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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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BEL, or BELUS, denoting lord, a divinity among several ancient nations; as the Canaanites, Phoenicians, Sidonians, Carthaginians, Babylonians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians. The term Baal, which is itself an appellative, served at first to denote the true God, among those who adhered to the true religion. Accordingly, the Phoenicians, being originally Canaanites, having once had, as well as the rest of their kindred, the knowledge of the true God, probably called him Baal, or lord. But they, as well as other nations, gradually degenerating into idolatry, applied this appellation, to their respective idols; and thus were introduced a variety of divinities, called Baalim, or Baal, with some epithet annexed to it, as Baal Berith, Baal Gad, Baal Moloch, Baal Peor, Baal Zebub, &c. Some have supposed that the descendants of Ham first worshipped the sun under the title of Baal, 2 Kings 23:5; 2 Kings 23:11; and that they afterward ascribed it to the patriarch who was the head of their line; making the sun only an emblem of his influence or power. It is certain, however, that when the custom prevailed of deifying and worshipping those who were in any respect distinguished among mankind, the appellation of Baal was not restricted to the sun, but extended to those eminent persons who were deified, and who became objects of worship in different nations. The Phoenicians had several divinities of this kind, who were not intended to represent the sun. It is probable that Baal, Belus, or Bel, the great god of the Carthaginians, and also of the Sidonians, Babylonians, and Assyrians, who, from the testimony of Scripture, appears to have been delighted with human sacrifices, was the Moloch of the Ammonites; the Chronus of the Greeks, who was the chief object of adoration in Italy, Crete, Cyprus, and Rhodes, and all other countries where divine honours were paid him; and the Saturn of the Latins. In process of time, many other deities, beside the principal ones just mentioned, were distinguished by the title of Baal among the Phoenicians, particularly those of Tyre, and of course among the Carthaginians, and other nations. Such were Jupiter, Mars, Bacchus, and Apollo, or the sun.

The temples and altars of Baal were generally placed on eminences: they were places inclosed by walls, within which was maintained a perpetual fire; and some of them had statues or images, called in Scripture, "Chamanim." Maundrell, in his journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem, observed some remains of these enclosures in Syria. Baal had his prophets and his priests in great numbers; accordingly, we read of four hundred and fifty of them that were fed at the table of Jezebel only; and they conducted the worship of this deity, by offering sacrifices, by dancing round his altar with violent gesticulations and exclamations, by cutting their bodies with knives and lancets, and by raving and pretending to prophesy, as if they were possessed by some invisible power.

It is remarkable that we do not find the name Baal so much in popular use east of Babylonia; but it was general west of Babylonia, and to the very extremity of western Europe, including the British isles. The worship of Bel, Belus, Belenus, or Belinus, was general throughout the British islands; and certain of its rites and observances are still maintained among us, notwithstanding the establishment of Christianity during so many ages. A town in Perthshire, on the borders of the Highlands, is called Tilliebeltane or Tulliebeltane; that is, the eminence, or rising ground, of the fire of Baal. In the neighbourhood is a Druidical temple of eight upright stones, where it is supposed the fire was kindled. At some distance from this is another temple of the same kind, but smaller; and near it a well still held in great veneration. On Beltane morning, superstitious people go to this well, and drink of it; then they make a procession round it nine times. After this they in like manner go round the temple. So deep-rooted is this Heathenish superstition in the minds of many who reckon themselves good Protestants, that they will not neglect these rites, even when Beltane falls on the Sabbath.

In Ireland, Bel-tein is celebrated on the twenty-first of June, at the time of the solstice. There, as they make fires on the tops of hills, every member of the family is made to pass though the fire; as they reckon this ceremony necessary to ensure good fortune through the succeeding year. This resembles the rites used by the Romans in the Palilia. Bel-tein is also observed in Lancashire.

In Wales, this annual fire is kindled in autumn, on the first day of November; which being neither at the solstice nor equinox, deserves attention. It may be accounted for by supposing that the lapse of ages has removed it from its ancient station, and that the observance is kept on the same day, nominally, though that be now removed some weeks backward from its true station. However that may be, in North Wales especially, this fire is attended by many ceremonies; such as running through the fire and smoke, each participator casting a stone into the fire.

The Hebrews often imitated the idolatry of the Canaanites in adoring Baal. They offered human sacrifices to him in groves, upon high places, and upon the terraces of houses. Baal had priests and prophets consecrated to his service. All sorts of infamous and immodest actions were committed in the festivals of Baal and Astarte. See Jeremiah 32:35; 2 Kings 17:16; 2 Kings 23:4-5; 2 Kings 23:12; 1 Kings 18:22; 2 Kings 10:19; 1 Kings 14:24; 1 Kings 15:12; 2 Kings 23:7; Hosea 4:14 . This false deity is frequently mentioned in Scripture in the plural number, Baalim, which may intimate that the name Baal was given to several different deities.

There were many cities in Palestine, whose names were compounded of Baal and some other word: whether it was that the god Baal was adored in them, or that these places were looked upon as the capital cities,— lords of their respective provinces,—is uncertain.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Baal'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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Baal Berith