(plural Baalim)

"Lord Master"
"Lord of the North"

Baal, a deity whose worship extends back to the fourteenth century BCE, had his beginnings as an all-purpose sun god, controlling the productivity of crops and livestock. The name, meaning simply "Lord", was given to many unimportant Syrian and Persian gods and was frequently combined with another designation (such as Baal-Peor) and used as a generic title denoting godhood. Among the Phoenicians, Chaldeans and Canaanites, however, Baal achieved singular status as a powerful fertility deity. He was depicted in human form, often standing on the back of a bull, wielding thunderbolts or lightning that brought both joy and sorrow.

He was the son of El or Dagon, the high god of Canaan, and lived on a mountain in the north. He was considered to be responsible for both agricultural prosperity as well as droughts, plagues and various other catastrophes. His worship included incense, burnt animal offerings, human sacrifices, prostitutions, gross sensuality and self-flagellation or cutting. Apparently, Baal was so powerful that believers would work themselves into frenzies at the thought of displeasing the god, or the punishments that might follow doing so. Biannual celebrations were held commemorating the death and resurrection of Baal which marked the beginning and end of the growing season.

Baal’s main myth, like those of many other deities associated with agriculture, focused on his death and rebirth: Yam, a sea god, had asked El to be crowned king. El agreed, but only after stipulating that in order to be declared king, Yam had to defeat Baal. Somehow, the fertility deity learned of the upcoming battle and outfitted himself with magical weaponry that had been made by the gods. As a result, he defeated Yam, and then declared himself king. He built a dwelling and settled on Mount Saphon, taking possession of numerous cities. Because of the easy victory, Baal became proud and refused to acknowledge Mot, the god of death, denying him hospitality and confining him to the deserts of the earth. Much angered, the god of death challenged Baal to come to the underworld and eat mud, the food of the dead. Baal accepted, and died.

He was mourned by the other gods. His sister and wife, the ferocious Anat (or Ashtoreth, or Astarte), a fertility goddess, traveled to the underworld and attempted to retrieve the corpse of the dead god, but could not. Mot refused to help (in some accounts refused to bring Baal back to life), and Anat went into a frenzy, stabbing Mot "with a sharp knife," scattering the pieces "with a winnowing fan". She finally burnt the remains, ground them into dust and tossed the dust over a field. When she had destroyed the god of death, Baal was instantly resurrected. Anat’s actions are symbolic of planting, growing and threshing, with the rebirth of Baal indicating the renewal of the cycle.

The worship of Baal most likely spread via the Phoenicians’ sea travels. According to biblical sources, the worship of Baal was practiced among the Moabites and the Midinites during the time of Moses, and was also worshipped by some Israelites. The Old Testament gives profuse warnings against Baal-worship, referring not only to the Canaanite fertility deity, but to all false or alien gods. Later, in Judeo-Christian mythology, Baal became Satan’s second chief commander of Hell and the patron devil of idleness. In this identity, he was depicted as a short and fat creature with the arms of a spider and three heads, that of a cat, a human and a toad. He had command of seventy legions of demons and resided in the eastern portion of Hell.

In the Bible, Baal is also called Beelzebub or Baal-zebub, one of the fallen angels. Interestingly, with Baal being worshipped by the Carthaginians during Roman times, the name of the god can be found as the root of a number of names. One notable example would be Hannibal, whose name meant "grace of Baal" or "joy of Baal" (from the Phoenician hann, meaning grace). His brother's name, Hasdrubal, meant "Baal helps" (from the Phoenician azru, meaning help). Both were Carthaginian generals.


(bay' uhl) HEBREW: BAAL

The deity most commonly worshiped by the ancient Canaanite peoples, Baal was a god of fertility and also of storms. The Hebrew word baal simply means "lord" and is often used to mean owner, master, husband, or even man. But as a religious term, Baal was the title given the god Hadad - although in the Bible, Baal is always used in place of the god's proper name. By calling their deity Baal instead of Hadad, the Canaanites emphasized their belief that their god was lord and owner of the land and its people. He supplied them with the rain that made the land fertile and thus bestowed life and prosperity on all the people. Therefore, they spoke of him as "the prince, the lord (Baal) of the earth."

In Canaanite mythology, Baal was part of an extended pantheon. The distant high god was the creator El, a name that means "god." El's brother was Dagon, god of grain, and Baal was Dagon's son. Baal's sister and wife, Anath, played an important role in the story of his rise to power.

According to the myth, Baal gained his preeminence in Canaanite worship by overcoming forces that sought to destroy the equalibrium and security of the world. The first of Baal's feats was a battle with the god of waters, Yam, sometimes called Prince Sea and other times Twisting Serpent. When Prince Sea demanded Baal's submission, even the gods in El's council were intimidated by the ruler of the chaotic seawaters. Using divine weapons, Baal was able to rout and defeat Prince Sea, and the cry went up, "Hail, Baal the Conquerer!" In celebration of this great victory, a temple was built for Baal the Conquerer.

But the myths tell of an even stronger challenge to Baal from El's son Mot, or Death, a being whose strength lay in his ability to induce sterility and famine. When even Baal, the protector of human life, had to surrender to the power of Mot, the gods mourned, "Baal is dead: what will happen to the peoples?" Indeed, their fate was a deadly drought that lasted until Anath, by her love for Baal, was able to wrest her brother-husband from the grip of Mot and return him to life. And with him, al nature blossomed anew. In the agricultural society of Canaan, the people saw these myths played out in the cycles of nature and celebrated them in seasonal festivals.

In the Bible, Baal is seen as a rival to Israel's God. Not surprisingly, nearly every refernce to Baal in the Scriptures in negative, bearing witness to the harsh fact that the Israelites were continually attracted to his worship. Indeed, Ahab and Jezebel made Baal the principal deity of Israel for a time. Even in more orthodox Judah, the prophet Jeremiah noted, Jerusalem's altars, where incense was burned to Baal, were "as many as the streets" (Jeremiah 11:13).

Israel's Baal:
There is some evidence in the Old Testament that Israel's God, Yahweh, was also known as Baal. One of the "mighty men" (1 Chronicles 12:1) who joined David at Ziklag was Saul's kinsman Bealiah, whose name means "Yahweh is Baal." Some 300 years later Hosea declared that the Lord, in renewing his covenant with Israel, demanded, "you will call me, 'My husband,' and no longer will you call me, 'My Baal'" (Hosea 2:16).

{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}

Ba"al (?), n.; Heb. pl. Baalim (). [Heb. ba'al lord.]

1. Myth.

The supreme male divinity of the Phoenician and Canaanitish nations.

⇒ The name of this god occurs in the Old Testament and elsewhere with qualifying epithets subjoined, answering to the different ideas of his character; as, Baal-berith (the Covenant Baal), Baal-zebub (Baal of the fly).

2. pl.

The whole class of divinities to whom the name Baal was applied.

Judges x. 6.


© Webster 1913.

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