The Lord of the Flies

In 2 Kings 1 Ahaziah, king of Israel, is injured by a fall. Rather than turning to YHWH, Ahaziah sends his messengers to secure the favor of a different god:
2 Kings 1.2b
So he sent messengers, saying to them, “Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury.” 
2 Kings (1.2-3, 6, 16) is the only time the Philistine deity of Baal-Zebub is mentioned in the Old Testament and the character of this god is a source of speculation. On the surface, the name Baal-Zebub means "Baal of the flies," which can be translated as "Lord of the flies" or "Master of the flies."

Lord of the flies is a strange name for a god. There are two possible takes on this.

The first take is that if flies are associated with plagues and sickness it seems reasonable for the ailing Ahaziah to call upon the god who "masters" the flies/plagues.  If you want to get rid of the flies--symbols of sickness and plague--then you call upon the Lord of the Flies.

The other take is that the name Baal-Zebub is an insult inserted into the text. Some have argued that the real name of the god in question was Baal-Zebul, "Baal the prince." By switching from Zebul ("prince") to Zebub ("flies")--calling the god by the wrong but similar sounding name--the writer of 2 Kings may have been intentionally denigrating the god of Ekron.

The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament often used by the New Testament writers, renders Baal-Zebub as Baalzebub.

In the New Testament gospels Beelzeboul is mentioned and described as the "prince of demons" (Mark 3.22; Matthew 12.24-28; Matthew 10.25; Luke 11.15-18). Beelzeboul eventually gets translated as Beelzebub in the King James Version.

Many scholars note a connection between Baal-Zebub of 2 Kings and Beelzebub in the synoptic gospels. The nature of the connection is disputed. If there is a connection clearly there was some evolution. We travel some distance from the patron deity of the city of Ekron in 2 Kings to the prince of demons in the gospel accounts.

But if a connection does exist I think the wordplay between Zebul ("prince") and Zebub ("flies") is interesting.

The bible refers to Satan as the "prince" and "ruler" of the world. Satan is Baal-Zebul, "prince." But in the Christian imagination Prince Satan--who appears as an angel of light--is also unmasked as Baal-Zebub. Both designations are true.

Prince of the world and Lord of the flies.

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4 thoughts on “The Lord of the Flies”

  1. Currently on location and having a breeding boom in the heat of Gaza.

    I'm glad to see that the massacres in Gaza have finally begun to start at least a small exodus of some hitherto zombified American evangelicals out of the the Israel-right-or-wrong camp (based as it is on terrible theology at best and pernicious biblical-apocalyptic nonsense at worst). A member of David Cameron's cabinet, Baroness Warsi, has just rebelliously resigned over what she calls the moral indefensibility of the prime minister's pitiful - or should that be pitiless? - (non) response to the Israeli depredations. Imagine the equivalent happening in Washington! Still, "We look for the resurrection of the dead ..." - and we believe not in the "Prince of the world and Lord of the flies" but in the Prince of Peace and Lord of all.

  2. Related sidebar: The beginning of my exit from the particularly pernicious form of Pentecostal Fundamentalism began with my friend's mother who, upon seeing a sticker I had on my skateboard with the picture of a fly and a speech bubble that said 'Fly Powell-Peralta' (Powell Peralta being a skateboard company for those who had a better spent youth), turned to me dead serious and said, 'You know Satan is Lord of the Flies!' My response was something like, 'Eh? Uhhhh.....It's a fly.' :)

  3. To me, it is interesting to look at these Canaanite gods from a perspective backed away from the the normal, religious lens and more toward an anthropological view. If I understand it correctly (debatable):

    There were three primary Canaanite gods in their pantheon: El, Baal, and Asherah. El was the creator, Asherah was El's wife and mother the earth, and Baal was El's son--the "prince". (Please note the trinitarian parallels, BTW.)

    During the time of Ahaziah in Israel's history, they were thoroughly polytheistic, likely worshiping YHWH but probably conflating YHWH with El (El Shaddai, Elah, Elohim, Elyon, El Roi, etc.), since this was generations after Joshua, Samuel, David, etc. This conflation of "God" as YHWH/El likely contributed to Ahaziah thinking it to be completely reasonable for a worshiper of God to call upon his "God's Son", in this case Baal, for healing.

    Fast forward to the post-exile when the bulk of the Hebrew bible was being codified. The Israelites/Jews are now thoroughly monotheistic, with YHWH being the one true god. In the scribes' redaction of the OT books, and with the view of "Hear O' Israel, YHWH thy God, YHWH is One," there is no room for a second god, even if he is YHWH's son. This story of Ahaziah now must be "scrubbed", and put in the proper view of YHWH versus the idols. So, the writer of 2Kings now can call Baal (from whom it is arguable Ahaziah sought counsel in all sincerity and honesty as the son of God) the "Prince of Flies"--Baal-Zebub--a filthy idol and an affront to YHWH himself... "see how evil Ahaziah was!"

    It didn't hurt that Ahaziah was a northern king and the OT redactors were from the southern kingdom.

  4. I've wondered if "Lord of the flies" is about causing shit and those who swarm to it. Which I think is relative to Satan being Prince of the world.

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