The Hebrew word ⊡āpôn is one of the ordinary words for “north”; this is its most frequent meaning in the Bible, but it is derived from its primary sense. Zaphon was the name (meaning “lookout”) of a mountain on the Mediterranean coast ca. 10 km (6 mi) north of Ugarit, later called Mount Casius and now Jebel el‐ʾAqraʿ. As a prominent peak in the northern part of the Canaanite world, its name was used as a synonym for the direction north, just as one of the words for “west” literally means the (Mediterranean) Sea. It is primarily identified with Baal, as widespread references to Baal‐zephon (see Exod. 14.2) indicate; it was his home and as such could also be deified.

There are several passages in the Bible in which the original sense of ⊡āpôn as the mountain home of the storm god is meant. Job 26.7 and Isaiah 14.13 are both in contexts permeated with references to Canaanite mythology. Psalm 89.12 may refer to Zaphon and Amanus, rather than north and south, as parallel to Tabor and Hermon. The usual translation “Mount Zion in the far north” in Psalm 48.2 is a geographical absurdity; but the identification of Yahweh's home, Zion, with Baal's home, Zaphon, makes sense in light of the Canaanite origins of the Jerusalem Temple and its ideology. The verse should therefore be rendered: “Mount Zion, the heights of Zaphon, is the city of the great king.” The name of the prophet Zephaniah is probably also derived from this meaning.

Zaphon is also the name of an important town in the Jordan Valley (Josh. 13.27; Judg. 12.1).

Michael D. Coogan