After the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split into two countries. the southern kingdom called Judah ruled by King Rehoboam and the Northern kingdom called Israel led by King Jeroboam. Other kings who ruled these two nations were King Abijah, King Asa of Judah, and king Nadab, Baasha, Elah,Zimri, Omri, and Ahab of Israel. During the time of Elijah king Ahab ruled – Israel.

At the end of the lesson, you should be able to:

  1. State factors that led to spread of idolatry in Israel
  2. Analyse religious schism between Judah and Israel
  3. Describe King Ahab’s marriage to the Phoenician princess (Tyre)
  4. Explain the failure to completely destroy temples, and places of worship
  5. State effects of idolatry in Israel


Factors that led to spread of idolatry in Israel

When Israelites intermarried with other communities, they worshipped their gods.

The Bible makes it clear that

i There was a lot of influence by Canaanite religion

ii There was division /schism of Israel into 2 kingdoms

iii Ahab’s married the Phoenician princess

iv Israelites did not destroy all gods after settling in Canaan. Influence of the local Canaanite religion Idolatry is the worship of idols.


An idol is an image representing a god made using precious materials such as gold, bronze, stone, and hardwood images kept in the places of worship. God had forbidden Israelites from bowing down to images and worshipping idols, intermarrying with non-Israelites, and making treaties. When Israelites settled in Canaan, they forgot God’s commandments. They intermarried and were greatly influenced by the local religion. Israelites changed from being pastoralist to farmers.

They therefore worshipped Baal the god of rain,agricultural fertility, and storms. Israelites worshipped Baal, for rain for their crops. The Israelites were also attracted to the visible gods of Canaan as opposed to the invisible Yahweh. This is how idolatry spread in Israel.  However some Israelites maintained worship of Yahweh only (monotheistic) while others worshipped Yahweh and Baal (syncretism).


Characteristics of the Canaanite religion.

Canaanite religion was:

  1. Polytheistic.

They worshipped many gods.The Israelites religion was monotheistic. They worshipped Yahweh and no other God. They abandoned their religion and worshipped many gods like Canaanite.This influenced the Israelites.

  1. A nature religion.

The gods were related with the forces of nature such as rain, sun, storms, drought,famine, wind, water and death.

  1. Ensured continued fertility of land, people, animals
  2. Based on many families of gods.

There was

  1. EL – Chief god – who was their father, king, creator
  2. Asherah – wife of El – the goddess of motherhood and fertility
  3. Baal – also referred to as Baal Hadad, son of El and Asherah – the god of rain, agricultural fertility,storms
  4. Astarte – wife of Baal -the goddess of war
  5. Anat – sister of Baal – the goddess of war and love
  6. Maat – the goddess of love
  7. Mot – most feared. The god of drought, famine and death
  8. Free and temple of prostitution. Israelites turned to temple prostitution.

Women who wanted to increase vitality of their husbands had sexual relations with the male priests in the Baal temples.

  1. Had many places of worship. One could pray in the temple, under sacred trees, and on top of the hills among others.
  2. Based on offerings and sacrifices of human beings.
  3. Exercise. State differences between Israel and Canaanite religion.


Religious schism between Judah and Israel

Schism occurred among the Israelites because there were sharp differences within them. These differences were religious, political and social. After the death of Solomon, the nation of Israel was split. Rehoboam ruled one group while the other was ruled by Jeroboam. Because of this split, Jeroboam could not go to Jerusalem to worship in the temple. He thus set up other places of worship one at Bethel, and another at Dan. Jeroboam also set up images to represent Yahweh.


Though he had no intention of Idol worship, it turned out to be so because he made his subjects to offer sacrifices to these golden calves, which he had designed as images representing Yahweh. He also built places of worship on hilltops like the Canaanites. He chose priests from other families in addition to the Levite Family. Furthermore, he organised religious festivals and feasts in the month of his choice.


As it were, they coincided with the Canaanites calendars. He then burnt incense at the altar of idols. Jeroboam therefore started idol worship and gave room for idolatry. Kings who succeeded him followed this idol worship.

  1. King Ahab’s marriage to the Phoenician/Tyre princess

Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of the King Ethbaal of Sidon (Tyre) to strengthen ties with Tyre/Phoenicia. Queen Jezebel was ambitious, and a strong follower of Baal religion. Ahab allowed her to bring her gods to Israel. She forced Israelites to worship Baal and not Yahweh.

She imported prophets of Baal and supported them using public treasury. Ahab built a temple to Baal In Samaria. He also put up an image of goddess – Asherah. d. When Israelites settled in Canaan, they did not destroy temples, places of worship, idols, images that they found there. As a result Canaanite’s religious practices influenced Israelites’ worship of Yahweh leading to idolatry.


The effects of idolatry harmed Israelites as:

1) Syncretism developed. This was a process of mixing beliefs andbpractices from different religions. Israelites worshipped Yahweh and the gods of Canaan.

2) Former places of worship for the Canaanite gods were used as places of worship for Yahweh.

3) The Canaanite agricultural calendar was adopted by Israelites.

4) Names of the Canaanite gods were used for Yahweh. For example, EL was referred to as Yahweh.

5) Parents began naming their children after Baal.

6) Feasts and celebrations were changed to correspond with those of Canaanites when they celebrated their feasts.

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7) King Ahab declared worship of Baal as the state religion.

8) Queen Jezebel ordered the destruction of the altars of Yahweh

9) Prophets of Yahweh were killed. Elijah went into hiding.

10) The 450 prophets of Baal were made the officials of the royal court in order to promote and protect Baal religion

11) Israel started to experience long droughts because Yahweh withdrew his blessings.

This made Israel worshippers of El


See also

Worshiping God in the Wildernes

African Moral Values Introduction




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