Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Scripture & the Megadungeon Part 1: Lord of the Flies

As you might recall from my last post, the name Baal is a generic title for a local pagan god which can be translated as “lord.” This name actually makes an appearance in the 1e MM:

Lord of the Flies
The sixth and seventh planes of Hell, Malbolge and Maladomini respectively, are ruled by Baalzebul, “Lord of the Flies” (“lies”?) He is an arch-devil of great power, second only to Asmodeus. Malbolge is a black stone plane, filled with stinking vapors, smokes, fire pits, and huge caves and caverns. Maladomini is similar, but there will be found the moated castles of the malebranche and the great fortress of Baalzebul.
As used in the NT, Baalzebul is called the ἄρχων of the demons:
Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “It is only by Baalzebul, the ruler of demons, that this man casts out demons.” — Matthew 12:24

Some English translations will render this as “prince” rather than “ruler,” but the word ἄρχων is the root for the English prefix arch- as in archduke and archenemy. Thus, it suggests a primacy not found in the word “prince.” In other words, this is a title for Satan: 

Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand; and if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?”— Matthew 12:25-26

Thus, Gygax gets it wrong when he labels Baalzebul as the second most powerful devil behind Asmodeus (which we will get to later in this series). He also gets the meaning of the name wrong (though he is, in spirit, correct in labelling him as the Lord of Lies).

Baal-zebul can roughly be translated as “high lord Baal” which, is in turn, a rough duplicate of Most High God (ὁ θεὸς ὁ ὕψιστος). Given that, according to the Baal Cycle, it is Yam-Nahar that is made king of the gods by El and not Baal, this title is the title of a usurper. This is where the name "Lord of the Flies" comes from.

The OT writer of 4 Kings (2 Kings) could not bring themselves to call Baalzebul by his proper name:

Now Ahaziah ... lay sick; so he sent messengers, telling them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness.” — 4 Kings (2 Kings) 1:2

Baal-zebub is a term of mockery better understood as "lord of the place of flies" — a pile of dung. Anyone claiming that Jews and Christians aren't allowed to name-call hasn't read Scripture (or the Fathers, who could throw down with the best of them). This role of usurper is confirmed in Isaiah:

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit. — 14:12-15
This is where Gygax’s description of Baalzebul’s domain is strikingly accurate. Making good use of the prefix mal- (from the Latin male, meaning badly), Gygax calls the sixth plane of hell Malbolge (bölge in Turkish means region), the seventh Maladomini (where domini imitates the Latin for domain) and the various moated castles under Baalzebul’s control malebranche (branche in German referring to branch, as in a part of a business).

Ezekiel informs us that Baalzebul was cast down to the earth (28:17), and in the cosmology of the OT has Sheol under the earth. Therefore, it is safe to depict the realm of the Lord of the Flies as the megadungeon suggested in Holmes:

Note that the 6th level can be reached via The Pit  and the 7th has a moated castle

Thus, the Megadungeon, from a Christian POV, is the personification of Chaos (another way to express Baalzebul’s domain) sinking its stinking claws into God’s domain. It is the adventurer’s job, therefore, to beat it back down into the depths of Sheol.


  1. Good post! A few thoughts. . .. If I understand correctly, Baazlebul is just another name for Satan rather than one of his underlings? Why is ruler a better translation of "arkhon" than prince in this context? And finally, I really like the idea of a megadungeon being a Hellmouth. That makes a lot more sense to me than a haunted Wizard's cellar.

    1. Yes, Baalzebul is a title for Satan and "ruler" is a better translation because of the context. In Mt 12:24 the priests accuse Christ of being empowered by Baalzebul. In the following verses, Christ talks about Satan. While it is possible to speculate that a Baalzebul could be a prince who serves under Satan, the translation of ἄρχων as” ruler" better explains why Christ moves to the name Satan because is it simpler to make these two name equivalent and better represents the actual meaning of the name Baalzebul.

    2. Doesn't "Satan" just mean "adversary?" I'd think, then, that this would be just another title of the same entity, no?

      I have to say: I like the idea of hell (or Sheol...are these synonymous?) being only 7 levels beneath the Earth. This, to me, feels very "Holmesian."
      ; )

    3. In the same way that God has many names and titles, so, too, does the adversary.

  2. The name Malebolge is Dante's name for the first half of the Eight Circle of Hell, the "evil ditches" where the fraudulent are punished. They're forced to walk through ten concentric ditches that slope down towards the center by "horned demons" which is the other name for malebranche/cornugon devils in D&D. No need to pull in a Turkish homophone to figure that one out. :D

    1. Also, the devil name malebranche is Dante's name for the demons in Malebolge. My translation just has "horned demons" in its place.

    2. You got me, I have never read Dante ;)

      Thanks for this, it helps further paint the picture, beyond my own efforts of finding Turkish homophones...

    3. Glad to help out! And full disclosure, I had to read the Inferno in college. Later, I tried reading the Purgatorio, but never finished it and haven't even attempted the Paradiso.

  3. Wishing your blog a happy name-day today, Fr. Dave!