“And Eliyahu came near unto all the people, and said: ‘How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ And the people answered him not a word.” I Kings 18:21 (The Israel Bible™)
Next month, a symbol of Biblical paganism which was stamped out after monotheism appeared with the patriarch Abraham will rise in two of the major cultural centers of the world, London and New York, the New York Times reported.
The original center of idol worship on which the structures will be modeled stood in Palmyra, Syria, for 2,000 years – until ISIS arrived in August of 2015 and, viewing the temple as a formidable spiritual threat and symbol of idolatry, destroyed it.
ISIS has reduced to rubble many ancient religious and Biblical sites since it began its reign in Iraq and Syria: St. Elijah’s Monastery, the tomb of the Biblical prophet Jonah, the ancient city of Ninevah. While the world has mourned the loss of these irreplaceable sites, only one will be rebuilt: the arch of the Temple of Palmyra, better known as the Temple of Ba’al.
Uusing a database of thousands of photos, the Institute for Digital Archaeology will create a full-sized, 15-meter tall, 3D-printed replica of the entrance arch to the Temple of Palmyra, one of the few elements of the destroyed temple still standing. The pieces will be made off-site and then assembled in place in London’s Trafalgar Square and New York’s Times Square. The arches will be centerpieces for the UNESCO World Heritage Week in April.
Meanwhile, Syria has reconquered Palmyra and despite an ongoing humanitarian crisis, the government is dedicating resources to rebuild the temple.
Ironically, the Temple of Palmyra, lauded as a symbol of defiance in the face of religious extremism, was built for ancient idol worship which preached a form of moral decrepitude that may sound startlingly familiar.
Palmyra was dedicated in 32 CE to the worship of Bel, or as most Bible readers would know him, Ba’al. Lower levels of the ground underneath the Temple of Palmyra indicate human occupation that goes back to the third millennium BC. Converted into a Christian church during the Byzantine Era, parts of the structure were modified into a mosque by Muslims in 1132. It remained in use as a mosque until the 1920s.
The Temple was originally dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Ba’al, whose principal forms of worship were burning babies alive and bisexual orgies. Symbolizing a major religion that challenged Judaism, Ba’al was mentioned in the Bible over 90 times, becoming the archetype of worshipping evil.
The devotees of Ba’al believed he was the source of rain and universal bounty. Promiscuity was not penalized, as unwanted children could be offered up to the god, nor was procreation valued, as homosexual relations were encouraged. Pantheistic, they worshipped Mother Nature while rejecting the concept of a creator.
While these extreme beliefs are no longer widespread, disturbing parallels to modern morality and culture have emerged in recent years.
Throughout America and the world, the rights of those that object to the growth of an unrestricted sexual culture are increasingly at odds with a liberal mentality which welcomes sexual freedom. In legal cases which pit religious freedom against gay rights, businesses, facing fines and punitive actions, are required to violate their religious beliefs and conform to state-enforced moral codes. Religious colleges are threatened with loss of accreditation over policies concerning sexuality.
In his State of the Union Address in January, President Barack Obama channeled pantheism when he stated that the largest threat to American security was climate change, ignoring the growing and immediate threat of Islamic terrorism and privileging nature over human life.
In contrast to the rest of the Western world, Ba’al is unlikely to be celebrated anytime soon in Israel, which has a history of triumphing over the pagan god. The story begins with the prophet Elijah at the Carmel.
As written in chapter 18 of I Kings, Jezebel, the foreign wife of King Ahab, convinces her husband to kill the prophets and promote the worship of Ba’al and Asherah. Elijah defied their decrees, hiding prophets and challenging the priests of Ba’al to a contest on Mount Carmel.
The priests of Ba’al were unsuccessful in calling fire down from heaven to burn the bull offering on their altar. Elijah soaked his altar with water and called down a fire that consumed his bull and the entire altar. The priests of Ba’al were killed and the Children of Israel repented, returning to God.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, made a prescient comment on the new moral reality in an article in the the Wall Street Journal in 2011, warning, “A tsunami of wishful thinking has washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.”
Worship of Ba’al, replete with child sacrifice and orgies, may not be returning. However, in the name of freedom, Western culture has incorporated extreme elements that seriously challenge Judeo-Christian beliefs and values.