Ba’al, Bel

One of the ongoing themes of the Bible is the disparagement of Baal worship.

Doing a search on Baal (in the Bible at the link up above under “Bible”) gives:

Bible Search Results 1 – 15 of about 144 for Baal. Search took 0.13 seconds.

2 Chronicles 23:17 All the people went to the temple of Baal and tore it down. They smashed the altars
and idols and killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of the altars. …
// – 19k

2 Kings 10:23 Then Jehu and Jehonadab son of Rekab went into the temple of Baal. … Then Jehu
went into the temple of Baal with Jehonadab son of Recab. …
// – 20k

2 Kings 10:27 They demolished the sacred stone of Baal and tore down the temple of
Baal, and people have used it for a latrine to this day. …
// – 18k

1 Kings 16:32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. …
First Ahab built a temple and an altar for Baal in Samaria. …
// – 18k

2 Kings 10:21 Then he sent word throughout Israel, and all the servants of Baal came;
not one stayed away. They crowded into the temple of Baal …
// – 20k

Jeremiah 19:5 They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings
to Baal–something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my …
// – 19k

2 Samuel 5:20 So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. He … So David went
to Baal-perazim and defeated the Philistines there. “The …
// – 21k

Deuteronomy 4:3 You saw with your own eyes what the LORD did at Baal Peor. The … “You saw
for yourself what the LORD did to you at Baal-peor. There …
// – 18k

Joshua 13:17 to Heshbon and all its towns on the plateau, including
Dibon, Bamoth Baal, Beth Baal Meon …
// – 17k

1 Chronicles 9:40 The son of Jonathan: Merib-Baal, who was the father of Micah. … Jonathan was the
father of Merib-baal. Merib-baal was the father of Micah. …
// – 17k

1 Chronicles 8:34 The son of Jonathan: Merib-Baal, who was the father of Micah. … Jonathan was the
father of Merib-baal. Merib-baal was the father of Micah. …
// – 17k

Judges 6:32 So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name
Jerub-Baal that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him …
// – 18k

1 Chronicles 14:11 So David and his men went up to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. … So David
and his troops went up to Baal-perazim and defeated the Philistines there. …
// – 20k

1 Kings 22:53 He served and worshiped Baal and aroused the anger of the LORD,
the God of Israel, just as his father had done. …
// – 18k

Hosea 13:1 When Ephraim spoke, people trembled; he was exalted in …
… But he became guilty of Baal worship and died. … But the people of Ephraim sinned
by worshiping Baal and thus sealed their destruction. …
// – 17k

So just who was this Baal, and why get so worked up about him? And what’s a “Baal Perazim” or a “Jerub-Ball” or “Merib-Baal”?

In the formative stages of Israel’s history, the presence of Baal names did not necessarily mean apostasy or even syncretism. The judge Gideon was also named Jerubbaal (Judges 6:32), and King Saul had a son named Ishbaal (I Chronicles 8:33). For those early Hebrews, “Baal” designated the Lord of Israel, just as “Baal” farther north designated the Lord of Lebanon or of Ugarit. What made the very name Baal anathema to the Israelites was the program of Jezebel, in the 9th century bc, to introduce into Israel her Phoenician cult of Baal in opposition to the official worship of Yahweh (I Kings 18). By the time of the prophet Hosea (mid-8th century bc) the antagonism to Baalism was so strong that the use of the term Baal was often replaced by the contemptuous boshet (“shame”); in compound proper names, for example, Ishbosheth replaced the earlier Ishbaal.

So in those compound names above, it isn’t the god Ba’al, it’s “Lord Perazim” or “Jerub-Lord” or “Merib-Lord”. OK, right off the bat we now know that when seeing “Baal” in a name, it might have a religious meaning, or it might just be a status honorific, and “when” it was said matters. Before or after the 9th century B.C. It is specifically the Phoenician Baal that got everyone in a tizzy.

So where did the Phoenicians get their Baal? And how does he connect to the others?

Turns out that Baal Worship was pretty much universal in Semitic peoples from Sumeria to Carthage. It also gets pretty complex. First off we have that “Lord” meaning, so some inscriptions or clay tablets might be talking about a local chieftain and if you don’t read it right or know the players, might get that confused with a local god. Second, there’s the tendency for lots of old Sumerian cities to have their own god. Each one might be called Baal, as in Baal of Babylon vs Baal of Akkad. The “Lord of {City}” or the “Lord of {Nation}”.

Then it gets even a bit more complicated, since the Baal of Babylon might be spread over Akkad if / when Babylon beat up Akkad. In some cases a national Baal got spread over very large areas and could even end up being mapped onto other “gods” and lose the connection to “Lord”…

Baal, god worshiped in many ancient Middle Eastern communities, especially among the Canaanites, who apparently considered him a fertility deity and one of the most important gods in the pantheon. As a Semitic common noun baal (Hebrew baʿal) meant “owner” or “lord,” although it could be used more generally; for example, a baal of wings was a winged creature, and, in the plural, baalim of arrows indicated archers. Yet such fluidity in the use of the term baal did not prevent it from being attached to a god of distinct character. As such, Baal designated the universal god of fertility, and in that capacity his title was Prince, Lord of the Earth. He was also called the Lord of Rain and Dew, the two forms of moisture that were indispensable for fertile soil in Canaan. In Ugaritic and Old Testament Hebrew, Baal’s epithet as the storm god was He Who Rides on the Clouds. In Phoenician he was called Baal Shamen, Lord of the Heavens.

Which oddly connects us back to Amun / Amen who was the unseen god of the air, sky, heavens, and the hidden sun. I’m sure it was just an accidental connection. At least I hope it was. Given that Amen then connects on to YHWH as the unseen God, there is the potential that these folks were both looking to worship the unseen God of the Air and Heavens, just under different names and from a slightly different history. It’s more likely that Baal Shamen had the usual statues and all and was just a local Baal for Phoenicians, but still… there’s a whole lot of getting pissy about not that much going on.

There is also some indication that the Ancients were aware of the tendency for things to cycle on about a 10 year span. In their case, 14 years as either of two 7 year states.

Knowledge of Baal’s personality and functions derives chiefly from a number of tablets uncovered from 1929 onward at Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra), in northern Syria, and dating to the middle of the 2nd millennium bc. The tablets, although closely attached to the worship of Baal at his local temple, probably represent Canaanite belief generally. Fertility was envisaged in terms of seven-year cycles. In the mythology of Canaan, Baal, the god of life and fertility, locked in mortal combat with Mot, the god of death and sterility. If Baal triumphed, a seven-year cycle of fertility would ensue; but, if he were vanquished by Mot, seven years of drought and famine would ensue.

Just to note in passing, Ugarit and the Ugaritic language have a very important place in ancient interpretation. As Ugaritic was written with vowels, we can often clarify what was meant in some Biblical verses where other copies in Aramaic do not indicate what vowel is correct.

The Ugaritic language, a Northwest Semitic language, discovered by French archaeologists in 1928, is known almost only in the form of writings found in the ruined city of Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra), Syria. It has been used by scholars of the Old Testament to clarify Biblical Hebrew texts and has revealed ways in which ancient Israelite culture finds parallels in the neighboring cultures.

Ugaritic has been called “the greatest literary discovery from antiquity since the deciphering of the Egyptian hieroglyphs and Mesopotamian cuneiform”.
The Ugaritic language is attested in texts from the 14th through the 12th century BC. The city was destroyed in 1180–1170 BC.

Literary texts discovered at Ugarit include the Legend of Keret, the Aqhat Epic (or Legend of Danel), the Myth of Baal-Aliyan, and the Death of Baal – the latter two are also collectively known as the Baal cycle – all revealing aspects of a Canaanite religion.

According to one hypothesis, Ugaritic texts might solve the biblical puzzle of the anachronism of Ezekiel mentioning Daniel at Ezekiel 14:13-16; it is because in both Ugaritic and the Ancient Hebrew texts, it is correctly Danel.

Cyrus Cylinder

Cyrus Cylinder

Original Image
Back View

The Cyrus Cylinder (Persian: منشور کوروش‎) is an ancient clay cylinder, now broken into several fragments, on which is written a declaration in Akkadian cuneiform script in the name of the Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great. It dates from the 6th century BC and was discovered in the ruins of Babylon in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in 1879. It is currently in the possession of the British Museum, which sponsored the expedition that discovered the cylinder. It was created and used as a foundation deposit following the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, when the Neo-Babylonian Empire was invaded by Cyrus and incorporated into his Persian Empire.

The text on the Cylinder praises Cyrus, sets out his genealogy and portrays him as a king from a line of kings. The Babylonian king Nabonidus, who was defeated and deposed by Cyrus, is denounced as an impious oppressor of the people of Babylonia and his low-born origins are implicitly contrasted to Cyrus’s kingly heritage. The victorious Cyrus is portrayed as having been chosen by the chief Babylonian god Marduk to restore peace and order to the Babylonians. The text states that Cyrus was welcomed by the people of Babylon as their new ruler and entered the city in peace. It appeals to Marduk to protect and help Cyrus and his son Cambyses. It extols Cyrus as a benefactor of the citizens of Babylonia who improved their lives, repatriated displaced people and restored temples and cult sanctuaries across Mesopotamia and elsewhere in the region. It concludes with a description of how Cyrus repaired the city wall of Babylon and found a similar inscription placed there by an earlier king.

The Cylinder’s text has traditionally been seen by Biblical scholars as corroborative evidence of Cyrus’ policy of the repatriation of the Jewish people following their Babylonian captivity (an act that the Book of Ezra attributes to Cyrus), as the text refers to the restoration of cult sanctuaries and repatriation of deported peoples.

The text goes on to ascribe a bunch of “good things” to Cyrus (sort of standard for new kings who just won a major war and took over your country) and says the god Marduk wanted him in charge. Then, this write up make a connection of Bel (an alternate spelling of Baal) to Marduk. Bel and Marduk (a sun god) were seen as the same. Yet again we have highly similar beliefs being distinguished based on ‘not much’. Amun / Amen / Marduk. Are they not all just really naming the same heavenly power by different names?

Midway through the text, the writer switches to a first-person narrative in the voice of Cyrus, addressing the reader directly. A list of his titles is given (in a Mesopotamian rather than Persian style): “I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, powerful king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters [of the earth], son of Cambyses, great king, king of Anshan, descendent of Teispes, great king, king of Anshan, the perpetual seed of kingship, whose reign Bel [Markuk] and Nebo love, and with whose kingship, to their joy, they concern themselves.” He describes the pious deeds he performed after his conquest: he restored peace to Babylon and the other cities sacred to Marduk, freeing their inhabitants from their “yoke,” and he “brought relief to their dilapidated housing (thus) putting an end to their (main) complaints.” He repaired the ruined temples in the cities he conquered, restored their cults, and returned their sacred images as well as their former inhabitants which Narbonidus had taken to Babylon. Near the end of the inscription Cyrus highlights his restoration of Babylon’s city wall, saying: “I saw within it an inscription of Ashurbanipal, a king who preceded me.” The remainder is missing but presumably describes Cyrus’s rededication of the gateway mentioned.

In Conclusion

So we’ve got some interesting evidence that the Biblical Narrative is in fact an accurate historical narrative of things, as it matches “facts in the ground”. We’ve also clarified some of the use of Baal as “Lord” in a generic sense; and we’ve found that the god Baal has some parallel description similar to Amen (and then that makes a tenuous link to YHWH; as we saw in an earlier posting). Is that connection “real”? Or is it just that the same “honors and powers” tended to be heaped onto whatever god name was being used? Unfortunately, at that point the trail is so muddied and so tenuous, that it is a leap too far to claim any connection.

Baal is too loose a word, and too loose a name, to be enough of a determinant to say if there was, or was not, some connection. All we can really say is that the Hebrew God YHWH is an unseen God that is the god of the air and hidden power of the sun; with attribution of being the One God or the head God; the King of Kings. While the Phoenician Baal Shamen has a similar description; and Baal is often touted as the king of the Gods. A lot of similarities for being at each other hammer and tongs.

So in the end, we are left to trust the Hebrew Priests of that day. They saw the Phoenician Baal as distinct and separate, and a false god, with YHWH as the one true God. Did they get it right? Or was it an ego fight between two closely related cultures over a name, and not much else? I can’t really answer that one. All I can really say is that we now have a better idea who Baal was, and how the term was used.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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5 Responses to Ba’al, Bel

  1. Zeke says:

    “According to one hypothesis, Ugaritic texts might solve the biblical puzzle of the anachronism of Ezekiel mentioning Daniel at Ezekiel 14:13-16; it is because in both Ugaritic and the Ancient Hebrew texts, it is correctly Danel.” ~EM Smith

    The verse in Ezekiel (14:14) says that even if these three men, Noah, Danel, and Job, were to pray for these people, “they would deliver only themselves.” Since the name lacks the yod, it is not Daniel, and also, since Job is considered to be the oldest book in the Bible, then it is entirely possible that these three are all considered to be men of renown and wisdom from very ancient times.

  2. Zeke says:

    The outright idolatry of the ancients is hard for many of us to comprehend. Baal worship was synonymous with the worship of idols, and the rites and sacrifices done for these idols. This included child sacrifice, which sadly continued with the Phoenicians clear up until Carthage was sacked and destroyed.

    The Law of God forbade the making of idols, and the rites and sacrifices done for them. In fact if you look very closely at some of the things which the Mosaic law forbids, such as cutting one’s skin or shaving the temples, or eating the kid in its mothers milk, they are simply laws which would keep them entirely separate from the practices of the idolatrous Canaanites.

    Baal was the god of storms, thunder and lightning. If anything, he was an equivalent of Zeus/ Jupiter. This was prevalent in many ancient religions as you say, and relate to the time of planetary catastrophe with Venus and Jupiter. This may be connected to early sun cults in many cases as well. There is an equivalence of these gods in many cases, as was demonstrated in Symbols of an Alien Sky.

    Yet there are important exceptions to the worship of the planets in the ancient world. This worship of heavenly bodies was both acknowledged and forbidden by Yahweh of the Bible (Deut 5, Ex 20).

    Also, Mazda of the Zoroastrians is excepted, because the planets are plainly mentioned as having been dashed against the sky and constellations, and having caused the earth to be burned. This was done by Mazda’s enemy, and was repelled by his angels, so that Mazda cannot possibly be Jupiter/Sun either. I hope this helps because you are theorizing in an important direction, but care must be taken not to jam everything into Jupiter’s image. We leave that to the Romans. (Sometime I will share a fascinating quote from Josephus which also mentions the worship of the planets.)

  3. E.M.Smith says:


    For reasons I don’t know, some versions of the Bible translate it as Daniel in Job. Perhaps just poor translators?…

    But from a couple of directions, now, it’s looking like Danel is the right translation (and the Ugaritic makes it clear as they mark all the vowels… It also helps with some other aspects of ancient Semitic languages as vowel drift is one of the biggest problems with them. Consonants are conservative, but vowels drift. Seen in Arabic, too, where “dialects” are often distinguished by vowel shifts…)

    Baal Worship looks to break down into at least 2, and possibly more, “types”. One, as you pointed out, is what looks like flat out Idol Worship. Just a ceramic bull, or whatever. Yet the earlier use of Baal / Bel in Sumeria / Babylon was more complex. There was clearly a use of a statue of the “god” in a symbolic way, and Baal / Bel was seen by them as synonymous with Marduk – at which point we get a strong connection to the way Ra / Amun / Amen was seen in Egypt. More as a “personification” of a power derived from the Sun and when not visible as a god o air and wind and invisible forces. The two descriptions are substantially the same, even in the complexity of multiple parts and names.

    What I think likely happened, but can’t muster much evidence to support, is that what started as a parallel “Unseen Creator force / visible in the Sun during the day” duality of The One God nature, first evolved / mutated into a “personified” form (Amun / Ra / Amen and Bel / Ra / Baal ) that then mutated into direct worship of the idols AS gods, not just as personification emblems of the Creator Force. Things also picking up some more despicable bits, like human sacrifice…

    So my ‘working thesis’ is that if you ‘track back’ the history of many divergent religions, you find a more rational root in a One Creator Force reaching us through the sun. (Mostly due to many of the ancient European / Levant religions reaching back to an ancient Egyptian root…)

    Not enough data to prove it, nor to invalidate it, IMHO. But enough interesting connections to make it a usable working tool. (There may also be a more ‘deep time’ connection back to values reflected in the Vedas as well, but I’ve not gotten that far in exploration yet …)

    Oh, and I’m now standing by for that quote sharing …

  4. Zeke says:

    EM says “So my ‘working thesis’ is that if you ‘track back’ the history of many divergent religions, you find a more rational root in a One Creator Force reaching us through the sun. (Mostly due to many of the ancient European / Levant religions reaching back to an ancient Egyptian root…) Not enough data to prove it, nor to invalidate it, IMHO. But enough interesting connections to make it a usable working tool.”

    I really like this direction and I think it could yield some interesting results.

    Comparative mythology is in a very bad state, in my opinion. I find it is perfectly amenable to any clever person who wishes to confirm their own ideology. There should be some scientific standards that a person can openly state and commit to in the study of myths. I am not referring to you, or perhaps I am even admonishing myself – it is very easy to take a single statement out of an entire religion and make that the one data point, thus completely ignoring spiritual or philosophical context, and what the “whole” is about. It is outrageous and irresponsible in some cases, and the most violent positivism and confirmation bias has been done to ancient myths by comparative mythologists.

    Back to your theme of a “One Creator Force” in the most ancient traditions, I have seen quite a few hints of this too. In the cases where these motifs are found in N and S America, Western scholars dismiss this clear theme as a bias introduced by those recording the myths. In other cases of world mythology, some scholars have already interpreted the “original one god” as referring to a previous age with Saturn; where Jupiter replaces it.

    These are fair enough hypotheses but I think it is important to know who you are and answer one simple question: Is there any such thing as Spiritual Law, spiritual beings, angels, and free choice between good and evil? Or is everything material; are all causes just Physical Law, all myths just worship of a physical sun? Is there an after life? So much of what the stories contain deal with questions about the after life – and indeed very much of civilization’s most beautiful works are inspired by that question. To eliminate, ignore, dismiss, and deface that reality from myths at the outset is an approach that should be stated outright in a “warning label!” Or some kind of admission should be made that very much of the content of a religion is in the realm of Spiritual and not Physical events; while we can look at what we think describe physical events mentioned in all religions, it does not mean this encompasses the entire truth it has set out to communicate and embody.

    If we were to state this as a scientific standard for approaching myths and legends, I would say that a comparative mythologist should attempt to quantify what he believes the ratio of Spiritual content to Physical content is in these traditions. This would help to communicate the understanding that some myth is truly esoteric, or dealing with spiritual and unseen matters, and relates to applying those principles to life and practicing them. Comparative mythologists do not acknowledge this in far too many cases. It is all head knowledge to them, a play ground to assemble single quotes into fantastic chimera which fit their ideology. So for example a ratio of spiritual principles expressed, vs. physical events expressed, might be something like 7:1. Or, conversely, if the Comparative Mythologist is forced to state the ratio, he will have to disclose that he believes that the ratio of spiritual content to physical content is 0:1. In any event, this is question is considered in my proposal and stated in a way that others can clearly understand, and gives more of an objective standard for the study of myths. And of course, the preservation of original data, and the value of direct experience of the entire myth, not just isolated verses, are also important scientific standards to maintain.

  5. Zeke says:

    I came across Danel again as I was reading about the city of Ugarit, and its probable destruction by the “Peoples of the Sea.” This is really interesting because the poem about Danel is estimated to be from 1400BC. Wiki says this:


    Danel was a culture hero who appears in an incomplete Ugaritic text of the fourteenth century BCE[1] at Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra), Syria, where the name is rendered DN’IL, “El is judge”.[2]

    The text in Corpus Tablettes Alphabetiques [CTA] 17–19 is often referred to as the Epic of Aqhat. Danel was depicted as “judging the cause of the widow, adjudicating the case of the fatherless” in the city gate.[3] He passed through trials: his son Aqhat was destroyed but apparently in the missing conclusion was revived or replaced by Danel’s patron god, Rp’u, who sits and judges with Hadad and Astarte and is clearly identical to El. “This is significant,” John Day remarked[4] “since the Old Testament identifies El with Yahweh and did not have the scruples about so doing which it had with Baal.”[5]

    This works in the direction of the theme of a “One Creator God” EM Smith brought up. The concern of El is with just behavior and wisdom in man. He is aided by many “gods and goddesses,” or what can be also understood as angels. Now this also relates to what I have seen in very ancient religions, and in the Vedic writings: the “gods and goddesses” were servants to the one God, and always came in divine male and female pairs. This is also found in Zoroastrianism. I also believe that in many cases in Native American myths, it is understood that there is a Great Spirit, or Creator, who has powerful government and gives help, blessing, and guidance to man through the 4 directions/totems – Coyote, Bear, Eagle, Mole.

    The only interpretation ever given to this arrangement by academics and comparative mythologyists is that it is polytheism, or a pantheon; but it may also be looked at as the government of the Creator through powerful spiritual messengers who are friendly to man. There are varying emphasis in later cultures in one or two of the gods and goddesses (as the Canaanites favored Baal and Astarte), and it may be said that the people lose consciousness of the one in favor of the pantheon, and then idolatry emerges soon after.

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