Throughout the Jewish Era Books (the ‘Old Testament’) you’ll read of gods, people, and places with names that either contain, or are, ‘BaAl,’ ‘BeEl,’ and ‘Bel.’ These terms are mean the Lord, the Master, or the Owner, and they could refer to various different gods, not just one.
Yes, ‘Baal’ is not the name of a god. Rather, this word is just the title given to a god. Sometimes the god’s name (or the place that the god represented) follows the title. For example, ‘BeEl Phegor’ (found at Numbers 25:3) means the ‘Lord of Phegor.’
When people only call a god BaAl (or BeEl), they are simply referring to a particular lord or god, and the one being referred to should be implied by the context. Usually it’s just a shorthand reference to the local god, or of whichever people or place is being discussed.
So when a person’s name includes one of these terms, such as, ‘BelShazzar’, it’s a reference to a god. In this case, ‘BelShazzar’ means ‘Lord, protect the king.’ Since BelShazzar was Babylonian, the ‘Bel’ here is probably a reference to the god Marduk.
Of course, having the title BaAl or BeEl in a name doesn’t necessarily imply that a person is a worshiper of that pagan god. Several faithful worshipers of Jehovah/Yahweh also had that title as part of their names.
For example, the faithful Judge Gideon came to be known as JeroBaAl (meaning ‘May BaAl Defend Himself’), because of his action in cutting down an altar to BaAl. Also, one of King Saul’s grandsons (through faithful JoNathan) was named MeriBaAl (meaning ‘Opposer of BaAl’).
Sometimes BaAl even referred to Jehovah/Yahweh Himself! One of King David’s faithful warriors was named BaAlJah (meaning ‘Lord Jehovah’), and David named one of his own sons BaAlJada (meaning ‘Lord Knows’).
By the way, BaAl is pronounced Bah-ahl and BeEl is pronounced Beh-el, not ‘Bail,’ or ‘Beel.’ It’s two syllables because it means two words, ‘the’ and ‘lord.’
In our translation, you will see all names that contain such a reference spelled as BaAl or BeEl to remind you of the proper pronunciation, and of the meaning within the name.
Why do we see the different spellings of BaAl, BeEl, and Bel? It’s probably due to variations in the local pronunciation, or it could have been a spelling choice of later Hebrew translators, since there were no vowels specified in the original writings.
What about ‘El?’
In places where we find the letters ‘El’ at the beginning of a name or place, this is usually just a shortened version of the Hebrew word Elohim, meaning God.
So whereas many Bibles show the Greek word ‘Baithelbereth’ (as found at Judges 9:46) as ‘Bethel Bereth,’ we have translated it as ‘the House of God Bereth.’ For ‘Beth (or Baith)’ means ‘the house (or temple) of,’ ‘El’ means ‘God,’ and ‘Bereth’ is that God’s name.
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