Evidence #308 | February 16, 2022

No Baal Names

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The absence of Baal names in the Book of Mormon is consistent with archaeological discoveries of Jewish names from the ancient Near East during the time of Lehi.

There are several hundred personal and place names in the Book of Mormon. Many of these have been shown to be authentic ancient Near Eastern names. Professor Hugh Nibley noted that as a younger man he was once surprised at the total absence of Baal names in the Book of Mormon. “By what unfortunate oversight had the authors of that work failed to include a single name containing the element Baal, which thrives among the personal names of the Old Testament?”1 (The only likely exception to this rule is the name Isabel, which will be discussed in detail below.) More recent evidence, however, supports the Book of Mormon’s general omission of this name element.

Baal Names in the Bible

Biblical texts contain many examples of personal and place names which include the theophoric name Baal. According to Yugal Levin, the word baal can mean “lord,” “master,” “husband,” or even “owner.” Although Baal was also the name of a non-Israelite deity (the worship of which was condemned by biblical prophets), Levin notes that because of the broader meaning of the word “in the earliest periods of Israelite national identity, it was common to use the title ‘baal’ as an epithet for the God of Israel.”2 This is why we often find prominent biblical leaders and individuals with Baal names.

The stele of Baal with Thunderbolt found in the ruins of Ugarit. Image and caption via Wikipedia. 

One of Gideon’s names, for instance, was Jerubaal (Judges 6:32). Baal is also the name of one of Saul’s ancestors, as well as a leader of the tribe of Reuben (1 Chronicles 5:5; 8:30; 9:36). Other personal names include Baal-hanan (1 Chronicles 27:28), Eshbaal (1 Chronicles 8:33; 9:39), and Merib-Baal (1 Chronicles 8:34; 9:40). Place names include Baal-Gad (Joshua 11:17; 12:7; 13:5), Baal-Hermon (Judges 3:3; 1 Chronicles 5:23), Baal Maon (Numbers 32:38; Joshua 13:17; Ezekiel 25:9; 1 Chronicles 5:8), Baal-Zaphon (Exodus 14:2, 9; Numbers 33:7), Baalah or Baalatah (Joshua 15:9–11, 29; 1 Chronicles 13:6), Baalath (Joshua 19:44; 1 Kings 9:18; 2 Chronicles 8:6), Baalath-Beer (Joshua 19:8; 1 Chronicles 4:33), Baal-Perazim (2 Samuel 5:20), Baal-Shalishah (2 King 4:42), Baal-Hazor (2 Samuel 12:23), Baal-Tamar (Judges 20:33), and Baale of Judah (2 Samuel 6:2). Clearly, names with the element Baal were relatively common.

Archaeological Evidence

Archaeological discoveries made long after the Book of Mormon was published shed light on this issue. Discoveries at the site of Elephantine, an Egyptian city occupied by Jewish settlers in the seventh century BC, yielded a cache of documents which contain many Jewish and other Semitic names of the period. According to Joseph Offord, “out of some four hundred personal names among the Elephantine Papyri not one is compounded of Baal.”3 William F. Albright observed that seals and inscriptions from Judah during the later Judean monarchy and which “are very numerous in the seventh and early sixth [centuries] seem never to contain any Baal names.”4

Papyrus narrating the story of the wise chancellor Ahiqar. Aramaic script. 5th century BCE. From Elephantine, Egypt. Image and caption via Wikimedia Commons. 

Lehi, Ishmael, and their families departed from Jerusalem during the first year of the reign of Zedekiah (1 Nephi 1:4) shortly before the destruction of the city in the early sixth century BC. This means that they left at a time when Baal names were apparently no longer popular. The Jewish names at Elephantine and the epigraphic evidence mentioned by Albright were discovered many years after the Book of Mormon was published.

The Name Isabel

While Nibley’s assessment about the lack of Baal names in the Book of Mormon is generally correct, it seems likely that he missed an example: Isabel, the harlot for whom Corianton forsook his ministry (Alma 39:3–5). Latter-day Saint scholars have “generally assumed that the name is identical to that of the Old Testament Jezebel, the Hebrew form of which was ʾÎzebel.”5

Jezebel is “best understood as meaning ‘Where is the Prince?,’ the cry of Baal’s divine and human subjects when he is in the underworld.”6 The final component (bel) of Jezebel is what conveys “prince” or “lord,” and is likely intended to evoke an association with the god Baal, much like Ethbaal, the name of Jezebel’s father.7 Furthermore, Jezebel is known primarily for her efforts to inculcate Baal worship among the Israelites, so the Baal connection is present both linguistically and narratively (1 Kings 16:31).

The existence of Isabel/Jezebel in the Book of Mormon, however, may not do much to push against Nibley’s general point about the absence of such names in the text. It is possible, and perhaps even likely, that instead of being a genuine personal name, Isabel is a metonym (a symbolic name) evoking forbidden lust.8 Whatever the case may be, the name holds the type of negative association that likely led to Baal names falling out of favor in Lehi’s day.

Conclusion

If Joseph Smith were the author (rather than divinely aided translator) of the Book of Mormon and was just randomly pulling names and name-elements from the Bible, he could have easily included the baal element in a number of them. But he didn’t. The only instance—Isabel—is likely symbolic and is used in a negative context that helps explain, rather than subvert, the rule. This general absence of Baal names in the Book of Mormon is surprisingly consistent with archaeological discoveries showing that Baal names had fallen out of favor during the late pre-exilic period (the same period when Lehi and his family dwelled at Jerusalem). As Nibley concluded, “the stubborn prejudice of our text against Baal names is really the only correct attitude it could have taken.”9

Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Deseret/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1988), 33–34.

Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1988), 281–294.

BibleExodus 14:2Exodus 14:9Numbers 32:38Numbers 33:7Joshua 11:17Joshuia 12:7Joshua 13:5Joshua 13:17Joshua 15:9–11Joshua 15:29Joshua 19:8Joshua 19:44Judges 3:3Judges 6:32Judges 20:332 Samuel 5:202 Samuel 6:22 Samuel 12:231 Kings 9:182 King 4:421 Chronicles 4:331 Chronicles 5:51 Chronicles 5:81 Chronicles 5:231 Chronicles 8:301 Chronicles 8:331 Chronicles 8:341 Chronicles 9:391 Chronicles 9:401 Chronicles 9:361 Chronicles 13:61 Chronicles 27:282 Chronicles 8:6Ezekiel 25:9Book of Mormon1 Nephi 1:4

Bible

Exodus 14:2

Exodus 14:9

Numbers 32:38

Numbers 33:7

Joshua 11:17

Joshuia 12:7

Joshua 13:5

Joshua 13:17

Joshua 15:9–11

Joshua 15:29

Joshua 19:8

Joshua 19:44

Judges 3:3

Judges 6:32

Judges 20:33

2 Samuel 5:20

2 Samuel 6:2

2 Samuel 12:23

1 Kings 9:18

2 King 4:42

1 Chronicles 4:33

1 Chronicles 5:5

1 Chronicles 5:8

1 Chronicles 5:23

1 Chronicles 8:30

1 Chronicles 8:33

1 Chronicles 8:34

1 Chronicles 9:39

1 Chronicles 9:40

1 Chronicles 9:36

1 Chronicles 13:6

1 Chronicles 27:28

2 Chronicles 8:6

Ezekiel 25:9

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 1:4

Footnotes
  • 1 Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Deseret/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1988), 33. There is a good possibility, however, that Nibley missed an example: Isabel.
  • 2 Yugal Levin, “Baal Worship in Early Israel: An Onomastic View in Light of the ‘Eshbaal’ Inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa,” Maarav 21, no. 1–2 (2014): 203–222.
  • 3 Joseph Offord, “Further Illustrations of the Elephantine Aramaic Papyri,” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly (1917): 127.
  • 4 William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1942), 160.
  • 5 John A. Tvedtnes, John Gee, and Matthew Roper, “Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 1 (2000): 47, 49. They also note, however, that “the spelling Yzbl is now attested on a seal in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that is thought to be Phoenician in origin” (p. 49). See also, Book of Mormon Onomasticon, “ISABEL,” online at onoma.lib.byu.edu.
  • 6 Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds., The Oxford Guide to People & Places of the Bible (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 150.
  • 7 According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Jezebel also had a brother with a Baal name: Baal-Eser II. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baal-Eser_II.
  • 8 See Gordon C. Thomasson, “What’s in a Name: Book of Mormon Language, Names, and [Metonymic] Naming,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3, no. 1 (1994): 15. Jezebel represents forbidden lust by her status as a foreign princess who propagated Baal worship among the Israelites. Sexual lust and idol worship are often linked together in the Old Testament, as seen by the common idiom “whoring after their gods” (1 Chronicles 5:25).
  • 9 Nibley, Lehi in the Deseret/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites, 33.
Linguistics
Book of Mormon

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