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Do the letters of God's Hebrew name "El" make their own meaning?

Discussion in 'Christian Scriptures' started by rako, Jan 22, 2018.

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  1. rako

    rako New Member

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    Early writing systems like ancient Akkadian, Sumerian, Egyptian, and Chinese began by using pictures or logograms for words. For the Akkadians, the word for God, "El"or "Ilu" in cuneiform, was written with an eight-legged star symbol that also signified the heavens. The Canaanites and Hebrews used a phonetic script - the Phoenician alphabet - that began with pictures, so that each letter was drawn in the form of something related to the name the letter. So for example, the alphabet began with the letter "Aleph" that was drawn like an ox's head. The word "aleph" in Hebrew commonly means cattle or oxen. According to a theory by Jeff Benner, the meaning of some words can be related to the meaning of the individual letters making up the words. I am skeptical of his theory, but am open to considering whether it might be true in the case of a few words. Does this apply to the name for God, "El"?

    One of the common associations for the Canaanite and Levantine god "El" was the bull, and this association also shows up in Biblical episodes:
    http://www.atkinslightquest.com/Documents/Religion/Hebrew-Myths/Worship-of-Yahweh-as-a-Bull.htm

    But was the bull by itself ever a written symbol for "God", "El", in the same way that 1 in English is a symbol for one, & is a symbol for "and", the Akkadians used a star to represent God and the heavens?

    The first letter of the ancient Hebrew alphabet, before the Israelites took the Assyrian script, was "Aleph", in the shape of a bull's skull. In the 2007 book Letter by Letter: An Alphabetical Miscellany, Laurent Pflughaupt writes: "The first pictograms that evolved into the first Phoenician letter ALEPH and eventually our letter A had the form of a bull or an ox. Drawn rather realistically, the animal was represented either in its entirety or simply by the outline of its head: In the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet, around 1700 BCE, appeared in this form."

    This idea has been around a long time in academia. In the 1898 book The Hittites and Their Language, Claude Reignier Conder wrote: "We find, for instance, that a or av was the old Mongol word for "bull," and the bull's head is the very evident origin of the letter called Aleph (bull), whence our A is derived".

    This raises the question for me of whether the Aleph was ever drawn by itself as a symbol for God. In Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z, David Sacks writes:
    The word "Aleph" developed into the Hebrew word for chief, "Aluph". Aleph is also special as the first letter of the alphabet, recalling how God is a first cause. I don't think that this answers to question, but it suggests a possible answer. I think that the Aleph could in fact have started the alphabet in reference to its association with the sacred bull, since the aleph bull's head was a symbol for El or God.

    Further, absent any findings that an Aleph by itself could be a written symbol in writing for God, El, could the combination of the names or pictures of the two letters that make up "El" in Hebrew (Aleph and Lamed) have a special meaning known to the Hebrews?
    According to scholars, the letter Lamed was drawn like the picture of an ox goad, L , and "Malmad" was the word for Ox-goad, "malmad" being derived from the Hebrew word "Lamed", meaning "teach" or "learn" in English.

    But it's hard for me to see what combination "bull" or "ox"(aleph) would make with ox-goad or teach in order to have a new meaning related to God (El) in some way. The word "El" also can mean strength or power in Hebrew, and not just "God". I guess that an ox pushed by an ox goad could represent strength, but the pictures don't look like a direct allusion to God.

    I have also heard a claim that the L (Lamed) could look like a staff, which would make more sense as a reference to God, who has shepherd-like spiritual qualities. But I found very little from real scholars themselves proving this theory conencting to Lamed to a staff in academic publications. Hebrew letters were named after things that their sounds and pictures were associated with, and the word for staff (Shebet) in Hebrew is very different from the word "Lamed" and doesn't have an L. Plus, a staff has its crook at the top like a r , whereas the Lamed has its crook at the bottom like a L.

    Doug Petrovich writes his proposal of the theory connecting Lamed to a Staff by associating the Lamed with an Egyptian letter that looks like a staff:

    http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2013/07/25/New-Find-Jerusalems-Oldest-Hebrew-Inscription.aspx

    Unfortunately, Petrovich's connections between Lamed and the Egyptian staff letter seem to be too speculative for me. The Egyptian staff letter was not pronounced as an L, but as an "awt", hqa, or heqat sound. (SEE: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Crook_(hieroglyph))

    The Hebrew word "L" means "toward" (see http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/alphabet_letters_lamed.html ) and this meaning matches up with the idea of an ox-goad in a way, since a goad makes something move toward something else. So it seems more that the idea of Lamad was a goad than a staff.
     
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  2. Sanoy

    Sanoy Well-Known Member

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    Well, El was never a name for God. There were many El's, but only one El Elyon. El is more of a classification, like "Mammal", and all those in that classification that were depicted had horns or horned hats. But Yahweh is vastly separate from this other group of Els, just like a human is from a shrew.

    I do think that other cultures were thinking of Yahweh when they thought of An or El Elyon, but I think that was a conceptual knowledge rather than an intimate knowledge. In the Bible, with the exception of Cyrus, it seems that other cultures refer to Yahweh under the title "King of Heaven"* which is one of An's titles. Now there is very little we know about An to see how far this conceptualization extends but I think they might have retroactively conceptualized the God of Israel to this An they formerly worshiped. So there may be some tie in's between these three but the only one we can really trust for information about Yahweh is Israel who know Him intimately. And they say no man can see Him face to face so no description of His appearance could be accurate.

    (*Examples of “God of heaven” include Ezra 5:11-12, 6:10, 7:12, and Nehemiah 2:4) (Example of the title “King of Heaven” comes from Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:37)
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2018
  3. rako

    rako New Member

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    Thanks for writing back. According to Wikipedia, El was the name of the head god of the Semitic pantheon, and it also meant "God" and "god". It shows up a few places as God's name in the Bible, as in Genesis 33:20: "And he erected there an altar, and called it El elohe Israel". El elohe Israel means "El the god of Israel". Another verse is Genesis 46:3 - “I am El, the God of your father”.
    It doesn't make as much sense to translate it as "Genesis 46:3 - “I am God, the God of your father,” because the word "God" would be redundant. One Wikipedia entry says:
    My first main question is not about whether El referred to God's name, so much as whether it was drawn with a bull.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2018
  4. Yekcidmij

    Yekcidmij Polymath

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    In Ugarit (and other places) El was depicted as and referred to as a bull.

    Makes it more interesting when you read of Aaron and Jeroboam both making bull idols. Probably not a coincidence.
     
  5. Sanoy

    Sanoy Well-Known Member

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    In Genesis 46:3 the Grammer actually is "the God" because it is written in Hebrew Ha El. Hebrew does not use the definite article with proper names. It won't ever say "the Yahweh". So if we see the definite article there, it's indicating that it's not a proper name, even though it makes it sound weird in English.

    Genesis 33:20 doesn't use the Ha before EL but it seems to use a preposition before El. Unfortunately my knowledge of Hebrew doesn't allow me to speak on that verse with any confidence. So if someone does know Hebrew well enough could they check it for us?
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2018
  6. Sanoy

    Sanoy Well-Known Member

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    I looked it up and Aleph looks like the anarchy sign fallen backwards and lamed looks kind of C shapped or like a nose. At first glance it kind of looks like horns but they are asymmetrical and not possibly a set of horns.

    Are you sure phonecian is supposed to have pictorial significance? I know there is pictorial significance in cuneiform but that goes from protocuneiform which is glyphs to cuneiform. The later being a stylus drawing out of the protocuneiform glyph. Phonecian is alphabetical and spells out a word using a combination of shapes. Given that word meanings are made up of any combination of word letters I'm not sure how a word could contain an intentional pictoral layer.
     
  7. JackRT

    JackRT Well-Known Member Supporter

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    It is my understanding that Yah was used to refer to God in Judea while El was preferred in the Northern Kingdom. Later they seem to be used interchangeably.
     
  8. Ron Gurley

    Ron Gurley What U See is What U Get!

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    "El" = ~GOD = Compound names, showing characteristics

    1. El Elyon = most high = strongest
    2. El Roi = strong see-er
    3. El Shaddai = Almighty God
    4. El Olam = Everlasting God
     
  9. rako

    rako New Member

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    I understand what you are saying, but I am not sure what to make of this issue, since there are so many translations that put it as just "I am God, the God of your father":

    King James Bible
    And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation:

    A longer list is here:
    http://biblehub.com/genesis/46-3.htm
     
  10. rako

    rako New Member

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    Sanoy,

    The letters of Hebrew developed in ways like you can see here, starting from a Phoenician version and then going to an Assyrian one:
    The Ancient Hebrew Alphabet - Aleph

    Here is another diagram:
    http://www.hebrew1.com/GRAPHICS/WP1.jpg

    [​IMG]
     
  11. Sanoy

    Sanoy Well-Known Member

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    Yeah that is definitely an ox. The next letter, lamed, is supposed to be an ox goad. I looked up the protocanaanite form of it and it is like a fish hook, or a "J" leaning back slightly.

    Abraham was probably bilingual. He started in the UR III dynasty then moved to a trading post on the border that likely served the UR III and the Canaanites. It was at that transition point that God came to him and revealed himself to him. He would have to appropriate the language he knew to communicate about God. He knows that deities are called "ELs" so rather than say Gods name, Yahweh, maybe he does what we do when we say God and says El. Abraham knows the name of Yahweh because Genesis 15:7 has God speaking His name to Abraham. So he may have chosen El as a non personal name.

    That said El Elyon has very specific similarities to Yahweh. He was said to rule on a sea of glass. He assembled on mount Zaphon (what is known as the sides of the north). He lived in a tent. He had 70 sons/Arch Angels (Deuteronomy 32:8 Read in ESV). I know El Elyon is called El at times, but there has to be a reason for that ambiguity in the creators of that language. I'm not a scholar but I disagree with the scholarship that his personal name is El. I think his personal name is unknown, just as his equivalent An is unknown and simply means heaven. It just seems odd to me that the creators of a language would leave the name of their god ambiguous unless it was ambiguous. And it might be because God has only ever revealed His personal name to the Israelites.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2018
  12. Sanoy

    Sanoy Well-Known Member

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    Go to that same link you gave me, go to the top where all the banners are and find the white banner. Click the interlinear feature and you will see what I am talking about.

    You would have to keep the definite article silent in English and I believe that is what the translators are doing because the English word "God" is equivalent to Ha*El. In English we have god and "The God" which we would write God capital G.

    You can see how the "Ha" gets used with an interlinear of Genesis 3:9. Ha*Adam gets rendered "the man". Adam doesn't officially become a proper name until Genesis 5. The interlinear will give you the literal translation, which the translators then change to a proper name.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2018
  13. rako

    rako New Member

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    Good explanation.
    Ha El and Ha Adam are changed to God and Adam and treated as both proper nouns. In Josephus Flavius, God is called The Deity sometimes in Greek.
     
  14. Buzz_B

    Buzz_B Well-Known Member

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    Just a way of emphasizing "the [true] God, [who is] the God of thy father [Isaac].

    Edit: Pardon me all to Alzheimer's for forgetting to mention the second God there at Gen 46:3 probably should be a small g. We worry about the silliest things offending the One True God. And I am sure he laughs at us for it until we begin beating others up for not also being as needlessly concerned that such insignificant things mean anything.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2018
  15. DamianWarS

    DamianWarS Follower of Isa Al Masih Supporter

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    According to the Ancient Hebrew Lexicon it says:
    The pictograph [​IMG] is a picture of an ox head and also represents its strength. The [​IMG] is a picture of a shepherd staff and also represents the authority of the shepherd. Combined these two pictographs mean "the strong authority" and can be anyone or thing of strong authority.

    Something that is interesting is the shepherd's staff has always been a strong symbol of authority and today has evolved into a king's scepter which serves no other purpose but to show who holds the authority.
     
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  16. rako

    rako New Member

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    Thanks for writing in about this. My problem with this quote is that the writer doesn't provide evidence to back up his claim that "The [​IMG] is a picture of a shepherd staff and also represents the authority of the shepherd. " Remember, a shepherd staff wood have the handle at the top like an r , not at the bottom like the L pictured.
     
  17. DamianWarS

    DamianWarS Follower of Isa Al Masih Supporter

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    Check out Wikipedia for some confirmation, and here and here, also the latin letter 'r' has other origins from ancient hebrew "resh" [​IMG] or phoenician[​IMG] (modern Hebrew ר) which eventually influences the greek "Ρ" (greek is roughly the mirror of phoenician) which then influences latin 'R' (the lower case resembles the mirror image of the modern hebrew ר and r) The greek also is pronounced like the /r/ despite its resemblance to latin 'P'

    the direction of the character for the staff also makes complete sense as a shepherd's staff is not designed to be held and look pretty but to be used. The character is a staff in action.
     
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2018
  18. rako

    rako New Member

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    Damian,

    Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet is named after the picture drawn. For example, the first letter is called "Aleph", a Hebrew word meaning "herd", oxen, cattle, and its picture is a bull's head.

    The letter [​IMG] is called Lamad, a Hebrew word meaning "teach", from which is derived the Hebrew word malmad, which means ox-goad. Here is what an ox-goad looks like:
    [​IMG] The hook must be held out away from the body.

    The Hebrew word for staff is "Shebet". That sounds nothing like "Lamad". Here is what a shepherd's staff looks like. As you can see, the shepherd holds his staff with the hook at the top:

    [​IMG]


    Wikipedia doesn't say that the Shepherd's Staff is related to the Hebrew letter Lamad.

    It would be helpful if you could provide some published scholarly academic information stating that Lamad is somehow connected to a shepherd's staff, and explaining why the author believes this.
     
  19. DamianWarS

    DamianWarS Follower of Isa Al Masih Supporter

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    I didn't write the lexicon so you may choose to accept it or reject it however the idea that Lamadh is a shepherd's staff doesn't seem to be so unpopular which the Wikipedia article affirms (but does not cite) saying it "originated from the representation of a goad, i.e. a cattle prod, or a shepherd's stick, i.e. a pastoral staff" Wikipedia also affirms the same concept in their article about a goad saying "the letter L is derived from the Semitic crook or goad" A quick google search revealed other sources that describe it as the same such as hebrew4christians.com.

    A shepherd may hold his staff like your image depicts when not in use however the hook end may be directed toward the animal such as an extension of an arm to grab or pull.
    [​IMG]
    I have no opposition to it being a ox-goad but I think in the case of the pictograph we are talking about analogous tools and it may represent both.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2018
  20. rako

    rako New Member

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    Damian,
    Wikipedia and Hebrew 4 Christians don't explain how they got to the conclusion that Lamad referred to a shepherd's staff, which is what I am looking for.
    I am not closed-minded to your theory, I am just looking for explanation or proof of this.

    Hebrew letters are named after that which they depict, and the Hebrew name for L, Lamad, means teach and the noun from Lamad/teach is malmad, an ox goad. A staff is called "Shebet" and that word is unrelated etymologically to Lamad.

    The Egyptian alphabet does have a hieropglyphic meaning "staff", and it is drawn with the crook or handle at the top, not at the bottom where Lamad has its hook.
     
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