Dr. Richard S. Hess

Old Testament Questions from the desk of Dr. Richard S. Hess

Who was El and why does he appear in the Bible?

I believe that El was the chief god of the Canaanites as attested in the mythological texts from the 13th century BC at Ugarit.  El is described as holy and wise, and with his consort Asherah, they give birth to all the gods and goddesses (or many of them).  Baal is a warrior god and a storm god.  Certainly, other gods in other lands shared these same features as they were basic elements valued for survival and prosperity.  Yahweh also has these features but that does not mean he was created by some early Israelite and imbued with the characteristics of the other gods and goddesses.  No, Yahweh was the chief and only God of Israel.  Therefore, if he would be God to his people and give them life and safety, he would necessarily have these features.  Yahweh first revealed his name and its fulness to Moses in Exodus 3 and 6.  Earlier, he was known as El Shaddai or by another name; but was the same deity Yahweh.   However, this El is also a common noun for “god, God” in Hebrew and other West Semitic languages.  Therefore, when it appears in the Bible, it may often be as this common noun, “God, god, deity” and not as the name of a separate deity from Yahweh.

For further information, read my book, Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey (Baker, 2007).

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