For probably most if not all of us, when we hear or see the name "Dubya" we know exactly to whom this name refers, the spirit in which it was created and the manner in which it is to be pronounced. "Dubya" refers to our 43rd President, and the exaggeration of his middle initial emphasizes his alleged considerable dim-wittedness. If you harbor strong animosity to President George W, chances are it feels good and provides an outlet for your fear and frustration to say "Dubya," and in a tone emphasizing the stupidity of the word and its subject, despite Dubya's lofty societal status.
Now, if it should happen that you weren't aware that "Dubya" is a term of derision, chances are you yourself would look like quite the dufus as you use it in earnest, straightforward fashion, as a legitimate proper name. For example:
"Dubya scares me! Dubya has a hold on me and on this country. Try as I might I cannot escape Dubya's clutches. God save me from Dubya!"
It could happen! Although of course it's highly, highly unlikely….
This is the kind of crazy, compromised position we put ourselves in, however, when we start using the name "Beelzebub" with much fear and trembling, as if we're uttering the proper name of the overwhelmingly evil one also known as "The Prince of Darkness," "The Devil," "Satan", "Ruler of Hell" and other most-ominous monikers.
The truth is, "Beelzebub" is a term of gleeful derision. "Beelzebub," or, as we first encounter it in 2 Kings 1:2-6, "Baal-zebub", is a play on the name of the main Canaanite god, Baal-Zebul (meaning, in Canaanite, "God the Exalted"). Baal-zebub means "Lord of the Flies" and here has nothing to do with the pig's-head-on-a-stick of William Golding's dystopian novel, either.
Rather, according to Dr. Yahuda T. Radday in On Humor and the Comic in the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield Academic Press, 1990, p. 65-6), the fact that there were so many Canaanite deities requiring meat sacrifices meant their temple altar was always filled to the brim with the stuff that causes flies to swarm, and by the legion. No matter what mighty acts the Canaanites might claim their gods capable of, the truth, said Israel, with a knowing, superior wink, is that the best those gods can do is attract lots of buzzing annoying vermin. Ha ha ha ha ha!
It must have felt good for Israel to mock its politically superior neighbors and the gods they boastfully paraded in this way. It must have provided an outlet for the Israelites' fear and frustration as well reminded them that even though Canaan and its gods purported to have all the power, this was all a lot of dumb hooey. Making fun of all those flies at the altar helped Israel remember the One who was really in control and, thankfully, needed relatively little sacrifice... beyond your heart, mind and soul of course.
As time passed and a variety of new influences came into Israel's culture, Baal-zebub lost its initial meaning and became a popular, horrible proper name for Evil, synonymous with the "Beelzebul, Ruler of the Demons" that Jesus is accused of being in cahoots with, in Matthew 12:24 and elsewhere.
But we want to recover Baalzebub's original meaning, because it's fun learning how Israel used the gift of mockery and for good reason. It's powerful to cleverly make fun of the forces that threaten to bring you down.
I've been playing around with a new way of dealing with my own inner demons. I've started calling them "dumb-ons". Doing so surprisingly and instantly deflates them of their influence over me and reduces them to literally non-speaking trifles that have attached themselves to my being like barnacles on a whale. Or, more to the point, like a piece of stray toilet paper to my shoe.
I invite you to try this out with your own struggles with "demons". Call 'em "dumb-ons"! Explore and enjoy victory that the comic lens (and goofy language) surprisingly avails!
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