National Museums, Paris

The warrior god. The god Ba’al wields a club in his right hand and grasps a lance whose branches may represent lightning in his left hand on a stele from Ugarit, on the Mediterranean coast of modern Syria. The 14th- or 13th-century B.C.E. white limestone slab measures nearly 1.5 feet high and 20 inches across.

The Hebrew Bible contains many descriptions of God as awe-inspiring as the image on this stele. “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars, the voice of the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon,” asserts Psalm 29, “He makes Mount Lebanon to dance like a young bull, Mount Sirion like a young buffalo.”

Frank Moore Cross, basing his conclusion on a study of literary form, deems Psalm 29 to be an early Hebrew poem. Cross considers it a lightly revised hymn to Ba’al, with raw mythological ideas embedded in it. The dominant image in such early Hebrew poetry is of the storm god who marches to war on behalf of his people and who returns victorious to his temple or mountain abode. Such a view of God, Cross points out, was shunned by later prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, who instead describe God as a revealer by word.