A word that occurs two dozen times in the Hebrew Bible, frequently in the pseudepigrapha and other Jewish literature of the Greco‐Roman period, and once in the New Testament. In the Hebrew Bible it is used to characterize the wicked or worthless, such as idolaters (Deut. 13.13), the men of Gibeah (Judg. 19.22; 20.13), the sons of Eli (1 Sam. 2.12), Nabal (1 Sam. 25.17, 25), and Shimei (2 Sam. 20.1); in later literature it is a title of Satan. The etymology of the term is unclear. The most widely held view is that it is a compound meaning “without worth.” Another possibility is to understand it as a term for the underworld, literally, “[the place of] no return” (see esp. Ps. 18.4–5). More recent translations generally paraphrase the word, while older translations more often transliterated it. In the KJV, for example, “Belial” occurs fifteen times, whereas in the NRSV it is found only in 2 Corinthians 6.15, in the variant form Beliar.

Michael D. Coogan