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Baal, also rendered Baʿal (Biblical Hebrew בַּעַל, pronounced [ˈbaʕal]), is a North-West 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.
"Baal" may 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 "Baal" refer to Hadad, the lord over the assembly of gods on the holy mount of Heaven; most refer to a variety of local spirit-deities worshipped as cult images, each called baal and regarded in the Hebrew Bible in that context as a "false god".
|Deities of the ancient Near East|
|Religions of the ancient Near East|
Baʿal (bet-ayin-lamedh) is a Semitic word signifying "The Lord, master, owner (male), keeper, husband", which became the usual designation of the great weather-god of the Western Semites. 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.
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 "Baal" and more than one goddess bore the title "Baalat" or "Baalah," only the context of a text can indicate which Baal (Lord) or Baalath (Lady) a particular inscription or text is speaking of.
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 Baal are often associated with the bull in Ugaritic texts, as a symbol both of strength and fertility.
Prior to the discovery of the Ugaritic texts it was supposed that 'the Baals' referred to distinct and local Canaanite deities. However, according to John Day, in Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, these texts have revealed that these are simply local manifestations of one great, cosmic deity named Hadad.
Of special interest is the designation ʿAliy(ʿly) which is twice applied to Baal in the Ugaritic poem Legend of Keret (also known as 'krt poem') among other references made to Ba'al:
To the earth Baal rained,
To the field rained ʿAliy.
Sweet to the earth was Baal's rain
To the field the rain of ʿAliy.
Before the discovery and recognition of this name in Ugaritic, H.S. Nyberg had restored it in Deuteronomy 33:12; I Samuel 2:10; II Samuel 23:1; Isaiah 59:18, 63:7; and Hosea 7:16. Following the verification of the authenticity and antiquity of this divine name in Ugaritic, additional instances have been claimed as occurring in the Psalter and also in Job.
The worship of Ba'al in Canaan was bound to the economy of the land which depends on the regularity and adequacy of the rains, unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia, which depend on irrigation. Anxiety about the rainfall was a continuing concern of the inhabitants which gave rise to rites to ensure the coming of the rains. Thus the basis of the Ba'al cult was the utter dependence of life on the rains which were regarded as Baal's bounty. In that respect, Ba'al can be considered a rain god.
Melqart is the son of El in the Phoenician triad of worship. He was the god of Tyre and was often called the Baal of Tyre. 1Kings 16:31 relates that Ahab, king of Israel, married Jezebel, daughter of Eth-baal, king of the Sidonians, and then "went and served Baal, and worshipped him". The cult of this god was prominent in Israel until the reign of Jehu, who – according to the biblical account in 2 Kings – put an end to it: "And they brought forth the images out of the house of Baal, and burned them. 27 And they brake down the image of Baal, and brake down the house of Baal, and made it a draught house unto this day. 28 Thus Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel." (2Kings 10:26-28)
Some scholars[who?] claim it is uncertain whether "Baal" the Lord in Kings 10:26 refers to Melqart. They point out that Hadad was also worshiped 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.
30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that [were] before him. 31 And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. 32 And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. 33 And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him. (1Kings 16:30-33)
Even though King Ahab named his sons Ahaziah ("Yahweh holds") and Jehoram ("Yahweh is high") he did not worship Yahweh like some believe. In 1 Kings 21 Ahab calls the Lords anointed prophet Elijah “my enemy” for every word from the Lord's prophets spoke against the practices of Ahab and Jezebel.
The worship of Baal-hamon flourished in the Phoenician colony of Carthage. Baal-hamon 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 relate how the Carthaginians burned their children as offerings to Baal-hamon. From the attributes of his Roman form, African Saturn, it is possible to conclude that Hammon was a fertility god. (See Moloch for a discussion of these traditions and conflicting thoughts on the matter.)
Scholars[who?] tend to see Baal-hamon 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 Baal-hamon was especially associated with the ram and was worshiped also as Baal Karnaim ("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 Baal are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible numerous times, including a confrontation with the Prophet Elijah (1Kings 18:21-40), the burning of incense symbolic of prayer (2Kings 23:5), and rituals followed by priests adorned in special vestments (2Kings 10:22) offering sacrifices similar to those given to honor the Hebrew God. The confrontation with the Prophet Elijah is also mentioned in the Quran (37:123–125)
For the early Hebrews, “Baal” referred to the Lord of Israel, just as “Baal” farther north designated the Lord of Lebanon or of Ugarit.
At first the name Baal was used by the Jews for their God without discrimination, but as the struggle between the two religions developed, the name Baal was given up by the Israelites as a thing of shame, and even names like Jerubbaal were changed to Jerubbosheth: Hebrew bosheth means "shame".
It was the program of Jezebel, in the 9th century, to introduce into Israel's capital city of Samaria her Phoenician cult of Baal as opposed to the worship of Yahweh that made the name anathema to the Israelites. The competition between the priestly forces of Yahweh and of Baal in the ninth century is attested in 1Kings 18. Elijah the prophet challenged Baal's prophets to settle the question whether it was Ba'al or Yahweh who supplied the rain. Elijah offered a sacrifice to Yahweh; Baal's followers did the same. According to the Hebrew Bible, Baal did not light his followers' sacrifice, but Yahweh sent heavenly fire to burn Elijah's sacrifice and altar to ashes, even after it had been soaked with water. Directly after that event, Elijah had the prophets of Ba'al slain and soon it begins to rain.
Since Baal 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 Jerubaal, a name which seems to mean 'Baal strives', though the Yahwists' explanation in Judges 6:32 is that the theophoric name was given to mock the god Baal, whose shrine Gideon had destroyed, the intention being to imply: "Let Baal strive as much as he can ... it will come to nothing."
After Gideon's death, according to Judges 8:33, the Israelites started to worship the Baalim (the Baals) especially Baal Berith ("Lord of the Covenant.") A few verses later (Judges 9:4) the story turns to the citizens of Shechem, who 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 "Baal" 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 Baal. 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.
Baal appears in theophoric names. One also finds Eshbaal (one of Saul's sons) and Beeliada (a son of David). The last name also appears as Eliada. This might show that at some period Baal 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 Eshbaal and Mephibosheth which is rendered Meribaal in 1Chronicles 9:40. 1Chronicles 12:5 mentions the name Bealiah (also rendered be‘alyâ) meaning whose Lord is Jah.
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 Tanakh is firmly identified with El and might be expected to be somewhat hostile to Baal/Hadad and the deities of his circle. But for Jeremiah and the Deuteronomist it also appears to be monotheism against polytheism (Jeremiah 11:12-13):
12 Then shall the cities of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem go, and cry unto the gods unto whom they offer incense: but they shall not save them at all in the time of their trouble. 13 For [according to] the number of thy cities were thy gods, O Judah; and [according to] the number of the streets of Jerusalem have ye set up altars to [that] shameful thing, [even] altars to burn incense unto Baal.
One finds in the Tanakh the plural forms bə'ālîm 'Baals' or 'Lords' and aštārôt 'Ashtaroth' or 'astartes', 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 Baal, 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 Baal 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, Baal worship became identical with nature-worship. Joined with the Baals there would naturally be corresponding female figures which might be called Astartes, embodiments of Astarte. Baal 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 Baals and Astartes. Post-Exilic allusions to the cult of Baal-peor 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 Baal (and Astarte) 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 Baal Lord and a local Astarte 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 Baals and Astartes (and Asherahs) are to images or other standard symbols of these deities, statues, and icons of Baal Hadad, Astarte, 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 Baal 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 Baal and place of the Baal and Arabic ba'l used of land fertilised by subterraneous waters rather than by rain.
The identification of Baal as a sun-god in historical scholarship came to be abandoned by the end of the 19th century as it became clear that Baal 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.
But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say unto them, [Is it] not because [there is] not a God in Israel, [that] ye go to enquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron? KJV, 1611
Ba‘al Zəbûb is variously understood to mean "lord of flies", or "lord of the (heavenly) dwelling". Originally the name of a Philistine god, 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.
Beelzebub, also Beelzebul, is also identified in the New Testament as Satan, the "prince of the demons". In Arabic[where?] 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.[need quotation to verify]
And Elias was most surely of the messengers, he asked his people: 'do you not fear (God)?, will ye call upon Baal and forsake the best of creators, God 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 God (among them), and we left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times, peace be upon Elias.
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 Baal 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,
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.|