DAGON (dā'gŏn, Heb. dāghôn, probably fish). Chief god of the Philistines. Originally worshiped by the Canaanites before the Philistine invasion of Canaan, as indicated by place-names such as Beth Dagon in Judah (Josh.15.41) and in Asher (Josh.19.27). Either a fish god or the god of agriculture, from Dab, “fish,” or Dagan, “grain.” On a wall of a palace in Babylon he is shown as half fish. That he was god of agriculture is supported by the tribute that priests and diviners bade the rulers to send when the ark was returned to Israel. Five golden mice and five golden emerods (“tumors,” niv) were votive offerings expressing gratitude for Dagon’s freeing their fields of mice and their bodies of tumors (1Sam.5.1-1Sam.5.12). Saul’s head was placed in a temple of Dagon (1Chr.10.10). Samson destroyed the temple of Dagon in Gaza (Judg.16.30).——JDF
H. Schmökel, Der Gott Degan (diss. Heidelberg, 1928); Reallexikon der Assyriologie II, 99-101; E. Dhorme, “Les avatars du dieu Dagan,” RHR 138 (1950), 129-144; H. W. Haussig (ed.), Wörterbuch der Mythologie I/1, 49ff. (D. O. Edzard), 276ff. (M. H. Pope).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Name of the god of the Philistines (according to Jerome on Isa 46:1 of the Philistines generally); in the Bible, Dagon is associated with Gaza (Jud 16) but elsewhere with Ashdod (compare 1Sa 5 and 1 Macc 10:83 f; 11:4); in 1Ch 10:10 there is probably an error (compare the passage 1Sa 31:10). The god had his temple ("the house of Dagon") and his priests. When the ark was captured by the Philistines, it was conducted to Ashdod where it was placed in the house of Dagon by the side of the idol. But on the morrow it was found that the idol lay prostrate before the ark of the Lord. It was restored to its place; but on the following day Dagon again lay on the ground before the ark, this time with the head and both hands severed from the body and lying upon the miphtan (the word is commonly interpreted to mean "threshold"; according to Winckler, it means "pedestal"); the body alone remained intact. The Hebrew says: "Dagon alone remained." Whether we resort to an emendation (dagho, "his fish-part") or not, commentators appear to be right in inferring that the idol was half-man, half-fish. Classic authors give this form to Derceto. The sacred writer adds that from that time on the priests of Dagon and all those that entered the house of Dagon refrained from stepping upon the miphtan of Dagon. See 1Sa 5:1-5. The prophet Zephaniah (Ze 1:9) speaks of an idolatrous practice which consisted in leaping over the miphtan. The Septuagint in 1 Samuel indeed adds the clause: "but they were accustomed to leap." Leaping over the threshold was probably a feature of the Philistine ritual which the Hebrews explained in their way. A god Dagon seems to have been worshipped by the Canaanites; see Beth-dagon.
Commentaries on Judges and 1 Samuel; Winckler, Altoriental. Forschungen, III, 383.
Max L. Margolis