What’s Wrong with Baal?

Here’s a podcast regarding Baal, El, and Yahweh. It is a discussion of why Israel had no problem with El but felt the need to get Baal completely out of the system.

14 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Baal?

  1. Gwen

    I had a little difficulty following this one. Let me see if I got this right. Since Baal was in charge of fertility, and since Yahweh needed to be in charge of that to be the only god, they started bad mouthing him. He eventually became the bad guy they made him out to be.


    • Steve Wiggins

      Yes, Gwen, that’s essentially correct. What is important to keep in mind is that ancient peoples never worshiped gods that they believed to be evil. Baal worshipers were not debased and orgiastic (at least not because their religion told them to be!). The worship of Baal, from surviving records, was as serious and as “religious” as was the worship of Yahweh. When monotheism emerged, only one god need apply, and since Baal worship was popular Baal was made to look bad. It is all a matter of seeing things from the other religion’s perspective!


  2. While listening to the third lecture (“Whence Monotheism”), I picked up on this neat idea that monotheism proper was the Jews’ rationalization of the Babylonian captivity, in the 500s. In this lecture, I think I heard you say that a proto-monotheism was already developed before the Babylonian captivity. Are the two mutually consistent? Can you elaborate a bit on a possible timeline, from “There are lots of gods but we’ll only sacrifice to YHWH” to “YHWH is the sole God, the rest are false idols”? Thank you!


    • Thanks, Ahmed. I’ve done further reading on this since the podcast, and what is becoming clearer all the time is that there was no single point of view that covered all of Judaism at the time. In other words, monotheism first emerges during the Babylonian captivity, but it wasn’t the only Jewish point of view at the time. It eventually became “mainstream” but alongside other ideas of who YHWH was and how YHWH interacted with other gods.

      These ideas had been around for some time, in all likelihood, but had never been established as the “official” point of view. Scholars are now increasingly skeptical of uniform viewpoints being presented as “orthodox” or “universal” in ancient (or even modern) religions. It seems that some people were already thinking there was only one God before the captivity, but during that time more and more people saw that it was a good way to make sense of what had happened to them.

      For the timeline, we don’t have a good starting point, historically, but by around 900 BCE there was a temple in Jerusalem which was dedicated primarily to YHWH. That doesn’t mean other people didn’t worship other gods–even the Bible suggests they did. The Babylonians destroyed the temple in 587/6 BCE and the situation was probably a mix of mostly polytheism and some proto-montheism at the time. When they were removed from the temple–the only place YHWH was allowed to be worshipped, according to some–thinking had to shift. By about 520 BCE we have some pretty solid evidence of monotheistic thinking.

      This would be a good topic to revisit, I suspect, in a future podcast.

      Thanks for listening!


      • Thank you, that’s an excellent antidote to Occam’s invitation to indulge blanket characterizations of an entire people, ancient or modern! The richness of beliefs makes a lot more sense.

        I was also intrigued by a comment you made in this lecture, that El and YHWH were “on good terms” with each other I think? From my outsider’s understanding of the documentary hypothesis, I gather that each of the five-ish writers’ contributions are sort of evenly distributed throughout today’s Hebrew Bible. Is there an edition of the Bible, or an online resource, that places a date, or some kind of chronology, beside each chapter (or line) of the Bible, to tell its time of origin? Or maybe reconstructions of the books after each writer/editor? With something like this, I’d be more prepared to look for episodes where El, and divine meetings, are mentioned in the Bible. Plus I think it’d be really interesting on its own. My googling is failing me.

        Again, many thanks! Looking forward to more podcasts (though I’m still on “What the Devil” 😄).


        • Thanks, Ahmed! I will reply in detail once I get back in town; I’m at a conference at the moment. Please, if I don’t respond more fully by Thanksgiving, please send me a reminder!



        • Hi Ahmed,

          To get back to your questions:

          YHWH and Baal being “on good terms” really refers to the fact that their cults (the worship communities and their apparatuses) coexisted without too much trouble. In other words, before monotheism it didn’t matter too much if you worshiped Baal, just as long as you worshiped YHWH. People were fine with worshiping multiple gods as long as things were going well.

          There have been a number of efforts to publish Pentateuchs with J, E, D, and P laid out, but the problem is nobody really agrees on the limits of each. The conference I just attended underscores that yet again—many scholars question the Documentary Hypothesis (DH) and feel that finding the four sources has been misguided. The problem for publishers is that producing texts that reflect the DH is expensive and not likely to find a wide readership. This is even more the case now that the DH has been superseded, in some places, by other theories. There is no scholarly consensus on this, I’m afraid.

          Thanks for listening to the pod casts! Once I have more than a day or two in a row to think about it, I’ll try to get back to the possibilities of how to move ahead with a more “live feed” type presentation style.


    • The trick about this is that there isn’t a single approach (or even list of approaches) that has replaced the DH. What’s so unusual about it is that the DH had a nearly universal agreement among scholars back in a time when such a position was possible. Splinters started soon after this loose consensus and have continued in many directions since then. The one thing that is certain is that the DH indicated once and for all (for most scholars) that the Pentateuch had multiple sources and that it was not originally a unified document. Many scholars are now a lot less certain about who exactly was involved, since we have no records indicating that, and so no one has (to my knowledge) recently tried to summarize the state of the field. In large measure that is because of the way scholars work—slowly building on the work of others.

      We know the Pentateuch was a complex document that came together over a long period of time. Many now think it is a Persian Period (after 538 BCE) document, but its history before then is open to question.

      I wish there was a simple answer to this question, but at this point there is really no consensus among scholars as to the DH or the ultimate origins of the Pentateuch.


      • Got it! That’s a nice mirror for your comment above: ancient Israelites with a variety of points of views floating around about gods—modern scholars with a variety of points of views about Bible authorship 🙃. Richness of the perspectives reflecting the complexities of life.

        I am especially grateful because, well, I’ll admit that after reading a bit about the documentary hypothesis a few years ago, I let myself feel a little superior to ”ignorant people walking around and believing all kinds of silly things,” which isn’t nice. Your explanation just goes to show—one shouldn’t feel superior just because of what one currently “knows”…


        • Well said. I just returned from a conference where I was reminded that many scholars still stand to act superior to others. It’s a point of view that I can’t understand since the more I learn the more I learn I don’t yet know! Keep exploring!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.