Yahweh & Shaddai: A Case of Syncretism in the Bible

Yahweh & Shaddai: A Case of Syncretism in the Bible



        Were Yahweh and Shaddai originally separate deities who were later syncretized into one god in the ancient Israelite religion, with aspects of Yahweh dominating the role? The evidence collected in this paper has developed a working hypothesis that answers this question in the affirmative. There is evidence that the Priestly writer and the Redactor of the Hebrew Bible may have known about this original separation and that the Priestly writer may have played an active, deliberate role in the transition to a single deity. The onomastic profile of these two names was collected from numerous academic texts regarding the religion, language, and archaeology of the Israelites and their neighbors. This, combined with a careful exegesis of the relevant text, supports the case for these deities having distinct origins.

        Throughout history, cultures from across the world have intermingled and shared ideas, languages, and religions. When studying religions, there are many times when syncretism is clearly obvious. At other times, the correlations are not as clear, and some effort must be put forward to untangle the webs of syncretism. Most cultures develop as threads in a complex and connected tapestry and not in isolation from surrounding cultures. To get to the foundational meaning behind a particular text, one needs to study its producing culture’s context and history.

        Exodus 6:2-3 sparked this research and is one of many mysterious passages in the Bible. The examination of the meaning and intent of these verses may suggest a significant and profound history of the Israelite religion easily overlooked in a cursory reading.

“And God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am YHWH [i].

And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shadday [ii],

and I was not known to them by name, YHWH.”

Exodus 6:2-3 (Friedman 2003: 128)

      It is often taken for granted that the deity (YHWH) who is speaking is indeed one and the same as El Shaddai, but could these verses be hinting at an ancient assimilation going on within the Israelite religion? The Bible is often seen as a monolith in religious tradition, a bulwark of cohesive theology. Yet its true richness and meaning can only be sifted out when remembering that it is an anthology from a people evolving through history alongside their cultural neighbors.

 Introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis

        While working through the proposed question, literary criticism [iii] of the Bible plays an important role. The Documentary Hypothesis is a widely accepted theory developed by Julius Welhausen in the late 19th century, which states that the first five books of the Bible were redacted from primarily four sources designated as J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), P (Priestly), and D (Deuteronomic) (Coogan 2006: 23). The Documentary Hypothesis was developed using in depth literary criticism to explain the use of different names for God, patterns in language, themes, doublets, vocabulary, and contradictions in the text (Coogan 2006: 23). The original sources, however, remain hypothetical because the original documents have never been found (Coogan 2006: 23). This theoretical original text is referred to as the “Urtext” (Brettler 2005: 22). The Documentary Hypothesis was not without its combatants (such as the notable rabbinic scholar Solomon Schechter) because of the negative image Welhausen painted of the Hebrew Bible, that of a hodgepodge of stories trying to piece together a decaying religion (Brettler 2005: 4). However, the negative overtone of Welhausen’s work does not diminish the importance of it (Brettler 2005: 4). It continues to be a helpful theory for scholars, providing what appears to be an adequate framework for the relative chronology of the text.

        The different sources were written (or formed from earlier sources) at different dates and locations. The J source is estimated to have come from a time roughly between 922 – 722 BCE, most likely by someone living in the southern kingdom of Judah (Friedman 2003: 3). This source is named after YHWH (or, Yahweh)[iv] (Friedman 2003: 3). In this source, the name YHWH was known to the biblical characters from the beginning of time, whereas in the E and P sources, the name YHWH was not known to biblical characters until it was revealed to Moses in Exodus (Friedman 2003: 56). The E source is also from 922 – 722 BCE like J, but it was probably written by a priest in the northern kingdom of Israel (Friedman 2003: 4). The E source is named for its use of the words Elohim and El for God (Friedman 2003: 4). The word el is the singular form of elohim and it generically means “god” in Hebrew, and it is also the proper name of the head of the Canaanite pantheon (Harris 2011: 138). Elohim is also used in biblical Hebrew for “gods” and other supernatural entities (Sarna 1966: 205). At some point after they were written, the J and E were meshed together by a redactor (Friedman 2003: 4). The P source came from a time after J and E, possibly either shortly after or later in the 5th and 6th centuries (Friedman 2003: 4). The E, J, and P sources each either imply or outright claim that El Shaddai, El, Elohim, and Yahweh were the same God, the difference is when the name Yahweh was introduced to the Israelites, and which was the preferred name of the narrator. J is the only one that has biblical characters using the name Yahweh from the beginning. The D source originated from multiple sources some as early as (or perhaps earlier than) J and E, but it was first formed around 622 BCE (Dtr1) [v], around the reign of King Josiah and a second edition was formed after the Babylonian exile in 587 BCE (Dtr2) (Friedman 2003: 5). The D source is primarily seen in Deuteronomy.                                         

Iron Age Levant Map of Israel and Judah

       Map 1: Iron Age Levant (Dever 2001, 109)

        At some point, all of these original documents were arranged by a final redactor (R), although the date and location of this redaction is unknown (Friedman 2003: 5). The dates of these sources pose a problem for research of the early development of the Israelite religion, as the dates are so far removed from when the religion is traditionally thought to have begun. The biblical text (as we know it) appears to have been written a couple of hundred years after the religion began, as Abraham was thought to have been born around 1800 BCE and Moses around 1400 BCE (“Abraham”, “Moses”). See figure 1 below for a graphical representation of the sources’ chronology.

Figure 1: The Biblical Sources Timeline[vi]

        There is a noteworthy number of cultural differences between the northern and southern kingdom as can be seen through the material remains discovered by archaeologists (Smith 2002: 15). Strikingly, however, the homogeny between the Canaanites and early Israelites (in the Judges period) is curious when considering that later the Israelites distinguished themselves more from each other. During the biblical writing period, the southern kingdom of Judah (from where the J source originated) and the northern kingdom of Israel (E source) distinguished themselves from each other through pottery, tombs, language, and social customs[vii] (Smith 2002: 15). To add to the complexity of the historiography, we have more sources for the late monarchy than we do the pre-monarchic era, within which lie the foundations of the Israelite religion (Smith 2002: 15). According to Mark S. Smith, a biblical scholar and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, “Because the Hebrew Bible received its fundamental formation in the city of Jerusalem, the biblical information pertaining to royal religious policy derives largely from the southern kingdom.” (Smith 2002: 12). Some of the differences in the J and E source reflect the distinction between the two kingdoms. See table 1 below for some examples of the different themes and stories of the biblical sources.


Adam & Eve, the talking snake
Seven days of creation
The Flood
The Flood
southern geographical settings
northern geographical settings
focus on Judah
focus on Ephraim
anthropomorphic imagery for God
impersonal and cosmic imagery for God
impersonal and cosmic imagery for God
Mountain of Moses' revelation is Sinai
Mountain of Moses' revelation is Horeb
starts in the Moses story after he returns to Egypt to rescue the Hebrews (later YHWH appears on Sinai)
Reuel was the name of Moses’ father-in-law
Jethro was the name of Moses’ father-in-law
Biblical characters knew the name of YHWH from the beginning
although not used in the text until Exodus 3, there is an assumption the biblical characters knew the name of YHWH
although known to the narrator, the name of YHWH was not known to any biblical character until Exodus 6
the plagues of Egypt
the plagues of Egypt
God speaks directly to people
God uses dreams and prophets
God is accessed through priesthood
 Table 1: Themes & Stories of the Biblical Sources[viii]

 The Israelites’ Relationship to the Canaanites­

        The following is a very brief introduction to the relationship between the Israelites and the Canaanites. This is to provide context behind the development of the Israelite religion. The narrative of the Bible portrays the Canaanites as foreigners to the Israelites. They were a people from whom the Israelites were (and should continue) to be separated. According to the Bible, the Canaanite religion posed a threat to the Israelites, as pagan worship was forbidden and represented a breach in their contract with God. Intermarriage was frowned upon and, at times, punishable by death. God’s people were blessed as being utterly unique, chosen, and separate. However, the language and archaeology tell a different story.

        Archaeological remains show very few differences between the material cultures of Israel and Canaan in the Iron Age (1200-1000 BCE), the period immediately preceding the J and E sources (Smith 2002: 6). In addition to material culture, the language as well carried little variations (Smith 2002: 20). Israelite funerary practices and rituals concerning the dead seem to have stemmed from Canaanite beliefs (Smith 2002: 165). These similarities are quite significant to the evolving history of the people. On the other hand, we also need to acknowledge that there may have been some cultural separation between the two. We have primary source evidence that the Israelites and Canaanites were somehow differentiated. For example, the Egyptian Merneptah Stele from around 1208 BCE lists both Canaan and Israel separately [ix] (Smith 2002: 25). Early Israelite occupation began in the hilly region of the middle Levant in the late13th-12th centuries and then produced a massive increase in population by the 11th century (theoretically contributed to by immigration) by the 11th century (Dever 2001: 110). There is little evidence to support the biblical stories, such as in the book of Joshua, that Israel invaded the territory (Dever 2001: 119).

        What we know of the Canaanite religion primarily comes from the religious text found at Ugarit (Ras Shamra), dating from around 1500 BCE (Smith 2002: 2). Although these texts are from only this one city, the deities in the texts are found throughout Canaan on inscriptions from the Late Bronze Age through Iron I, indicating the immediacy between the Ugaritic religion and Canaanite religion (Smith 2002: 28). The Israelite god Yahweh manifested several elements that were associated with the Canaanite gods El, Baal, and Asherah (Smith 2002: 8). While El appeared in the Bible as the Israelite God, Baal and Asherah were mentioned as foreign deities in the Bible and their influence in Israelite religion is highly debated as many scholars see them as competition to Yahweh in the popular religion (although condemned in the official religion), while others see them almost as side notes, having little effect on the Israelite religion (Smith 2002: 3-4).

        Just how much these Canaanite cults affected the official Israelite religion is still debated, but the Israelites did worship Baal and Asherah, even though it was not always endorsed by the religious leaders (Smith 2002: 7). Baal and Asherah worship were repeatedly condemned throughout much of the Hebrew Bible. In both Judah and Israel, Baal worship seemed to prosper, especially in the northern kingdom (Smith 2002: 72). Some political leaders would often participate in paganism while others would denounce such practices and would institute reforms to obliterate them (Smith 2002: 9). The Bible seems to link Yahweh and the cults of El, Baal, and Asherah in the Judges period (Smith 2002: 31). This is reflected in archaeological evidence a short time later in the 8th century, through texts at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirtbe el-Qom which feature Yahweh in connection with El, Baal, and Asherah (Dever 2001: 184-186). Solomon’s Temple also did not differ in structure from other Canaanite temples (Armstrong 1993: 25). In fact, archaeologists have found Canaanite-Phoenician counterparts (from the 15th – 9th centuries) for every major feature of Solomon’s Temple (Dever 2001: 145). There are distinctions, however, such as the ban on consuming pork in the Israelite religion shown in the archaeological record, something not attested to in Canaanite religion or archaeology (Dever 2001: 113).
    “In conclusion, according to the available evidence, Israelite religion in its earliest form did not contrast markedly with the religions of its Levantine neighbors in either number or configuration of deities.” (Smith 2002: 64). This sort of assimilation should be kept in mind as we explore the origins of Yahweh and Shaddai.


Melchizedek: An Example of Syncretism in the Bible

        Genesis 14 is a remarkable chapter and one that may connect with this discussion in an interesting way. To start off, from a literary perspective this chapter appears to be very distinct, and it does not contain features which can identify it with the J, E, P, or D sources (Friedman 2003: 52; Sarna 1966: 111). This makes the chapter unique, and it stands out in the flow of text. This chapter describes Abraham’s battles with local Canaanite kings in Transjordan, a unique military theme in and of itself, as Abraham was not a king. A clue to its dating may be in the use of some of the names used in the passage. While most of the kings’ names in this chapter are unknown in extra-biblical texts, the use of the town name of Dan places the text after the Israelite occupation of that area (Sarna 1966: 111-113). Although it does not make sense within the context for Abraham to lead a great army, there is archaeological evidence in the Transjordan area which shows a major invasion at the end of the Middle Bronze I period (approximately 2200-2000 BCE) (Sarna 1966: 113). The invasion in the archaeological record severely devastated the Transjordan and Negev and disrupted civilization there (Sarna 1966, 113). The fascinating yet brief story of Melchizedek in the second half of the chapter is made even more tantalizing by the apparent historic foundation of the first half.

        Melchizedek was the Canaanite priest-king of Salem, the town which is believed to have eventually become Jerusalem (Harris 2011: 85). Although Abraham was the first patriarch of those who would be become Israelites, the text implies that the deity Melchizedek worshiped was the same as YHWH, whom Abraham worshiped (Sarna 1966: 116-117). The J source says that YHWH called him to leave his home of Ur, near the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia, and to come live in Canaan (Genesis 12:1; Friedman 2003: 50). The P does not mention God’s involvement until Abraham is already in Canaan and it is then that God appeared to Abraham and announces, “I am El Shaddai” (Genesis 17:1; Friedman 2003: 56)

        Melchizedek worshiped El Elyon, the head of the Canaanite pantheon, which is translated as “God Most High” (Coogan 2010: 31). In verses 19 and 20, Melchizedek gave Abraham a blessing, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High [El Elyon], maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High [El Elyon] who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” (Coogan 2010: 31). After Melchizedek offered Abraham to take the spoils of the war, Abraham replied, “I have sworn to the LORD [YHWH], God Most High [El Elyon], maker of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” (Coogan 2010: 31). This short and enigmatic passage eventually became an important theological concept. In Psalms 110:4, God christens King David into a line of priest-kings, saying “The LORD [YHWH] has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’” (Coogan 2010: 866). References to Melchizedek appear in the New Testament in the 5th, 6th, and 7th chapters of Hebrews. Today Melchizedek holds a predominant role in some Christian sects and cults.

        This introduction to Melchizedek was included in this paper as an example of religious syncretism in the Bible. In the J source, humanity “begun to invoke the name of YHWH” back in the time of Adam and Eve (Genesis 4: 26; Friedman 2003: 40). However, for both E and P, YHWH’s name was not known until Moses. For all three sources, God’s involvement with specific individuals was limited to Noah and the flood and then (many generations later) Abraham. A Canaanite priest-king in Salem (Jerusalem) theoretically should have had only a precursory notion of the God that appeared to Abraham, if he had any knowledge of him at all. The Bible does not say anything about an established cult for God (the God of Noah and Abraham) at this point. A possibility could have been that the tradition of El Elyon derived from the stories from Noah, which could have been passed down through the generations[x]. Without a doubt however, this is a clear example of a pre-Israelite (Canaanite) deity being absorbed into the Israelite religion.

The Onomastics of YHWH / Yahweh

        The revelation of the name YHWH to Moses is a fascinating event in the biblical narrative. It happens once in Exodus 3:14-15 (E source) and again in Exodus 6:2-3 (P source)[xi] (Friedman 2003: 123 & 128). It is interesting to note that the events after both name revelations seem to be copies, almost as if they were separate stories combined into one narrative.[xii] After both the first and the second revelation, YHWH tells Moses to go to pharaoh to demand the release of the Israelites, Moses protests to YHWH that he is not a good choice for the task, and then YHWH instructs Moses to perform miracles as proof of his calling when people question him. After the first request, pharaoh punishes the Israelite slaves and they become angry with Moses, but this is mysteriously not referenced in the P source in Exodus 6. The only evidence in Exodus 6 that the events of Exodus 3 had happened is verse 12, which (along with verse 13) appears to be from the Redactor (Friedman 2003: 128).

        When the E source in Exodus 3 reveals God’s name Yahweh to Moses, there is an assumption that the Israelites already knew the name even though the E source did not use the name up until this point[xiii]. This is a theologically significant difference between the P and the E sources (although not the only difference). Koog P. Hong, professor at Yonsei University, expands on this idea in his article “Elohim, the Elohist, and the Theory of Progressive Revelation.” He contends there is textual evidence (such as sources bundling their preferred epithets in certain passages) that the E source did not intend have the same startling revelation of God’s name as the P source (Hong 2017: 330-332).

Etymology of YHWH

        The etymology of the name YHWH has long been debated and analyzed by scholars. There is no definitive meaning to the word, although it is generally thought to have been derived from the Hebrew verb “to be” (hâyâh) (Coogan 2006: 89). The original Hebrew text did not contain vowels, deepening the mystery. Some Hebrew words contain matres lectionis, consonants which indicated which vowel sounds are to be used. Outside of words containing these matres lectionis, the pronunciation (which can affect the meaning) was inferred and/or memorized until the rabbinic period (beginning around 500 CE) when scholars began to add pointing to the text, which are marks that indicate vowel sounds. However, when pointing the text, they did not point the personal name of God, YHWH. This was to avoid reading the name out loud, as it is considered sinful to take God’s name in vain. When they did use vowels, they used the vowels for ‘adōnāy¸ which means “lord” (Zevit 2013: 57). YHWH is often replaced with the word LORD in many versions of the Bible. The precise pronunciation of the name has been lost to history, but “Yahweh” (YAH-way) is generally considered to be the most reasonable pronunciation of the name (Coogan 2006: 89). The name also came to be known as Jehovah and the Tetragrammaton [xiv].

        God introduced himself to Moses three times in Exodus 3, shortening his title/name as he went. When Moses first asked who the deity was who he was speaking to, God replied in verse 14, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh” (or “I am who I am”), an ephemeral and unhelpful explanation (Armstrong 1993: 21). God goes on to tell Moses to tell the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you”[xv] (Genesis 3:14: Coogan 2010: 86). Without any interjection from Moses, God continues and says to tell the Israelites: “YHWH, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” (Genesis 3:15: Coogan 2010: 87). It seems to be implied both through the letters and this passage that Yahweh stems from the verb “to be;” however, that is probably not the whole story. Unfortunately, that is as far as scholars have been able to go in etymology.

Religious Imagery for Yahweh

        One of the most interesting aspects of Yahweh is that he coalesced with aspects of the Canaanite deities of El and Baal. For example, Deuteronomy 32:6-7 includes the title of Elyon (or, “Most High”) for Yahweh, which is also the same title for the Canaanite El (Smith 2002: 41). Several similarities between Yahweh and Baal also exist. Some of these include (but are not limited to) thunder and storm imagery, victory over sea monsters, bull imagery, and having a holy mountain (Smith 2002: 80-81, 84-85). In his book The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities of Ancient Israel, Mark S. Smith presents deep and thorough research showing that the epithets, stories, and imagery of the Canaanite El and Baal became associated with the Israelite El and Yahweh. For just a few (out of many) examples see: Deuteronomy 33:26-27 and Psalm 18:14-16[xvi] and Psalm 74:13[xvii] (Smith 2002: 55). The cult of Yahweh did incorporate some solar imagery, but it was not prolific (Smith 2002: 148).

Yahweh in Midian: The Midianite-Kenite Hypothesis

        The Midianite-Kenite Hypothesis (also called the Kenite Hypothesis) contends that the worship of Yahweh stemmed from a cult in the land of Midian (Harris 2011: 501). This theory deals with the complex arrangement of tribes in the southern Levant, just north-east of the Sinai Peninsula. It is believed that the Midianites and the Kenites (two of the tribes from this area also known as Edom) shared the same lineage and would eventually become the Judahites or Judaeans (Blenkinsopp 2008: 144). As mentioned above, it is from the southern kingdom of Judah (which borders this region) that we believe the J source came from; the same source in which the biblical characters knew YHWH from the beginning. The Kenites were a nomadic tribe around the regions of the Gulf of Aqaba and Arabah (from the northern tip of Aqaba up to the Dead Sea) (Blenkinsopp 2008: 136). The Midianite-Kenite Hypothesis contains a few threads of evidence which seem to blend together to create a well-constructed theory.

        The first facet of this theory comes from the curious location where God called Moses to free the Israelites. When Yahweh first appeared to him, Moses was residing in Midian, neither in the future Promised Land nor in Egypt among the Israelites. Moses was married to a Midianite woman named Zipporah. Zipporah’s father Jethro (also called Reuel) was a Midianite priest. This fact becomes important when looking into the position that Jethro plays in the Exodus story. When Moses first leaves to liberate the Israelites from the Egyptians, he asks for Jethro’s permission. Upon returning, with the newly freed Israelites, Jethro extols the might of Yahweh and Jethro exclaims that Yahweh is greater than all the other gods and offers sacrifices to him along with Moses. The question then arises: was Jethro reiterating his belief in Yahweh which he had before Moses went to Egypt or was he converted into a new religion by Moses? Many interpret this passage as Jethro being converted to Yahweh-ism, but the discourse and the flow of activity seems to indicate that Jethro was leading the worship of Yahweh into which the Israelite leaders were absorbed (Blenkinsopp 2008: 135). At the very least, worshiping Yahweh does not appear to be incompatible with his duties as a Midianite priest.

Map 2: Map of the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, and lower Levant (Wilson 2011)

        In addition to Jethro being a Midianite Yahweh worshipper, the story of Zipporah in Exodus 4:24-26 links her original religion to Yahweh-ism. In this short, mysterious story, Zipporah circumcises her son in order to prevent Yahweh from killing Moses on the road to Egypt. This event is unexplained in the text and we do not know why Yahweh would try to kill Moses immediately after sending him to Egypt to free the Israelites. However, is it a possible connection with the future circumcision of the Israelite religion and the existing Midianite religion, as this circumcision was performed by Zipporah without instruction from God or Moses, thus indicating that she was already aware of this ritual and its power to appease God. Peoples from the Edomite regions did practice circumcision, an act that was later considered a foundational sign of Israelite faith (Blenkinsopp 2008: 143).

        In his article “The Midianite-Kenite Hypothesis Revisited and the Origins of Judah,” Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the University of Notre Dame Joseph Blenkinsopp extrapolates through various biblical and extra-biblical texts, that Seir / Teman in Edom (home of the Kenites and Midianites) is the original residence of Yahweh (Blenkinsopp 2008: 138-139). The history and lineages of the tribes from this region are very complicated. The complexity stems from the sheer number of tribes, the nomadic nature of many of them, various bonds and covenants between them, and the battles over time which changed the size and strength of various tribes and kingdoms (Blenkinsopp 2008: 148). Blenkinsopp’s article provides a detailed look at these tribes and through his research, he makes a compelling connection between the Edomite tribes and two biblical characters. The first character is Cain. Blenkinsopp suggests that the story of Cain being sent away from Adam and Eve as a wanderer through the land was an origin story for the nomadic Kenites (Blenkinsopp 2008: 140-141). This would also mean that Yahweh worship was part of the pre-history of the Kenites, as Cain was a worshipper of Yahweh and, even after he murdered Abel, was under Yahweh’s protection (Blenkinsopp 2008: 141). Blenkinsopp also connects the Edomites with Esau, brother of Jacob. Genesis 36 explicitly states that Esau is the ancestor of the Edomites, but Blenkinsopp goes on to point out that, as with Cain, this would have made the original Edomites Yahweh worshippers (Blenkinsopp 2008: 150-151). He also notes that in the Bible the national god of Edom is not condemned, unlike the gods of all of Israel’s other neighbors[xviii] (Blenkinsopp 2008: 150). Blenkinsopp summarizes the cultural intermingling of Israel and the Edomite tribes by stating, “It seems that these groups were linked by blood and covenant or both, that they frequented the same cult centres, and were under the aegis of the same deity, namely, Yahweh.” (Blenkinsopp 2008: 148).

        In addition to the familial connections of Cain and Abel and Esau and Jacob (and presumably carrying the same Yahweh tradition), there are other reasons to link Yahweh to the Arabah region. The first and foremost reason is that the Bible explicitly states on several occasions that Yahweh came from the Edom region. One notable expression of this is in the Song of Deborah, found in Judges 5. This is believed to be one of the oldest parts of the Bible and it describes Yahweh coming from Seir (also known as Edom)[xix] (Blenkinsopp 2008: 136). Similar passages placing Yahweh originating from Edom include Habakkuk 3:3, Deuteronomy 33:2, and Isaiah 63:1 (Blenkinsopp 2008: 151).

        Inscriptions from ancient Egypt and Canaan are also evidence of Yahweh’s location. The Egyptians called the people of this land the Shasu (Harris 2011: 501). Egyptian texts from the reigns of Amenhotep III and Rameses II called this region “the Shasu land of Yahu,” with Yahu generally being accepted as an alternate form of Yahweh. (Blenkinsopp 2008: 139-140). See figure 2. There is also a Canaanite inscription which speaks of “Yahweh of Teman”[xx] (Amzallag 2009: 389).

Figure 2: Soleb IV N 4 a: “the land of the Shasu of Yhwh”, photo from J. Leclant. (Leuenberger)

        Another thought-provoking theory concerning Yahweh and Edom revolves around the metallurgical language of the Hebrew Bible. Dr. Nissim Amzallag, of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, draws an interesting connection between metallurgy and the ancient Israelite religion in his article “Copper Metallurgy: A Hidden Fundament of the Theology of Ancient Israel?.” In this article, he weaves together many examples of metallurgical imagery in the Bible for Yahweh, the Promised Land, and the Israelites, a theme often overlooked by academia (Amzallag 2013: 166). He notes that the Promised Land did not contain copper and iron ores (contradicting the claims made in Deuteronomy 8:9); however, copper metallurgy had been practiced in the Edom area for millennia, with a major increase in copper mining and metallurgy starting in the Early Iron Age (Amzallag 2009: 390; Amzallag 2013: 157). His supposition is that the metallurgical references are too common and too complex to be seen as trivial. As most Israelites living in the Promised Land would not have had in depth knowledge of metallurgy, the writers of the text would have needed special knowledge, perhaps handed down through the theology of the cult of Yahweh, which originated in a land that did have prolific metallurgy (Amzallag 2013: 166). This line of thinking corroborates Blenkinsopp’s theory about Cain being the ancestor of the Edomites because Cain’s name literally means “smith” and in Genesis 4 it is written that Cain’s grandson Tubal-Cain became a worker of bronze and iron (Coogan 2006: 32). Additionally, copper was used abundantly in cult artifacts for Yahweh, including for the Nehushtan (Moses’ serpent staff), in the extensive use of bronze (a copper alloy) in the making of the Tabernacle, and later in the columns in front of Solomon’s Temple (Amzallag 2009: 393-394). Not only was abundant copper used in making these objects, but they were expected to be built by the Israelites themselves, which means there was an assumption of metallurgical skill. It could be possible that the metallurgical references in the Bible stem theologically from a time and place where Yahweh was seen as a god of metallurgy, or at least the god of a people who were great metallurgists.

        Despite the thorough and compelling research, the Midianite-Kenite hypothesis is currently not universally accepted (Armstrong 1993: 21; Harris 2011: 501). The reasons for this lack of acceptance are not as forthcoming as the evidence for the hypothesis. In his article “Where Does Yhwh Come From?,” Martin Leuenberger, professor of the Old Testament at the University of Tübingen, briefly discuses an alternative theory, called the Berlin Hypothesis, which has gained popularity in recent years. This theory states that the origin of YHWH came from within Israel or perhaps further north (Leuenberger 2019). Leuenberger points out that although the “kingly weather god” (a frequent image of Yahweh) would fit in with the cultures of the north better than those of the Araba, there is not much else on which to base this theory (Leuenberger 2019).

        The connection Yahweh had with the Midianites was not meant to last, however, at least in the eyes of the biblical authors. As time went on, the Midianites came to be seen as enemies of the Israelites. Two notable references for this in the Pentateuch are in Numbers 25:6-19 and Numbers 31, both P sources (Friedman 2003: 288 and 298-299). That both passages are from the P source is significant in that the P source is from a later date of the J and E sources, which treated the Midianites more gently, which shows an evolution of ideology. Moses married a Midianite and his father-in-law, Jethro, was not only a Midianite priest but also a respected advisor, even though soon the Israelites were forbidden to marry and have sexual relations with the Midianites (Leveen 2010: 396-398). When Numbers 25 explicitly stated that marrying a Midianite woman is punishable by death, the Priestly writer definitively and violently separated the Israelites from Moses’ Midianite past (Pettit 2018: 459). Marriage created a strong bond between families and tribes, which the P source did not tolerate with the Midianite people (Pettit 2018: 458). The question then arises, did the priestly writer forget Israelites religion was sourced from a Midianite a cult of Yahweh or was this a deliberate estrangement? As always, we must take into consideration that there are stories that have not survived the centuries. Could it also be that, according to some long, lost myth, Yahweh abandoned Midianites in exchange for becoming the God of the Israelites?[xxi] What seems to be a more likely explanation is that the P source was part of the monotheistic tradition aimed at reconciling polytheistic narratives into a monotheistic record.

The Onomastics of Shaddai

        In terms of quantity, the name Shaddai appears relatively infrequently in the Bible, but its significance is apparent. Shaddai only appears a few times in the Pentateuch and he appears briefly in Ruth, Joel, Isaiah, Psalm, and Ezekiel and multiple times in Job[xxii]. The name also appears apart of several theophoric names in Numbers (Biele 1982: 243). The J source seems to be nearly devoid of this name, except for Genesis 49:25. The P source, significant to note, claims in Exodus 6 that Shaddai is the name Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knew for and it is also in the P source that Yahweh specifically claims to be El Shaddai (in Genesis 17)[xxiii]. Shaddai’s appearance in E (Genesis 43 and Numbers 24) will be discussed further below.

The Etymology of Shaddai

    The etymology of the name Shaddai is still under debate and may never be fully resolved. There is simply not enough evidence to form a definitive conclusion for what the original meaning was. As with many areas in ancient literature, scholars piece together clues and examine cultural contexts to develop working theories.
        Beginning with the derivation of the Hebrew word, we immediately see the complexity of the issue. According to Strong’s Concordance, Shaddai (or, Shadday) is derived from the Hebrew word shâdad, which probably means “to be burly” or “powerful” (Strong 2010: 272). Somewhat unexpectedly though, shâdad is used in the Bible for spoil, spoiler, waste, destroy, robbers, dead, and oppress (Strong 2010: 272). None of these meanings for shâdad seem to show up frequently in scholarship about Shaddai[xxiv]. The meaning of El Shaddai has been interpreted as “God of the mountains,” “God of the Shaddai (deities),” and “God with breasts” (fertile God) (Coogan 2010: 33). Another theory states that Shaddai may have come from the Canaanite word for “plain” (shadä), which then in turn may correlate to an epithet for Astarte (a Canaanite goddess), “Astarte of the plain” (Biele 1982: 241-242). Many scholars believe the name is derived from the Akkadian word shadu which means “mountain,” which evolved from the word for “breast” (shadwi in Old Akkadian and shad in Hebrew) (Biele 1982: 240). The spelling of Shaddai implies a “mountaineer” or “one of the mountains” (and therefore theoretically, “one of the breasts”)[xxv] (Biele 1982: 241). William F. Albright, a renown biblical scholar and major forerunner of biblical archaeology, concluded that this was the most reasonable etymology (Albright 1935: 184). In his article “The Names of Shaddai and Abram,” he was able to clearly reconstruct the linguistic history of the Akkadian šaddâ’û (“mountaineer”) into šaddây (Shaddai/Shadday) (Albright 1935: 185-186).
        In addition to his work on the etymology of the name, Albright also developed a theory of context that, at its core, is still widely accepted today, with variations added here and there (Biele 1982: 241). He contended that Shaddai was an Amorite mountain god who came to be associated with the Canaanite El and later absorbed into the Yahweh tradition (Biele 1982: 241). The Amorites were primarily located in the Transjordan area. David Biale, professor of Jewish History at the University of California notes in his article “The God with Breasts: El Shaddai in the Bible” that the biblical authors do not associate Shaddai with any particular place (unlike Yahweh or El), which is unexpected if his name means either “of the mountains” or “of the plain” (Biele 1982: 242-243).
        In Biale’s article mentioned above, he summarizes Frank Moore Cross’[xxvi] conclusion that descriptions of Shaddai throughout the Bible portray him as a storm and warrior god, a theory with which Biale agrees (Biale 1982: 245). Shaddai is represented as loud and fierce, sometimes destructive, and often associated with thunder. Shaddai is also portrayed as “an incomprehensible and transcendent God” (Biale 1982: 246). However, aside from the powerful storm and war imagery, Biale notes the relative frequency Shaddai is associated with fertility blessings (Genesis 17:1, Genesis 28:3, Genesis 35:11, and Genesis 48:3)[xxvii] (Biale 1982: 247). This association fits well with the possible connection to “breast” in the Akkadian shadu and Hebrew shad. It is also striking to see that the Egyptian word shdi means “to suckle” (Biale 1982: 249).
        In Genesis 49, Shaddai gives blessings of the “breasts and womb” (šādayim wārāhͅam), a phrase similar to Ugarit descriptions for Asherah and Anat (Smith 2002: 50). There is no evidence that Anat had a presence in the early Israelite religion; however, there are several significant references to Asherah in the Bible (Smith 2002, 51). This would make sense given that Ugaritic myths place Asherah as El’s consort and El is a name for God in the Bible (Smith 2002, 51). Biale suggests that the word play between “breasts” and “Shaddai” in this verse may mean that the author(s) associated Shaddai with fertility and breasts (whether or not the original, technical meaning of the word actually related)[xxviii] (Biale 1982: 248).

The Story of Balaam and the Shadday Deities

        The story of Balaam in Numbers (E source) is one of the most intriguing stories in the Bible[xxix]. In chapter 24, Balaam, a seer, is hired by King Balak of Moab to curse Israel. However, Balaam follows YHWH and receives instructions from YHWH to bless Israel. Balak becomes infuriated with Balaam but Balaam claims that he “sees Shadday’s vision” and cannot disobey (Friedman 2003: 285-286). The text says that Balaam could see “God’ spirit,” which is a phrase that occurs in both P and E, but never in J (Friedman 2003: 285).

        Researchers have discovered an amazing find in Deir ‘Alla, north of Jericho which corroborates this biblical passage[xxx]. The inscription found here discusses a seer by the name of Balaam, who is a diviner of the shadday deities (Smith 2002: 58). As William G. Dever points out in his book What Did the Biblical Writers Known & When Did They Know It?, it is no small thing for two completely separate pieces of evidence to corroborate (Dever 2001: 107). Shaddays (šdyn) were deities in the Transjordan area (Smith 2002, 58). In the Deir ‘Alla text, the story is quite different than that in Numbers, but Balaam son of Beor being a seer of divine revelation is closely linked. The text says, “The gods came to him at night, And he beheld in a vision in accordance with El’s utterance. They said to Balaam son of Beor: ‘So will be done, with naught surviving, No one has seen [the likes of] what you have heard.’” (Ehrlich 2018). Later, Balaam says “Be seated and I will tell you what the Shadday-gods have planned, and go, see the acts of the gods.” (Ehrlich 2018).

 Summary of Yahweh and Shaddai

        Yahweh seems to have stemmed from an ancient tradition in the southern Levant, the north-east Sinai Peninsula, and the north-west Arabian Peninsula. Multiple biblical and extra-biblical texts affirm this conclusion. Yahweh features most heavily in the J source, believed to have been composed in Judah, the southern kingdom of the Israelites. Imagery and stories of the Canaanite El and Baal were assimilated, but other than this there is little evidence to support that the Yahweh tradition came from a northern area. It appears as though only four gods were of any importance in Israelite religion in the Judges period: El, Asherah, Yahweh, and Baal (Smith 2002: 57). El and Yahweh were syncretized early in the Israelite religion. (Harris 2011: 138) Yahweh resides on a specific holy mountain. Yahweh is the chief god of the Israelites who features predominantly throughout the Bible, and it is with him that the Israelites make their covenant. He is an anthropomorphic being who speaks and appears directly to people.

        Shaddai seems to have come from the mountainous regions in the middle of the Levant and around the Jordan River, with possible linguistic connections further east into Mesopotamia. Shaddai appears in the Pentateuch most frequently in the P and E sources. The E source is believed to have been drafted in the northern kingdom of Israel. The P source is believed to have been partly influenced by the Mesopotamian myths.[xxxi] Although Shaddai’s etymology seems to relate in some way to mountains, he is not associated with a particular mountain unlike Yahweh, El, and Baal. Shaddai is typically used infrequently in the Bible (except in Job, which is discussed below) and is often linked with blessings and destruction. Shaddai is a cosmic, impersonal being with immense power and presents himself to his people through his spirit and visions.

 Shaddai Overthrown

        The P source appears to have had a quite a different perspective on God’s names than E and J. One might think that if P had access to J and E when writing his[xxxii] text, that perhaps P noticed the preferred use of Elohim in the E text and crafted verses to explain the difference. In addition to the revelation of Yahweh’s name in Exodus 6, P also states in Genesis 17:1: “…and YHWH appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am El Shadday” (Friedman 2003: 56). It is P who makes the definitive claim that Yahweh is Shaddai, and it is the P source which also most often connects the two. However, E assumes this Israelites knew the name of Yahweh and J says they did from the beginning; therefore, P’s claim that the earlier Israelites did not know that name does more than just bridge a gap. It is making a very clear statement about the Israelite religion. P is emphasizing a change in the religion, a reformation. While it is clear that P intends to paint a monotheistic picture, there is something that P knew about the religion that needed to be addressed, something that lay outside of the J and E texts we have. We know through the biblical texts and archaeology that the Israelites appeared to have been a monolatry and only later did they become true monotheists. As Smith states, “Texts dating to the Exile or shortly beforehand [xxxiii] are the first to attest to unambiguous expressions of Israelite monotheism.” (Smith 2002: 191). The Priestly writer seems to be attempting to cover over the polytheistic aspects of their past.

        The Redactor had a role to play in this too. Since we do not have the original sources, we can only make educated guesses as to the extent of those sources R had to work with. We do not know if R threw out any material or if all that he had was included in the final document. For example, the E source has the least amount of text and appears fragmented in places; was this deliberate editing by R or did he only have access to fragmented text? We most likely will never know for sure. What we can say for certain is that decisions were made and R made the decision to leave the Exodus 6 claim in the text. Perhaps R knew that there would be evidence or memory of Shaddai and Yahweh being separate deities and he felt this claim was the best way to smooth over the incongruity.

        The evidence that Shaddai and Yahweh may have originated from separate regions supports the hypothesis that Yahweh took over the role of Shaddai in the Israelite religion, similar to the way gods overthrow the head of the pantheon or are given dominion in other mythologies. Two notable examples include the rise of Zeus over Chronos in Greece and Marduk over Ea in Mesopotamia. Albright speculated that Moses’ epiphany on the sacred mountain (Sinai in J, Horeb in E) may have been “the end of the domination of the Shaddai concept and the beginning of the rule of Yahweh.” (Albright 1935: 193). Smith echoes a similar sentiment stating, “Indeed, the vast bulk of biblical texts date to the monarchic period or later, and the ascendant position of Yahweh as the national god under the monarchy would make convergence of divine imagery a powerful ideology political tool. Yet, given the lack of information, the pre-monarchic period cannot be ruled out entirely as the older context for convergence, at least to some degree.” (Smith 2002: 59).

        Perhaps this reformation specifically follows that of the Israelite’s Canaanite neighbors’ mythology, in which Baal usurps El as head of the pantheon. Yahweh is associated with specific divine mountains, first Sinai and Horeb and later Moriah and Zion (Albright 1935: 193). Baal is also said to have resided on a specific mountain, Mount Zaphon (Coogan 2006: 82). Perhaps these two religious reformations mirror each other. The book of Isaiah gives the impression the biblical writer knew of this Canaanite divine takeover. In Isaiah 14:13-14, Yahweh taunts the king of Babylon and seems to compare him to Baal:

“You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise

my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of

assembly [xxxiv] on the heights of Zaphon; I will ascend to the tops

of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High [xxxv].’” (Coogan 2010: 988)

Joshua 24:14-15

        Shaddai is not mentioned in this chapter, but the Transjordan shadday deities may have been implied in this passage. In this passage, Joshua pushes the Israelites to choose to worship Yahweh alone, giving up other gods they used to worship, including from the Amorites (in the Transjordan area) (Coogan 2010: 354). To offer a balanced and fair argument before these verses Yahweh claims to have been the deity who spoke to Balaam and told him to bless the Israelites therefore equating Yahweh and Shaddai. However, the book of Joshua was collected from various sources and is believed to have been put in its final edition by the P source, the same source who has already twice claimed that Yahweh was Shaddai (Harris 2011: 126-127).

 Psalm 68

        Psalm 68 at first may seem to conflict with this hypothesis as it speaks of both Shaddai and Yahweh in the same passage and it is believed to have been a very early text from the 10th century BCE (possibly based on an Ugaritic military poem) (Biele 1982: 243 & 246).

“‘The kings of the armies, they flee, they flee!’ The women at home

divide the spoil, though they stay among the sheepfolds – the wings

of a dove covered with silver, its pinions with green gold. When

the Almighty [Shaddai] scattered kings there; snow fell on Zalmon.

O mighty mountain, mountain of Bashan; O many-peaked

mountain, mountain of Bashan! Why do you look with envy, O

many-peaked mountain, at the mount that God desired for his abode,

where the LORD [Yahweh] will reside forever?” Psalm 68: 12b-16

(Coogan 2010: 827).

        However, upon further inspection we find that this passage may concur with this paper’s hypothesis that Shaddai and Yahweh were once separate deities and that the latter overthrew the former. First, Yahweh is said to have come from Sinai twice in this chapter. Secondly, although we do not know where Zalmon was located (possibly a mountain in Bashan), Bashan is in the Transjordan area and is described here as being mountainous, with many peaks (Coogan 2010: 828). This mountainous, Transjordan area (the hypothesized origin of Shaddai) is looking with jealousy at Yahweh (from Sinai) who has chosen a specific mountain as his residence. The chapter is clear that Yahweh is victorious.

Genesis 43:14

        Some of the texts that at first seem inconclusive or seem to nullify the hypothesis (by having Yahweh side by side with Shaddai) may support the hypothesis if some of the deeper source analysis is correct. Genesis 43 is one example.

        In this verse, Shaddai is invoked to provide mercy.[xxxvi] This verse is a part of the Joseph story and is within a block of text primarily compromised of the J source from chapters 42 through 45 (Friedman 2003: 102-108). Verse 14 and only one other sentence in Genesis chapter 43 is from E. The fact that this sentence appears to have been from the E sources fits in with the idea that Shaddai had his own cult tradition separate from Yahweh, as there are some significant theological differences between the E and J texts.

Inconclusive Verses

         In an effort to provide a fair and balanced survey, the following verses which equate Yahweh with Shaddai of the Balaam story must be mentioned: Deuteronomy 23:4-7, Micah 6:5, and Nehemiah 13:2. However, the bulk of the text seems to either support this paper’s hypothesis or are inconclusive at worst. The following is a look at passages that are relevant to this discussion but do not offer evidence in either direction regarding the proposed hypothesis. These passages below, along with those already discussed above, are the full extent that Shaddai appears in the canonic Hebrew Bible.

        Genesis 49:25 is from the J source and contains Jacob’s deathbed blessings (and for some, curses) to his twelve sons. Yahweh is invoked once in verse 18 for Dan’s blessing. Although Judah receives the blessing of kingship, Joseph receives the most diverse and poetic blessings, which include Shaddai’s strength in verse 25. Friedman’s The Bible with Sources Revealed has been used throughout this paper with a fair amount of confidence for naming the sources of passages; however, Biale places the date of this passage earlier than the J source, at around the 10th century at the latest (Biale 1982: 243-244). If Biale is correct, the separation of Yahweh and Shaddai in this chapter may hint at an earlier polytheism.
        The book of Ezekiel was written in the 6th century BCE in Babylonia during the Exile (Coogan 2010: 1159). In Ezekiel 1:24 and Ezekiel 10:24, sound is being compared to (“like”) that of Shaddai.
        The first part of Isaiah (chapters 1-39) was believed to have been written before the Exile and edited in the 7th-5th centuries (Coogan 2010: 965). Similar to comparisons in Ezekiel, Isaiah 13:6 compares Yahweh’s destruction to that of Shaddai’s.
        The book of Joel’s date is unknown but is believed to have been a late text, possibly written in the Persian era (539-33 BCE) (Coogan 2010: 1275). Joel 1:15 parallels almost exactly with Isaiah 13:6, comparing the “day of Yahweh” with the destruction from Shaddai.
        In Psalm 91:1 those “in the shelter of El Elyon” and “in the shadow of Shaddai” will claim Yahweh will be their refuge (Coogan 2010: 849). This could simply be a use of multiple names of God or it could be that those following El Elyon and Shaddai will now be following Yahweh.
        Ruth was probably written during the Second Temple period (Coogan 2010: 392). In Ruth 1:20-21, Naomi is lamenting that both Shaddai and Yahweh has been harsh to her. She has four complaints, two for Shaddai and two for Yahweh. It is (reasonably) assumed that both Shaddai and Yahweh are the same being, but the text is not overtly clear.
        The book of Job is a fascinating and complicated text. It is not conclusively known when it was written or even if it was written all at once [xxxvii] (Coogan 2010: 726). The distribution of the names of Yahweh and Shaddai in the book are interesting yet inconclusive with regards to this study. On one hand, both Yahweh and Shaddai are used for the same deity in the book. On the other hand, there appears to be an imbalanced distribution. Shaddai appears thirty-one times in Job, nearly four times that of the rest of the Hebrew Bible combined (Albright 1935: 180). All of these occur in chapters 3 – 37 [xxxviii] and 40 [xxxix]. Yahweh is only used in chapters 1-2 (the prologue) and 38-42. Therefore, out of the thirty-one times Shaddai was used, only once was there and overlap with Yahweh and that was in chapter 40 verse 2 [xl].


        The evidence collected so far seems to indicate that Shaddai and Yahweh most likely had separate origins, both were once deities worshiped by the ancient Israelites, and later they were synchronized into one deity. In addition to their distinct etymology and apparent geographical origins, they are used in the text in a peculiar way which may indicate the biblical writers were working with polytheistic sources.
        The story of Shaddai and Yahweh is complicated and filled with mixed imagery and religious assimilation. In much of mythology, stories interweave with each other and borrow from neighboring and past myths. Shaddai and Yahweh’s intermingling is made more complicated by what appears to be an attempt of past editors to blend multiple stories together and pass the text off as a foundation for monotheism. When read under a polytheistic slant, we see a tale unwinding much like El and Baal in the Canaanite religion. Multiple mythological stories behind the biblical text are layered together. In mythology, gods often absorb traits and features from each other but, with polytheistic religions, confusion is lessened by simply adding more stories and accepting new gods (or old gods with new powers and roles). In the case of the Bible, when the Redactor wove the sources together, he needed to create a cohesion that would support a version of monotheism. With this immense effort we have an amazing book which has brought meaning and faith to so many billions of people. However, for those with a penchant for analyzing subtleties and wrangling with details, uncomfortable questions arise. Answers are slow and complicated when they come at all. Yet what develops through investigation is an intricate tapestry of evolving beliefs. Understanding the progression of these beliefs can expand the meaning behind some of our most cherished texts as well as give a voice to our ancestors’ stories and faith.

Written by April Lynn Downey


  • “Abraham.” (date unknown) Jewish Virtual Library. www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/abraham
  • Albright, W. F. 1935. “The Names Shaddai and Abram.” Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 54:4: 173-204.
  •  Amzallag, Nissim. 2009. “Yahweh, the Canaanite God of Metallury?” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Vol. 33.4: 387-404.
  •  Amzallag, Nissim. 2013. “Copper Metallury: A Hidden Fundament of the Theology of Ancient Israel?” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament Vol. 27 No. 2: 151-169.
  •  Armstrong, Karen. 1993. A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Ballantine Books.
  • Biale, David. 1982. “The God with Breasts: El Shaddai in the Bible.” History of Religions 21:3: 240-256.
  •  Blenkinsopp, Joseph. 2008. The Midianite-Kenite Hypothesis Revisited and the Origins of Judah. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Vol. 33.2: 131-153.
  • Brettler, Marc Zvi. 2005. How to Read the Jewish Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
  • Coogan, Michael D. 2006. The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Coogan, Michael D, editor. 2010. The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
  •   Coogan, Michael D. and Mark S. Smith, editors, and translators. 2012. Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
  • Dever, Willian G. 2001. What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They Know It? Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  • Ehrlich, Carl S. 2018. “Balaam the Seer: From the Bible to the Deir ‘Alla Inscription.” TheTorah.com. https://thetorah.com/balaam-the-seer-from-the-bible-to-the-deir-alla-inscription/
  • “Elihu Meaning.” (date unknown) Abarim Publications. http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Elihu.html#.XMmXa3dFyP8
  • Friedman, Richard Elliott. 2003. The Bible with Sources Revealed. New York: HarperCollins.
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  • Interlinear Bible. (date unknown) Bible Hub. www.biblehub.com. Bible Hub lists its sources as: the Westminster Leningrad Codex, Hebrew Transliteration from https://www.alittlehebrew.com/transliterate/, Strong’s tagging from Open Scriptures, and morphology in partnership with Helps Bible.
  • Leuenberger, Martin. 2019. "Where Does Yhwh Come From?" Friends of ASOR Vol. 8:3.
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[i] Translated as “the LORD” in many Bibles.  Also written as “Yahweh”. Thought to be pronounced “yah-way”. 

[ii] Translated as “God Almighty” in many Bibles.  “Shaddai” is an alternative spelling that can be used interchangeably.  Pronounced “shah-die”.

[iii] Literary criticism is the source analysis of a text.  (Coogan 2006, 23)

[iv] The Y was transferred to J in the Germanic languages, within which much biblical scholarship was conducted.

[v] The D source in Friedman’s work is split up into two sources labeled Dtr1 and Dtr2.

[vi] An original timeline graphic created by the author, sourced from Friedman 2003, 3-5 & Coogan 2006, 23 & 508.

[vii] The reason why these differences are important should become apparent later when discussing the cultural contexts of YHWH and El Shaddai.

[viii] An original chart created by the author, sourced from Coogan 2006, 25-27 and Friedman 2003, 149 & 161.

[ix] However, there is much debate about whether the linguistics of the stele actually distinguished Canaan as a land and Israel as a people, instead of two separate cultures.  (Smith 2002, 26) 

[x] Note, that in 10th century poems in the J and D sources, Shaddai is linked with El two times and with Elyon once.  (Albright 1935, 188)

[xi] In Exodus 3, Moses asks who the god is who is speaking to him, implying his polytheistic beliefs.  Had Moses been a monotheist, he would not have had to ask.  He had not known the god speaking to him.  From both a theological and literary standpoint, one could wonder greatly about why Moses would attempt to rescue a people to whom he is unsure of his connection.  Both the E and the P sources agree that Moses is the outsider. 

[xii] This would not be the first time this happens in the Bible. Another prime example of this sort of weaving can be seen the Flood story, where the J and the P source are blended together.  When each source’s verses are separated from each other, they still create an entire story.  See Richard Elliott Friedman’s The Bible with Sources Revealed for a visual representation of the sources in the Pentateuch. 

[xiii] Although Exodus 3 is generally accepted as being the E source, it is possible it could have been from the J source.  (Friedman 2003, 122; Hong 2017, 325) The working hypothesis in this paper is based in part on the P source’s differing theological; therefore, whether or not this passage is from E or J does not change the foundation of this paper.

[xiv] “Jehovah” comes from a combination of two linguistic events.  One is that when Jews settled in Europe, the Germanic languages pronounced J as Y, so J began to be used and they did not have a W, so V replaced the W.  (Zevit 2013, 57) At some point the vowels for “lord” were used in combination with the letters JHVH, thus creating Jehovah.  (Zevit 2013: 58).  Tetragrammaton means “consisting of four letters”.

[xv] “I Am” is a name for God still used today in some religious circles.

11 Deuteronomy 33:26-27: “There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, majestic through the skies.  He Subdues the ancient gods, shatter the forces of old; he drove out the enemy before you, and said ‘Destroy!’ “(Coogan 2010: 310)

   Psalm 18:14-16: “And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.  Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD [YHWH], at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.”  (Coogan 2010: 786)

   Compare the above to the victory of Baal over the Sea god and Baal’s title of “Rider on the Clouds” in the tablets “Belonging to Baal”.  (Coogan & Smith 2012: 113-115)

[xvii] Psalm 74:13: “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.”  (Coogan 2010: 834) compared to the Baal’s victorious declaration: “Didn’t I demolish El’s Darling, Sea?  Didn’t I finish off the divine River, the Mighty?  Didn’t I snare the Dragon and destroy him?  I demolished the Twisting Serpent, the seven-headed monster.”  (Coogan & Smith 2012: 120)

[xviii] Also, unlike other neighboring, national gods, the head god of Edom is not stated in the Bible.  It is possibly Yahweh.

[xix] “LORD [YHWH], when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the region of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens poured, the clouds indeed poured water.”  Judges 5:4 (Coogan 2010: 364)

[xx] Teman was a city in Edom.

[xxi] It is very possible that there are mythologies which did not survive through history.  We know we have not found all of the archaeological remains and that some have been completed destroyed through time.  For example, the book of Joshua refers to a Book of Jashar, which appears to be no longer in existence.  (Harris 2011: 126)

[xxii] Job will be discussed in greater depth later in this paper. 

[xxiii] Shaddai also appears in the P source in verses Genesis 28:3, Genesis 35:11, and Genesis 48:3, discussed below.

[xxiv] However, note Isaiah 13:6, “Wail, for the day of the Lord [YHWH] is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty [Shaddai]!”  (Coogan 2010: 897) Similar verses dealing with destruction include (but are not limited to): Ruth 1:21, Joel 1:15, and Job 27:8-13.

[xxv] This interpretation stems from the similarity to Hebrew names with gentilic-adjectival endings.  (Biale 1982: 248)

[xxvi] Frank Moore Cross was a biblical scholar, professor of Hebrew at Harvard University, and a former student of W. F. Albright.

[xxvii] Shaddai in the J and E source verses relate to other forms of blessings.

[xxviii]  Fertility imagery shows up in Deuteronomy 32:18, Isaiah 49:15, Isaiah 66:7-9, and Hosea 9:14.  In later monarchic times, male epithets for El became associated Yahweh, but this female imagery did not cross over to Yahweh. (Smith 2002, 52) 

[xxix] In addition to what is discussed here, this story is also only the second of two stories in the Bible to feature a talking animal.  In chapter 22, Balaam’s donkey speaks to him while they are journeying to the king of Moab. 

[xxx] Interestingly in her article “Iron Age Cultic Sites in Transjordan”, Margreet L. Steiner points out that this text also includes the deities El, Shagar, and Ashtar.  She believes that Shagar and Ashtar also appear in Deuteronomy but are translated “fruit” (also, “increase” and “offspring”, depending on the translation) and “flocks” respectively, possibly glossing over the polytheistic connection.  (Steiner 2019: 145) See Deuteronomy 7:13, 28:4, 28:18, & 28:51.  Also note, in these deuteronomic verses, different Hebrew words are used for the multiple mentions of “fruit”, making the use of shagar and ashtar stand out.  (Interlinear Bible) However, there numerous cases in which the name of something is the name of its associated god.  For example, Yam is both the sea god in Canaanite mythology and the generic name for “sea”.  Therefore, not all words that correspond to a deity imply the deity in every instance.

[xxxi] One example is the Creation story.  There is much scholarship on the influence of the Enuma Elish (the Babylonian creation story) had on Genesis 1 (P source).  

[xxxii] Or their text (it is unknown if the sources came from one individual or a group from the same time and tradition). 

[xxxiii] Such as the P source.

[xxxiv] Where El sits in Canaanite mythology. (Coogan 2006: 81)

[xxxv] Elyon, a title for El in both the Bible and Canaanite mythology.

[xxxvi] Note Shaddai’s link to blessings previously discussed.

[xxxvii] Coogan states, “Most scholars would date it between the seventh and fourth centuries BCE, but its story is set in much older times.”  (Coogan 2010: 726) Coogan also goes on to explain that the book seems to be divided by a prologue, a set of poetic dialogs, and an epilogue.  The Elihu speeches (chapters 32-37) are thought by many scholars (though not all) to be later editions. 

[xxxviii] In should be pointed out that in chapters 32-37, Elihu is the speaker.  “Elihu” means “God is Yahu”.  (“Elihu Meaning”) So while “Yahweh” does not appear in these chapters, the use of this theophoric name means that a tradition of Yahweh was in effect at the time of the writing.  It seems odd that Elihu would use Shaddai multiple times in his speeches (mirroring Job and his friends) and yet despite his Yahwehistic name he never uses the name Yahweh.  As noted in the above footnote, this section may have been added later.  Perhaps it was a deliberate bridge between the poetic dialogs that use Shaddai and the epilogue that use Yahweh.

[xxxix] “God” was used in conjunction with Shaddai in chapters 1-37 and 40.

[xl] “And the LORD [Yahweh] said, ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty [Shaddai]?  Anyone who argues with God must respond.”

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