A Whole New Baal Game

The nation of Moab failed in its bid to curse Israel, but succeed in seducing the men of Israel and getting them to worship the god Baal Peor. God commanded Moses to kill the violators. This is an early example of Israel’s struggle to maintain loyalty to God in the face of the foreign gods, and Baal in particular.

After the reigns of King David and King Solomon, the northern Kingdom of Israel seceded from the union of the twelve tribes headed by the Davidic kings from Judah. Unlike the U.S. Civil War, here the north seceded from the south.

The northern Kingdom of Israel soon fell into the worship of other gods. King Ahab of Israel married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidon, and adopted the worship of Baal. This sparked a fight between the prophets of God and of Baal, and led to Elijah’s showdown against the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel and perhaps the best example of biblical trash talking by Elijah. When the prophets of Baal could not summon Baal to ignite their sacrificial offering, Elijah taunted: “If Baal really is a god, maybe he is thinking, or busy, or traveling! Maybe he is sleeping so you will have to wake him!”

The Canaanites of the Bible are not connected to a specific geography, but are generally in the area lumped in with the inhabitants of northern Israel running north through Lebanon and coastal Syria. In the Canaanite pantheon of gods, Yam is the god of the sea, Mot is the god of death and the underworld, and Baal the god of lightening and weather. The relationship and rivalry of these gods is spelled out in the Baal Cycle, which was discovered at Ras Shamra in northern Syria, above the ancient town of Ugarit. In the Baal Cycle, Baal emerges victorious and he becomes elevated in the Canaanite pantheon.

The archaeological record bears this out as well, as Baal is prominent at Canaanite sites. As the god of weather, Baal is commonly depicted in a striking position, standing, with his right arm raised to strike. He can also be represented by a bull.

The popularity of Baal is in evidence in the areas that became Israel. Bull figurines and storm god figurines have been found in both northern and southern areas. Numerous storm god figurines were found at Hazor in the Upper Galilee that date to the Late Bronze Age, in the 15th-13th centuries, when the city was identifiably Canaanite. Bull figurines were found further south at Shiloh.

As the Canaanites were geographically spread out and could be in contact with Israel in many locations, a key god which Israel would have been exposed to by the Canaanites was Baal.

The Baal idol in the image above is from Hazor, and can be seen at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.