The name Bel comes from the Akkadian bēlu meaning “lord” or “master”. It is a title, and an epithet applied to many Gods who may be identified as “Lord” including Enlil, Marduk and Malak. The Feminine form is Belit. Bel seems to be cognate with Ba’al.
The Greek form of Bel is Belos which has been applied to Zeus and the Latin Belus, which has been applied to Jupiter. Also, the names Bel and Belanos are often used interchangeably among modern Pagans.
Bel is identified as the name of a God in several contexts, particularly in the Bible. Whether “Bel” is the name of the God or His title is sometimes difficult to discern. Bol is identified as the sky God and King of the Gods of ancient Palmyra and Syria with the eagle and lightning bolts as his symbols. His companions were Yarhibol and Aglibol. He was identified with Bel-Marduk and came to be called Bel, which is probably cognate anyway.
It is possible that the name of the all high God was unknowable or unspeakable and so he was called Bel “Lord” or that this is actually the name of a most ancient God that came to be attached to the names of new Gods who showed up on the scene, to elevate their status. (This is all speculation on my part.)
According to Myths of Babylonia and Assyria1, Bel was the son of Ea and Damkina and the creator of mankind. But much of what is said of Bel can more specifically apply to Marduk or Enlil and I will record their stories on their own pages. I will return here to give Bel better treatment then.
Mentions of Bel in Ancient Texts
The famous Code of Hammurabi begins with an invocation Anu, Bel, Marduk (mentioned separately from Bel, but perhaps interchangeably, you read and judge) and Ea and declares that Hammurabi is chosen and called upon by Bel to create this code of laws and bring order to the land: “to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.”2
Bel as Mentioned in the Bible
Bel is mentioned in the extended book of Daniel3, as a Pagan God and idol worshiped by the Persian King Cyrus who erroneously believes that the idol in his temple actually eats the offerings left for it. When Daniel reveals that the priests and their families actually consumed the offerings (a very common practice in all temples, Pagan, Christian and otherwise because priests gotta eat!) the King had the priests put to death.
In Jeremiah, the prophet declares that the idols Bel and Merodach will be destroyed and Babylon conquered.5 And issues more severe threats and trash talk against Bel and Babylon (on behalf of Yahweh) in the following chapter6
According to the Chronicles of Jerahmeel7 (Apocrypha), Bel was a descendant of Noah who was so beloved by his son that, after his death, he built a statue in his honor and encouraged people to honor it, thus the God Bel, and Ba’al and all the others came into being.