Glenn Beck blamed Baal and Moloch for Occupy Wall Street on his radio program the other day. As he watched the protesters he relates that he said to a rabbi friend, “this is Baal.”
So obsessed has Beck become with this idea of a returning Paganism that he has even written a novel about it (presumably because he could find no facts): The Eye of Moloch – Moloch allegedly being the god to whom those nasty Pagans once sacrificed their children.
Watch courtesy of Right Wing Watch:
“Whether we know it or not,” he raged like a biblical prophet, the world is engaged in Moloch/Baal worship.
He and his rabbi friend agreed, “I’m not saying that anybody thinks they’re worshiping Baal, but the ancient rituals are here and whether we know it or not that’s exactly what our society and our world is doing right now, worshiping Moloch and Baal.”
Just sayin’ as the sayin’ goes.
Well, there is the world of fiction and then there is the world of facts, and Beck’s obsession begs the question: who are Moloch and Baal and why have they hurt Glenn Beck’s feelings like this?
Let’s see what we can find out as we journey into the actual past (that’s a different place than the imaginary past of Republican imaginations).
From its southern flanks, the modern Jebel Aqra was the holy mountain of Sapuna, the abode of Baal Saphon, Lord of the Heavens, and here the mighty storm god had a palace crafted from lapis and silver imported from the heavens themselves, and he dwelt there with his consort Anat.
This should not be so surprising to Glenn Beck and to today’s Christians: their god has a mountain too, where he dwells – in Midian, atop Sinai where Moses encountered the burning bush – not thunder – that announced his presence.
Thunderclaps would sound from Holy Sapuna (and still do) and kings would seek Baal’s protection just as the kings of Israel and Judah sought that of YHWH, who was, in his earliest incarnation, the Canaanite El. The cult site on the summit of Holy Sapuna is a mound of ash 180 feet wide and a staggering 26 feet deep, a testament to the enduring nature of Baal lordship. Robin Lane Fox relates that when investigators looked at the mound in 1937, Baal’s thunder drove them from it.
On the north slope of Holy Sapuna dwelt the Storm God, Teshub, whose exploits mirrored those of Baal, and the mountain was known as Mount Hazzi. But these Hurrian, and later Hittite beliefs, did not matter to the people of Syria and Canaan. To the late-arriving Greeks – who always translated the gods of other peoples into their own – Baal was Zeus, his consort Anat was Athena, Sapuna/Hazzi was Kasios, and Baal’s thunder that of Zeus Kasios: a reflection of Olympus in their homeland. As Robin Lane Fox puts it, Holy Sapuna was a beacon of ancient Paganism, the Olympus of the Near East.
Baal himself was a wide-ranging god, who had many more adherents than the Midianite YHWH; in Memphis in Egypt – where he and Anat were brought by the Canaanite Hyksos – he was known as Baal Zephon, the “Baal of the North,” and he was known to bring prosperity. Travelers wore blue amulets just as Christians wear crosses to invoke their lord. So wide was Baal’s influence that the biblical Jeremiah is named for him – his name means “Saphon in Yahweh.” There are many Baals in the Bible – Baal of Hazor, Baal of Hermon, Baal of Meon, Baal of Peor, Baal of Tamar just as there were multiple YHWHs – YHWH of Samaria, and YHWH of Teman (Yemen).
Of course, it is hardly unnatural that Baal would be worshiped in Israel and Judah since he was the god of its indigenous inhabitants and YHWH a foreign interloper. It was to Baal and “all the host of heaven” that incense was burned on “the high places about Jerusalem” (2 Kings 23:5). And why not? Baal was the protector of the people, not foreign YHWH, the god of the elites in Jerusalem.
Baal, wielding two huge clubs and thunderbolts, fought many monsters in his day, including a dragon. For Teshub, across the summit of the mountain, the enemy was not a dragon but Illuyanka. For Zeus it was Typhons. For YHWH, the enemy was Leviathan. You see what I am saying here.
Baal could not, unfortunately, defeat death (Mot) and that critical struggle ended in a tie. Thus, today, we all continue to pass on to the afterlife, or non-life, of our choice.
The critical point here is that Baal predates YHWH. One might say that if YHWH exists, Baal exists, and as a god, not as the demon later Christians made all the gods of polytheism out to be. Or, as an atheist might say, Baal has the same likelihood of existing as does Beck’s own deity: none. Take your choice. The First Amendment says you can, whatever people like Glenn Beck say.
Beck’s Moloch/Molech is problematic from a historical perspective. One scholar, Susan Ackerman, has concluded that there was no god named Moloch, and that Moloch is just another word for mulk, which is the sacrifice of infants. Instead, she tells us, “the cult of child sacrifice was felt in some circles to be a legitimate expression of Yahwistic faith.” In other words, had the Jews of the Bible looked in the mirror, they would have seen that the enemy was not Baal but their own god.
Beck might take a lesson from this. He won’t, but he should.
The Bible abounds with demands by YHWH for the blood of innocents. Herod famously – and inaccurately – gets the blame for this sort of behavior but the blame must rest squarely on YHWH’s shoulders. Scholars recognize this even if conservative Christians continue stubbornly to refuse to read their own Bible.
But if we take Exodus 22.29 literally, YHWH demanded human sacrifice as well: that of the first-born son:
Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day.
Ezekiel (20.26) certainly takes God’s command in this way, in a literal sense: “I let them become defiled through their gifts – the sacrifice of every firstborn – that I might fill them with horrors so they would know that I am the LORD.”
The ever-reviled Baal and Moloch have nothing on this guy.
The whole history of human sacrifice in Israel then is not just a matter of Jews behaving badly any more than the history of America is not a matter of Americans behaving badly: falling prey to the wicked foreign mores of their neighbors. This is easily seen when we consider the testimony of Leviticus (27.28-29) where we find the following, a command that seems to argue against the idea of simple consecration:
But nothing that a man owns and devotes to the LORD – whether man or animal or family land – may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the LORD. No person devoted to destruction may be ransomed; he must be put to death.
As we are told in the very final passage of Leviticus: “These are the commands the LORD gave Moses on Mount Sinai for the Israelites” (27.34). In any event, as Morton Smith once pointed out, even if leha’lavir ba’esh means “to sanctify” as in a “temple servant or priest or something of the sort…what became of all these sanctified first born?” In the end, Smith concluded that we ought to presume that the texts mean exactly what the say.
That is the point, after all, of biblical literalism, is it not? When God says he created the world in seven days, we should take him at his word, but when he says to sacrifice your children to him we should presume he means something else?
This is a bit of a problem, to say the least. After all, those Christians who defend the literal truth of the Bible are put in the rather uncomfortable position of accepting that one of the demands their God made on His people was the sacrifice of infants, the very evil they decry in Paganism.
Perhaps the problem is not a return to Baalism or the isms of gods that exist only in fevered Abrahamic imaginations, like Moloch, but a continued adherence to Yahwism; and not in the 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:17-40) but in the prophets of YHWH, like Glenn Beck.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.