Baal is a Semitic word which primarily signifies "lord" or "owner", thus the deity inhabiting a specific place, and the relationship of the deity to his worshipper. In the latter usage it originally indicated, not explicitly that the god was the lord of the worshipper, but rather he was the possessor of, or ruler in, some place or district. The Baals of different tribes or sanctuaries were not necessarily conceived as identical, so that we find frequent mention of Baalim, or rather "the Baalim" in the plural.

In accordance with the Semitic perspective on family and religious relations, the word is specially appropriated to express the relation of a husband to his wife.

Table of contents
1 Baal the Canaanite God
2 Baal and Yahweh
3 Baal and 'Baalim'
4 A 'heavenly' Baal?
5 Baal, Beelzebub and the New Testament

Baal the Canaanite God

Baal, son of El, was the chief god in Ugarit, inherited by Canaanites and Phoenicians. Part of our knowledge of Baal and his mythology comes from the Cuneiform writings in Ugaritic found in Ugarit since 1928. Before this discovery, the character of Baal was almost entirely based on the books written after 622/21 BCE by the post-exilic writers in the restored Temple at Jerusalem, who execrated Baal and demonized the god under his translated name in Hebrew, Moloch. Thus, material to be found under the Wikipedia entry 'Moloch' broadly applies to the negative conception of Baal, as seen from Jerusalem.

In Ugaritic his name was Haddu The Syrian name of Baal as storm and thunder mountain-god was Hadad (compare the Akkadian 'Adad'), and so 'Baal Hadad' in his role as lord of the storm, governing the rain and thus the germination of plants. He was the protector of life and growth in the agrarian society in this region. The absence of Baal causes dry periods, starvation and death.

At Ugarit, in the fragmentary Baal mythic cycle, Baal assaulted and overcame the god El, said to live on the mountain Sapan, which probably means "north" or simply "the mountain of the gods". The Hebrew word "safon" means "north". This mountain has been identified with present-day Jabal al-Aqra in Hittite called Hazi and in Latin Mons Casius. This mountain, 1780 metres high, stands 15 km north of the site of Ugarit, clearly visible from the site of the city.

Baal repeatedly also battles two lower gods: Mot, the god of death, and Yamm, the god of the sea. The many-headed sea-dragon named in Hebrew Leviathan, which appears in the Old Testament, is often associated with Yamm and regarded as one of the most obvious influences of Canaanite religion on the Hebrew Tanakh. In the Mediterranean area, the crop fields were often threatened by winds, storms and floods from the sea, which gives a plausible reason to why this mythology developed.

Baal and Yahweh

That the Israelites even applied the title of Baal (lord) to Yahweh himself is proved by the occurrence of such names as Jerubbaal (Gideon), Eshbaal (one of Saul's sons) and Beeliada (a son of David). The last name also appears as Eliada, showing that El (plural Elohim, 'the gods') was regarded by the Hebrews as equivalent to Baal: compare the name Be’aliah, "Yahweh is baal" (or lord), which survives in 1 Chronicles 12:5. However, in the 7th century BCE, when the name Baal was restricted to contexts of idolatrous worship, abhorrence for the word was marked by writing the vowels of bosheth ('shameful thing') for baal in compound proper names, and thus we get the forms Ishbosheth, Mephibosheth.

Baal and 'Baalim'

The great difficulty which has been felt by investigators in determining the character and attributes of the god Baal mainly arises from the original appellative sense of the word, and many obscure points become clear if we remember that when a title becomes a proper name it may be appropriated by different peoples to quite distinct deities. Baal being originally a title, and not a proper name, the innumerable baals could be distinguished by the addition of the name of a place or of some special attribute. Accordingly, the Baals are not to be regarded necessarily as local variations of one and the same god, but as distinct numina. Each community could speak of its own Baal, although a collection of allied communities might share the same cult, and naturally, since the attributes ascribed to the individual Baals were very similar, subsequent syncretism was facilitated.

The Baal, as the chief deity of each worshipping group, is the source of all the gifts of nature; as the god of fertility all the produce of the soil is his, and his adherents bring to him their tribute of first-fruits. He is the patron of all growth and fertility, and, by the use of analogy characteristic of early thought, the Baal is the god of the productive element in its widest sense. Originating probably in the observation of the fertilizing effect of rains and streams upon the receptive and reproductive soil, baalism becomes identical with nature-worship. Joined with the baals there are naturally found corresponding female figures known as Ashtaroth, embodiments of Ashtoreth (see Astarte, Ishtar).

In accordance with notions of analogy, which assume that it is possible to control or aid the powers of nature by the practice of magic, particularly sympathetic magic, sexuality characterized part of the cult of the baals and Ashtaroth. Post-Exilic allusions to the cult of Baal Peor 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 Astarte) included the characteristic features of pagan worship which recur in various parts of the Semitic world, although attached to other names.

A 'heavenly' Baal?

By an easy transition the local gods of the streams and springs which fertilized the increase of the fields became identified with the common source of all streams, and proceeding along this line it was possible for the numerous Baals to be regarded eventually as mere forms of one absolute deity. Consequently, the Baal could be identified with some supreme power of nature, e.g. the heavens, the sun, the weather or some planet. The particular line of development would vary in different places, but the change from an association of the Baal with earthly objects to heavenly is characteristic of a higher type of belief and appears to be relatively later. The idea which has long prevailed that Baal was properly a sky-god affords no explanation of the local character of the many baals; on the other hand, on the theory of a higher development where the gods become heavenly or astral beings, the fact that ruder conceptions of nature were still retained (often in the unofficial but more popular forms of cult) is more intelligible.

A specific Baal of the heavens appears to have been known among the Hittites in the time of Rameses II, and considerably later, at the beginning of the 7th century, it was the title of one of the gods of Phoenicia. In Babylonia, from a very early period, Baal became a definite individual deity, and was identified with the planet Jupiter. This development is a mark of superior culture and may have been spread through Babylonian influence. Both Baal and Astarte were venerated in Egypt at Thebes and Memphis in the Nineteenth dynasty of Egypt, and the former, through the influence of the Aramaeans who borrowed the Babylonian spelling Bel, ultimately became known as the Greek Belos who was identified with Zeus.

Of the worship of the Tyrian Baal, who is also called Melkart (king of the city), and is often identified with the Greek Heracles, but sometimes with the Olympian Zeus, we have many accounts in ancient writers, from Herodotus downwards. He had a magnificent temple in insular Tyre, founded by Hiram, to which gifts streamed from all countries, especially at the great feasts. The solar character of this deity appears especially in the annual feast of his awakening shortly after the winter solstice. At Tyre, as among the Hebrewss, Baal had his symbolical pillars, one of gold and one of smaragdus, which, transported by phantasy to the farthest west, are still familiar to us as the Pillars of Hercules. The worship of the Tyrian Baal was carried to all the Phoenician colonies. His name occurs as an element in Carthaginian proper names (Hannibal, Hasdrubal, etc.), and a tablet found at Marseilles still survives to inform us of the charges made by the priests of the temple of Baal for offering sacrifices.

The history of Baalism among the Hebrews is obscured by the difficulty of determining whether the false worship which the prophets stigmatize is the heathen worship of Yahweh under a conception, and often with rites, which treated him as a local nature god; or whether Baalism was consciously recognized to be distinct from Yahwism from the first. Later religious practice was undoubtedly opposed to that of earlier times, and attempts were made to correct narratives containing views which had come to be regarded as contrary to the true worship of Yahweh. The Old Testament depicts the history of the people as a series of acts of apostasy alternating with subsequent penitence and return to Yahweh, and the question whether this gives effect to actual conditions depends upon the precise character of the elements of Yahweh worship brought by the Israelites into Palestine. This is still under dispute. There is strong evidence at all events that many of the conceptions are contrary to historical fact, and the points of similarity between native Canaanite cult and Israelite worship are so striking that only the persistent traditions of Israel's origin and of the work of Moses compel the conclusion that the germs of specific Yahweh worship existed from his day.

The earliest certain reaction against Baalism is ascribed to the reign of Ahab, whose marriage with Jezebel gave the impulse to the introduction of a particular form of the cult. In honour of his wife's god, the king, following the example of Solomon, erected a temple to the Tyrian Baal (Melkart). This, however, did not prevent him from remaining a follower of Yahweh, whose prophets he still consulted, and whose protection he still cherished when he named his Sons Ahaziah and Jehoram ("Yahweh holds", "Yahweh is high"). The antagonism of Elijah was not against Baalism in general, but against the introduction of a rival deity.

But by the time of Hosea, a further advance was marked, and the use of the term "Baal" was felt to be dangerous to true religion. Thus there gradually grew up a tendency to avoid the term, and in accordance with the idea of Exodus 23:13, it was replaced by the contemptuous basheth, "shame" (see above). However, the books of Deuteronomy and Jeremiah afford complete testimony for the prevalence of Baalism as late as the exile, but prove that the clearest distinction was then drawn between the pure worship of Yahweh the god of Israel and the inveterate and debased cults of the gods of the land.

See also Adramelech, Baal Hammon, Baal Peor, Moloch.

Baal, Beelzebub and the New Testament

The relationship between Baal and Baal-zebub Beelzebub is due to the disregard the monotheistic Judaism felt for Pagan gods, which corrupted Baal's Canaanite epithet Baal-zebul into Baal-zevuv, later Baal-zebub, Beel-zebub and Beelzebub.

Baal not only was used as a proper name for the god, but it also can be translated, besides of the above-mentioned, "master", and so Baal-zebul has the meaning "Baal, the Prince" (being Baal used as a proper name), "our Lord, the Prince" or "our Master, the Prince". The deliberate corruption into Baal-zevuv changed the meaning into "Lord of the Flies" to show the dispraise of the Israelites for the god (compare with a similar corruption referring to Moloch); the late corruption into Beelzebub has the same meaning.

In the New Testament, following later Jewish practice, Baal is only mentioned as Beelzebub: (Matthew 10:25 and 12:24, Mark 3:22, and Luke 11:18-19). Matthew and Mark identify him as the "prince of demons", and Luke openly compares him with Satan.

During the European Middle Age Baal and Beelzebub were separated into two different demons (see also Baal (demon) and Beelzebub).