Name and Etymology
The word baʿl, common Semitic for "owner, master, husband," became the usual designation of the great weather-god of the Western Semites. In spite of the fact that the word is used as the theophorous element in personal names, such as Eshbaal, Merib-Baal, Jerub Baal, it was long believed that the term remained an appellation and did not become a proper name, except in the case of the Mesopotamian Bel and in late theological speculation. The basis for this view was the fact that in biblical usage the plural of the term, with the article, "the
Baalim," appears to designate minor local gods (Judg. 2:11; 3:7; 8:33), while the singular of the word in combination with other terms apparently designated minor or local gods, such as Baal-Berith, Baal-Gad, Baal-Hamon, Baal-Hazor, Baal-Hermon, or, in the feminine form, a goddess, Baalat-Beer, Baalat-Gebal. Further, in biblical usage when applied to the great weather-god, the singular regularly has the article, "the Baal," which suggests that the word was not regarded as a proper name. Nevertheless, despite the biblical tendency to avoid the use of the word as a proper name, it is now quite clear that by pre-Israelite times the term had become the usual name of the weather-god of Syria-Palestine. In the El-Amarna letters the logogram for the weather-god is conventionally read Addu, but that it is sometimes to be read Baʿluis indicated by the addition of the phonetic complement-lu, as well as by the names like Mut dIm written syllabically as mu-ut-ba-aḫ-lum. In the El-Amarna letters Canaanite clients addressed the Egyptian king as "My Baal, my Addu." In the Ugaritic mythological texts Baʿlu (bʿl) is the name of the god which is used more than twice as often as his next most frequent name, Haddu (hd). The latter name (Amarna, Addu) is to be related to Arabic hadda ("break," "crash") with reference to thunder. The variant form Hadad (hdd) is attested to only once in Ugaritic.
That there were minor Baalim also at Ugarit is indicated by a god list in Akkadian (see Ugaritica, 5, p. 44 ll. 4–10; reconstructed text) which after the great "Weather-god, Lord of Mount Ḫazi" presents six other "weather-gods," numbered two through seven. In the parallel Ugaritic list, which is unfortunately very fragmentary, the "Weather-god, Lord of Mount Ḫazi" apparently corresponds to Baal Ṣapān, while those following are termed simply Baalim (bʿlm). It may be, however, that these extra Baalim are Baal's attendants, mentioned as the seven or eight lads whom Baal is ordered to take with him in his descent into the netherworld.
Other Titles and Epithets
Besides the names Baal and Haddu, the Ugaritic texts furnish a variety of other titles, such as "Mighty Baal" (ʾaliyn bʿl) and "Prince, Lord of Earth" (zbl bʿl ars). The latter title has a biblical echo in the corrupted form Baal-Zebub (II Kings 1:2ff.), from an original Baal-Zebul, which is preserved in this form in the New Testament (Matt. 10:25, 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15, 18). A frequent epithet is "Cloud Rider" (rkb ʿrpt) which has an almost identical parallel in Psalms 68:5. A vivid description of theophany in a thunderstorm is found in Psalms 18:7–15 (= II Sam. 22:8–16). Of special interest is the designation ʿAliy (ʿly) which is twice applied to Baal in the Krt Epic:
To the earth Baal rained,
To the field rained ʿAliy.
Sweet to the earth was Baal's rain
To the field the rain of ʿAliy.
Before the discovery and recognition of this name in Ugaritic, H.S. Nyberg had restored it in Deuteronomy 33:12; I Samuel 2:10; II Samuel 23:1; Isaiah 59:18, 63:7; and Hosea 7:16. Since the Ugaritic verified the antiquity and authenticity of this divine name, additional instances have been alleged in the Psalter and in Job.
A common designation of Baal in the Ugaritic myths is bn-dgn "son of Dagān"; but Baal is also considered the son of El who is called "Bull El his [i.e., Baal's] father; El King who begot him [Baal]" (tr il abh; il mlk dyknnh). Since El and Dagān are distinct deities, this seeming confusion over Baal's paternity needs explanation. A solution has been supplied by a tradition ascribed to the ancient Phoenician priest Sakkunyaton (Greek Sanchuniathōn) that when El-Kronos defeated Ouranos, he captured in the battle Ouranos' pregnant concubine and gave her to Dagān. The divine child was named Demarous, one of the cognomens of Zeus-Baal-Hadad. The Semitic original of this name has been recognized in one of Baal's names in Ugaritic:
Then said Mighty Baal:
Foes of Hadd why haste ye?
Why haste ye opponents of Dmrn?
(The name is to be connected with the root ‡dmr, "be strong, brave," and is probably the same as that of Abraham's son Zimrān (‡damarān), the -n afformative being preserved in the genitive case of the Greek form Demarountos). Thus, according to Sakkunyaton, Baal's natural father was Ouranos and Dagān became his foster-father, while El-Kronos effected the transfer. That Baal appears to be a relative newcomer in the Ugaritic pantheon has been generally recognized, and it may be that Sakkhunyaton's story about Baal's paternity reflects a mythologizing of the process by which Baal was integrated into the family of El.
Baal's abode was Mount Ṣapān, identified as Jebel el-Aqraʿ ("Mount Baldy") some 30 mi. north of Ugarit. A god Baal Ṣapān was known from Egyptian and Akkadian sources before the discovery of the Ugaritic documents. In an Akkadian catalogue of Ugaritic deities Baal Ṣapān is listed as dIM be-el huršān ḫa-zi, "Storm-God, Lord of Mount Ḫazi" (see above; Ḫaz [z] i being the Hurrian name of Mount Ṣapān which survives in the Greek and Latin Kasios/Casius as the name of the storied mountain of the gods). Isaiah 14:13 alludes to this divine abode as "the Mount of Assembly in the recesses of ẓafon" (har moʿed be-yarkete ẓafon), the latter phrase being the equivalent of Ugaritic mrym ṣpn or ṣrrt ṣpn, the height or fastness of Ṣapān. The cosmic character of ẓafon leads to its use as a synonym for "sky" in Job 26:7: "who stretched out ẓafon on emptiness who suspended earth on naught." That ẓafon designated the "north" in Hebrew is presumably due to the fact that Mount Casius lies directly north of Palestine. In Psalms 89:13 ẓafon and yamin, in parellelism with Tabor and Hermon, hardly designate the directions north and south; yamin is almost certainly a corruption of Amana, the southern portion of the Taurus mountains, the alteration of ʾamanah to yamin being occasioned by the misunderstanding of ẓafon as
the direction rather than the name of the holy mountain. In Psalms 48:2–3, Mount Zion is equated with "the recesses of ẓafon" (the phrase quoted above from Isa. 14:13). The association of the name Baal-Zephon with Israel's exit from Egypt (Ex. 14:2, 9; Num. 33:7) has been made the basis of intriguing speculation by Eissfeldt.
Baal in the Ugaritic Myths
The bulk of the Ugaritic mythological texts is concerned with the activities of Baal. In correlating the sequence of events, Baal's victory over the sea-god, Yamm, is probably to be placed near the beginning of the action, since it was presumably this exploit which gained him the dominant position among the gods, just as
achieved preeminence by defeating the sea-monster Tiamat. With the help of wonder weapons supplied and blessed by the versatile Koshar (the craftsman god), Baal was able to defeat and rout the sea-god. It has been suggested that this clash was indirectly a conflict between Baal and El, with Yamm serving as champion for the venerable El, as the Titans fought on behalf of Kronos in the Greek version of the myth and the stone colossus Ulikummi for Kumarbi in the Hurrian-Hittite version which is roughly contemporary with the Ugaritic texts.
The biblical allusions to YHWH's victory over the sea preserve echoes of the older exploit of Baal (cf. Isa. 27:1, 30:7, 51:9–10; Ezek. 29:3–5, 32:2–6; Nah. 1:4; Hab. 3:8; Ps. 74:13–14, 89:9–10, 93:1ff.; Job 3:8, 7:12, 9:13, 26:12–13, 38:8–11, 40:25). YHWH's victory over the waters is connected either with the rescue of Israel at the Exodus (Ps. 114) or with eschatological victory (Isa. 27:1). The eschatological traits were taken over with the Canaanite myths. The triumph of Baal recounted in the myths and perhaps reenacted in ritual drama gave assurance of help in the present and the future as in the past. The prize of the victory was kingship over the gods and the enthronement ritual guaranteed the natural order of life and the welfare of the society. The motifs of these myths were adopted and adapted in Jewish and Christian eschatology.
The longest of the texts deals with the construction of Baal's house on top of Mount Ṣapān. A complaint is made to Bull El, father of the gods, that Baal has no house like other gods. Apparently in anticipation of developments the artisan god Koshar had cast furnishings of gold and silver. Asherah, mother of the gods, was prevailed upon to intercede with El to gain permission for the building. El is praised for his wisdom in granting the request since now it is insured that Baal will give his rain in season. The building materials, gold, silver, and lapis lazuli, were procured and the architect-builder Koshar was invited to dinner and consultation. Koshar twice recommended that a window be installed and Baal twice vetoed the suggestion, although Koshar insisted that Baal would have to reconsider. Baal's objection to the window somehow concerned his three daughters and the sea-god (Yamm), but the text is broken at this point. (The suggestion that Jer. 9:20 presents a parallel is mistaken since the Ugaritic text mentions the sea-god and not Death (Mot) in connection with the window.) Baal's house was constructed in an extraordinary fashion. For seven days a fire burned inside the building, and when it subsided, the house was plated with gold, silver, and lapis lazuli. Baal rejoiced and celebrated with a banquet. After a sortie against the sea-god, Baal returned to his house and ordered Koshar to install a window; Koshar laughed, reminded Baal of the debate, and complied. Through the window, a cleft in the clouds, Baal gave forth his holy voice which convulsed the earth and sent his enemies scurrying to the hills and woods. Issuing a challenge to his enemy Mot (death), who presumed to rule gods and men, Baal dispatched his messengers to Mot's infernal, filthy abode, warning them not to get close to Mot's rapacious jaws.
The sequel to this action is furnished by the group of texts which recount Baal's confrontations with Mot. In the first encounter, Baal is invited to a banquet at which he is to be both guest and main course. Baal's response to Mot's invitation to come and be devoured is abject surrender: "Thy slave am I, thine eternal." Before descending to the realm of death, Baal copulates with a heifer and begets a male offspring. After a textual gap, there is a report that Baal's corpse has been found. El and Anath mourn violently, mutilating their faces and bodies. With the help of the sun-goddess Shapsh, Anath locates the dead Baal, carries him to the height of Ṣapān, and weeping buries him with funerary sacrifices. Ashtar the Awful (ʿttrʿrẓ) was then nominated to replace Baal, but when he ascended the throne, his feet did not reach the footstool nor his head the top and so he declined to reign on the heights of Ṣapān and descended from Baal's throne, but ruled over all El's earth. Since the root ʿtr in Arabic is connected with artificial irrigation, it is apparent that Ashtar's failure to measure up to Baal represents the inadequacy of irrigation as a substitute for natural rainfall.
Baal's sister-consort Anath demanded that Mot release her brother. Mot refused and boasted how he had mangled Baal. Anath then dismembered Mot, scattered and burned the pieces, and gave them to the birds. Baal's resurrection followed Mot's demise, the good news being transmitted through a dream of El:
In a dream of Beneficent El Benign,
A vision of the Creator of Creatures,
The skies rained oil,
The wadies flowed honey.
So I knew that Mighty Baal lives,
The Prince, Lord of Earth, exists.
The fields were still parched from the drought and again Anath and Shapsh set out to find Baal. Next both Mot and Baal appear reconstituted and reactivated and again in conflict. They clash violently until both are prostrate and the Sungoddess warns Mot not to fight with Baal lest El hear and overthrow him. This time, Baal puts up a fight and holds Mot off in battle. Thus it is clear that Baal, representing the life-giving rains, fluctuates in his ability to withstand the power of Mot, who represents drought, sterility, and death.
YHWH Versus Baal
The worship of Baal in Syria-Palestine was inextricably bound to the economy of the land which depends on the regularity and adequacy of the rains. Unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia, which depend on irrigation, the Promised Land drinks water from the rain of heaven (Deut. 11:10–11). During the summer months the rains cease, but the temporary drought is no threat unless it is abnormally prolonged. Figs and grapes ripen during the dry season and the grain harvest also takes place before the rains resume. In a normal good year, when the rains come in due season, there is no hiatus in productivity, for the land yields its increase, the trees produce their fruit, the threshing overlaps, the vintage overlaps the sowing, and there is food aplenty, prosperity, and peace (Lev. 26:4–6). But not all years are good, and in a bad year, or a series of bad years, when the rains fail, the skies become like iron, the land like brass, and man's toil is futile for the earth will not yield its increase (Lev. 26:19–20). A series of bad years, which were apparently believed to come in seven-year cycles (cf. Gen. 41; II Sam. 1:21), would be catastrophic. Thus in any year anxiety about the rainfall would be a continuing concern of the inhabitants which would suffice to give rise to rites to ensure the coming of the rains. Thus the basis of the Baal cult was the utter dependence of life on the rains which were regarded as Baal's bounty.
Biblical narrative incorporates tales of Baal worship into the traditions of the wilderness wandering, thus tracing Baal worship to the earliest period of Israel's existence. At Shittim they attached themselves to Baal-Peor, ate sacrifices for the dead, and indulged in sacred sexual orgies (Num. 25:1–11; Ps. 106:28). Life in a land dependent on rainfall enhanced the appeal of the Baal cult and its pervasive influence persisted through the centuries, as the unrelenting protests of the prophets and the sporadic efforts at reform attest. Horrendous and repulsive aspects of the worship – sexual excesses and perversions (Isa. 57:3–10), perhaps including copulation with animals (Hos. 13:2) such as Baal himself performed in the Ugaritic myth – are depicted in the prophetic tirades. Virtually all reference to Baal's consort, the violent "Virgin Anath" – with whom Baal copulates by the thousand in one of the Ugaritic mythological fragments – has been excluded from the Bible, but the goddesses Ashtart (Judg. 2:13) and
(Judg. 6:30; II Kings 16:32–33) are associated with him.
The conflict of Yahwism and Baalism reached a crisis with Elijah's challenge to Baal's prophets to settle the question whether it was Baal or YHWH who really supplied the rain (I Kings 18). The spectacular victory for Yahwism did not have a lasting effect. Extra-biblical evidence for the flourishing Baal cult at Samaria in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E. was furnished by Harvard University excavations in the form of personal names containing Baal as the theophorous element, such as bʾybʿl, "Baal is my father," bʿl zmr, "Baal sings" or "Baalis strong," bʿl zkr, "Baal remembers," bʿl mʿny, "Baal is my answer," etc. Jehu's massacre of the Baal worshipers (II Kings 10:18–28) did not eradicate bull worship (II Kings 10:31). In Judah the murder of the queen mother,
, and of Mattan, priest of Baal, and the smashing of the altars and cult images in the Baal temple (II Kings 11:18) did not wipe out the cult (II Kings 12:3–4). Ahaz fostered Baal worship (II Chron. 28:2); Hezekiah attempted to eliminate it; Manasseh his son again gave it royal support (II Kings 21:3); and Josiah in his turn purged the Temple of YHWH of the utensils made for Baal and Asherah (II Kings 23:4).
The contest on Mount Carmel was reported as demonstrating that Baal was an impotent non-entity and that the rain came only from YHWH. This viewpoint was developed as the basic and final argument against Baalism. With Baal's functions accredited to YHWH, it was natural and fitting that some of Baal's titles would also be taken over. Portions of ancient Baal liturgy were adapted to the praise of Israel's God, as the Ugaritic poems have shown. To accommodate Baal ideology to Yahwism required some radical transformations. The summer drought did not mean that YHWH had died (like Baal), nor did the return of the rains signal the resurrection. The rains were fully controlled by YHWH who called them from the sea and poured them out on the surface of the earth (Amos 5:8b; 9:6b). He could, and did, withhold the rain from one city and lavish it on another (Amos 4:7). None of the foolish practices of the heathen could bring the rains; only YHWH could and did (Jer. 10:11–13; 14:22). If the rains failed and drought and death came upon the land and people, it was not because Mot had mangled Baal and made the glowing sun-goddess destructive; it was rather YHWH's way of meting out merited punishment to a faithless and sinful people (Deut. 11:17; I Kings 8:35–36; Jer. 3:2–3). The continued worship of Baal was given as one of the causes for the destruction of Judah (Jer. 19:5ff.). Payment of the full tithe to the food stores of the Temple, some thought, would guarantee that YHWH would open the windows of heaven and pour down overflowing blessings (Mal. 3:10; cf. Avot 5:11 on the connection between tithing and rain). The prophet Haggai attributed the drought and scarcity in his day to the failure to rebuild the Temple (Hag. 1:7–11).
When the rain failed, it was inevitable that some would question YHWH's power and resort to Baal. In distress some would naturally revert to the old ways of reviving or reactivating the rain-god – prayer, mourning, self-laceration, dancing, and water-pouring (I Kings 18:26–28; Hos. 7:14–16). The right remedy, according to Israel's prophets, was to repudiate Baal completely and to seek and return to Israel's true God (Isa. 55:6–13; Jer. 4:1–2; Hos. 14:2).