—Biblical Data:

A term occurring often in the Old Testament and applied, as would seem from the context in I Sam. x. 27; II Sam. xvi. 7, xx. 1; II Chron. xiii. 7; Job xxxiv. 18, to any one opposing the established authority, whether civil, as in the above passages, or religious, as in Judges xix. 22; I Kings xxi. 10, 13; Prov. xvi. 27, xix. 28; Deut. xiii. 14, xv. 9; II Sam. xxiii. 6. A somewhat weaker sense, that of "wicked" or "worthless," is found in I Sam. i. 16, ii. 12, xxv. 17, xxx. 22. The use of the word in II Sam. xxii. 5 is somewhat puzzling. Cheyne explains it as "rivers of the under world," while more conservative scholars render "destructive rivers."

The etymology of this word has been variously given. The Talmud (Sanh. 111b) regards it as a compound word, made up of "beli" and "'ol" (without a yoke). This derivation is accepted by Rashi (on Deut. xiii. 14). Gesenius ("Dict." s.v.) finds the derivation in "beli" and "yo'il" (without advantage; i.e., worthless). Ibn Ezra (on Deut. xv. 9), without venturing on an etymology, contents himself with the remark that "Belial" is a noun, and quotes the opinion of some one else that it is a verb with a precative force, "May he have no rising." Cheyne ("Expository Times," 1897, pp. 423 et seq.) seeks to identify Belial with the Babylonian goddess Belili (Jastrow, "Religion of Babylonia," pp. 588, 589). Hebrew writers, according to this view, took up "Belili" and scornfully converted it into "Belial" in order to suggest "worthlessness." Hommel ("Expository Times," viii. 472) agrees in the equation Belial = Belili, but argues that the Babylonians borrowed from the western Semites and not vice versa. This derivation, however, is opposed by Baudissin and Jensen ("Expository Times," ix. 40, 283).

J. Jr. G. B. L.In Apocalyptic Literature. —In Rabbinical and Apocryphal Literature:

In the Ḥasidic circles from which the apocalyptic literature emanated and where all angelologic and demonologic lore was faithfully preserved, Belial held a very prominent position, being identified altogether with Satan. In the Book of Jubilees (i. 20), Belial is, like Satan, the accuser and father of all idolatrous nations: "Let not the spirit of Belial ["Beliar" corrupted into "Belhor"] rule over them to accuse them before thee." The uncircumcised heathen are "the sons of Belial" (ib. xv. 32). In the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Belial is the archfiend from whom emanate the seven spirits of seduction that enter man at his birth (Reuben ii.; Levi iii.; Zebulun ix.; Dan. i.; Naphtali ii.; Benjamin vi., vii.), the source of impurity and lying (Reuben iv., vi.; Simeon v.; Issachar vi.-vii.: Dan. v.; Asher i., iii.), "the spirit of darkness" (Levi xix.; Joseph vii., xx.). He will, like Azazel in Enoch, be opposed and bound by theMessiah (Levi xviii.), "and cast into the fire forever" (Judah xxv.); "and the souls captured by him will then be wrested from his power." In the Ascensio Isaiæ, Belial is identified with Samael (Malkira [Dan. v.]; possibly Malak ra = the Evil Angel [i. 9]), and called "the angel of lawlessness"—"the ruler of this world, whose name is Matanbuchus" (a corrupt form of "Angro-mainyush" or Ahriman?) (ii. 4). In Sibyllines, iv. 2 (which part is of Christian origin) Belial descends from heaven as Antichrist and appears as Nero, the slayer of his mother. In the Sibyllines, iii. 63 (compare ii. 166) Belial is the seducer who, as the pseudo Messiah, will appear among the Samaritans, leading many into error by his miraculous powers, but who "will be burned up by heavenly fire carried along by the sea to the land [an earthquake?] to destroy his followers," "at the time when a woman [Cleopatra] will rule over the world."

In regard to the meaning and etymology of the word "Belial" there has always been a wide difference of opinion. The Septuagint, in translating it "lawlessness"—ἀνόμημα (Deut. xv. 9), ἀνομία (II Sam. xxii. 5), or παράνομος (Deut. xiii. 14; Judges xix. 22; and elsewhere)—follows a rabbinical tradition which interpreted it as "beli 'ol" the one who has thrown off the yoke of heaven (Sifre, Deut. 93; Sanh. 111b; Midr. Sam. vi.; Yalḳ. to II. Sam. xxiii. 6; so also Jerome on Judges xix. 22, "absque jugo." Belial was accordingly considered the opponent of the rule of God; that is, Satan, or the antagonist of God (see Antichrist). Aquilas (LXX., I Kings xxi. 13) translates it ἀποστασία = sedition, in the same manner that the "naḥash bariaḥ," or dragon ( = Satan), is described as the apostate. The various modern etymologies, taking the word as a combination of "beli yo'il" (without worth) (Gesenius), or of "beli ya'al" (never to rise)—that is, never to do well (Ibn Ezra, Lagarde, Hupfeld, Fürst)—are alike rejected by Moore as extremely dubious (commentary to Judges, p. 419). Theodotion to Judges xx. 13, Ibn Ezra (Deut. xv. 9), and so Luther and the A. V. occasionally take Belial as a proper noun. It was Bäthgen (commentary to Ps. xviii. 5) who first translated Belial, "the land from which there is no return," and then Cheyne (in "Expositor," 1895, pp. 435-439, and in the "Encyc. Bibl." s. v. "Belial"). They proved it to be the exact equivalent of the Assyrian "matu la tarat" (the land without return). Tiamat, the dragon of the abyss, having been identified with Satan, thus gave rise to the various uses of the word, and the legends of Belial Antichrist. Baudissin, in Hauck-Herzog's "Realencyklopädie," s. v., still takes a skeptical attitude as to the mythical character of Belial in the Old Testament, without, however, explaining the peculiar history of the word. Compare Satan.

  • T. K. Cheyne, The Development of the Meanings of Belial, in The Expositor, 1895, i. 435-439;
  • idem, in Encyc. Bibl. s.v.;
  • Bousset, Antichrist, 1895, pp. 86, 99-101;
  • Charles, The Ascension of Isaiah, li.-lxxii. and pp. 6-8;
  • Riehm and Hauck-Herzog's Realencyklopädie, s.v. Belial.
J. Sr. K.
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