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A Who's Who of World Mythology : Ba'al and Baalat

Baal, known as the “Rider of the Clouds” and “Lord of Heaven,” is the son of Dagon or El and is considered a rain and fertility god of the northern Semites. He has many names including Aleyn Baal, Armen, Ba’al, Ba’al Lebanon, Ba’al of Tyre, Ba’al Shamin, Ba’al Tsaphon (Lord of the North), Ba’al-zebub, Baalsamame, Bal, Balsamem, Balshameme, Barshamina, Bel, Belshim, Belu, Belus, Elagabalus, Hadad, and Moloch. He is often depicted wielding a thunderbolt spear. Baal is locked in eternal conflict with Mot, the god of death or infertility. He is sometimes victorious, and sometimes not, but he always returns to life at the end of the tale. In Egypt, Baal was equated with Set.

According to one story, Yahm the sea god asked his father El to crown him king. El agreed to this as Yam was his favored son, but warned Yam that he would have to defeat Baal in battle. Baal caught wind of the impending battle and armed himself with weapons created by the other gods. He not only succeeded in killing Yam, he dismembered the sea god and scattered his remains. Baal then proclaimed himself king, and after obtaining permission from Asherah, the wife of El, he had Koshar-u-Khasis, god of craftsmen, build him a sumptuous palace of Cedar of Lebanon, Lapis Lazuli, Gold and Silver near Mount Saphon (Zaphon) north of Ugarit. He took control of several cities and decided to hold a feast. He invited his family, Asherah’s seventy children and El, but excluded El’s new favorite, Mot, the god of death and aridity. Mot in turn invited Baal into his underground dwelling, offering him mud, the food of the dead. Baal ate the mud and died. All the gods mourned his death, including his sister-wife, the ferocious Anat. She descended into the Underworld to retrieve her husband, but was unable to revive him. When Mot refused to help her, she flew into a rage and killed him. Whereupon, Baal woke.

Baal means “lord” or “owner,” and often it was affixed to the names of the local god of each town. In Babylon, the title, Bel, was used to refer to the great gods, the earliest known god with this title being Enlil. When the Israelites took up residence in Canaan, they adopted the word and used it to refer to any alien god. The Bel of the Old Testament was most likely Marduk. It has been suggested however that the title Baal was used to refer to one’s god so that outsiders and invaders could not learn his name and petition him away from his regular worshipers.

Finally we come to one of the most well known practices of which Baal worshipers have been accused, namely child sacrifice. There is archaeological evidence that the Canaanites of the second millennium BCE followed this custom. Excavations of a shrine near the city of Gezer yielded clay jars containing the charred bones of babies. The practices of child sacrifice and of holy prostitution (another common temple practice of the time) were especially loathsome to the Hebrew prophets, who denounced the cult and its temples. Early Semites were not above child sacrifice themselves (as can be seen in some passages of the Bible), and many Hebrews participated in the cult of Baal… probably only adding insult to injury in the eyes of the early Patriarchs.

There is ample evidence that some aspects of Yahweh were reflected aspects of Baal as the Divine King (Lord of Heaven), in the destruction of the sea-serpent Leviathan (Yahm) and the concept of everlasting kingly dominion. These stories and many others were common in Middle Eastern mythology. Some of the liturgical language found in the Bible is also similar, for instance the wording of Psalm 68, "To him that rideth upon the heavens of heavens, his strength in the clouds", etc.


Baalat

Just as Baal was a generic term for the deity or Lord of a particular place, so was the feminine form used to refer to a goddess of an area. Baalat (Baalath, Baalith, Belili, Belit, Baalti, Baaltis, Beltis, Beltu) was the generic term for any goddess of the Middle East, but was applied in particular to the Goddess of Byblos. The word means Lady or Mistress and seems to be older than the title Baal. Though it was used to refer to any number of Middle Eastern goddesses, it was most often applied to Ninlil, consort of Enlil, and to Ishtar (or Ashtarte) who was also referred to as Baelthi. Baalat was considered the goddess of books, libraries, and writers.


Other Baal Gods

Many Middle Eastern gods received the title of Baal or lord.

There was Baal-Addir, or the “Mighty Lord.” From Byblos, his cult spread to North Africa. He may have been a god of the underworld or vegetation, or both. The African troops of the Roman army identified him with Jupiter Valens.

Baal-Berith is the “Lord of the Covenant,” a god who presided over contracts and agreements.

Baal-Biq’ah is the “Lord of the Plain.” He was patron of the city of Baalbek, which was named for him, but he was principally a weather deity. During the Hellenistic period he became a sky or sun god and was identified with Zeus. Under the Romans he became Jupiter Heliopolitanus, for by then, Baalbek had been renamed Heliopolis.

Baal Enet Mahartet is a Ugarit rain god.

Baal-Hadad is the “Lord of Thunder” and rider of the clouds in Syria. He was also called Baal-Rammon. In his capacity as a warrior, he was called “Price-Lord” or Baalzebul. This manifestation will be dealt with more fully when I get to Beelzebub. Mount Sapon in Palestine was named for Baal-Sapon (or Sapan), another of Baal-Hadad’s manifestations. As Sapan, he was the conqueror of the sea-god Jamm and therefore acted as a protector of mariners. Mount Sapon may have been used as a beacon for seafarers. This is true also of Baal-Hermon, Baal Brathy, and other Baals associated with coastal mounts.

Baal-Hammon or Aleyn-Baal was the chief fertility god of Carthage. From there, his cult spread to the islands of Malta, Sicily, and Sardinia. The earliest inscription mentioning this deity comes from the Phoenician settlement of Zindsirli. His name is taken to mean “Lord of the Censer Altars,” and he is the husband of Tanit or Tanit Pene Ba’al. He was chiefly a fertility god however, a theory borne out in the Roman appellation of Frugifer or “Fruit-bearer.” One of the main practices of his worship was the sacrifice of children, both in Sicily and North Africa. He was also regarded as an oracular god due to the similarities between his name and the god Ammon. The Greeks identified him with Kronos however, and the Romans paired him with Saturn. He is depicted as a bearded old man wearing rams horns on his head.

Baal-Karmelos was worshipped on Mount Carmel in Canaan where he (or his priests) delivered oracles. He was still venerated in Roman times by Emperor Vespasian.

Baal-Lebanon was a Semite god of lightning, rain, and thunder.

Baal-Malage is a Phoenician tutelary god, probably of Canaanite origin. He is closely equated with Baal-Shamayim, but is known only from inscriptions.

Baal-Marqod was a healing god with a curative well. But perhaps he was also a healer through rituals resembling whirling dervishes, as his name means “Lord of the Dance.” His shrine was located near the modern city of Beirut. The Romans identified him with Jupiter.

Baal-Melkart was the chief god of Tyre and followed the Phoenicians to Carthage where he became one of the chief gods of the city.

Baal-Peor will be covered under the Moabite god Chemosh.

Baal-Qarnain is the “Lord of Two-Horns.” He was named for two mountain peaks close to the Gulf of Tunis. The Romans identified him with Saturn as Saturnus Balcarnensis. He is considered a possible manifestation of Baal-Hammon.

Baal-Shamain may have been equated with Shamash. In Babylonian mythology, he was a sky god and was identified in Philo with the sun.

Baal-Shamayim (Balsamem, Balsamin, Balshamin, Balshameme, Belshim, Baal-Sammin, or Baal-Samem) was the Phoenician “Lord of the Heavens,” and the most serious threat to the supremacy of Yahweh. He was also referred to as “Lord of the World,” the “Good and Renewing God,” “Lord of Eternity,” and “Master of the Skies.” His cult was widespread throughout Syria, Northern Mesopotamia, Cyprus, and Carthage. He is portrayed on some coinage with a half-moon on his forehead and carrying a sun in one hand with seven rays. To the Romans he was Caelus, “the sky.”

Baal-Sutekh is equated with Anat.