Videos of Jews who have converted to Christianity have been emerging on the internet. There seems to be a common thread among many of them: they were taught at an early age that the New Testament was an evil book and they should stay away from it. I don’t even blame them for thinking Christianity is evil; just look at the atrocities committed against the Jews in the name of replacement theology. But, I don’t think that Jews, nor Christians for that matter, should avoid reading something on the account of it being heresy. As a minimum, we need to be prepared to give an answer to objectors and we need to hear the objection before we can respond.
We can all agree that the ancient literature promoting Ba’al falls within the category of evil heresy. But, if we look at the famous story of the standoff between Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al in 1Kg 18:20-46, I think we can see evidence that Elijah had probably familiarized himself with the legends of Ba’al.
Elijah would have had better access to Ba’al texts than we do today, but we can take some samples of what remains after thousands of years to see what Ba’al’s prophets thought and build an appreciation for what happened that day at Mount Carmel.
Jehovah was not Ba’al’s first enemy
Ugarit was an ancient port city that was discovered in modern-day Syria. They started excavating it back in 1928 and found all sorts of cool stuff, including the Ugaritic language, which is similar to Hebrew, so Biblical language nerds like to study it. One Ugaritic text tells us a story about a battle between Ba’al and a god named Mot. Elijah knew that Ba’al had a reputation for fighting with other gods, so he used this when he challenged the false prophets:
Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people said, “That is a good idea.” (1 Kgs 18:22-24 NASB)
In other words, Elijah says, “So your Ba’al likes to fight? Let’s let him fight with Jehovah and see how that works out.” All of Ba’al’s people are thinking, “Heck yea! Ba’al has defeated the god of the entire sea. Swallowing up an ox is a piece of cake for him. But, then again, even if he doesn’t, Jehovah doesn’t exist so he won’t do anything either.”
Ba’al is often depicted as holding bolts of lightning, as in the stele from Ugarit on the right. This authority is also attested to in these fragmentary lines from the story of Ba’al and Mot:
Ba’al with bolt of lightning mightiest
Ba’al [ ? Take in the hand? ] your torch
[ ?in ] your [right hand red ochre ?]
[ . . . . . ] the life of a calf
[ . . . . . ] I will put him in a hole of the earth-gods/numinous dead.
And as for you, take your clouds,
your winds, your thunder-bolts, your rains;
with you, your seven servitors/pages,
your eight noble serving maids;
with you Pidraya, daughter of light,
with you Talaya, daughter of rain/showers.
The ironic thing is that while Ba’al is supposed to have authority over rain, the whole reason this conflict exists is because Jehovah had stopped the rain three years earlier.
Elijah knew that Ba’al was supposed to have the authority to bring down fire from the sky, so he directed his challenge around this particular myth.
Ba’al actually chickened out at first when he faced off with Mot. The sun-goddess, Shapash, urged him to hide down in the earth, so he did:
Then truly, do you set your face
towards Mount Kankaniya/the rocks/mountain (at the entrance) of my grave/the cavernous mountain; Lift the mountain with your hands,
Raise the holt upon your palms,
And go down to the house of “freedom” in the depth of the earth,
and be counted among them those who
go down into the earth, and you will know nothingness,
like mortals/of mortality/ for thou wilt have become as one who has died!
Obeys does Mightiest Ba’al.
By the way, while Ba’al was hiding, he found a heifer, had a son with her, and then offered him to Mot. Probably not one of Ba’al’s proudest moments. Knowing that Ba’al has a tendency not to show up for a fight, Elijah mocked the prophets, saying:
Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey… (1 Kgs 18:27b NASB)
You would think that’s a pretty low blow on Elijah’s part, right? It gets worse. Some lines got lost in the Ugaritic text, but where it picks up from there, someone is announcing that Ba’al is dead:
They penetrate the mountain/pavillion of El,
enter the massif/tent of the King, Father of Years,
They lift their voices and they cry:
“We two did go round to the edges of the earth,
to the limits of the watery region.
We arrived at – the pleasant place, the desert pasture
ÔPleasure,Õ the land of pastures
the pleasance of Dabr-land,
the lovely fields of the shore of Death
‘Delight,’ the fields on the shore by the realm of Death
the beauty of Shahalmamat-field.
We came upon Ba’al: fallen on/sunk into the earth/ground.
Dead is Ba’al the Powerful!
Perished is the Prince, Master of the Earth!”
Not only is Ba’al a chicken, but he’s a dead chicken. So, Elijah drops the ultimate slam:
…or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened. (1 Kgs 18:27b NASB)
Bringing Back Ba’al
Well, the Ugarites couldn’t just let their god die like that, so they had to send the goddess of war, Anat, to the rescue. She resurrects Ba’al by crying and cutting herself:
She cuts/scrapes herself/her skin with a stone (knife),
with flint for a razor;/she made incisions with a razor;
Cheeks and chin she gashes,
She plows her chest like a garden, Furrows/rakes her back/torso like a plain/valley.
Ba’al is dead!
What will become of/happen to the people of Dagan’s Son? What of the multitudes/ masses?
After Ba’al/in Ba’al’s place – we will go down into the earth “
Down with her comes the Luminary of the gods, the Torch of the Divine Ones, Lady Shapash the Sun:
When she had finished weeping, had drunk her tears like wine,
Then loudly calls she to the Torch of the Divine Ones/ the Luminary of the Gods, Lady Shapash the Sun,
“Lift, I pray you, onto me Mightiest Ba’al!”
The Torch, Luminary of the Gods, Lady Shapash the Sun, obeys.
She lifts up Aliyin Ba’al the Mightiest; on the shoulders
of Anat surely she sets him; and she takes/brings him
to the Heights of Tsaphon of the North.
So, Elijah has called out the prophets of Ba’al at Mount Carmel. Ba’al hasn’t come yet, so suspicion has arisen that he might have died again. So, the prophets throw in their last ditch effort to try and resurrect him like Anat did, but to no avail:
So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention. (1 Kgs 18:28-29 NASB)
Well, you know how the story ends. The real God brings it to the fight. Elijah builds an alter and, to add insult to injury, soaks it thoroughly. Jehovah sends down fire to consume all of it, and then all of the people turn to God and execute justice to the false prophets in accordance with the Law. Then, Jehovah sends rain.
There is some speculation in play here, but I think we can learn a lot from Elijah’s apologetics. Notice how Elijah didn’t interfere when the false prophets tried to resurrect Ba’al. He knew that they were going to debunk themselves, so he just stayed quiet and allowed the prophets to see their god fail. In fact, if Elijah had stopped them, then later the people may have wondered, “What if we tried to resurrect Ba’al now?” Opposing views need to be heard, and since Elijah knew the theology of Ba’al worship, he was able to direct his contest against their beliefs. It is important to know what nonbelievers think if we want to respond to them. Of course, we don’t want to be like the majority of Israel and end up serving false gods, so we need to know our own worldview first. Read the Bible. Then read it again. In fact, don’t stop reading it.
But, also read books from your nonbelieving friends’ point of views, too.
All quotes from The Baal Cycle come from here.