David T. Lamb

Is the God of the Old Testament…?

Baal’s bowel movement: Even more OT trash talking

Jezebel, wife of Ahab, has been slaughtering the prophets of YHWH in record numbers (1 Kings 18:4), so Elijah tells Ahab to gather the prophets of Baal and Asherah for a duel on Mount Carmel.  But it couldn’t really be a duel without a little trash talking, right?

The story is familiar from Sunday school (I decided to choose a Sunday school-esque image), so I’ll be brief, but the goal for each side is to provoke your deity to torch your altar.  Unfortunately for his prophets, Baal doesn’t seem to be responding to their petitions.  (Asherah, Baal’s “wife” isn’t mentioned in the rest of the story.)

So, Elijah thought, now’s the time.  “Perhaps, he’s relieving himself?” (1 Kings 18:27).  While the Hebrew is difficult here, so English translations give a wide range of translations, he is either “occupied” (NAS), “is deep in thought” (NIV) or “has wandered away” (NRS).  But if you approach it as trash-talking, which is the only thing that makes sense in this context, then the ESV’s “relieving himself” makes the most sense.  Holladay’s Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon says the verb could be translated as “bowel movement”.

But real trash talking wouldn’t use something quite so sophisticated as “relieving yourself.”  And “bowel movement” would be even worse.  “Your god’s having a BM” doesn’t really cut it.  Genuine trash talking uses slang, the hipper the better, so I’m still waiting for a translation that captures the essence of Elijah’s taunt.  Any suggestions?  “Taking a dump”?

Fortunately for Elijah, YHWH isn’t “busy” when the time comes and he responds to the prophets prayer, sending fire from heaven to torch the saturated altar.   Elijah then orders that Baal’s prophets be slaughtered, which begins a series of taunt speeches between Jezebel and various prophets of YHWH, which will be the focus of future blog posts.

What would you say if someone asked you about the appropriateness of Elijah’s slaughter here?  I’m getting a lot of these kind of questions lately, so I’m looking for some help.

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15 comments on “Baal’s bowel movement: Even more OT trash talking

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  2. Anna
    July 18, 2011

    I think that “taking a dump” is an appropriate translation. My son reads The Action Bible (a comic book version) and it does include a bathroom reference in this account from 1 Kings 18. Something to the effect of “Maybe your god is in the bathroom, or sleeping.”

    I lead a children’s Bible study and we studied 1 & 2 Kings. Our teaching team found a funny skit online on 1 Kings 18 called “Showdown at Mount Carmel.” It turned the story into a western. The script didn’t include any bathroom references but if I were to rewrite it and redo it again, I’d add a line for Elijah: “Maybe your god is out… in the outhouse!”

    As far as Elijah slaughtering all the false prophets and priests, aren’t there OT references about YHWH commanding his people to rid the land of idolatry? I believe that Elijah is simply following orders from on high.

  3. Robert
    July 18, 2011

    The court prophets of Baal are slaughtered, but the local Baal shrines remain; the pillar of Baal that Ahab set up was removed, not by Elijah’s supporters, but by his son Jehoram (2 Kings 3:2). Similarly, nothing happens to the 400 prophets of Asherah.

    What you’ve really got here is a limited pogrom against an introduced version of the Baal cult; Jezebel’s a Phoenician princess from Tyre, and she presumably brought it with her. The the authors of Kings wrote it up as a much wider attack on the Baal cult, and attribute it all to divine intervention in support of Elijah. They would, since he can be represented as following their agenda. But I wonder. It’s an ideological rewriting of history, and I don’t trust such things!

  4. A Soldier for Jesus
    July 18, 2011

    Sorry I’m late, I was “dropping the kids off at the pool”.

    I think we have a larger context here than just killing the prophets because they believed differently and had to be eliminated. What was involved in Baal worship? Also, it was the state-sanctioned church, so God had the prophets killed not only because of the dreadful Baal worship and violating the first two of the Ten Commandments in the first place, but to remove the power of the false “church” so the true worship and governance could be restored.

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  7. EJ Hill (@ejaysnet)
    September 9, 2012

    “What would you say if someone asked you about the appropriateness of Elijah’s slaughter here?” – Those Baal prophets weren’t just a bunch of crackpots with New Age believes. They offered brutal child sacrifices, while cheating their followers out of a fortune.

    IF you ever interacted with former members of cults, like The Family, the Movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments, etc. you will certainly wish Elijah was around to rain down some fire on those “prophets of Baal” they once followed ;-)

    Just my 10 cents worth ;-)

  8. David Lamb
    September 9, 2012

    EJ, Yeah, I think I know what you mean about cults. But, it still seems pretty different from Jesus’ turn the other cheek. But, by the end of Jesus’ ministry he had some harsh things to say about the religious leaders. But, harsh words are pretty different from harsh actions (i.e., wholesale slaughter). Thanks for engaging.

  9. Just playing around...
    January 5, 2013

    Was seeking confirmation on ‘relieving himself’ for a sermon tomorrow, so thanks for this! I guess if you’re teaching this to children you might want to translate it as “doing a poo”? And for adults, you didn’t quite say it, but would a dynamic equivalent translation be more along the of, “Perhaps Baal’s sh*tting”? It wouldn’t be unlikely that Baal’s on the toilet – someone once mentioned that Baalzebub is not so much literally “lord of the flies” as “lord of the stuff that flies fly around”? Is that true? Perhaps that’s why Jehu did turn Baal’s temple to a latrine in 2 Kings 10:27. And is it also true that the phrase that’s generally used to describe the false gods, “the detestable gods”, could also be translated, “the turds”?

  10. seaczar
    June 23, 2013

    Personally, I think this story is a metaphor\riddle personifying the bodies energies(deities). Baal is symbolic of the bowels or “lord of the underworld” and Yahweh being the positive polarity of this god\deus\deuce=2.YAHWEH and BAAL are two sides of the same coin. Therefore bowel movements is all Baal can do!! Bible= bi bull or bi Baal. Get out of your muladhara Chaka and Taurus constellation.evolve. Lol. baal=bowel.

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    June 28, 2013

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  13. Bob
    October 2, 2013

    @seaczar- huh?

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  15. Phil
    March 13, 2014

    Hi David, may I use the Mt. Carmel picture above for my youtube channel?

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This entry was posted on July 17, 2011 by in Old Testament, Trash talking and tagged .
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