Baal, Baalim

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Catholic Encyclopedia
Definition: Baal, Baalim

Baal, Baalim
(Hebrew Bá'ál; plural, Be`alîm.)
A word which belongs to the oldest stock of the Semite vocabulary and primarily means "lord", "owner". So in Hebrew, a man is styled baal of a house (Ex., xxii, 7: Judges, xix, 22), of a field (Job, xxi, 39), of cattle (Ex., xxi, 28; Isa., i, 3) of wealth (Eccles, v, 12), even of a wife (Ex, xxi, 3; cf. Gen., iii, 16). The women's position in the Oriental home explains why she is never called Bá`alah of her husband). So also we read of a ram, "baal" of two horns (Dan, viii, 6, 20), of a baal of two wings (i.e. fowl: Eccles., x, 20). Joseph was scornfully termed by his brother a baal of dreams (Gen., xxxvii, 19). And so on. (See IV Kings, i, 8: Isa., xli, 15; Gen., xlix, 23; Ex., xxiv, 14, etc.) Inscriptions afford scores of evidence of the word being similarly used in the other Semitic languages. In the Hebrew Bible, the plural, be`alîm, is found with the various meanings of the singular; whereas in ancient and modern translations it is used only as a referring deities. It has been asserted by several commentators that by baalim the emblems or images of Baal (hámmanîm, máççebhôth, etc.) should be understood. This view is hardly supported by the texts, which regularly points out, sometimes contemptuously, the local or other special Baals.


When applied to a deity, the word Baal retained its connotation of ownership, and was, therefore, usually qualified. The documents speak, for instance, of the Baal of Tyre, of Harran, of Tarsus, of Herman, of Lebanon of Tamar (a river south of Beirut), of heaven. Moreover, several Baals enjoyed special attributions: 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 im Palmyra) constantly recurs to express the deity's lordship over the world or some part of it. Not were all the Baals -- of different tribes, places, sanctuaries -- necessarily conceived as identical; each one might have his own nature and his own name; the partly fish shaped Baal of Arvad was probably Dagon; the Baal of Lebanon, possible Cid "the hunter"; the Baal of Harran, the moongod; whereas in several Sabean Minaean cities, and in many Chanaanite, Phoenician, or Palmyrene shrines, the sun was the Baal worshiped, although Hadad seems to have been the chief Baal among the Syrians. The diversity of the Old Testament intimates by speaking of Baalim, in the plural, and specifying the singular Baal either by the article or by the addition of another word.

What the original conception was is most obscure. According to W.R. Smith, the Baal is a local God who, by fertilizing his own district through springs and streams, becomes its lawful owner. Good authorities, nevertheless, oppose this view, and reversing the above argument, hold that the Baal is the genius-lord of the place and of all the elements that cause its fecundity; it is he who gives "bread, water, wool, flax, oil, and drink" (Os, ii, 5; in the Hebr. text 7); he is the male principle of life and reproduction in nature, and such is sometimes honored by acts of the foulest sensuality. Whether or not this idea sprang from, and led to the monotheistic conception of supreme deity, the Lord of Heaven, of whom the various Baals would be so many manifestations, we shall leave to scholars to decide. Some deem that the bible favours this view, for its language frequently seems to imply the belief in a Baal par excellence.


The evidence is hardly of such weight as to justify us in speaking of a worship of Baal. The Baal-worship so often alluded to and described in Holy Writ might, perhaps, be better styled, Çid-worship, moon-worship, Melek (Moloch)-worship, or Hadad-worship, according to places and circumstances. Many of the practices mentioned were most probable common to the worship of all the Baals; a few others are certainly specific.

A custom common among Semites should be noticed here. Moved, most likely, by the desire to secure the protection of the local Baal for their children, the Semites always showed a preference for names compounded with that of the deity; those of Hasdrubal (`Azrû Bá`ál), Hannibal (Hanni Bá`ál), Baltasar, or Belshazzar (Bel-sar-Ushshur), have become famous in history. Scores of such names belonging to different nationalities are recorded in the Bible, and in ancient writers, and in inscriptions.

The worship of Baal was performed in the sacred precincts of the high places so numerous throughout the country (Num., xxii, 41; xxxiii, 52; Deut., xii, 2, etc) or in temples like those of Samaria (III Kings, xvi, 32; IV Kings, x, 21-27) and Jerusalem (IV Kings, xi, 18), even on the terraced roofs of the houses (IV Kings, xxiii, 12; Jer., xxxii, 29). The furniture of these sanctuaries probably varied with the Baals honored there. Near the altar which existed everywhere (Judges, vi 25; III Kings, xviii, 26; IV Kings, xi, 18; Jer., xi, 13, etc.), might be found, according to the particular place, either an image of the deity (Hadad was symbolized by a calf), or the bætylion (i.e. sacred stone, regularly cone-shaped in Chanaan) supposed to have been originally intended to represent the world, abode of the god; of the hammanim (very possible sunpillars; Lev., xxvi, 30; II Par., xxiv, 4, etc.), and asherah (wrongly interpreted grove in our Bibles; Judges, vi, 25; III Kings, xiv, 23; IV Kings, xvii, 10; Jer., xvii, 2 etc.), a sacred pole, sometimes, possible, a tree, the original signification of which is far from clear, together with votive or commemorative stella (máççebhôth, usually mistranslated images), more or less ornamented. There incense and perfumes were burned (IV Kings, xxii, 5; Jer., vii, 9, xi, 13, and according to the Hebrew, xxxii, 29), libations poured (Jer., xix, 13), and sacrifices of oxen and other animals offered up to the Baal; we hear even (Jer., vii, 31;xix, 5;xxxii, 35; II Par., xxviii 3) that children of both sexes were not infrequently burned in sacrifice to Melek (D. V. Moloch, A.V. Molech), and II Par., xxviii, 3 (perhaps also IV Kings, xxi, 6 ) tells us that young princes were occasionally chosen as victims to this stern deity. In several shrines long trains of priests, distributed into several classes (III Kings, xviii, 19; IV Kings, x, 19; xxiii, 5; Soph., i, 4, etc.) and clad in special attire (IV Kings, x, 22) performed the sacred function; they prayed, shouted to the Baal, led dances around the altar, and in their frenzied excitement cut themselves with knives and lancets, till they were all covered with blood (III Kings, xviii, 26-28). In the meantime the lay worshipers also prayed, kneeling, and paid their homage by kissing the images or symbols of the Baal (III Kings, xix, 18; Os., xiii, 2, Hebr.), or even their own hands. To this should be added the immoral practices indulged in at several shrines (III Kings, xiv, 24; IV Kings, xxiii, 7; cf. Deut., xxiii, 18) in honor of the Baal as male of reproduction, and of his mate Asherah (D.V. Astarthe, A. V. Ashtaroth).


Nothing could be more fatal to a spiritual faith than this sensual religion. In fact, no sooner than the Israelites, coming forth from the wilderness, been brought into contact with the Baal-worshipers, than they were, through the guile of the Madianites, and the attractions of the licentious worship offered to the Moabitish deity (probably Chamos), easily seduced from their allegiance to Yahweh (Num., xxv, 1-9). Henceforth the name of Beelphegor remained like a dark spot on the early history of Israel {Os., ix, 10; Ps. ev (In the Hebr. cvi), 28}. The terrible punishment inflicted upon the guilty sobered for awhile the minds of the Hebrews. How long the impression lasted we are hardly able to tell; but this we know, that when they had settled in the Promised Land, the Israelites, again forsaking the One True God, paid their homage to the deities of their Chanaanite neighbors (Judges, ii, 11, 13 etc.). Even the best families could not, or did not dare, resist the seduction, Gedon's father, for instant, albeit his faith in his Baal seems to have been somewhat lukewarm (Judges, vi, 31), had erected an idolatrous altar in Ephra (Judges, vi, 25). "And the Lord, being angry against Israel, delivered them into the hands of their enemies that dwelt round about." Mesopotamians, Madianites, Amalecites, Ammonites, and, above all, Philistines, were successively the providential avengers of God's disregarded rights.

During the warlike reigns of Saul and David, the Israelites as a whole thought little of shaking Yahweh's yoke; such also was, apparently, the situation under Solomon's rule, although the example given by this prince must have told deplorably upon his subjects. After the division of his empire, the Northern Kingdom, first led by its rulers to an unlawful worship of Yahweh, sank speedily into the grossest Chanaanite superstitions. This was the more easy because certain customs, it seems, brought about confusion in the clouded minds of the uneducated portion of the people. Names like Esbaal (I Par., viii, 33; ix, 39), Meribbaal (I Par., viii, 34; ix, 40), Baaliada (I Par., xiv, 7), given by Saul, Johnathen, and David to their sons, suggest that Yahweh was possibly spoken of as Baal. The fact has been disputed; but the existence of such a name as Baalia ( i.e. "Yahweh is Baal", I Par., xii, 5) and the affirmation of Osee (ii, 16) are arguments that cannot be slighted. True, the word was used later on only in reference to idolatrous worship, and even deemed so obnoxious that bosheth, shame, was frequently substituted for it in compound proper names, thus giving, for instance, such inoffensive forms as Elioda (II Kings, v, 16), Yerubbesheth (II Kings, xi, 21, Hebr.)., Isboseth (II Kings, ii, 10) and elsewhere, Miphiboseth (II Kings, ix, 6; xxi, 8); but these corrections were due to a spirit which did not prevail until centuries after the age with which we shall presently deal.

Achab's accession to the throne of Israel inaugurated a new era, that of the official worship. Married to a Sidonian princess, Jezebel, the king erected to the Baal of her native city (Cid or Melkart) a temple (III Kings, xvi, 31, 32) in which a numerous body of priests officiated (III Kings, xviii, 19). To what a forlorn state the true faith in the Northern Kingdom fell Elias relates to III Kings, xix, 10, 14: The children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant: they have thrown down thy altars, they have slain thy prophets with the sword. There remained but seven thousand men whose knees had not been bowed before Baal (III Kings, xix, 18). Ochozias, son of Achab and Jezebel, followed in his parents footsteps (III Kings, xxii, 54) and although Joram, his brother and successor, took away the maccebhoth set up by his father, the Baal-worship was not stamped out of Samaria (IV Kings, iii, 2, 3) until its adherents were slaughtered and its temple destroyed at the command of Jehu (IV Kings, x, 18-28). Violent as this repression was, it hardly survived the prince who had undertaken it. The annals of the reigns of his successors witness to the religious corruption again prevailing; and the author of IV Kings could sum up this sad history in the following few words: They forsook all the precepts of the Lord their God: and made to themselves two molten calves, and groves [asherah], and adored all the host of heaven : and they served Baal. And consecrated their sons, and their daughters through fire: and they gave themselves to divination, and sooth sayings: and they delivered themselves to do evil before the Lord, to provoke him. And the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from his sight . . . . and Israel was carried away out of their land to Assyria, unto this day. (IV Kings, xvii, 16-18, 23).

Meanwhile the kingdom of Juda fared no better. There, also, the princes, far from checking the drift of the people to idolatry, were their instigators and abettors. Established by Joram (IV Kings, viii, 18), probably at the suggestion of Athalia his wife, who was the daughter of Achab and Jezebel, the Phoenician worship was continued by Ochozias (IV Kings, viii, 27). We know from IV Kings, xi, 18 that a temple had been dedicated to Baal (very likely to Baal honored in Samaria) in the Holy City, either by one of these princes or Athalia. At the latter's death, this temple was destroyed by the faithful people and its furniture broken to pieces (IV Kings, xi, 18; II Par., xxiii, 17). If this reaction did not crush utterly the Baal-worship in Juda, it left very little of it alive, since, for over a century, no case of idolatry is recorded by the sacred writers. In the reign of Achaz, however, we find the evil not only flourishing again, but countenanced by public authority. But a change has taken place in Juda's idolatry; instead of the Sidonian Baal, Melek (Moloch), the cruel diety of the Ammonites, had become the people's favorite (II Par., xxviii, 2; IV Kings, xvi, 3, 4). His barbarous rites rooted out Ezechias, appeared again with the support of Manasses, by whose influence the Assyro-Babylonian astral deities were added to the Pathenon of the Judean idolaters (IV Kings, xxiii, 4, 5) produced no lasting results, and after his death the various superstitions in vogue held sway until "the Lord cast out from his face Juda and Jerusalem" (IV Kings, xxiii, 32, 37; xxiv, 9, 19, and elsewhere).

The Babylonians invasions dealt to the Baal-worship in Palestine a deadly blow. At the restoration Israel shall be Yahweh s people, and He their God (Exech., xiv, 11), and Baal will become altogether a thing of the past.

Selden, De diis syris (1617); Gigot, Biblical Lectures (Baltimore, 1901), V; Id., Outlines Of Jewish History (New York 1905); PEAKES in HASTINGS, Dict. bible, s.v. Baal; THATCHER, ibid., s.v. Phoenicia; OTTLEY, The Religion Of Israel (Cambridge, 1905): SAYCE, The Gods Of Canan, in Contemporary Review for Sept., 1883; W.R. Smith, The Religion Of The Semites (Edinburgh, 1889); BOURQUENOU ET DUTAC, Etudes archeologiques in Etudes Religieuses (1864-1866); LAGRANGE, Etudes sur les religions semitiques (Pairs, 1903); MASPERO, Histoire ancienne des peuples de l'Orient classique (Paris, 1898); REVILLE, La religion des Pheniciens in Revue des deux mondes, for 15 May 1873; TIELE, La religion phenicienne, in Revue de l'histoire des religions (1881), III; VIGOUROUX in Dict. de las bible, s.v. Baal; Id., La bible et les decouvertes modernes (Paris, 1889), III; Id., Les pretres de Baal et leurs successeurs dans l'antiquite et dans le tempra present, in Revue bibilique for April (1896); DE VOGUE, Melanges d'archelogie orientale (Paris 1868); BATHGEN, Beitrage zur semitisches Religionsgeschichte (Berlin, 1888); BAUDISSIN, Studien zur semitischen Religionsgeschichte (1876-78); Id., in HERZOG Realencyklopadie, s.v. Baal und Bel; MARTI, Geschichte der israelitiechen, Religion (1897); MEYER, Ueber einige semitische Gotter, in Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft (1877); MOVERS, Die Phonizier (1841-56); OORT, Dienst des Baal in Israel (Leyden, 1864); SCHRADER, Baal und Bel, in Theologische Studien und Kritiken (1874); SMEND, Lehrbuch der alttestamentlischen Religionsgeschichte (Greiburg, Leipzig, 1893, 1899)
For use of the plural (Baalim), DRIVER, Notes on the Hebrew Text of the Books of Samuel, on I Sam., vii, 3; BURNEY, Notes on the Hebrew Text of the Books of Kings, on I (III), xviii 18.
Transcribed by Beth Ste-Marie
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II
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