Ba‘al Zəbûb is variously understood to mean "lord of Demon flies" or "lord of the (heavenly) dwelling". Originally the name of a Philistine god, Beelzebub is also identified in the New Testament as Satan, the "prince of the demons". In Arabic, the name is retained as Ba‘al dhubaab / zubaab (بعل الذباب), literally "Lord of the flies". Biblical scholar Thomas Kelly Cheyne suggested that it might be a derogatory corruption of Ba‘al Zəbûl, "Lord of the High Place" (i.e., Heaven) or "High Lord". The word Beelzebub in rabbinical texts is a mockery of the Ba'al religion, which ancient Hebrews considered to be idol (or false God) worship. Ba'al, meaning "Lord" in Ugaritic, was used in conjunction with a descriptive name of a specific god. Jewish scholars have interpreted the title of "Lord of Flies" as the Hebrew way of calling Ba'al a pile of dung and comparing Ba'al followers to flies. The Septuagint renders the name as Baalzebub (βααλζεβούβ) and as Baal muian (βααλ μυιαν, "Baal of flies"), but Symmachus the Ebionite may have reflected a tradition of its offensive ancient name when he rendered it as Beelzeboul.
The source for the name Ba‘al Zebûb / Beelzebub is in , where King Ahaziah of Israel, after seriously injuring himself in a fall, sends messengers to inquire of Ba‘al Zebûb, the god of the Philistine city of Ekron, to learn if he will recover.
- Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber at Samaria and was injured. So he sent messengers whom he instructed: "Go inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this injury." (JPS translation)
In , the Pharisees accuse Jesus of driving out demons by the power of Beelzeboul, prince of demons, the name also appearing in the expanded version in and . The name also occurs in .
- Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.─
In any case, the form Beelzebub was substituted for Beelzeboul in the Syriac translation and Latin Vulgate translation of the gospels, and this substitution was repeated in the King James Version of the Bible, the resulting in the form Beelzeboul being mostly unknown to Western European and descendant cultures until some more recent translations restored it.
It is unknown if either or both of these names were a title applied to persons or to divinities exclusively or were otherwise a corruption of such a title, possibly as a degeneration.
It is well known that scholars are divided, in regard to the god of Ekron, between the belief that zebub may be the original affix to Baal and that it is a substitute for an original zbl which, after the discoveries of Ras Shamra, has been connected with the title of "prince", frequently attributed to Baal in mythological texts. In addition to the intrinsic weakness of this last position, which is not supported by the versions, is the fact that it was long ago suggested that there was a relationship between the Philistine god and cults of fly or apotropaic divinities appearing in the Hellenic world, such as Zeus Apomyios or Myiagros. It is exactly this last connection which is confirmed by the Ugaritic text when we examine how Baal affects the expulsion of the flies which are the patient's sickness. Obviously, this series of elements may be inconclusive as evidence, but the fact that in relationship to Baal Zebub, the two constituent terms are here linked, joined by a function (ndy) that is typical of some divinities attested in the Mediterranean world, is a strong argument in favor of the authenticity of the name of the god of Ekron, and of his possible therapeutic activities, which are implicit in , etc.
In the Testament of Solomon, Beelzebul (not Beelzebub) appears as prince of the demons and says (6.2) that he was formerly a leading heavenly angel who was (6.7) associated with the star Hesperus (which is the normal Greek name for the planet Venus (Αφροδíτη) as evening star). Seemingly, Beelzebul is here simply Satan/Lucifer. Beelzebul claims to cause destruction through tyrants, to cause demons to be worshipped among men, to excite priests to lust, to cause jealousies in cities and murders, and to bring on war.
Texts of the Acts of Pilate (also known as the Gospel of Nicodemus) vary in whether they use Beelzebul or Beelzebub. The name is used by Hades as a secondary name for Satan, but it may vary with each translation of the text; other versions give the name Beelzebub as Beelzebub, but separates him from Satan.
Beelzebub is commonly described as placed high in Hell's hierarchy; he was of the order of Seraphim, which in Hebrew means "fiery serpents". According to the stories of the 16th-century occultist Johann Weyer, Beelzebub led a successful revolt against Satan, is the chief lieutenant of Lucifer, the Emperor of Hell, and presides over the Order of the Fly. Similarly, the 17th-century exorcist Sebastien Michaelis, in his Admirable History (1612), placed Beelzebub among the three most prominent fallen angels, the other two being Lucifer and Leviathan, whereas two 18th-century works identified an unholy trinity consisting of Beelzebub, Lucifer, and Astaroth. John Milton featured Beelzebub seemingly as the second-ranking of the many fallen cherubim in the epic poem Paradise Lost, first published in 1667. Milton wrote of Beelzebub, "than whom, Satan except, none higher sat." Beelzebub is also a character in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, first published in 1678.
Sebastien Michaelis associated Beelzebub with the deadly sin of pride. However, according to Peter Binsfeld, Beelzebub was the demon of gluttony, one of the other seven deadly sins, whereas Francis Barrett asserted that Beelzebub was the prince of false gods. In any event, Beelzebub was frequently named as an object of supplication by confessed witches. Within religious circles, the accusation of demon possession has been used as both an insult and an attempt to categorise unexplained behavior. Not only have the Pharisees disparagingly accused Jesus of using Beelzebub's demonic powers to heal people (Luke 11:14-26), but others have been labeled possessed for acts of an extreme nature. Down through history, Beelzebub has been held responsible for many cases of demon possession, such as that of Sister Madeleine de Demandolx de la Palud, Aix-en-Provence in 1611, whose relationship with Father Jean-Baptiste Gaufridi led not only to countless traumatic events at the hands of her inquisitors but also to the torture and execution of that "bewitcher of young nuns", Gaufridi himself. Beelzebub was also imagined to be sowing his influence in Salem, Massachusetts: his name came up repeatedly during the Salem witch trials, the last large-scale public expression of witch hysteria in North America or Europe, and afterwards, Rev. Cotton Mather wrote a pamphlet entitled Of Beelzebub and his Plot.