BEELZEBUB, Beelzebul, Baalzebub. In 2 Kings i. we read that Ahaziah ben Ahab, king of Israel, fell sick, and sent to inquire of Baalzebub, the god of the Philistine city Ekron, whether he should recover. There is no other mention of this god in the Old Testament. Baal, “lord,” is the ordinary title or word for a deity, especially a local deity, cf. such place names as Baal Hazor (2 Sam. xiii. 23), Baal Hermon (Judges iii. 3), which are probably contractions of fuller forms, like Beth Baal Meon (Josh. xiii. 17), the House or Temple of the Baal of Meon. According to these analogies we should expect Zebub to be a place. No place Zebub, however, is known; and it has been objected that the Baal of some other place would hardly be the god of Ekron. These objections are hardly conclusive.
Usually Zebub is identified with a Hebrew common noun zebub = flies, occurring twice in the Old Testament,so that Baalzebub “is the Baal to whom flies belong or are holy. As children of the summer they are symbols of the warmth of the sun, to which ... Baal stands in close relation. Divination by means of flies was known at Babylon.” There are other cases of names compounded of Baal and an element equivalent to a descriptive epithet, e.g. Baalgad, the Baal of Fortune. For the “Fly-god,” sometimes interpreted as the “averter of insects,” cf Ζεὺς ἀπόμυιος, μυίαγρος, and the Hercules μυίαγρος. Clemens Alexander speaks of a Herculesἀπόμυιος as worshipped at Rome. It has been suggested that Baalzebub was the dung-beetle, Scarabaeus pillularius, worshipped in Egypt.
A name of a deity on an Assyrian inscription of the 12th century B.C. has been read as Baal-zabubi, but this reading has now been abandoned in favour of Baal-sapunu (Baal-Zephon). Cheyne considers that Baalzebub is a “contemptuous uneuphonic Jewish modification of the true name Baalzebul.”
In the New Testament we meet with Beelzebul, which some of the versions, especially the Vulgate and Syriac, followed by the Authorized Version, have changed to Beelzebub, under the influence of 2 Kings. In Matt. x. 25, Christ speaks of men calling the master of the house, i.e. Himself, Beelzebul. In Mark iii 22-27, the scribes explain that Jesus is possessed by Beelzebul and is thus enabled to cast out devils. The passage speaks of Beelzebul as Satan and as the prince of the demons.
The origin of the name Beelzebul is variously explained. (a) It is “a phonetic corruption, perhaps a softening of the original word”; as Bab-el-mandel is a corruption of Bab-el-mandeb. (b) Zebul is from zebel, a word found in the Targums in the sense of “dung,” so that Beelzebul would mean “Lord of Dung,” a term of contempt. The further suggestion has been made that zebul itself in the sense of “dung” is a term for a heathen deity, cf. the Old Testament use of “abomination” &c. for heathen deities, so that Beelzebul would mean “Chief of false gods,” and so arch-fiend. (c) Zebul is found in 1 Kings viii. 13 in the sense of “height,” beth-zebul—lofty house, and in Rabbinical writings in the sense of “house” or “temple,” or “the fourth heaven”; and Beelzebul may equal “Lord of the High House” or “Lord of Heaven.” This view is perhaps favoured by Matt. x. 25, “if they have called the lord of the house Beelzebul.” It appears, however, that Rabbinical writings use yōm (day-of) zebul for the festival of a heathen deity; and Jastrow connects this usage with the meaning “house” or “temple,” so that the meaning “Lord of the False Gods” might be arrived at in a different way.
The names Zebulun, ’Izebel (Jezebel), suggest that Zebul may be an ancient name of a deity; cf. the namesבעל אזבל (B‘L ’ZBL), שמזבל (ShMZBL) in Punic and Phoenician
inscriptions. The substitution of Beelzebub for Beelzebul by the Syriac, Vulgate and other versions implies the identification of the New Testament arch-fiend with the god of Ekron; this substitution, however, may be due to the influence of the Aramaic B‘el-debaba, “adversary,” sometimes held to be the original of these names.
There is no trace of Beelzebul or Beelzebub outside of the Biblical passages mentioned, and the literature dependent on them. If we assume a connexion between the two names, there is nothing to show how the god became in later times the devil.