Although the word simply means ‘lord’ or ‘master’, it was used as the proper noun for the principal object of Canaanite worship. Baal was a fertility and agricultural god, and according to the Deuteronomist historian the Israelites were constantly tempted to transfer their religious allegiance from Yahweh, who they believed had led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness, to a god who could perhaps promote good yields of corn and grapes. Some personal names contain the word baal, even a son of David (1 Chron. 14: 7). Baal was also thought to encourage erotic adventures which the prophets condemned, so that the Deuteronomist historian is delighted when a Baal temple is destroyed (2 Kgs. 11: 18) and the followers of Baal routed (1 Kgs. 18: 20–40). However, Baalism survived, and again it was extirpated in the reforms of Josiah (2 Kgs. 23: 4–5).

Much of the available information about Baal arises from the Ras Shamra texts of the 15th cent. BCE, in which he is said to have a consort, Anat. In Palestine the consort was Asherah (Judg. 3: 7) or Astarte (Judg. 10: 6)—distinct beings in the eyes of their worshippers.

The conflict between Yahweh and Baalism was for the people's allegiance: was it to a transcendent God with ethical demands? Or was it to a Canaanite god immanent in nature? But transcendent Yahweh could also be acceptably worshipped as the one who ‘rides on the wings of the wind’ (Ps. 104: 3); and the worship of Baal also had ethical implications.