Yam was the god of the sea, and became popular in the Ancient Egyptian times. Yam, from the Canaanite word Yam, (Hebrew ים) meaning "Sea", also written "Yaw", is one name of the Ugaritic god of Rivers and Sea. Also titled Judge Nahar ("Judge River"), he is also one of the 'ilhm (Elohim) or sons of El, the name given to the Levantine pantheon. Others dispute the existence of the alternative names, claiming it is a mistranslation of a damaged tablet. Despite linguistic overlap, theologically this god is not a part of the later subregional monotheistic theology, but rather is part of a broader and archaic Levantine polytheism.
Yam is the deity of the primordial chaos and represents the power of the sea untamed and raging; he is seen as ruling storms and the disasters they wreak. The gods cast out Yam from the heavenly mountain Sappan (modern Jebel Aqra; "Sappan" is cognate to Tsephon. The seven-headed dragon Lotan is associated closely with him and the serpent is frequently used to describe him. He is the Canaanite equivalent of the Sumerian Tiamat, the primordial mother goddess.
Of all the gods, despite being the champion of El, Yam holds special hostility against Baal, son of Dagon. Yam is a deity of the sea and his palace is in the abyss associated with the depths, or Biblical tehwom, of the oceans. (This is not to be confused with the abode of Mot, the ruler of the netherworlds.) In Ugaritic texts, Yam's special enemy Hadad is also known as the "king of heaven" and the "first born son" of El, whom ancient Greeks identified with their god Cronus, just as Baal was identified with Zeus, Yam with Poseidon and Mot with Hades. Yam wished to become the Lord god in his place. In turns the two beings kill each other, yet Hadad is resurrected and Yam also returns. Some authors have suggested that these tales reflect the experience of seasonal cycles in the Levant.
Speculative similarities in other traditions
"Yam, Judge Nahar" also has similarities with Mesopotamian Tiamat and Abzu and the battle between Yam and Baal (the Storm God) resembles the battle in Hurrian and Hittite mythology between the sky God Teshub (or Tarhunt) with the serpent Illuyanka. In this respect the battle with Baal resembles the battle between Tiamat and Enlil and Babylonian Marduk. In the case of Yam, however, there is no indication that he was slain, as it appears from the texts that he was put to sleep through the intervention of Baal's "sister" and wife, Anath.
Moreover, a comparison with the evil Jörmungandr (Norse world-serpent and deity of the sea) is accurate, given his description. Like Yam and Hadad, he and Thor (son of Odin) slay each other at the end of the world (Ragnarök or Twilight of the Gods).
Yam shares many characteristics with Greco-Roman Ophion, the serpentine Titan of the sea whom Cronus cast out of the heavenly Mt. Olympus.
"Yw" in the Baal Cycle
At least one writer has pointed out, regarding the occurrence of "Yw" in the Baal Cycle, that one possible vocalization is "Yaw", and thus may possibly have etymological ties to YHWH of the Hebrew Old Testament. In this case the struggle between Yam/Yaw and Baal, prefigures that mentioned between the priests of Baal and the priests of Yahweh, led by Elijah, at Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18.
In the Epic of Ba'al
In the Epic of Ba'al El, king of the Gods, appoints Yam to fight Hadad, Baal of heaven. KTU 1.2 iv reads:
- "I, myself, Kindly `El the Beneficent, have taken you upon my hands.
- I proclaim your name.
- Yam is your name,
- Your name is Beloved of `El, Yam."
- "[Go against] the hand of the Mighty Baal Most High (´Aliyan Ba´al ) —
- Because he spoke ill to me —
- [And] drive him from the throne of his kingship,
- From the resting place,
- the cushion on the seat of his dominion.
- But if then you do not drive him from his throne of kingship,
- from the seat of his dominion,
- He will beat you like...
- He slaughters oxen and sheep.
- He fells bulls and fatted rams, yearling calves,
- sheep by the flock, he sacrifices kids."
- Now Mighty Baal, son of Dagon, desired the kingship of the Gods. He contended with Prince Yam-Nahar, the Son of El. But Kindly El, Father Shunem, decided the case in favour of His son; He gave the kingship to Prince Yam. He gave the power to Judge Nahar.
- Fearsome Yam came to rule the Gods with an iron fist. He caused Them to labor and toil under His reign. They cried unto Their mother, Asherah, Lady of the Sea. They convinced Her to confront Yam, to interceed in Their behalf.
- Asherah went into the presence of Prince Yam. She came before Judge Nahar. She begged that He release His grip upon the Gods Her sons. But Mighty Yam declined Her request. She offered favours to the Tyrant. But Powerful Nahar softened not His heart.
- Finally, Kindly Asherah, who loves Her children, offered Herself to the God of the Sea. She offered Her own body to the Lord of Rivers.
- Yam-Nahar agreed to this, and Asherah returned to the Source of the Two Rivers. She went home to the court of El. She came before the Divine Council, and spoke of Her plan to the Gods Her children.
Baal was infuriated by Her speech. He was angered at the Gods who would allow such a plot. He would not consent to surrendering Great Asherah to the Tyrant Yam-Nahar. He swore to the Gods that He would destroy Prince Yam.
- He would lay to rest the tyranny of Judge Nahar.
Ba'al Hadad warns Yam that the gods will not allow him to usurp the throne of heaven. In KTU 1.2 iii, he warns:
- "From your throne of kingship you shall be driven,
- from the seat of your dominion cast out!
- On your head be Ayamari (Driver) O Yam,
- Between your shoulders Yagarish (Chaser), O Judge Nahar
- May Horon split open, O Yam,
- may Horon smash your head,
- ´Athtart-Name-of-the-Lord thy skull!
After a great war in heaven involving many of the gods, Yam is roundly defeated:
- And the weapon springs from the hand of Baal,
- Like a raptor from between his fingers.
- It strikes the skull of Prince Yam,
- between the eyes of Judge Nahar.
- Yahm collapses, he falls to the earth;
- His joints quiver, and his spine shakes.
- Thereupon Baal drags out Yam and would rend him to pieces;
- he would make an end of Judge Nahar.
However, Athtart pleads for Yam, who acknowledges the Lord as king of heaven:
- Then up speaks Yam: "Lo, I am as good as dead! Surely, Baal now reigns as king!"
Hadad holds a great feast, but not long afterwards he battles Mot (death) and through his mouth he descends to his realm below the earth. Yet like Yam, Death too is defeated and in h. I AB iii the Lord arises from the dead:
- For alive is Mighty Baal,
- Revived is the Prince, Master of Earth."
- 'El calls to the Virgin Anat:
- "Hearken, O maiden Anat!"