Baal is the name of several pagan gods that date back to the 14th century BC among the ancient Semitic peoples, and most specifically the fertility deity of the ancient Canaanite peoples. The cult of Baal celebrated annually his death and resurrection as a part of the Canaanite fertility rituals and involved human sacrifices and temple prostitution. The worship of Baal often led the Israelites astray from God due to the carnal pleasures derived from temple prostitutes.
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". A temple to Baal-Shemaim had stood at Umm el-Awamid between Acre and Tyre, and his name is found in inscriptions from the Phoenician colonies of Sardinia and Carthage.
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 Old Testament this is euphemistically termed "passing" the victim "through the fire" (2 Kings 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; i.e. Baal-Zur, "Baal of Tyre"; Baal-hermon, "Baal of Hermon" (Judges 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, such as Bel-Merodach ("the Lord Merodach" or "Bel is Merodach") at Babylon, Baal-Melkarth at Tyre, and Baal-gad (Joshua 11:17) in the north of Palestine. Occasionally the second element was noun as in Baal-Shemaim, "lord of heaven," Baalzebub (2 Kings 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."
In the earlier days of Hebrew history the title Baal ("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 (1 Chronicles 8:31; 9:40) and Beeliada (1 Chronicles 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 (1 Chronicles 8:33; 9:39), and Beelinda into which it entered were changed in form, Baal being turned into bosheth which in Hebrew at any rate conveyed the sense of "shame."
Temples and places of worship
Temples of Baal at Samaria and Jerusalem are mentioned in 1 Kings 1:18; where they had been erected at the time when the Ahab dynasty endeavored to fuse Israelites and Jews and Phoenicians into a single people under the same national Phoenician god. Altars on which incense was burned to Baal were set up in all the streets of Jerusalem according to Jeremiah (11:13), apparently on the flat roofs of the houses (Jeremiah 32:29); and the temple of Baal contained an image of the god in the shape of a pillar (2 Kings 10:26,27). In the reign of Ahab, Baal was served in Israel by 450 priests (1 Kings 18:19) as well as by prophets (2 Kings 10:19); his worshippers wore special vestments when rituals were performed (2 Kings 10:22). The ordinary offering made to the god consisted of incense (Jeremiah 7:9) and burnt sacrifices; on extraordinary occasions the victim was human (Jeremiah 19:5). At times the priests worked themselves into a state of ecstasy, and dancing round the altar slashed themselves with knives (1 Kings 18:26,28).
Other forms of Baal
Baal-berith, ba`al berith, Baalberith, ("Covenant Baal") was worshipped at Shechem after the death of Gideon (Judges 8:33; 9:4). In Judges 9:46 the name is replaced by El-berith ("Covenant-god"). The "covenant" was that made by the god with his worshippers, and not necessarily the one made between the Israelites and Canannites.
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 Isaiah 65:11 the Revised Version.
Baal-hamon; ba`al hamon; Beelamon is known only from the fact that Solomon had a garden at a place of that name (Song of Solomon 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.
Baal-hermon; ba`al chermon; Balaermon is found in the name of "the mountain of Baal-hermon" (Judges 3:3; compare 1 Chronicles 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 (Deuteronomy 3:9). Baal-hermon is 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."
Baal-peor; ba`al pe`or; Beelphegor was god of the Moabite mountains, who took his name from Mount Peor (Numbers 23:28), the modern Fa`ur, and was probably a form of Chemosh (Jerome, Comm., Isaiah 15). The sensual rites with which he was worshipped (Numbers 25:1-3) indicate his connection with the Phoenician Baal.
Baal-zebub; ba`al zebhubh; Baalmuia Theos ("Baal the fly god") was worshipped at Ekron where he had famous oracle (2 Kings 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, and Beelzebub in King James Version, and is used as a byname for the devil or Satan (Matthew 10:24,25,27; 3:22). During a period in which Jesus was casting out demons, his accusers stated He had used Beelzebub: "But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils" (Matthew 12:24), earning for them a sharp rebuke:
- And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:"
- "And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?"
- "And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges." (Matthew 12:25-27, King James Version)
Baal is also a demon in the PC game Diablo. He is a boss and features in the expansion to Diablo 2 most prominently. Because of this, He has gained somewhat of a cult following in the past few years.
Text for this article used in part from the 1913 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, a work in the public domain.