#27. Are Yahweh and El the same god OR different gods? (Gen 14:22, 17:1, 21:33; Ex 6:2-3; Ps 82:1 vs Deut 32:8-9; Ps 29:1, 89:6-8)

Recent archaeological, biblical, and extrabiblical research has led scholars working in the area of the origins of Israelite religion to assert rather boldly and confidently that the original god of Israel was in fact the Canaanite deity El.1 Just exactly how has this come about you ask?

First, the name Israel is not a Yahwistic name. El is the name of the deity invoked in the name Israel, which translates: “May El persevere.”2 This suggests that El was seen as the chief god in the formative years of Israel’s religious practices. In fact, the etiological story explaining the origin of the name Israel occurs in Genesis 35:9-15, where Jacob obtains this name through the blessing of El Shaddai, that is “El of the Mountain.”

Second, there exist numerous parallels and similarities between descriptions and cultic terminology used for El in the Canaanite texts and those used for Yahweh in the biblical sources (see below). At some point, it is ascertained, the cultic worship of Yahweh must have absorbed that of El, through which means Yahweh assimilated both the imagery and epithets once used of El.

Finally, there is strong confirmation of this assimilation in the biblical record itself. In the oldest literary traditions of the Pentateuch, it is El who regularly appears and not Yahweh, or Yahweh as El! The patriarchal narratives identify El as the deity to whom many of the early patriarchal shrines and altars were built. For example, we are informed in Genesis 33:20 that Jacob builds an altar in the old cultic center of the north, Shechem, and dedicates it to “El, god of Israel” (’el ’elohe yišra’el ). There is no ambiguity in the Hebrew here: ’el must be translated as a proper name, El.3 The textual tradition from which this text derives, the Elohist, ultimately remembers a time when El was the patron god of Israel.

That El was the deity worshiped at Shechem is also attested in Judges 9:46, which speaks of the shrine of “El of the covenant.” The god of the shrine at Bethel, which literally translates, “house of El,” is additionally El—”I am El of Bethel” (Gen 31:13; cf. 35:7)—and appears to Jacob as El Shaddai (35:11; cf. 48:3). Jacob has another encounter with El at Penuel, which is so named because Jacob sees El face-to-face (32:31). Moreover, Isaac blesses Jacob through El Shaddai (28:3), and likewise Jacob blesses Joseph “by El of your fathers” (49:25). “El who sees” is given as the etymology of Beerlahai-roi in Genesis 16:13. And we are informed that Abraham journeys to the old cultic shrine at Beersheba, where he plants and worships a tree and calls on the name “El the eternal” and at the same time Yahweh (Gen 21:33). Contrary to Genesis 33:20, where the Shechemite El is presented unambiguously as the “god of Israel,” in Genesis 21:33, El is apparently already assimilated to Yahweh (see below). Finally, Genesis 14:18-22 speaks of “El the most high,” of whom the Canaanite Melchizedek is priest at Jerusalem.

This assimilation between Yahweh and El, or El into Yahweh, is present in much of the Priestly material as well. In fact, the Priestly source largely advocates this assimilation. In Genesis 17:1, the Priestly writer states that “Yahweh appeared to Abram and said to him: ‘I am El Shaddai.’” And Exodus 6:2-3, in contradiction to J (#11), has Yahweh assert: “I am Yahweh. And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, and I was not known to them by the name Yahweh.” Although the verse suggests an identification between Yahweh and El “of the mountain,” the verse also subtly recognizes an ancient distinction between the god of the patriarchs (El) and the god of the Mosaic era (Yahweh). But the assimilation is clear here: the patriarchs who worshiped El in the past were actually worshiping Yahweh, claims the Priestly writer.

Perhaps it is necessary at this point to ask: Who was El? And why is he even mentioned in the Bible in the first place, let alone as the god of Israel in the older literary traditions of Genesis?

Our knowledge of El predominantly comes from an invaluable corpus of tablets discovered in 1929 in the ancient city of Ugarit, a major city-state of the second millennium BC located on the northern coast of Syria, modern day Ras Shamra.4 The Ugaritic tablets are the best available witness to Canaanite religion and religious practices, and thus also “to the background from which the religion of Israel emerged, and to the Canaanite beliefs that it shared, adopted, compromised with, and sometimes rejected.”5 The Ugaritic literature depicts El as the sovereign deity of the Canaanite pantheon. He is frequently referred to as “Father of the gods,” “the eternal King,” and “Creator of all living beings.” El’s other epithets include: “El the Kind, the Compassionate,” “the Bull,” “the Ageless One,” and “the Father of Years.” He is depicted as bearded, and residing in a tent or a tabernacle, whose throne rests on Cherubim. He is the god of blessings and of covenants.

Many of these epithets and images later become assimilated to Yahweh. For example, Yahweh is often depicted as bearded, as King of the gods, as Compassionate, and as residing in a tent, whose throne, like that of El, rests on Cherubim. There are, in addition to this, numerous El epithets in various strains of biblical tradition—epithets that through a process of assimilation and adoption later become associated with Yahweh. We have already encountered El Shaddai, “El of the Mountain.” Like Yahweh who is associated with the mountain of Sinai and later in eschatological traditions with Zion, so too El resides on a mountain. Other patriarchal narratives attest the use of El Olam, “El the Eternal” to whom Abraham plants and worships a tree at Beersheba, El Elyon, “El the Most High,” the god of Melchizedek (Gen 14:18-24), and El Roi, “El who sees” (Gen 16:13).

These various El epithets are associated with different shrines: El Shaddai with Bethel, El the Most High, the creator of the heavens and the earth, with Jerusalem, El the Eternal with Beersheba, El who sees with Beerlahai-roi, and El the god of Israel with Shechem.6 Many of these shrines and altars to El were established by the patriarchs themselves (e.g., Gen 21:33, 28:18, 33:20, 35:14). It has also been suggested that the name Yahweh might have originally been a cultic epithet of El! The etymology of Yahweh, yhwh, is still unclear, but one proposal is to see it as the causitive imperfect of the Canaanite-Proto-Hebrew verb hwy, “to be.”7

It is propable therefore, as many commentators have contended, that the early Israelites actually worshiped El through his epithet ‘Yahweh.’ This process of assimilation is usually presented the other way around in the biblical literature: Yahweh is worshiped through the epithets of El: Shaddai, Olam, and Elyon.

Contrary to these biblical traditions that suggest an assimilation between Yahweh and El, there are other passages that seem to indicate that Yahweh was a separate and independent deity within El’s council. Deuteronomy 32:8-9 is one of those rare biblical passages that seemingly preserves a vestige of an earlier period in proto-Israelite religion where El and Yahweh were still depicted as separate deities: Yahweh was merely one of the gods of El’s council! This tradition undeniably comes from older Canaanite lore.

When the Most High (’elyôn) gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated humanity, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of divine beings. For Yahweh’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.

There are two points to take away from this passage. First, the passage presents an apparently older mythic theme that describes when the divine beings, that is each deity in the divine counsel, were assigned and allotted their own nation. Israel was the nation that Yahweh received. Second, Yahweh received his divine portion, Israel, through an action initiated by the god El, here identifiable through his epithet “the Most High.” In other words, the passage depicts two gods: one, the Most High (El), is seen as assigning nations to the divine beings or gods (the Hebrew word is elohim, plural “gods”) in his council; the other, Yahweh, is depicted as receiving from the first god, the Most High, his particular allotment, namely the people of Israel. Similarly, in another older tradition now preserved in Numbers 21:29, the god Chemosh is assigned to the people of Moab.

Other biblical passages reaffirm this archaic view of Yahweh as a god in El’s council. Psalm 82:1 speaks of the “assembly of El,” Psalm 29:1 enjoins “the sons of El” to worship Yahweh, and Psalm 89:6-7 lists Yahweh among El’s divine council.

Thus there seems to be ample evidence in the biblical record to support the claim that as Yahweh become the supreme national deity of the Israelites, he began to usurp the imagery, epithets, and old cultic centers of the god El. This process of assimilation even morphed the linguistic meaning of the name El, which later came to mean simply “god,” so that Yahweh was then directly identified as ’el—thus Joshua 22:22: “the god of gods is Yahweh” (’el ’elohim yhwh).

Noteworthy also is the fact that unlike the god Baal, there is no polemic in the Bible against El, and all the old cultic centers of El, those in Jerusalem, Shechem, and Beersheba, were later accredited to Yahweh. Since the large majority of patriarchal narratives that speak of shrines and altars to El are found in the northern kingdom, such as Bethel and Shechem, and, on the other hand, many biblical texts seem to accredit Yahweh’s origin to the southern Negeb, the current scholarly hypothesis is that the worship of El in the north and of Yahweh in the south eventually merged. This thesis finds further support in the incident of Jeroboam, who may have acted to reestablish the cult of Yahweh-El at Dan and Bethel via his “golden bulls” (#155). In sum, the biblical literature, spanning as it does hundreds of centuries of cultural and cultic traditions, preserves divergent views, portraits, theologies, and origins of its god Yahweh. We will come across others.

Footnotes    
  1. For a comprehensive treatment of the subject see: F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press 1973); M. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (Eerdmans 1990); and W. Dever, Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Eerdmans 2008).
  2. Other names formed with “el” include: Ishmael, Bethel, Penuel. As a further note, no name in Genesis contains the form of Yahweh, which later became the dominant pattern in Israel in the 1st millennium bc. The first and earliest appearance of the name “Israel” comes from the Merneptah stela—an Egyptian victory stela commemorating the Syro-Palestinain conquest of pharaoh Merneptah in 1208 bc. In the stela Israel is listed among the peoples of the land of Canaan.
  3. The Hebrew ’el is often translated as “God.” Although like the Hebrew ’elohim, ’el can be translated as “god,” Hebraic philologists contend that a generic understanding of ’el as “god” is a rather late development in biblical Hebrew. More accurately, ’el without a definite article is to be rendered simply as “El,” the name of a pan-Canaanite (by this term I mean to include a proto-Israelite culture) deity—a remnant of an older Israelite/Canaanite tradition to which a few biblical passages still attest. Mention of El is also found in Gen 17:1, 28:3, 35:10, 48:3, 49:25. In later literary sources, and after Yahweh had adsorbed El’s attributes (see above), ’el came to be understood simply as “god.”
  4. Translations of the Ugaritic texts can be found in: C. Gordon, Ugaritic Literature: A Comprehensive Translation of the Poetic and Prose Texts (Pontifical Biblical Institute 1949); M. Coogan, ed., and tr., Stories from Ancient Canaan (Westminster 1978).
  5. Coogan, Stories from Ancient Canaan, 19.
  6. Dever, Did God Have a Wife?, 257-260. See also Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, 44-60.
  7. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, 65.

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26 Responses to #27. Are Yahweh and El the same god OR different gods? (Gen 14:22, 17:1, 21:33; Ex 6:2-3; Ps 82:1 vs Deut 32:8-9; Ps 29:1, 89:6-8)

  1. archaeopteryx says:

    I have my own theory regarding the origin of the Hebrew monotheistic belief system, it differs somewhat from that and I’m still in the substantiation process, but essentially, it is as follows.

    The Sumerians controlled Mesopotamia for nearly 4000 unbroken years. During the latter hundred or so of those years, Semitic Akkadians gradually filtered into Northern Mesopotamia, settled, and grew in population and strength, and those qualities established, over the next few hundred years, overcame the Sumerians to the extent that the Sumerian language was eradicated except for use in religious ceremonies, much as Egyptian in Coptic services in Egypt and Latin in Catholic ones. “El” meant, “Lord” in Sumerian, and rather than specifically referring to a god, was merely a title of reverence.

    With Akkadian dominance, a new pantheon of gods was introduced, along with the Akkadian word, “En,” which had basically the same meaning as the Sumerian word, “El.” Often, where there were similarities between any Akkadian god and a Sumerian one, the Akkadian god absorbed the qualities of his Sumerian counterpart. Other times, gods of both groups may have been worshipped by the same person, just to cover all bases. The Golden Age for Akkadian Mesopotamia came with the reign of Sargon, who, with his armies, reopened a trade route from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean, and Mesopotamians moved westward, colonizing the new territories and settling there. Akkadia began a slow decline with the death of Sargon around 2215 BCE.

    The route also opened the way for other tribes to move into Mesopotamia, and the Amurrites did exactly that. Another Semitic group of nomads, the Amurrites came in two waves, the first settling still north and east of Akkadian territory in the area of Assyria in the Hurrian empire, where they quickly gave up their nomadic ways and came to build cities and establish an agrarian economy. The Amurrites, so named for their god, Amurru (also known as the Amorites), rose in power just as the Akkadians had done, and from 2000 BCE to 1600, were the undisputed rulers of Mesopotamia.

    Biblical archaeologist, William Dever, assures us that there is no evidence to support the existence of any of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac or Jacob/Israel, but suggests that these names may represent groups of people, rather than individuals, that settled in the Levant. Still, there are those who attempt to establish a birthdate for Abraham, at least by those who do not believe him to be fictional, and I have found guestimates ranging from 2300 to 1750 BCE. the dating is important because it coincides well with the Ammurrite ascension to power in Mesopotamia. The most famous of all of the Amurrite rulers was Hammurabi, the law-giver, after whom, many believe the fictional character of Moses was modeled.

    The Amurrite god, Amurru, had other titles. He is sometimes described as a shepherd and the son of the Mesopotamian sky-god Anu. He is called ‘Lord of the mountain,’ ‘He who dwells on the pure mountain’ and ‘he who inhabits the shining mountain.’ But lastly, and most importantly, to the best of my research, Amurru is the original “El Shaddai,” or “Bêl Šadê.” When “god” first introduces himself to Abraham, it is as “El Shaddai.”

    When, in Exodus, this god introduces himself to Moses as Yahweh, he says, “I was known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai.”

    In a 15th century BCE Egyptian list of groups in the Transjordan region, there are six groups of Shasu or “wanderers”. One of them is the Shasu of Yhw. These are almost certainly not the original Israelites however, because in the later Merneptah reliefs, the Israelites are referred to as a people rather than as wanderers. Whatever the Shasu of Yhw were, though, they may have been worshipers of Yahweh who brought their religion to indigenous groups of Canaan. Among those groups, and actually occupying an area adjacent to the Transjornan region, were the Hittites, a known cult of believers in YHWH. According to the Bible, Moses was married to the daughter of a Hittite priest, Jethro. Even if, as Dever again suggests, Moses too was not an actual historical figure, he could well have represented a segment of Jewish people who merged with Hittites and adopted their Yahweh, co-opting onto their new diety, all of the traits and history of Amurru, El Shaddai.

  2. Steven DiMattei says:

    Arch, Nice addition. I’d caution about representing this as your own theory. Much of what you have here can be found in the works of Dever, Finkelstein, Smith, Propp, Cross, etc. Propp has a particularly nice synthesis of the scholarship in his Anchor Bible translation and commentary on Exodus.

    Why not, instead of “Biblical archaeologist, William Dever, assures us that there is no evidence to support the existence of any of the Patriarchs…” state that the biblical data and the archaeological data strongly suggest that…? Now you’re reasoning from data rather than an authoritative figure. Indeed, I’m just quibbling…

  3. archaeopteryx says:

    Steven,

    I’ve yet to find the Amurru connection described anywhere – could you please direct me to which of these authors describes it?

    arch

  4. Steven DiMattei says:

    That I can not help you with. For some reason Lemeche comes to mind, but I’m not sure, maybe Propp–excellent source anyway. Try doing a search on Jstor or some other scholarly database and see what comes up. Looks like you’ve delved into this deeper than I have.

  5. archaeopteryx says:

    You seemed so certain that someone had considered the c0nnection before I did, that I just assumed you would have such information on the tip of your tongue. I’ll search further. I’m not proprietary, if someone else thought of the connection first, then possibly he/she has had time to accumulate more information than I and I can learn from him. More than any other reason, I referred to it as “my” theory in order to absolve anyone else from blame in the event it was an unsupportable one.

    RE: “Why Dever assures” vs “biblical and archaeological data suggests” – considering that Dever has devoted his life to biblical research, I think it’s safe to assume that he may be just be “reasoning from data.” Just counter-quibbling –

  6. Dr. G. S. Wilson says:

    I am very interested in the comments made by various participants. I hold a Th.D. Ph.D., M.A., M.Div degrees and many years of missionary work in the Buddhist and Hindu lands. I want to find out what ultimately is the truth concerning the various gods and goddesses whose names we handle in all our investigations.

  7. Steven DiMattei says:

    Dr. Wilson, Welcome. Concerning the ancient Israelite end of your interests, I’d consider these books:

    Mark Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the other deities in ancient Israel (1990)
    William Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and folk religion in ancient Israel (2005)

    Both of these authors combine a rich field of data coming from the archaeological record, biblical record, and other extra-biblical ancient Near Eastern texts. It would appear that this data strongly suggests that Yahweh usurped the role and portrait of the Canaanite El, and that Yahweh may have originally been a deity, like Baal, under El’s patronage. All in all fascinating material.

  8. John Scoone says:

    This may be redundant, but it appears YHWH created the Adamic race, apparently on behalf of El-Elyon, who we’ll just refer to as El. The logical explanation is that there was DNA tampering or mating with apes or primitive humans by the gods. These new human prototypes were superior and would replace earlier humans which were genetically corrupted by the Elohim (pantheon of demi-gods). My take is that these Elohim were the Elohim of Genesis who violated the “Prime Directive” of El. Instead of life, particularly human life evolving naturally on earth during the course of time, Lucifer and many other gods were vying to become the El of this world, and were using the humans as pawns to do their dirty work, mining, farming etc. The true El (Most High) saw what was going on and at some point appointed YHWH to rectify the situation, which he did by forming Adam/Eve. They would be tested on their loyalty, a test which they failed. However, they were repentant and YHWH decided to give them a second chance. He became their shepherd and protector, and at times was ruthless, unleashing the forces of nature, and ordering the genocide of rival nations. Cain, on the other hand, carried the “bad seed” of rebellious humanity, which they had inherited from their rebellious master gods. YHWH protected that seed through to Christ, who was presumably of pure seed from Adam/Eve, although that has been brought into serious question. It is stated in apocryphal works that the mother of Ham was a descendant of Cain (who was probably fathered by Satan and at the very least mated with the children of other gods), and it’s likely that the descendants of Ham intermarried with Japeth, whose descendants the Gentiles formed the “beast”, the Roman empire. Only a very narrow band of humanity was pure from the flood through Shem, and it may have only been on the father’s side, since it is said that David married a Moabite, I think. Is it true Yahshua never claimed to be the son of YHWH but only El, the Most High? He didn’t cry out to YHWH on the cross. He seems to be humanity’s bridge to El, but not through YHWH. Do I have this correct? I appreciate your thoughtful comments on this.

  9. Steven DiMattei says:

    John, welcome, but what is this? — a gnostic re-interpretive endeavor? I am a biblical scholar who sees my goal as representing to the best of my abilities the ideas, beliefs, and thoughts of each of the Bible’s writers, and from within their own historical and literary world, and to understand them as products of their cultures. Much of what you’ve presented above, although interesting, is speculation, theological imagination, etc. In other words, such ideas, speculation, etc. are not supported by the biblical texts, or are part of these author’s worlds or thinking; they are not what the biblical authors had in mind when they penned their texts. In fact, your non-biblical speculative idea that Jesus mediates humans to El is tainted with the ideas of 2nd century gnosticism, but biblical they are not. On another note, we must concede that even if Yahshua was seen as the son of Yahweh or as the mediator to EL these are cultural and historical perspectives that individuals had of their reality and/or religion. We are almost never talking about Reality, capital R—unless of course we were to enter into a philosophical discussion that attempted to define what reality is—I’ll throw the first stone: an objective fact or a subjective experience?

  10. Russell says:

    Steven,
    Thanks for your engaging website! You point out the most interesting possibility that sometime in Israel’s past, as indicated in Deuteronomy 32:8-9, El and Yahweh may have been worshiped alongside of each other with El as the high god, and Yahweh as his son and the god assigned to Israel. Two questions: 1) There is a British scholar, Margaret Barker, who makes the actual claim that El and Yahweh were actually worshiped in the first temple. She claims that Josiah in his reform eliminated the worship of El to consolidate the worship of Yahweh alone. She sounds a tad speculative to me. What do you think of her work? 2) Why would the Deuteronomist have retained such a polytheistic reference in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 if his agenda was so focused on eliminating all vestiges of polytheism? I look forward to hearing from you.

  11. Steven DiMattei says:

    Russell,

    I’m not familiar with Barker’s work. However, there is strong evidence, both biblical and archaeological, to support the claim that El and Yahweh were worshiped interchangeably in the first temple period. That is to say, EL and Yahweh might have been conceived of as identical. As for her second claim, I’m not too convinced. One of the reasons is that scholars have regularly noticed that there is no polemic in the OT against El; whereas, for example, we find much polemic against Baal. In other words, according to the biblical writers, El did not present himself as a threat to Yahwism. Baal certainly did. And yes, many scholars see Josiah’s reforms, even if only theoretical, as the first systematic attempt at an Israelite monotheism. But again, it is most often Baal that is portrayed polemically in the OT. I’ve rediscussed this recently in contradition #190.

    As for your second question about Deut 32, I believe this poem is an archaic fragment that was later appended to the scroll of Deuteronomy, and therefore was not an original composition by the Deuteronomist.

  12. tanakhstudent says:

    “When the Most High (’elyôn) gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated humanity, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of divine beings. For Yahweh’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.”

    May I ask which version of the Bible you’re quoting from? I’ve checked KJV, Complete Jewish, and Orthodox Jewish and can’t find anything like “according to the number of divine beings” in Deuteronomy 32:8-9. TIA!

  13. Steven DiMattei says:

    Excellent question. I apologize that I did not cite my source here. I am currently away from my books, but if I had to guess, this is probably Mark Smith’s translation in his The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel. The question then becomes: why did Smith translate the Hebrew בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל (“children/sons of Israel”) as if it read בְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים (“children/sons of the gods/divine beings” (elohim))?

    The MT clearly has בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. But apparently there are older manuscripts that attest to an original בְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים. I pulled this article, Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God, by biblical scholar Michael Heiser from the internet, and have quoted some of it below.

    Controversy over the text of this verse concerns the last phrase, “according to the number of the sons of Israel,” which reflects the reading of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible (hereafter, MT), בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. The MT reading is also reflected in several later revisions of the Septuagint (hereafter, LXX): a manuscript of Aquila (Codex X), Symmachus (also Codex X), and Theodotion. Most witnesses to the LXX in verse 8, however, read ἄγγελων ϑεου, which is interpretive. Several also read υἱων ϑεου. Both of these Greek renderings presuppose a Hebrew text of either בְנֵי אֱלֹהִים or בְנֵי אֱלֹים. These Hebrew phrases underlying ἄγγελων ϑεου and υἱων ϑεου are attested in two manuscripts from Qumran, and by one (conflated) manuscript of Aquila.

    Heiser draws on both Ugaritic El texts and the linguistic and contextual evidence in Deuteronomy 32 to clarify that the older manuscript reading of “sons of the gods” is the preferred and correct reading.

    Ugaritic mythology plainly states that the head of its pantheon, El (who, like the God of the Bible, is also referred to as El Elyon, the “Most High”) fathered 70 sons, thereby setting the number of the “sons of El” (Ugaritic, bn )il). An unmistakable linguistic parallel with the Hebrew text underlying the LXX reading was thus discovered, one which prompted many scholars to accept the LXX reading on logical and philological grounds: God (El Elyon in Deut. 32:8) divided the earth according to the number of heavenly beings who already existed from the time of creation.

    Heiser also convincingly demonstrates that the original beni elohim was not only later changed to beni israel but that in Deut 32:43 the phrase beni elohim, which is also attested in Qumran manuscripts and the LXX, had also been omitted. I would recommend reading the article if interested. It’s well done, and convincing. The author also discusses other places in the Hebrew Bible that mention the beni elohim as part of Yahweh’s counsel—Yahweh now having usurped the position that El enjoyed in the Ugaritic texts!

  14. Tribunal X says:

    Dr. DiMattei,

    First, let me say I appreciate the efforts (to put it simply) you put forth to make this blog. I know I am a bit late to the party, but I arrived here due to a stinging feeling I’ve had since my childhood; the notion that the God of the Bible, or rather, the God I was told was in the Bible, was not the one I know in my heart.

    Your research is exponentially more advanced than my own, but I find we have reached many similar conclusions. I’m sure this has come up before, but I have yet to find it here or anywhere: could you recommend (or direct me to a post of yours concerning) a source of biblical materials which include all references to the names of gods along with any other elements that have largely been edited out of most modern translations? I find it very cumbersome to search through the Expanded Bible, the “God’s Word” translation, the Amplified Bible, etc., to only rarely be rewarded with (seemingly) more accurate information.

    For the record, I now consider the components of the Bible to have been manipulated in order to further countless agendas throughout history.

    Thank you,

    Stan

  15. Intrigued says:

    Dear Dr DiMattei,
    This is a very interesting blog and I am glad I stumbled across it.

    Quite understandably you focus a lot of attention of the Semitic origins of the scriptural names of G-d. Nevertheless, what about any possible Egyptian connections- given the long sojourn of the Children of Israel in Egypt and the interaction with Egypt throughout the “early” books of Tanakh/Old Testament?

    Is there also not perhaps the merest possibility of an influence, maybe scribal, of the Egyptian Dhwty (Thoth/Djehuty) and J’ḥ-Dhwty (Iah-Thoth/Djehuty)? Thoth of course being the god of scribes and Iah-Dhehuty being a lunar deity “associated” with Thoth and also Khonsu.
    I accept we ought to be very careful with ancient etymologies and Biblical/Hebrew etymologies can be fraught with pitfalls and false positives yet it is still an interesting “coincidence” and furthermore in the light of Moses’ (Egyptian name?) association with Egypt, an Egypt that also saw an historically verifiable “flirtation” with a form of monotheism under the so-called heretic pharaoh Akhenaten.
    Could there also be Egyptian undertones in any of this that may be gleaned from a textual analysis?

  16. John Kesler says:

    @Tribunal X,
    I recommend the Names of God Bible, which can be viewed at http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Names-of-God-NOG-Bible . Here are some excerpts. The bolding is original:

    Genesis 2:4-5:
    This is the account of heaven and earth when they were created, at the time when Yahweh Elohim made earth and heaven. 5 Wild bushes and plants were not on the earth yet because Yahweh Elohim hadn’t sent rain on the earth. Also, there was no one to farm the land. 6 Instead, underground water would come up from the earth and water the entire surface of the ground.

    Genesis 33:20
    20 He set up an altar there and named it El Is the Elohim of Israel.

    Exodus 6:2-3
    2 Elohim spoke to Moses, “I am Yahweh. 3 I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shadday, but I didn’t make myself known to them by my name, Yahweh.

    Numbers 23:19-23
    19 El is not like people. He tells no lies. He is not like humans. He doesn’t change his mind. When he says something, he does it. When he makes a promise, he keeps it. 20 I have received a command to bless. He has blessed, and I can’t change it. 21 He doesn’t want any trouble for the descendants of Jacob. He sees no misfortune for the people of Israel. Yahweh their Elohim is with them, praised as their king. 22El who brought them out of Egypt has the strength of a wild bull. 23 No spell can curse the descendants of Jacob. No magic can harm the people of Israel. Now it will be said of Jacob and Israel: ‘See what El has done!’

  17. Tribunal X says:

    Thank you very much, John Kesler! I suppose I could find a printed or ebook version of that translation.

    Take care!

  18. John Kesler says:

    TX,
    I want to make it clear that I recommend the NOGB because it retains the Hebrew names of God, not because I find it a perfect translation; in many ways it falls short. In Deuteronomy 32:8-9, it retains the MT’s “sons of Israel” instead of the more accurate “sons of the gods” (see above). In Genesis 6:1-4, it attempts to make the “sons of God” other humans instead of divine beings that cohabited with the “daughters of men.” It also sees the Messiah in Daniel’s “70 weeks” prophecy of 9:24-27.

  19. Tribunal X says:

    JK, very interesting observations indeed! Thank you very much for taking the time.

  20. rob says:

    Mr Kessler

    what’s happen to farrell till’s email discussion forum?

  21. John Kesler says:

    @ rob
    Till’s list still exists, but it is not particularly active. As you may know, Till passed away in October 2012. As far as I know, you can still subscribe at this page: http://iierrancy.com.

  22. Harley says:

    I had been a christian many years.. However it’s research to this extent that truly opened my eyes. Forgive me if this hypothesis sounds foolish, yet I’m sure you’ve heard of it Steven. What of the ancient astronaut theory? Could El not of offered extraterrestrial intervention rather than a divine one? What if our ancestors witnessed supernatural beings being superior in intelligence, evolution, understanding, etc. Possibly bioengineered from their DNA and our own. El (and all other gods) came and taught us farming, morals, astrology and so forth and left. I understand you’re simply a biblical scholar but how plausable does the idea of El being not devine or imaginatice, but extraterrestrial seem to you?

  23. Dr. Steven DiMattei says:

    Hey Harley,

    In short, ZERO. Looks like you’ve been watching Prometheus to long!

    All of what we find in the ancient literature of the ancient Near East and particularly the manner in which these ancient peoples saw their world—thus placing the origin of agriculture, fire, language, morals, etc. in the feats of their gods—is explainable by human psychology. That’s one of the reasons I’m fascinated by ancient civilizations—how they expressed their perception of the world. Remember too that for these ancient cultures, the world was magical and divine and sacred, so how even life came about (and language, agriculture, etc.) was seen as divine, a gift of the gods. What you’ve got above, seems to me more an extension of this older mythology—looking to the exterior for answers related to origins, rather than seeing these as the expressions of the human imagination!

    Also, drawing from interests I had decades ago, mythologies of gods are relatively later than those of goddesses. Imagine primitive man, what his psychology saw. Having not yet connected the idea of sex and 9-months later, boom, a new baby from the females womb, primitive man saw the female as spontaneously producing life, as earth more generally as spontaneously producing life. In my younger days I was heavily into Joseph Campbell; I still think he does a nice job speaking about goddess mythologies and the development into god mythologies (his Masks of Gods series). Much of his take on Christianity would shock me as being too general and abstract now.

    In short, why not just keep this as the/a study of man!

  24. KW says:

    To add to what Dr. DiMattei said, we can trace the slow development of practices like agriculture over the millennia using archaeology, and we can also trace the development of morality by reading the oldest writings we have available. For instance, many people find some of the morals in the Bible discordant nowadays. If you found out I was sacrificing animals to my god on a large grill in my backyard, you would probably be troubled by that, but this was how the Jews practiced their religion. If you found out I had purchased my wife from her family after forcibly de-flowering her, you would be rightly disgusted with me, but I would only be following the Torah (Deut. 22:28, 29). The same God who is said to have sent Jesus to earth is credited with giving these laws to the Israelites.

    So what I’m getting at is that we can see the development of morals and technology over time without needing an extraterrestrial explanation. Many of the morals in the Bible do hold up today, such as the idea that if someone causes injury or loss to someone else, that they should make reparations. Some are just now falling out of style, such as the idea that a murderer should be put to death. A hundred years ago, that was still more or less universally acceptable. But as Dr. DiMattei said, these concepts are easy to explain from a psychological perspective. A sufficiently intelligent animal will naturally want to be treated with respect, and being social animals, we want to see members of our tribe treated fairly too.

    Why do we have these ancient stories of gods and goddesses, then? Well, I won’t try to explain it in a blog comment, but you can read about psychological concepts like “theory of mind” and “operant conditioning” to learn more. Basically, we have the tendency to assign intent to events without any evidence of intent, and to learn lessons from events even when they’re the wrong lessons.

    For instance, the notion of a god in the sky is very natural to arrive at if you watch rain fall and listen to lightning crash during a storm, forgetting what you know of meteorology. For ancient man, this led to desperate attempts to appease the man in the sky when he stopped delivering the rain. The behaviors which happened to immediately precede rain seemed to work and became (wrongly) reinforced, leading to primitive religious practices like sacrifices. There’s a lot more to this, but I think this gives you something to look into, Harley. It’s not quite as fantastical as ancient astronauts, but it’s pretty interesting stuff!

  25. Alfonso I says:

    Dr. DiMattei and all of the participants on this blog: Thank you so much for helping me, a complete ignorant past Christianity, Mormonism, and the likes. My heart was telling me that there was much more to look for than what I had been taught; so I was trying Wikipedia, Google and suddenly I came across this blog. Please, for the benefit of the less learned, like in my case, continue with your discussions/updates, etc. As for me: I will continue visiting this blog and hope to find the direction I am seeking for. I had been blinded for so long! Thank you very much. Muy agradecido!

  26. arachnophilia says:

    in a footnote:

    As a further note, no name in Genesis contains the form of Yahweh,

    maybe i’m alone in this, but i think J is making a rather clear pun between the name יהוה the word אודה (i will praise) and יהודה in 29:35, even if it doesn’t technically count.

    additionally, “yahweh” appears in full in a place name in 22:14. maybe that doesn’t count because it’s actually just two words and not a proper theophoric name.

    Thus there seems to be ample evidence in the biblical record to support the claim that as Yahweh become the supreme national deity of the Israelites

    well… judah anyways. i’m not actually convinced that a) a unified israel ever existed, and b) that the northern kingdom of israel as a whole ever accepted yahweh, and c) that yahwism as a national, monotheistic religion antedates josiah/hilkiah. you get a lot of this conflation between gods after that event. i’m not sure to what extent the yahwists conflated yahweh and el (or if they were ever separate, to them) before josiah/hilkiah. you could make arguments that J and E are conflating yahweh and el, but… when were they written, exactly? i’ve heard early arguments and late arguments.

    the current scholarly hypothesis is that the worship of El in the north and of Yahweh in the south eventually merged.

    isn’t it nice that yisrael worshiped el, and yehudah yahweh. i wonder if that’s a coincidence, or if that pun at the beginning actually reflects the name derivation. in any case, as you suggest in the other post on this topic, “yahweh” itself may be a rendition of an epithet for el, so i don’t know if we can say they split, or they merged… or both.

    In other words, the passage depicts two gods:

    it should be noted that in some ways, yahweh is a parallel for (baal) hadad, and this relationship in this passage seems to back that up.

    the Hebrew word is elohim, plural “gods”

    oh, you know better than that. come on.

    the phrase in the DSS is בני אלוהים (it looks to my eyes like that extra vav is there, but maybe i’m just seeing things). the “elohim” part is part of the construct chain; you can’t actually infer plurality from it. “elohim” has the same plural and singular form in biblical hebrew, probably because it comes from the name of the divine council in canaanite. hebrew texts redefine this council as “children of god” instead of “gods” in their own right, but it’s extremely likely you could still draw a parallel to this group and what would be called gods in related religions. but the word itself is not necessarily plural! it’s probably referring to the sons of the (singular) el elyon.

    this passage is very odd mix of leftover polytheism and monotheism that seems to defy the time it was written in… i think it probably deserves a whole post.

    there is no polemic in the Bible against El

    you go on to mention golden bulls in the same paragraph. this leaves me confused. clearly, the bull (el) is condemned…

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