The early Hebrews were polytheists. They worshiped many powers, with Baal (Baalzebub) and Astaroth (Astarte, Ishtar) as their major male/female deity. Baal-zebub and Astaroth were effectively demonized, as you may have read in the Bible.
But not before Baal and his “hieros gamos” Astarte were praised by Hebrews from Samaria to Judah, even after the Babylonian captivity of 605 BCE.
Eventually, Baal was renamed YHWH Elohim, with Asherah remaining as his consort. This is why Genesis sometimes uses the divine plural “We.”
When the Hebrews first settled in Canaan, the local gods and goddesses’ powers and titles were absorbed by the Hebrew’s god Baal, who was renamed YHWH Elohim or simply El. The Bible lists numerous YHWH-Elohim titles, such as El Shaddai, El Ohim, El HaNe’eman, El Yisrael, El HaShamayim, El De’ot, El El-yon and dozens of others, all of which were originally Canaanite titles. In the Canaanite and Hebrew religion, El became the supreme god, Son of God , Father of Mankind, and loving companion of Asherah.
This is well attested by the clay tablets which date from 1300 to 1200 BCE. The tablets were discovered by archaeologists in the ruined library of Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra, Syria).
Baal(im), is Canaanite for “Lord” or “Master”, and together with Baal-zebub or Beelzebub (“Baal The Prince”) they became major Semitic deities. Baal, Son of El, (sometimes married to his sister Anat) was an agricultural deity, responsible for sex, fertility and propitiating the sun (Shamash). When Baal was murdered and dismembered by the god Mot, Baal’s sister/wife Anat killed and dismembered Mot (the Egyptian Isis, Osiris & Set) in revenge. Somehow, this magically resurrected Baal, who was “reborn” from the parts of his own dismembered body.
Baal was eventually dropped as a distinct god in a polytheistic pantheon and even as an honorific title for the Hebrew supreme god. The Tanach/Old Testament tells of YHWH-El informing his people of his desire for exclusivity:
“On that day”, said Adonai, “you will call me ishi (My Husband) you will no longer call me Ba’ali (The Baal, the god). For I will remove the names of the ba’alim (plural for the Baal, the gods) from her mouth; they will never again be mentioned by name.” [Hosea 2:16-17]
In this way the Hebrew priests prevented potential rivals to their “jealous god” YHWH by dismissing the title Baal and denying the consort Astheroth altogether. They were no longer “Baals” or gods. They were pronounced “heathen” idols of wood and stone. YHWH inherited their powers.
via Who Created God? – Auburn Journal.