Beelzebul

The synoptic gospels (Mark, Mathew and Luke) recount the story of Jesus being accused of working for the powers of darkness: ““By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” I can remember as a young person being frightened to know the devil was so familiar to the world that he/she had a name: Beelzebul. One of my vivid memories was as child hearing a fiery sermon by a preacher at the Pine Street Pentecostal Church. It was a Sunday night and we were outside listening. Again and again the preacher hoisted up and dropped upon the congregation the name of Beelzebul, the prince of darkness who leered, lingered, and lured the unwary soul onto perdition’s ways.

Beelzebulb makes a first appearance in 2 Kings 1 during the time of Elijah the Prophet and King Ahaziah. In short, the king has fallen and injured himself and so he sends a messenger: Go and inquire of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this injury.” (Ekron was one a five major cities of the Philistines). In the text Baalzebub, “Baal of flies” in Hebrew is a derisive alteration of Baalzebul, “Prince Baal.” A Targumin translation makes note in the margin that “zebul’ is a word play on an Aramic word for “dung.” As the name moved from Hebrew, to Syriac, to Latin, to English, the name also appears as Beelzabub, Beelzabul, Baalzabub, and a few other variation.

Somewhere along the way, Beelzebul received a significant linguistic “promotion” from Lord of the Flies” to “Prince of demons.” There is a book, never considered part of Scripture, The Testament of Solomon, in  which Beelzebul appears as prince of the demons and says that he was formerly a leading heavenly angel. Beelzebul claims to cause destruction through tyrants, to cause demons to be worshiped among men, to excite priests to lust, to cause jealousies in cities and murders, and to bring on war. One imagine that is the need arose he would sacrifice a fellow demon or two to achieve the evil ends desired.

In western literature, Beelzebul has consistently been placed as one of the three most powerful figures of the underworld/hell. Accounts hold (and who knows where these account originated) that Beelzebul helped lead a revolt against the Devil which brought Lucifer to power and for the effort became “Prince of demons.” Beelzebul goes onto have “guest appearances” on Paradise Lost and Pilgrim’s Progress. The famous American Puritan, Cotton Mather, wrote a pamphlet titled Of Beelzebub and his Plot – this in the wake of the Salem Witch trials.

Beelzebul rarely makes it into our Sunday gospel but has yearly appearances in the daily gospel. When I come upon the daily reading, I think the Testament of Solomon and that Pine Street Pentecostal preacher had it right as the evil prince who leers, lingers and lures the unwary onto the slippery slope to Perdition. Not a road for even a first step. So maybe on this journey of life, it is good to check the inclination of your path and with whom you are walking. It is a rather stark choice. Jesus, after refuting the charges against him, says quite pointedly, “Whoever is not with me is against me.”

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