Stephen Stern
Stephen Stern
Dr. Stephen Stern PhD

Ba’al in the Delta

In Florida, hundreds of children are in intensive care suffering from Covid. In Texas, an infant girl with Covid was airlifted 150 miles because the local hospitals were overrun with cases, too full to accommodate her life-or-death needs. This tells us one thing, Ba’al is back.

Thousands of years ago when the Israelites were first developing a monotheistic worldview, they lived among those with a different religion. Those people worshipped idols of a family of gods. The head god, the father El, was the god of time, wisdom, and creation. But most of the worship focused on his son Ba’al, the god of war and the seasons who was often represented by the golden statue of a bull. If Ba’al was displeased, the rains would not come and your family would starve. To mollify the god, you had to demonstrate complete dedication by surrendering that which was the most valuable to you, the life of your child. Tradition reads that child sacrifice became a standard practice.

Faced with the choice between worshiping the god of Abraham and the family of El, many created a hybrid, adding the new monotheistic god to the old family. The Israelites sought to halt this appropriation and the result is the story of God stopping Abraham’s hand on Mount Mariah as he tried to bring the blade down upon his son Isaac. The meaning was clear. Do not sacrifice children. Rather, be fruitful and multiply. Children’s lives are sacred.

When Moses walked down Mount Sinai and saw the golden calf his people had made, this was not a random idol. It signaled a rejection of monotheism, a rejection of the Other, and a return to the competing religion of the period, the religion that required child sacrifice. That is why Moses had to destroy the statue, for the lives of the young.

Over the last year, we have tried to comfort ourselves with the illusion that it was only the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions that got Covid or whose symptoms would be serious. Some ridiculed those taking precautions, saying that the rate of death was tiny. It was less serious than the seasonal flu. As the counter-evidence mounted, the response became politicized. The virus paid no attention to our partisanship and did what evolution demands of it, mutating again and again, until the more infectious, more deadly Delta variant emerged and assumed dominance. The statistics from our intensive care units have shattered any semblance of our previous illusion. We know that all of us, including our children, are at risk.

Sitting on the edge of the new academic year, sick of Zoom and exhausted from home schooling, we see both classroom desks and hospital beds. How we choose to fill the first will determine whether we fill the other. We know what causes it. We know how to stop it. Yet, there are those like the governors of Florida and Texas who seek to do everything in their power to make sure that reasonable, common-sense measures are denied to the most vulnerable.

Why would they do this? Many on their side of the debate claim to be the most faithful defenders of Christianity. Yet, what they actually command is that we bow down before the non-Abrahamic god of wealth and power, demonstrating our commitment to him by sacrificing our children. This shows us who they really are. The cult has re-emerged. Theirs is an idol of gold in the form of a bull and he requires the sacrifice of the lives of the young as a demonstration of our subservience. Ba’al is back.

Co-written with Professor Steven Gimbel of Gettysburg College. Author of Einstein’s Jewish Science

About the Author
Dr. Stephen Stern is the author of The Unbinding of Isaac: A Phenomenological Midrash of Genesis 22, Associate Professor of Jewish Studies & Interdisciplinary Studies, and Chair of Jewish Studies at Gettysburg College
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