Yam: The Semitic God of Sea & Other Water Bodies

Who the God Yam is?

Yam is a personification of sea and water bodies. He is a Semitic god and originated from the Canaanite pantheon. In ancient Egyptian mythology, he is mostly a very minor god. But he was an important deity within the Canaanite pantheon.

Sea god Yam as a monster

The Origin of God Yam

The religious aspects of ancient Egypt were not wholly indigenous. It witnessed the merger and influence from the outside religious forces. A group of ancient Semitic religions existed in the region of ancient Levant. It referred to a large area in the eastern Mediterranean. Canaanites used to live in this area in the past. They practiced the Semitic religions. The god ‘Yam’ originated from this ‘Canaanite Pantheon’. He was originally a Semitic god but later was included in ancient Egyptian religious pantheon.

The meaning of the name ‘Yam’

The word ‘Yam’ is basically a Canaanite word. It refers to ‘sea. His name is also associated with the ancient port city of Syria, ‘Ugarit’. Inhabitants of Ugarit worshipped a god of sea and rivers. This was mostly the same god who later was incorporated in the Egyptian religious pantheon. Thus, the Canaanite sources of Ugarit were the most authentic sources to know about this god.

The Canaanite Mythology & Yam

In Canaanite mythology, ‘Baal’ was the god of the storm. Yam was a great enemy of Baal. They fought against each other and finally, Baal defeated Yam. This mythological battle doesn’t tell us just a mythological story but may have been representative of natural phenomena; a winter sea storm. In Egyptian sources, Baal is identified with ‘Seth’, the god of chaos.

Baal god of storm
Seth god of chaos

The Appearance of Yam

Yam has a very monstrous nature. He controls the sea and other water bodies. He also represents the primordial chaos as well as the power of the sea. We cannot find proper prescriptions for his iconography. Although researchers in this field believe that he used to appear in a serpentine form with one or seven-headed sea monster.

Yam in Egyptian Mythology

In ancient Egypt, Yam was a minor foreign god. Archaeologists and historians argue connection of trade with the Canaanites probably played as an important factor in ensuring the entry of the worship of Yam in Egypt. Thus, in Egypt, we have been able to trace little sources of this god. One fragmentary papyrus indicates that he demanded tribute from other deities. But goddess Astarte declined his demand. Thus, we can see that Yam was obviously a powerful god but due to his intention of grabbing all the divine power, he was not able to take the place of a prestigious deity in the religious pantheon.