God worshiped in many ancient Middle Eastern communities, especially among Canaanites, for whom he was a fertility deity. In the mythology of Canaan, he was locked in combat with Mot, the god of death and sterility; depending on the outcome of their struggles, seven-year cycles of fertility or famine would ensue. Baal was also king of gods, having seized the kingship from the sea god, Yamm. Baal worship was popular in Egypt from the later New Kingdom to its end (1400–1075 BC). The Aramaeans used the Babylonian pronunciation Bel; Bel became the Greek Belos, identified with Zeus. The Old Testament often refers to a specific local Baal or multiple Baalim.
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"Ba'al" can refer to any god and even to human officials; in some texts it is used as a substitute 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 used commonly. Nevertheless, few if any Biblical uses of "Ba'al" 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 ba'al and regarded by the writers of the Hebrew Bible in that context as a false god.
Because more than one god bore the title "Ba'al" and more than one goddess bore the title "Ba'alat" or "Ba``alah," only the context of a text can indicate which Ba'al 'lord' or Ba'alath 'Lady' a particular inscription or text is speaking of.
Though the god Hadad (or Adad) was especially likely to be called Ba'al, Hadad was far from the only god to have that title. The Ugaritic texts (mainly preserved in the Ba'al cycle) place the dwelling of Baal on Mount Saphon, so references to Baal Zephon in the Tanach and in inscriptions and tablets referring to the Baal of Mount Saphon may indicate the storm-god Hadad. It is said that Ba'al Pe’or, the lord of Mount Pe’or, whom Israelites were forbidden from worshipping was also Hadad. In the Canaanite pantheon, Hadad was the son of El, who had once been the primary god of the Canaanite pantheon.
Melqart is the son of El in the Phoenician triad of worship, He was the god of Tyre and was often called the Ba'al of Tyre. relates that Ahab, king of Israel, married Jezebel, daughter of Ethba’al, king of the Sidonians, and then served habba’al ('the Ba'al'.) 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 Ba'al and burned them. And they pulled down the pillar (massebah) of the Ba'al and pulled down the house of the Ba'al and turned it into a latrine until this day.
Some scholars claim it is uncertain whether "Ba'al" 'the Lord' refers to Melqart in Kings 10:26, they point out that Hadad was also worshipped in Tyre. However this position negates the real possibility that Hadad and Melqart are one in the same god, only having different names because of different languages and cultures. Hadad being Canaanite and Melqart being Phoenician. Both Hadad and Melqart are professed to be the son of El both carrying the same secondary position in the pantheons of each culture. This fact reveals them to be the same deity with different names due to different languages. A contemporary example of this would be God in English and Dios in Spanish.
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 Ba'al, 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 Ba'al Hammon flourished in the Phoenician colony of Carthage. Ba'al Hammon was the supreme god of the Carthaginians. 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. 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 Ba'al Hammon. See Moloch for a discussion of these traditions and conflicting thoughts on the matter. Such a devouring of children fits well with the Greek traditions of Cronus. Ritual prostitution as a form of worship also may have been done, especially when the Carthaginians began to recognize Ba'al as a fertility god.
Scholars tend to see Ba'al Hammon as more or less identical with the god El, who was also generally identified with Cronus and Saturn. However, Yigal 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 Ba'al Hammon was especially associated with the ram and was worshiped also as Ba'al Qarnaim ("Lord of Two Horns") in an open-air sanctuary at Jebel Bu Kornein ("the two-horned hill") across the bay from Carthage.
The sense of competition between the priestly forces of Yahweh and of Ba'al in the ninth century is nowhere more directly attested than in , where, Elijah the prophet offering a sacrifice to Yahweh, Ba'al's followers did the same. Ba'al 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 Ba‘al simply means 'Lord', 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 word Hashem - 'The Name' - is substituted in everyday speech). The judge Gideon was also called Jeruba'al, a name which seems to mean 'Ba‘al strives', though the Yahwists' explanation in is that the theophoric name was given to mock the god Ba‘al, whose shrine Gideon had destroyed, the intention being to imply: "Let Ba‘al strive as much as he can ... it will come to nothing."
After Gideon's death, according to , the Israelites went astray and started to worship the Ba‘alîm (the Ba‘als) especially Ba‘al Berith ("Lord of the Covenant.") A few verses later 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 , in which the people agree to worship Yahweh. It is especially hard to do so when 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 "Ba‘al" 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 Ba‘al. 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.
Ba'al appears in theophoric names. One also finds Eshba'al (one of Saul's sons) and Be'eliada (a son of David). The last name also appears as Eliada. This might show that at some period Ba‘al 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 substuting the form bosheth 'abomination' for ba‘al in names, whence the forms Ishbosheth instead of Eshba'al and Mephibosheth which is rendered Meriba'al in . mentions the name Be'aliah (more accurately be‘alyâ) meaning "Yahweh is Ba‘al."
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 Ba'al/Hadad and the deities of his circle. But for Jeremiah and the Deuteronomist it also appears to be monotheism against polytheism ():
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 theory is that the people of each territory or in each wandering clan worshipped their own Ba‘al, 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 Ba'al 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, Ba'al worship became identical with nature-worship. Joined with the Ba'als there would naturally be corresponding female figures which might be called 'Ashtarts, embodiments of 'Ashtart. Ba'al 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 Ba'als and 'Ashtarts. Post-Exilic allusions to the cult of Ba‘al 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 Ba'al (and 'Ashtart) 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 Ba'al 'Lord' and a local 'Ashtart without much concern as to whether or not 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 Ba'als and 'Ashtarts (and Asherahs) are to images or other standard symbols of these deities, that is statues and icons of Ba'al Hadad, 'Ashtart, 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. The Deuteronomistic editor is as angered and saddened by worshiping of images as by worshiping divinities other than Yahweh and wishes to emphasize the plurality of false deities as opposed to true worship of Yahweh at his single temple in Jerusalem as called for in the reforms of Josiah.
A reminiscence of Ba'al 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 ba'al and place of the ba'al and Arabic ba'l used of land fertilised by subterraneous waters rather than by rain.
Historically, this confusion was resolved in the nineteenth century as new archaeological evidence indicated multiple gods bearing the title Ba'al and little about them that connected them to the sun. In 1899, the Encyclopædia Biblica article Baal by W. Robertson Smith and George F. Moore states:
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 K. 235 cp 11 the cults are treated as distinct.
Other spellings: Bael, Baël (French), Baell.
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 entitled Baal, whereas in some Christian writings, it might refer to a high-ranking devil or to Satan himself.
In the ancient world of the Persian Empire, as monotheistic strains of thought were gaining steam, from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, worship of deities represented by idols was being rejected in favor of the cult of Yahweh. In the Levant the idols were called "ba'als", each of which represented a local spirit-deity or "demon". Worship of all such spirits was rejected as immoral, and many were in fact considered malevolent and dangerous.
Early demonologists, unaware of Hadad or that "Ba'al" in the Bible referred to any number of local spirits, came to regard the term as referring to but one personage. Baal (usually spelt "Bael" in this context; there is a possibility that the two figures are not connected) was ranked as the first and principal king in Hell, ruling over the East. According to some authors Baal is a duke, with 66 legions of demons under his command.
While the Semitic high god Ba'al Hadad was depicted as a human, a ram, or a bull, the demon Bael was in grimoire tradition 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.
In 1979, Jeff Rovin added to the confusion with The Fantasy Encyclopedia, in which Astaroth was given Baal's likeness, including in a new illustration. This error has been repeated elsewhere, such as a Baal-like Astaroth as #102 in the Monster in My Pocket series.
Another version of the demon Baal is Beelzebub, or more accurately Ba‘al Zebûb or Ba‘al Zəbûb (Hebrew בעל-זבוב, Ba'al zvuv), who was originally the name of a deity worshipped in the Philistine city of Ekron. Ba‘al Zebûb might mean 'Lord of Zebûb', referring to an unknown place named Zebûb, a pun with 'Lord of flies', zebûb being a Hebrew collective noun meaning 'fly'. This may mean that the Hebrews were derogating the god of their enemy. Later, Christian writings referred to Ba‘al Zebûb as a demon or devil, often interchanged with Beelzebul. Either form may appear as an alternate name for Satan or may appear to refer to the name of a lesser devil. As with several religions, the names of any earlier foreign or "pagan" deities often became synonymous with the concept of an adversarial entity. The demonization of Ba‘al Zebûb led to much of the modern religious personification of Satan as the adversary of the Abrahamic God.
Some scholars have suggested that Ba'al Zebul which means 'lord prince' was deliberately changed by the worshippers of Yahweh to Ba'al Zebub ('lord of the flies') in order to ridicule and protest the worship of Ba'al Zebul. (NIV Study Bible published by Zondervan)
The words themselves had no exclusively religious connotation, just as "father" or "lord" are used in religious meaning today—but they were not used in reference between a superior and an inferior or of a master to a slave. The words were used as titles in reference to one or various gods and goddesses, either in declaration of the deity as the Lord or Lady of a particular place (or rite), or standing alone as a term of reverence.
Rabbi Meir, one of Judaism's greatest second century Tannaim is known as “רבי מאיר בעל-הנס - Rabbi Meir Baal Haneis” (“Rabbi Meir, Master of Miracles”) due to miracles he performed to save people from harm.
In medieval Judaism, a rabbi versed in mysticism was called Ba‘al Shem 'Master of the Name' with no perception of any connection with Ba‘al as a title for a pagan god. Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1698–1760) who founded the Hassidic movement, was commonly known during his later life as Ba‘al Shem Tov ("Good Master of the Name") and is still commonly called by that title today.
Ba'al is a member of the fictional alien race, the Goa'uld, portrayed by Cliff Simon in the Science-Fiction television series Stargate SG-1 who makes appearances in seasons 5 through 10. Ba'al is also featured in the Stargate SG-1, direct-to-DVD movie, Stargate Continuum as the main villain.
Baal is the Lord of Destruction, one of the three brother demons and rulers of Hell called the 'Prime Evils' in the Diablo video game series and appears as the main antagonist in Diablo II: Lord of Destruction.
In the Playstation 2 game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (and its remake Persona 3: FES) Beezlebub is the most powerful form of the Devil arcana, obtainable by completing the Tanaka Social Link.
Baal appears (along with Oribas, Gaap, Asmodeus, Astaroth, and Amon) as one of the six most powerful demon crests in the game Shadow Hearts: Covenant. It is depicted with bird-like features and sadistic illusionist tendencies by pretending to be the character's deceased daughter/wife to get him to commit suicide. Ironically, he was depicted (with the other 63 demons available) to be controlled by King Solomon.
Not directly referenced as Ba'al, but Beelzebub or 'The Lord of the Flies' was a demonic figure depicted as a sow's head planted on a stick sharpened at two ends, who speaks to the Jesus figure, Simon, in William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies.
In the role-playing game Vampire: the Masquerade, a primarily antagonistic vampire clan called the Baali are said to be somehow connected the demonic Baal, a connection reinforced by the preponderance of infernal and demonic themes present in the clan.
In the PlayStation game Grandia, Baal is the main antagonist.