The Louvre's Baal
There's something surreal about walking across the great plaza of the Louvre, riding the escalators under the modern glass pyramid, and coming face-to-face with Baal, etched in limestone some 3,500 years ago. That famous stela, discovered at the ancient city of Ugarit (now Syria's Ras Shamra), depicts the storm god whose name became synonymous with wrongful worship in the Bible. He strides purposefully forward holding a staff that touches the ground and blooms at its tip -- indicative of the fertility that followed the rains he brought. A famous biblical story in 1 Kings 18 pits the prophets of Baal against the prophet of Yahweh (Elijah) during a drought. After Baal failed to respond to the prophets' pleas for a sign, Elijah called on Yahweh who dramatically consumed the sacrifice... And then, the narrator tells, it began to rain. The rain may seem to modern readers an afterthought, simply part of the story's setting. Actually, it made a strong theological statement: that it was Yahweh, not Baal the so-called god of storms, who controlled the weather and could bring rain in a devastating drought. So much has changed since the artist carved this depiction of Baal, and so much is still the same. I wonder how many prayers went up last week for the Icleandic volcano to cease its spewing. How many prayers for protection from earthquakes, hurricanes, and fire? How many prayers right now are being prayed for rain?
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