The Dagon of the Hebrew Bible is a fishy character. As I mentioned in my podcast on the subject (Puff the Magic Dagon), the biblical writers seem to have considered him a sort of merman (i.e., ugly mermaid), and since nobody really had an idea what lived in the depths of the ocean in those days that was a fairly safe bet. As we continue the deep-water exploration of our very wet planet, we constantly come across fantastic creatures. Keep an eye out for Jonah’s great fish, and we can explore this watery conundrum.
Water is the most divine natural substance. Life evolved in water and cannot exist without it. Ancient peoples were so fascinated by it that it was supposed to be the primordial element. In the beginning there was water. Genesis 1 does not narrate the creation of water; it is already present at the beginning. Water was perceived as chaotic, indeed, monstrous even. Some have suggested that the fierce waves breaking on the coast of the eastern Mediterranean spawned tales of water’s relentless battle against the land.
Whatever the reasons may have been, the ancient sea was divinized. The Sumerians may have perceived a deity named Kur as the god of the deeps, a role held more famously by Tiamat in the Enuma Elish. Enki and Apsu were also Mesopotamian deities with aqueous associations. When the Ugaritic myths were stylused, Yamm was a sea monster while Asherah was nick-named Lady Asherah of the Sea.In all of this we find no Dagon in the water. When we add Rahab, Leviathan, and Poseidon into the mix maybe it is better that way; it would be a pity should there be more gods than fish in the seas.