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Hebrew Thoughts

ba‘al - בַּעַל (Strong's #1167)
To rule, own, marry

ba‘al 'to rule, own, marry' בַּעַל (Strong's #1167)

"Her lord is known in the gates where he sits among the elders" (Proverbs 31:23, JPS)

The word בַּעַל ba‘al (Strong's #1167, x82) comes from the root verb בָּעַל bâ‘al (Strong's #1166, x16) "to rule, own" which could encompass possession or even marriage, since a wife was more property than partner. Translations vary across a range taking in owner x14, master x5 and husband x11. It is the same word as that of the Canaanite god Ba‘al, meaning, as in Ugaritic, "master" or "lord".

Some 25x it is translated simply as ‘man’ - mostly in Judges 9:2-51, 16x across most common Bible versions. These could just as well, if not more accurately, be translated as "leaders" (NAS) "lords" (Anchor Bible) or "rulers". Judges 9:2 uses the word in the context of the decision makers of Shechem, the rulers and elders, and of their facing a choice to be ruled over (מָשַׁל mâshal - Strong's #4910, x81) by 70 sons of Jerubbaal or by just one, Abimelech.

Judges 9:46-47 calls them the "men of the tower of Shechem" or "lords of Shechem’s tower/castle/high-place" מִגְדָּל migh'dâl (Strong's #4026, x50) from "to make great, grow, magnify" גָּדַל gâdhal (Strong's #1431, x115). The idea that these בַּעַלִים ba‘alîym are just ordinary "men" or husbands" is cleared up when Judges 9:51 refers to "all the men and women and all the city’s lords/leaders" as a distinct class of men.

Leviticus 21:4 describes priests as "leaders of the people" and Jeremiah 37:13 uses בַּעַל ba‘al of a "captain" of the guard.

Numerous times בַּעַל ba‘al means "owner" of, its genitive use implying possession of a thing, person or skill. For example, "owner of a wife" i.e., married (Genesis 20:3; Exodus 21:3); "owner of an ox" (Exodus 21:28-29); "owner of a pit" (Exodus 21:34); "owner/head of a house" (Exodus 22:8), or "owner/possessor of understanding" (Proverbs 16:22).

Joseph the "dreamer", as most translations have it, is more literally "master-of the-dream" (Genesis 37:19). Similarly, there are "masters of arrows" i.e., archers (Genesis 49:23); "masters of the horse" (2 Samuel 1:6), or more negatively "master of destruction" (Proverbs 18:9), "master of anger/wrath" (Proverbs 22:24), or בַּעַל־מְזִמָּה ba‘al-mezimmôwth "lord of mischief(s)".

בַּעַל־הַלָּשּׁוֹן ba‘al-hallâshshôwn "master of the tongue" is translated as "charmer" in most translations of Ecclesiastes 10:20.


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