views updated Jun 08 2018


BELIAL (Heb. בְּלִיַּעַל; lit. "worthlessness"). In the Bible a common noun characterizing persons who behave in a dissolute manner, give false testimony, or hatch infamous plots. It is used in apposition to such words as "son" (Deut. 13:14; i Sam. 2:12), "daughter" (i Sam. 1:16), "man" (i Sam. 30:22; Prov. 16:27), "witness" (Prov. 19:28), and "counselor" (Nah. 1:11). A "matter of beliyyaʿal" is a base thought (Deut. 15:9), and "rivers of Belial" (Ps. 18:5) are hellish currents of adversity. In post-biblical literature – especially in the pseudepigrapha – Belial (usually written Beliar) is the name of the Prince of Evil, i.e., *Satan – a view which no doubt underlies the practice of the Vulgate (and of Theodotion, Judg. 9:22) to reproduce the word by transliteration in certain passages of Scripture. Belial is the spirit of darkness (Test. Patr., Levi 19:1; 1qm 13:12). Evil men are dominated by him or his attendant spirits (Test. Patr.: Ash. 1:8; Levi 3:3; Joseph 7:4; Dan. 1:7; Ben. 6:1), and the world is currently under his sway (1qs 1:18, 24; 2:5, 19; 1qm 14:9; Mart. Isa. 2:4). His will opposes God's (Test. Patr., Naph. 3:1), and he wields a sword which causes bloodshed, havoc, tribulation, exile, death (or plague?), panic, and destruction (ibid., Ben. 7:1–2), or catches men in the snares of lewdness, lucre, and profanity (Zadokite Document 4:13ff.). Belial will ultimately be chained by God's holy spirit (Test. Patr., Levi 18:12) or cast into the all-engulfing fire (ibid., Judah 25:3), and his attendant spirits will be routed (ibid., Iss. 7:7; ibid., Dan 5:1), and discomfited by the Messiah (ibid., Dan 5:10; ibid., Ben. 3:8). There will be a final war in which he and his partisans will be defeated by God and God's partisans, aided by heavenly cohorts (1qm 1:5; 15:3; 18:1, 3). The latter now abide in the second of the seven heavens (Test. Patr., Levi 3:3). The concept of Belial as the opponent of God probably owes much to Iranian dualism, where the eternal antagonists Asha (Right) and Druj (Perversity) are portrayed as destined to engage in a final "*Armageddon," aided respectively by heavenly and earthly partisans, ashovans and dregvants. (In 1qs (2:20–21; cf. 4:23; 9:21), these terms are reproduced exactly as benei ẓedek, "sons of righteousness," and benei ʿawel, "sons of perversity.") The Iranian picture was validated, however, by the authority of the biblical text Zechariah 14:5, "The Lord my God will come and all the holy ones [will be] with you" (lxx: "and all His holy ones with Him"). In the third book of the Sibylline Oracles (65–74), Belial is identified with a deceiver and miracle-monger whose line hails from Sebaste, i.e., Samaria. This is thought to refer to Simon Magus.


Tur-Sinai, in: em, 2 (1965), 132–3; Gaster, in: idb, 1 (1962), 377.

[Theodor H. Gaster]


views updated May 21 2018

Belial the personification of evil, used from early times as a name for the Devil, and by Milton as the name of the fallen angel who represents impurity. Following biblical use, the name is often used in the phrase sons of Belial. It comes from a Hebrew word meaning ‘worthlessness’.


views updated May 18 2018

Belial spirit of evil personified; the Devil. XIII. — Heb. beliya'al worthlessness, destruction, f. beli not, without + ya'al use, profit.


views updated May 29 2018

Belial (Heb., ‘worthlessness’). A description of people acting in a worthless manner and, in post-biblical literature, the name of the Prince of Evil.