BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Battle of the Gods

Did the Omride kings of Israel worship Baal or Yahweh?

Photo of mural 'Elijah on Mount Carmel'

Elijah’s battle with the prophets of Baal, as depicted in the third-century CE synagogue from Dura Europos in eastern Syria. The Bible paints the Omride kings of Israel as worshipers of Baal and adversaries of Yahweh. The historical evidence, however, suggests the Omrides not only did not seek to erase Yahweh but rather elevated him as Israel’s patron deity. Photo: Scott Nevins Memorial, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Hebrew Bible portrays the ninth-century BCE Omride kings of Israel as worshipers of the Phoenician storm god Baal. We are told that King Ahab and his villain wife Jezebel sponsored Baal worship and persecuted Yahweh’s prophets, including Elijah (1 Kings 18–19). But was that true? How does this biblical narrative, which seeks to explain the demise of the Omride dynasty, measure up against the historical evidence we have from archaeology, inscriptions, and artistic depictions?

In the Fall 2023 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Michael J. Stahl examines the relevant historical evidence in his article “Yahweh or Baal: Who Was the God of Northern Israel?” Professor of Hebrew Bible at the Pennsylvania State University and an expert on the origins of Yahweh, Stahl looks critically at the biblical accounts that present the early kings of Israel as Baal worshipers and compares this image with what we know from ancient inscriptions and artistic and literary depictions of Baal and Yahweh.

Stahl discusses the language and iconography associated with the Phoenician storm god Baal, pointing out the intriguing similarities with the later Yahwistic vocabulary—in the Bible and artistic representations. This analysis reveals that “Yahweh came to be associated with the language, imagery, and traditions of Baal worship.” But why? Most likely, the Omride kings of Israel borrowed from Baal “to elevate Yahweh’s profile and status as the patron deity of the Northern Kingdom.”

Photo of stela depicting storm god Baal

Warrior storm god. As shown on this Late Bronze Age stela from Ugarit, the Levantine god Baal was often depicted as the “rider on the clouds.” When Yahweh became Israel’s patron deity, in the ninth century BCE, he appropriated many of Baal’s storm god attributes. Photo courtesy John Drummond

Curiously, “the earliest indisputable evidence for Yahweh’s worship outside of the Hebrew Bible dates to the time of Israel’s Omride kings,” points out Stahl. This leads him to the inevitable conclusion that not only did the Omrides not seek to exterminate Israelite worship of Yahweh, but they actively promoted Yahweh as Israel’s patron god. For this, they used Baal language, imagery, and traditions to boost Yahweh’s status and their own political influence—in a religious world dominated by mighty storm gods.

So how did the Omride kings of Israel end up being presented as devotees of a foreign god and enemies of Yahweh? Writing in the post-monarchic period, the authors of 1 and 2 Kings likely fabricated the myth about the despicable Omrides as a means of promoting—in their own time—the exclusive monotheistic worship of Yahweh. To this end, they told a story of Yahweh bringing down the bygone Omride dynasty because of their (alleged) support of Baal. The apparent similarities in language and style of depiction made this myth a believable cautionary tale.

To explore the historical evidence that compares the Bible with inscriptions and depictions of Baal and Yahweh, read Michael J. Stahl’s article “Yahweh or Baal: Who Was the God of Northern Israel?” published in the Fall 2023 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Subscribers: Read the full article “Yahweh or Baal: Who Was the God of Northern Israel?” by Michael J. Stahl in the Fall 2023 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


Related content in Bible History Daily:

Canaanite God Baal Found in Israel

Canaanite Cult Complex Discovered at Tel Burna

Jezreel Expedition Sheds New Light on Ahab and Jezebel’s City


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9 Responses

  1. Dan Monroe says:

    Your “evidence” is obviously incomplete, and/or the interpretation is faulty. By the way – “Yahweh” was an ancient Egyptian deity, whereas YeHoVaH is the creator of the Universe we find in the Bible.

  2. Dennis S says:

    I look at it this way. The religion of the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews and its spinoff, Christianity evolved from the polytheistic religions of Mesopotamia where Abram/Abraham came. it came down to two major gods “contending” for supremacy and the followers of Yaweh/El won out. The stories of Baal vs Yahweh/El were told to emphasize this. Of course they still had to deal with Yahweh/El’s consort Asherah (possibly a version of Ishtar from Mesopotamia), but succeeded in writing her out of the Bible (mostly).

  3. It has never failed to amaze me that someone would pay to study a book, and spend their life teaching something they don’t believe is accurate. Can someone explain this to me? It simply doesn’t make sense.

    1. Don Ruhl says:

      I am right with you. You can always count on so-called, “Biblical” Archaeology Review to tell us that it was just the opposite of what the Bible says. Usually their articles are a little more subtle than this one. This is so bad that I burst out laughing because of how much they perverted the truth and that they made it so obvious! Yet, it angers me at the same time.

    2. Dr. Eric Rice says:

      There are a lot of people who call themselves Bible Scholars and simply don’t believe the Bible and feel it is their job to discredit it. The schools won’t allow a believer to graduate (via harrassment, poor grades or other means) either unless they are cookie cutter students of the professor.

      Professors like this gentleman are like reporters who report on sports who love to espouse never ending drivel regarding the game, and it’s players, but have never ever played the game! If you wanted to learn the game, who would you ask? The reporter or the one who has actually played the game?

      1. I am in agreement with all of you. This was one of the worst articles in BAR I have ever read and I’ve subscribed to BAR for over 30 years. I’ve come to expect some bones with the fish but this was all bones!

    3. Donald Rich says:

      How do you know if it is accurate or not unless you study it first. Some seminaries make the student commit to the Bible as being inerrant before they study it. That is troublesome. The beauty of the Bible is to me, the different levels of meaning that can be derived from it. Jesus was a master at that especially in the use of his parabels.

    4. Pastor Terry Bruns says:

      I took BAR for decades until Hershel Shanks retired. Even then, the lack of biblical knowledge was beginning to show. Now it seems as if these “Bible scholars” have never read God’s Word itself, but base their “scholarship” on the writings of fellow doubters.

      The Bible is acclaimed to be the best-selling book of all time, and research conducted by the British and Foreign Bible Society in 2021 suggests that the total number of Bibles in existence probably lies between 5 and 7 billion copies. But I wonder how many of those Bible have been picked up and studied as the very Word of God.

      It’s encouraging to see others who recognize bad scholarship when they see it. We need to heed Paul’s advice in 1 Timothy 6:20, “O Timothy, guard the doctrine which has been entrusted to you, avoiding profane, empty babblings, and contradictions of false knowledge that is called science;” (A Faithful Version)

      1. Photios says:

        “The Bible is acclaimed to be the best-selling book of all time”
        but is probably (and unfortunately) not the best-read.
        I agree with you, Hershel Shanks is sadly missed.

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9 Responses

  1. Dan Monroe says:

    Your “evidence” is obviously incomplete, and/or the interpretation is faulty. By the way – “Yahweh” was an ancient Egyptian deity, whereas YeHoVaH is the creator of the Universe we find in the Bible.

  2. Dennis S says:

    I look at it this way. The religion of the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews and its spinoff, Christianity evolved from the polytheistic religions of Mesopotamia where Abram/Abraham came. it came down to two major gods “contending” for supremacy and the followers of Yaweh/El won out. The stories of Baal vs Yahweh/El were told to emphasize this. Of course they still had to deal with Yahweh/El’s consort Asherah (possibly a version of Ishtar from Mesopotamia), but succeeded in writing her out of the Bible (mostly).

  3. It has never failed to amaze me that someone would pay to study a book, and spend their life teaching something they don’t believe is accurate. Can someone explain this to me? It simply doesn’t make sense.

    1. Don Ruhl says:

      I am right with you. You can always count on so-called, “Biblical” Archaeology Review to tell us that it was just the opposite of what the Bible says. Usually their articles are a little more subtle than this one. This is so bad that I burst out laughing because of how much they perverted the truth and that they made it so obvious! Yet, it angers me at the same time.

    2. Dr. Eric Rice says:

      There are a lot of people who call themselves Bible Scholars and simply don’t believe the Bible and feel it is their job to discredit it. The schools won’t allow a believer to graduate (via harrassment, poor grades or other means) either unless they are cookie cutter students of the professor.

      Professors like this gentleman are like reporters who report on sports who love to espouse never ending drivel regarding the game, and it’s players, but have never ever played the game! If you wanted to learn the game, who would you ask? The reporter or the one who has actually played the game?

      1. I am in agreement with all of you. This was one of the worst articles in BAR I have ever read and I’ve subscribed to BAR for over 30 years. I’ve come to expect some bones with the fish but this was all bones!

    3. Donald Rich says:

      How do you know if it is accurate or not unless you study it first. Some seminaries make the student commit to the Bible as being inerrant before they study it. That is troublesome. The beauty of the Bible is to me, the different levels of meaning that can be derived from it. Jesus was a master at that especially in the use of his parabels.

    4. Pastor Terry Bruns says:

      I took BAR for decades until Hershel Shanks retired. Even then, the lack of biblical knowledge was beginning to show. Now it seems as if these “Bible scholars” have never read God’s Word itself, but base their “scholarship” on the writings of fellow doubters.

      The Bible is acclaimed to be the best-selling book of all time, and research conducted by the British and Foreign Bible Society in 2021 suggests that the total number of Bibles in existence probably lies between 5 and 7 billion copies. But I wonder how many of those Bible have been picked up and studied as the very Word of God.

      It’s encouraging to see others who recognize bad scholarship when they see it. We need to heed Paul’s advice in 1 Timothy 6:20, “O Timothy, guard the doctrine which has been entrusted to you, avoiding profane, empty babblings, and contradictions of false knowledge that is called science;” (A Faithful Version)

      1. Photios says:

        “The Bible is acclaimed to be the best-selling book of all time”
        but is probably (and unfortunately) not the best-read.
        I agree with you, Hershel Shanks is sadly missed.

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