The name Beelzebub has an interesting and somewhat controversial origin story. The name itself is irregular.
In English, the name Beelzebub doesn’t seem to have much relation to Baal, but that is because it is not rendered correctly from the original language. In Hebrew, Beelzebub is not a proper name, but a description of the God Baal. In Hebrew, it is “Baal-Zevuv” or “Lord of the Flies.” As I mentioned, Baal means “Lord” and “Master” and “Zevuv” means “flies.” In Hebrew, it is rendered as בַּעַל זְבוּב. If appropriately spelled in English, it would be BAALZEVUV. In some cases, it is presented as VAALZEVUV since the “B” sound in Hebrew can sometimes be rendered as a “V” sound. We will see this rendering shortly.
Beelzebub – Baalzebub – In the Old Testament
We see Beelzebub mentioned only four times in the Old Testament, and in all cases, they are within the same book.
2 Kings 1: 2-3 “Now Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria and injured himself. So he sent messengers, saying to them, “Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury.”
3 But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Go up and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and ask them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’”
וַיִּפֹּל אֲחַזְיָה בְּעַד הַשְּׂבָכָה, בַּעֲלִיָּתוֹ אֲשֶׁר בְּשֹׁמְרוֹן–וַיָּחַל; וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים, וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם לְכוּ דִרְשׁוּ בְּבַעַל זְבוּב אֱלֹהֵי עֶקְרוֹן, אִם-אֶחְיֶה, מֵחֳלִי זֶה
וּמַלְאַךְ יְהוָה, דִּבֶּר אֶל-אֵלִיָּה הַתִּשְׁבִּי, קוּם עֲלֵה, לִקְרַאת מַלְאֲכֵי מֶלֶךְ-שֹׁמְרוֹן; וְדַבֵּר אֲלֵהֶם–הֲמִבְּלִי אֵין-אֱלֹהִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, אַתֶּם הֹלְכִים לִדְרֹשׁ בְּבַעַל זְבוּב אֱלֹהֵי עֶקְרוֹן
2 Kings 1: 6 “And they said unto him: ‘There came up a man to meet us, and said unto us: Go, return unto the king that sent you, and say unto him: Thus saith the LORD: Is it because there is no God in Israel, that thou sendest to inquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron? Therefore, thou shalt not come down from the bed whither thou art gone up, but shalt surely die.’”
וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו אִישׁ עָלָה לִקְרָאתֵנוּ, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלֵינוּ לְכוּ שׁוּבוּ אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר-שָׁלַח אֶתְכֶם, וְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֵלָיו כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, הֲמִבְּלִי אֵין-אֱלֹהִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל אַתָּה שֹׁלֵחַ לִדְרֹשׁ בְּבַעַל זְבוּב אֱלֹהֵי עֶקְרוֹן; לָכֵן הַמִּטָּה אֲשֶׁר-עָלִיתָ שָּׁם, לֹא-תֵרֵד מִמֶּנָּה–כִּי-מוֹת תָּמוּת
And finally, in 2 Kings 1: 16:
“And he said unto him: ‘Thus saith the LORD: Forasmuch as thou hast sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron, is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of His word? Therefore, thou shalt not come down from the bed whether thou art gone up, but shalt surely die.’”
וַיְדַבֵּר אֵלָיו כֹּה-אָמַר יְהוָה, יַעַן אֲשֶׁר-שָׁלַחְתָּ מַלְאָכִים לִדְרֹשׁ בְּבַעַל זְבוּב אֱלֹהֵי עֶקְרוֹן–הֲמִבְּלִי אֵין-אֱלֹהִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, לִדְרֹשׁ בִּדְבָרוֹ; לָכֵן הַמִּטָּה אֲשֶׁר-עָלִיתָ שָּׁם, לֹא-תֵרֵד מִמֶּנָּה–כִּי-מוֹת תָּמוּת
As you can see, in every instance it mentions Beelzebub, it also associates him with the town of Ekron. This is because that form of Baal was worshiped there, just like Baal-Peor was worshiped at Peor, and Baal- Hermon was worshiped at Mount Hermon, etc. The Baal name is often suffixed by the location in which the cult is located. However, in the case of Beelzebub, notice they aren’t calling him Baal-Ekron, as you would expect. I will get into why that is in a moment.
Let’s move on to the Septuagint and its translation of Beelzebub.
The Septuagint is the first Greek translation of the Old Testament commissioned by the Greek, King of Egypt, Ptolemy the second, Philadelphius, an ancestor to the Greek/Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. The translation is called the Septuagint, after the Latin word “Septuaginta,” which means 70. Supposedly, it took 70 scholars to create this translation, and some say perhaps 72. In either case, it is a good reference point to see how Jewish scholars in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. understood the verses of the Old Testament. As I mentioned before, I feel there are many issues with it. Luckily, for this book, those issues do not apply.
The Septuagint is mostly in agreement with the Hebrew Bible as it pertains to Baal’s description as “Lord of the Flies.” BUT, are they correct in their rendering of Beelzebub? I argue that they are not. Let us look.
Please note that due to the way the Septuagint is compiled, the verses below are not aligned the same way as it is in the Hebrew and English versions. For example, the verses in 2 Kings 1: 2-3 are in the same location in both the Hebrew and English versions. However, in the Septuagint, it is 4 Kings 2. I will make a note of this as I quote them.
Hebrew/English 2 Kings 1: 2-3 – Septuagint 4 Kings 1: 2:
… δεῦτε καὶ ἐπιζητήσατε ἐν τῷ Βάαλ μυῖαν θεὸν ᾿Ακκαρών, εἰ ζήσομαι ἐκ τῆς ἀρρωστίας μου ταύτης· καὶ ἐπορεύθησαν ἐπερωτῆσαι δι᾿ αὐτοῦ.”
The words in yellow Βάαλ μυῖαν θεὸν ᾿Ακκαρών says, “Baal Fly, God of Ekron.” That is the literal translation.
This same usage “Βάαλ μυῖαν θεὸν ᾿Ακκαρών” is used in all the other verses as well.
Hebrew/English 2 Kings 1: 3 – Septuagint 4 Kings 1: 3
Hebrew/English 2 Kings 1: 6 – Septuagint 4 Kings 1: 6
Hebrew/English 2 Kings 1: 16 – Septuagint 4 Kings 1: 16
In both the Hebrew and Greek texts, Zevuv in Hebrew and μυῖαν in Greek seem suspect. Was there a place in Ekron called “Flies?” No, the term “flies” is not an indicator of location. Some scholars who take a more literal approach to the name suggest that this form of Baal was, literally, a repeller of flies. Some say they even found small statues of flies in archaeological excavations in the region. On the surface, this seems foolish, but there is some suggestion that they knew even back then that flies were vectors of disease and associated with death. Perhaps this form of Baal was a protector against flies, and thus a repeller of disease. This is not unheard of in ancient history. In Greek lore, one of Zeus’ epithets was Zeus–Apomyius (Ἀπόμυιος) or “Zeus who drives away flies.” Or the Greek God Myiagrus, whose name means “flycatcher or one who chases flies.” He is hailed as a hero because he repelled flies during the festival of Athena.
Despite the historical precedence
for such usage, I don’t agree with it when it comes to Beelzebub. I get into that in the next chapter.
Zebub Or Zebul?
I side with the other camp of scholars who believe that “Zebub” was a deliberate distortion of the Hebrew word זְבוּל “Zebul” Or “Zevul” which means “exalted” in Hebrew, and “Prince” in Canaanite/Ugaritic. This distortion to “Zevuv” or “flies” was a show of contempt for Baal, making him of no use other than to attract flies. Which by implication, is stating he was useless or worse, the bringer of disease.
There is another theory that “Zebul” was just a misspelling for the word for dung or garbage “Zevel.” Essentially “Lord of Dung or garbage.” I can see why some would think this, but it is hard to prove, and therefore, I won’t go down that path.
Based on everything I have read, the original name was Baal-Zebul or Baal-Zevul or “exalted Lord,” and not “Lord of the Flies” or Beelzebub. It just makes sense. Let me present a few reasons why I think this.
If you recall the biblical passage I presented in the last chapter, we see that King Ahaziah falls and is injured. He requests that Beelzebub should be called upon to divine his fate. It makes little sense that he would call Baal the “fly Repeller” for help, but rather the exalted Baal/Lord, “Baal-Zebul” for divinatory purposes. Doesn’t that make more sense?
In the Ugaritic texts, where we have most of the references to Baal outside of the Bible, often stated this when mentioning his name “Baal ZBL.” Do you see? “ZBL” is “Zebul,” which in Ugaritic and means “Prince.” In essence, “exalted.” They did this for other Gods as well.
In the book of Kings, we come in contact with a Princess by the name of Jezebel. She was a Baal worshiper extraordinaire, and she was very much against the Hebrew god. Her name in Hebrew is אִיזֶבֶל notice the last three letters זֶבֶל. In the Ugaritic, it means “Prince.” Her entire name means “Where is the Prince?” Her father’s name was Etbaal; he is named after Baal. His son’s name is Baal-Eser. As you see, Baal is embedded in all the names, and Jezebel is also named in honor of him; “Baal the Prince.” It ran in their family.
And here is the kicker, the evidence to further bolster this claim that “Zevul” is the correct word. In the New Testament, they use the “Zebul” suffix when referring to him. As with a previous point in which he is called a “Prince” in Ugaritic, in Matthew 12:24, it states that Beelzebul is “Prince of the Demons.” So that makes the argument for Zebul a more likely one. It is also interesting to note that the New Testament, which is usually in alignment with the Septuagint, breaks from the notion that it means “fly.” I will get into the New Testament usage a bit later.
Taking all the above into account, it makes sense that it is a distortion of Zebul. The evidence is weighted in that direction. When you look through time, the Zebul appears more prominently in nearly all texts.
I could leave it at that, but I also wanted to illustrate that the Israelites did distort the names of people when they wanted to insult them. Interestingly enough, they do this with two people that have the name Baal in their name. It’s no coincidence that they do this to their names and further bolsters why they used “Zebub” as opposed to “Zevul.”
In my book, about Baal, I mention two individuals that had the name Baal as a suffix to their name.
Saul’s son was named Esh-Baal (“Man of the Lord,” 1 Chronicles 8:33.)
33 ”And Ner begot Kish, and Kish begot Saul; and Saul begot Jonathan, and Malchi-Shua, and Abinadab, and Esh-Baal.”
Jonathan’s son bore the name of Meriv-Baal (“The Lord contends or fights,” 1 Chronicles 8:34.)
34 “And the son of Jonathan was Meriv-Baal, and Meriv-Baal begot Micah.”
The reason I present this is that in the book of 2 Samuel, those same names have the “Baal” removed from them and replaced by the word “Boshet” which means shame.
Here, let’s take a look.
2 Samuel 2:8:
|8 “Now Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul’s host, had taken Esh-boshet the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim…”|
Wait, I thought Saul’s son was named Esh-Baal, but here is Esh-Boshet. Which means “man of Shame.”
2 Samuel 4:4:
|4 “Now Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son that was lame of his feet. He was five years old when the tidings came of Saul and Jonathan out of Jezreel, and his nurse took him up, and fled; and it came to pass, as she made haste to flee, that he fell, and became lame. And his name was Mephi-boshet.”|
In the previous verse, Jonathan’s son was Meriv-Baal, now his name Mephiboshet, which means “Out of my mouth is Shame.” I find this change slightly suspicious. Why the word shame? It was for two reasons:
- The names were Baal-centric, AND THEY WERE DISAVOWING THEM.
- To degrade and insult those two men, just like they did with Baal by taking away the “Zevul,” which means “exalted,” and replacing it with “Zebub,” which means flies. It is an insult.
As you can see, there is a precedent for the “Zevul” usage. AND, it was not the first time they did this when the name of Baal was used as you just saw.
Despite the above, I will still refer to him as Beelzebub or Baalzevuv throughout this text for consistency ONLY. And, well, Lord of the flies sounds so much cooler than the milquetoast “Exalted Lord.” Doesn’t it?
In summary, the Old Testament acknowledges him as an aspect of the god Baal, and that is how I see him. His demonization comes later. However, for consistency purposes, I will refer to him as a demon, even if I don’t feel he is one in the real sense of the word.