Baʿal Berith (“Lord of the Covenant”) and El Berith (“God of the Covenant”) are two gods, or one god, worshiped in Shechem, in ancient Israel. The term “covenant” (Hebrew Berith) appears also in Ugaritic texts (second millennium BCE) as brt, in connection with Baʿal, and perhaps as Beruth in Sanchuniathon’s work.
In the Bible
Judges is the only Biblical book that mentions Baʿal Berith and El Berith. It is not clear whether they are separate forms of the gods Baʿal and El or are actually one god. Scholars suppose that he or they may have been worshipped for connections to fertility and vegetation, based on another passage in Judges. Also unclear is what covenant or covenants are referred to by the name Berith. Elsewhere, some of the Shechemites are called “men of Hamor”; this is compared to “sons of Hamor”, which in the ancient Middle East referred to people who had entered into a covenant sealed by the sacrifice of a hamor, an ass. “Children” or “sons of Hamor” itself appears in Genesis and Joshua, in both of which, as in Judges, Hamor is called the father of Shechem. Genesis also features a man named Hamor who ruled in the area of Shechem and had a son named Shechem.
Rabbinic tradition equates Baʿal Berith with Beelzebub, the god of Philistine Ekron.
In his euhemeristic account of the Phoenician deities, Sanchuniathon says that a certain Elioun, called also “the Most High”, and a female named Beruth dwelt in the neighbourhood of Byblos, on the coast of present-day Lebanon. They had two children—a male called Epigeius/Autochthon/Sky and a daughter called Earth. Because of the latter pair’s beauty, the sky and the earth, respectively, were named after them. According to Sanchuniathon it is from Sky and Earth that El and various other deities are born, though ancient texts refer to El as creator of heaven and earth. A relationship with Hebrew bərīt (“covenant”) or with the city of Beirut have both been suggested for Beruth. The Hittite theogony knows of a primal god named Alalu who fathered Sky (and possibly Earth) and who was overthrown by his son Sky, who was in turn overthrown by his (Sky’s) son Kumarbi. A similar tradition seems to be at the basis of Sanchuniathon’s account.
The idol Baʿal Berith, which the Jews worshipped after the death of Gideon, was identical, according to the Rabbis, with Baʿal Zebub, “the lord of flies,” the god of Ekron (2 Kings 1:2). He was worshipped in the shape of a fly; and Jewish tradition states that so addicted were the Jews to his cult that they would carry an image of him in their pockets, producing it, and kissing it from time to time. Baʿal Zebub is called Baʿal Berith because such Jews might be said to make a covenant (Hebrew: berith) of devotion with the idol, being unwilling to part with it for a single moment (Shab. 83b; comp. also Sanh. 63b). According to another conception, Baʿal Berith was an obscene article of idolatrous worship, possibly a simulacrum priapi (Yer. Shab. ix. 11d; ‘Ab. Zarah iii. 43a). This is evidently based on the later significance of the word “berit,” meaning circumcision.
According to the Admirable History written by Father Sebastien Michaelis in 1612, Baʿal Berith once possessed a nun in Aix-en-Provence. In the process of the exorcism, Baʿal Berith volunteered not only his own name and the names of all the other demons possessing her, but the names of the saints who would be most effective in opposing them.