WARNING: This post contains nothing but SPOILERS.
Please read ALL Laird Barron stories before reporting back here.
PART I: THE "HISTORICAL" BELPHEGOR
Belphegor is derived from the Hebrew בַּעַל-פְּעוֹר, or baʿal-pəʿōr. In the semitic languages of the 2nd and 1st millenium BCE, Ba’al was an honorific meaning “lord”, and it came to be applied to gods. There are 90 mentions of Ba’al in the Hebrew Scriptures, made in reference to several different gods. Ba’al Pe’or is the Ba’al of Mount Pe’or, a Moabite god which later commentators have sometimes identified with Chemosh, the national Moabite deity.
Who were the Moabites? Moab was a kingdom in present day Jordan, along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. The location of Mount Pe’or itself is uncertain. Some have identified it with Mt. Nebo. [Reference]
What little we know of them comes mostly through Hebrew sources, a few Assyrian and Egyptian documents, and the Moabite Stone (see below). They vanish from the historical record in the Persian period (7th c. BCE), when various tribes from Arabia overran their territory. [Wikipedia]
The book of Genesis gives an unflattering account of the origin of the Moabites. Genesis 19:30-38 bears quoting in full (New International Version):
30 Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. 31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”
33 That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
34 The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” 35 So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.
As with all religious stories, it should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt.
What is known about Ba’al Pe’or comes to us almost exclusively from the Hebrew Scriptures. There are only a half-dozen references to the deity, and these are presented below.
The comprehensive commentary on the Talmud by 11th century French rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki (Rashi) provides some much needed context and clarification on the text. I’ve included his comments on the citations when appropriate.[Reference]
1.Israel settled in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of the Moabites.
2.They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and prostrated themselves to their gods.
3.Israel became attached to Baal Peor, and the anger of the Lord flared against Israel.
and prostrated themselves to their gods: When his urge overcame him, and he said to her, “Submit to me,” she took out an image of Peor from her bosom and said to him, “Bow down before this.” - [Sifrei Balak 1]
Peor: [פְּעוֹר was so named] because before it they bared פּוֹעֲרִין their anus before it and relieved themselves. This was the manner of its worship. - [Sifrei Balak 1]
and the anger of the Lord flared against Israel: He sent a plague upon them.
[Note: The plague killed 24,000 according to Numbers 25:9.]
5.Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Each of you shall kill the men who became attached to Baal Peor.
Each of you shall kill the men: Each one of the Israelite judges executed two, and there were eighty-eight thousand Israelite judges, as is stated in Sanhedrin [18a].
[Note: According to the text, this would make for 176,000 slain as a result of the blasphemy, bringing the number of dead to an even 200,000.]
18.For they distress you with their plots which they contrived against you in the incident of Peor and in the incident of Cozbi their sister, the daughter of the Midianite chieftain, who was slain on the day of the plague [that had come] because of Peor.
For they distress you… in the incident of Cozbi: By submitting their daughters for prostitution so as to entice you to stray after Peor. He did not order the destruction of Moab for the sake of Ruth, who was destined to issue from them, as is stated in [Tractate] Bava Kamma [38b].
The remaining citations refer back to the incident described in Numbers 25, lovingly illustrated above.
16.They were the same ones who were involved with the children of Israel on Balaam's advice to betray the Lord over the incident of Peor, resulting in a plague among the congregation of the Lord.
10.Like grapes in the desert I found Israel, like a ripe fig on a fig tree, in its beginning, I saw your forefathers; they came to Baal-peor, and they separated themselves to a shameful thing, and they became detestable when they loved.
28 They joined themselves also unto Baal of Peor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead.
29 Thus they provoked Him with their doings, and the plague broke in upon them.
Your eyes have seen what the LORD did in Baal-peor; for all the men that followed the Baal of Peor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from the midst of thee.
The Hebrew stem p’r means ‘open’, and is used to refer to both mouth and anus. Pe’or, if it derives from the same stem, could therefore mean ‘opening’ or, as noted by Rashi above, “Peor was so named because before it they bared their anus […] and relieved themselves. This was the manner of its worship.”
About Chemosh, the national Moabite deity, not much additional information is known. The name meant “destroyer”, “subduer”, or “fish god”. [Reference] The mentions in the Jewish Scriptures are brief and uninformative:
Woe to thee, Moab! thou art undone, O people of Chemosh: he hath given his sons that escaped, and his daughters, into captivity unto Sihon king of the Amorites. (Numbers 21:29)
Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess. (Judges 11:24)
Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. (1 Kings 11:7)
Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in mine eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments, as did David his father. (1 Kings 11:33)
And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile. (2 Kings 23:13)
For because thou hast trusted in thy works and in thy treasures, thou shalt also be taken: and Chemosh shall go forth into captivity with his priests and his princes together. (Jeremiah 48:7)
And Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh, as the house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel their confidence. (Jeremiah 48:13)
Woe be unto thee, O Moab! the people of Chemosh perisheth: for thy sons are taken captives, and thy daughters captives. (Jeremiah 48:46)
The Moabite Stone, a stele bearing an inscription commemorating the activites of King Mesha (c. 840 BCE), was discovered in 1870. It is the only known extensive text in Moabite. It makes frequent mention of Chemosh, much in the way a sports star might make frequent mention of God:
I assaulted the wall and captured it, and killed all the warriors of the city for the well-pleasing of Chemosh and Moab, and I removed from it all the spoil, and offered it before Chemosh in Kirjath; and I placed therein the men of Siran, and the men of Mochrath. And Chemosh said to me, Go take Nebo against Israel, and I went in the night and I fought against it from the break of day till noon, and I took it: and I killed in all seven thousand men, but I did not kill the women and maidens, for I devoted them to Ashtar-Chemosh; and I took from it the vessels of Jehovah, and offered them before Chemosh.
[From an 1878 translation by James King] [Source]
It provides no details about the attributes of the deity or its worship. It does support a reading of 1 Kings 11:7 which posits that Chemosh and Malik (or Moloch) were two aspects of the same god, with Chemosh worshipped by the Moabites and Moloch worshipped by the Ammonites.
The fact that primary sources consist of a few dozen vague lines has not stopped later writers from making imaginative use of Ba'al Pe'or. There are brief mentions of Chemosh, Peor, Moab, and Moloch in John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), but these add nothing of interest.
Next CHEMOS, th' obscene dread of MOABS Sons,
From AROER to NEBO, and the wild
Of Southmost ABARIM; in HESEBON
And HERONAIM, SEONS Realm, beyond
The flowry Dale of SIBMA clad with Vines,
And ELEALE to th' ASPHALTICK Pool.
PEOR his other Name, when he entic'd
ISRAEL in SITTIM on their march from NILE
To do him wanton rites, which cost them woe.
Yet thence his lustful Orgies he enlarg'd
Even to that Hill of scandal [the Mount of Olives], by the Grove
Of MOLOCH homicide, lust hard by hate;
Till good JOSIAH drove them thence to Hell.
Truly, Ba'al Pe'or was rescued from the footnotes of Jewish Scripture and given a new life by the Christian demonologists seeking to populate Hell with the gods of rival cultures. The name was Latinized to Belphegor / Balphegor and he was given an imaginative makeover.
The book which likely did the most to bring Belphegor to the attention of other demonologists, and through them to modern audiences, is Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal (1818). He is cited directly, or plagiarized, in most other works referring to Belphegor, up to the present day. See Top 10 Worst Theological or Mythological Demons for an uninspired rehash of the material presented below -- with no attribution -- that is depressingly typical, or The Occultpedia, which cites several sources which clearly derive from de Plancy, and use the illustration without attribution. The entry in the 1818 edition is quite brief, and is reproduced here:
The 1863 edition, in which he revised many entries following his conversion to Catholicism, includes a woodcut illustration of the “demon” (which is reproduced in every demonology book you are likely to lay hands upon) and a much longer entry. It is reproduced in its entirety below:
In case it isn’t clear to modern readers, he is sitting on a commode, a cabinet which held a chamber pot, with a hole on top to accommodate the rectum, and which served as an indoor toilet in the days before internal plumbing. The potty commonly used to toilet-train human young is essentially a portable commode.
There is no English translation of the book, to my knowledge, and the text is extremely relevant to our appreciation of Laird’s stories, so I’ve taken the liberty of translating the entries as best I could.
1818: Belphegor. Demon of discoveries. He seduces men by taking, in their eyes, the form of a woman, and by offering them riches.
1863: Belphegor, demon of discoveries and ingenious inventions. He often takes the form of a young woman. He gives riches. The Moabites, who called him Baalphégor, worshipped him on Mount Phégor. Some rabbis say that tribute was rendered to him on the commode, and that what was offered to him was the ignoble residue of digestion. It was worthy of him. It is for this [reason] that certain learned [men] see in Belphegor aspects of the god Pet [fart] or Crepitus [an alleged Roman god of flatulence]; other wise men hold that he is Priapus [fertility god with an oversized, permanent erection]. [John] Selden, cited by [Abbé Antoine] Banier, puts forward that human victims were offered to him, [and] that his priests ate of their flesh. [Johann Weyer] Wiérus remarks that it is a demon whose mouth is always open, an observation no doubt due to the fact that the name Phégor, according to Leloyer, signifies “crevasse” or “fendasse” [vulva], because he was worshipped in caves, and offerings were thrown to him through a vent.
As can easily be determined by the text, the books of demonologists were the role-playing game supplements of their day. From a few lines written by their enemies centuries after the events described, the god of the Moabites, whatever attributes he may have had for those people, has been co-opted by other cultures to add a bit of risqué flavour to their own mythologies.
The dearth of information has the unintended benefit of providing modern authors with a nearly blank canvas upon which to work. In the second part of this article, we will turn to the use Laird has made of the abomination of the Moab nation.