Why’d the Hebrews keep falling into Baalism? They did it for the nooky.
- Baal /bɑ'ʕɑl, commonly mispronounced 'beɪ.(ə)l/ n. The title of various middle eastern gods.
- 2. Lord, master, sir, husband.
- [Baalim /bɑ.ʕɑl.im/ n.pl., Baalism /ba'al.iz.əm/ n.]
The main competitors to the ancient Hebrew worship of the L
Most people assume “Baal,” like “God,” is a proper name instead of a title. It’s not. Every major god was called “Baal.” There were multiple Baals in the middle east and ancient Canaan, which is why the bible refers to them as bahalím/“Baals” (
In fact it may startle you to discover even the L
2 Samuel 5.18-21 KWL
- 18 Philistines came, and occupied the valley of Refahím/“Shadows.”
- 19 Asking the L
ORD, David said, “Do I go out against the Philistines? Do you put them in my hand?”
- The L
ORDtold David, “Go out: I put, put the Philistines in your hand.”
- 20 David went to Baal Perachím. There, David struck them down. He said:
- “The L
ORDbroke through my enemies before my face, like water breaks through a levee.”
- Hence this place’s name is Baal Perachím/“Lord of Breakthrough.”
- 21 The Philistines left their carved idols there,
- and David and his men took them away.
We all know David was no Baalist. He didn’t name the site for any of the Canaanite or Philistine gods; he meant his God, Y
It’s why we find Hebrew place names, even people, whose names have some form of “Baal” in them. They didn’t necessarily mean Canaanite gods; they often meant the One God. Like David’s warrior Behalyáh of Benjamin,
’Cause after a point, God got really tired of people calling him “Baal.”
Hosea 2.16-17 KWL
- 16 The L
ORDreveals: “That day will come when you call me ‘my husband’
- and not call me ‘my Baal’ anymore.
- 17 I pluck the Baals’ names from your mother’s mouth.
- Don’t recognize me by that name anymore.”
God wanted the very word removed. And for good reason. If the L
Which brings up the reason the Baals were so popular. When people read the bible and don’t know its history, they often wonder why on earth the Hebrews kept falling into Baalism. What was it about these gods? The L
Two words: Ritual sex.
Oh that got your attention, didn’t it? But yep, that’s what hooked the Hebrews.
Ugaritic statue of “Baal”; the one which kinda looks like an angry Christmas elf. Wikimedia
The many Baals.
If you’ve ever looked up Baal in a bible dictionary, sometimes you’re gonna read basically what I’ve written here—that most of the ancient middle eastern gods were called Baal, and which of the many “Baals” the Hebrews probably meant. But I’ve found many bible dictionaries (and pastors) tend to over-oversimplify, blend all the different mythologies in Canaan together, and claim Baal’s “a Canaanite god”—not several.
In the oversimplified version, Baal’s the husband of Ashtoreth, the son of Dagon—if not the son of El—and out of pure popularity evolved into the Canaanite king god. As for illustrations, they go with the skinny bronze idol with the pointy hat and thunderbolt, based on an idol found in Ras Shamra, Syria—ancient Ugarit.
Thing is, the clay tablets found with the idol tell about the Ugarits’ chief god, Hadád. That’s who they meant by Baal. But we wanna know what the Hebrews meant by Baal. Not what some tribe 325 kilometers to the north believed.
So. To begin, we gotta go even further south, to Moab.
The Moabites were also Hebrews; descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot.
A neo-Babylonian depiction of Hadád, using his divine axe to mangle the heck out of his divine trident. CreationWiki
Hadád was the god of the skies, rain, storms, and fertility. He was also known as Baal-Šemáyim/“lord of the skies,” although over time Baal-Šemáyim evolved into Baal-Šamem, a different weather god who was considered Hadád’s father, and also controlled the sun.
Various scholars are pretty sure Hadád is the only Baal we find in the bible. Partly because it makes the contest between Elijah, and Baal’s prophets,
Thing is, this defiance of Hadád didn’t appear to affect the Israelis any. Drought notwithstanding, they were still of two minds as to whether to follow their Baal or the L
So which god was this? Baal of Ephraim, introduced to northern Israel by King Ahab ben Omri,
Ašur, depicted in what’s supposed to be a feather robe. But I guarantee you various nutjobs are convinced that’s a spaceship. Wikimedia
Because Ašur was a relatively new (and invented) god, he didn’t actually have a mythology. So the Assyrians borrowed all the myths of the Sumerian king-god Enlil—including Enlil’s wife Ninlil. Ašur wasn’t a fertility god at all; definitely a war god. However, Ahab also imported Sidón’s other popular god, Aštart (
That’d be the main two Baals. And of course there are assorted other Baals found in the bible.
- Baal-Berit was Berit, a god found in judges-era Shechem.
Jg 8.33, 9.4We know nothing about it, other than that the author of Judges disapproved of it.
- Baal-Zevúv (
KJV“Baalzebub”) 2Ki 1.2was the god of Ekron, Philistia. Properly it was called Baal-Zevúl, zevúl meaning “[heavenly] dwelling.” Ha 3.11But the Hebrews, just for fun, swapped it for zevúv/“gnat” or “fly,” and it stuck. In Aramaic, the word zevúl means “dung,” so in Jesus’s day they went back to calling it Baal-Zebul (Greek Veëlzevúl, KJV“Beelzebub”) Mk 3.22and the Pharisees used it as a euphemism for Satan. Lk 11.18
- Bel was a Babylonian idol found in the apocrypha’s 14th chapter of Daniel, also known as Bel and the Dragon. Likely this god was Marduk (
KJV“Merodach” Jr 50.2), the neo-Babylonians’ patron god. In the story, Daniel proved Bel’s priests were falsely making it look like Bel ate its sacrifices, when really it was the priests and their families. So the king of Babylon had ’em whacked. Da 14.1-22Incidentally, Nebuchadnezzar’s head eunuch changed Daniel’s name to Bel-tešach’chár ( NABRE KJV“Belteshazzar”) Aramaic for “Bel protects [the] king.” Da 1.7
- Baal-Hamón is a city.
Sg 8.11Bible dictionaries figure it just means “lord of many,” but in fact it’s originally named for Baal-Hamón, the main god of Carthage, which was derived from the Egyptian sun god Amon-Ra.
The icky Baals.
Whether the local Baal specialized in war or weather, as I said, one of the things which got the Hebrews to follow it was the ritual sex. Many pagan religions had incorporated these practices in order to legitimize illicit sexual activity, and entice followers. Still do.
The worship of Ašerah in particular. She was Aštart’s sister in one mythology; mother in another; Hadád’s wife in another (and—disturbingly, blasphemously, and probably connected with those rogue temples in Dan and Bethel—the L
After all, they didn’t do it for free. You paid their head priests for your “acts of worship.” But since the L
If you lean in a polytheistic direction—lots of gods, with the L
You see the problem. The L
Bible commentators tend to assume Baalism was either gone, or rare, by the time of the New Testament. Despite the reference to Baal-Zebul, they figure Greco-Roman paganism had largely taken over: Whenever the Greeks visited different provinces, they insisted Baal was the same as Zeus, and got the locals to adapt their temples accordingly. But this didn’t actually eliminate Baalism: It was simply practiced under new names. The only thing which disappeared was the middle eastern title Baal. It was replaced by the Greek title Kýrios/“master,” and that’s what the Baals became. Hence Paul was able to point out there were a whole lot of gods and Kýrioi in the world.
Greco-Roman paganism disappeared as Christianity spread, and with it the ritual sex part of religion. Neo-Pagans have brought it back, and some of it is practiced (but maritally) in some sects of Hinduism. Prostitution and human trafficking is largely secular—and sad to say, still exists; just underground, illegal, and hopefully one day gone.
And competitors to the L