Ugarit was an ancient city in what is now northern Syria, which existed from before 6000 B.C.E. (or approximately 2000 years before the creation of the Universe, if you're a young-Earth creationist) to around 1200 B.C.E. It was rediscovered in 1928:
The excavations uncovered a royal palace of 90 rooms laid out around eight enclosed courtyards, many ambitious private dwellings, including two private libraries (one belonging to a diplomat named Rapanu) that contained diplomatic, legal, economic, administrative, scholastic, literary and religious texts. Crowning the hill where the city was built were two main temples: one to Baal the "king", son of El, and one to Dagon, the chthonic god of fertility and wheat.
On excavation of the site, several deposits of cuneiform clay tablets were found, constituting a palace library, a temple library and -- apparently unique in the world at the time -- two private libraries; all dating from the last phase of Ugarit, around 1200 BC
The discovery of the Ugaritic archives has been of great significance to biblical scholarship, as these archives for the first time provided a detailed description of Canaanite religious beliefs during the period directly preceding the Israelite settlement. These texts show significant parallels to Biblical Hebrew literature, particularly in the areas of divine imagery and poetic form. Ugaritic poetry has many elements later found in Hebrew poetry: parallelisms, meters, and rhythms. The discoveries at Ugarit have led to a new appraisal of the Old Testament as literature
Ugaritic religion centered on the chief god, Ilu or El, the "father of mankind", "the creator of the creation". The Court of El or Ilu was referred to as the 'lhm. The most important of the great gods was Hadad, the king of Heaven, Athirat or Asherah (familiar to readers of the Bible), Yam (Sea, the god of the primordial chaos, tempests, and mass-destruction) and Mot (Death). Other gods worshipped at Ugarit were Dagon (Grain), Tirosch, Horon, Resheph (Healing), the craftsman Kothar-and-Khasis (Skilled and Clever), Shahar (Dawn), and Shalim (Dusk). Ugaritic texts have provided biblical scholars with a wealth of material on the religion of the Canaanites and its connections with that of the Israelites.
There are some obvious parallels here. The God of tanakh is often referred to as El, recalling the chief God of Canaanite religion. Furthermore, the term Elohim, which is now thought of as merely another name of God, was in Canaanite religion a term for the whole court of El. (Hebrew not having vowels, Elohim in Hebrew is basically the same as 'lhm.) Some of the other Gods mentioned in the Ugaritic texts are also mentioned in the Bible, not as synonymous with the Jewish God, but rather as "other gods," which are now (by Orthodox Jews) thought to mean "idols" or false gods. Asherah is mentioned in 2 Kings 18.8:
He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the grove, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.
Where's Asherah in that verse, you ask? Well, the hebrew word that's translated as "grove" is... Asherah. Which frankly makes a lot more sense when you notice that its parallel to "the high places," "the images," and "the brasen serpent," all sources of idolatry. Some English translations retain "Asherah," such as the New Living Translation. The New King James Version translates it as "sacred pillars."
Asherah is interesting because of her status in Canaanite religion. She is the "consort" of El, and the mother of his 70 sons.
Scholars believe that Asherah was worshipped by many in ancient Israel and Judah, referred to by Jeremiah as "the Queen of Heaven."
The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead [their] dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.
Another interesting Canaanite God is Ba'al, who is mentioned in tanakh. Orthodox Jews understand Ba'al to be a false god -- or several false gods -- quite popular in Jeremiah's time.
Now in tanakh, YWHW is the same God as El. But YHWH may have started out in Canaanite religion as one of the 70 sons of El. The Dead Sea Scrolls fragment of Deutoronomy 32.8-9, which agrees with the Septuagint, reads as follows:
When the Most High ('Elyon) allotted peoples for inheritance,
When He divided up the sons of man,
He fixed the boundaries for peoples,
According to the number of the sons of El
But Yahweh’s portion is his people,
Jacob His own inheritance.
Now the Jewish version reads "sons of Israel" in place of "sons of El," but the first time we see that version is from a manuscript dating 700 years later than the above. "The older reading implicates an original polytheist context at the birth of Judaism. Within this framework, humanity was divided into seventy peoples, each with its own patron god. Yahweh takes Jacob as his, shedding additional light on the textual meaning of the chosen people."
The argument for the original polytheistic context at Judaism's birth is bolstered by the name "Elohim."
"Elohim" has the shape of a plural noun, and indeed is often used that way in tanakh when it's used to refer to "other gods." However, it's often used as a singular noun, as in Genesis 1.1. Many scholars argue that the plural form of "Elohim"
reflects early Judaic polytheism. They argue it originally meant 'the gods', or the 'sons of El,' the supreme being. They claim the word may have been singularized by later monotheist priests who sought to replace worship of the many gods of the Judean pantheon with their own singular patron god YHWH alone.
The alternative polytheist theory would seem to explain why there are three words built on the same stem: El, Elohim, and eloah. El, the father god, has many divine sons, who are known by the plural of his name, Elohim, or Els. Eloah, might then be used to differentiate each of the lesser gods from El himself.
This theory makes the Elohim saying "Let US make Man in OUR image, in OUR likeness" make more sense, as well as YHWH's commandment to Israel, "worship no other gods [Hebrew:Elohim] before me."
Dan Brown may have been wrong about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but a pretty strong case can be made not only for El/YHWH and Asherah, but for an even bigger cover-up than the one in The Da Vinci Code -- that the earliest Jews were polytheistic!