Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Baal

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1882963Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition — BaalWilliam Robertson Smith


BAAL is a Semitic word, which primarily signifies lord or owner, and then, in accordance with the Semitic way of looking at family and religious relations, is specially ap propriated to express the relation of a husband to his wife, and of the deity to his worshipper. In the latter usage, which does not occur among the Arabian Semites, the word Baal seems at first to have been a mere title of deity and not a proper name. In the Old Testament it is regularly written with the article " the Baal ; " and the Baals of different tribes or sanctuaries were not necessarily con ceived as identical, so that we find frequent mention of Baalim, or rather " the Baalim," in the plural. There is even reason to believe that at an early date the Israelites applied the title of Baal to Jehovah himself, for one of Saul s sons is named Esh-baal (1 Chron. viii. 33), while everything we know of Saul makes it most unlikely that he was ever an idolater. Afterwards, when the name Baal was exclusively appropriated to idolatrous worship (cf. Hos. ii. 16, 17), abhorrence for the unholy word was marked by writing Bosheth (shameful thing) for Baal in compound pro per names, and thus we get the usual forms Ishbosheth, Mepliibosheth. (Cf. Ewald, Geschichte, ii. 537, and Well- hausen, Text der Biiclier Samuelis, pp. xii. 30, where more arguments are adduced for this view.)

The great difficulty which has been felt by investigators in determining the character and attributes of the god Baal mainly arises from the originally appellative sense of the word, and many obscure points become clear if we remem ber that when the title became a proper name it might be appropriated by different nations to quite distinct deities, while traces of the wider use of the word as a title for any god, might very well survive even after one god had come to be known as Baal par excellence. That Baal is not always one and the same god was known even to the ancient myth- ologists, who were very much disposed to fuse together dis tinct deities ; for they distinguish an " old " Baal or Belitan (Bel ethan) from a younger Baal, who is sometimes viewed as the son of the other. The " old " Baal has sometimes been identified with the planet Saturn, but it is more likely that he is the Baal (in Assyrian pronunciation Bil) of the first triad of the Babylonian Pantheon, that is the Bel, as distinct from the Baal, of the Old Testament. This Assy rian and Babylonian Bel is no mere solar or planetary god. but is represented in Chaldean cosmogony as the shaper of heaven and earth, the creator of men and beasts, and of the luminaries of heaven (Berosus, ed. Puchter, p. 50). At the same time, we find that the inscriptions give the title of Bel to other and inferior gods, especially to Merodach or the planet Jupiter. This planet was, we know, the Baal (Bal, Bil) of the heathen Mesopotamians (Sabians) of later times, and of the Babylonian Mendeans.

The Baal of the Syrians, Phoenicians, and heathen

Hebrews is a much less elevated conception than the Babylonian Bel. He is properly the sun-god, Baal Shamem, Baal (lord) of the heavens, the highest of the heavenly bodies, but still a mere power of nature, born like the other luminaries from the primitive chaos (San- choniathon, ed. Orelli, pp. 10, 14). As the sun-god he is conceived as the male principle of life and reproduc tion in nature, and thus in some forms of his worship is the patron of the grossest sensuality, and even of sys tematic prostitution. An example of this is found in the worship of Baal-Peor (Num. xxv.), and in general in the Canaanitish high places, where Baal, the male principle, was worshipped in association with the unchaste goddess Ashera, the female principle of nature. The frequent references to this form of religion in the Old Testament are obscured in the English version by the rendering " grove " for the word Ashera, which sometimes denotes the goddess, some times the tree or post which was her symbol. Baal himself was represented on the high places not by an image, but by obelisks or pillars (Mac^eboth, E. V. wrongly " images "), j sometimes called chammanim or sun-pillars, a name which j is to be compared with the title Baal-chamman, frequently given to the god on Phoenician inscriptions. There is rea son to believe that these symbols, in their earliest form of the sacred tree and the sacred stone, were not specially appropriated to Baal worship, but were the mark of any sanctuary, memorials of a place where the worshipper had found God (see, for example, Gen. xxi. 33, where for grove. read tamarisk, Gen. xxviii. 18), while the stone pillar was also a primitive altar. Gradually, however, they came to be looked upon as phallic symbols, appropriate only to sensual nature worship, and as such were attacked by the prophets (Micah v. 13, 14 ; Isa. xvii. 8, xxvii. 9, &c.), and destroyed by such orthodox kings as Josiah. The worship of Baal among the Hebrews has two distinct periods one before the time of Samuel, and a second from the intro duction of the Tyrian worship of Baal by Ahab, who mar ried a Phoenician princess. The ritual of this new Baal, with his long train of priests and prophets, his temple and sacred vestments (2 Kings x.), was plainly much more splen did than the older Canaanitish worship. Of the worship of the Tyriau 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 (Joseph., Ant., viii. 5). At Tyre, as among the Hebrews, Baal had his symbolical pillars, one of gold and one of smaragdus, which, transported by phan tasy 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, Asdru6a/, &c.), and a tablet found at Marseilles still re mains to inform us of the charges made by the priests of

the temple of Baal for offering sacrifices.

A much-disputed question is the relation of the sun-god Baal to Moloch-Saturn. Moloch is certainly called Baal in Jer. xix. 5, xxxii 35, but the word may here retain its appellative force. It is, however, the theory of many scholars, especially worked out by Movers, that Moloch is only a special development of Baal, representing the de structive heat instead of the life-giving power of the sun. Another question of some nicety concerns the precise char acter and mutual relations of the female deities associated with Baal. In the Old Testament, as we have seen, Baal is generally associated with Ashera, but sometimes with Ashtoreth or Astartc (in the plural Ashtaroth, associated with the plural Baalim, 1 Sam. vii. 4, &c.) As Ashtoreth is constantly associated with the Phoenician Baal, it was long customary to identify Ashera with her, a theory op posed to the fact that Ashtoreth is represented as a chaste goddess. The key to the difficulty is probably to be sought in the Assyrian mythology, where we find that the planet Venus was worshipped as the chaste goddess Istar, when she appeared as a morning star, and as the impure Bilit or Beltis, the Mylitta of Herod. (L 199), when she was an evening star. These two goddesses, associated yet contrasted, seem to correspond respectively to the chaste Ashtoreth and the foul Ashera, though the distinction between the rising and setting planet was not kept up among the West ern Semites, and the nobler deity came at length to be viewed as the goddess of the moon.

Finally, we may mention as a special form of Baal the Philistine Baal-zebub, or " Baal of flies," a conception which has more than one analogy in Greek religion, especially the [ Greek ] at Olympia. The use of the word Beelzebub, or rather, with a slight change, Beelzebul, by the later Jews, to denote the prince of the devils (Mat. xii. 24), is easily understood on the principle laid down in 1 Cor. x. 20.

For further information as to Baal, the reader may consult works on Syrian and Phoenician religion. Of older books, the most celebrated is Selden s De diis Syris ; of recent books, Movers s Die Phonizier, i., a work full of learn ing, but deficient in method and logic. The valuable con tributions to the subject from Assyrian research are partly brought together by Schrader in the Stud, und Krit. for 1874, pp. 335, sqq.

(w. r. s.)