points to a natural though possibly late etymology from the Hebrew and Phoenician 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 Mama (our Lord), was regarded as the god of rains and invoked against famine. That Mama 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 (I Sam., v. 5, Zeph. i. 9). See further, the comment on the Old Testament passages, Moore (bc. cit.), and Lagrange, Relig. sémit. p. 131 seq.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.