When Jesus performs exorcisms, he is accused of doing so with the help of “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Matt 12:24; Lk 11:15; cf. Matt 10:25; 12:27; Mk 3:22; Lk 11:18-19). While Yeshua’s response associates this figure with “Satan” (Σατανᾶς; cf. Matt 12:26; Mk 3:24-26; Lk 11:18), Beelzebul’s identity is not limited to the Satan, or “the accuser” (השׂטן; ha’satan), that we encounter in the Hebrew Bible (cf. Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7; Zech 3:1-2; 1 Chron 21:1). According to Scripture, Beelzebul was a Philistine god with whom the Israelites came into contact through their neighbors in the land of Canaan.

“Beelzebul” (בעל זבול; Βεελζεβοὺλ) is made up of two Hebrew words that have equivalents in related languages: “Baal” (בעל) means “lord” or “master,” and “zebul” (זבול) means “high” or “exalted.” Thus, the name for this deity would mean something like, “Exalted Master,” or “Lord of the Heights.” Israel’s Scriptures contain an episode involving Ahaziah, a king of Israel, who becomes sick and asks his messengers, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub (בעל זבוב), the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this illness” (2 Kings 1:2). In response, the prophet Elijah asks Ahaziah, “Is it because there in not God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub (בעל זבוב) the god of Ekron?” (1:3). Elijah tells the king that because he has chosen the help of Baal-zebub over the God of Israel, the monarch shall not recover (1:4).

You may have noticed a slight difference between the names in the New Testament and the Tanakh: in the Gospels, the latter half of the name is “zebul,” but the Hebrew Bible has “zebub.” Whereas the New Testament Greek preserves this deity’s proper name, the Hebrew makes it into a derisive wordplay: by changing the final “l” (ל) to a “b” (ב), the Hebrew author makes Baalzebul (Exalted Lord) into Baalzebub: “Lord of the Flies.” One reason for this change may have been the tendency for flies to congregate on ancient sacrifices that were not properly consumed as burnt offerings. Israel was told to burn the uneaten parts of the offering so that the smoke would ascend to God as a “sweet-smelling savor” (ריח ניחח; reach nichoach; e.g., Lev 1-8), but the Israelites could mock the sacrifices of other nations when they saw flies covering the leftovers. In this way, the Hebrews highlight the superiority of their God over Baalzebul: with the switch of a single letter, the Israelites could say to their neighbors, “You think that your Baal is the ‘exalted lord,’ but we know that he’s really just the lord of the flies!”            

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24 COMMENTS

  1. Shalom. I knew that Ahaziah called upon false god but I did not understand how the Jewish people recognize the play on words in the name of of the false god to mock the false god. Thank you. Very interesting.

  2. Love it! Makes so much more sense than some of the strange ideas I’ve heard why God demanded the uneaten parts to be burned up.

  3. Hilarious! Thank you for explaining this subtle change. I had heard of both definitions but did not know how it came about. Exciting!

  4. So interesting! Yesterday I was talking to my brother about baalzebul and we did not know why he is styled king of flies. Thank you for providing clarity. I get educated every day through these short articles. Thank you so much.

  5. Can you please help me to understand if devil and Satan are the same or two different identities? Satan is reported to be seen in heaven standing on God’s right hand, which would not be possible if he is devil (one with evil intentions) as God cannot co-exist with evil.

    • Thanks, Salwan. Baal Zebul means “exalted master”; what you may have read is that Baal Zebub means “Lord of the flies” and that may have been associated with flies that congregate on garbage, so that calling Baal Zebul “Lord of the flies” would have been tantamount to calling him “lord of garbage.” This works on an analogical level, but the Hebrew words mean “Lord of the flies.”

  6. Shalom Dr. Schaser. Thank you for this very interesting article. Baalzebul/Baalzebub could be powerful, but not as powerful as Jesus the Messiah, the son of the most high God. This is great learning!

  7. What’s the difference between ba’al and doctors? El Yahuah is the God who heals…but because of unbelief when one gets sick they may or may not consult God but still run to doctors for their healing. If you really believed in God’s testimony there would be no need for doctors.

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