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The 450 Prophets of Baal

Gilles Castelnau

Translation Louise Thunin


The god Baal whom the prophet Elijah opposes and whose cult was so popular in Israel that he even had his statue in the Temple in Jerusalem (II Kings 23) had good reason to interest everyone.

He was a fighter and a savior, a god of storms and of vital, fertilizing rain.

He also struggled against Mot, the god of death.

He struggled against Yam the sea god (the Hebrews were afraid of the sea) and against the god of the salty fog that dried out the fields near the sea.

The prosperity he brought to the fields and flocks was all the more pleasing as YHWH didn’t pay much attention to such things and moreover asked people to share with less fortunate than they. Baal didn’t have such moral demands and, like the genie of the lamp in The Arabian Tales, he favored whomever invoked him, paying no attention to his conduct, right or wrong. He edicted no moral laws.

His worship included frenzied dancing, scarification which led to some bleeding (blood being a symbol of life), symbolic sexual rites of fertility (there were prostitutes and sacred prostitutes in places of worship and even in the Jerusalem Temple). But no ethical or social considerations.

The Bible debates about Baal and assigns some of his characteristics to YHWH himself :


Psalm 74. 13-15

(O Lord…) it was You who drove back the sea with Your might

who smashed the heads of the monsters in the waters ;

it was You who crushed the heads of Leviathan,

who left him as food for the denizens of the desert ;

it was You who released springs and torrents,

who made mighty rivers run dry.


Psalm 89

You rule the swelling of the sea,

When its wave surge, You still them.

Righteousness and justice are the base of your throne ;

Steadfast love and faitfulness stand before You.


Hosea 2 :10

(God says, speaking to his people)

And she did not consider this :

It was I who bestowed on her

The new grain and wine and oil.

In the famous legendary narratives of which the central one is that of the 450 prophets of Baal, the First Book of Kings presents an opposition between YHWH and Baal, whereas King Achab officially introduced the cult of Baal in Israel.



I Kings 16 : 32

(King Achab) erected an altar to Baal in the temple of Baal which he built in Samaria.


The presence of YHWH on Baal’s territory and of Baal on YHWH’s territory is paradoxical.


I Kings 17

Elijah, faithful to YHWH, announces that Baal, the so-called master of rain, is actually incapable of making rain, and drought will henceforth ravage Israel, because YHWH is no longer worshipped there.

He even leaves Israel and settles in Baal’s territory which of course the drought also reaches. And it is YHWH who crosses the border, nourishes him with the help of crows and brings an abundance of oil and flour to the widow of Sarepta, who has given him refuge.


I Kings 18

The drought causes a deadly famine in Israel, where Baal is still incapable of making rain.

Elijah, in the name of YHWH, provokes the 450 prophets of Baal to a duel on their own territory. Will they be able to master the fire of the storm and the rain which are Baal’s attributes ?

The outcome is negative : Still, there was no sound and none who responded or heeded. (verse 29).


On the other hand, YHWH enters Baal’s territory, demonstrates his mastery of the elements and brings down fire and brimstone from the heavens onto the sacrifice prepared by Elijah.


Thus it is proven that Baal does not possess the heavenly power that people attribute to him and that his prophets, far from being prophets of life, are messengers of death.

And when the prophets of death are massacred, life returns :

(verse 45) Meanwhile the sky grew black with clouds ; there was wind, and a heavy downpour fell.

Baal, wrongly called a god of life is but a god of death.


YHWH who is never defined as a master of rain and of abundance but rather as the guarantor of the covenant between Abraham, and the liberator of Egypt reveals himself as universal and more powerful even than the god of abundance symbolized by beneficial rain.









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À propos Gilles

a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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