The term belial (בְלִיַּעַל bĕli-yaal) is a Hebrew adjective meaning "worthless" from two common words beli- (בְּלִי "without-") and ya'al ( יָעַל "value"). It occurs twenty-seven times in the Masoretic Text, in verses such as the following:
- "A naughty person (Hebrew adam beli-yaal)" Book of Proverbs 6:12
Of these 27 occurrences, the idiom "sons of Belial" (בְּנֵֽי־בְלִיַּעַל beni beliyaal) appears 15 times to indicate worthless people, including idolaters (Deuteronomy 13:13), the men of Gibeah (Judges 19:22, 20:13), the sons of Eli (1 Samuel 2:12), Nabal, and Shimei. In the King James Version of the Christian Bible, these occurrences are rendered with "Belial" capitalised:
- "the sons of Eli were sons of Belial " (KJV)
In modern versions these are usually read as a phrase:
- "the sons of Eli were worthless men " (NRSV, NIV)
The etymology of the word is traditionally understood as "lacking worth". Some scholars translate it from Hebrew as "worthless" (Beli yo'il), while others translate it as "yokeless" (Beli ol), "may have no rising" (Belial) or "never to rise" (Beli ya'al). Only a few etymologists have assumed it to be an invented name from the start. (Be′li·al) [from Heb., meaning "lacking benefit"; a compound of beli′, "not, lacking," and ya·‛al′, "be of benefit; be beneficial"]. The quality or state of being useless, base, lacking benefit. The Hebrew term beli·ya′‛al is applied to ideas, words, and counsel, to calamitous circumstances, and most frequently, to worthless men of the lowest sort—for example, men who would induce worship of other gods; those of Benjamin who committed the sex crime at Gibeah; the wicked sons of Eli; insolent Nabal; opposers of God’s anointed, David; Rehoboam's unsteady associates; Jezebel's conspirators against Naboth; and men in general who stir up contention. Indicating that the enemy power would no longer interfere with the carrying out of true worship by his people in their land, YHWH declared through his prophet: "No more will any worthless person pass again through you. In his entirety he will certainly be cut off."
Second Temple period
The term belial appears frequently in Jewish texts of the Second Temple period (texts classified by Christians as the Old Testament pseudepigrapha and apocrypha). Also a large number of references to Belial are evidenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran from 1948.
Dead Sea Scrolls
In The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, one of the Dead Sea scrolls, Belial is the leader of the Sons of Darkness:
"You 11 made Belial for the pit, angel of enmity; in dark[ness] is his [dom]ain, his counsel is to bring about wickedness and guilt. All the spirits 12 of his lot are angels of destruction, they walk in the laws of darkness; towards it goes their only [de]sire."
In the Rules of the Community, God is found making a very prolific statement: "I shall not comfort the oppressed until their path is perfect. I shall not retain Belial within my heart."
The War Scroll and the Thanksgiving hymns both delve into the idea that Belial is accursed by God and his people, and shows how the existence of Belial in this world can be attributed to the mysteries of God since we can not know why he permits the dealings of Belial to persist.
In the Dead Sea Scrolls, Belial is further contrasted with God. These are the Angel of Light and the Angel of Darkness. The Manual of Discipline identifies the Angel of Light as God himself. The Angel of Darkness is identified in the same scroll as Belial.
Also in The Dead Sea Scrolls is a recounting of a dream of Amram, the father of Moses, who finds two 'watchers' contesting over him. One is Belial who is described as the King of Evil and Prince of Darkness. Belial is also mentioned in the Fragments of a Zadokite Work (which is also known as The Damascus Document (CD)), which states that during the eschatological age, "Belial shall be let loose against Israel, as God spoke through Isaiah the prophet." The Fragments also speak of "three nets of Belial" which are said to be fornication, wealth, and pollution of the sanctuary. In this work, Belial is sometimes presented as an agent of divine punishment and sometimes as a rebel, as Mastema is. It was Belial who inspired the Egyptian sorcerers, Jochaneh and his brother, to oppose Moses and Aaron. The Fragments also say that anyone who is ruled by the spirits of Belial and speaks of rebellion should be condemned as a necromancer and wizard.
Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs
Belial is also mentioned in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. The author of the work seems to be a dualist because he presents Belial as God's opponent, not as a servant, but does not mention how or why this came to be. Simeon 5:3 says that fornication separates man from God and brings him near to Belial. Levi tells his children to choose between the Law of God and the works of Belial It also states that when the soul is constantly disturbed, the Lord departs from it and Belial rules over it. Naphtali contrasts the Law and will of God with the purposes of Belial. Also, in 20:2, Joseph prophesies that when Israel leaves Egypt, they will be with God in light while Belial will remain in darkness with the Egyptians. Finally, the Testament describes that when the Messiah comes, the angels will punish the spirits of deceit and Belial and that the Messiah will bind Belial and give to his children the power to trample the evil spirits.
In summation, though a man be young or old, noble or poor, fornication bringeth upon men reproach from Belial, making themselves a laughing stock amongst the Sons of Men and derision with Belial.
Ascension of Isaiah
And Manasseh turned aside his heart to serve Belial; for the angel of lawlessness, who is the ruler of this world, is Belial, whose name is Matanbuchus.— (Ascension of Isaiah 2:4)
- "[W]hat concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" (2 Corinthians 6:15)
The spelling found in most manuscripts of 2 Corinthians is actually Beliar (Βελιάρ) not Belial (Βελίαλ). This is the reading preferred by textual scholars and the change of -l to -r is attributed to a common change in Aramaic pronunciation.
The Jewish Greek Septuagint, later the Old Testament of the early Christian church, generally renders the "sons of Belial" verses in the Hebrew Bible either as "lawless men", by idioms "sons of the pest", rather than a personal name "sons of Belial.":
- andres paranomoi" ("lawless men" ἄνδρες παράνομοι) (Deuteronomy 13:13)
- huioi loimoi ("sons of the plague" υἱοὶ λοιμοὶ) (1 Samuel 2:12)
The Septuagint also avoids Belial in the singular so Shimei (2 Samuel 16:7) when he cursed David, "Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial" is rendered "you lawless man" (paranomos), and Hannah to Eli "Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial" is rendered "don't count your maidservant as a daughter of the pest" The Latin Vulgate and Syriac Peshitta Old Testaments in some cases follow the Greek, in other literalize as Hebrew. The single New Testament use is preserved "Belial" in Latin and Syriac.
Resurrection of Jesus Christ (by Bartholomew)
The Talmud and rabbinical interpretation generally follow a non-supernatural view, an allegorical personification of evil, as with rabbinical interpretations of evil. The phrase "sons of Belial" from the Torah continued to retain currency.
BELIAL came last, than whom a Spirit more lewd
Fell not from Heaven, or more gross to love
Vice for it self: To him no Temple stood
Or Altar smoak'd; yet who more oft then hee
In Temples and at Altars, when the Priest
Turns Atheist, as did ELY'S Sons, who fill'd
With lust and violence the house of God.
In Courts and Palaces he also Reigns
And in luxurious Cities, where the noyse
Of riot ascends above thir loftiest Towrs,
And injury and outrage: And when Night
Darkens the Streets, then wander forth the Sons
Of BELIAL, flown with insolence and wine.
Witness the Streets of SODOM, and that night
In GIBEAH, when hospitable Dores
Yielded thir Matrons to prevent worse rape.
- John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 2
... On th' other side up rose
BELIAL, in act more graceful and humane;
A fairer person lost not Heav'n; he seemd
For dignity compos'd and high exploit:
But all was false and hollow; though his Tongue
Dropt Manna, and could make the worse appear
The better reason, to perplex and dash
Maturest Counsels: for his thoughts were low;
To vice industrious, but to Nobler deeds
Timorous and slothful: yet he pleas'd the eare...
Or, my scrofulous French novel
On gray paper with blunt type !
Simply glance at it, you grovel
Hand and foot in BELIAL's gripe:
If I double down its pages
At the woeful sixteenth print,
When he gathers his greengages,
Ope a sieve and slip it in't?
The 17th-Century German grimoire The Lesser Key of Solomon mentions Belial, as does Aleister Crowley's Goetia (1904) and Anton LaVey's The Satanic Bible (1969). In The Satanic Bible (The Book of Belial), Belial means "without a master", and symbolizes independence, self-sufficiency, and personal accomplishment.
In 1937, Edgar Cayce used the term "sons of belial" and "sons of the law of one" for the first time in one of his deep trance readings given between 1923 and 1945. Cayce was often referred to as the "sleeping prophet" who gave over 2,500 readings to individuals while in a deep trance state. While his definition of the sons of belial was consistent with the Hebrew meaning of "worthless" individuals focused on self-gratification, Cayce went on to use the term frequently to compare opposing human forces at work in pre-historical times related to the early development of Atlantis.
Popular culture contains many references to Belial; notably in the 1922 film Nosferatu, Philip K. Dick's novel The Divine Invasion, Graham Masterton's novel Master of Lies, Aldous Huxley's novel Ape and Essence, the horror film The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the horror film Basket Case, and Dean Koontz's novel Phantoms.
In the role playing game Vampire: the Requiem, Belial's Brood is a covenant of vampires that serve Vice and evil forces, consorting with infernal spirits for power. Blizzard Entertainment's video game Diablo 3 has Belial in its storyline as the second boss in Act 2. There are definite Arabic tones for the art direction and setting. Belial in the Diablo universe is known as the "Lord of Lies", one of the four lesser of the Seven Great Evils of Sanctuary. Westwood Studios's PC game Lands of Lore: Guardians of Destiny features Belial as its main antagonist, portraying him as an evil god with a devil-like appearance.
In the Warhammer 40k universe Belial is the current Grand Master of the Deathwing of the Dark Angels Space Marine Chapter which typically has religious named leaders.
In the mobile game Puzzle and Dragons, Belial is a monster that is part of the Archdemon series.
In the Book "The little ships" by J.A. Sutherland The main Character sails in a spaceship named Belial.
- Minor Prophets: Volume 2 - Page 46 Michael H. Floyd - 2000 Nahum "In late biblical times beliya'al came to designate a mythic personification of evil, and Belial thus became the name of a satanic figure... Two considerations militate against this sort of reading, one historical and the other grammatical. First, the mythic personification of Belial appears to have been a rather late development, and there is no good reason to suppose that beliya'al had assumed this meaning by the time Nahum was composed. There is no evidence of a satanic figure named Belial in biblical or extrabiblical literature from earlier than the third century BCE (T. J. Lewis, "Belial," ABD 1 :655-56), and most scholars would date the final edition of .."
- The Epistles to the Corinthians [Gr. text] with notes and ... - Page 131 Arthur Penrhyn Stanley - 1855 "The fullest description of a man of Belial in the Old Testament is in Proverbs, vi. 12 – 15. : " A naughty person (' Adam Belial'), a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth.  He winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with ..."
- "Reformed" Is Not Enough - Page 148 Douglas Wilson - 2002 "What are we to make of the phrase “sons of Belial”? In every instance of the phrase in the Old Testament, it always refers to members of the covenant whose lives were completely at odds with the terms of it, and whose hollowness was ..."
- Exploring People of the Old Testament: Volume 2 John Phillips - 2006 "Eli's Sons Were Unregenerate (2:12) 1 Samuel 2:12 says, “The sons of Eli were worthless men,” or “sons of Belial.” We would say ... "
- Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament Gregory K. Beale, D. A. Carson - 2007 "... "But as for you, come here, you sons of lawlessness Are you not children of destruction, a lawless seed?" Both phrases involve a Semitic idiom in which a generic personal noun ("son," "man," "master," etc.) followed by an adjectival genitive ..."
- Metzger & Coogan (1993) Oxford Companion to the Bible, p 77.
- JewishEncyclopedia.com: Belial
- De 15:9; Ps 101:3; Na 1:11
- Ps 41:8
- De 13:13
- Jg 19:22-27; 20:13
- 1Sa 2:12
- 1Sa 25:17, 25
- 2Sa 20:1; 22:5; 23:6; Ps 18:4
- 2Ch 13:7
- 1Ki 21:10, 13
- Pr 6:12-14; 16:27; 19:28
- Na 1:15; see also 1Sa 1:16; 10:27; 30:22; Job 34:18
- 1QM, Col. XIII (=4Q495 2), 10-12
- The Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition, Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J.C. Tigchelaar, Brill Publishers, 1999, p.135
- CD 4:13
- CD 4:17-18
- Levi 19:1
- 2:6, 3:1
- Neil Forsyth The Old Enemy: Satan and the Combat Myth Princeton 1987 Page 201 "The form Beliar(c.g., 2 Cor. 6.15) is due to Syriac pronunciation."
- Marvin R. Vincent (1834-1922) Word Studies in the New Testament Part Three - Page 325 - 2004 "The form Beliar, which is preferred by critics, is mostly ascribed to the Syriac pronunciation of Belial, the change of 1 into r being quite common."
- Septuagint 1 Samuel 1:16 μὴ δῷς τὴν δούλην σου εἰς θυγατέρα λοιμήν ὅτι ἐκ πλήθους ἀδολεσχίας μου ἐκτέτακα ἕως νῦν "don't count your maidservant as a daughter of the pest"
- Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer - Page 471 Geoffrey Chaucer, Walter W. Skeat - 2008 "Belial signifies worthlessness ; and hence, lawlessness, or evil. But in the Vulgate version of Judges, xix. 22, the word Belial is explained to mean ' absque iugo ' ; which in O. French would become ..."
- Chaucer name dictionary: a guide to astrological, biblical, ... - Page 169 Jacqueline De Weever - 1995 "The Parson quotes I Kings 2:12: filil Heli filii Belial, "the sons of Helie are the sons of Belial" "
- The censor, the editor, and the text: the Catholic Church and the ... - Page 218 Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin - 2007 "Yosef Hacohen does not mention the issue of the printers but writes that the event happened as a result of informants who were "people, sons of Belial from our midst." See the summary in Heller, Printing of the Talmud, 156-63. 49."
- S. L. MacGregor Mathers, A. Crowley, The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon the King (1904). 1995 reprint: ISBN 0-87728-847-X.
- Metzger, Bruce M.; Coogan, Michael D., eds. (1993). The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504645-5.
- Belial entry at Jewish Encyclopedia.com
- Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Belial
- Occultopedia entry on Belial