The Baal Peor Texts

The Talmud notes that those who tell a story in the name of the original source saves the whole world [B. Megillah 15a]. While most people don�t take bibliographies as seriously as the rabbis, for those interested in the original sources, here are a number of ancient texts related to Baal Peor, starting with the biblical reference and a few references to other text mentioned in the presentation.� I�ve included a little commentary by me for those who are not familiar with some of these texts. All English text is the Socino translation.� For those who might need a quick story for a religious group who reads the OT, these might be a few good sources to frame things.

Numbers 25: Baal Peor

The story of Baal Peor occurs late in the book of Numbers, after the forty years of wandering are coming to an end, and the Israelites are advancing towards Israel from the southeast. Yet even after polite asking and even a few bribes in the form of �tourist rates� the peoples living on the east side of the Jordan, refuse to let the Israelites pass, and instead attack and take hostages.� All this fails to stop the advance of the Israelites towards Israel. Armies fall in battle several times. A magician tries to curse them and ends up blessing them. This magician, Balaam, then comes up with a rather ingenious scheme.

1. And Israel stayed in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab. 2. And they called the people to the sacrifices of their gods; and the people ate, and bowed down to their gods. 3. And Israel attached himself to Baal-Peor; and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.4. And the Lord said to Moses, Take all the chiefs of the people, and hang them up before the Lord in the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel. 5. And Moses said to the judges of Israel, Slay you every one his men who were attached to Baal-Peor. 6. And, behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought to his brothers a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the people of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the Tent of Meeting. 7. And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand; 8. And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague ceased from the people of Israel. 9. And those who died in the plague were twenty four thousand.

Numbers 21: The Bronze Serpent.

In the presentation I note that often looking at something, such as a toilet or handsink might make people feel a certain way. I�ve wondered about this following text for a while in this regard. Were people bitten by poisonous snakes or did their lack of faith make them think they were poisonous? As a side note the word for copper and serpent are very similar in the Hebrew nachash n�choshet.

5. And the people spoke against God, and against Moses, Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, nor is there any water; and our soul loathes this light bread. 6. And the Lord sent venomous serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many people of Israel died. 7. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against you; pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. 8. And the Lord said to Moses, Make a venomous serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks upon it, shall live. 9. And Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked at the serpent of bronze, he lived.

 

Deuteronomy 23: Military Latrines

Not directly mentioning Baal Peor, but shortly after those events, Moses reviews all the laws of the Torah in a series of monologues known as the book of Deuteronomy. Interestingly here is a law about privies during combat operations and the religious and practical attitude toward human waste.�

13. You shall have a place also outside the camp, where you shall go out to it; 14. And you shall have a spade among your weapons; and it shall be, when you will ease yourself outside, you shall dig with it, and shall turn back and cover your excrement; 15. For the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to save you, and to give your enemies before you; therefore shall your camp be holy; that he should see no unclean thing in you, and turn away from you.

Exodus 30: Handsinks

The original plan review for the Temple in the wilderness included a handsink warms an EHP�s heart. The only thing better is verse 30:21, that God orders Handwashing! Though a little off the Baal Peor topic, I included it here. Like most plan reviews, it the last thing mentioned though.� There is a more elaborate 10 handsink system with a 10,000 gallon water supply called the �Molten sea� (sea in Hebrew also means basin) in I Kings 7:23-39 for the permanent temple of Solomon, but I have not included that with these passages, due to length. Interestingly, while a lot of thing in the temple are made of gold, this is of bronze, thus utilizing copper�s antimicrobial properties.

18. You shall also make a basin of bronze and its pedestal also of bronze, to wash with; and you shall put it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it.>19. For Aaron and his sons shall wash there their hands and their feet; 20. When they go into the Tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire to the Lord; 21. So they shall wash their hands and their feet that they die not; and it shall be a statute forever to them, to him and to his seed throughout their generations.

Rabbinic Commentaries on Baal Peor

The rabbinic commentaries have the assumption from the Deut 23:12-14 reading above that feces is unclean both spiritually and physically. Baal Peor provides them with a paradox that needs resolving: what if a desecration of an idol under any other circumstances is really the holy sacrifice to such an idol? It is from this dilemma we learn about the unique nature of Baal Peor worship.

Numbers Rabbah XX:23 The Seduction to Baal Peor

This first text from the biblical commentary Midrash Rabbah mentions it obliquely, but also is an excellent example of several weapons of influence, especially liking and consistency and commitment.� The power of the consistency and commitment weapon is discussed last in this passage, based on a word play on the consonants of the word �joined.� Note the key argument about the �sacrifice� to Baal Peor, which I bolded in case you missed it. �It looks like what you would do normally in a privvy, so no one would ever have a problem with it.

TO COMMIT HARLOTRY WITH THE DAUGHTERS OF MOAB. AND THEY CALLED THE PEOPLE UNTO THE SACRIFICES OF THEIR GODS (Num. XXV, 1f.). This indicates that the daughters of Moab followed Balaam's counsel, as is borne out by the text, Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to revolt so as to break faith with the Lord in the matter of Peor (Num. XXXI, 16). They made booths for themselves and placed in them harlots in whose hands were all manner of desirable objects. An old woman would sit outside and keep watch for the girl who was inside the shop. When the Israelites passed by to purchase an article in the bazaar, the old woman would say to him: ' Young man! Would you not like some linen clothing that comes from Beth-shean? �She would show it to him and say: �Go inside and you will see some lovely articles!� The old woman would ask him for a higher price and the girl for a lower. After this the girl would say to him: ' You are now like one of the family! Sit down, and choose whatever you desire yourself! ' A flask of wine stood by her, and as yet the wine of heathens had not been forbidden. A young woman would come out adorned and perfumed and would entice him, saying: �Why is it that though we love you, you hate us? Take this article for nothing! Are we not all the children of one man? The children of Terah the father of Abraham? If you do not wish to eat of our sacrifices and of our cooking, behold, we have calves and cocks! Slaughter them in accordance with your own precepts and eat!� Thereupon she would make him drink the wine and the Satan would burn within him and he would be led astray after her; for it says, Harlotry, wine and new wine take away the heart (Hosea IV, 11). According to some authorities Balaam commanded them not to make them drink wine, so that they might not be judged as drunkards but as deliberate sinners. Once the Israelite solicited her she would say to him: �I will not listen to you until you slaughter this animal to Peor and bow down to the idol.� He would object: �I will not bow down to idols!� She would answer him: ' You will only appear as though you were uncovering yourself! ' And so he would be led astray after her and do as he was bidden. This explains why the Sages have said that if a man uncovers himself before Baal of Peor, he, by that act, worships it; for it says, AND BOWED DOWN TO [i.e WORSHIPPED] THEIR GODS (XXV, 2)1. AND ISRAEL JOINED HIMSELF (WAYYIZZAMED) UNTO THE BAAL OF PEOR� (ib. 3). At first they entered unobtrusively, but in the end they came in jointly� (zemidim) in pairs, like a yoke� (zemed) of oxen. Another explanation is that they were joined to Baal of Peor like a man who is closely attached� (zamid) to his work. WAYYIZZAMED implies that they were joined to it like bracelets� (zemidim) on a woman's hands. R. Levi said: This affair was more serious than that of the Calf, for in connection with the Calf it is written, Break off the golden rings (Ex. XXXII, 2), while here it is written, AND ISRAEL JOINED HIMSELF, implying that they attached themselves to it like bracelets. In the affair of the Calf three thousand fell, while here twenty-four thousand fell.

Talmud - Mas. Sanhedrin 60b

The Talmud, the basis of Jewish legal code, has many books on differing legal subjects. Sanhedrin is the book on legal procedure on capital crimes and capital punishment. While capitol punishment is mandated in the Bible, the Rabbis, living through Roman times, couldn�t tolerate all that killing. They thus ingeniously created a bulky law procedure to make it near impossible to invoke a death sentence except in very dire circumstances. One of the capitol crimes is idolatry, and while they soften their stance in many things regarding idolatry from capitol punishment to other forms of punishment, they take a hard line on Baal Peor. In the earlier written part of the Talmud, the Mishnah, we get that point blank:

Mishnah. He who engages in idol-worship [is executed]. It is all one whether he serve it, sacrifice, offer incense, make libations, prostrate himself, accept it as a god, or say to it, �thou art my god.� but he who embraces, kisses it, sweeps or sprinkles the ground before it, washes it, anoints it, clothes it, or puts on its shoes, he transgresses a negative precept [but is not executed]. He who vows or swears [lit. Confirms a thing] by its name, violates a negative precept. He who uncovers himself before Baal-Peor [is guilty of a capitol crime, for] this is the mode of worshipping him.

Talmud - Mas. Sanhedrin 64a

In commenting on this section are these two stories, which are the clearest indications, abut Baal Peor worship.

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: A gentile woman once fell sick. She vowed, �If I recover, I will go and serve every idol in the world.� She recovered, and proceeded to serve all idols. On reaching Peor, she asked its priests, �How is this worshipped�? They replied, �People eat beets, drink strong drink, and then uncover themselves before it.� She replied, �I would rather fall sick again than serve an idol in such a manner.�

�� ���� Our Rabbis taught: Sabta, a townsman of Avlas, once hired an ass to a gentile woman. When she came to Peor, she said to him, �Wait till I enter and come out again.� On her issuing, he said to her, �Now do you wait for me too until I go in and come out again.� �But,� said she, �are you not a Jew?� He replied, �What does it concern thee?� He then entered, uncovered himself before it, and wiped himself on the idol's nose, whilst the acolytes praised him, saying, �No man has ever served this idol thus.�

 

�� ���� He that uncovers himself before Baal Peor thereby serves it, even if his intention was to degrade it.

Talmud - Mas. Avodah Zarah 44b

The Talmud Tractate Avodah Zarah is the laws regarding how to remain Jewish within a pagan society. In a classic story, the great Rabbi Gamliel is put into a logical bind by a Roman General, and has a rather brilliant and bizarre answer, once again with Baal Peor as the only hole in the logic. From here we learn that it not just feces, but other body fluids are Baal Peor offerings.

Mishnah. Proclos, son of a philosopher, put a question to P. Gamaliel in Acco when the latter was bathing in the bath of Aphrodite. He said to him, it is written in your Torah, and there shall cleave nought of the devoted thing to thine hand;(Deut 13:18) why are you bathing in the bath of Aphrodite?� he replied to him, �we may not answer [questions relating to Torah] in a bath.� When he came out, he said to him, �I did not come into her domain, she has come into mine. Nobody says, the bath was made as an adornment for Aphrodite; but he says, Aphrodite was made as an adornment for the bath. Another reason is, if you were given a large sum of money, you would not enter the presence of a statue reverenced by you while you were nude or had experienced seminal emission, nor would you urinate before it. But this [statue of Aphrodite] stands by a sewer and all people urinate before it. [In the Torah] it is only stated, their gods � i. e., what is treated as a deity is prohibited, what is not treated as a deity is permitted.

Gemara�

������� R. Hama b. Joseph said in the name of R. Oshaia: R. Gamaliel made a fallacious reply to that general [Proclos], but I maintain that it was not fallacious. What was the fallacy? � Because he told him, THIS [STATUE] STANDS BY A SEWER AND ALL PEOPLE URINATE BEFORE IT. And if people do urinate before it, what of it? For Raba has said: Peor proves [the contrary], because people evacuate in its presence every day but it is not annulled as a consequence. �But I maintain that [R. Gamaliel's answer] was not fallacious,� � because [in the case of Peor] such was the mode of its worship, but [with Aphrodite] it was not the mode of her worship.

 

If you have any questions about these texts, write me at sjlipton@biotestservices.com