Ba’al – the Levant – West Asian gods

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Ba'al from Ugarit (Louvre Museum, Paris)

Ba’al from Ugarit (Louvre Museum, Paris)

All along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in what’s now Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, and down into the Arabian Peninsula, there was (and still is) a feeling that it’s wrong to say the name of your god aloud. Instead, people called their god “Lord”.

Baal is the Semitic word for “Lord”, so to people who spoke AramaicHebrew, or Arabic Ba’al could mean any male god. People who lived in ancient Phoenicia used “Ba’al” as a name for the god of their own city. Some gods called “Ba’al” were sky gods or rain gods, but many were less powerful local gods.

People probably sacrificed children to Ba’al, at least for a while. The story of Abraham and Isaac is a warning to stop doing that. Later on, people only sacrificed sheep and cows to their god.

When the Phoenicians sailed to North Africa and built the city of Carthage, about 800 BC, they brought their language with them, and the Carthaginians also called their main god “Ba’al”. In Carthage, Ba’al was the husband of Tanit, the moon goddess. Here, too, people probably sacrificed children to Ba’al.

Early Jews also called their god “Ba’al,” or “Lord”. But around 600 BC, in order to make it clear that their god was really different from the other local gods, the Jews changed to using the word “Adonai” to mean “Lord”.

When Greek people settled in Phoenicia and Israel, in the 200s BC, they thought of Ba’al as being like their god Zeus. But when most people in Phoenicia, Syria, Israel, and North Africa converted to Islam in the 700s AD, they began to call their god “Allah” (the God) instead of Ba’al.

Is it also wrong to draw pictures of God?

Bibliography and further reading about West Asian religion:

Ancient Mesopotamians, by Elena Gambino (2000). For kids, retellings of Mesopotamian stories and lots of context.

Gods, Goddesses, and Monsters: An Encyclopedia of World Mythology, by Sheila Keenan (2000). Easy reading.

Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia, by Jean Bottero (2001).

God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism, by Jonathan Kirsch (2004). From Akhenaten in Egypt, through Judaism and the rise of Christianity. Lively, popular writing.

A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity, by Keith Hopkins (2001). Entertaining account of what it was really like at non-Christian and early Christian religious events. Not for young kids.

West Asian Religion
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By |2018-04-09T23:07:33+00:00September 15th, 2017|Religion, West Asia|2 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Ba’al – the Levant – West Asian gods. Study Guides, September 15, 2017. Web. December 15, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. Dan January 13, 2018 at 7:48 am - Reply

    The Jews who did not convert to Islam continued to call their God “Elohim/Adonai”.

    • Karen Carr January 14, 2018 at 2:08 pm

      Yes, that’s right.

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