Baetylus (also Bethel, or Betyl) is a Semitic word denoting a sacred stone, which was supposedly endowed with life. These objects of worship were meteorites, which were dedicated to the gods or revered as symbols of the gods themselves.[1] An example is also mentioned as Bethel in Genesis 28:11-19.[2]

In the Phoenician mythology related by Sanchuniathon, one of the sons of Uranus was named Baetylus. The worship of baetyli was widespread in the Phoenician colonies, including Carthage, even after the adoption of Christianity, and was denounced by St. Augustine of Hippo.

In Greek mythology, the term was specially applied to the Omphalos[3], the stone supposed to have been swallowed by Cronus (who feared misfortune from his own children) in mistake for his infant son Zeus, for whom it had been substituted by Uranus and Gaea, his wife's parents (Etymologicum Magnum, s.v.). This stone was carefully preserved at Delphi, anointed with oil every day and on festal occasions covered with raw wool[4]

In Rome, there was the stone effigy of Rhea Cybele, or Mater Idaea Deum, that had been ceremoniously brought from Pessinus in Asia Minor in 204 BCE and placed in the mouth of the statue of the chthonic goddess. Another conical meteorite was enshrined in the Elagabalium to personify Elagabalus Sol Invictus.

In some cases an attempt was made to give a more regular form to the original shapeless stone: thus Apollo Agyieus was represented by a conical pillar with pointed end, Zeus Meilicirius in the form of a pyramid. Other famous baetylic idols were those in the temples of Zeus Casius at Seleucia Pieria, and of Zeus Teleios at Tegea. Even in the declining years of paganism, these idols still retained their significance, as is shown by the attacks upon them by ecclesiastical writers. Among monotheists, the practice survives today with Islam's Black Stone.


  1. Pliny's Natural History xvii. 9; Patriarch Photios I of Constantinople, Myriobiblon, Codex 242.
  2. Robert Everett Allen Palmer. Rome and Carthage at Peace. ISBN 3515070400. Page 99.
  3. Doniger, Wendy. Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. ISBN 0877790442. Page 106.
  4. Pausanias X. 24.


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ar:بيتيلي de:Steinkult es:Betilo fr:Bétyle it:Betilo nl:Baitylia ru:Байтил uk:Байтил

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