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De Moor IV:5: Hebrew Names for God: אֵל/El

Updated: Feb 24, 2019

Herman Venema

The several Hebrew Names of God lead us to His individual Attributes, observes our AUTHOR, as אֵל/El is derived from אול, or איל, and denotes strength. Indeed, our AUTHOR appears thus to think rightly; since this name occurs in the place of power and ability, Proverbs 3:27;[1] etc.: and, although the word אֵל/El, posited absolutely and used concerning God, in the singular designates only the true God according to the observation of the Most Illustrious VENEMA,[2] Commentario on Daniel 11:36, § CLXXXII, page 370, who hence in that place translates the text in Ezekiel 31:11, וְאֶ֙תְּנֵ֔הוּ בְּיַ֖ד אֵ֣יל גּוֹיִ֑ם, I shall deliver him into hand of the power of the nations; nevertheless, in the plural אֵלִים is found concerning δυνάσταις, powers, strengths, among creatures, whether it have regard to angels or to men, Ezekiel 32:21;[3] Exodus 15:11;[4] Psalm 29:1;[5] Daniel 11:36;[6] etc.; consult again VENEMA’S Commentarium on Daniel 11:36, § CLXXXIV, pages 372, 373. It seems that this Etymology is certainly to be preferred to the other, which nevertheless DEYLING[7] prefers, Observationibus Sacris, part I, Observation X, § 5, appealing also to the consent of SEBASTIAN SCHMIDT;[8] according to which Etymology אֵל/El is cut from אֱלוֹהַּ/Eloah, as this twofold derivation of this Name is mentioned by BUXTORF in his Lexico Hebraico on the word אֵל/El, and likewise in his Dissertatione de Nominibus Dei Hebraicis, § 45; and by LEUSDEN in his Philologo Hebræo-Græco, Dissertation XXXI, § 7: but both lend their support to the former, just as BUXTORF has it in his Dissertatione de Nominibus Dei Hebraicis, § 45, “The Name אֵל/El with respect to its form appears to derive its origin from Words quiescent in their second radical ו/waw or י/yod. Hence by most it is derived from אול/strength/solidity, whence in Psalm 73:4, וּבָרִ֥יא אוּלָֽם׃, and their strength is firm: or from אֱיָל or אֵל, strength, virtue, power, etc. Thus אֵל/ EL is properly the strong God, so called from His ultimate strength and power, whereby He is not only preeminent over all creatures, but is also the fountain and principium of all Virtue and Power in them: comparing Exodus 15:11; Psalm 89:7; Daniel 11:36, אֵ֣ל אֵלִ֔ים, El Elim, the strongest of all the strong, etc. This is the reason that by most Interpreters this name, when it is used of God, is not simply rendered God, but the strong/ mighty God, etc.” But thus, as the Most Illustrious VRIEMOET observes, in part I of Adnotationum ad Dicta classica Veteris Testamenti, chapter III, pages 118-121, an anomaly will obtain in the proper names אֱלִיאֵל/Eliel, אֶלְנָתָן/Elnathan, אֱלִימֶלֶךְ/Elimelech, and others, in which the tzere (ֵ) of the Name אֵל/El is changed into a segol (ֶ) or hateph-segol (ֱ); which ought not to be done analogically, if the tzere (ֵ) is compensating for the defection of the letter י/yod. Hence Vriemoet believes that אֵל/El is nothing other than the pronoun אֵל/those, with which God might be distinguished κατ᾽ ἐξοχὴν, in a preeminent manner, as thus the Greeks and Latins are wont often to use αὐτὸς, he himself, ἐκεῖνος, that one, ille, that one, of someone on account of preeminent excellence. He does indeed see that the plural notion of the pronoun אֵל/those hinders somewhat: but he says that the reason for the plural number is the same here as in אֱלֹהִים/Elohim. That PLACÆUS[9] and GUSSETIUS[10] thought the same things concerning the Name אֵל/El, the Most Illustrious Man candidly relates: see the place: add part II of Adnotationum ad Dicta classica Veteris Testamenti, chapter X, pages 177, 178, in which this Celebrated Man explains the emphasis of the expression, when to the word אֵל is prefixed the article ה, הָאֵל, as it is in Psalm 68:19, 20,[11] which he renders, this very God, He Himself. But compare VAN ALPHEN in his Commentario on Daniel 9:4, pages 142-146, where he knowingly places his own considerations opposite to the arguments of Gussetius against the common derivation of this Name from the root איל, or אול. With respect to the anomaly of the Most Illustrious Vriemoet, it is able to be said that in proper Names various things occur that are not in keeping with the common rule, a definite reason for all which is not able to be rendered. Nevertheless, in the plural, from אֵל, with the tzere (ֵ), is אֵלִים; and in the construct, אֵלֵי, Ezekiel 32:21. Likewise, to the Etymology that Vriemoet embraces one may set in opposition that the pronoun אֵל/those with the augment on the end would have added a dagesh (ּ) to the second radical, אֵלֶּה/these, according to the norm of those derived from words doubling the second radical: while the same in those derived from אֵל/El/God is not observed, in which in addition the tzere (ֵ) is shortened. If אֵל is a pronoun of the third person, neither God Himself, nor others addressing God, would be able to use it of Him; but the case is otherwise: see DEYLING, Observationibus Sacris, part I, Observation X, § 4. Neither am I satisfied with the derivation of this Name from the preposition אֶל/to, denoting tendency/direction, in which manner God in this Name shall be contemplated as the ultimate and supreme End of all things, to whom and to whose glory all things ought to aim: although this is also proposed by PLACÆUS, opera, tome 2, pages 894, 895, and by GUSSETIUS, in his Commentario Linguæ Hebraicæ, page 43, but who himself to this twofold derivation of the word from אֵל/ those, the pronoun, or from אֶל/to, the preposition, in turn sets in opposition, that thus the name of God, אֵל/El, in taking a suffix would imitate plurals, and would be expressed as אֵלַי, my God, and אֵלָיו, his God, while on the contrary אֵלִי, my God, is always found; wherefore upon this thought the Most Illustrious ALBERT SCHULTENS[12] does not insist on Proverbs 3:25. He derives the Name אֵל/El from the root אָלָה, to swear, in a manner similar to בֵּן/son, which has its rise from בָּנָה, to build up, so that it might denote Him who is alone worthy to have one swear by His Name; teaching concerning the particle אַל/lest/not, “The root is אלה, instead of אלי or אלו, which to the Arabs is to bind, to constrain. Thence it was secondarily derived, he bound with the chain of an oath; thence אֵל/El, Θεὸς ὅρκιος, God the superintendent and ratifier of oaths. Those that teach other things so not do justice to the Analogy.” Too restrictedly, says VENEMA, Commentario on Daniel 11:36, § CLXXXIII, page 374, rather because God is omnipotent. To the common Etymology set forth above we return, if with HILARY in his Onomastico Sacro, page 538, we derive אֵל/El from אול, a root preserved by the Arabis, and denoting that He was first, whence also the name among the Chaldean, which signifies the principium/beginning in the Paraphrase of Jonathan[13] on Genesis 1:1,מִן אַוְולָא בְּרָא יְיָ, from the beginning the Lord created: when the Name אֵל/El from its origin shall denote the first, the principal; but hence the notion of strength, which in the word אֵל/El in the Sacred Books everywhere is not able to be denied, was easily able to take its rise, since those robust and strong, as they are first in strength above others, so also they are wont to obtain the primacy with respect to power, authority, and dignity; compare VAN ALPHEN in his Commentario on Daniel 9:4, pages 145, 146. Neither will we recede much from that more common opinion, which I set forth initially from our AUTHOR, if with the Reverend JOHANN CHRISTOPH BUSING,[14] in his Theses subjoined to his Dissertation de Tubis argenteis, we derive the Name אֵל/El from the Arabic root meaning, to be in charge, to govern; which root with this signification see in GOLIUS’[15] Lexico Arabico-Latino, column 187, where there is also the notion of to precede, to go forth as the foremost.

[1] Proverbs 3:27: “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power (לְאֵל) of thine hand to do it.”

[2] Herman Venema (1697-1787) was a student of Campegius Vitringa, specializing in Old Testament exegesis and Church History. He served as Professor of Theology at Franeker (1723-1774).

[3] Ezekiel 32:21: “The strong among the mighty (אֵלֵ֧י גִבּוֹרִ֛ים) shall speak to him out of the midst of hell with them that help him: they are gone down, they lie uncircumcised, slain by the sword.”

[4] Exodus 15:11: “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods (בָּאֵלִם)? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”

[5] Psalm 29:1: “Give unto the Lord, ye sons of the mighty (בְּנֵ֣י אֵלִ֑ים), give unto the Lord glory and strength.”

[6] Daniel 11:36: “And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god (עַל־כָּל־אֵל), and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods (וְעַל֙ אֵ֣ל אֵלִ֔ים), and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done.”

[7] Salomon Deyling (1677-1755) was a Lutheran divine and Orientalist; he served as Professor of Theology at Leipzig (1721-1755).

[8] Sebastian Schmidt (1617-1696) was a German Lutheran Theologian and Hebraist. He studied under Buxtorf the Younger, and his efforts to interpret Scripture with philological accuracy influenced Philipp Jakob Spener. He commented on much of the Scripture.

[9] Josué de la Place (c. 1596-1665) was a French theologian, and colleague of Amyraut and Cappel at Saumur. He is remembered for his doctrine of the mediate imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity.

[10] Jacques Gousset (1635-1704) was a French Reformed philologist and theologian. He studied under Louis Cappel at Saumur, and was ordained to the ministry at Poitiers. He left France in 1685, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and served as Professor of Greek at Groningen (1691-1704).

[11] Psalm 68:19, 20: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God (הָאֵל) of our salvation. Selah. He that is our God ( הָ֤אֵ֣ל׀ לָנוּ֮) is the God of salvation; and unto GOD the Lord belong the issues from death.”

[12] Albert Schultens (1686-1750) was a Reformed scholar and philologist. He served as Professor of Hebrew at Franeker (1713-1729), and Professor of Oriental Languages at Leiden (1732-1750). In his day, he was the pre-eminent teacher of Arabic in Europe.

[13] Jonathan ben Uzziel (first century) was one of the great pupils of Hillel. It is a matter of some doubt whether Jonathan ben Uzziel is actually responsible for the translation of this Chaldean Version. For the most part, Targum Jonathan tends to be more paraphrastic and expansive than Targum Onkelos.

[14] Johann Christoph Busing (1722-1802) was a Dutch Reformed minister and theologian. He served as Professor of Theology at Bremen (1764-1766), and Professor of Oriental Languages at Harderwijk (1766-1802).

[15] Jacobus Golius (1596-1667) was a Dutch Reformed Orientalist. He served as Professor of Mathematics and Arabic at Leiden (1629-1667). Golius was first the pupil, then the successor, of Erpenius. His Lexicon Arabico-Latinum was probably his most important contribution.

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