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Ancient Canaanites Religion – 3 / Ba’al-Belos

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Ba’al / Hadad -  Haddu / Hadadu  -  Balu  –  Adad / Bel  – Hd / b’l  -  Adodos – / Belos  – Ba’al /Baal

Ba’al   is a Northwest Semitic title and honorific meaning “master” or “lord” that is used for various gods who were patrons of cities in the Levant, cognate to Assyrian B?lu. A Baalist means a worshipper of Baal.
“Ba’al” can refer to any god and even to human officials; in some texts it is used as a substitute for Hadad, a god of the rain, thunder, fertility and agriculture, and the lord of Heaven. Since only priests were allowed to utter his divine name Hadad, Ba’al was used commonly. Nevertheless, few if any Biblical uses of “Ba’al” refer to Hadad, the lord over the assembly of gods on the holy mount of Heaven, but rather refer to any number of local spirit-deities worshipped as cult images, each called ba’al and regarded in that context as a false god.

Deities called Ba’al and Ba’alath. Because more than one god bore the title “Ba’al” and more than one goddess bore the title “Ba’alat” or “Ba’alah,” only the context of a text can indicate which Ba’al ‘lord’ or Ba’alath ‘Lady’ a particular inscription or text is speaking of.

Though the god Hadad (or Adad) was especially likely to be called Ba’al, Hadad was far from the only god to have that title. The Ugaritic texts (mainly preserved in the Ba’al cycle) place the dwelling of Baal on Mount Saphon , so references to Baal Zephon [1] in the Tanach and in inscriptions and tablets referring to the Baal of Mount Saphon may indicate the storm-god Hadad. It is said[citation needed] that Ba’al Pe’or, the lord of Mount Pe’or, whom Israelites were forbidden from worshipping (Numbers 25:3) was also Hadad. In the Canaanite pantheon, Hadad was the son of El, who had once been the primary god of the Canaanite pantheon, and whose name was also used interchangeably with that of the Hebrew God, Yahweh.

Josephus (Antiquities 8.13.1) states clearly that Jezebel “built a temple to the god of the Tyrians, which they call Belus” which certainly refers to Melqart.

In any case, King Ahab, despite supporting the cult of this Ba’al, had a semblance of worship to Yahweh (1Kings 16-22). Ahab still consulted Yahweh’s prophets and cherished Yahweh’s protection when he named his sons Ahaziah (”Yahweh holds”) and Jehoram (”Yahweh is high.”)

Ba’al of Tyre. Melqart is the son of El in the Phoenician triad of worship, He was the god of Tyre and was often called the Ba’al of Tyre. 1 Kings 16:31 relates that Ahab, king of Israel, married Jezebel, daughter of Ethba’al, king of the Sidonians, and then served habba’al (’the Ba’al’.) The cult of this god was prominent in Israel until the reign of Jehu, who put an end to it (2 Kings 10:26).

And they brought out the pillars (massebahs) of the house of the Ba’al and burned them. And they pulled down the pillar (massebah) of the Ba’al and pulled down the house of the Ba’al and turned it into a latrine until this day.

Some scholars claim it is uncertain whether “Ba’al” ‘the Lord’ refers to Melqart in Kings 10:26, they point out that Hadad was also worshipped in Tyre. However this position negates the real possibility that Hadad and Melqart are one in the same god, only having different names because of different languages and cultures. Hadad being Canaanite and Meqart being Phoenician. Both Hadad and Melqart are professed to be the son of El both carrying the same secondary position in the pantheons of each culture. This fact reveals them to be the same deity with different names due to different languages. A contemporary example of this would be God in English and Dios in Spanish.

Ba’al of Carthage. The worship of Ba’al Hammon flourished in the Phoenician colony of Carthage. Ba’al Hammon was the supreme god of the Carthaginians and is generally identified by modern scholars either with the northwest Semitic god El or with Dagon, and generally identified by the Greeks with Cronus and by the Romans with Saturn.

The meaning of Hammon or Hamon is unclear. In the 19th century when Ernest Renan excavated the ruins of Hammon (?ammon), the modern Umm al-‘Awamid between Tyre and Acre, he found two Phoenician inscriptions dedicated to El-Hammon. Since El was normally identified with Cronus and Ba‘al Hammon was also identified with Cronus, it seemed possible they could be equated. More often a connection with Hebrew/Phoenician ?amm?n ‘brazier’ has been proposed. Frank Moore Cross argued for a connection to Kham?n, the Ugaritic and Akkadian name for Mount Amanus, the great mountain separating Syria from Cilicia based on the occurrence of an Ugaritic description of El as the one of the Mountain Haman.

Classical sources relate how the Carthaginians burned their children as offerings to Ba’al Hammon. See Moloch for a discussion of these traditions and conflicting thoughts on the matter. Such a devouring of children fits well with the Greek traditions of Cronus. Prostitution as a form of worship also may have been done, especially when the Carthaginians began to recognize Ba’al as a fertility god.

Scholars tend to see Ba’al Hammon as more or less identical with the god El, who was also generally identified with Cronus and Saturn. However, Yigal Yadin thought him to be a moon god. Edward Lipinski identifies him with the god Dagon in his Dictionnaire de la civilisation phenicienne et punique (1992). Inscriptions about Punic deities tend to be rather uninformative.
In Carthage and North Africa Ba’al Hammon was especially associated with the ram and was worshiped also as Ba’al Qarnaim (”Lord of Two Horns”) in an open-air sanctuary at Jebel Bu Kornein (”the two-horned hill”) across the bay from Carthage.

Ba’al Hammon’s female cult partner was Tanit. He was probably not ever identified with Ba’al Melqart, although one finds this equation in older scholarship.

Ba’alat Gebal (”Lady of Byblos”) appears to have been generally identified with ‘Ashtart, although Sanchuniathon distinguishes the two.

Ba‘al as a divine title in the Israelites Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The sense of competition between the priestly forces of Yahweh and of Ba’al in the ninth century is nowhere more directly attested than in 1 Kings 18, where, Elijah the prophet offering a sacrifice to Yahweh, Ba’al’s followers did the same. Ba’al in the Hebrew text did not light his followers’ sacrifice, but Yahweh sent heavenly fire to burn Elijah’s sacrifice to ashes, even after it had been soaked with water

At first the name Ba’al was used by the Jews for their God without discrimination, but as the struggle between the two religions developed, the name Ba’al was given up in Judaism as a thing of shame, and even names like Jerubba’al were changed to Jerubbosheth: Hebrew bosheth means “shame”. [2]

Since Ba‘al simply means ‘Lord’, there is no obvious reason for which it could not be applied to Yahweh as well as other gods. In fact, Hebrews generally referred to Yahweh as Adonai (’My Lord’) in prayer (the word Hashem – ‘The Name’ – is substituted in everyday speech). The judge Gideon was also called Jeruba’al, a name which seems to mean ‘Ba‘al strives’ though it is written in Judges 6:32 that the name was given to mock the god Ba‘al, whose shrine Gideon had destroyed, the intention being to imply: “Let Ba‘al strive as much as he can … it will come to nothing.”

After Gideon’s death, according to Judges 8:33, the Israelites went astray and started to worship the Ba‘alîm (the Ba‘als) especially Ba‘al Berith (”Lord of the Covenant.”) A few verses later (Judges 9:4) the story turns to all the citizens of Shechem — actually kol-ba‘alê š?kem another case of normal use of ba‘al not applied to a deity. These citizens of Shechem support Abimelech’s attempt to become king by giving him 70 shekels from the House of Ba‘al Berith. It is hard to dissociate this Lord of the Covenant who is worshipped in Shechem from the covenant at Shechem described earlier in Joshua 24:25, in which the people agree to worship Yahweh. It is especially hard to do so when Judges 9:46 relates that all “the holders of the tower of Shechem” (kol-ba‘alê midgal-š?kem) enter bêt ’?l b?rît ‘the House of El Berith’, that is, ‘the House of God of the Covenant’. Was “Ba‘al” here a title for El? Or did the covenant of Shechem perhaps originally not involve El at all but some other god who bore the title Ba‘al? Or were there different viewpoints about Yahweh, some seeing him as an aspect of Hadad, some as an aspect of El, some with other perceptions? — Again, there is no clear answer.

Ba’al appears in theophoric names. One also finds Eshba’al (one of Saul’s sons) and Be’eliada (a son of David). The last name also appears as Eliada. This might show that at some period Ba‘al and El were used interchangeably; even in the same name applied to the same person. More likely a later hand has cleaned up the text. Editors did play around with some names, sometimes substuting the form bosheth ‘abomination’ for ba‘al in names, whence the forms Ishbosheth instead of Eshba’al and Mephibosheth which is rendered Meriba’al in 1 Chronicles 9:40. 1 Chronicles 12:5 mentions the name Be’aliah (more accurately be‘alyâ) meaning “Yahweh is Ba‘al.”

It is difficult to determine to what extent the ‘false worship’ which the prophets stigmatize is the worship of Yahweh under a conception and with rites, which treated him as a local nature god, or whether particular features of gods more often given the title Ba‘al were consciously recognized to be distinct from Yahwism from the first. Certainly some of the Ugaritic texts and Sanchuniathon report hostility between El and Hadad, perhaps representing a cultic and religious differences reflected in Hebrew tradition also, in which Yahweh in the Tanach is firmly identified with El and might be expected to be somewhat hostile to Ba’al/Hadad and the deities of his circle. But for Jeremiah and the Deuteronomist it also appears to be monotheism against polytheism (Jeremiah 11:12):

Then shall the cities of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem go and cry to the gods to whom they offer incense: but they shall not save them at all in the time of their trouble. For according to the number of your cities are your gods, O Judah; and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem you have set up altars to the abominination, altars to burn incense to the Ba‘al.

Multiple Ba‘als and ‘Asherahs. One finds in the Tanach the plural forms b?‘?lîm ‘Ba‘als’ or ‘Lords’ and ‘ašt?rôt ‘‘Ashtarts’, though such plurals don’t appear in Phoenician or Canaanite or independent Aramaic sources.
One theory is that the people of each territory or in each wandering clan worshipped their own Ba‘al, as the chief deity of each, the source of all the gifts of nature, the mysterious god of their fathers. As the god of fertility all the produce of the soil would be his, and his adherents would bring to him their tribute of first-fruits. He would be the patron of all growth and fertility, and, by the use of analogy characteristic of early thought, this Ba’al would be the god of the productive element in its widest sense. Originating perhaps in the observation of the fertilizing effect of rains and streams upon the receptive and reproductive soil, Ba’al worship became identical with nature-worship. Joined with the Ba’als there would naturally be corresponding female figures which might be called ‘Ashtarts, embodiments of ‘Ashtart. Ba’al Hadad is associated with the goddess “Virgin” Anat, his sister and lover.

Through analogy and through the belief that one can control or aid the powers of nature by the practice of magic, particularly sympathetic magic, sexuality might characterize part of the cult of the Ba’als and ‘Ashtarts. Post-Exilic allusions to the cult of Ba‘al Pe’or 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 cakes (see also Asherah), appear among the offences denounced by the post-Exilic prophets; and show that the cult of Ba’al (and ‘Ashtart) included characteristic features of worship which recur in various parts of the Semitic (and non-Semitic) world, although attached to other names. But it is also possible that such rites were performed to a local Ba’al ‘Lord’ and a local ‘Ashtart without much concern as to whether or not they were the same as that of a nearby community or how they fitted into the national theology of Yahweh who had become a ruling high god of the heavens, increasingly disassociated from such things, at least in the minds of some worshippers.

Another theory is that the references to Ba’als and ‘Ashtarts (and Asherahs) are to images or other standard symbols of these deities, that is statues and icons of Ba’al Hadad, ‘Ashtart, and Asherah set up in various high places as well as those of other gods, the author listing the most prominent as types for all. The Deuteronomistic editor is as angered and saddened by worshiping of images as by worshiping divinities other than Yahweh and wishes to emphasize the plurality of false deities as opposed to true worship of Yahweh at his single temple in Jerusalem as called for in the reforms of Josiah.

A reminiscence of Ba’al as a title of a local fertility god (or referring to a particular god of subterraneous water) may occur in the Talmudic Hebrew phrases field of the ba’al and place of the ba’al and Arabic ba’l used of land fertilized by subterraneous waters rather than by rain.

Haddad - (in Ugaritic: Hddu)  was a very important northwest Semitic storm and rain god, cognate in name and origin with the Akkadian god Adad. Hadad is often called simply Ba‘al Lord, but this title is also used for other gods. Hadad was equated with the Anatolian storm-god Teshub, the Egyptian god Set, the Greek god Zeus, and the Roman god Jupiter [3].

Hadad in Ugarit. In the mythological tablets found in Ugarit (especially the Baal cycle) the name hd (theoretically vocalized as Haddu) occurs, usually normalized as Hadad in translations and discussions. Hadad is mostly called by the title b‘l (theoretically vocalized as Ba‘l) ‘Lord’, or as ‘lyn (‘Aliyan) ‘Most strong, Victorious’ or as ‘Aliyan Ba‘al.

In religious texts, Ba‘al/Hadad is the lord of the sky who governs the rain and thus the germination of plants. He is the protector of life and growth to the agricultural people of the region. The absence of Ba‘al causes dry spells, starvation, death, and chaos.

Sanchuniathon [4]. In Sanchuniathon’s account Hadad is once called Adodos but mostly named Demarûs, a puzzling form, possibly a Greek corruption of Hadad Ram?n. Sanchuniathon’s Hadad is son of Sky by a concubine who is then given to the god Dagon while she is pregnant by Sky. This appears to be an attempt to combine two accounts of Hadad’s parentage, one of which is the Ugaritic tradition that Hadad was son of Dagon. The cognate Akkadian god Adad is also often called the son of Anu ‘Sky’. The corresponding Hittite god Teshub is likewise son of Anu (after a fashion).

In Sanchuniathon’s account, it is Sky who first fights against Pontus ‘Sea’. Then Sky allies himself with Hadad. Hadad takes over the conflict but is defeated, at which point unfortunately no more is said of this matter. Sanchuniathion agrees with Ugaritic tradition in making Muth, the Ugaritic Mot, whom he also calls ‘Death’, the son of El.

Hadad in Aram and Israel. In the second millennium BCE, the king of Aleppo, or Halab, received a statue of Ishtar from the king of Mari, as a sign of deference, to be displayed in the temple of Hadad in Kilasou. The god “Adad” is called on a stele of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser I “the god of Aleppo“.

The name Hadad appears in the name of Hadadezer ‘Hadad-is-help’, the Aramean king defeated by David. Later Aramean kings of Damascus seem to have habitually assumed the title of Benhadad, or son of Hadad, just as a series of Egyptian monarchs are known to have been accustomed to call themselves sons of Ammon.

An example is Benhadad ‘Son of Hadad’, the king of Aram whom Asa, king of Judah, employed to invade the northern kingdom, Israel, according to 1Kings 15:18. In the 9th or 8th century BCE, the name of Bar-Hadad ‘Son of Hadad’, king of Aram, is inscribed on his votive basalt stele dedicated to Melqart, found in Bredsh, a village north of Aleppo (National Museum, Aleppo, accession number KAI 201).

Ba'al / Hadad wielding a thunderbolt

As a byname we find Aramaic rmn, Old South Arabic rmn, Hebrew rmwn, Akkadian Ramm?nu ‘Thunderer’, presumably originally vocalized as Ram?n in Aramaic and Hebrew. The Hebrew spelling rmwn with Massoretic vocalization Rimmôn (2Kings 5:18) is identical with the Hebrew word meaning ‘pomegranate’ and may be an intentional misspelling and parody of the original

The word Hadad-rimmon, for which the inferior reading Hadar-rimmon is found in some manuscripts in the phrase “the mourning of (or at) Hadad-rimmon” (Zechariah 12:2), has been a subject of much discussion. According to Jerome and all the older Christian interpreters, the mourning is for something that occurred at a place called Hadad-rimmon (Maximianopolis) in the valley of Megiddo. The event alluded to was generally held to be the death of Josiah (or, as in the Targum, the death of Ahab at the hands of Hadadrimmon). But even before the discovery of the Ugaritic texts some suspected that Hadad-rimmon might be a dying god like Adonis or Tammuz, perhaps even the same as Tammuz, and the allusion could then be to mournings for Hadad such as those which usually accompanied the Adonis festivals.


[1]J. Gray, “Texts from Ras Shamra” in D. Winton Thomas, Documents from Old Testament Times;This mountain on the northern horizon of Ras Shamra, modern Jebel el-Aqra and Mount Kasios of the Greeks, was the seat of Baal, who was thus Baal-Saphon. Classical and archaeological evidence suggests that Baal Zephon mentioned in the Exodus from Egypt (Exod. 14:2) was a shrine of the Canaanite Baal”.
[2]Zondervan’s Pictorial Bible Dictionary (1976)
[3]Hadad, Husni & Mja’is, Salim (1993) Ba’al Haddad, A Study of Ancient Religious History of Syria
[4]Sanchuniathon is the purported Phoenician author of three lost works originally in the Phoenician language, surviving only in partial paraphrase and summary of a Greek translation by Philo of Byblos, according to the Christian bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. These few fragments comprise the most extended literary source concerning Phoenician religion in either Greek or Latin: Phoenician sources, along with all of Phoenician literature, were lost with the parchment they were habitually written on.


Original Date: 
May 22, 2009
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