Baal



Incense and sacrifice were offered to Baal (Jer.7.9)—even human sacrifice (Jer.19.5), but the worship of Baal was chiefly marked by fertility rites. The main function of Baal was thought to be to make land, animals, and people fertile. To prompt the god to perform these functions, worshipers themselves performed human sexual acts of fertility, and the Baal shrines were staffed with male and female attendants for this purpose. They were called gedeshim and gedeshoth, “holy men” and “holy women,” not because they were morally holy but because they were wholly “separated” to the service of their god. The same function of prompting Baal to do what is sought from him is seen in 1Kgs.18.26, 1Kgs.18.28. The priests desired fire from heaven and tried to represent this by making blood pour down their bodies, hoping that Baal might see and perform a similar action himself.

In early years the title Baal seems to have been used for the Lord (Yahweh). When the Lord’s people came into Canaan, they naturally and innocently began to think of him as the “possessor” and “lord” of the land—as indeed he was. Even David described the Lord as “Baal” (2Sam.5.20). But later it was seen that this opened the door to thinking of the God of Israel as though he were only a Canaanite Baal, and the practice was dropped. We see this change in the alteration of names like Jerubaal to Jerubesheth (Judg.6.32; 2Sam.11.21).

2. A descendant of Reuben, the firstborn son of Jacob (1Chr.5.5).

3. A Benjamite (1Chr.8.30).

4. A town somewhere on the border of Simeon (1Chr.4.33).

5. In conjunction with another name it is often the name of a man and not of Baal, e.g., Baal-Manan, a king of Edom (Gen.36.38; 1Chr.1.49).——SB



The most important use of the title in the OT is its reference to the great active god of the Canaanite pantheon, who controlled rain and fertility. An equation with Hadad, the Amorite god whose nature and functions were almost identical, seems clear. The probability is that Amorite settlers brought their gods with them in the great westward migratory movement early in the second millennium b.c., the name of Hadad changing to Baal as they settled in Canaan. In process of time Baal became the region’s chief deity. Some scholars believe that part of this process can be traced in the Ugaritic texts. El was doubtless the original head of the Canaanite gods, but Baal is described, not as the son of El, but as the son of Dagon, another Amorite deity, prob. a vegetation or grain god. Temples to both Baal and Dagon have been discovered at Ras Shamra (the site of ancient Ugarit), but not one dedicated to El himself. In the Ugaritic texts El is a rather nebulous figure, a “father of years” who dwells at the “Source of the Two Deeps” and conveys his instructions by messengers, suggesting both his age and his remoteness. Moreover, Ashirat (the Biblical “Asherah”), the consort of El, appears to be in process of transfer to Baal, which hints further at the latter’s displacement of El. It is perhaps of significance that the OT links Baal and Asherah together (e.g. Judg 3:7).

Baal’s importance at Ugarit is unquestioned. His name appears more than 150 times in the texts published to date, the form Aliyan Baal (Baal the Strong) is found seventy times and the compound Baal-hadad on approximately twenty occasions. He is connected with Mt. Sapon, the “mountain of the gods of the north,” usually identified with the modern Jebel el-Aqra, N of Ras Shamra, in a way which is reminiscent of Mt. Olympus, the home of the Gr. pantheon (cf. the reference to Yahweh in Ps 48:1, 2). Another frequent description of Baal is “the rider of the clouds,” which echoes the reference to Yahweh in Psalm 68:4 (cf. Ps 104:3). In the sculptures Baal is shown with a helmet adorned with the horns of a bull, the symbol of strength and fertility. In one hand he grasps a club or mace, possibly symbolic of thunder, and in the other a spear embellished with leaves, which may portray both lightning and vegetation. In Aramean sculptures Baal stands upon a bull, which may connect with the calf-images made by Aaron and Jeroboam I (Exod 32:4; 1 Kings 12:28), these being regarded, in all probability, as pedestals for the invisible Yahweh. Anath, often referred to somewhat euphemistically as “the virgin Anath,” was both consort and sister to Baal and shared his several adventures.

In the numerous texts discovered at Ras Shamra two main myth-complexes concerning Baal may be distinguished. The first concerns a crucial conflict with Prince Sea-Judge River (prob. only one god is indicated, the Lord of Waters) who has tyrannized the gods. Baal, with the assistance of the artificer-god, Kothar wa-Khasis (“the Skillful and Percipient One”), defeated his opponent, who was henceforth confined to his proper realm. Some scholars would equate Prince Sea with Lotan “the twisting serpent,” the Leviathan of the OT. This conflict with the dragon or chaos monster is a recurring element in the mythology of the Fertile Crescent which has influenced the language and thought-forms of the OT. They have been thoroughly demythologized, however, and connected with Yahweh’s absolute sovereignty over all the forces of this world. This Canaanite myth concerning Baal’s victory provided a convenient, as well as a graphic illustration of that sovereignty. The origin of the Day of the Lord may be the occasion when Yahweh’s victory over the forces of chaos was celebrated, possibly at the New Year Festival in the Jerusalem Temple, in a rite which developed from a Canaanite prototype.

The second myth-complex has no such echo in the OT. It is in the realm of the fertility cult with its dying-rising god motif. Aliyan Baal, at the height of the summer drought (i.e. when vegetation is dying and the land parched) was slain by Mot (Death). Anath searched for the body with the assistance of the sun goddess, Shapsh. She found it, and after numerous animal sacrifices (seventy each of buffaloes, neat, small cattle, deer, mountain goats, and roebucks) Baal was restored to life and reigned over Mot, thus assuring life and fertility for the year ahead. This myth was acted out with a background of sympathetic magic at the Canaanite New Year Festival and, with its vital connection with the desired fertility, was doubtless the most important feature of the cultic year. It was attended by the appropriate response from the worshipers, culminating in the grossly sensuous rites accompanying the sacred marriage, in which ritual prostitution of both sexes was a prominent feature.



Bibliography

W. R. Smith, The Religion of the Semites (1927); A. S. Kapelrud, Baal in the Ras Shamra Texts (1952); C. F. Pfeiffer, Ras Shamra and the Bible (1962); J. Gray, The Canaanites (1964); A. S. Kapelrud, The Ras Shamra Discoveries and the Old Testament (1965).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

ba’-al: (ba`al; or Baal): The Babylonian Belu or Bel, "Lord," was the title of the supreme god among the Canaanites.

I. NAME AND CHARACTER OF BAAL

II. ATTRIBUTES OF BAAL

III. BAAL-WORSHIP

IV. TEMPLES, ETC.

V. USE OF THE NAME

VI. FORMS OF BAAL 1. Baal-berith

2. Baal-gad

3. Baal-hamon

4. Baal-hermon

5. Baal-peor

6. Baal-zebub

I. Name and Character of Baal: In Babylonia it was the title specially applied to Merodach of Babylon, which in time came to be used in place of his actual name. As the word in Hebrew also means "possessor," it has been supposed to have originally signified, when used in a religious sense, the god of a particular piece of land or soil. Of this, however, there is no proof, and the sense of "possessor" is derived from that of "lord." The Babylonian Bel-Merodach was a Sun-god, and so too was the Can Baal whose full title was Baal-Shemaim, "lord of heaven." The Phoenician writer Sanchuniathon (Philo Byblius, Fragmenta II) accordingly says that the children of the first generation of mankind "in time of drought stretched forth their hands to heaven toward the sun; for they regarded him as the sole Lord of heaven, and called him Beel-samen, which means `Lord of Heaven’ in the Phoenician language and is equivalent to Zeus in Greek" Baal-Shemaim had a temple at Umm el-Awamid between Acre and Tyre, and his name is found in inscriptions from the Phoenician colonies of Sardinia and Carthage.

II. Attributes of Baal: As the Sun-god, Baal was worshipped under two aspects, beneficent and destructive. On the one hand he gave light and warmth to his worshippers; on the other hand the fierce heats of summer destroyed the vegetation he had himself brought into being. Hence, human victims were sacrificed to him in order to appease his anger in time of plague or other trouble, the victim being usually the first-born of the sacrificer and being burnt alive. In the nodetitle this is euphemistically termed "passing" the victim "through the fire" (2Ki 16:3; 21:6). The forms under which Baal was worshipped were necessarily as numerous as the communities which worshipped him. Each locality had its own Baal or divine "Lord" who frequently took his name from the city or place to which he belonged. Hence, there was a Baal-Zur, "Baal of Tyre"; Baal-hermon, "Baal of Hermon" (Jud 3:3); Baal-Lebanon, "Baal of Lebanon"; Baal-Tarz, "Baal of Tarsus." At other times the title was attached to the name of an individual god; thus we have Bel-Merodach, "the Lord Merodach" (or "Bel is Merodach") at Babylon, Baal-Melkarth at Tyre, Baal-gad (Jos 11:17) in the north of Palestine. Occasionally the second element was noun as in Baal-Shemaim, "lord of heaven," Baalzebub (2Ki 1:2), "Lord of flies," Baal-Hamman, usually interpreted "Lord of heat," but more probably "Lord of the sunpillar," the tutelary deity of Carthage. All these various forms of the Sun-god were collectively known as the Baalim or "Baals" who took their place by the side of the female Ashtaroth and Ashtrim. At Carthage the female consort of Baal was termed Pene-Baal, "the face" or "reflection of Baal."

III. Baal-Worship: In the earlier days of Hebrew history the title Baal, or "Lord," was applied to the national God of Israel, a usage which was revived in later times, and is familiar to us in the King James Version. Hence both Jonathan and David had sons called Merib-baal (1Ch 8:31; 9:40) and Beeliada (1Ch 14:7). After the time of Ahab, however, the name became associated with the worship and rites of the Phoenician deity introduced into Samaria by Jezebel, and its idolatrous associations accordingly caused it to fall into disrepute. Hosea 2:16 declares that henceforth the God of Israel should no longer be called Baali, "my Baal," and personal names like Esh-baal (1Ch 8:33; 9:39), and Beelinda into which it entered were changed in form, Baal being turned into bosheth which in Heb at any rate conveyed the sense of "shame."


V. Use of the Name. In accordance with its signification the name of Baal is generally used with the definite art.; in the Septuagint this often takes the feminine form, aischane "shame" being intended to be read. We find the same usage in Ro 11:4. The feminine counterpart of Baal was Baalah or Baalath which is found in a good many of the local names (see Baethgen, Beltrage zur semitischen Religionsgeschichte, 1888).

VI. Forms of Baal. 1. Baal-berith:

Baal-berith ba`al berith; Baalberith, "Covenant Baal," was worshipped at Shechem after the death of Gideon (Jud 8:33; 9:4). In Jud 9:46 the name is replaced by El-berith, "Covenant-god." The covenant was that made by the god with his worshippers, less probably between the Israelites and the native Canaanites.

2. Baal-gad:

Baal-gad ba`al gadh; Balagada, "Baal [lord] of good luck" (or "Baal is Gad") was the god of a town called after his name in the north of Palestine, which has often been identified with Baalbek. The god is termed simply Gad in Isa 65:11 the Revised Version, margin; where he is associated with Meni, the Assyrian Manu (King James Version "troop" and "number").

3. Baal-hamon:

Baal-hamon ba`al hamon; Beelamon is known only from the fact that Solomon had a garden at a place of that name (So 8:11). The name is usually explained to mean "Baal of the multitude," but the cuneiform tablets of the Tell el-Amarna age found in Palestine show that the Egyptian god Amon was worshipped in Canaan and identified there with the native Baal. We are therefore justified in reading the name Baal-Amon, a parallel to the Babylonian Bel-Merodach. The name has no connection with that of the Carthaginian deity Baal-hamman.

4. Baal-hermon:

Baal-hermon ba`al chermon; Balaermon is found in the name of "the mountain of Baal-hermon" (Jud 3:3; compare 1Ch 5:23), which also bore the names of Hermort, Sirion and Shenir (Saniru in the Assyrian inscriptions), the second name being applied to it by the Phoenicians and the third by the Amorites (De 3:9). Baal-hermon will consequently be a formation similar to Baal-Lebanon in an inscription from Cyprus; according to the Phoenician writer Sanchuniathon (Philo Byblius, Fragmenta II) the third generation of men "begat sons of surprising size and stature, whose names were given to the mountains of which they had obtained possession."

5. Baal-peor:

Baal-peor ba`al pe`or; Beelphegor was god of the Moabite mountains, who took his name from Mount Peor (Nu 23:28), the modern Fa`ur, and was probably a form of Chemosh (Jerome, Comm., Isa 15). The sensual rites with which he was worshipped (Nu 25:1-3) indicate his connection with the Phoenician Baal.

6. Baal-zebub:

Baal-zebub ba`al zebhubh; Baalmuia Theos ("Baal the fly god") was worshipped at Ekron where he had famous oracle (2Ki 1:2,3,16). The name is generally translated "the Lord of flies," the Sun-god being associated with the flies which swarm in Palestine during the earlier summer months. It is met with in Assyrian inscriptions. In the New Testament the name assumes the form of Beelzebul Beelzeboul, in King James Version: BEELZEBUB (which see).


ba`al, ("lord," "master," "possessor"):

(1) A descendant of Reuben, Jacob’s first-born son, and the father of Beerah, prince of the Reubenitcs, "whom Tiglath-pileser (1Ch 5:5,6) king of Assyria carried away captive."

(2) The fourth of ten sons of Jeiel (nodetitle "Jehiel"), father and founder of Gibeon. His mother was Maacah; his brother Kish father oœ Saul (1Ch 8:29 f; 9:35,36,39; compare 1Sa 14:50f). These passages identify Jeiel and Abiel as the father of Kish and thus of Baal. For study of confusions in the genealogical record, in 1Ch 9:36,39, see Kish; Abiel; Jeiel.

(3) In composition often the name of a man and not of the heathen god, e.g. Baal-hanan, a king of Edom (Ge 36:38; 1Ch 1:49); also a royal prefect of the same name (1Ch 27:28). Gesenius thinks that Baal in compound words rarely refers to the god by that name. See Baal (deity).

(4) A city of the tribe of Simeon (1Ch 4:33). See Baalath-beer.

Dwight M. Pratt


ba`al; Baal 1Ch 4:33. See nodetitle.