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Beelphegor was the baal of Mt. Phogor, or Peor, a mountain of Moab. The exact idea of baal seems to be "the possessor", the one who holds the real domination (Lagrange, Religions Sémitiques, 83, 84); so Beelphegor was the Moabite divinity who ruled over Phogor. Some identify him with Chamos (Chemosh), the national god of Moab, but this is not at all certain, as many localities had their local deities, apparently distinct to the popular mind. To the baal was generally ascribed the fertility of the soil and the increase of flocks; he was worshipped by offerings of the products he gave and often by unchaste practices done in his honor at his sanctuary. One of the great works of the prophets was to stamp out this immoral cult on the soil of Palestine.
Israel came in contact with Beelphegor at Settim, on the plains of Moab, their last station before entering the land of Canaan. Here many men of Israel, as a sequel to their immoral intercourse with the women of Moab, took part in the sacrificial banquets in honor of Beelphegor for which crimes they were punished by death (Num., xxv). It is commonly held, in view of the occurrences at Settim and of the general nature of baal-worship, that immoral rites were part of the worship of this god; while the text does not make this certain, the large number of persons involved and the fact that "the affair of Phogor" is ascribed to the instigation of the seer Balaam, seem to indicate that it had relation to the cult of Beelphegor (xxxi, 16). Marucchi believes the survival of the cult till the middle of the second century is attested by an inscription dedicated by some soldiers from Arabia (?) to Jupiter Beellepharus, whom he identifies with Beelphegor. The proof is slight, nothing more than the resemblance in name. The terrible chastisement inflicted on Israel for the sin at Settim is mentioned several times in the Bible, and St. Paul (I Cor., x, 8) uses it to point a moral.
GRAY, Comm. on Numbers (New York, 1903); MARUCCHI in VIG., Dict. de la Bible (Paris, 1894), LAGRANGE, Religions Sémitiques (Paris, 1905), 83f.; SMITH, Religion of the Semites (London, 1894); Article Baal in Encyc. Biblica and in HASTINGS, Dict. of the Bible.
JOHN F. FENLON