Baal Peor

From Academic Kids

In the Tanach Baal Peor (Hebrew בעל פעור Ba‘al Pə‘˘r), in the Septuagint Beelpheg˘r, was a god associated with Mount Pe‘or in Moab whom many Israelites began to worship under the influence of Moabite women as told in Numbers 25.1–15.

The people begin to "whore after" the daughters of Moab and then to take part in sacrifices to their gods and to bow down to their gods. Yahweh orders Moses to hang the chiefs of the people before Yahweh to turn away Yahweh's anger. The scene shifts then to the P source, according to the Documentary hypothesis. An Israelite man brings a Midianite, not Moabite, woman into the camp in the sight of Moses where the people are weeping before the Tent of Meeting. Phinehas son of Eleazar son of Aaron thereupon rises up with a spear, follows the man "into the chamber" and thrusts the spear through both the man and woman. The plague, mentioned suddenly for the first time, is averted, though 24,000 have died. A war with Midian follows.

Back reference to this affair of Pe‘or appears in Numbers 25.18;31.16; Deuteronomy 3.28; Joshua 22.17; Hosea 9.10; Psalm 106.28.

These are the only ancient records referring to Ba‘al Pe‘or. There is no way of knowing whether Ba‘al Pe‘or was identical with any other god sometimes called Ba‘al or was only a local god of Mount Pe‘or. Later commentators tend to imagine the cult of Ba‘al Pe‘al as very licentious and sometimes suggest he might be identical with Chemosh who is called the god of Moab in other texts.

If Pe‘or is connected to the Hebrew stem p‘r 'open', used both of mouth and bowels, it might mean 'opening' and so the name of the god could mean 'Lord of the Opening'. This apparent meaning is probably the source of Talmudic traditions associating Ba‘al Pe‘or with exposure and excrement. The tractate Sanhedrin 64a attibutes to Rab through Rabbi Judah the story of a sick Gentile woman who vowed to worship every idol in the world if she recovered. Upon recovery she set out to fulfill her vow, but drew back at Pe‘or as the rites were too disgusting: eating beets, drinking strong drink, and then uncovering oneself. A story follows about a Jew who showed his contempt for the god by wiping his behind on its nose after defecating in the temple and who was praised for his piety by the acolytes of the god who said: "no man has ever before served this idol thus." Tractate ‘Abodah Zerah 3 states in the Gemara that the area before the idol Pe‘or was used as a latrine and that the worship of the idol consisted of excrementing before it. Rashi comments on Numbers 25.3 that Pe‘or was so called "because they would uncover before it the end of the rectum and bring forth excrement; this is its worship."

See also Baal.

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