In the New Testament Jesus was accused of conspiring with Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, which was how he was able to heal and expel demons. We all know that Jesus had a quite tense relationship with the religious authorities of his time. No surprise there! What is really interesting in this instance is the name of his alleged demonic ally.
In the New Testament he is consistently called Beelzebul, while the Hebrew Bible presents him as Beelzebub.
The Hebrew version of this name can be easily translated as Baal (Lord) of the flies (unpleasant insects). This interpretation is further confirmed in the Septuagint, an Ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, where it is translated that way into Greek.
So why does the New Testament have only Beelzebul, what does it mean and what is the significance of it? It cannot be easily translated. Over the years theologians offered a number of different explanations and translations: 1) The Lord of the lofty house; 2) The Lord of the Flame; 3) The Lord of the illness/affliction.
Then, in the middle of the 20th century, as the cuneiform texts from Ugarit, a Late Bronze city in Syria, were translated and better understood there were many surprises and among them scholars noticed that the word zbl was used as a title also with a number of divine names. Soon a consensus formed that it was a royal title, something like “Prince” “The elevated one” “His highness”. And in those texts were also instances where name was b‘l zbl -- Ba‘al Zebul best translated as Baal the prince.
Thus it was confirmed that Hebrew Bible’s - Beelzebub / Ba‘al Zebub was an intentional misspelling to denigrate, to slander a foreign god. We know that the biblical scribes did that especially to the god Ba‘al - replacing his name occasionally with BOSHET - “shame”. In this case they replaced the royal title with the unpleasant insects - from “Ba‘al the prince” was “Ba‘al/The Lord of the Flies”
But in the Ugaritic texts were also another rendition of this divine name zbl b‘l ars - which can be translated as Prince, Lord of the netherworld. And there were several (unfortunately badly broken) incantations which invoked this Prince, Lord of the underworld, to drive out illness/demons. That well fits the well-known role of the chthonic (underworld) deities who were often believed to possess these curative powers over illnesses and demons.
So here you have it - the New Testament rendition of this divine name Beelzebul was closer to the original pagan context rather than the one from somehow older Hebrew Bible. And even the accusation of healing with the help of Beelzebul, the lord of the demons better fits the ancient context.
And that is something you might not know about the Bible.
And on this Sunday (2021-06-06) you can join us in worship, we will certainly mention the dark forces instigating the civil strife in our world, but we will go further and rejoice in the truly healing, life giving, realm of our Prince of Peace.