🔼The name Baal-berith: Summary
- Lord Of The Covenant
- From (1) the verb בעל (ba'al), to be lord, and (2) the noun ברית (berit), covenant.
🔼The name Baal-berith in the Bible
The name Baal-berith features in the very sad story of the family of Gideon. It's mentioned twice.
When Gideon (now called Jerubbaal) dies after guiding Israel for forty years, the Israelites return to the idolatry that Gideon had freed them from, and erect Baal-berith, their god (Judges 8:33).
When Abimelech, the son of Gideon with his concubine from Shechem, persuades his fellow Shechemites that he should be their king, they give him seventy pieces of silver from the house of Baal-berith (in full: Beth-baal-berith; Judges 9:4). With that money Abimelech acquires a band of sordid thugs and proceeds to slaughter his seventy half-brothers, all on one stone. After the insurrection of Zebul and Gaal, Abimelech massacres the elite of Shechem by setting fire to the temple of El-berith, which was probably the same deity as Baal-berith (Judges 9:46).
🔼Etymology of the name Baal-berith
The name Baal-berith obviously consists of two elements. The first part is the familiar word בעל (ba'al), Baal, meaning lord or master:
The verb בעל (ba'al) means to exercise dominion over; to own, control or be lord over. The ubiquitous noun בעל (ba'al) means lord, master and even husband, and its feminine counterpart בעלה (ba'ala) means mistress or landlady.
God is obviously called 'lord' all over the Bible and the sin of the Baal priests (1 Kings 18:40) was not that they called upon some other deity but rather their incessant howling of the word 'lord' without any further responsibility or effects (see Matthew 7:21 and 11:4-5).
The second part of our name is the same as the feminine noun ברית (berit), meaning covenant:
The verb ברר (barar) essentially means to clean, purify or clarify. Usually, whatever needs to be purified is first pulverized and then sorted: the useful elements are gathered and stored, and the fluff, chaff, dust and other garbage is either blown away by wind, washed away by water, burned with fire or simply scooped up and physically dumped somewhere. In the case of metal ore, the material is heated so that the good stuff flows out and separates by its nature from the bad stuff and its nature.
Derived adjective בר (bar) means pure or clean and identical noun בר (bar) denotes a kernel of grain or corn. Noun בר (bor) denotes a kind of material that was used in the metal purification process, and identical masculine noun בר (bor) means cleanness or pureness. Feminine noun ברית (borit) denotes a kind of soap (and is spelled identical to the word meaning covenant; see below). Noun בר (bar) describes a field (perhaps a freshly plowed, cleaned and ready-to-sow one?), and the masculine plural noun ברברים (barburim) denotes a kind of bird known literally and for unknown reasons as "cleany-cleanies".
Verb באר (ba'ar) describes writing on tablets of stone. Nouns באר (be'er), באר (bo'r) and בור (bor) mean well or pit, and obviously not merely refer to physical cisterns but rather to centers of learning and information technology (because yes, writing is information technology and then as hip as blockchain is now).
Verb ברא (bara' I) denotes the creative activity of God, which (as we know from modern cosmology) predominantly has to do with giving elements the freedom to sort themselves into constructions that are deemed stable by the laws that govern creation (and which ultimately describe freedom). Noun בריאה (beri'a) denotes a creation, "an entirely new thing".
Verb ברא (bara' II) means to be fat, and since fat is essentially an organic storage of energy, this verb is in modern terms neatly explained by relativity theory. Since anything unstable falls apart when exposed to energy, only stable compounds can gain mass. Likewise, a fat guy is clearly at peace and well provisioned (and not on the run or forced to labor half starving). Adjective בריא (bari') means fat and consequently healthy and prosperous. Verb ברה (bara) means to eat. Nouns בריה (birya) and ברות (barut) mean food.
Noun ברית (berit) means covenant and occurs all over the Bible. Although it's not wholly clear how it technically relates to the above, the gist of it is clear. A covenant clears up a working relation between parties and leads to peace, prosperity and ultimately more clarity and cleanness between said parties. Note that it is spelled the same as the word for soap (see above, and see our article on Soap in the Old World).
For a meaning of the name Baal-berith, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads the rather awkward Lord Of Covenant. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names properly concludes that a construction like this is best translated with a plural, and reads Lord Of Covenants. BDB Theological Dictionary appears to omit this name.
It's quite possible, and probably even insinuated, that Baal-berith was devised after the covenant Joshua renewed for the people of Israel, at the end of the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 24:6). To commemorate that event, Joshua erected a stone. Close to Shechem was also a place named Beth-millo, or the House Of The Monolith, and Beth-baal-berith may in fact be the same as Beth-millo.