Baal Worship, a Perpetual Problem in Ancient Israel

February 7, 2020

A primary distinction between Israel and all the other nations was embodied in the first two commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Ex. 20:3,4). Idolatry in its varied forms, with many gods, permeated the ancient world. Even though a nation or region might have its own “special” deity, the belief that there were many other gods was universal. The premise that there is but one true God, and all others are false, surely made Israel unique as a nation.

But unfortunately, the nation of Israel often looked to the nations round about them, and were thereby influenced in many ways instead of holding fast to their relationship with YHWH.

The god Baal. Hecht Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

In the biblical period of the Judges we read, “and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger. They forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtoreths” (Judges 2:12-13). Our photo of Baal seen here was taken at the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa, Israel (as well as the other photos included in this post).

You will notice that our biblical text also includes the “Ashtoreths” which would essentially be the female counterpart to Baal. The New Revised Standard renders, “They abandoned the LORD, and worshiped Baal and the Astartes.” This deity, Astarte, was also displayed at the Hecht Museum.

Astarte, Phoenician Fertility Goddess. Hecht Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The Baal worship that was seen in the period of Judges repeated itself throughout the period known as the Divided Kingdom. In the chapter that tells of the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, the Bible says, “They abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God. They made for themselves molded images– even two calves– and an Asherah pole. They worshiped the whole heavenly host and served Baal” (2 Kings 17:16, CSB).

H. F. Vos has the following basic information about Baal:

Name of the most prominent Canaanite deity. As the god of fertility in the Canaanite pantheon (roster of gods), Baal’s sphere of influence included agriculture, animal husbandry, and human sexuality. The word Baal occurs in the OT in combination with other terms, such as place-names (Baal-peor, Hos 9:10; Baal-hermon, Jgs 3:3), or with other adjuncts as in Baal-berith (Baal of the covenant, Jgs 8:33). Use of the name in connection with a local place-name may indicate a local cult of Baal worship.

Baal worship became prominent in the northern Kingdom of Israel during the days of King Ahab (9th century BC) when he married Jezebel of Tyre, a city in Phoenicia (1 Kgs 16:29–33; 18:19–40). It later infiltrated the Kingdom of Judah when Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, married King Jehoram of Judah (2 Kgs 8:17, 18, 24–26). Places for worship of Baal were often high places in the hills consisting of an altar and a sacred tree, stone, or pillar (2 Kgs 23:5). The predominantly urban Phoenicians built temples to Baal; while Athaliah was queen of Judah, even Jerusalem had one (2 Chr 23:12–17) . . .

the Canaanites engaged in orgiastic worship that included human sacrifice as well as sexual rites (Jer 7:31; 19:4–6). Sacred prostitutes evidently participated in the autumnal religious ritual.  Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 239).

I mentioned the fall of northern kingdom of Israel above in our 2 Kings text. Jeremiah was a prophet in the days of the next biblical period, Judah Alone. From his writings we see that unfortunately, many in Judah did not learn from the example of God’s displeasure of Israel’s worship of Baal. This false system was also perpetuated in Judah, even including the sacrifice of their children (as noted above by Vos): “They have built places here for worship of the god Baal so that they could sacrifice their children as burnt offerings to him in the fire. Such sacrifices are something I never commanded them to make! They are something I never told them to do! Indeed, such a thing never even entered my mind!” (Jer. 19:5, NET).

Not only were there the larger images that would be housed in temples or otherwise displayed for public worship, but smaller, “household” gods and goddesses were common.

Astarte, Household Fertility Goddess, 8th century BC. Hecht Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

We have previously posted on Baal worship here and here.

We close with the words of Jesus, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Mt. 4:10).

(Click images for larger view).


Recommended Resources on Bible Places

January 28, 2020

In the current BiblePlaces Newsletter (Vol 19, #1) Todd Bolen gives a brief history of his photo collections of Bible places, which has been now 20 years in the making.

Collection of photos of Bible places, by Todd Bolen.

I have been making use of Dr. Bolen’s materials since 2003, which are useful not only because of the photos themselves, but sites are labeled and helpful notes are included. Photos are organized by country, specific regions, cities, (and much more) and PowerPoint presentations are included. I highly recommend these resources. To select and purchase, visit bibleplaces.com.

Ferrell Jenkins currently has a very nice (and informative) post on his blog here with more info re: this good material. It was Mr. Jenkins who introduced me to Dr. Bolen’s work.


Artifacts at biblical Corinth: Jewish Presence

December 18, 2019

Fant and Reddish make these interesting observations about biblical Corinth:

No city in the ancient world both benefited and suffered from its location more than Corinth. Situated on the main north-south route between northern and southern Greece, and with two good ports that linked it to Italy on the west and Asia Minor on the east, Corinth quickly became a center for commerce. But the location of Corinth also had its downside. The city often found itself caught in the middle between hostile neighbors, Athens to the north and Sparta to the south. Armies crisscrossed its streets as often as merchants, and more than once the city had to arise from ashes and rubble. Today only Athens attracts more interest in Greece for its historic antiquities than Corinth. It ranks as a must-see location for every traveler to Greece. (A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, p.45).

Synagogue Inscription. There is a section of a lintel with a partial inscription, [Syna] goge hebr [aion], “Synagogue of the Hebrews.”

Synagogue Inscription at Corinth. Corinth Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

It is thought that this artifact is to be dated as late Roman or early Byzantine, and hence would post-date the time of the Apostle Paul.

But the Bible shows there was certainly a Jewish presence at Corinth in Paul’s day. In fact, upon Paul’s arrival there (2nd Missionary Journey), he stayed with fellow-tent-makers Aquila and Priscilla, who were Jews, and were there “because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome” (Acts 18:1-2). Claudius was emperor AD 41-54.

Roman Emperor Claudius. Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The text in Acts 18 continues, relating Paul’s “reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath” (v.4), and also including brief notation of the conversion of Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue:

3 and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. 4 And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 Then he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized. (Acts 18:3-8).

 

Capital with Menorahs and Palm Branches. There is also on display at the museum there at Corinth a capital decorated with menorahs and palm branches. It is thought that this once decorated the top of a pillar, probably from the synagogue.

Capital with menorahs and palm branches. Corinth Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Paul’s one desire was to live in such a manner as to save as many as possible, whether Jews or Gentiles:

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” (1 Cor.  9:20-22).

Click images for larger views.


In the Steps of Paul: Along the Appian Way

June 17, 2019

Yesterday (Sunday) between church services in Rome (AM) and Ciampino (PM), we had the opportunity to see portions of the Appian Way. This road was one of the earliest and most important Roman roads of the ancient republic, connecting Rome to Brindisi, in southeast Italy. It was constructed in the years 312–264 BC.

The Appian Way. Paul walked on this road on his way to Rome, Acts 28:14-16. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

When Paul was traveled to Rome as a prisoner as recorded in Acts 28:11-16, he was met by Roman Christians who heard he was coming. They then walked with him back to Rome. This land portion of the journey was on this road, the Appian Way. In this photo you can see the original paving stone, scored by chariot wheels. Then in the upper portion of the road you can see reconstruction pavement.

Near this area of our photo there were burial sites, such as that depicted here.

A burial site along the Appian Way. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Click on photos for larger view.


Touring Israel

March 21, 2019

Between time constraints and uncooperative internet service we’ve not been able to do a lot of posting regarding our current tour of Israel and Jordan. ((We have been able to posts several photos on FB w/the WiFi on the motor-coach.) Yesterday some sites in Israel we visited included Qumran, Masada, En Gedi, the Dead Sea, and Jericho, before returning to Jerusalem.

Qumran Caves. Here the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Looking down at Roman Ramp at Masada. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

While we were at En-Gedi we saw some young girls demonstrating the way to wash clothes in biblical times. This was in the water flowing down from the lower falls.

Washing clothes the old fashioned way at En-Gedi,Israel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Today was a walking tour of Jerusalem, and the City of David. More to come!

Click on photos for larger view.


Insect Industry (Proverbs 6:6-9)

February 22, 2019

Homer Hailey, one of my former professors of biblical studies, often said that “Solomon didn’t have much use for the sluggard.”

Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, 7 Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, 8 Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest. 9 How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 10 “A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest “– 11 Your poverty will come in like a vagabond And your need like an armed man (Proverbs 6:6-9). 

What is being addressed here is the “theme of self-inflicted economic impoverishment” Waltke, B. K. (2004) The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1-15, p. 335). Sloth has its consequences. The sluggard neglects his opportunities, refuses to face reality; his life is characterized by disorder and chaos. To show the industry and work ethic that a man should have, Solomon uses the illustration of the ant. “The activity expected of leaders over a workforce is now detailed and applied to the ant” (Ibid.). As the KJV says, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.”

I thought of this text some years ago when Ferrell Jenkins and I had the opportunity to visit Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel, located halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I happened to notice some ants busy at work.

Ants at Neot Kedumim in Israel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This 625 acre park had much more to offer than ants — flora and fauna of the biblical world, as well as mill stones, oil presses, etc.


Joash Repairs the Temple, 2 Chronicles 24

September 28, 2018

When Judah’s King Ahaziah was killed (841 BC, Theile), his mother, described as “the wicked Athaliah” (2 Chron. 24:7) usurped the throne and reigned 6 years. She did the unthinkable: she killed all of Ahaziah’s sons–her own grandchildren! Of course, she was the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, and she certainly and consistently played the part.

Little known to her, the High Priest Jehoiada and his wife Jehoshabeath (Ahaziah’s sister) saved the one-year-old baby Joash, and kept him hidden for six years (2 Chron 22:10-12).

2 Chronicles 23 tells how Jehoiada led the priests, Levites, and people of Judah in crowning Joash as the rightful heir to the throne of David. At the same time, Athaliah was executed.

Joash reigned 40 years (835-796 BC). The historian says, “And Joash did what was right in the sight of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (2 Chron. 24:1-2). The Priest Jehoiada was no doubt a great mentor to the young Joash. Faithfulness on the part of Joash was seen during the rest of Jehoiada the Priest’s life.

Great emphasis is given on the work of restoring the temple in Jerusalem (v.4), the house of God, “to repair the house of the LORD” (v.12).

Painting of Solomon’s Temple. Semitic Museum, Boston. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The text goes on to say, “So the workmen labored, and the repair work progressed in their hands, and they restored the house of God according to its specifications and strengthened it” (v.13, NASB). The NIV translates, “The men in charge of the work were diligent, and the repairs progressed under them. They rebuilt the temple of God according to its original design and reinforced it.” All of this sounds so encouraging.

But as Martin Selman states,

Joash’s story is one of the saddest in Chronicles. It describes a king who deliberately turned his back on God after he had received personal experience of God’s mercy and had initiated a religious reformation. (2 Chronicles, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Kindle Locations 3609-3610).

Here is what happened as soon as Jehoiada died:

But after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and bowed down to the king, and the king listened to them. 18 They abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols; so wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their guilt. 19 Yet He sent prophets to them to bring them back to the LORD; though they testified against them, they would not listen. 20 Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus God has said, ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you.'” 21 So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD. 22 Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which his father Jehoiada had shown him, but he murdered his son. And as he died he said, “May the LORD see and avenge! (2 Chron. 24:17-22).

What becomes apparent is that whereas King Joash did so much good, and seemed to be so strong, that when his real source of strength, Jehoiada, was removed, then what appeared to be faith and strength crumbled, showing his goodness to be only outward and superficial. Lesson: each one has to make the faith his own! (2 Tim. 1:5).