Dagon was a Assyro -Babylonian fertility god and later became a Semitic god of grain and fishing. He was first worshipped by the Amorities and later by inhabitants in Ugarit and Syria of the Mediterranean region.
This god first appeared in the Mari text around 2500 BCE. The other two prevalent gods were El and Adad. They had Amorite names. Within this area he was god of several cities. He possessed the titles of “Lord of the gods,” “Lord of the land,” “dew of the land,” and possibly “Lord of Canaan.” His consort was Belalu “Lady.” He was the father of Baal, consort of Alargalis, equivalent of the Philistine Astarte, goddess of the earth and sea. He was patron of both grain and fishing, and therefore was both a grain-god and sea-god.
The depiction of Dagon as half man and half fish comes from biblical interpretation. The eleventh century rabbi Rahsi made the interpretation that the image of Dagon favored the shape of the Babylon fish-god Oannes. Then in the thirteenth century David Kimhii interpreted 1 Samuel 5:2-7 that “only Dagon was left to him” to mean “only the form of a fish was left,” adding: “it is said that Dagon, from his navel down, had the form of a fish (whence his name, Dagon), and from his navel up, the form of a man, as it is said, his two hands were cut off.” The Septuagint text of 1 Samuel 5:2-7 says that both hands and the head of the image of Dagon were broken off. Some later interpreters see the fish tail of Dagon as a phallic symbol relating him to Osiris and Pan in Egyptian and Greek legend.
In the Bible the destruction of many temples of Dagon is described. Notably the passage 1 Samuel 5:2-7 is interpreted differently. The ark of Yahweh was captured by the Philistines and taken to Dagon’s temple at Ashdod. The following morning they discovered the image of Dagon lying prostrate before the ark. The people sat the image upright again. On the next day they found it the same way only with the head and hands cut off and lying on the threshold. Translations render “only Dagon was left to him,” and concerning the body “trunk of Dagon” or “body of Dagon.”
The first translation is interesting when recalling another translation of the same passage, “only the form of a fish was left.” The two translations of the identical scriptural verse give two different meanings. The latter translation “only the form of a fish was left,” referring to the lower portion of the body seems to state that only the form of a fish was left to him (Dagon). While the other translation “only Dagon was left to him,” referring to the same portion of the body seems to state only Dagon was left to him (Yahweh). One interpretation seems to focus on the fish form while the other seems focused on Dagon himself. The importance of each pivots on the interpretation of the word “him.” One speculates this is closely associated with the intention of the interpreter.
The lessons to be learned from this are biblical interpretations are somewhat dependent on the interpreter and the knowledge can be used accordingly. First, ask whether the interpretation was spiritual or secular. The answer will pretty well describe the results. The results will be used similarly, to the Babylonians and Canaanites Dagon was a god, to the Philistines he became a demon, “only Dagon was left to him.” Yahweh could destroy him. The liberty of the interpreter is also the freedom of the individual. One may see Dagon as harmful or used his help. A.G.H.
Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. New York. HarperCollins. 1983. p. 206