THE JEWISH ENCYCLOPEDIA
[page 469] [ ] escape the king’s anger: Job withheld an opinion and was punished [afterward by a life of suffering; Balaam advised Pharaoh to drown all the Hebrew babes. Again, when the child Moses had taken the crown from the king’s head and put it on his own, thus recalling to Pharaoh his dream foreboding evil to the kingdom, Balaam advised Pharaoh to slay Moses.
When Pharaohs daughter threatened to take the life of Balaam, he fled with his two sons, JANNES and JAMBRES, the renowned wizards, to Ethiopia; there, during the absence of the king, who had gone to war against the people of Syria, he instigated a rebellion, making himself king, and his sons captains of the host. He raised high walls on two sides of the capital, dug pits on the third side, filling them with water, and on the fourth side, by means of witchcraft, placed serpents to render the city unapproachable. For nine years the king’s army besieged the capital, unable to enter: then Moses on his flight from Egypt came there and became the king’s counselor and, as the king’s death soon followed, his successor. He required each warrior to fetch young storks (or ibises) from the forest, and soon the serpents disappeared and the city was captured. Balaam and his sons fled to Egypt, where they became master-magicians who opposed Moses and Aaron at the court of Pharaoh (Targ. Yer. to Ex. vii. 11: “Chronicles of Jerahmeel.” xlvii. 6. 7; Yalk., Ex. 168).
When Balaam went forth later to curse the Israelites in the wilderness, he again had with him his sons Jannes and Jambres (Targ. Yer. to Num. xxii. 22). His witchcraft had no effect on Israel, because the merits of their ancestors shielded them and angels protected them (Tan., ed. Buber, Balak, xvii., xxiii.; Targ. Yer. to .Num. xxiii. 9, 10. 23; Samaritan Book of Joshua, ch. iii.). He then resorted to the stratagem of seduction. After having, by divine inspiration, predicted the destiny of the people of Israel, and having spoken even of the Messianic future (Josephus, “Ant.” iv.6, §§4, 5; Philo, l.c. 52), he advised Balak to select the handsomest daughters of the Midianites, who should lead the Israelites to idolatry (Josephus. l.c., §§ 6-9; Philo. l.c. 54-56; Samaritan Book of Joshua, iv.). This plan was executed, and 24,000 Midianite women caused as many Hebrew men to fall (Targ. Yer. to Num. xxiv. 25; Samaritan Book of Joshua, iv.). Phinehas decided to avenge the wrong upon Balaam. Seeing his pursuer, the latter resorted to witchcraft and flew up into the air: but Phinehas made use of the Holy Name, seized him by the head, and unsheathed his sword to slay him. In vain did Balaam entreat his conqueror, saying: “Spare me and I will no longer curse thy people.” Phinehas answered, “Thou, Laban the Aramean, didst intend to kill Jacob our father, and thou didst invite Amalek to make war against us; and now, when thy wiles and sorceries were of no avail, thou didst lay pitfalls for 24,000 Hebrews by thy wicked counsel. Thy life is forfeited.” Whereupon Balaam fell, pierced by the sword (Targ. Yer. 20 Num. xxxi. 8; Sanh. 106b).
Henceforth he became the type of false prophets seducing men to lewdness and obscene idolatrous practices (Rev. ii. 14; II Peter ii. 15; Jude 11; Abot. v. 19). The name “Nicolaitanes,” given to the Christian heretics “holding the doctrine of Balaam” (Rev. ii. 6, 15), is probably derived from the Grecized form of Balaam, [Hebr. = Gr], and hence also the pseudonym “Balaam,” given to Jesus in Sanh. 106b and Git. 57a. See Geiger, “Bileam and Jesus,” in “Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift fur Jüdische Theologie,” vi. 31-37).
The life of this sorcerer was further detailed in the “Sefer ha-Yashar” legends and by the later cabalists (Yak., Reubeni to Balak). Balaam’s ass formed an especial object of haggachic interpretation and embellishment. “The speaking mouth of the ass” was declared to be one of the ten miraculous things that God had created in the twilight of the sixth day (Abot v. 6. Targ. Yer. to Num. xxii. 30 gives a long monition which the ass offers to her foolish master.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Hamburger, R .B. T. i. s.v.
BALADAN. See BERODACH-BALADAN.
BALAK.—Biblical Data: According to Num. xxn.-xxiv.. Bahak was king of Moab when the Israelites emerged from their wanderings in the wilderness to the conquest of the East Jordanic land. Alarmed by the victories and numbers of the invaders, he summoned the prophet, Balsam, who lived on the banks of the Euphrates, to curse them, believing, like most of the ancients, in the potency of a curse to work evil upon those against whom it was pronounced. In his zeal Balak offered rich sacrifices in order to place the Deity under obligations to grant his heart’s desire; but be met with disappointment, for the prophet, acting under the directions of YHWH, uttered blessings instead of curses upon his foes, the Israelites, and predicted for them victories and glories.
—In Rabbinical Literature: Balaam prophesied that his fellow-countryman Balak would one day be king. Balak was the son, not of a king, but of an unimportant prince, and was for some time a vassal of Sihon, king of the Antorites. When Sihon died, Balak became his successor, and, seeing the prophecy of Balaam fulfilled, he sent for the latter. Balak was himself a skilful sorcerer and knew that a great calamity was to befall Israel, but did not know how he could be instrumental in bringing it about, so he desired the assistance of Balaam. His fear of Israel was chiefly due to the fact that the Israelites were at peace with Ammon, while Moab, his own kingdom, suffered from their arrogance, though God had forbidden them to wage actual war against it. Balak knew human nature well, and, aware of Balaam’s greed, promised him wealth and honor in return for his assistance. But, after the latter came, Balak showed himself a niggard.
“The pious,” says the Midrash, “promise little, but do much; Abraham invited the angels to a bite of bread and entertained them royally. The godless promise much and do little, as is shown by the example of Balak” (Num. R. xx. 2,3,17; Tan., ed.)