Hebrew, He was the chief divinity among the Phoenicians, the Canaanites, and the Babylonians. The word signifies in Hebrew Lord or Master. It was among the Orientalists a comprehensive term, denoting divinity of any kind without reference to class or to sex. The Sabaists understood Baal as the sun, and Baalim, in the plural, were the sun, moon, and stars, "the host of heaven.'' Whenever the Israelites made one of their almost. periodical deflections to idolatry, Baal seems to have been the favorite idol to whose worship they addicted themselves. Hence he became the especial object of denunciation with the prophets.
Thus, in First Kings (xviii), we see Elijah showing, by practical demonstration, the difference between Baal and Jehovah. The idolaters, at his initiation, called on Baal, as their sun-god, to light the sacrificial fire, from morning until noon, because at noon he had acquired his greatest intensity. After noon, no fire having been kindled on the altar, they began to cry aloud, and to cut themselves in token of mortification, because as the sun descended there was no hope of his help. But Elijah, depending on Jehovah, made his sacrifice toward sunset, to show the greatest contrast between Baal and the true God. When the people saw the fire come down and consume the offering, they acknowledged the weakness of their idol, and falling on their faces cried out, Jehovah hu hahelohim, meaning Jehovah, He is the God. And Hosea afterward promises the people that they shall abandon their idolatry, and that he would take away from them the Shemoth hahbaalim, the names of the Baalim, so that they should be no more remembered by their names, and the people should in that day "know Jehovah."
Hence we see that there was an evident antagonism in the orthodox Hebrew mind between Jehmah and Baal. The latter was, however, worshiped by the Jews, whenever they became heterodox, and by all the Oriental or Shemitic nations as a supreme divinity, representing the sun in some of his modifications as the ruler of the day. In Tyre, Baal was the sun, and Ashtaroth, the moon. Baal-peor, the lord of priapism, was the sun represented as the generative principle of nature, and identical with the phallus of other religions. Baal-gad was the lord of the multitude (of stars) that is, the sun as the chief of the heavenly host. In brief, Baal seems to have been wherever his cultus was active, a development of the old sun worship.
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