Baalism, Ancient Materialistic Religion of Canaan
FOR the past fifty years a wave of materialistic religious thinking has swept into Christendom. All its major and minor sects have been affected by its apostatizing influences. In fact, all Christendom has put on the garments of materialism, featuring money-getting, worship of the state in the form of nationalism and lowering of sex restraints. This brings to mind the days of King Jehu, when Israel had largely become apostate by means of the materialistic religion of Baalism.1 For this reason it is of practical interest to examine what this ancient materialistic religion of Canaan comprised and how it was practiced as a subtle satanic snare to the worshipers of Jehovah in Israel.—Judg. 2:3.
Little was known of Baalism besides the many Biblical references until 1929, when archaeologists excavated the site of the ancient Canaanite city of Ugarit, later known as Ras Shamra. Many religious artifacts and hundreds of clay tablets, part of a library, were uncovered from the period just prior to the Israelite occupation of Palestine. The language was recognized as Semitic and its decipherment was finally accomplished. The language known as Ugaritic is closely related to both Biblical Hebrew and Phoenician. From these documents it has become possible for the first time to obtain a fairly good knowledge of some of their mythological beliefs and how they practiced their religion in Canaan.2
THE GODS OF CANAAN
It is now known that El was considered the chief god of these pagan Canaanites (el in Hebrew means “god”). On a stele found at Ras Shamra the god El is shown seated upon a throne, with the king of Ugarit presenting an offering before him. The god is represented as mature in age, paternal and majestic in appearance. The wife of El is Asherah, the counselor of the gods, the goddess of fertility represented in symbol by a sacred pole. (1 Ki. 18:19, footnote c) To complete the trinity of major gods, El and Asherah had an outstanding son, Baal, also considered a god. Baal was a god of the rain and the storm and is represented on a Ras Shamra stele brandishing a mace in his right hand and holding in his left hand a stylized thunderbolt ending in a spearhead. One of Baal’s titles is “Zebul [the Exalted] Lord of the Earth.” This doubtless has survived in the name of the god Baal-zebub in 2 Kings 1:2 and the reference to Satan as Beelzebub at Mark 3:22. The sister of Baal is the goddess Anath, represented as “the virgin.” Baal’s wife is said to have been the goddess Ashtoreth (Astarte) made mention of at Judges 2:13 (see footnote c).
The clay tablets found at Ras Shamra reveal the “Myth of Baal.”3 (Baal in the Canaanite dialects and in Hebrew means “owner, master.”) From the account it is obvious that this pagan myth seeks to represent religiously the alternation of the seasons in Canaan. Baal was supposed to control the rain and thus energize the soil to give birth to vegetation. Since the Canaanites were entirely dependent on the regularity of the rain and vegetation, it was from a materialistic viewpoint that they considered Baal an exceedingly important factor. From April to the end of October there is no rain in Palestine apart from a very occasional and unseasonable shower. Only those vegetables and plants can grow that can get what water they need from the heavy morning dew. Toward the end of October the rains begin and continue, on and off, throughout the winter to the end of April. The winter, therefore, is one general rainy season. Very early in the spring, about February, the grain is planted, and then harvested in May or June, though the exact time varies with the season and section of the country. In April, as a result of the rains, the whole countryside is covered with rich vegetation, including beautiful wild flowers of all sorts. By the end of May these have all disappeared, and the landscape is barren except for the trees and the occasional thornbush that can survive the dry season.4
The materialistic Canaanite mind personified the forces of nature to answer why these things should be. Rain and Storm (the god Baal) was killed each spring after a great battle with Death (Mot). Thus through the summer months Death reigned supreme. Why do the rains begin in the autumn? Because Death is conquered by Baal’s sister Anath and Baal comes back to life. Why does rich vegetation cover the land in the spring? Because of the mating of Baal and Fertility, his wife Ashtoreth.
Where does man on earth fit in with Baalism? This ancient religion was more of a public institution, a community way of life, than an individual experience. The god El was considered the supreme divinity who ruled an invisible society of gods, while Baal was his prime minister who ruled a visible society of humans in reflection of what was occurring in the invisible realm. The great Baal was also considered to be the total of many local Baals (baalim). The city or state community was married to its local Baal and was thus fertilized to produce. Individuals were merely part of the collective whole subject to Baal’s forces. Baal to them was a real, materialistic, dynamic force to energize. It was just like a husband who brings to sexual fulfillment and, so to speak, “energizes” his wife. So their great god Baal could energize the soil to produce vegetation and their local Baal could energize a living community of men and beasts. Thus the collective self of the city being considered part of the personification of a local Baal himself, many localities called themselves by his name, such as Baal-hermon, Baal-meon, Baal-hazor, Baal-zephon and others.5
Actually this was a forerunner of modern nationalism. The collective self was pictured to be the local Baal of which the individuals were a part, just as an individual American is part of the collective self called “Uncle Sam” and the individual Briton is a part of “John Bull.” Each national “baal” group feels somehow that it is superior to others and is the best country under the sun. They also believe that their concept of the invisible “el” to whom they pray for victory and upon whose military altar they sacrifice their sons is specially interested in the advancement of their national society and its material interests. They hold to their distinctive national characteristics and traditions, in which they take pride. After death these extreme nationals are of the thinking that they will be associated with their forefathers in similar exclusive national societies in the invisible realm. In other words, once a Canaanite always a Canaanite, even a Canaanite in the “afterworld.”
Many modern nationalists are so emotionally moved when they see their national emblem pass by in parade that they have a reaction of goose pimples. In Baalism this is considered evidence of a religious experience, said to be in awe of the gods, having what the Canaanites called “goose-flesh.”6 Baalism also believes in human immortality, that the soul lives on. In fact, in Baalism those who die are termed elohim (one of the gods), as is confirmed by the Canaanite witch of Endor who referred to dead Samuel as a “god.” (1 Sam. 28:13, footnote b) This type of Baalistic, nationalistic thinking has captured most of Christendom today. James correctly calls all this spiritual adultery with this world. Truly, apostate Christians have joined themselves in a very real sense to modern Baal.—Jas. 4:4.
Each Canaanite city built its Baal sanctuary in honor of its local patron Baal. Priests were appointed to conduct worship in this sanctuary and also in their many shrines on neighboring hilltops known as “high places.” (2 Ki. 12:3) An image of their god El or Baal might occupy the shrine and be dimly seen by the worshipers, and near the altar outside stood a stone pillar, the massebah, a phallic symbol of the god. Then, too, there would be a wooden sacred pole representing the goddess Asherah, who was considered the wife of the “el.” Gift and communion sacrifices were made at these shrines. Even human sacrifices were offered on their altars. (Ps. 106:37, 38) Here also the fertility goddess Ashtoreth, Baal’s wife, was worshiped by means of temple prostitution. Men and women attendants, ministers at these shrines for this purpose, were called Kedeshim and Kedeshoth, meaning “consecrated persons.”7
Jehovah the God of Israel warned against Baal worship and ordered its elimination from the land when they entered. (Deut. 7:5, 6) Even before they possessed the Promised Land, Satan enticed many to fall to Baalistic sex relations, to commit actual physical fornication. (Num. 25:2, 3; 1 Cor. 10:8) Later Israel was ensnared to make compromises with Baalism. Satan got them to thinking that they could still recognize Jehovah as their national God but at the same time they should be “realistic” in giving some attention to the material forces that make the crops grow and the flocks and herds bear young.
Israel’s sad experience in falling victim to materialistic Baalism is reproduced today on an earth-wide scale by those who claim to be serving the Most High God. Jesus Christ is still right in saying: “No one can be a slave to two masters.” (Matt. 6:24) Christendom’s religious sects today cannot be serving the true God of heaven and be Baal worshipers at the same time.
1 2 Ki. 10:20-27; see You May Survive Armageddon into God’s New World, pp. 277-279.
2 Light from the Ancient Past, 1946, by J. Finegan, pp. 146-148.
3 Ancient Religions, 1950, by V. Ferm, chapter on “The Religion of the Canaanites,” by Theodor H. Gaster, pp. 135, 136.
4 Biblical Archaeology, 1957, by G. E. Wright, pp. 105-111.
6 Ancient Religions, page 119.
7 Man’s Religions, 1949, by J. B. Noss, pp. 493, 495.