Thursday, March 20, 2014

Baal Worship, Howard Cosell and Little Details

In 1931, an excavator named Claude Schaeffer on a dig in Ras Shamra, Syria came across three clay tablets in the ruins of a house belonging to a high priest of the god Baal that have come to be referred to as the Krt Epic or the The Epic of Kret (without any vowels, it’s hard to be consistent in the transliteration of ancient Eastern names).

If you were to cherry-pick a few couplets from the Krt tablets you might observe that they bear a passing similarity to the language of the Psalms:
“To the earth Baal rained, to the field rained ’Aliy. Sweet to the earth was Baal’s rain; to the field the rain of ’Aliy.”
“In a dream of Beneficent El Benign, a vision of the Creator of Creatures, the skies rained oil, the wadis flowed honey. So I knew that Mighty Baal lives; the Prince, Lord of Earth, exists.”
The deity being worshipped is referred to as “mighty” and “beneficent”; his generosity in providing rain for the crops is called “sweet”. He is the “Lord of Earth”.

Even the bit about flowing honey sounds vaguely familiar.

But, of course, that is an unscholarly opinion based on not much at all. If there were hundreds of psalms to Baal still in circulation, one might put them side by side with those of David and the sons of Korah, among others, and be able to critically assess their content. But there are not a lot of psalms to Baal surfacing in Syria, Palestine or anywhere else these days to analyze. An online search for more of Baal’s preserved praises turns up the same tired lines we’ve already come across over and over again.

In fact, there’s considerably more said about Baal worship in the Bible than anywhere else. So far, anyway, Baal’s servants have not exactly distinguished themselves in preserving his praises.

Or maybe Baal himself wasn’t up to the job.

Then again, when you come across stuff like this, the differences between the God of David and the gods of the Canaanites and ancient Syrians start to become a little more noticeable:
“She cuts cheek and chin, she lacerates her forearms. She plows like a garden her chest; like a vale she lacerates the back: ‘Baal is dead!’ ”

Thank you, no. Self-mutilation is not really my cup of tea.

But that is exactly what the prophets of Baal engaged in while calling upon their deity to do his job and deliver fire from heaven. Surely a little stray lightning should not have been a big deal for a storm god and a “thunderer”. But 1 Kings 18 tells us that the prophets of Baal “cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them”. The writer records that this self-mutilation was “after their custom”, implying that it was a common part of their regular religious practice rather than something extreme resorted to in desperation, and then adds, rather pathetically, that “there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention”.

The service of Baal turned out to be an exercise in futility, which may also explain the lack of written detail about him. One doesn’t spend a lot of time and effort diligently preserving records of that which has consistently proven ineffective.

Then there’s this rather choice description of Baal at war in the heavens, which sounds more like Howard Cosell and Angelo Dundee calling Foreman/Frazier in 1973 than the language of worship:
“They shake each other like Gemar-beasts; Mavet [Mot] is strong, Baal is strong. They gore each other like buffaloes; Mavet is strong, Baal is strong. They bite like serpents; Mavet is strong, Baal is strong. They kick like racing beasts; Mavet is down. Baal is down.”
Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!

While a few lines in the Krt tablets may initially sound a little like ancient Hebrew praises for Jehovah, baby killing, self-mutilation, orgiastic religious celebrations and a pantheon of competing neo-deities really … don’t.

It is often glibly said that all religions teach basically the same thing, but the specifics of Baal worship, on examination, have much more in common with modern paganism, the culture of self-harm associated with celebrity worship and pro choice liberal progressivism than with anything in the word of God.

The difference is always in the details.

1 comment :

  1. You make me think of this poem by Steve Turner. I am thinking particularly about the part on what we think of religions.

    Immanuel Can