After reading Leviticus, Numbers, and then Deuteronomy, you come across a lot of warnings and laws about worshipping other Gods. This being the case, and after hearing the thoughts on this subject from Bible skeptics I know, I thought it would be really interesting to actually study one of the gods that the Israelites are said to have sinfully worshipped. Moreover, the one god mentioned in Deuteronomy just so happens to be one of the main gods that I wanted to know more about. Lastly, I decided that I wanted to question who exactly the god Baal was, and more specifically, who was Baal-Peor that’s mentioned in Deuteronomy 4:3?
When looking at who exactly Baal was, I found that the answer was rather confusing while also very intriguing. When I initially began my research, my first thought was to look at the Hebrew word in Strong’s and Thayer to make sense of what exactly the word “Baal” meant in the Hebrew text. What I discovered was that Baal means “lord” or “possessor” or “master” (Strong’s and BDB H1167 and H1168). Moreover, when used as “Baal-Peor” it meant “Lord of the gap” or “Lord of Peor” (with Peor being the mountain and not the word “gap”). (Strong’s and BDB H1187). From all of this; I really wasn’t able to gather much, but knowing this turned out to be a good prerequisite for understanding how Baal and Baal-Peor are explained in my resources.
The god Baal himself was worshipped by the Canaanites in the Old Testament times, and was seen as a sun god and/or a fertility god. I say, “and/or,” because this is where things became convoluted and messy. In Syria Baal was the sun god and in Canaan Baal was the fertility god. (http://www.pantheon.org/articles/b/baal.html) However, in either case (either being inclusive) it appears that Baal was seen as the god that gave prosperity to a land and was the cause for the seasons. As a fertility god, Baal religion dealt with the seasonal cycle. “Ba‘al religion revolved around the cycles of nature necessary for survival and prosperity in the ancient world, primarily growing crops or raising livestock, as well as the growth of human populations. Not surprisingly, in an arid and agriculturally marginal area of the world the fertility of land and crops played a large role in Canaanite world view.”(http://www.cresourcei.org/baal.html) As the sun god, Baal is described as the beneficent and the destroyer. “As the Sun-god, Baal was worshipped under two aspects, beneficent and destructive. On the one hand he gave light and warmth to his worshippers; on the other hand the fierce heats of summer destroyed the vegetation he had himself brought into being.” (http://biblehub.com/topical/b/baal.htm) However, These two descriptions coincide one another on one fact: that Baal gave prosperity to the land, and he took it away. What can be surmised is that Baal was used as a religious way to make sense of what we know scientifically to be the seasons caused by the earth’s rotation around the sun.
Another thing I learned about Baal as the fertility god is that the mythology of him outside of the Bible comes from two different sources of writing, the Enuma Elish and the Ugarit with the Enuma Elish being Babylonian and the Ugarit being Syrian. Both of these stories were somewhat different than each other; however, there was an over-arching theme in both of them in which the god Baal was in a battle with some other beast or god. When Baal won the battle, there was fertility in the land, and when he lost the battle there was drought and lack of prosperity in the land. Moreover, each loss and win happened in a chronologically uniform manner and that is why there were seasons. (http://www.cresourcei.org/baal.html).
The Israelites often struggled with the adoption of Baal as a god, and even began to name some of their children with “Baal” in their name. This was probably a result of the fact that Baal was often worshipped through indulgence of the senses which is always tempting no matter the person. Moreover, at one point in time Yahweh was called “Baal”, but this and the naming of children was done away with after the time of Ahab and was abolished in Hosea 2:16. Moreover, those with “baal” in their name had to change their name to “bosheth” which meant “shame. (http://bibleatlas.org/beth-baal-peor.htm)
So by now you may be thinking, “What about Baal-Peor?” Well this is also somewhat convoluted, but easily understood. The word “Baal” meaning “Lord” or “Possessor” is used in many different ways. One of those is “Baal-Peor”. What “Baal-Peor” means in this case is “Lord” or “Possessor” of “Peor”. “The Canaanites worshiped “the Baal” (the local fertility deity) but the people of each community had their own baal, as we can tell by place names like Baal-zephon, Baal-peor, and Baal-hermon-”(http://tyndalearchive.com/scriptures/www.innvista.com/scriptures/compare/israel.htm) So what we can gather is that Baal was a term used in the form of “lord” for many different lands and that is why we find “Baal-Peor” in Deuteronomy and Numbers. Therefore, it can be surmised that “Baal-Peor” is the god of fertility around the mountain Peor.
The worship of Baal-Peor is described as licentious and through sensual activities. (http://bibleatlas.org/beth-baal-peor.htm) This would be a probable reason for why the Israelites would have strayed to following after the god “Baal-Peor” since the lust for these activities would have been seen as far more pleasurable than offering an animal in sacrifice. However, there were also cases of sacrifice similar to that of Molech.(http://www.pantheon.org/articles/b/baal.html)
One last explanation of Baal-Peor differs from the defining of him as the lord of the mountain peor. This is different due to the interpretation of the the term “Baal-Peor”. “Baal” is still defined as “lord”, and “Peor” is still defined as “the gap”. However, this term is taken very literally to mean “Lord of the Hole” and is in reference to any opening in the body. “Hosea remarks on the Baal Peor event in Hosea 9:10, and it is clear that the Israelites defiled themselves there with abundant fornication and sexual perversion. All leading translators steer timidly clear from this name, which basically comes down to Lord Hole.”( http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/BaalPeor.html#.VB-1xPldWqJ) This writer is taking the position that “Baal-Peor” was nothing more than a god pertaining to sex. This is very plausible since in Numbers 25:1 we see that the Israelites did wrong by whoring around with the daughters of Moab.
After discovering all of this I have really come to just a few conclusions that I feel are concrete. One, that Baal was a sun god in some areas and a local fertility god in different areas of Canaan, two, worshipping Baal consisted of sexual activities, three, worshipping Baal-Peor strongly consisted of sensual desires, and four, the straying of the Israelites to worship Baal is not so far-fetched. In other words, in our struggle as modern-day people to understand why the Israelites would stray so much to other gods, there is now some reason to understand. The last conclusion is one that I make because the worshipping of Baal-Peor consisted of sensual desires, combined with the Israelites struggle to assimilate into monotheism. These two things concatenated make for validation for the temptation, and can help us in modern day to understand the difficulty to stand faithful to Yahweh. After all, the main cause seems to be the contrast of worshipping a deity by indulging, or worshipping a deity by sacrificing. Which seems more pleasant to you?