El

EL (Heb. ’ēl, God). The generic word for God in the Semitic languages: Aramaic elah, Arabic ilah, Akkadian ilu. In the OT, el is used over two hundred times for “God.” In the prose books it often has a modifying term with it, but in the poetic books, Job and Psalms, it occurs alone many times. El was the chief, and somewhat vague, shadowy god of the Canaanite pantheon (see Ras Shamra) and the title is used in the OT to express the exalted transcendence of God. See Elohim. The Hebrews borrowed this word from the Canaanites. El has a plural, elim, occasionally elhm in Ugaritic; but the Hebrews needed no plural, though a plural term, ’elohim, was their regular name for God.

The root from which ’ēl was derived has been much discussed. Among the suggestions made by scholars: it came from ’wl, “to be strong”; from an Arabic root ’ul, “to be in front of” as a leader; from a Hebrew root ’lh to which both ’el and ’elohim belonged, with the meaning “strong”; from the preposition el, “to be in front of”; and, using the same prepositions, as putting forth the idea of God as the goal for which all men seek. A truly satisfactory theory is impossible, because ’el and the other terms for God, ’elohim and ’eloha, are all prehistoric in origin.

The Canaanite god El was the father of men and of gods. He is called ab adm, “father of mankind,” or ab snnm, “father of years.” He was an immoral and debased character. It is a tribute to the high morality of the OT understanding of God that a title that in Canaanite usage was so defiled could, without risk, be used to express the moral majesty of the God of Israel.——CEH


EL ĕl (אֵ֕ל, strength, power, Assyrian ilu, Ugaritic il). Largely poetic designation of the one and only true God of Israel; often in Heb., used with the definite article, the (true) God, although no such article is needed to define the true God (Num 12:13). But the term, basically meaning “strength,” can be used as an adjective and also in reference to men of might and rank (Ezek 31:11), such as Nebuchadnezzar, or it may refer to the angels (Ps 29:1).


Bibliography

M. H. Pope, El in the Ugaritic Texts (1955); J. Bright, A History of Israel (1959), 90, 91, 108, 109, 147 n.43.

See also

  • Names of God