God revered in many fashions within a number of ancient, now extinct, West Semitic religions.
Stele of Baal from Ugarit (modern Syria), sometime between 18th and 15th century BCE. Now at Musee du Louvre, Paris, France.
Baal statuette from Ugarit. Now at Musee du Louvre, Paris, France.
Baal is a Semitic word which may be translated into "Lord", "Master", "Owner" or even "Husband".
Most of our knowledge concerning Baal comes from Canaanite and Phoenician religions and from early Hebrew religion. Tablets unearthed at Ugarit are among our main sources to the qualities of Baal.
There is no evidence of any scriptures or universal theology defining Baal. The occurrence of Baal at one cult centre to another involves many different understandings of Baal.
In many contexts it appears as if Baal was revered as the highest god, but West Semitic religions generally El was on top of the pantheon, though usually as a non-acting god, rarely revered in cult. But in some cult centres one and the same god could be called both El and Baal, which may have meant that the two had amalgamated into one deity.
In some cases it seems that "baal" was simply used as a term indicating gods in general.
In the cases when Baal was a unique god, he was usually the universal god of fertility. He could also be called the god of rain and dew, qualities intrinsically linked with fertility in this part of the world. Baal may even be described as "Lord of the Heavens" (see Heaven).
In Ugarit we hear of Baal with his pure name, but in many other cult centres his name is put together with another name. This was often the name of the place, like Baal-Hazor, Baal-Peor, Baal-Sidon, Baal-Lebanon or Baal-Harran. We also see combinations like Baal-Berit, "Lord of the Covenant", and Baal-Marqod, "Lord of Dancing."
The concept of Baal would become a very popular cult in Egypt during the New Kingdom 14th to 11th centuries. The cult would also spread around the Mediterranean Sea with the establishment of Phoenician colonies. But in the case of Carthage, the supreme god, Baal Hammon, may really have been El or Dagan.
In the early stages of Hebrew religion, Baal is mentioned many times, reflected in his name being used for names, i.e. King Saul named a son Ishbaal. But with the Hebrews, Baal may have been used as a synonym for Yahweh. As a matter of fact, the attempt of Queen Jezebel of Israel in the 9th century BCE to introduce the cult of Baal met so strong opposition, that from this time on, the term baal was no longer used with positive connotations.
Rituals of Baal, as seen from Canaan and perhaps even among early Hebrews, involved the offerings of fruits and the first born of cattle, but there is little information about other rituals, although they must have existed.
Shrines in Canaanite were simple in structure, usually only an altar with surrounded by sacred pillars.
Later cults were more elaborate, and there are a few great ruined temple dedicated to Baal. Most impressive is the temple in Palmyra, though its central structures were rebuilt a couple of times, and the present structure was built in the 1st century CE.
Baal belongs to a triad of gods, Dagan being his father, Anath his sister.
Baal's position as the highest of gods was not given to him, rather it was a result of his own fighting spirit. With many similarities to Marduk of Babylonian and Assyrian religion he had to gain his position through slaying the sea god, Yamm. Also, his palace was the product of his skills, as he had Asherah, the consort of El, pull strings to make Kothar build him the most beautiful palace.
The most important myth of Baal was fertility cult with cycles lasting 7 years. The success of the battle in the myth decided whether fertility or drought would come upon the country.
In the myth, there is a battle between Baal and Mot, the god of death. Although Mot represents destructive powers, he is crucial to the success of the battle and he cannot be equalled to Satan or evil powers. Mot kills Baal and throws him into the netherworld. With this, vegetation in the human world dies (equals the heat of summer). But with the help of his sister Anath, Baal manages to return to life, and with this fertility returns to nature (fall, winter, spring).
A selection of historical names are linked with Baal, like Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Jezebel, in addition to the town Baalbek.