El (god)

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El is

  • a generic term for “ god ”, “divine being” or “divine nature” in many Semitic languages (hence the Arabic title Allah , “the god”),
  • the name of the highest god of the Ugarites in the 2nd millennium BC,
  • a title for YHWH , the only God of the Israelites in the Tanakh . The Hebrew plural of El אֵל, Elohim אַלִּים also אֱלֹהִים ("gods"), became an alternative name for YHWH יְהֹוָה, e.g. B. in יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל YHWH hosts God of Israel
  • a theophoric name , that is, a “God-bearing” component of personal names, place names or properties in the Tanach, which refers to YHWH.


For the first time the name El appeared around 1400 BC. In the cuneiform texts of Ugarit . Depending on the context, the word means the proper name of God or the generic term. In Ugaritic mythology , ʿEl is paraphrased using the Ugaritic i l , plural or dual i lm as the “builder of the built”, “father of humanity” or “creator of creation” (bny bnwt) . The word i lm occurs in large mythological texts, where in some word combinations it usually means the plural of the generic name. The sun goddess Šapšu carries the predicate nrt i lm , “lamp of the gods”. Even in Ugarit's small texts, the plural predominantly denotes the general term God. In contrast, the singular i l predominantly denotes the proper name.

For a time, El held the position of supreme god for part of the Ugaritic population. He was given the nickname "King", "The Friendly" or "Bull". The call "Taurus-El" is meant to emphasize his outstanding strength and power and suggests that the bull was his symbol.


El is represented in Ugaritic mythology as the creator of the earth. His dwelling is the source of the two rivers of the underground depth . A cuneiform tablet (the "myth of the kind and beautiful gods") tells: El surprised the goddesses ( Athirat and Šapšu ) at a well and made them pregnant, first Šahar , the deity of the dawn, and her brother Šalim , the god of the dusk, conceived, later anonymous demons. The totality of all gods thus begotten is called Banu Elima ("El-Sons").

The name of El's first wife Athirat , the mother of the gods, is found in various paraphrases such as Athirat, Elat and Qudšu, which in translation mean "the female deity" or "the saint". She is also called "Mistress Athirat of the Sea". In the sources she has her own place of residence apart from El and also makes decisions on her own. Seventy gods and goddesses are considered to be her and El's common children, others are the children of El's second wife Šapsu.

The society of gods appears at regular intervals in front of El on a high mountain. There, decisions are made about actions to be taken, since every subordinate god has to follow Els's instructions. For example, Ba'al has to ask permission before he can kill the sea god Yam . Ba'al's sister, the moon goddess Anat , only gets El's approval for Baal's plan after she threatens violence.


El is represented in human form and in royal robes. In pictures he can be seen with gray hair as a sign of his old age. A 13 centimeter high bronze sculpture shows a seated god with a beard and an Egyptian Atef crown . He wears a long coat with a Syrian beaded hem and sandals. The right hand is raised in a gesture of blessing. The bull horns, an object in his left hand, and the throne on which the figure, not clearly identified as El, sat, have disappeared. On the 47 centimeter high so-called "El-Stele" made of serpentine sits on the right a bearded god with a long cloak and horned crown, his feet rest on a stool. Opposite him stands as a prayer the king with a crown on his head, in his hands he holds a scepter and a jug with offerings.


The texts from Ugarit from the 2nd half of the 2nd millennium BC Chr. Represent the most important testimonies about El. A typical prayer to El is:

Oh El! Oh sons of Els!
Oh assembly of the sons of El!
Oh meeting of the sons of Els
Oh El and Ashirat
Be gracious, oh El
Be support, oh El
El, hurry, El, come quickly
to the help of Zaphons ,
to the help of Ugarits
With the lance, oh El,
with the raised, oh El .
With the battle ax, oh El,
with the smashing one, oh El.

Change among the sea peoples

With the invasion of the so-called Sea Peoples around 1200 BC A sudden change from Els to Ugarit began. The city itself was destroyed by the Sea Peoples. El lost its importance in this region over the next two hundred years. From approx. 1000 BC The name Athirat, his first wife, no longer appears. A new god, Ba'alšamen (Phoenician) or Be'elšamen (Aramaic) dissolved from around 1000 BC. Chr. El in Ugarit finally from.

With the advance of the Sea Peoples, new names came up. The Bible names the Philistines as residents of the coastal region of Palestine and early enemies of the Israelites in pre-state times. They are considered related to the Phoenicians , who settled mainly in the coastal area in the region of the destroyed Ugarits to Sidon .

El lost its importance in these regions. Athirat was only mentioned by the Philistines. As in the region of the destroyed Ugarit, the new god Ba'alšamen / Be'elšamen was now given preference over ʿEl.

With Philon von Byblos the family tree of Phoenician deities begins with Eliun and his wife Beruth, whose descendants Uranos and Ge together fathered a family tree from a total of seven generations with over 40 deities. Among them was El ( Kronos ), who, after growing up, defeated his father Uranus and made himself ruler in his place.


Kinship god of the Arameans and Hebrews

In Genesis , El is combined with the names of the semi-nomadic clan heads to whom he first appeared. This uses El like a name:

  • "God of my (your) father"
  • "God of our (your) fathers"
  • "God of Abraham" (El Avraham)
  • "God of Isaac" (El Jitzchaq)
  • "God of Jacob" (El Ja'aqov)

The combination “God of my father” probably originally only referred to one's own family father ( Gen 26.24  EU ; 46.1 EU ), so that his god differed from other family gods. This is shown by old fathers' stories such as the meeting of Jacob with his relative, the Aramean Laban ( Gen 31: 5, 29, 42  EU ). Also in the Joseph story ( Gen 43.23  EU ) it says distantly and singularly: "Your God and the God of your father has given you a treasure ..." In Gen 31.53  EU it says clearly: "The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor - the god of her father! - be judge between us. ”Only after several clans merged into one tribe, the“ God of my (your, your, their) father ”became the“ God of our (your, their) fathers ”.

The combination of Els with personal names is often considered to be the early stage of an ancient oriental monotheism in which God was still nameless. It is controversial whether the names denote fictional ancestors of clans and tribes or real people. From the finds of clay tablets from the Mesopotamian city of Mari from around 1900 BC. One knows names like Abram, Isaac and Jacob, which denoted individual Aramaic persons.

In the course of a presumed second Aramaic migration wave (around 1500 BC), groups of semi-nomads from Mesopotamia and Syria or from the Sinai Peninsula came to the fertile cultivated land of Canaan , where they met and exchanged their stories. Their deities were probably already identified with each other, so that rankings such as "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" ( Ex 3.6  EU ) arise and could be summarized as "God of our (your) fathers" ( Ex 3.16  EU ).

On the basis of such observations, the Old Testament scholar Albrecht Alt put forward the influential thesis of the “God of the Fathers” as a preliminary stage of the YHWH religion. For him, "the decisive characteristic is not the firm bond to a place, but the constant relationship with a group of people". As in the later all-Israeli YHWH belief, the father religion emphasized the relationship between God and man, God and social group. The lack of local ties made her, according to Alt, “all the more flexible in responding to all changes in the fate of the admirers”.

The gods of the fathers did not need a pilgrimage to a permanent sanctuary and no mediation by priests whose duties the father of the family took over. They were always present to their people and were probably worshiped without any image. Only in the land of culture they were victims offered ( Gen 31.54  EU ; 46.1 EU ). Their task was to protect the clan from all kinds of dangers on the way ( Gen 28.15  EU ; 31.3.5 EU , 35.3 EU ; 46.4 EU ), to move with them ( Gen  EU ) and for to care for their right to life. As patron gods of a clan, they were especially responsible for the gifts on which the future of all depended: land, descendants and peace with neighboring peoples ( Gen 12: 1-3  EU ).


El is also combined with various attributes in the Bible. For El Olam and El Aeljon see below. Hagar , the maid and mother of Ishmael who was cast out by Abraham's first wife Sarah , calls God El-Roï (Hebrew אל רואי) after her rescue from dying of thirst : “God who sees me” ( Gen 16.13  EU ). Gen 33:20 speaks of "El, God of Israel".


In some places that are counted among the priestly components of the Pentateuch ( Gen 17.1  EU ; Ex 6.3  EU ), El and the epithet become שדי Schaddaj formed the divine designation El Schaddai . More common, however, is the use of Shaddai as an independent designation for God, without El . The meaning of Shaddai is unclear. The Zurich Bible takes this into account by continuously transcribing Schaddai like a proper name. The Septuagint has Pentateuch El Shaddai , depending on the speech situation, as your God and my God given, so understood as שדי relativischen connection (see. The relative particles Hebrew שand Aramaic די). The most common playback but "the Mighty", so in the Vulgate of Hieronymus ( latin omnipotens ) and in the King James . Shaddai is already translated as Pantocrator in the Greek translation of the Book of Job .

A connection with the Hebrew verb שדד schaddad (“to be violent”, “to devastate”) is usually assumed as an etymology . Then Schaddai could be translated as “mighty” or “destroyer”, cf. Isa 13,6  ZB . But Schaddai is also traced back to the Hebrew word schad (" breast "), which is suggested by Gen 49.25  ZB . Some exegetes associate Schaddai with the Akkadian word schadu ("mountain"; as a verb: "rise") and then translate the name as "God the Most High" or "God the Most High". Others derive it from the Neo-Assyrian schaddaju ("mountain dweller") and translate the name as "god of the mountains" with regard to passages such as Gen 49.25  ZB and Ps 68.15  ZB . The Canaanite god El was inextricably linked with the mountains. Bernhard Lang brings the name Schaddai, also mentioned several times in the book of Job ( Hi 40,1–2  EU ), in connection with the Egyptian god Sched , the Horus- shaped god of wild animals, and interprets him as the lord of the fields (the mountain steppe).

Identification with YHWH

The real history of Israel as a people in its own right begins in the 2nd book of Moses : therefore, the rankings of paternal names recede from there. The combination “God of Moses ” is also missing, although he was called to ExEU similar to the patriarchs. Instead, terms like “God of the Hebrews” or “God of Israel” dominate.

In the calling history of Moses (Ex 3), El, known as the God of the Fathers, introduces himself for the first time with his proper name JHWH (v. 14). According to Ex 6.3  EU , YHWH is the one who was known to the fathers under the name El Schaddaj . This relates to God's self-conception as El Schaddaj in Gen 17  EU . This conspicuous periodization of salvation history has often been viewed as a feature of a hypothetical source and editing of the Pentateuch, the exiled priestly pamphlet . Pentateuch texts that designate God as El Schaddaj have been assigned to this source.

According to Gen 14.18–24  EU , Abraham identified El with YHWH . After a victorious battle he met the priest-king Melchizedek of Salem (later Jerusalem ). He had blessed him in the name of El Aeljon , "the one who created heaven and earth". Thereupon Abraham Melchizedek paid the “ tithe of everything”, that is, a share of his spoils of war and called his God “ YHWH , who made heaven and earth”. From this it is concluded that the inhabitants of Salem, the Jebusites , lived around 1200 BC. A creator god El Aeljon ("God the Most High") worshiped, who was not identical with the father gods. The city god of Be'er Scheva El Olam ("God the Eternal", Gen 21.33  EU ) was called similarly . The attributes of Aeljon and "creator of heaven and earth" (that is, of the entire known cosmos) are not documented in the finds of Ugarit; a related creation myth is also missing. Outside the Bible, ancient inscriptions only attest to an “El, Creator of the Earth”; the attribute “creator of heaven” is missing. Nevertheless, a connection between El Aeljon and a Canaanite creation myth is assumed. Whether the Melchizedek scene reflected an early recognition of this Canaanite creator god by Hebrew semi-nomads or was created afterwards to legitimize Jerusalem as a place of YHWH worship is controversial. What is certain is that YHWH was only called the creator of the world late in the Bible and that the creator attribute comes from the religion of Canaan.

According to another theory of the history of religion, the Israelites and the Canaanites both originally worshiped the same god El , from whom YHWH developed. The god father El, known from Ugarit, was identified with YHWH in such a way that YHWH was first worshiped as the highest, later as the only god, and in the last development step the existence of the other gods was contested.

Theophore place names and proper names

In Genesis, the name El is often combined with place names and proper names and then added:

  • Isra-El : "who quarrels with God" or "warrior of God" ( Gen 32.29  EU )
  • Ishmael : "God hears" ( Gen 16.11  EU )
  • Bet-El : literally "House of God", a cult place of Els in the later northern Reich of Israel , which the infiltrating nomads took over ( Gen 31.13  EU ). The legend of the origin ( etiology ) for this is Jacob's vision of the ladder to heaven, whereupon he erects a stone monument to this god ( Gen 28.10–22  EU ).

and other.


  • Klaus Koch: The Yahwä-El synthesis. In: Klaus Koch: The God of Israel and the Gods of the Orient - Religious History Studies II. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 352553079X , pp. 13-18
  • Walter Baumgartner: History of the Israelite religion: Basel lectures. Debreceni Református Hittudományi Egyetem, 2004, ISBN 9638429429
  • Wolfram Herrmann: El. In: Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter W. van der Horst (eds.): Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Leiden 1999, ISBN 90-04-11119-0 , pp. 274-280.
  • Manfred Weippert: Yahweh and the other gods. Studies on the religious history of ancient Israel in its Syrian-Palestinian context, research on the Old Testament 18, Mohr Siebeck Tübingen 1997.
  • Rolf Rendtorff: El as an Israelite name for God. Journal for Old Testament Science (ZAW) 106, 1994, pp. 4-21.
  • Walter Beltz : God and the Gods - Biblical Mythology. Structure, Berlin 1990, ISBN 3-351-00976-3 .
  • Werner H. Schmidt: Kingship of God in Ugarit and Israel: On the origin of Yahweh's king predication. (ZAW 80, 1966) Reprint: Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2013, ISBN 3110055775

Web links

Wiktionary: El  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Mechon Mamre Jeremiah Chapter 27 יִרְמְיָהוּ
  2. Otto Eißfeldt: El in the Ugaritic pantheon. 1951, pp. 5-24, 40-44
  3. Izak Cornelius, Herbert Niehr: Gods and Cults in Ugarit. Culture and religion of a northern Syrian royal city in the Late Bronze Age. Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 2004, p. 44f, ISBN 3-8053-3281-5
  4. Martin Noth: Mari and Israel. A personal name study. In: History and Old Testament: Contributions to Historical Theology 16, 1953
  5. Quoted from Werner H. Schmidt: Old Testament Faith in Its History. 4th edition, Neukirchener Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1982, p. 21
  6. Roger Aubrey: Discovering God. Xulon Press, 2008, ISBN 978-1-60647-364-1 , p. 39
  7. Jan Bauke-Ruegg: The omnipotence of God. Systematic-theological considerations between metaphysics, postmodernism and poetry. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-11-015905-8 , p. 343
  8. Roger Aubrey: Discovering God. 2008, p. 37.
  9. Bernhard Lange: Yahweh. The biblical god. Munich 2002, p. 131 f.
  10. Jan Bauke-Ruegg: The omnipotence of God. Systematic-theological considerations between metaphysics, postmodernism and poetry. Berlin 1998, p. 348 and note 106
  11. Werner H. Schmidt: Old Testament Faith in its History. 4th edition, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1982, p. 146f.
  12. Herbert Niehr: The highest God. Old Testament YHWH belief in the context of the Syrian-Canaanite religion of the 1st millennium BC Chr. Berlin / New York 1990.