Baal (or Ba’al) is a very misunderstood god. Everything most people know about him is wrong, and this is no surprise, given the rep he gets in the hate-fest called the Old Testament. Now that crazed “Apostle” John Benefiel of the Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network, who is one of Rick Perry’s Response supporters (and who thinks the Statue of Liberty is a demonic idol), has said “homosexuality was and is one of the demon god[Baal’s] strongholds,” we would do well to clear the air where Baal is concerned.
We should do this not only for Baal’s sake, and the sake of the historical record (because facts do matter) but for the sake of our LGBT community, who are being tied to a deceitful and distorted image of a god to whom the Abrahamic god owes so much.
Homosexuality was and is one of [Baal’s] big strongholds. Now we’re not against homosexuals, but we are against homosexuality because the Bible very—clearly God says ‘I hate it, don’t do it.’ By the way, homosexuality is a great way to control the population. Do you understand? I’m serious about this and I’ve seen this in lots of places, that the entity that we call the Illuminati which is really over, above Free Masonry, has stated it as their goal…to limit the world population to no more than 500 million. Do you realize that means getting rid of all of us? Because there’s between 6 and 7 billion people in the world today, and to get from 6 to 7 billion down to 500 million you gonna have to kill a lot of people off. What do you think the health care bill is? Oh yes, it’s a death culture. What about homosexuality, that’s a great way to limit the population. It’s not a great way it’s a perverted way, isn’t it.
I’m going to leave aside the laughable allusion to the “Illuminati” which has more bearing on speculative fiction and Benefiel’s precarious mental state than history, and focus on Baal, who does have a historical context.
First of all, Baal is a god of the Canaanites. In Canaanite mythology he was the “Cloud Rider, the weather god who rode across the heavens daily in his chariot, governing wind and weather.” He was known to the Canaanites as Baal Zephon (Baal of the North) and to the Hebrews as Baal of Hazor, Baal of Hermon, Baal of Meon, Baa of Peor, Baal of Tamar. Baal is also the storm god, who lives on Jebel Aqra (ancient Sapuna), where, gifted by the gods, he has “a palace of blue lapis and silver which they brought down from the clouds” What Baal is not is a god of “homosexuality” though like any other pagan god, he is not against homosexuality.
But Baal is also an Israelite god if, as many scholars believe, the Hebrews were actually Canaanites themselves, indigenous occupants of Palestine rather than conquerors, while YHWH is an imported god out of NW Arabia brought to the highlands by Midianite merchants.
This conversion process occurred in the early Iron Age, when the Israelites were already in situ. Some of the things that might have appealed to possible converts were the obvious wealth of the merchants and the new cult’s cosmology. This northwest Arabian origin is certainly suggested even by the Old Testament itself; Judges 5.5 and Psalms 68.8, which, as Robin Lane Fox points out, “refer to him in words which probably mean the ‘One of Sinai’. Sinai, manifestly, is neither part of Palestine nor of the traditional Canaanite territories.
Thus, Jewish religion and ancient Canaanite religion have a common source, and as scholars have recognized since the discovery of the Ugarit texts in 1929, Ugaritic literature “influenced and informed the authors of new literary compositions of Judah and Israel.”
As Michael Coogan writes, “It is essential to consider biblical religion as a subset of Israelite religion and Israelite religion as a subset of Canaanite religion.” In the Ugaritic texts, Simon Parker writes, we see the “raw material that the biblical writers adopted and adapted” and we can “recognize more clearly both their dependence on their transformation of what was already in their day ancient tradition.”
The Jews first borrowed El’s name (Job 36:26), using it as one of YHWH’s names before outright co-opting El, “Father of Years,” the creator god of the Canaanites. Frank M. Cross put forward the idea that YHWH was originally an epithet of El and in time became the principle cult name of El. and that YHWH split off from El “ultimately ousting El from his place in the divine council, and condemning the ancient powers to death (Ps 82).” Another suggestion that has been made is that YHWH was originally the patron deity of one of Moses’ ancestors.
In this scheme YHWH moves from personal patron to God of clan or tribe and finally, thanks to Moses’ leadership, becomes the God of a group of clans. Whatever his origins, though, it seems indisputable that in time the once inferior and subordinate YHWH began to be seen as El himself. Though he began as just a tribal God he subsumed El’s place as supreme God according to Cross’ model, as that author demonstrates by comparing El’s traits and functions with those later ascribed to YHWH:
- YHWH’s “role as judge in the court of El (Psalm 82).” This is an image based on tablets from Ugarit which depict El surrounded by the “sons of El” or the “sons of god.”
- YHWH’s kingship (Exodus 15).
- YHWH’s “wisdom, age, and compassion.” El was seen as a sage old man.
- YHWH as creator and father.
El had a consort, Asherah who in time came to be seen in Israel as YHWH’s consort. Once El had been subsumed into YHWH and the “Yahwists” insisted YHWH did not have a consort, Asherah was “given” instead to Baal, in order, argues archaeologist William G. Dever, to discredit her (in Canaanite religion, Baal already had a consort, ‘Anat, a “fierce warrior goddess…a goddess of love and death.”). ‘Anat, of course, lives on Mount Sapuna with Baal, and (very biblical) hymns were sung to them there on the lower slopes while the god’s thunder rumbled above.
To show just how much YHWH himself owes to Baal we have to look at stories of how the Storm God triumphed over “a snaky monster” called “Ltn”(“Litanu” or “Lotan”), ‘the coiling serpent, the tyrant of seven heads.” The tablets referring to this epic contest date from the thirteenth century BCE, far before the composition of the Hebrew Bible. So indebted to Canaanite religion were the Old Testament’s authors that they had YHWH fight a “snaky ‘Leviathan.'” As Robin Lane Fox puts it,
“Once again Israel’s Yahweh was credited with deeds like those of his neighboring heathen gods. On his holy mountain Sion he had prevailed over ‘the dragon and the sea,’ just as Baal had prevailed over a dragon on his holy mountain Sapanu, the Jebel Aqra.”
The key point here is that the fanatical and catastrophically ignorant “prophet” under discussion is in effect saying that “homosexuality was and is one of [YHWH’s] strongholds.” Because without Baal and the other gods of the Canaanite pantheon, especially El and Asherah, the god of Abraham doesn’t exist other than as a shadowy figure on Sinai, the Bible has no stories to tell – and John Benefiel has no religion to shove down our throats.
 Nor does it help that he was made the “heavy” in the popular Blizzard role playing game Diablo II, which draws on Abrahamic mythology rather than history. A reasonable substitute for Baal in this game would be YHWH. We have to wonder in this case what reception the game would have had.
 William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Eerdman’s, 2005), 157.
 Dever (2005), 235.
 Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer (Vintage, 2008), 244.
 I use the term “homosexual” advisedly, being that it is representative of 19th century, not ancient, pathology.
 J. David Schloen, “W.F. Albright and the Origins of Israel”, Near Eastern Archaeology 65 (2002), 59. See also Franklin M. Cross, “Reuben: The Firstborn of Jacob: Social Traditions and Early Israelite History” in Epic to Canon: History and Literature from Ancient Israel (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1998), 53-70.
 Robin Lane Fox, The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible (NY: Vintage Books, 1991), 53. And as Fox points out, “We do not know where Mount Sinai was.” Though many sites have been suggested, the popular assignment is the Jebel Musa (“mountains of Moses”) but this is only a guess and the evidence in its favor dates from the early fourth century, during the life of Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, when two monks saw the burning bush itself, thus identifying the missing mountain. But even the Jebel Musa makes YHWH a foreign – Arabian – god. And of course, the name Sinai may well have come from Sin, a lunar deity. In his recent special The Exodus Decoded, James Cameron suggests Hashem el-Tarif but this is an Egyptian military site and forbidden to archaeologists.
 Simon B. Parker, “Ugaritic Literature and the Bible,” Near Eastern Archaeology 63 (2000), 228-231.
 Michael Coogan, “Canaanite Origins and Lineage: Reflections on the Religions of Ancient Israel.” In Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross, ed. By P.D. Miller, P.D. Hanson, and S.D. McBridge, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987, 115
 Parker (2000), 231.
 Frank M. Cross, “Yahweh and the God of the Patriarchs,” HTR 55 (1962), 256-257. See also idem, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973) in which Cross demonstrates the similarities between Canaanite religion and that of the Israelites.
 J. Philip Hyatt, “Was Yahweh Originally a Creator Deity?” JBL 86 (1967), 376-377, cf. idem, “Yahweh as ‘the God of my Father’,” Vetus Testamentum 5 (1955), 130-136. According to this theory, YHWH’s original name was YHWH-N, “in which N represents the name of the ancestors of Moses for whom he was originally the patron deity. The name thus could have meant ‘he causes N. to exist,” or, more simply, ‘the sustainer of N.'”
 Cross (1962), 258. See also André Caquot, “At the Origins of the Bible,” Near Eastern Archaeology 63 (2000), 224-227.
 Dever (2005), 185-186.
 Lane Fox (2008), 244.
 Lane Fox (2008), 282.