Did You Know?

Why does the Bible associate worship of the false god Baal with sex orgies?

The Canaanite divinity Baal was essentially a fertility god. His worshippers believed that Baal was responsible for the productivity of their fields and their livestock. Thus, according to the reference work Manners and Customs in the Bible, “sexual activity at local shrines was designed to promote the fertility of the land by encouraging the storm god Baal and his consort Asherah to engage in divine intercourse, causing abundant harvests and herds.”

The Canaanites believed that Baal withdrew to the depths of the earth during the dry season when he was overpowered by Mot, god of aridity and death. The onset of the rains, however, was believed to mark Baal’s return to power and a consequent return of abundant vegetation and life. The Canaanites celebrated this season with unrestrained orgies. This explains why the Israelites’ attachment to the Baal of Peor resulted in their having “immoral relations with the daughters of Moab.”​—Numbers 25:1-3.

What did Jesus mean when he said that the scribes and Pharisees resembled “whitewashed graves”?

Jesus denounced the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites and told them: “You resemble whitewashed graves, which outwardly indeed appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men’s bones and of every sort of uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27) The Jews customarily made tombstones conspicuous by daubing them with whitewash, or lime, at the end of the rainy season, on the 15th day of Adar, a month before the Passover. The rains, in fact, tended to wash the whitening away.

According to The Jewish Encyclopedia, the marking of graves was done to protect against defilement of “the numerous pilgrims who traversed the roads at the Passover festival.” The law recorded at Numbers 19:16 stated that everyone who touched a dead body, a human bone, or a burial place would be unclean for seven days. Ceremonial uncleanness prevented the Israelites from participating in acts of pure worship, on pain of death. (Leviticus 15:31) Jesus spoke this illustration just days before the Passover; thus, annual tomb-whitewashing would have been fresh in the minds of his listeners. Jesus’ point was that his religious opponents were not what they outwardly appeared to be and that contact with them was spiritually defiling.

[Picture on page 15]

Limestone stela of Baal-of-the-lightning, 14th/​13th centuries B.C.E.

[Credit Line]

Musée du Louvre, Paris