BEL: A great Babylonian god, whose name, like the equivalent Hebrew Ba'al, originally and all through the history of the language was also used in the sense of "lord" or"owner" (see BAAL). The usage of the two words as names of deities also ran through parallel courses; for Bel at one time in Babylonia was a local deity like each of the Baals of the Canaanites. He was the patron deity of the city of Nippur in central Babylonia (the modern Nuffar), where his temple, of great antiquity, has been unearthed by the Pennsylvania expedition. The reason why there were not many Bels in Babylonia was that political union on a large scale was very early effected in that country, while it was always impossible among the Canaanites; and Nippur was the center of an extensive community in very remote times.

When, under priestly influence, Babylonian theology was systematized, to this great god Bel was assigned sovereignty of the earth, while Anu ruled in the highest heaven, and Ea over the deep. The three formed the chief trinity with primary and universal dominion.

But it is not the Bel of Nippur whose name appears in the Bible and Apocrypha. On account of the rise and supremacy of the city of Babylon under Hammurabi (2250 B.C.), Marduk (Merodach), the god of that city, was invested with the prerogatives and even with the name of Bel, so that in the comparatively modern Old Testament times Bel stands for Merodach and for him only (so in Isa. xlvi, 1; Jer. li, 44; in Jer. 1, 2 both names occur together, meaning practically "Bel-Merodach").

The Babylonian Bel was not only adopted by the Assyrians as one of their chief gods (of course lower than Asshur), but like Ishtar (see ASHTORETH), Sin, and Nebo, he seems to have obtained worshipers in the West-land. Such, at least, is an inference which has been drawn from the proper names Bildad ("Bel loves"), Ashbel ("man of Bel"), and Balaam. Moreover, "Bel" is found as an element in several Phenician and Palmyrene names.