Dagon (corn, grain) In Near Eastern mythology (Canaanite), vegetation god worshipped by the Philistines. The Old Testament records three incidents that portray the encounter between the worship of Dagon and of the Hebrew deity Yahweh. The first (Judg. 16:29–30) tells how the hero Samson destroyed the temple of Dagon by taking “hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. . . . And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein.” The second episode (1 Sam. 5:3–4) tells how the Philistines at Ashdod were killed when the Ark of God, which contained the tablets of the law, was taken into the temple of Dagon and placed by Dagon’s image. “And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the Lord. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again. And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.” In Paradise Lost (book 1) Milton refers to this biblical episode when he turns Dagon into a fallen angel:
. . . Next came one Who mourn’d in earnest, when the captive Ark Maim’d his brute image, head and hands lopt off In his own Temple, on the grunsel edge, Where he fell flat, and sham’d his Worshipers: Dagon his Name, Sea Monster, upward Man And downward Fish: . . .
Milton’s description of Dagon as half fish, half man is incorrect. The poet may have borrowed it from an earlier work by Alexander Ross called Pansebeia, or A View of All Religions of the World, which gives such a description. Modern scholars, however, discredit this image of the god, which goes back to St. Jerome, who believed the word Dagon was related to “fish,” not “grain,” as is now known. First Chronicles (10:10) supplies the last Old Testament episode. It tells how King Saul was killed at Mount Gilboa and his head fastened “in the temple of Dagon.”
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow– Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante