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Ilu, The Reigning God of the Canaanite Pantheon

By Tess Dawson

The name Ilu literally translates as “God,” implying “the preeminent god” or the “embodiment of divinity.” Scholars speculate that the original Israelite deity may have been El, who Israelites later assimilated with Yahweh. Ilu is the Creator or Creatures, the baniyu banuwati. As the Father of Years, abu shanima, he maintains the sacred rhythm of the cosmos. As the Father of Humanity, abu adami, he assists his people as he assisted Kirtu in the king’s time of need. Ilu holds rank as the King of the Pantheon, malku, and his epithet, Bull (thoru), may reflect his universal divine kingship.

The bull symbolizes kingship because bulls lead the herd with their strength and power and demonstrate the creative dynamic of the universe. Ilu bears the epithet qadashu, holy, and the title “Beneficent Ilu the Compassionate,” latsipanu da-pa’idu. The texts describe Ilu as compassionate and wise, benevolent and loving. He makes universal decisions with the help and counsel of Athiratu. In the texts, he perhaps displays a playfulness by taunting Athiratu; and in another text, he enjoys himself at a marzichu drinking rite, holds banquets and feasts, and demonstrates impeccable hospitality. At Ba‘lu’s death, Ilu not only mourns Ba‘lu, but mourns the fate of all humanity who depend on Ba‘lu’s life-giving rains.

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