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Baʿal (Biblical Hebrew בעל, pronounced [ˈbaʕal], usually spelled Baal in English) is a Northwest Semitic title and honorific meaning "master" or "lord" that is used for various gods who were patrons of cities in the Levant and Asia Minor, cognate to Akkadian Bēlu. A Baalist or Baalite means a worshipper of Baal.
"Baʿal" can refer to any god and even to human officials. In some texts it is used for Hadad, a god of the rain, thunder, fertility and agriculture, and the lord of Heaven. Since only priests were allowed to utter his divine name, Hadad, Ba‛al was commonly used. Nevertheless, few if any Biblical uses of "Baʿal" refer to Hadad, the lord over the assembly of gods on the holy mount of Heaven, but rather refer to any number of local spirit-deities worshipped as cult images, each called baʿal and regarded in the Hebrew Bible in that context as a "false god".
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Baʿal (bet-ayin-lamedh) is a Semitic word signifying "The Lord, master, owner (male), keeper, husband". Cognates include Standard Hebrew (Bet-Ayin-Lamed); בַּעַל / בָּעַל, Báʿal, Akkadian Bēl and Arabic بعل. In Hebrew, the word ba'al means "husband" or "owner", and is related to a verb meaning to take possession of, for a man, to consummate a marriage. The word "ba'al" is also used in many Hebrew phrases, denoting both concrete ownership as well as possession of different qualities in one's personality. The feminine form is Baʿalah (Hebrew בַּעֲלָה Baʕalah, Arabic بعلـة baʿalah) signifying "lady, mistress, owner (female), wife".
The words themselves had no exclusively religious connotation, they are honorific titles for heads of households or master craftsmen, but not for royalty. The meaning of "lord" as a member of royalty or nobility is more accurately translated as Adon in Semitic.
In Hebrew the basic term for a homeowner is "ba'al ha-bayith", with the connotation of a middle-class, bourgeois townsperson in traditional Jewish texts and in the Yiddish language (pronounced "baalabus" in Yiddish, pl. "baalei-batim"). A feminine version of the term in Hebrew, "ba'alat ha-bayith", means "the woman of the house", and traditionally had the connotation of a strong, even dominant, woman, who maintains the household in an effective and result-oriented manner, the Yiddish version of the term being "baalabusta".
Baʿal ul bayt in modern Levantine Arabic is widely used to mean the head of the household, literally 'Master of the House' and has a somewhat jocular, semi-mocking connotation. In modern Levantine Arabic, the word báʿal serves as an adjective describing farming that relies only on rainwater as a source of irrigation. Probably it is the last remnant of the sense of Baal the god in the minds of the people of the region. In the Amharic language, the Semitic word for "owner" or "husband, spouse" survives with the spelling bal.
Because more than one god bore the title "Baʿal" and more than one goddess bore the title "Baʿalat" or "Ba`alah," only the context of a text can indicate of which Baʿal 'lord' or Baʿalath 'Lady' a particular inscription or text is speaking.
In the Canaanite pantheon as attested in Ugaritic sources, Hadad was the son of El, who had once been the primary god of the Canaanite pantheon. El and Baʿal are often associated with the bull in Ugaritic texts, as a symbol both of strength and fertility.
Melqart is the son of El in the Phoenician triad of worship. He was the god of Tyre and was often called the Baʿal of Tyre. 1 Kings 16:31 relates that Ahab, king of Israel, married Jezebel, daughter of Ethba’al, king of the Sidonians, and then served habba’al ('the Baʿal'.) The cult of this god was prominent in Israel until the reign of Jehu, who put an end to it. "And they brought out the pillars (massebahs) of the house of the Baʿal and burned them. And they pulled down the pillar (massebah) of the Baʿal and pulled down the house of the Baʿal and turned it into a latrine until this day." (2 Kings 10:26-27)
Some scholars[who?] claim it is uncertain whether "Baʿal" the Lord in Kings 10:26 refers to Melqart. They point out that Hadad was also worshipped in Tyre. This point of view ignores the possibility that Hadad and Melqart are the same god with different names because of different languages and cultures, Hadad being Canaanite and Melqart being Phoenician. In favor of the latter interpretation, both Hadad and Melqart are described as the son of El, both carrying the same secondary position in the pantheons of each culture.
Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah (pole) and did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.
In any case, King Ahab, despite supporting the cult of this Baʿal, had a semblance of worship to Yahweh (1 Kings 16-22). Ahab still consulted Yahweh's prophets and cherished Yahweh's protection when he named his sons Ahaziah ("Yahweh holds") and Jehoram ("Yahweh is high.")
The worship of Baʿal Hammon flourished in the Phoenician colony of Carthage. Baʿal Hammon was the supreme god of the Carthaginians, and is believed that this supremacy dates back to the 5th century BC, apparently after a breaking off of relationships between Carthage and Tyre at the time of the Punic defeat in Himera. He is generally identified by modern scholars either with the Northwest Semitic god El or with Dagon, and generally identified by the Greeks, by interpretatio Graeca with Greek Cronus and similarly by the Romans with Saturn.
The meaning of Hammon or Hamon is unclear. In the 19th century when Ernest Renan excavated the ruins of Hammon (Ḥammon), the modern Umm al-‘Awamid between Tyre and Acre, he found two Phoenician inscriptions dedicated to El-Hammon. Since El was normally identified with Cronus and Ba‘al Hammon was also identified with Cronus, it seemed possible they could be equated. More often a connection with Hebrew/Phoenician ḥammān 'brazier' has been proposed, in the sense of "Baal (lord) of the brazier". He has been therefore identified with a solar deity. Frank Moore Cross argued for a connection to Khamōn, the Ugaritic and Akkadian name for Mount Amanus, the great mountain separating Syria from Cilicia based on the occurrence of an Ugaritic description of El as the one of the Mountain Haman.
Classical sources[which?] relate how the Carthaginians burned their children as offerings to Baʿal Hammon. See Moloch for a discussion of these traditions and conflicting thoughts on the matter. From the attributes of his Roman form, African Saturn, it is possible to conclude that Hammon was a fertility god.
Scholars[who?] tend to see Baʿal Hammon as more or less identical with the god El, who was also generally identified with Cronus and Saturn. However, Yigael Yadin thought him to be a moon god. Edward Lipinski identifies him with the god Dagon in his Dictionnaire de la civilisation phenicienne et punique (1992: ISBN 2-503-50033-1). Inscriptions about Punic deities tend to be rather uninformative.
In Carthage and North Africa Baʿal Hammon was especially associated with the ram and was worshiped also as Baʿal Qarnaim ("Lord of Two Horns") in an open-air sanctuary at Jebel Bu Kornein ("the two-horned hill") across the bay from Carthage.
The Priests of Baʿal are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible numerous times, including a confrontation with the Prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:21-40), the burning of incense symbolic of prayer (2 Kings 23:5), and rituals followed by priests adorned in special vestments (2 Kings 10:22) offering sacrifices similar to those given to honor the Hebrew God. The confrontation with the Prophet Elijah is also mentioned in the Qur'an (37:123-125)
The sense of competition between the priestly forces of Yahweh and of Baʿal in the ninth century is nowhere more directly attested than in 1 Kings 18, where, Elijah the prophet offering a sacrifice to Yahweh, Baʿal's followers did the same. Baʿal in the Hebrew text did not light his followers' sacrifice, but Yahweh sent heavenly fire to burn Elijah's sacrifice to ashes, even after it had been soaked with water.
Since Baʿal simply means 'master', there is no obvious reason for which it could not be applied to Yahweh as well as other gods. In fact, Hebrews generally referred to Yahweh as Adonai ('my lord') in prayer. The judge Gideon was also called Jerubaʿal, a name which seems to mean 'Baʿal strives', though the Yahwists' explanation in Judges 6:32 is that the theophoric name was given to mock the god Baʿal, whose shrine Gideon had destroyed, the intention being to imply: "Let Baʿal strive as much as he can ... it will come to nothing."
After Gideon's death, according to Judges 8:33, the Israelites went astray and started to worship the Baʿalîm (the Baʿals) especially Baʿal Berith ("Lord of the Covenant.") A few verses later (Judges 9:4) the story turns to all the citizens of Shechem — actually kol-ba‘alê šəkem another case of normal use of ba‘al not applied to a deity. These citizens of Shechem support Abimelech's attempt to become king by giving him 70 shekels from the House of Ba‘al Berith. It is hard to dissociate this Lord of the Covenant who is worshipped in Shechem from the covenant at Shechem described earlier in Joshua 24:25, in which the people agree to worship Yahweh. It is especially hard to do so when Judges 9:46 relates that all "the holders of the tower of Shechem" (kol-ba‘alê midgal-šəkem) enter bêt ’ēl bərît 'the House of El Berith', that is, 'the House of God of the Covenant'. Either "Baʿal" was here a title for El, or the covenant of Shechem perhaps originally did not involve El at all, but some other god who bore the title Baʿal. Whether there were different viewpoints about Yahweh, some seeing him as an aspect of Hadad, some as an aspect of El, some with other perceptions cannot be unambiguously answered.
Baʿal appears in theophoric names. One also finds Eshbaʿal (one of Saul's sons) and Beʿeliada (a son of David). The last name also appears as Eliada. This might show that at some period Baʿal and El were used interchangeably; even in the same name applied to the same person. More likely a later hand has cleaned up the text. Editors did play around with some names, sometimes substituting the form bosheth 'abomination' for ba‘al in names, whence the forms Ishbosheth instead of Eshbaʿal and Mephibosheth which is rendered Meribaʿal in 1 Chronicles 9:40. 1 Chronicles 12:5 mentions the name Beʿaliah (more accurately be‘alyâ) meaning "Yahweh is Baʿal."
It is difficult to determine to what extent the 'false worship' which the prophets stigmatize is the worship of Yahweh under a conception and with rites, which treated him as a local nature god, or whether particular features of gods more often given the title Ba‘al were consciously recognized to be distinct from Yahwism from the first. Certainly some of the Ugaritic texts and Sanchuniathon report hostility between El and Hadad, perhaps representing a cultic and religious differences reflected in Hebrew tradition also, in which Yahweh in the Tanach is firmly identified with El and might be expected to be somewhat hostile to Baʿal/Hadad and the deities of his circle. But for Jeremiah and the Deuteronomist it also appears to be monotheism against polytheism (Jeremiah 11:12):
Then shall the cities of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem go and cry to the gods to whom they offer incense: but they shall not save them at all in the time of their trouble. For according to the number of your cities are your gods, O Judah; and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem you have set up altars to the abominination, altars to burn incense to the Ba‘al.
One finds in the Tanakh the plural forms bə'ālîm 'Baʿals' or 'Lords' and aštārôt Ashtarts, though such plurals don't appear in Phoenician or Canaanite or independent Aramaic sources.
One theory is that the people of each territory or in each wandering clan worshipped their own Baʿal, as the chief deity of each, the source of all the gifts of nature, the mysterious god of their fathers. As the god of fertility all the produce of the soil would be his, and his adherents would bring to him their tribute of first-fruits. He would be the patron of all growth and fertility, and, by the use of analogy characteristic of early thought, this Baʿal would be the god of the productive element in its widest sense. Originating perhaps in the observation of the fertilizing effect of rains and streams upon the receptive and reproductive soil, Baʿal worship became identical with nature-worship. Joined with the Baʿals there would naturally be corresponding female figures which might be called ʿAshtarts, embodiments of 'Ashtart. Baʿal Hadad is associated with the goddess "Virgin" Anat, his sister and lover.
Through analogy and through the belief that one can control or aid the powers of nature by the practice of magic, particularly sympathetic magic, sexuality might characterize part of the cult of the Baʿals and ʿAshtarts. Post-Exilic allusions to the cult of Baʿal Pe'or suggest that orgies prevailed. On the summits of hills and mountains flourished the cult of the givers of increase, and "under every green tree" was practised the licentiousness which was held to secure abundance of crops. Human sacrifice, the burning of incense, violent and ecstatic exercises, ceremonial acts of bowing and kissing, the preparing of sacred cakes (see also Asherah), appear among the offences denounced by the post-Exilic prophets; and show that the cult of Baʿal (and ʿAshtart) included characteristic features of worship which recur in various parts of the Semitic (and non-Semitic) world, although attached to other names. But it is also possible that such rites were performed to a local Baʿal Lord and a local ʿAshtart without much concern as to whether they were the same as that of a nearby community or how they fitted into the national theology of Yahweh who had become a ruling high god of the heavens, increasingly disassociated from such things, at least in the minds of some worshippers.
Another theory is that the references to Baʿals and ʿAshtarts (and Asherahs) are to images or other standard symbols of these deities, statues, and icons of Baʿal Hadad, ʿAshtart, and Asherah set-up in various high places as well as those of other gods, the author listing the most prominent as types for all.
A reminiscence of Baʿal as a title of a local fertility god (or referring to a particular god of subterraneous water) may occur in the Talmudic Hebrew phrases field of the Baʿal and place of the Baʿal and Arabic ba'l used of land fertilised by subterraneous waters rather than by rain.
The identification of Baʿal as a sun-god in historical scholarship came to be abandoned by the end of the 19th century as it became clear that Baʿal was the title of numerous local gods and not necessarily a single deity in origin. It also became clear that the "astralizing" (association or identification with heavenly bodies) of Ancient Near Eastern deities was a late (Iron Age) development in no way connected with the origin of religion as theorized by some 19th-century schools of thought.
Until archaeological digs at Ras Shamra and Ebla uncovered texts explaining the Syrian pantheon, the demon Ba‘al Zebûb was frequently confused with various Semitic spirits and deities named Baal, whereas in some Christian writings, it might refer to a high-ranking devil or to Satan himself.
Early demonologists,[who?] unaware of Hadad or that "Baʿal" in the Bible referred to any number of local spirits, came to regard the term as referring to but one personage. Baal was ranked as the first and principal king in Hell, ruling over the East. According to some authors[who?] Baal is a duke, with 66 legions of demons under his command.
John Milton in his epic poem Paradise Lost of 1667 describes Satan's "Legions, Angel Forms" immediately after the fall from heaven collecting themselves and gathering around their "Great Sultan" (Satan). Milton names and describes the most prominent of these whose names in heaven had been "blotted out and ras'd", but who would acquire new names "wandring ore the Earth", being worshipped by man ("Devils to adore for Deities"). In the following section, Milton refers to the plural forms of Baʿal and Astarte [Book 1, lines 419-423]:
With these came they, who from the bordring flood
Of old Euphrates to the Brook that parts
Egypt from Syrian ground, had general Names
Of Baalim and Ashtaroth, those male,
In grimoire tradition, the demon Bael was said to appear in the forms of a man, cat, toad, or combinations thereof. An illustration in Collin de Plancy's 1818 book Dictionnaire Infernal rather curiously placed the heads of the three creatures onto a set of spider legs.
"And Elias was most surely of the messengers, he asked his people: 'do you not fear (Allah)?, will ye call upon Baʿal and forsake the best of creators, Allah is your Lord and the Lord of your fathers, the ancients.but they rejected him, and they will certainly be called up (for punishment),except the sincere and devoted servants of Allah (among them),and we left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times, peace be upon Elias."—Qur'an, Sura 37, Ayat 123-130
Ba‘al Zəbûb is variously understood to mean "lord of flies", or "lord of the (heavenly) dwelling". Originally the name of a Philistine god, Beelzebub is also identified in the New Testament as Satan, the "prince of the demons". In Arabic the name is retained as Ba‘al dhubaab / zubaab (بعل الذباب), literally "Lord of the Flies". Biblical scholar Thomas Kelly Cheyne suggested that it might be a derogatory corruption of Ba‘al Zəbûl, "Lord of the High Place" (i.e., Heaven) or "High Lord". The word Beelzebub in rabbinical texts is a mockery of the Ba'al religion, which ancient Hebrews considered to be idol (or, false God) worship. Ba'al, meaning "Lord" in Ugaritic, was used in conjunction with a descriptive name of a specific God. Jewish scholars have interpreted the title of "Lord of Flies" as the Hebrew way of calling Ba'al a pile of dung, and comparing Ba'al followers to flies. The Septuagint renders the name as Baalzebub (βααλζεβούβ) and as Baal muian (βααλ μυιαν, "Baal of flies"), but Symmachus the Ebionite may have reflected a tradition of its offensive ancient name when he rendered it as Beelzeboul.
That Baal was primarily a sun-god was for a long time almost a dogma among scholars, and is still often repeated. This doctrine is connected with theories of the origin of religion which are now almost universally abandoned. The worship of the heavenly bodies is not the beginning of religion. Moreover, there was not, as this theory assumes, one god Baal, worshipped under different forms and names by the Semitic peoples, but a multitude of local Baals, each the inhabitant of his own place, the protector and benefactor of those who worshipped him there. Even in the astro-theology of the Babylonians the star of Bēl was not the sun: it was the planet Jupiter. There is no intimation in the OT that any of the Canaanite Baals were sun-gods, or that the worship of the sun (Shemesh), of which we have ample evidence, both early and late, was connected with that of the Baals ; in 2 Kings 23:5-11 the cults are treated as distinct.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Baal.|