"Lord of the North"
Baal, a deity whose worship extends back to the fourteenth century BCE, had his beginnings as an all-purpose sun god, controlling the productivity of crops and livestock. The name, meaning simply "Lord", was given to many unimportant Syrian and Persian gods and was frequently combined with another designation (such as Baal-Peor) and used as a generic title denoting godhood. Among the Phoenicians, Chaldeans and Canaanites, however, Baal achieved singular status as a powerful fertility deity. He was depicted in human form, often standing on the back of a bull, wielding thunderbolts or lightning that brought both joy and sorrow.
He was the son of El or Dagon, the high god of Canaan, and lived on a mountain in the north. He was considered to be responsible for both agricultural prosperity as well as droughts, plagues and various other catastrophes. His worship included incense, burnt animal offerings, human sacrifices, prostitutions, gross sensuality and self-flagellation or cutting. Apparently, Baal was so powerful that believers would work themselves into frenzies at the thought of displeasing the god, or the punishments that might follow doing so. Biannual celebrations were held commemorating the death and resurrection of Baal which marked the beginning and end of the growing season.
Baal’s main myth, like those of many other deities associated with agriculture, focused on his death and rebirth: Yam, a sea god, had asked El to be crowned king. El agreed, but only after stipulating that in order to be declared king, Yam had to defeat Baal. Somehow, the fertility deity learned of the upcoming battle and outfitted himself with magical weaponry that had been made by the gods. As a result, he defeated Yam, and then declared himself king. He built a dwelling and settled on Mount Saphon, taking possession of numerous cities. Because of the easy victory, Baal became proud and refused to acknowledge Mot, the god of death, denying him hospitality and confining him to the deserts of the earth. Much angered, the god of death challenged Baal to come to the underworld and eat mud, the food of the dead. Baal accepted, and died.
He was mourned by the other gods. His sister and wife, the ferocious Anat (or Ashtoreth, or Astarte), a fertility goddess, traveled to the underworld and attempted to retrieve the corpse of the dead god, but could not. Mot refused to help (in some accounts refused to bring Baal back to life), and Anat went into a frenzy, stabbing Mot "with a sharp knife," scattering the pieces "with a winnowing fan". She finally burnt the remains, ground them into dust and tossed the dust over a field. When she had destroyed the god of death, Baal was instantly resurrected. Anat’s actions are symbolic of planting, growing and threshing, with the rebirth of Baal indicating the renewal of the cycle.
The worship of Baal most likely spread via the Phoenicians’ sea travels. According to biblical sources, the worship of Baal was practiced among the Moabites and the Midinites during the time of Moses, and was also worshipped by some Israelites. The Old Testament gives profuse warnings against Baal-worship, referring not only to the Canaanite fertility deity, but to all false or alien gods. Later, in Judeo-Christian mythology, Baal became Satan’s second chief commander of Hell and the patron devil of idleness. In this identity, he was depicted as a short and fat creature with the arms of a spider and three heads, that of a cat, a human and a toad. He had command of seventy legions of demons and resided in the eastern portion of Hell.
In the Bible, Baal is also called Beelzebub or Baal-zebub, one of the fallen angels. Interestingly, with Baal being worshipped by the Carthaginians during Roman times, the name of the god can be found as the root of a number of names. One notable example would be Hannibal, whose name meant "grace of Baal" or "joy of Baal" (from the Phoenician hann, meaning grace). His brother's name, Hasdrubal, meant "Baal helps" (from the Phoenician azru, meaning help). Both were Carthaginian generals.