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If Samaria’s kings were devoted worshipers of Yahweh—as historical sources show—why then did the biblical writers come to view them as foreign Baal worshipers?
We gain some insight from the eighth-century prophet Hosea, who provides us with the Hebrew Bible’s earliest criticism of Baal—a criticism that shows that Yahweh’s translatability with Baal was well established by the prophet’s time (Hosea 2:16–17). Interestingly, Hosea’s polemic says nothing of Omri’s royal house or its alleged importation of the Phoenician Baal cult a century earlier. Rather, Hosea’s critique belongs to the post-Omride era, following Jehu’s coup, and likely targets local Israelite veneration of Baal that was traditional to the region. From Hosea, there is no indication that Baal worship was understood to have been introduced by foreign elements under the Omrides, nor that Jehu—who overthrew Ahab of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah but later became subject to Assyria (see him kneeling before King Shalmaneser III, on the Black Obelisk, above)—sought to cleanse the Northern Kingdom of Baal worship (as reflected in 2 Kings 10:18–28).
The polemics against Baal found in the Second Book of Kings, therefore, must reflect the work’s composition during the post-monarchic period, when Judean scribes were seeking to promote the exclusive, monotheistic worship of Yahweh (1 Kings 18). The biblical writers attempted to delegitimize traditional Israelite worship of Baal by creating a myth that ascribed the god’s foreign origins to Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel—whose father’s Phoenician name, Ethbaal, explicitly contains the divine element Baal (1 Kings 16:31).