On Sunday, an international arts festival began with a concert held in an archaeological site in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. The backdrop for the opening concert was spectacular but underneath the lights and modern trappings, the original purpose of the Roman era ruins was clear: the concert was being held in one of the most prominent pagan temples of all time.

The Baalbeck International Festival is a cultural event in Lebanon. Held since 1955 with the goal of promoting tourism and Lebanese culture, people from around the world have gone to the city of Baalbek in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon to attend the annual festival. Classical music, dance, theater, opera, and jazz, as well as modern world music, are performed each July and August in the ancient Roman Acropolis. In 1975, the Lebanese Civil War forced cessation of the festival for a quarter of a century. The festival reopened in 1997, hosting over 40,000 spectators annually.

The hour-long event on Sunday, held in the absence of an audience for the first time due to pandemic restrictions, was broadcast on local and regional TV stations and live-streamed on social media in what the organizers claimed was an effort to spread “unity and hope.”

“We could not have an audience, since it is impossible to bring 2,000-3,000 people to Baalbek amid the coronavirus precautions, so we decided to bring Baalbek into people’s homes,” Nayla de Freige, the festival’s president, told the local LBC TV station.

The concert was led by the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra with choirs from Lebanon’s Notre Dame University, Antonine University and the group Qolo Atiqo, as well as young Lebanese musicians. The music was played by 150 musicians and choral singers and included a mix of classical music, including Beethoven and Verdi, as well as tunes from Lebanon’s Rahbani brothers composers and beloved Lebanese singer Fairouz.

Panoramic view of the great court of Baalbek temple complex, in Lebanon.

The venue was impressive:  a massive Roman temple complex dedicated to the worship[ of pagan gods in the second century. Sunday’s concert was held at the Bacchus Temple, which stands in front of six columns that remain from the Temple of Jupiter.

In Greek and Roman times Baalbek was also known as Heliopolis Syriaca ((Sun City) in reference to the solar cult there. In Greek religion, Helios was both the sun in the sky and its personification as a god. The name Baalbebek may be a reference to the local Semitic god Baʿal Haddu which was more often equated with the Greek god Zeus or, as he is known in  Latin, Jupiter. Alternatively, the name may refer to the god Ba’al of the Bekaa Valley.

Several 19th-century Biblical archaeologists attempted to connect Baalbek to the “Baalgad” mentioned in the Book of Joshua.

[everything] from Mount Halak, which ascends to Seir, all the way to Baal-gad in the Valley of the Lebanon at the foot of Mount Chermon; and he captured all the kings there and executed them. Joshua 11:17

Alternatively, it was theorized that Baalbek was synonymous with the Baalath listed among Solomon‘s cities in the First Book of Kings.

So Shlomo fortified Gezer, lower Beth-horon, Baalith, and Tamar in the wilderness, in the land [of Yehuda]. I Kings 9:17-18

During the Canaanite period, the local temples were largely devoted to the pagan male god Baʿal, his female consort Ashtart, and their son Adon. On top of these Canaanite temples, a complex housing three temples believed to have been commissioned by Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius (CE 138-161), was built: one to Jupiter Heliopolitanus (Baʿal), one to Venus (Ashtart), and a third to Bacchus. On a nearby hill, a fourth temple was dedicated to the third pagan figure: Mercury (Adon).

The Temple of Bacchus (Photo via Wikipedia)

The temple dedicated to Jupiter at Baalbek was the largest in all the Roman empire. The columns were 30 meters high with a diameter of nearly 2.5 meters: the biggest in the classical world. It took three centuries to create this colossal temple complex and when it was finished, it was the largest stone block construction found in the entire world

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the festival and its location is that despite being a two-hour drive from Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut, Baalbeck is now more renowned as being the capital of Hezbollah. During the 2006 Lebanon War, also known as the Baalbek operation, IDF forces raided a hospital in the city. As a Shia Islamist political party, Hezbollah should reject idolatry and its symbols. It is therefore quite perplexing that they usurped the site as their headquarters. 

Unlike other pagan sites, which were converted into mosques, Baalek has never been used for anything other than Canaanite and Greek/Roman idolatry. Nonetheless, in Islamic mythology, the temple complex was said to have been a palace of Solomon’s which was put together by djinn (demons or genies) and given as a wedding gift to the Queen of Sheba.

The Palmyra Arch reproduction on Display in London Trafalgar Square April 19 (Shutterstock)

Ancient pagan temples, especially those associated with the Biblical Ba’al, seem to be making a comeback. After the Islamic State (ISIS) destroyed the Monumental Arch in Palmyra Syria in 2015, a 20-foot replica of the arch was recreated by the Institute for Digital Archaeology in Oxford from Egyptian marble a 3D computer model. The original it stood in front of a Roman temple built on top of a pagan temple for the Mesopotamian god, Bel, also known as Ba’al. The replica was installed in London’s Trafalgar Square 19 April 2016, coinciding with the pagan holiday of Beltane, the culmination of a 13-day period known in the occult as “the Blood Sacrifice to the Beast,” the most important holiday for those who worship the god Ba’al.

Mentioned more than 90 times in the Bible, most notably when Elijah defeated the priests of Ba’al, also known as Moloch, in a contest to bring down fire from heaven to burn a sacrifice, Ba’al became the archetypical form of idol worship. Pantheistic, his adherents worshipped Mother Nature while denying the existence of a creator. Followers of Ba’al engaged in bisexual orgies and sacrificed human infants, burning them alive. Anthropologists conjecture that the child sacrifice was to cull the population after the inevitable outcome of wanton sexuality

It was displayed in London for three days, before being moved to a number of other locations, including New York City, Geneva, and Dubai.  

The arch was displayed in Washington D.C.during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. It is interesting to note that one of the methods of serving Ba’al was by sacrificing infants and one of the major objections to Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court was his anti-abortion stance.

The recreated Arch of Palmyra has appeared at several occasions connected with world government gathering such as the G-7 summit in Geneva. It was aslo erected as the centerpiece for a 12 day display in Bern, Switzerland commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Swiss Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The date seems random however its unveiling was held on June 21, the summer solstice, a major day in the calendar for the form of idolatry which focuses on sun-worship.

Lion of al-Lat (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

UNESCO has played a leading role in the reappearance of idolatry. The Baalbek temple complex was inscribed in 1984 as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Palmyra was listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1980. UNESCO also funded the reconstruction of pre-Islamic goddess Lion of al-Lat known as the “goddess of adultery” that once stood in Palmyra. UNESCO also funded the reconstruction of a statue of the pagan goddess Athena and presented it at an exhibit “The Spirit in the Stone”, at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City. The exhibit described Athena as “synonymous with reason, refuge and the rule of law, all of the same values on which that historic institution was built”, but the spear lying at the statue’s feet belied her more common association as the goddess of war.