Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ba'al Zevuv

Ba'al Zevuv, deity of Ekron (or, if you'd rather, Beelzebub/The Lord of the Flies). What's the deal with making an idol out of a fly?

Perhaps Ba'al Zevuv was a deity of disease and death, and thus would be symbolized by the fly, which spreads filth and disease and is attracted to dead things. This usage of the fly in Tanach can perhaps be seen in Koheles 10:1, which refers to z'vuvei mavet. The JPS edition that I have in front of me translates this phrase as dead flies, but that would better be expressed as "z'vuvim meitim". The phrase used would seem to literally mean "Flies of death", i.e., flies that are associated with death.

This theory about Ba'al Zevuv is supported by the fact that, when Achaziah son of Ach'av became ill (injured?) after falling through his upper chamber (II Melachim 1:2), he sent messengers to pray to Ba'al Zevuv, rather than any of the other gods in the regional pantheon. The significance of this is underscored by the fact that Ekron, the Philistine nation associated with Ba'al Zevuv, had not been a major player in regional politics for more than a century, if indeed they now existed as an independent nation at all, since David had subjugated them.

Perhaps when the P'lishtim captured the ark and, in response, were smitten with hemorrhoids (t'chorim) (I Shmuel 5:6), they sent golden figurines of mice and hemorrhoids as gifts along with the ark when they returned it, as a tribute to what they perceived to be analogous to their own god of disease and death.

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