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In one of the passages in the bible, Satan is referred to Beelzebub which means "lord of flies." But why flies? Why is this name so significant?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Flimzy, curiousdannii, Nathaniel, Matt Gutting, 3961 Dec 15 '15 at 3:30

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    It’s actually not “Beelzebub” in the NT (where it refers to Satan) but Beelzeboul . The Beelzebub reference is from 2 Kings 1 (baʿal zĕbûb) where it labels the god of Ekron. On Hermeneutics.SE: Where does the name “Beelzeboul” come from?. – Susan Dec 14 '15 at 0:44
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    This question needs to be clarified. Which verse, specifically, are you referring to? And which concept of "Satan"? Or are you only interested in the etymology of the name Beelzebub? – Flimzy Dec 14 '15 at 7:53
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Beelzebub or Beelzebul?

The word "Beelzebub" occurs seven (7) times in seven (7) verses in the 1769 edition of the King James Version translation.1 It is transliterated from the Greek word Βεελζεβούλ which is an indeclinable proper noun (i.e., a name). The accurate English transliteration of Βεελζεβούλ is not "Beelzebub" but "Beelzeboul" (or "Beelzebul"). Note the ending of the Greek word Βεελζεβούλ: it is an λ /l/, not a β /b/.

So, why did the committee of men who produced the King James Version write "Beelzebub" instead of "Beelzebul"? It cannot be known for certain, but it could be that they were influenced by St. Jerome who produced the Latin Vulgate. In it, he wrote Beelzebub when transliterating Βεελζεβούλ into Latin.

For example, Matt. 10:25 in the Latin Vulgate states,

sufficit discipulo ut sit sicut magister eius et servus sicut dominus eius si patrem familias Beelzebub vocaverunt quanto magis domesticos eius

It is interesting to note that the Peshitta also has the Syriac equivalent of "Beelzebub," that being ܒܿܥܠܙܒܼܘܼܒܼ (note the ending: ܒܼ /b/ ather than ܠ /l/):

ܣܦܼܩ ܠܗ ܠܬܼܠܡܝܕܼܐ ܕܿܢܗܘܐ ܐܝܟܼ ܪܒܿܗ܂ ܘܠܥܒܼܕܿܐ ܐܝܟܼ ܡܪܗ܂ ܐܢ ܠܡܪܗ ܕܿܒܼܝܬܿܐ ܩܪܘ ܒܿܥܠܙܒܼܘܼܒܼ܃ ܚܕܼ ܟܿܡܐ ܠܒܼܢܝ̈ ܒܿܝܬܿܗ܂

Even more interesting is that Symmachus, who produced another Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh in the late 2nd century A.D., translated the Hebrew phrase בַּעַל זְבוּב into Greek as Βεελζεβούλ, the same word (name) which occurs in the Greek NT.

Frederick Field, Origenis Hexaplorum, p. 651, 2 Kings 1:2, Part 1 Frederick Field, Origenis Hexaplorum, p. 651, 2 Kings 1:2, Part 2

So, why did St. Jerome write Beelzebub in Latin rather than Beelzebul? In his commentary on Matt. 10:25, St. Jerome wrote,

St. Jerome, Commentary on Matt. 10:25

St. Jerome believed that Βεελζεβούβ (rather than Βεελζεβούλ) was a reference to בַּעַל זְבוּב (Báʿal Zḇūḇ), the god of Ekron (a city of the Philistines) in 2 Kings 1:2:

And Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick: and he sent messengers, and said unto them, Go, enquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron whether I shall recover of this disease. (KJV, 1769)

וַיִּפֹּ֨ל אֲחַזְיָ֜ה בְּעַ֣ד הַשְּׂבָכָ֗ה בַּעֲלִיָּתֹ֛ו אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּשֹׁמְרֹ֖ון וַיָּ֑חַל וַיִּשְׁלַ֣ח מַלְאָכִ֔ים וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֲלֵהֶם֙ לְכ֣וּ דִרְשׁ֗וּ בְּבַ֤עַל זְבוּב֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י עֶקְרֹ֔ון אִם־אֶחְיֶ֖ה מֵחֳלִ֥י זֶֽה׃ (WLC)

καὶ ἔπεσεν Οχοζιας διὰ τοῦ δικτυωτοῦ τοῦ ἐν τῷ ὑπερῴῳ αὐτοῦ τῷ ἐν Σαμαρείᾳ καὶ ἠρρώστησεν καὶ ἀπέστειλεν ἀγγέλους καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς δεῦτε καὶ ἐπιζητήσατε ἐν τῇ Βααλ μυῖαν θεὸν Ακκαρων εἰ ζήσομαι ἐκ τῆς ἀρρωστίας μου ταύτης καὶ ἐπορεύθησαν ἐπερωτῆσαι δ αὐτοῦ (Rahlfs LXX)

The men who produced the LXX translated the Hebrew phrase בַּעַל זְבוּב into Greek as Βααλ μυῖαν, which is actually a transliteration and translation. That is, they transliterated בַּעַל into Greek as Βααλ, and they translated זְבוּב into Greek as μυῖαν, meaning "flies," which seems to be the meaning elsewhere (cp. Ecc. 10:1).

In his commentary on Matt. 12:24, John Lightfoot (pp. 203-204) wrote,

John Lightfoot, Commentary on Matt. 12:24, p. 203 John Lightfoot, Commentary on Matt. 12:24, p. 204

According to this theory, Βεελζεβούλ is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew phrase בַּעַל זֶבֶל ("lord of dung") or בַּעַל זָבוּל ("lord of dunghill"), which itself would be an intentional alteration of בַּעַל זְבוּב ("lord of flies") for the purpose of repudiating idolatry. While the verb זָבַל (zaḇál) and its related derivatives do not occur in biblical Hebrew (to my knowledge), they do occur in later Mishnaic Hebrew, which would have been known during the time of New Testament. Jastrow (p. 379) notes that the noun זֶבֶל (zéḇel) means "manure," i.e. dung.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia entry on "Idol Worship,"

Although the Jews were forbidden in general to mock at anything holy, it was a merit to deride idols (Meg. 25b), and Akiba decreed that the names of the gods be changed into derogatory names (Sifre, Deut. 61, end, et passim). Thus, Baal-zebub (II Kings i. 2, 6) is called Beel-zebul (בעל זבול = "dominus stercoris") in Matt. xii. 24, 27, and elsewhere, and the word with which the Talmud designates sacrifice to idols (זבל; Yer. Ber. 13b) literally means "to manure."

Satan as the "Master of the Dunghill" and "Prince of Demons"

זָבוּל, or dunghill, was a euphemism for a idolatrous place of worship, and similarly, זֶבֶל, or dung, was a euphemism for idolatry itself. The fallen angels and evil/unclean spirits were considered responsible for inciting humans to idolatry.

For example, in 1 Enoch 19:1-3, it is written,

1 And Uriel said to me: 'Here shall stand the angels who have connected themselves with women, and their spirits assuming many different forms are defiling mankind and shall lead them astray into sacrificing to demons as gods, (here shall they stand,) till the day of the great judgement in 2 which they shall be judged till they are made an end of. And the women also of the angels who 3 went astray shall become sirens.' And I, Enoch, alone saw the vision, the ends of all things: and no man shall see as I have seen. (R. H. Charles)

Since Satan was considered to be the leader of the fallen angels (cp. Rev. 12:9), and the fallen angels and demons were responsible for inciting men to idolatry or "dung," it was fitting for Satan to be known as Baʿal Zevul, the master of the dunghill (i.e., idolatrous place of worship), and thus, the leader of the demons (ὁ ἄρχων τῶν δαιμονίων).


Footnotes

1 Matt. 10:25, 12:24, 12:27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15, 11:18, 11:19

References

Field, Frederick. Origenis Hexaplorum, Vol. 1. Oxonii: E Typographeo Clarendoniano, 1875.

Jerome. Commentary on Matthew (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 117). Trans. Scheck, Thomas P. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008.

Jastrow, Marcus. A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, Vol. 1. London: Luzac; New York: Putnam, 1903.

Lightfoot, John. Horae Hebraicae et Talmudicae ("Hebrew and Talmudical Exercitations"), Vol. 2. Trans. Gandell, Robert. Oxford: UP of Oxford, 1859.

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Beelzebub is the Greek translation of Baalzebub, who was a pagan diety of the Philistines. After the time of the Philistines, the Jews changed the name to Beelzeboul, meaning “lord of dung.” The significance of that name is that it references the god of the fly, worshiped in hope of offering protection against bites and stings from flies.

The name can also be translated into Lord of Filth.

Since the name is only referenced in the New Testament by Jesus and Jewish officials, it can be likely concluded that it was a name that was assigned to Satan due to its repulsive imagery of filth and waste as a sign of derision towards Satan. It is clear from the context of the gospels that the name is held in very low, detestable regard by those who use it.

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