El Shaddai

This important title, often found in connection with name ‘El, is found in several biblical passages in reference to Israel’s God (e.g., Gen.17.1; 28.3; 35.11;49.25; Ex. 6.3; Num. 24.4, 16; Ps. 68.15; Job 8.3,5, etc.). [1] ‘El-Shaddai is P’s favored title for God before the revelation of the divine name to Moses. But what is its meaning, and what is its historical derivation? Traditionally, following the LXX (i.e., the Septuagint, or ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), which uses pantokrator, and the Vulgate (a Latin translation of the Bible by St. Jerome), which uses omnipotens, the term has often been rendered in English translation as “Almighty,” but it is now generally considered that this interpretation is fallacious, and possibly stems from a similar sounding Hebrew root $-d-d, meaning “to destroy.” Some modern scholars have suggested several other possibilities, such as connecting it with the Hebrew word $ad, meaning breast. However, since ‘El-Shaddai was a male diety, this seems somewhat unlikely. Another suggestion is that it is related to the Hebrew word sadeh, meaning “field.” However, this root uses a different sibilant (sin) in its root than does Shaddai (shin).

The most widely accepted scholarly view is that ‘El-Shaddai means “El, the mountain one,” relating shaddai to an Akkadian word $adum, “mountain.” Besides being a strong cognate, there are also several other historical factors that seem to lead to this conclusion. For instance, F.M. Cross has noted a Hurrian hymn which specifically describes El as “the one of the mountain.” The word is also used to describe the Amorite deity (Ilu-)Amurru, whose consort is A$ratum, the counterpart of the Canaanite high god ‘El’s consort Athirat (Asherah). Moreover, the Deir ‘Alla instription uses $dyn in parallel with ‘ihn, in reference to the gods of the assembly. Finally, ‘El and his divine assembly met on a mountain.

Given all of these factors then, ‘El-Shaddai very plausibly means “El, the mountain one,” and is most probably originally a divine title or epithet derived from the Canaanite high god ‘El.

Notes

[1] I have relied primarily on John Day’s discussion of this epithet in his section “El-Shaddai” in Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan. Journal for the study of the Old Testament, 265. (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 32-34.

  • http://kolobiv.blogspot.com Bored in Vernal

    Much as men hate associating their male God with “the Breasted One,” there are actually some good reasons for associating El Shaddai with this Hebrew word. I hate to see you dismiss it so summarily. Can’t remember all the arguments–but there is a lot of symbolism having to do with nourishing, supplying and satisfying. Just real quickly from the Wikipedia entry:

    An alternative view proposed by Albright is that the name is connected to shadayim which means “breasts” in Hebrew. It may thus be connected to the notion of God’s fertility and blessings of the human race. In several instances it is connected with fruitfulness: “May God Almighty [El Shaddai] bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers…” (Gen. 28:3). “I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]: be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 35:11). “By the Almighty [El Shaddai] who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts [shadayim] and of the womb [racham]” (Gen. 49:25).

  • The Yellow Dart

    Ouch BiV! :-D

    I didn’t mean to offend you. I don’t mind female imagery at all. I will look into what you are suggesting a bit further. Sorry again!

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  • http://kolobiv.blogspot.com Bored in Vernal

    Oh, don’t worry, I’m not offended, just looking at possibilities.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Bored: the interpretation of “breasts” is very unlikely since El had a female consort Athirat who was represented a breasted deity in clay figures. The reference to breasts of El, given that no figure of El with breasts has been found, is unlikely in extremis.

    I doubt that any of YD’s statements have anything do with “what men hate” as you assert. Do men really hate breasts anywhere?

  • http://kolobiv.blogspot.com Bored in Vernal

    lol, Blake.
    And haven’t you ever heard of symbolism?

  • http://adrr.com/ Stephen M (Ethesis)

    El, the mountain one though shad appears to mean mountain shaped things, as in breasts, which is why the words are similar. I remember a long lecture on El Shaddai from thirty years ago or why God, the Mighty is also a good translation for El Shaddai based on all the meanings and variations shad has.

  • http://heartissuesforlds.wordpress.com Todd Wood

    I wondered if this thread was going to talk about breasts.

    In some of the museums of Turkey, I saw some figurines loaded with breasts.

    But on the topic of El-Shaddai, my all time favorite is hearing the song sung on BYU-Idaho radio.

  • http://abev.wordpress.com john f.

    Todd, in those Turkish museums I think what you saw was Artemis of Ephesus.

  • Breastfeeding Christian Mother

    I definitely agree with BIV and from my experience, the “all breasty one” view is the most commonly cited. I know that some people that want to label God as a Goddess might misconstrue this and so it may make some uncomfortable, but its more that God although male is perfect and complete in One entity. Isaiah 66:13 says: As a mother comforts her child,
    so will I comfort you;
    and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”


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