Did Jehovah God Originate from the Canaanite god El?

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israel against all odds ISRAEL AGAINST ALL ODDS - Vol. II

A Brief Overview that Jehovah God Did Not Originate
From the Canaanite god El

Marc Lipshitz, Rabbi at the Southern Suburbs Hebrew Congregation, writes, “No. In Hebrew, the word ‘El’ is a generic term that is NOT a name but is the same as the word god in English today. It does not reference a specific being or individual, but can be used as a conceptual label for something fulfilling that role or similar. It can refer to G-d or something others see as god even though it is a false or invalid belief. It is not about a specific or shared being, just a conceptual label and not a name.”

El is a generic word for god that could be used for any god, including Hadad, Moloch, or Almighty God, Jehovah, as well as humans. Jehovah is entirely different from the immoral Canaanite gods. Why did Jehovah give the land of Canaan to the Israelites if he was a Canaanite God? Why did Jehovah have the Canaanites destroyed? In the OT Jehovah is called “the God of Israel.” (1 Chronicles 17:24) El had a father, Jehovah has no father. El had a wife, Jehovah has no wife. El was not the most powerful Canaanite god. Jehovah is the almighty God, none equal. As you read below, you will notice that the false gods were nothing like the Almighty God of the Bible. What you have in these extra-biblical sources (Ugaritic texts) is a twisted version of the genuine historical given to us by God in the Bible.


A number of religious historians have attempted to trace the origin of the name Jehovah to Canaanite or Egyptian sources. Others assert that it “is an old tribal name” and does not identify the God portrayed in the “New Testament.” This is not true. Jehovah became the God of all people. The personal name of God, “Jehovah” (Heb., הוהי, JHVH), means ‘he causes to become.’ The apostle Paul asked: “Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also.” Paul’s clear answer? “Yes, of people of the nations also.” (Romans 3:29) At Romans 10:13 Paul says, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This is a quote from Joel 2:32, which reads, “And everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved …” Peter quotes this promise as well in Acts 2:21 “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

“Jehovah” (Heb., הוהי, JHVH), God’s personal name, initially occurs in Genesis 2:4. His name occurs in the Hebrew almost 7,000 times as הוהי (JHVH), usually referred to as the Tetragrammaton (i.e., “having four letters”). The Rabbi is correct, “El” is a generic term for God or god. Names given to children were often combined with El (meaning “God”). Eldad (possibly, God Has Loved), Abdiel (Servant of God), Daniel (My Judge Is God). El was basically the universal word for ‘deity’ in the Middle East. We’re talking Arabic, Hebrew, Ugaritic, Phoenician, and many more.


Of the Hebrew words that are rendered as “God” is ʼEl (אֵל el), likely meaning “Mighty One; Strong One.” (Gen. 14:18) El is a general term used concerning Jehovah, false gods, and men. It is also combined many times in the makeup of proper names, such as Elisha (meaning “God Is Salvation”) and Michael (“Who is as or like God?”). At times, ʼEl occurs with the definite article (ha·ʼElʹ, literally, “the God”) regarding Jehovah, thereby differentiating him from false gods. – Gen. 46:3; 2Sa 22:31.

Information or content outside the Bible reveals that the false god El was regarded as the creator and sovereign. Even though El appears to have been relatively remote from the affairs on earth, he is frequently portrayed in these extra-biblical sources as being approached by the other false deities with concerns. El is shown as a disobedient son who removed his father from the throne and castrated his own father. El was a bloody tyrant, a murderer, and an adulterer. In the Ras Shamra texts, (the Ugaritic texts, a body of ancient cuneiform texts discovered in 1928), El is called the “father bull” and is depicted as having gray hair and a beard. His companion (spouse) was Asherah (goddess of the Canaanite pantheon), who is referred to as the mother goddess of the gods, whereas El is placed in the role of the father of the gods. El was considered the supreme god, the father of mankind and all creatures.[Kugel 2007, p. 423] He also fathered many gods, most importantly Hadad, Yam, and Mot, each sharing similar attributes to the Greco-Roman gods: Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades respectively.


Most notable of the Canaanite gods, however, was the fertility god Baal, a deity of the sky and of rain and storm. (Jg 2:12, 13) In the mythology of Canaan, Baal, the god of life and fertility, is locked in mortal combat with Mot, the god of death and sterility. If Baal triumphed, a seven-year cycle of fertility would ensue; but, if he were vanquished by Mot, seven years of drought and famine would ensue. In the Ras Shamra texts, Baal is frequently referred to as the son of Dagon, though El is also said to be his father. Baal’s sister Anath is shown referring to El as her father and he, in turn, calls her his daughter. Thus, Baal was likely considered the son of El, though he may even have been viewed as El’s grandson.


Ugaritic texts tell of other fertility aspects of Baal, such as his relations with Anath, his consort and sister, and also his siring a divine bull calf from a heifer. All this was part of his fertility role, which, when fulfilled, meant an abundance of crops and fertility for animals and mankind.

But Baal was not exclusively a fertility god. He was also king of the gods, and, to achieve that position, he was portrayed as seizing the divine kingship from Yamm, the sea god.

The myths also tell of Baal’s struggle to obtain a palace comparable in grandeur to those of other gods. Baal persuaded Asherah to intercede with her husband El, the head of the pantheon, to authorize the construction of a palace. The god of arts and crafts, Kothar, then proceeded to build for Baal the most beautiful of palaces, which spread over an area of 10,000 acres. The myth may refer in part to the construction of Baal’s own temple in the city of Ugarit. Near Baal’s temple was that of Dagon, given in the tablets as Baal’s father.


The worship of Baal was popular in Egypt from the later New Kingdom in about 1400 BCE to its end (1075 BCE). Through the influence of the Aramaeans, who borrowed the Babylonian pronunciation Bel, the god ultimately became known as the Greek Belos, identified with Zeus.

 Baal was also worshipped by various communities as a local god. The Hebrew scriptures speak frequently of the Baal of a given place or refer to Baalim in the plural, suggesting the evidence of local deities, or “lords,” of various locales. It is not known to what extent the Canaanites considered those various Baalim identical, but the Baal of Ugarit does not seem to have confined his activities to one city, and doubtless, other communities agreed in giving him cosmic scope.

 In the mythological accounts, Baal is described as attacking and conquering Yamm, the god who oversaw the water and who appears to have been El’s favored or beloved son. But Baal is slaughtered in his confrontation with Mot, who was regarded as a son of El and the god of death. Thus, Canaan, as was true of Babylon, had its god who died a fierce death and thereafter was revived to life.​

Gilded statuette of El from Megiddo

Why the Yahweh as a Canaanite God Theory Doesn’t Hold Up

The theory doesn’t hold up for a number of reasons. First of all, scholars are essentially grasping at straws. Most of the theory operates on conjecture. The Israelites lived near foreign peoples and some married foreign peoples, so, therefore, they changed their entire religion based on the influence of those peoples, according to the theory.

Also, similarly spelled names do not indicate it’s the same God. Although the Canaanites had El, and the Jews had Elohim, and the Edomites had JWH and the Jews had YHWH, it does not conclude that the gods are one and the same.

After all, Belteshazzar and Belshazzar are not the same people, not even close (Daniel 5). One was an Israelite captive in Babylon, the other, a king who loved a good party before the end of his kingdom.

Third, in Exodus, God makes it abundantly clear that he does not want his people to worship other gods (Exodus 23:13, Exodus 34:14). In no way shape or form would God have let them simply adopt other gods into their pantheon, let alone combine Him with them. We see consequences during their time in the desert when they do turn to other gods (Exodus 20-21).

Even though Israel strays away from God, God places godly leaders such as Moses, Joshua, etc. to prevent them from going astray. During their time in the desert, Moses would not have allowed them to adopt Canaanite or Edomite gods.

A Much Deeper Dive Into the Fact that Jehovah God did not Originate From the Canaanite god El

The theological position of the Tanakh is that the names Ēl and ‘Ĕlōhîm, when used in the singular to mean the supreme God, refer to Jehovah, besides whom other gods are supposed to be either nonexistent or insignificant. Whether this was a long-standing belief or a relatively new one has long been the subject of inconclusive scholarly debate about the prehistory of the sources of the Tanakh and about the prehistory of the Israelite religion. In the supposed Priestly section,[1] Exodus 6:3 may be translated:

Exodus 6:3 Updated American Standard Version (ASV)

And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah I did not make myself known to them.

Almighty (Heb. אֵל שַׁדַּי El Shaddai; Gr. παντοκράτωρ pantokratōr) conveys the idea of strength or power. This is a title for the true God, often with a focus on the power to complete promises of blessing and prosperity. In the Hebrew text, Shaddai is used seven times with God (אֵל el), giving us the title “God Almighty.” (Ge 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; Ex 6:3; Eze 10:5)

Exodus 6:3 In what way had God’s name not been made known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

Exodus 3:13 Updated American Standard Version (ASV)

 13 Then Moses said to God, “Look, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your forefathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?”

Exodus 6:3 Updated American Standard Version (ASV)

 3 and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah I did not make myself known to them.

How can Exodus 3:13 and 6:13 be accurate because the patriarchs knew and used the divine name Jehovah?

Genesis 2:4 Updated American Standard Version (ASV)

 4 This is the history of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that Jehovah God made earth and heaven. (see also 5, 7, 8-9, and 15)

As well as …

Genesis 4:1 Updated American Standard Version (ASV)

4 Now the man knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have gotten a man with the help of Jehovah.” (see also 3, 4, 6, and 9)

Jehovah chose his own name, one rich in meaning. “Jehovah” literally means “He Causes to Become.” The divine name certainly was not new. The divine name was known and used back in the beginning with Adam and Eve. The Patriarchs also knew and used the divine name and received promises from Jehovah. However, keeping in mind the meaning of God’s name, “He Causes to Become,” the patriarchs did not experientially know Jehovah, like the one that would cause the promises to be fulfilled. (Genesis 12:1, 2; 15:7, 13-16; 26:24; 28:10-15.) They knew the promises, but Moses was about to experience the results. No matter what was to get in the way of Moses and the Israelites, no matter the difficulties they faced, Jehovah was going to become whatever they needed to deliver them from slavery and into the Promised Land.

The Melchizedek Argument

These liberal-moderate Bible scholars argue that in Genesis 14:18–20, Abraham accepted the blessing of El, when Melchizedek,[2] the king of Salem and high priest of its deity El Elyon, blessed him. One scholarly position is that the identification of Jehovah with Ēl is late, that Jehovah was earlier thought of as only one of many gods and not normally identified with Ēl. Another is that in much of the Hebrew Bible, the name El is an alternative name for Jehovah, but in the Elohist and Priestly traditions, it is considered an earlier name than Jehovah. Mark Smith argued that Yahweh and El were originally separate, but were considered synonymous from early on. The name Jehovah is used in the Bible Tanakh in the first book of Genesis 2:4, and Genesis 4:26 says that at that time, people began to “call upon the name of Jehovah.”

Response to the Melchizedek Argument

Mysterious biblical personality whose name means “king of righteousness.” The historical record about this priest-king is contained in Genesis 14:18–20, and he is spoken of in Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 5:10; 6:20; 7:1–17.

In Genesis 14:18–20 Kedorlaomer, king of Elam, with three other Mesopotamian kings, raided a vassal confederacy of five kings near the shores of the Dead Sea. In the ensuing massacre and rout by the Mesopotamian confederacy, Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family and possessions were captured (Gn 14:1–12). Abraham led an attacking force in pursuit of Lot’s captors, achieved victory, retrieved the plunder, and secured the release of Lot and his family (vv 13–16).

Upon his return, Abraham was greeted not only by the grateful kings of the Dead Sea confederacy but also by Melchizedek, king of Salem, who gave Abraham bread and wine along with his blessing as “priest of the most high God” (El Elyon) (Gn 14:18). Salem is Jerusalem (cf. Ps 76:2). El Elyon is not the pagan deity of Canaanite worship by the same name but rather the title of the true God who created heaven and earth—an idea foreign to Canaanite religion (cf. Gn 14:22; Pss 7:17; 47:2; 57:2; 78:56). Melchizedek correctly viewed Abraham as worshiping this same God (Gn 14:22) and praised God for giving victory to Abraham. Abraham identified himself with the worship of the one true God represented by Melchizedek in that he received his gifts and blessing and gave him a tenth of everything, thus recognizing Melchizedek’s higher spiritual rank as a patriarchal priest. In contrast, Abraham disassociated himself from Canaanite polytheism by declining gifts from the king of Sodom.

It is interesting to speculate whether Melchizedek’s knowledge of the true God was received by tradition from the past ages closer to the Flood, or whether he, like Abraham, had been uprooted from paganism to monotheism by direct divine revelation. It is at least clear from Hebrews 7:3 that his priesthood was isolated and not received through a priestly pedigree.

In Psalm 110:4 In this messianic psalm, David envisioned one greater than himself whom he called “Lord” (v 1; cf. Mk 12:35–37). Thus the perfect messianic king was not an idealization of the present ruler but someone to come. Also, he was to be not merely a man but more than this. The Messiah would be the Son of God as well as the son of David. The divine oracle of Psalm 110:4 is addressed to the Messiah: “You are a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek.” The significance of this statement is left for the inspired author of the letter to the Hebrews to develop.

In Hebrews 5:6–11; 6:20–7:28 The argument of the writer of Hebrews is that the priesthood of Aaron has been superseded by the superior priesthood of Christ and that the superiority of Christ’s priesthood is demonstrated by its Melchizedekian character. First, both Christ and Melchizedek are kings of righteousness and kings of peace (Heb 7:1–2). Second, both have a unique priesthood that does not depend on family pedigree (v 3). Third, both exist as priests continually (v 3).

Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, the father of Levi, because Melchizedek gave gifts to and blessed Abraham, and received tithes from him (7:4–10); David predicted the succession of the Melchizedekian priesthood over the Levitical priesthood, showing the imperfection of the latter (vv 11–19); the Melchizedekian priesthood of the Messiah was confirmed by a divine oath, which was not true of the Levitical priesthood (vv 20–22); and the Melchizedekian priesthood possessed an unchangeable and permanent character (vv 23–25).

Certain scholars have thought that Melchizedek was an appearance of the preincarnate Christ in the OT (technically called a Christophany). They argue this on the basis of Hebrews 7:3, which says that there is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors—no beginning or end to his life. However, this statement is simply to be understood in the sense that his priesthood was not connected to any priestly family line. Melchizedek had a priestly office by special divine appointment, and was thus a type of Jesus Christ in his priesthood. The writer of Hebrews says that Melchizedek was one “resembling the Son of God” (7:3); this clearly indicates that he was not himself the Son of God.[3]

The Rest of These Bible Critic Claims

To these liberal Bible critics, in some places, especially in Psalm 29, Jehovah is clearly envisioned as a storm god, something not true of Ēl so far as they know (although true of his son, Ba’al Haddad). Jehovah is prophesied to battle Leviathan the serpent one day, and slay the dragon in the sea in Isaiah 27:1. The slaying of the serpent in myth is a deed attributed to both Ba’al Hadad and ‘Anat in the Ugaritic texts, but not to Ēl.

Such mythological motifs are variously seen as late survivals from a period when Yahweh held a place in theology comparable to that of Hadad at Ugarit, or as late henotheistic/monotheistic applications to Yahweh of deeds more commonly attributed to Hadad; or simply as examples of eclectic application of the same motifs and imagery to various different gods. Similarly, it is argued inconclusively whether Ēl Shaddāi, Ēl’ Ôlām, Ēl’ Elyôn, and so forth, were originally understood as separate divinities. Albrecht Alt presented his theories on the original differences of such gods in Der Gott der Väter in 1929. But others have argued that from patriarchal times, these different names were in fact generally understood to refer to the same single great god, Ēl. This is the position of Frank Moore Cross (1973). What is certain is that the form ‘El does appear in Israelite names from every period including the name Yiśrā’ēl (“Israel”), meaning “El strives.” Actually, being that El is a generic term meaning “god” or “God” Israel means Contender (Perseverer) With God; or, God Contends.

According to The Oxford Companion to World Mythology,

It seems almost certain that the God of the Jews evolved gradually from the Canaanite El, who was in all likelihood the “God of Abraham”… If El was the high God of Abraham—Elohim, the prototype of Yahveh—Asherah was his wife, and there are archaeological indications that she was perceived as such before she was in effect “divorced” in the context of emerging Judaism of the 7th century BCE. (See 2 Kings 23:15.)

The apparent plural form ‘Ēlîm or ‘Ēlim “gods” occurs only four times in the Tanakh. Psalm 29, understood as an enthronement psalm, begins:

A Psalm of David.

Ascribe to Jehovah, sons of Gods (bênê’ Ēlîm),

Ascribe to Jehovah, glory and strength

Psalm 89:6 (verse 7 in Hebrew) has:

For who in the skies compares to Jehovah,

who can be likened to Jehovah among the sons of God (bênê’ Ēlîm).

Traditionally bênê’ ēlîm has been interpreted as ‘sons of the mighty,’ ‘mighty ones,’ for ‘El can mean ‘mighty,’ though such use may be metaphorical (compare the English expression [by] God awful). It is possible also that the expression’ ēlîm in both places descends from an archaic stock phrase in which ‘lm was a singular form with the m-enclitic and therefore to be translated as ‘sons of Ēl.’ The m-enclitic appears elsewhere in the Tanakh and in other Semitic languages. Its meaning is unknown, possibly simply emphasis. It appears in similar contexts in Ugaritic texts where the expression bn ‘il alternates with bn’ ilm, but both must mean ‘sons of Ēl’. That phrase with m-enclitic also appears in Phoenician inscriptions as late as the fifth century BCE.

One of the other two occurrences in the Tanakh is in the “Song of Moses,” Exodus 15:11a:

Who is like you among the Gods (‘ēlim), Jehovah?

The final occurrence is in Daniel 11:36:

And the king will do according to his pleasure; and he will exalt himself and magnify himself over every god (‘ēl), and against the God of Gods (‘El’ Elîm) he will speak outrageous things, and will prosper until the indignation is accomplished: for that which is decided will be done.

There are a few cases in the Tanakh where some think ‘El referring to the great god Ēl is not equated with Yahweh. One is in Ezekiel 28:2, in the taunt against a man who claims to be divine, in this instance, the leader of Tyre:

Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre: “Thus says the Lord Yahweh: ‘Because your heart is proud and you have said: “I am ‘ēl (god), in the seat of ‘elōhîm (gods), I am enthroned in the middle of the seas.” Yet you are man and not ‘El even though you have made your heart like the heart of ‘elōhîm (‘gods’).’”

Here’ ēl might refer to a generic god, or to a highest god, Ēl. When viewed as applying to the King of Tyre specifically, the king was probably not thinking of Yahweh. When viewed as a general taunt against anyone making divine claims, it may or may not refer to Yahweh depending on the context.

In Judges 9:46 we find ‘Ēl Bêrît ‘God of the Covenant’, seemingly the same as the Ba’al Bêrît ‘Lord of the Covenant’ whose worship has been condemned a few verses earlier. See Baal for a discussion of this passage.

Psalm 82:1 says:

‘elōhîm (“god”) stands in the council of ‘ēl

he judges among the gods (Elohim).

This could mean that Yahweh judges along with many other gods as one of the council of the high god Ēl. However it can also mean that Yahweh stands in the Divine Council (generally known as the Council of Ēl), as Ēl judging among the other members of the council. The following verses in which the god condemns those whom he says were previously named gods (Elohim) and sons of the Most High suggest the god here is in fact Ēl judging the lesser gods.

An archaic phrase appears in Isaiah 14:13, kôkkêbê ‘ēl ‘stars of God’, referring to the circumpolar stars that never set, possibly especially to the seven stars of Ursa Major. The phrase also occurs in the Pyrgi Inscription as hkkbm’ l (preceded by the definite article h and followed by the m-enclitic). Two other apparent fossilized expressions are arzê-‘ēl ‘cedars of God’ (generally translated something like ‘mighty cedars’, ‘goodly cedars’) in Psalm 80:10 (in Hebrew verse 11) and kêharrê-‘ēl ‘mountains of God’ (generally translated something like ‘great mountains’, ‘mighty mountains’) in Psalm 36:7 (in Hebrew verse 6).

For the reference in some texts of Deuteronomy 32:8 to seventy sons of God corresponding to the seventy sons of Ēl in the Ugaritic texts, see `Elyôn.

Rational Response to The Liberal Scholarship Irrational Dissecting and Twisting of the Scriptures

El, again, is a generic term meaning “Mighty One; Strong One.” (Ge 14:18) It is used to reference Jehovah, other gods, and men. Also, it is used for human names, such as Elisha (meaning “God Is Salvation”) and Michael (“Who Is Like God?”). At times, El has the definite article (ha·ʼElʹ, literally, “the God”) regarding Jehovah, distinguishing him from other gods. – Ge 46:3; 2Sa 22:31.

In Isaiah 9:6, Jesus Christ is prophetically called (אֵל גִּבּוֹר El Gibbor), “Mighty God.” In Genesis 17:1, Jehovah is called (אֵל שַׁדַּי El Shaddai) “God Almighty.”

The plural form (ּאֵלִם elim) is a generic term as well and can serve many duties, as when referring to other gods, such as in Exodus 15:11 “Who is like you, O Jehovah, among the gods?”). It is also used as the plural of majesty and excellence, as in Psalm 89:6, which was mentioned by the liberal Bible critics above. It reads, “For who in the skies can be compared to Jehovah? Who among the sons of God [בִּבְנֵי אֵלִים biveneh Elim] is like Jehovah.” Who are the sons of God here, and what did the Psalmist mean by his words? The sons of God are angels, and 89:6-7 refers to the extraordinary respect that developed among the angels as they meditated on the magnificent qualities of the Almighty God as seen in his creative works and his love.

Another generic Hebrew word (אֱלֹהִים elohim) (God/gods) means “mighty one” or “be strong.” Elohim is the plural of (אֱלַֹה ʾĕlōah) “god.” At times this plural refers to several gods (Gen. 31:30, 32; 35:2). However, it refers to the plural of majesty, dignity, or excellence in most cases. Elohim is used in the Scriptures concerning Jehovah himself, angels, idol gods (singular and plural), and men.

When (אֱלֹהִים Elohim) applies to Jehovah, it is used as a plural of majesty, dignity, or excellence. (Gen 1:1) Regarding this, Aaron Ember wrote: “That the language of the O[ld] T[estament] has entirely given up the idea of plurality in . . . [ʼElo·himʹ] (as applied to the God of Israel) is especially shown by the fact that it is almost invariably construed with a singular verbal predicate, and takes a singular adjectival attribute. . . . [ʼElo·himʹ] must rather be explained as an intensive plural, denoting greatness and majesty, being equal to The Great God.”—The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. XXI, 1905, p. 208.

The title Elohim emphasizes Jehovah’s strength as the Creator, and it occurs 35 times alone in the account of creation. On every one of those occasions, the Hebrew verb explaining what he said and did is singular. (Ge 1:1–2:4).

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament,

93 אלה (ʾlh). Assumed root of the following.

93a           אֵל (ʾēl) god, God.

93b           אֱלַֹה (ʾĕlōah) god, God.

93c           אֱלֹהִים (ʾĕlōhîm) gods, God.

ʾlh is the assumed root of ʾēl, ʾĕlōah, and ʾĕlōhîm, which means “god” or “God.” The Ugaritic term for “god” or the “chief god” is ʾil, plural ʾilm, occasionally plural ʾilhm (cf. UT 19: no. 163). The Phoenician term is ʾl “El”; the plural is ʾlm which seems to be construed sometimes as a singular (cf. Z. Harris, Grammar of the Phoenician Language, Jewish Publication Society, 1936, p. 77). The Aramaic is ʾĕlāh, plural ʾĕlāhîn. The Akkadian form is ilu.

The view that the three Hebrew terms come from one root is much disputed and a final verdict is lacking. Some hold that the two are distinct, deriving ʾēl from the root ʾwl (strong). Others see ʾĕlōhîm derived from the root ʾlh, together with ʾĕlōah, that root meaning “fear.” Still others hold that both ʾēl and ʾĕlōhîm come from ʾĕlōah.

More probable is the view that ʾĕlōhîm comes from ʾĕlōah as a unique development of the Hebrew Scriptures and represents chiefly the plurality of persons in the Trinity of the godhead (see ʾĕlōhîm).

ʾĕlōah is also a basic Hebrew term for the God of Israel, but is used less frequently (see ʾĕlōah and ʾēl, a separate though perhaps related generic term for God).

אֵל (ʾēl). God, god, mighty one, strength. In the common use of the word to denote either the generic name “god” or “the God” of Israel, the ASV and RSV are usually alike. However, in some specialized uses of the term they differ from KJV and from one another, e.g. ASV and RSV treat Jud 9:46 as a proper noun “El-Berith” while KJV translates “god”; Ps 29:1, RSV translates “heavenly beings” while ASV has “sons of the mighty”; Ps 50:1, ASV and RSV have “mighty one,” KJV “mighty God;” Ps 80:10 [H 11], ASV renders “cedars of God,” RSV has “mighty cedars” and KJV simply “goodly cedars”: Ps 82:1, ASV says “congregation of God” but RSV translates “Divine counsel”; Ps 89:6 [H 7]) ASV and KJV “sons of the mighty” but RSV “Heavenly beings”; Isa 57:5, KJV has “idols” but ASV, RSV read as another Hebrew word, “oaks”; and finally, Ezk 32:21, KJV and ASV “strong among the mighty” while RSV renders it simply “mighty chiefs.”

The primary meanings of this root as used in Scripture are “god” (pagan or false gods), “God” (the true God of Israel) and less frequently, “the mighty” (referring to men or angels). By far the predominant usage is for the true God and it is to this usage that we will give major attention.

The name “El” is a very ancient Semitic term. It is also the most widely distributed name among Semitic-speaking peoples for the deity, occurring in some form in every Semitic language except Ethiopic. Pope, in his study of “El” in the Ugaritic, notes that it is the most frequently occurring name for the deity in proper names throughout the ancient Semitic world (Marvin Pope, El in the Ugaritic Texts, p. 1).

We must agree with Pope that etymologically the bottom of the barrel has been scraped with little success (Pope, El in the Ugaritic Texts, p. 19). Most frequently mentioned suggestions for an original meaning are “power” or “fear” but these are widely challenged and much disputed. [It may be noted that even if the origin of the word in Canaanite or proto-Semitic is from a root meaning power, this by no means indicates the connotation in Hebrew religious usage. Our word “deity” comes from a root known in Sanskrit to mean “sky” but we do not worship a sky-god. r.l.h.]

The question of the relationship between the biblical use of ʾēl and the Semitic concepts of El has received much attention particularly since the discovery of the Ugaritic texts, which have apparently established the fact that the term El was used in reference to a personal god and not merely as a generic term in the ancient Semitic world.

Space will not allow us to develop the various points of view on this matter. The article by Frank M. Cross, published in 1975, in the first volume of the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, gives much attention to this. Certainly we do not have to accept the view that assumes an ancient polytheism in Israel which was gradually refined so that various gods such as El, Shaddai, and Elyon were finally merged into Hebrew monotheism under the heading of Elohim or Yahweh. The bibliography following this article suggests further reading for those who would like to pursue this matter.

A. B. Davidson has observed the pronounced tendency in Scripture to accompany ʾēl with epithets. Indeed, as we study the word as used in Scripture, we must conclude that it is almost always qualified by words or descriptions which further define the word. This leads A. B. Davidson to conclude that these qualifications both elevate the concept of El in Scripture and distinguish the term as used biblically from others who might be so named (A. B. Davidson, Theology of the Old Testament, p. 61).

A study of the various accompanying descriptions of El where the name occurs in Scripture leads to the rather solid conclusion that, from the beginning of the use of this term in Scripture, it was intended to distinguish the true El (God) from all false uses of that name found in other semitic cultures.

We note first the use of El in terms denoting God’s greatness or superiority over all other gods: haʾēl haggādôl “the great El” (Jer 32:18; Ps 77:13 [H 14]; 95:3); hāʾēl ʿōsēh peleʾ “El doing wonders” (Ps 77:14 [H 15]); ʾēl ʾēlîm “El of els” (“God of gods,” Dan 11:36); ʾēl ʾĕlōhê hārûḥôt lĕkol-bāśār “El, the God of the spirits of all flesh” (Num 16:22; 27:16).

Next, consider epithets relating to El’s position: ʾēl haššāmāyim “El of heaven” (Ps 136:26); ʾēl mimāʾal “El that is above” (Job 31:28); ʾēl ʾelyôn “El most high” (Gen 14:18–19, 20, 22; Ps 78:35).

Again, as a precaution against overfamiliarity with God because of the use of a common Semitic term, God is described as ʾēl mistatēr “El who hides himself” (i.e. known only by self-revelation, Isa 45:15). Yet God does see us at all times as Hagar affirmed, ʾēl rōʾî “El who sees me” (Gen 16:13).

Most specially El is accompanied in Scripture by those epithets which describe him as the Savior God of Israel. As such he is called hāʾēl hanneʾĕmān “Faithful El” (Deut 7:9); hāʾēl haqqādôš “Holy El” (Isa 5:16); ʾēl ʾĕmet “El of truth” (Ps 31:5 [H 6]; Deut 32:4); ʾēl šadday “Almighty El” (Gen 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 48:3; Ex 6:3; Ezk 10:5); ʾēl gibbôr “El the heroic” (Isa 9:6 [H 5]; 10:21); ʾēl dēʿôt “El of knowledge” (I Sam 2:3); ʾēl hakkābôd “El of glory” (Ps 29:3); ʾēl ʾôlām “El of eternity” (Gen 21:33): ʾēl-ṣaddîq “Righteous El” (Isa 45:21); and ʾēl qannāʾ “Jealous El” (Ex 20:5; Deut 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; Josh 24:19; Nah 1:2).

In contradistinction from all false “els” (gods), he is declared to be ʾēl ḥay the “Living El” (Josh 3:10; I Sam 17:26, 36; II Kgs 19:4, 16; Ps 42:2 [H 3]; 84:2 [H 3]; Isa 37:4; Jer 10:10, 23:36; Dan 6:20, 26 [H 21, 27]; Hos 1:10 [H 2:1]). In accord with strict biblical monotheism he is therefore ʾēl ʾeḥād, the one El (Mal 2:10). And in the passage most quoted elsewhere in the Old Testament El is described in terms of those attributes by which God desired to be known by his people (Ex 34:5–7; cf. Deut 4:31; II Chr 30:9; Neh 9:17, 31; Ps 103:8; Joel 2:13, etc.).

The very personal relationship between the El of Scripture and his believers is seen in the following epithets: hāʾēl bêt-ʾēl “the El of Bethel” (Gen 31:13; 35:7); ʾēl salʾî “El my rock” (Ps 42:9 [H 10]); ʾēl yĕšûʿātî “El my Savior” (Isa 12:2); ʾēl ḥayyāy “El of my life” (Ps 42:8 [H 9]); ʾēl gōmēr ʿālāy “El the performer on me” (Ps 57:3); “the El of … ” (Gen 49:25,etc.); ʾēlî “My El” (Ps 89:26 [H 27]; 102:24 [H 25]; 118:28); hāʾēl māʿûzzî “El my fortress” (II Sam 22:33); hāʾēl hamʾazĕrēnî ḥāyil “El the girder of me with strength” (Ps 18:32 [H 33]); hāʾēl hannōtēn nĕqāmôt lî “the El giving me vengeance” (Ps 18:47 [H 48]; II Sam 22:48).

Thus, in an evangelistic sense, he is described in such epithets as ʾēl mĕhōllekâ “El who begat you” (Deut 32:18); ʾēl môšîʿām “El their Savior” (Ps 106:21); ʾēl môṣîʾô mimmiṣraim “El his (their) bringer from Egypt” (Num 24:8; 23:22); ʾēl yĕšūrûn “El of Jeshurun” (Deut 33:26); and ʾēl ʾĕlōhê yiśrāʾel “El the God of Israel” (Gen 33:20).

Frequently therefore we find the term “El” combined with or associated with the personal name for Israel’s God, Yahweh (Josh 22:22; Ps 85:8 [H 9]; 118:27; Isa 42:5, etc.) which testifies that he is indeed ʾēl nōśēʾ El who forgives (Ps 99:8) and consequently hāʾēl yĕšûʿātēnû “El of our salvation” (Ps 68:19–20 [H 20–21]).

Whether or not the name El can be identified etymologically with the concept of fear, it is clearly often associated with this idea in biblical epithets. He is called hāʾēl haggādôl wĕhannôrāʾ “El, great and terrible” (Neh 1:5; 4:14; 9:32; Deut 7:21; 10:17; Dan 9:4) or simply, ʾēl naʿărāṣ “Terrible El” (Ps 89:7 [H 8]). He is also described as ʾēl gĕmūlôt “El of recompenses” (Jer 51:56) or more severely ʾēl nōqēm “El the revenger” (Ps 99:8; Nah 1:2), and sometimes simply ʾēl nĕqām “El of vengeance” (Ps 94:1). Being indignant is a continuous characteristic of El in Scripture (Ps 7:11 [H 12]).

Only in Job do we find extensive use of El without epithets. There the term is treated by Job and his friends as the common term for the true God and its use there, unlike other parts of Scripture, far outnumbers the occurrence of Elohim (q.v.).

אֱלַֹה (ʾĕlōah). God, god (ASV, RSV similar). The exact relationship between this name for God in Scripture and ʾēl or ʾelōhîm is disputed and far from settled. It occurs in some of the oldest ot poetry (Deut 32:15, 17) and very frequently (forty-one times) in the debates between Job (an ancient believer) and his friends. It appears therefore to be an ancient term for God which was later dropped for the most part until the time of the exile and after, when there was great concern for a return to the more ancient foundations. It is not frequently used outside Job. It occurs once in Isa, once in Prov, twice in Hab, four times in the Ps, and then in the postexilic books: II Chr, Neh, and Dan, a total of five times.

Marvin H. Pope in his Book, El in the Ugaritic Texts, has noted that ʾĕlōah never has the article although it is once determined by the suffix (Hab 1:11) and found once in the construct (Ps 114:7). He further points out that it never occurs in combination with another divine name.

We shall first look at the usage outside Job. Three times it occurs in parallel to “rock” as a descriptive term for God (Deut 32:15; Ps 18:31 [H 32]; Isa 44:8). Once it is found in a context in which God is described as a shield to those who take refuge in him (Prov 30:5). Three times it is used in a context of terror for sinners (Ps 50:22; 114:7; 139:19).

This would suggest that the term conveyed to God’s people comfort and assurance while conveying fear to their enemies. The concepts of strength and might conveyed by the term are further seen in the three successive verses of Daniel’s vision about the great anti-god (Dan 11:37–39). Here the anti-god’s god (ʾĕlōah) seems to be “strength” itself. In Hab 1:11 the term is used similarly.

In Hab 3:3, the prophet speaks of ʾĕlōah coming from Teman. In Job, Teman is associated with one of Job’s three friends, Eliphaz (Job 4:1). Interestingly, the term ʾĕlōah, used for God, is predominantly used in Job by Job and Eliphaz in their debating. Only in one context does Zophar use the term (11:5–7). Bildad never does. Of course Elihu uses it, perhaps in imitation of the former speakers (six times in chapters 33–37). God himself, in speaking to Job, uses the term twice: once in a context of his providence and once in parallel to “the Almighty” (see our discussion on the concept of might associated with the name).

This term for God was usually clearly used for Israel’s God, the true God. This is evident from the fact that the Levites in the postexilic period used the term in quoting the descriptive revelation of God given in Ex 34:6–7, where the original revelation to Moses had used El and Yahweh (Neh 9:17).

The Hebrew word is quite similar to the Aramaic ʾĕlah, the usual name for God in Biblical Aramaic. It has been suggested that the term has come, via Aramaic, from two elements: El and Ah (a shortened form of Ahyeh, Ex 3:14, “I shall be,” the designation of Yahweh in the first person; Feigin, Samuel I., “The Origin of lôh, ‘God’, in Hebrew,” JNES 3:259). This suggests the possibility that originally two separate gods were involved and later combined. Such a suggestion does not seem likely inasmuch as the term is in Scripture almost always used as a designation of the true God.

It is probably akin to the term El. It was in use quite early, then, after a period of neglect among God’s people, the term was revived to a limited use perhaps through the contacts with Aramaic, where a similar term was in constant use.

אֱלֹהִים (ʾĕlōhîm). God, gods, judges, angels. (Generally, agreement is found in ASV and RSV, however in some passages where the meaning is not clear they differ from KJV: Ex 31:6, where RSV has “God” but KJV “the judges”; similarly in Ex 22:28 [H 27] where RSV has “God” but KJV “the gods” or as a margin “judges.”) This word, which is generally viewed as the plural of ʾĕlōah, is found far more frequently in Scripture than either ʾēl or ʾĕlōah for the true God. The plural ending is usually described as a plural of majesty and not intended as a true plural when used of God. This is seen in the fact that the noun ʾĕlōhîm is consistently used with singular verb forms and with adjectives and pronouns in the singular.

Albright has suggested that the use of this majestic plural comes from the tendency in the ancient near east toward a universalism: “We find in Canaanite an increasing tendency to employ the plural štorôt ʿstartesʾ, and natôt ʿnathsʾ, in the clear sense of totality of manifestations of a deity’ ” (William F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity, 2d ed., p. 213). But a better reason can be seen in Scripture itself where, in the very first chapter of Gen, the necessity of a term conveying both the unity of the one God and yet allowing for a plurality of persons is found (Gen 1:2,26). This is further borne out by the fact that the form ʾĕlōhîm occurs only in Hebrew and in no other Semitic language, not even in Biblical Aramaic (Gustav F. Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament, p. 88).

The term occurs in the general sense of deity some 2570 times in Scripture. Yet as Pope has indicated, it is difficult to detect any discrepancy in use between the forms ʾēl, ʾĕlōah, and ʾĕlōhîm in Scripture (Marvin H. Pope, El in the Ugaritic Texts, p. 10).

When indicating the true God, ʾĕlōhîm functions as the subject of all divine activity revealed to man and as the object of all true reverence and fear from men. Often ʾĕlōhîm is accompanied by the personal name of God, Yahweh (Gen 2:4–5; Ex 34:23; Ps 68:18 [H 19], etc.).

While the individual occurrences of the term ʾĕlōhîm for God are far too numerous to treat here, some significant appositives and descriptive phrases or clauses associated with the name are given below. These descriptive words attached to the noun ʾĕlōhîm really serve as titles and indicate the various titles by which God’s people came to know him. The term ʾĕlōhîm is the favorite term in titles. They are usually attached by means of the construct, the relative clause or by participial phrases rendered as titles.

The first category of titles pertains to his work of creation: Isa 45:18, “God, Former of the Earth”; Jon 1:9 “God of Heaven Who Made the Sea and the Dry Land.”

A second category of titles expresses God’s sovereignty: Isa 54:5, “God of All the Earth”; I Kgs 20:28, “God of the Hills”; Jer 32:27, “God of All Flesh.” The God of All the Kingdoms of the Earth” (cf. Isa 37:16); God of Heaven (Neh 2:4, 20); “Yahweh God of the Heaven” (Gen 24:7; II Chr 36:23); God in the Heaven (II Chr 20:6); “The Lord God of the Heaven and God of the Earth” (Gen 24:3; see Deut 4:39; Josh 2:11); and finally “God of gods and Lord of Lords, the Great, the Mighty, and the Terrible Who Does Not Regard Favorites and Does Not Take Bribes” (Deut 10:17). All of these titles may be subsumed under the rather brief “God Most High” (Ps 57:2 [H 3]).

As sovereign God, ʾĕlōhîm is often described as Judge: simply “God Judge” (Ps 50:6; 75:7 [H 8]) or “God Judge in the Earth” (Ps 58:11 [H 12]).

Another category of titles focuses around God’s majesty or glory. Among these we find “God of Eternity” (Isa 40:28); “God of Justice” (Isa 30:18); “God of Certainty” (Isa 65:16); “Living God” (Jer 10:10); and “This Holy God” (I Sam 6:20).

By far the most frequent category of titles are those pertaining to the Savior God. Here we include numerous constructs in which God is linked to individuals whom he has called: “Their God” (Gen 17:8); “The God of Abraham” (Gen 26:24); “The God of Abraham … and the God of Isaac” (Gen 28:13); “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex 3:6), etc. (More than one hundred such titles are found in the Old Testament.) Sometimes to these titles is added the personal name, “Yahweh” (Gen 24:12).

Similarly, we find titles linking God by the construct grammatical form to Israel as a whole or to some part of it: “God of the Armies of Israel” (I Sam 17:45) or “God of Jerusalem” (II Chr 32:19).

All of these represent God as savior of his people as does the simple “God of Salvation” (I Chr 16:35; Ps 18:46 [H 47], etc.; cf. Ps 88:1 [H 2]).

Some titles reflect God’s actions on behalf of his people in the past: “The Living God, Speaker from the Midst of the Fire” (Deut 5:23 [H 26]; cf. I Kgs 18:24); “God, the Bringer of Prisoners into Prosperity” (Ps 68:7); “God … the Bringer out to you Water from the Flinty Rock” (Deut 8:15); “Your God Who Separated You from the Peoples” (Lev 20:24).

And finally, we find titles expressing the intimacy of God with his people: “The God of Nearness” (Jer 23:23); “Your God in Whom you Trust” (II Kgs 19:10); “God Your Chastener” (Deut 8:5); The God Feeding Me My Life Long Until Now”(Gen 48:15); “God of My Righteousness” (Ps 4:1 [H 2]); “God of My Mercy” (Ps 59:17 [H 18]); “God of My Strength” (Ps 43:2) and “Our God Being Merciful” (Ps 116:5).

In reference to one particularly difficult passage from the point of view of interpretation, which therefore bears on the translation, Cyrus Gordon has said, “It is my contention that here (Ex 22:8–9 [H 7, 8]) ʾĕlōhîm does not mean God as the LXX translates, nor judges, which is the interpretation of Peshitto and Targum Onkelos, followed by Rashi and Ibn Ezra, by several English versions and by the Lexicon” (Cyrus H. Gordon,“ ʾĕlōhîm in its reputed meaning of rulers, judges,” JBL 54:140,149. He goes on to demonstrate to his own satisfaction that from our knowledge of the Nuzi tablets we can conclude that “gods” is the better translation and that the passage refers to the “oaths of the gods” which he calls a well attested ancient oriental court procedure. He therefore sees this text as a heathen survival in the Mosaic legislation, one that was obliterated in the later Deuteronomic and priestly recensions.

This is unacceptable from the point of view of Scripture’s attestation to being God’s Word and its clear doctrine of the existence of only one God. The question of whether “God” or “judges” is to be used here is difficult. If “God” is correct, we understand by the passage that every man is ultimately answerable to God and stands or falls before God no matter what judgment men may make.[4]

The true God is not some nameless God. His name is Jehovah. (Deut 6:4; Ps 83:18) He is the God and Creator of all. (Gen. 1:1; Rev. 4:11) The true God is real (John 7:28), not some development of false gods in Canaan; he is a real person. – Ac 3:19; Heb 9:24.

[1] It was in the latter half of the nineteenth century that higher criticism began to be taken seriously. These critics rejected Moses as the writer of the Pentateuch, arguing instead that the accounts in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were based on four other sources [writers] written between the 10th and the 6th centuries B.C.E. To differentiate these sources one from the other, they are simply known as the “J,” “E,” “D,” and “P” sources. The letters are the initials to the name of these alleged sources, also known as the Documentary Hypothesis. In the false teaching, the Documentary Hypothesis, the capital letter “J” is used to represent an alleged writer. In this case, it stands for any place God’s personal name, Jehovah, is used. It is argued that this author is perhaps a woman as it is the only one of their presented authors who is not a priest. (Harold Bloom, The Book of “J”) They date the portion set out to “J” to c.850 B.C.E. Some scholars place this author in the southern portion of the Promised Land, Judah. Another writer is put forth as “E,” for it stands for the portion that has Jehovah’s title Elohim, God. Most higher critics place this author c.750–700 B.C.E. Unlike “J,” this author “E” is said to reside in the northern kingdom of Israel. The author “P” is a priest, with his lineage going back to Moses. More on “P” below, It is also proffered that he bought this office. In addition, it is argued that an editor combined “J” and “E” after the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians but before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, which they date to about 722 BC.E. These same critics hold out that the language and theological content of “D,” Deuteronomy, is different from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Thus they have another author. They argue that the priests living in the northern kingdom of Israel gathered “D” over several hundred years; however, it was not until much later that “D” was combined with the earlier works. It is also said that the “D” writer (source) was also behind Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings (Dtr). It is suggested strongly that, in fact, this is the book found in the temple by Hilkiah the high priest and given to King Josiah. (2 Kings 22:8) It is further put forth that J/E/D were fused together as one document in about 586 B.C.E. The source critics use the capital letter “P” for Priestly. This is because this portion of the Pentateuch usually relates to the priesthood. For instance, things like the sacrifices would be tagged as belonging to this author. Many scholars suggest that “P” was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, which they date at 586 B.C.E. Others put forth that it was written during the exile of seventy years, the Priest(s) composing this holy portion for the people who would return from exile, while others say it was written after the exile, about 450 B.C.E. These liberal scholars find no consensus on when this supposed author “P” wrote this portion of the first five books. The critics tell us that the final form of J/E/D/P was composed into one document about 400 B.C.E. Hebrew Old Testament scholar Gleason L. Archer Archer writes, “The Wellhausen school started with the pure assumption (which they have hardly bothered to demonstrate) that Israel’s religion was of merely human origin like any other and that it was to be explained as a mere product of evolution.” (Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2007), 98.) In other words, Wellhausen and those who followed him begin with the presupposition that God’s Word is not that at all, the Word of God, but is the word of mere man, and then they reason into the Scripture not out of the Scriptures based on that premise. As to the effect, this has on God’s Word and those who hold it as such; it is comparable to having a natural disaster wash the foundation right out from under our home.

The Documentary Hypothesis—Defending Moses’ Authorship of the Pentateuch

[2] Many have argued over just who Melchizedek was. Was he a real historical person, like Noah’s son Shem? Was he an angel, or some superhuman being? Was he an appearance of Christ prior to his coming to earth as the Son of God? The Apostle Paul in the book of Hebrews, chapter 7, helps his readers to see that Melchizedek was a type of Christ, and Christ was a priest and king in the manner of Melchizedek.

Melchizedek was a real historical person, who was born and died. However, the account can be used to highlight features of similarity by the greater Melchizedek, Jesus Christ. The Melchizedek account does not mention his mother and father, not his descendant, or the birth or death, it is simply left out. Accordingly, Melchizedek could aptly foreshadow Jesus Christ, who has an unending priesthood. Jesus had no predecessor or successor to his priesthood. Moreover, Jesus’ Priesthood and Kingship are not the results of human ancestors, but by being appointed by the Father.

[3] Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 878.

[4] Jack B. Scott, “93 אלה,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 41–45.



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