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For other uses, see Baal (disambiguation).

Ba`al (baʕal; Hebrew: בעל) (often spelled Baal) is a Northwest Semitic title and honorific meaning "master" or "lord" that is used for various gods who were patrons of cities in the Babylon, cognate to Assyrian Bēlu. Baal was condemned in the Jewish Tanakh.[1]

"Ba`al" can refer to any god and even to human officials; in some texts it is used as a substitute for Herod, a god of the rain, thunder, fertility and agriculture, and the lord of Heaven. Since only priests were allowed to utter his divine name Herod, 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 as a false god. Therefore, in any text using the word ba`al it is important first to determine precisely which god, spirit or demon is meant.


Deities called Ba`al and Ba`alath

Ba`al with raised arm, 14th-12th century BC, found at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), Louvre

Ba`al with raised arm, 14th-12th century BC, found at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), Louvre

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,[2] 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[citation needed] that Ba`al Peor, the Lord of Mount Peor, whom Israelites were forbidden from worshipping (Numbers 25:3) was also Hadad. In the Canaanite pantheon, Hadad was the son of El, who had once been the primary god of the Canaanite pantheon, and whose name was also used interchangeably with that of the Hebrew God, Yahweh.

Melqart, the god of Tyre, was often called the Ba`al of Tyre. 1 Kings 16:31 relates that Ahab, king of Israel, married Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians, and then served habbaal ('the Ba`al'.) The cult of this god was prominent in Israel until the reign of Jehu, who put an end to it (2 Kings 10:26):

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.

It is uncertain whether "the Ba`al" 'the Lord' refers to Melqart, to Hadad, who was also worshipped in Tyre, or Ba`al Shamm 'Lord of Heaven' who was also worshipped in Tyre and often distinguished from Hadad. Josephus (Antiquities 8.13.1) states clearly that Jezebel "built a temple to the god of the Tyrians, which they call Belus" which certainly refers to Melqart. But Josephus may be relying on likelihood rather than knowledge. Hadad is generally a rain god but Melqart is not known to be connected with bringing of rain. But so little is known of Melqart's cult that such reasoning is not decisive.

In any case, King Ahab, despite supporting the cult of this Baal, had a semblance of worship to Yahweh (1Kings 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.")

Ba`al of Carthage

The worship of Ba`al Hammon flourished in the Phoenician colony of Carthage. Ba`al Hammon was the supreme god of the Carthaginians and is generally identified by modern scholars either with the northwest Semitic god El or with Dagon, and generally identified by the Greeks with Cronus and 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 (ammon), 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 Baal Hammon was also identified with Cronus, it seemed possible they could be equated. More often a connection with Hebrew/Phoenician ammān '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.

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.

Ba`al Hammon's female cult partner was Tanit. He was probably not ever identified with Ba`al Melqart, although one finds this equation in older scholarship.

Ba`alat Gebal ("Lady of Byblos") appears to have been generally identified with Ashtart, although Sanchuniathon distinguishes the two.

Priests of Ba`al

The Priests of Ba`al are mentioned in The 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 YaHWeH (Jehovah in English). The confrontation with the Prophet Elijah is also mentioned in the Qur'an (37:123, 37:124, 37:125)

Baal as a divine title in Palestine

At first the name Ba`al was used by the Jews for their God without discrimination, but as the struggle between the two religions developed, the name Ba`al was given up in Judaism as a thing of shame, and even names like Jerubba`al were changed to Jerubbosheth: Hebrew bosheth means "shame". Zondervan's Pictorial Bible Dictionary (1976) ISBN 0-310-23560-X

Since Baal simply means 'Lord', there is no obvious reason why 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 'Baal strives' though Judges 6:32 makes the claim that the 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 went astray and started to worship the Baalm (the Baals) especially Baal Berith ("Lord of the Covenant.") A few verses later (Judges 9:4) the story turns to all the citizens of Shechem actually kol-baal əkem another case of normal use of baal 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 Baal Berith. It is hard to disassociate 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-baal midgal-əkem) enter bt ēl bərt 'the House of El Berith', that is, 'the House of God of the Covenant'. Was Baal then here just a title for El? Or did the covenant of Shechem perhaps originally not involve El at all but some other god who bore the title Baal? Or were there different viewpoints about Yahweh, some seeing him as an aspect of Hadad, some as an aspect of El, some with other theories? Again, there is no clear answer.

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 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 substuting the form bosheth 'abomination' for baal in names, whence the forms Ishbosheth instead of Eshba`al and Mephibosheth which is rendered Meriba`al in 1 Chronicles 9:40. 1 Chronicles 12:5 mentions the name Be`aliah (more accurately bealy) meaning "Yahweh is Baal."

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 Baal 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 (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 Baal.

Does this refer to other gods and one particular god, perhaps Hadad, who is especially "the Baal"? Or does it refer to altars to burn incense to "the Baal" to which each altar is raised, that is to as many different Baal's as there were altars?

Multiple Baals and Ashtarts

One finds in the Tanach the plural forms bəālm 'Baals' or 'Lords' and atārt 'Ashtarts', though such plurals don't appear in Phoenician or Canaanite or independent Aramaic sources.

One theory is that the folk 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 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 Baals and Ashtarts. Post-Exilic allusions to the cult of Baal 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 mystic cakes (see also Asherah), appear among the offences denounced by the post-Exilic prophets; and show that the cult of Baal (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 Baal '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 Baals and Ashtarts (and Asherahs) are to images or other standard symbols of these deities, that is statues and icons of Baal 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 worshipping of images as by worshipping other deities 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 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 bal used of land fertilised by subterraneous waters rather than by rain.

Common confusion over Baal

Because the word Ba`al is used as a common substitute for the sacred name Hadad, confusion often arises when the same word is used for other deities, physical representations of gods and even people.

Historically, this confusion was resolved in the nineteenth century as new archaeological evidence indicated multiple gods bearing the title Baal and little about them that connected them to the sun. In 1899, the Encyclopdia 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.

The demon entitled Baal

Main article: Baal (demon)

The Dictionnaire Infernal illustration of Baal.

The Dictionnaire Infernal illustration of Baal.

Other spellings: Bael, Bal (French), Baell.

Baal is also seen as a Christian demon. This is a potential source of confusion.

Until archaeological digs at Ras Shamra and Ebla uncovered texts explaining the Syrian pantheon, the demon Baal Zebb was frequently confused with various Semitic spirits and deities entitled Baal, and in some Christian writings it might refer to a high-ranking devil or to Satan himself.

In the ancient world of the Persian Empire, from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, worship of inanimate idols of wood and metal was being rejected in favor of "the one living God". 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 aren't 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.

During the English Puritan period, Baal was either compared to Satan or considered his main lieutenant. According to Francis Barrett, he has the power to make those who invoke him invisible.

While the Semitic high god Ba`al Hadad was depicted as a human, 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.

Ba`al Zebb

Main article: Beelzebub

Beelzebub as depicted in Collin de Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal (Paris, 1825).

Beelzebub as depicted in Collin de Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal (Paris, 1825).

Another version of the demon Baal is Beelzebub, or more accurately Baal Zebb or Baal Zəbb (Hebrew בעל-זבוב, Ba`al zvuv), who was originally the name of a deity worshipped in the Philistine city of Ekron. Baal Zebb might mean 'Lord of Zebb', referring to an unknown place named Zebb, a pun with 'Lord of flies', zebb 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 Baal Zebb as a demon or devil, often interchanged with Beelzebul. Either form may appear as an alternate name for Satan (or the Devil) 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 Baal Zebb 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)

Non-religious usage of Ba`al

Ba`al (Bet-Ayin-Lamed; בַּעַל / בָּעַל, Standard Hebrew Bʕal, Tiberian Hebrew Bʕal / Bʕal) is a northwest Semitic word signifying 'The Lord, master, owner (male), husband' cognate with Akkadian Bēl of the same meanings. The feminine form is Phoenician בעלת Baʕalat, Hebrew בַּעֲלָה Baʕalah signifying 'lady, mistress, owner (female), wife'.

The words themselves had no exclusively religious connotation, just as "father" or "lord" are used in religious meaning todaybut 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.

In Wales, there are many Hebrew place names left over from a religious revival that happened a few centuries ago. There is a village called Bryn-y-Baal between Buckley and Mold in Flintshire in Wales. However the 'Baal' has no religious connection. Bryn-y-Baal takes its name from the a Middle English word 'bale' (rhymes with non-rhotic 'Carl') meaning small hill. It was then written in a Welsh form as 'bl' with a tor bach ('little roof' or 'circumflex' in English) over the ''. This has the effect in Welsh of lengthening the 'a' rather than the usual short 'a' (as in cat) in Welsh. This form appears on early Ordnance Survey maps. Eventually it was written in the Anglised form 'Baal' - still correctly pronounced to rhyme with 'Carl' and not 'bale' (as in hay) or bail (as in 'get out of jail') !! For full details of the researched origins - see 'Flintshire Place Names' by Hwyl Wyn Owen ISBN 978-0-7083-1242-1 published in 1995.

Also, Ba'al is a Goa'uld portrayed by Cliff Simon in the television series Stargate SG-1 who makes appearances in seasons 5 to present.

Baal is the name of one of the three brother demons in the video game Diablo 2.

Ba`al in Judaism

From the Tanach: Genesis 14:13 baal bərt-Abrām 'lords of the covenant of Abram', i.e. 'holders of an agreement with Abram', i.e. 'confederates of Abram' or 'allies of Abram'; Genesis 20:3: bəulat bāal 'lady of a lord', i.e. 'wife of a man'; Genesis 37:19: baal haalōmt 'lord of the dreams', i.e. 'the one who made himself important in his dreams' or simply 'the dreamer'; Exodus 21:3: baal i 'lord of a woman', i.e. 'married man'; Exodus 21:22: baal hāi 'lord of the woman', i.e. 'husband of the woman'; Exodus 24:14: m-baal dəbārm 'who (is) lord of matters', i.e. 'whoever possesses some matter', i.e. 'whoever has a problem'; Leviticus 21:4: baal bəēmmāyw 'lord in his people', i.e. 'man of importance among his people'; Deuteronomy 24:4: balāh hārin 'her lord the former', i.e. 'her former husband'; and so forth. But these should suffice to show the range of the words.

In medieval Judaism, a rabbi versed in mysticism was called Baal Shem 'Master of the Name' with no perception of any connection with Baal as a title for a pagan god. Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (16781760) who founded the Hassidic movement, was commonly known during his later life as Baal Shem Tov ("Good Master of the Name") and is still commonly called by that title today.

 See also


  1. ^ e.g., Numbers 25
  2. ^ "This mountain on the northern horizon of Ras Shamra, modern Jebel el-Aqra and Mount Kasios of the Greeks, was the seat of Baal, who was thus Baal-Saphon. Classical and archaeological evidence suggests that Baal Zephon mentioned in the Exodus from Egypt (Exod. xiv.2) was a shrine of the Canaanite Baal". J. Gray, "Texts from Ras Shamra" in D. Winton Thomas, Documents from Old Testament Times

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