Divine Overview of Baal


Ancient Baal

Baal (or more properly Ba'al) was worshiped as far back as three and a half thousand years ago among ancient Semitic tribes, such as the descendants of Shem (for those with a Biblical bent, he's believed by some religious scholars to be the oldest son of Biblical Noah) and as late as the Punic wars of the third century BCE. Some say that there are elements of Baal worship which can still be seen today in various cultures of the Middle East -- and maybe even in your own backyard.

In early Semitic languages, Baal meant "master" or "owner" -- and still even means "husband" in modern Hebrew. Thousand of years ago, Baal could also denote "sun", "lord" or "god" in its highest reverence. Baal was a common name for several small Syrian and Persian deities, but principally known as a Canaanite fertility deity. Baal was widely worshiped by another an offshoot culture spawned from the Canaanites, the Phoenicians who eventually founded a civilization based out of famed Carthage that controlled the Mediterranean for 500 years.

The words "Baal" and "Baalim"

(Early Semitic and Hebrew words -- Bá'ál; plural, Be`alîm or ba'allm)
As previously discussed, the word Baal dates back to the oldest usage of Semitic and primarily meant "possessor", "lord" or "owner" and was commonly used in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, a man could be considered the "baal" of a house, of a field, of cattle, of wealth, even of a wife. A ram was said to be "baal" of two horns, a bird "baal" of two wings.


Inscriptions supply ample evidence of the word being used in the other Semitic languages. In the Torah, the plural ba'allm or be'alîm is used with same meaning as that of the singular usage, whereas in modern translations it is used only in reference to deities.

We've always thought that we're not alone

Humans seem to easily anthropomorphize both the known world and especially the unknown (both the visible and invisible in simplistic terms). That is, we believe that the world around us thinks and acts just like us. Likely most sentient beings have similar thoughts, so this is not just a phenomenon confined to humans.

A common belief among all cultures through time has been that there are unseen beings or powers that can influence us. Anything not understood was (and still is for some) easily delegated to this other realm. These entities are not necessarily always thought of as being more powerful than us -- there are plenty of cultures with beliefs of genies and spirits fluttering about, during good and sometimes bad.

There are many theories as to how the concept (or "realization", depending upon your bias) of a god or gods came about. Some believe that the following set of steps could have been a path towards monotheism.

Springs of life-sustaining water from crevices in rock faces are often viewed as being miraculous, especially among the thirsty. People often thought, "Where does that water come from?" It's not too much of a leap of faith for early peoples to have thought that there must be some spirit or being that is the creator and owner of a water source. Another being brings wind to an area. And another brings the rains.

The term Baal eventually was being used in reference to the unseen owners of local water sources, the wind, the rains, and so forth. Eventually the belief was shared that this Baal for this river must be the same Baal for that rock face spring over there, and perhaps it's the same Baal as the one that brings the rains. A regional owner of these life-sustaining forces was soon thought of as being a regional god, a being under which humans lived and relied upon for support.

Therefore, some scholars argue that the original concept of Baal may have derived from the belief that a Baal was a local god who became the rightful owner of an area by creating and sustaining life-providing springs and streams.

Others assert that a Baal was the genius-lord of a place which provided all of the elements that cause its fecundity: "bread, water, wool, flax, oil, and drink" (Os, ii, 5; in the Hebr. text 7).

Regional Baals become a Big Baal

Through time, the word Baal retained the connotation of ownership but mainly in reference to a deity's control of an area. The term was originally applied to various local gods, but by the time of the famous fourteenth century BCE Ugarit tablets, Baal had become the Ruler of the Universe.

Special Baals

Several Baals enjoyed special attributions: as per the Biblical texts, there was a Baal of the Covenant (Bá`ál Berîth (Judges, viii, 33; ix 4); cf. 'El Berîth (ibid., ix, 46); one of the flies (Bá`ál Zebub, IV Kings, i, 2, 3, 6, 16,); there also probably was one of dance (Bá`ál Márqôd); perhaps one of medicine (Bá`ál Márphê), and so on.


Among all the Semites, the word, under one form or another (Bá`ál in the West and South; Bel in Assyria; Bal, Bol, or Bel in Palmyra) constantly recurs to express the deity's lordship over the world or at least some aspect of it.

The different Baals from various tribes, places and sanctuaries were not necessarily conceived as identical. Each might have had its own nature and its own name: the fish-like Baal of Arvad was probably Dagan; Baal, also called Hadad, is regularly denominated as "the son of Dagan" (the Biblical Dagon); the Baal of Lebanon was possibly Cid "the hunter"; and the Baal of Harran was the moon god. In several Sabean Minaean cities, and in many Canaanite, Phoenician, or Palmyrene shrines, Baal was worshiped as the Sun god, although Hadad seems to have been the chief Baal among the Syrians.

The diversity of the Old Testament intimates the many Baals by speaking of Baalim (Baal in the plural), and specifying the singular Baal either by the article or by the addition of another word.

It was believed that the fertility of the region depended upon the activity of the Baal god manifested in the autumn and winter rains and heralded by thunder. The Canaanite "lord" or Baal, was also known by the names Hadad or Rimmon, "the Thunderer". Baal was also thought to be the male principle of life and reproduction and therefore was celebrated with acts of extreme sensuality.

It is interesting to note that the term Baal-land was regarded as being distinctly different from irrigated land. These concepts have survived down to the present day in Muslim law when making tax assessment for poor relief. But it's interesting to note lots of things, isn't it.

The roots of monotheism

Some academics argue that these beliefs led to the monotheistic conception of supreme deity, the Lord of Heaven, of whom the various Baals would be different manifestations of the same deity. Some deem that the Bible favors this view, for its language frequently implies the belief of a supreme Baal.

Baal bore the titles "Rider of the Clouds", "Almighty", and "Lord of the Earth". Other interpretations have Baal as the "god of the thunderstorm, the most vigorous and aggressive of the gods, the one on whom mortals most immediately depend".


It was believed that Baal resided on Mount Zaphon, north of Ugarit, and is usually depicted holding a thunderbolt. The Ugarit tablets make him out to be chief of the Canaanite pantheon. He is the source of life and fertility, the mightiest hero, and the lord of war.

With such grand titles, there obviously there were many temples for Baal-worship in Canaan, and the name Baal was often added to that of a locality, e.g. Baal-peor, Baal-hazor, Baal-hermon. Ancient documents speak of the Baal of Tyre, of Harran, of Tarsus, of Herman, of Lebanon, of Tamar (a river south of Beirut), and of heaven.

Yahweh vs. Baal

Baal worship was prolific throughout much of the ancient Middle East. In the land of Canaan, the worship of Baal was found among the Moabites and their allies Midinites during Moses's time and was also introduced to the Israelites. The Phoenicians became the greatest seafaring culture of the time, thereby spreading the cult of Baal throughout the Mediterranean.

The Baal cult venerated Israel, and at times led to a syncretism -- a combination of different forms of belief or practice. The cult of Baal was initially widely accepted by the ancient Jews. Baal was once worshiped by the royalty of the ten Biblical tribes of Israel and by all who depended upon the sun god for the prosperity of their crops and livestock. Within the religion there appeared to be numerous priests and various classes of devotees. Ceremonies of tribute often included the burning of incense, burnt sacrificial offerings, and human sacrifice.

The practices of holy prostitution and child sacrifice were especially abhorrent to the Hebrew prophets, who denounced the cult and its temples as described in the Bible. This abhorrence probably explains the substitution of Ish-bosheth for Esh-baal, of Jerubbesheth for Jerubbaal (a name of Gideon), and of Mephibosheth for Merib-baal with the substituted term probably meaning "shame". Although heavy-handed censorship was enforced, Baal worship was never permanently stamped out.

There is some uncertainty as to the derivation of the name "Beelzebub". Note that Beelzebub is the patron god of the Philistines in ancient Palestine and is also identified with the god of Ekron, Baal-Zebub.

Some believe that the term is a deliberate mocking perversion by the Jewish religious leaders of the Canaanite Baal-Zebul ("Prince Baal"), one of the standard titles of the god Baal. In the Bible (which was derived from the Jewish Torah -- writings that were obviously aligned with Jewish interests), Beelzebub is debased as the prince of evil spirits. He is also called "Lord of the Flies", derived from the Hebrew "Baal-Zevuv".

Since Judaism became the basis for monotheistic worship in much of the world, "Beelzebub" is now synonymous with evil. In early English literature, Beelzebub becomes Satan's chief lieutenant in Milton's Paradise Lost.

The Canaanite Baal, son of El


The agricultural Canaanites celebrated the annual death and resurrection of Baal as a part of their fertility rituals. This Great Baal of Canaan was believed to be the son of El, who was considered to be their high god. Note that this Canaanite El and the early Semitic god Yahweh have a great deal in common -- it's likely no small coincidence that many Hebrew names end in el, which has the meaning of "of god" (such as "Immanuel", "Jezzebel", even "Israel").
Many other cultures, in their attempts to understand the mysteries of fertility, of the seasons and of the agricultural cycle, and have had their beliefs infused with the basic tenets of the cycle of death and resurrection.

As the sun god, Baal was fervently prayed to by these various early peoples for the protection of livestock and crops. Since Baal was responsible for droughts, plagues, and other calamities, in times of great turbulence, human sacrifices were often made to help appease the divine instigator.

Note that Baal's worshipers weren't as evil as you might have thought -- even Jehovah Himself (as per the Bible) was into the practice of human sacrifice.

There is archaeological evidence that the Canaanites of the second millennium BCE followed the custom of child sacrifice owing to excavations of a shrine near the city of Gezer which has yielded clay jars containing the charred bones of babies.

The Phoenicians, up to the second century BCE, still practiced child sacrifice -- which gave ancient Rome a considerable moral advantage to muster the troupes in stamping out the "uncivilized" child-killers of Carthage. Today, a typical visit to the remains of Carthage will include the child cemetery.

Note that the Celts, as indigenous peoples in Britain, were engaged in sacrifice (where apparently the victims were willing participants), right up to the Roman conquests, just as the Inca were during the Spanish conquest.


Resurrection Smesurrection

Other cultures that worshiped resurrection included the Egyptians (with the Pharaohs), the Greeks (with Hercules), and obviously the Christians (with Joshua [now known as Jesus] -- note that it's no accident that Easter happens to fall during the spring, when the lands are resurrected to life via the rains).

Speaking of resurrection, did you know that in the third century BCE, many Greeks worshiped Hercules, who was believed to have been born of the union of Zeus and a human mother, was put on Earth to undergo various trials, died, descended to Hades for 3 days, and then was resurrected to sit at the right hand of Zeus on Mt. Olympus. Sound familiar? Ask Paul of Tarsus about this -- some believe he fell off his ass on the road to Damascus one day and, well, started a new religion with a little help from Greek storytelling.

Human sacrifices

As another aside, there are possible deep-routed anthropological reasons for human sacrifice from the nomadic days of prehistory, similar perhaps to that of the animal world. Human sacrifice was not uncommon among ancient cultures where the culling of the unfit or excessive numbers of children was necessary for the greater good of the tribe. Indeed, some nomadic cultures today still practice some forms of sacrifice, where the sick, aged and prolific children (essentially those who cannot be properly fed and cared for above and beyond a bare minimum) are left for dead instead of becoming a burden to the entire group. This cruel logic ensures that a tribe's limited resources are spread amongst those most fit to survive the harsh reality of nomadism.

Elements of human sacrifice surface in Biblical stories. One chapter of Genesis recounts that Jehovah commanded Abraham to slay his eight-year old son Isaac, but stayed Abraham's hand at the last moment and asked him to slaughter a ram instead. Religious interpretations explain the episode as a test of Abraham's faith, but some scholars interpret the story as evidence that human sacrifice as a religious practice was not beyond the patriarchs' acceptance. Note that the God of the New Testament "sacrificed his only begotten son for the good of mankind". Taking this interpretation metaphorically undermines the entire essence of the Christian myth of the Resurrection.

Baal, Executive God of the Pantheon

Baal, one of the sons of El (the chief god of the Canaanites), was the executive god of the pantheon, the god of thunder and winter storms, and the dynamic warrior god who championed the divine order against the menacing forces of chaos.

Baal is also identified with vegetation and the seasonal fertility cycle. However, little evidence exists in the famous Ras Shamra texts of the sexual license, the sympathetic magic aspects of the cult to secure the productivity of Nature, that the Bible writers found so abhorrent.

On the contrary there is ample evidence that some of the aspects of Yahweh reflected aspects of Baal as the Divine King, in the destruction of the sea-serpent Leviathan and the concept of everlasting kingly dominion; even some of the liturgical language is strikingly similar, like the wording of Psalm 68: "To him that ridith upon the heavens of heavens, his strength in the clouds", and so on.

Baal is sometimes called the "son of Dagon", who was the god of corn. As the summer drew to an end, the cultivators anxiously awaited the rains. By calling upon Baal, the rain god, and encouraging his intervention by rituals of imitative magic involving sexual union, their tensions were released and purged.

Baal's lady-friend Anat


Both Baal and his cohort Ashtoreth (or Astarte, who is equivalent to the Greek goddess Aphrodite), were both Phoenician fertility symbols. The goddess most associated with Baal is Anat, who like Ishtar, was a goddess of love and war. She complements Baal, abetting him in his conflict and vindicating him when he succumbs, possibly reflecting the role of women at the critical seasons of transition in popular religion or when the order of the gods is temporarily in eclipse. Related to such phases is certainly the weeping of the women in Jerusalem for Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14) and possibly the annual lamentation of the maidens of Israel, which may be only secondarily related to the mourning for Jephthah's daughter (Judges 11-39-40).