published on 02 September 2009

Yamm (from the Hebew word 'Yam' for 'sea') was the god of the sea in the pantheon of the Phoenicians. Depicted consistently as tyranical, angry, violent and harsh, Yamm was the brother of Mot, the god of death, and is closely associated with chaos. The Phoenicians were known by the Greeks as the 'purple people' (owing to the dye manufactured at Sidon and used extensively at Tyre) or as 'the horse people’ owing to the ornately carved horse heads which adorned the prows of their ships. These horse heads were purposeful tributes to the might of Yamm and were used on the ships to placate the god who, like the Greek god Poseidon, was associated with horses, and who had to be constantly appeased to prevent his wanton destruction of the ships at sea. Yamm, the chaotic force, was in constant conflict with Baal Hadad, the son of the supreme god El, and a force of order. Baal Hadad and Yamm met each other in combat on the plains of heaven and, after his defeat, Yamm was cast out of heaven and into the depths of chaos. Still, Yamm wished to dethrone Baal Hadad and rule in heaven and so he came back from the depths beneath the seas to battle for heaven’s gates, bringing chaos with him. In some versions of the myth Yamm is then exiled to the seas where he directs his rage against humans and plots against Baal Hadad while in others, Yamm and Baal Hadad continually kill each other, resurrect, fight and die, only to return to life once more. This latter version of the tale has been thought a symbolic explanation for the cycle of the seasons in Phoenicia (addressing the same need as the tale of Demeter and Persephone did in Greece). The earlier version, in which Yamm is cast out of heaven by the son of god and takes his revenge on El’s creations his been cited as the model for the Christian myth of the fall of Lucifer and of the Devil’s subsequent troubling of human beings ever after. According to still other scholars, Yamm is identical with the god Lotan, represented as a serpent or a many-headed dragon, and is the model for Satan in the Biblical Book of Revelation (12:9) as well as the inspiration for the tradition which associated the Christian devil with a serpent (most notably the serpent in the garden of Eden in the third chapter of the Book of Genesis). Yamm has also been associated with the Greek god Poseidon in his more violent and spiteful moments. Although some have tried to also draw a connection between Yamm and the Greek goddess of chaos, Eris, there are significant differences in motivation and action in that Eris is calculating and crafty in her desire to turn order upside down and her actions are subtle while Yamm seems entirely motivated by rage, his actions are apparent and he makes no secret of his contempt for the other gods and their puny creations, humans.

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