So when Jacob names the site of his altar, he declares “El Elohe Isra’el”. I understand the most common translation of this phrase is said to be something along the lines of “God is the God of Israel”. But I have some questions about this.

Now I realize that the word ‘el’ is a Hebraic Semitic word that means ‘god’, so the vast majority of the usage of the word ‘el’ in the Hebrew manuscripts can be explained as such.

However there is supposedly a bit of a catch, so to speak, and I have seen several scholars and skeptics use said catch to fuel their theories that Judaism evolved from Canaanite Polytheism. In ancient Canaan, the head deity of their pantheon, also considered their most high god and creator god, father of all the other gods, has the name El.

Now going back to the specific phrase; “El Elohe Isra’el” is the only place I can recall in scripture where it is difficult to translate El as simply the word ‘god’ as in ‘a deity’, rather than a proper name of God, simply because “God is the God of Israel” is a very redundant and broad statement that doesn’t really make sense. One might ask, which god? So my questions are best split up as follows;

  1. Is it possible that Jacob, not yet fully knowing the covenant name of God as revealed to Moses, simply used the name of what he knew to be the closest idea or identity of an all powerful divine being in his culture (being Canaanite El) and apply that title to the one true God after his wrestling encounter?

  2. Or is it more likely that El in this instance is simply a short form of El Shaddai and therefore has absolutely no connection to the Canaanite head deity?

  3. Does anybody know of any good apologetics sources on this subject as it is fascinating to me and reaching out to the skeptics has long been a calling on my life. Any advice on how to engage on the topic is helpful.

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    Who said El was the proper name of the Canaanite deity? Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 23:38
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    How are you determining it is a proper name and not simply the word 'God' as in English and Hebrew. Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 23:45
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    I fail to see how its usage is distinct from using it as if it were the word for God. i.e. "God created" etc. There is also motive for 'scholars' to claim the Hebrews simply worshiped pagan gods—you would need to be a bit more certain than "lends more" in order to base anything like that off it. Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 23:58
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    That’s actually a really good point. Very interesting! So you are challenging the view that El was the proper name of a pagan god due to the known meaning of the word dating back to Akkadian ‘ilu’ meaning a deity, and suggesting that perhaps the Canaanites did not have a proper name for their creator god? Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 0:03
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    I sure am. I think the burden of proof is on the claim that it is anything other than the word God, is it not? 'Seems to be used in a way that....' can't be the basis of anything, as in the argument, 'Israelites worshiped the Canannite deity El.' To me that's absolutely ridiculous. But even if Canaanites did have a major God which they called El (just like Muslims call their God by a proper name Allah—la ilah illAllah—even though it is also an Arabic word equivalent to uppercase-g 'God' as most commonly used in English), that doesn't hold true of all Semitic peoples. Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 0:11

1 Answer 1


Stephen, the martyr, begins his last sermon, after which he was stoned :

The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Canaan. Acts 7:2 KJV.

God appeared to Abraham and God revealed himself to Abraham and God spoke many things to Abraham. This is why he went to Canaan and whilst in Canaan he begat a son Isaac, who in turn begat a son, Jacob.

To Jacob, also, God appeared as is evident from the record of Genesis ; recorded, retrospectively, by Moses.

'El Elohe Israel' reflects these recorded occurrences, that God - El in Hebrew - the one true God for there is one God and there cannot be another god, is He who appeared to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob.

God - El - is also called 'the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob'. For that is how he has revealed himself. He chose to reveal himself to these three men, in turn.

And then he appeared to Moses in a burning bush that was not consumed and he called himself 'I am that I am'.

This is whom God Almighty has revealed himself to be. This is what recorded scripture narrates.

These are the men to whom God chose to reveal himself.

Men of faith. Men of integrity. Men who can be trusted.

One either believes the written record, or one disbelieves it.

It is a matter of faith.

To say that these men merely adopted cultural ideas from their - original - dwelling place does not agree with the record of scripture. There is no evidence whatsoever in the holy writings - in either Hebrew scripture or in the Greek scripture - that they brought with them from Mesopotamia any idolatrous concepts or any other ideologies.

Their knowledge of God was a matter of personal revelation - a matter of personal faith based upon the revelation of God himself to their individual persons.

  • While I am in agreement with your answer in faith, I am looking for something that really goes into the details of the question in a way that can be used in apologetics. Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 6:03
  • And there is evidence in the text of the family members of some of the patriarchs having foreign idols or household idols at certain points. Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 20:42
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    It is quite possible that Rachel stole her father's idol because she wanted to rid him of it, in the same way a daughter might steal a drunken father's alcohol. I don't think it proves anything, myself.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 21:26

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