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  • El

    El (deity)

    El-02.jpg ’Ēl (or ’Il, Hebrew: אל; Syriac: ܐܠ‎; Arabic: إل‎ or إله‎;) is a Northwest Semitic word meaning "God-(male-deity)" as a proper name .

    Who Is El?

    El was known as the supreme god of the Canaanites in the mythology of the ancient Near East. He was the father of gods and men and the creator deity. He is sometimes depicted as a bull and known for his tremendous power and strength.


    El was an important god in Canaanite mythology. It is believed that he lived on Mount Saphon, close to the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit. He was very respected and was considered by the people to be all-knowing and all-powerful. He was incredibly wise and compassionate to those that came to him for guidance, but not always.

    Legends and Stories

    There are not many myths that focus specifically on El. Instead, he finds a small roll in myths focused on other figures. To make it even more difficult to learn about him, many of the original tablets that spoke about him were discovered in poor shape, making several parts of myths involving El difficult to interpret.

    Aqhat’s Myth

    A story sourced from the city of Ugarit tells of Aqhat, the son of King Daniel. The king had been providing Kothar, the craftsman god, with a room in his palace. To show his gratitude for the gracious hospitality, Kothar gave Aqhat his personal bow and arrows. But the goddess Anat was upset and wanted the bow for herself. She tried to buy it from Aqhat with gold and silver but the prince refused her offer. She tried again to purchase the bow from him, offering him immortality this time. The prince was offended by the offer and told the goddess that he was a man destined to die and should not be cursed with immortality.

    Anat was upset and went to El. She asked that the prince be killed. El gave her permission but upon Aqhat’s death, the land suffered a great drought and crops would no longer grow. Anat was upset and wanted to bring the prince back to life so that the people would no longer starve. As previously mentioned, the tablets containing Canaanite myths were poorly preserved, and the ending to this myth is unknown.

    Baal’s Myth

    Baal was the son of El, according to many accounts, but there are also sources that say he might have been more of a distant relative. Baal complained to El that he didn’t have a magnificent house like so many of the other gods did. He felt that he deserved such a house as he had just conquered Yam. El agreed and had a house built for Baal.

    When the house was completed, Baal held a celebration. However, he did not invite his twin brother Mot. This angered Mot, who decided to invite him to the underworld, as he was the god of death. Though Baal was concerned, he didn’t want to risk insulting his brother again and took him up on his invitation. When Baal visited Mot, he saw that the table was set for a large feast. The food served was the food of death and when Baal ate it, he found himself trapped in the underworld.

    While Baal was trapped, El began to search for someone to replace him. El’s wife suggested her son Ashtar. Ashtar was the god of irrigation but quickly realized that he could not fill Baal’s place, for when he sat on his throne he could not even reach the ground with his feet. El continued to look for a successor but once Baal’s wife fought Mot and was able to bring Baal back, the two continued to rule together.


    El was a supreme god. He was married and some sources say that he had over 70 children. Here are some of the more notable members of his family.


    Asherah was El’s wife and a Canaanite mother-goddess. She was also a sea-goddess and in some accounts is referred to as “Lady of the Sea”. She goes under many other names, including Lady of Byblos, Mother of the Gods, Queen of the Sea and Hathor.


    Baal is said to be the god under El. Together, they ruled in tandem with Baal being the fertility god and god of storms. He was married to his sister Anat and possible had several other wives, including Arisya, Baalat, Padriya and Talliya. He fought a battle for control of the earth with Yam and killed Lotan, the serpent. It is said that he lived in Sapan, a large dwelling above the Earth which had a large hole in the floor so that he could water the ground below. His twin brother was Mot and when Baal died, his wife Anat fought and killed Mot, who was the god of the underworld. Baal was then brought back to life and regained his command. He is usually depicted as a strong warrior with a horned helmet.


    Keret fought and defeated Etrah, the moon-god, who tried to take the kingdom from him. His wife was Hurriya, who passed before bearing him any children. Because he was childless, Keret went to a neighboring kingdom and stole the king’s daughter. He had seven sons with his new wife. One of them, Yasib, would fight Keret for his throne. Keret won the battle, even though he was ill. He was eventually cured by El.


    Mot was the god of death. When he was killed by Anat, his body was cut up and ground under her millstone.
    Other children of El and Asherah include Adad, Anobret Atak and Yahweh.


    In artistic representations, El is normally pictured as an older man with a very long beard. Because he was commonly referred to as “The Bull”, many pictures show him sitting down and wearing a crown with bull’s horns attached to it.


    Because El was often referred to as “The Bull” he is associated with the animal and more specifically, the horns of the animal. He was also immortal, with the ability to live forever.

    Proto-Sinaitic, Phoenician, Aramaic, and Hittite texts

    The Egyptian god Ptah is given the title ḏū gitti 'Lord of Gath' in a prism from Tel Lachish which has on its opposite face the name of Amenhotep II (c. 1435–1420 BCE). The title ḏū gitti is also found in Serābitṭ text 353. Cross (1973, p. 19) points out that Ptah is often called the Lord (or one) of eternity and thinks it may be this identification of ʼĒl with Ptah that lead to the epithet ’olam 'eternal' being applied to ʼĒl so early and so consistently. (However, in the Ugaritic texts, Ptah is seemingly identified rather with the craftsman god Kothar-wa-Khasis.)

    A Phoenician inscribed amulet of the seventh century BCE from Arslan Tash may refer to ʼĒl.

    The text was translated by Rosenthal (1969, p. 658) as follows:
    An eternal bond has been established for us. Ashshur has established (it) for us, and all the divine beings and the majority of the group of all the holy ones, through the bond of heaven and earth for ever, ...

    However, Cross (1973, p. 17) translated the text as follows:
    The Eternal One (‘Olam) has made a covenant oath with us, Asherah has made (a pact) with us. And all the sons of El, And the great council of all the Holy Ones. With oaths of Heaven and Ancient Earth.

    In some inscriptions, the name ’Ēl qōne ’arṣ meaning "ʼĒl creator of Earth" appears, even including a late inscription at Leptis Magna in Tripolitania dating to the second century. In Hittite texts, the expression becomes the single name Ilkunirsa, this Ilkunirsa appearing as the husband of Asherdu (Asherah) and father of 77 or 88 sons.

    In a Hurrian hymn to ʼĒl (published in Ugaritica V, text RS 24.278), he is called ’il brt and ’il dn, which Cross (p. 39) takes as 'ʼĒl of the covenant' and 'ʼĒl the judge' respectively.

    Ugarit and the Levant

    For the Canaanites and the ancient Levantine region as a whole, Ēl or Il was the supreme god, the father of mankind and all creatures. He also fathered many gods, most importantly Hadad (Ishkur, also known as Hadad, or Baal), Yam, and Mot, each sharing similar attributes to the Greco-Roman gods: Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades respectively.

    As recorded on the clay tablets of Ugarit, El is the husband of the goddess Asherah.

    Ishkur, also known as Hadad, or Baal
    Three pantheon lists found at Ugarit (modern Ras Shamrā—Arabic: رأس شمرا‎, Syria) begin with the four gods ’il-’ib (which according to Cross; is the name of a generic kind of deity, perhaps the divine ancestor of the people), Ēl, Dagnu (that is Dagon[ and Ba’l Ṣapān (that is the god Haddu or Hadad). Though Ugarit had a large temple dedicated to Dagon and another to Hadad, there was no temple dedicated to Ēl.

    Ēl is called again and again Tôru ‘Ēl ("Bull Ēl" or "the bull god"). He is bātnyu binwāti ("Creator of creatures"), ’abū banī ’ili ("father of the gods"), and ‘abū ‘adami ("father of man"). He is qāniyunu ‘ôlam ("creator eternal"), the epithet ‘ôlam appearing in Hebrew form in the Hebrew name of God ’ēl ‘ôlam "God Eternal" in Genesis 21:33 He is ḥātikuka ("your patriarch"). Ēl is the grey-bearded ancient one, full of wisdom, malku ("King"), ’abū šamīma ("Father of years"), ’El gibbōr ("Ēl the warrior"). He is also named lṭpn of unknown meaning, variously rendered as Latpan, Latipan, or Lutpani ("shroud-face" by Strong's Hebrew Concordance).

    "El" (Father of Heaven / Saturn) and his major son: "Hadad" (Father of Earth / Jupiter), are symbolized both by the bull, and both wear bull horns on their headdresses.

    In Canaanite mythology, El builds a desert sanctuary with his children and his two wives, leading to speculation that at one point El was a desert god.

    The mysterious Ugaritic text Shachar and Shalim tells how (perhaps near the beginning of all things) Ēl came to shores of the sea and saw two women who bobbed up and down. Ēl was sexually aroused and took the two with him, killed a bird by throwing a staff at it, and roasted it over a fire. He asked the women to tell him when the bird was fully cooked, and to then address him either as husband or as father, for he would thenceforward behave to them as they called him. They saluted him as husband. He then lay with them, and they gave birth to Shachar ("Dawn") and Shalim ("Dusk"). Again Ēl lay with his wives and the wives gave birth to "the gracious gods", "cleavers of the sea", "children of the sea". The names of these wives are not explicitly provided, but some confusing rubrics at the beginning of the account mention the goddess Athirat, who is otherwise Ēl's chief wife, and the goddess Raḥmayyu ("the one of the womb"), otherwise unknown.

    In the Ugaritic Ba‘al cycle, Ēl is introduced dwelling on (or in) Mount Lel (Lel possibly meaning "Night") at the fountains of the two rivers at the spring of the two deeps. He dwells in a tent according to some interpretations of the text which may explain why he had no temple in Ugarit. As to the rivers and the spring of the two deeps, these might refer to real streams, or to the mythological sources of the salt water ocean and the fresh water sources under the earth, or to the waters above the heavens and the waters beneath the earth.

    In the episode of the "Palace of Ba‘al", the god Ba‘al Hadad invites the "seventy sons of Athirat" to a feast in his new palace. Presumably these sons have been fathered on Athirat by Ēl; in following passages they seem be the gods (’ilm) in general or at least a large portion of them. The only sons of Ēl named individually in the Ugaritic texts are Yamm ("Sea"), Mot ("Death"), and Ashtar, who may be the chief and leader of most of the sons of Ēl. Ba‘al Hadad is a few times called Ēl's son rather than the son of Dagan as he is normally called, possibly because Ēl is in the position of a clan-father to all the gods.

    The fragmentary text R.S. 24.258 describes a banquet to which Ēl invites the other gods and then disgraces himself by becoming outrageously drunk and passing out after confronting an otherwise unknown Hubbay, "he with the horns and tail". The text ends with an incantation for the cure of some disease, possibly hang-over.

    Hebrew Bible

    The Hebrew form (אל) appears in Latin letters in Standard Hebrew transcription as El and in Tiberian Hebrew transcription as ʾĒl. In the Tanakh, ’elōhîm is the word for the great god (or gods, given that the 'im' suffix makes a word plural in Hebrew). But the form ’El also appears, mostly in poetic passages and in the patriarchal narratives attributed to the Priestly source of the documentary hypothesis. It occurs 217 times in the Masoretic Text: seventy-three times in the Psalms and fifty-five times in the Book of Job, and otherwise mostly in poetic passages or passages written in elevated prose. It occasionally appears with the definite article as hā’Ēl 'the god' (for example in 2 Samuel 22:31,33–48).

    The theological position of the Tanakh is that the names Ēl and ’Ĕlōhîm, when used in the singular to mean the supreme god, beside 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 Israelite religion.

    It is said in Genesis 14:18–20 that Abraham accepted the blessing of El, when Melchizedek, the king of Salem and high priest of its deity El Elyon blessed him. One scholarly position is that the identification of Yahweh with Ēl is late, that Yahweh was earlier thought of as only one of many gods, and not normally identified with Ēl. The Elohist and Priestly traditions conceive El as an earlier name than Yahweh. Mark Smith has argued that Yahweh and El were originally separate, but were considered synonymous from very early on. Deuteronomy 32:8 states that El gave Yahweh his portion, Isreal.

    The Destruction of Leviathan
    by Gustave Doré (1865)

    In some places, especially in Psalm 29, Yahweh is clearly envisioned as a storm god, something not true of Ēl (although true of his son, Ba'al Hadad). It is Yahweh who is prophesied to one day battle Leviathan the serpent, 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" or "struggled with El".

    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.)[33]

    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 Yahweh, sons of Gods (bęnę ’Ēlîm), Ascribe to Yahweh, glory and strength

    Psalm 89:6 (verse 7 in Hebrew) has:
    For who in the skies compares to Yahweh, who can be likened to Yahweh among the sons of Gods (bęnę ’Ēlîm).

    Traditionally bęnę ’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 15:11:
    Who is like you among the Gods (’ēlim), Yahweh?

    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 Bęrît 'God of the Covenant', seemingly the same as the Ba‘al Bęrît '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.

    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.

  • #2
    Northern El versus Southern Yahweh

    Northern El versus Southern Yahweh?

    Golden-calf.jpgHistorically, as well as in the Biblical narrative, Yahwistic monotheism took root first in the southern kingdom of Judah, with the Temple of Jerusalem at its center. According the documentary hypothesis, various strands in the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible—reflect the theological views of several different authors. The verses that use "El" are thought to represent a tradition characteristic of the northern tribes, while the verses that speak of Yahweh come from a southern tradition.

    The north/south theological split is also referred to directly in the Bible itself. When Israel and Judah went their separate ways during the reign of Jeroboam I of Israel, Jeroboam stressed his kingdom's spiritual independence from Judah by establishing two northern religious shrines, one just north of Jerusalem at Bethel, the other further north in Dan. He is recorded as announcing:
    "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here is Elohim, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt" (1 Kings 12:28).

    English translations usually render "elohim" in this case as "gods," but it is more likely "God." Since El was often associated with a sacred bull (see below), it is also likely that the golden bull-calf statues erected at these shrines represented an affirmation of El (or Yahweh/El) as the chief deity—if not the only god—of the Kingdom of Israel.