Found frequently as a personal name in the Vulgate and various English translations of the Bible , is commonly used as a synonym of Satan, or the personification of evil.
This sense is derived from 2 Corinthians 6:15 , where Belial (or Beliar) as prince of darkness is contrasted with Christ, the light. It is clear in the Vulgate and Douay translations of 1 Kings 21:10 and 13 , where the same Hebrew is rendered once as Belial and twice as "the devil".
In the other instances, too, the translators understood it as a name for the prince of evil, and so it has passed into English. Milton, however, distinguishes Belial from Satan, regarding him as the demon of impurity. In the Hebrew Bible, nevertheless, the word is not a proper name, but a common noun usually signifying "wickedness" or "extreme wickedness". Thus, Moore renders "sons of Belial" as "vile scoundrels" ( Judges 19:22 ); most prefer "worthless fellows".
In some cases belial seems to mean "destruction", "ruin"; thus in Psalm 12:9 , the word is parallel to the thought of utter destruction and seems to mean the same. In Psalm 18:5 , it is parallel to "death" and "Sheol"; some understand it as "destruction", Cheyne as "the abyss" .
The etymology of the word is doubtful ; it is usually taken to be a compound meaning "worthlessness." Cheyne suggest an alternate that means "that from which no one comes up", namely the abyss, Sheol. St. Jerome's etymology "without yoke", which he has even inserted as a gloss in the text of Judges 19:22 , is contrary to Hebrew philology.
Belial, from meaning wickedness or Sheol, could develop into a name for the prince of evil or of darkness; and as such was widely used at the beginning of our era. Under the names Beliar, Berial, he plays a very important rôle in apocryphal literature, in the "Ascension of Isaias", the "Sibylline Oracles", and the "Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs". He is the prince of this world and will come as Antichrist ; his name is sometimes given also to Nero, returning as Antichrist.
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.
Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.
No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.
Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912
Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online