Who was Dagon in the Bible?Dagon was a false deity worshipped throughout Mesopotamia by the Philistines and Assyrians. He was the father of Baal and a god of fertility. His name sounds like "fish" (which scholars believe is the reason why he was often depicted as a half-man, half-fish being), however, it was most likely derived from the word for "grain." The people who worshipped Dagon believed that he was responsible for agricultural wealth and prosperity. Dagon is mentioned a few times in the Bible as the chief deity of the Philistines. In Judges 16:23 the Philistines were sacrificing in the temple of Dagon right before Samson pulled down the temple. He is mentioned again in 1 Chronicles 10:10 when the Philistines fasten Saul's head to the front of the temple of Dagon.
The longest passage that mentions Dagon is by far the most amusing. First Samuel 5:1–8 describes Dagon's humiliation before God. The Philistines, having captured the Ark of the Covenant, put it in the temple of Dagon, in front of a carven image of the god. When they woke up the next morning, the idol of Dagon had fallen prostrate before the Ark. They righted the statue, and again, found him bowing before the Ark of the Covenant the next morning. Only this time its head and the palms of its hands were cut off; only a stump was left of the so called "god." The people of the city became afflicted with boils, so they sent the Ark of God away from them, saying, "The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god" (1 Samuel 5:7). This story proves what the psalmist wrote: "The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them" (Psalm 135:15–18). Dagon became the Philistines' shame as he was proved to be inferior to the God of the Israelites. Dagon was a god who needed his worshippers to pick him off the ground when he fell.
Although his name is not mentioned, Dagon is also relevant in the book of Jonah. The Ninevites, being Assyrian, chiefly worshipped Dagon, the fish-god, and the female fish goddess Nanshe. So when they had a prophet enter their gates who had lived in a fish for three days only to have been sent to them to repent of their ways, they were ready to listen! God used Jonah's disobedience as an opportunity to get the Ninevites' attention, and the whole city repented at Jonah's words.
Like other false gods, Dagon is only shown to be powerless compared to the God of Israel. His temple is torn down by a rebellious servant of God; his image lay prostrate before the Ark of God, with his hands and face cut off showing his lack of power to resist the God of the Israelites; and his creature (a fish) follows God's will in swallowing and spitting up a prophet going to Dagon's people to tell them to repent and turn to the true God.
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