It would appear that the Hebrews first learned
Ba'al-Worship from the agricultural Canaanites. Their life before the conquest
of Canaan, whether lived in or outside of Palestine, was nomadic, and therefore
kept them beyond the circle of religious associations promoted by the
cultivation of the soil. After their settlement the Israelites began to live as
did the people of the land, and with the new mode of industrial and domestic
life came the example and the incitement of the religious use and wont that
were inseparable from the soil. The stated festivals, in which the Ba'als of
the land had drawn to themselves all the enthusiasm and devotion of an
intensely religious people, were a part of the fixed order of things in
Palestine, and were necessarily appropriated by the religion of Yhwh. With them
came the danger of mixing the rites of the false gods and the true God; and, as
a matter of fact, the syncretism did take place and contributed more than
anything else to the religious and moral decline of Israel.
(see more at JewishEncyclopedia.com, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?letter=B&artid=2)
Astarte is the Phenician name of the primitive Semitic mother-goddess, out of which the most important of the Semitic deities were developed. She was known in Arabia as "Athtar," and inBabylonia as "Ishtar." Her name appears in the Old Testament (I Kings xi. 5; II Kings xxiii. 13) as "Ashtoreth," a distortion of "Ashtart," made after the analogy of "Bosheth" (compare Jastrow, in "Jour. Bibl. Lit." xiii. 28, note). Solomon is said to have built a high place to her near Jerusalem, which was removed during Josiah's reform (I Kings xi. 5, 33; II Kings xxiii. 12). Astarte is called in these passages "the abomination of the Zidonians," because, as the inscriptions of Tabnith and Eshmunazer show, she was the chief divinity of that city (see Hoffmann, "Phönizische Inschriften," 57, and "C. I. S." No. 3). In Phenician countries she was the female counterpart of Baal, and was no doubt worshiped with him by those Hebrews who at times became his devotees. This is proved by the fact that Baalim and Ashtaroth are used several times (Judges x. 6; I Sam. vii. 4, xii. 10) like the Assyrian "ilani u ishtarati" for "gods and goddesses."
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