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Ancient naming practices

Recent archaeological, biblical, and extrabiblical research have led scholars working in the middle east of the origins of Israelite religion to assert rather boldly and confidently that the original god of Israel was in fact the Canaanite deity El.1 Just exactly how has this come about you ask?

First, the name Israel is not a Yahwistic name. El is the name of the deity invoked in the name Israel, which translates: “May El persevere.”2 This suggests that El was seen as the chief god in the formative years of Israel’s religious practices. In fact, the etiological story explaining the origin of the name Israel occurs in Genesis 35:9-15, where Jacob obtains this name through the blessing of El Shaddai, that is “El of the Mountain.”

עֶליוֹן ʿelyôn:  A masculine noun meaning Most High, the Highest. The word serves as an epithet for God and is used thirty-one times in the Old Testament. The most celebrated use of this word is in Genesis 14:18–20: Melchizedek was priest of God Most High (ʾēl ʿelyôn), so the term in context defines the God whom he served. But in this same passage, Abraham equated the God Most High with the Lord his God, the Creator of heaven and earth (Gen. 14:20). In Numbers 24:16, this epithet stands in parallel to the epithet God and Shaddai; it depicts the God who gave Balaam his knowledge and visions. The term also stands in parallel with other names of God, such as the LORD (Deut. 32:8; 2 Sam. 22:14; Ps. 18:13[14]); and God (Ps. 46:4[5]; 50:14).
עֶלְיוֹן ʿelyôn: An Aramaic masculine adjective meaning Most High God. This term always appears in the plural of majesty, comparable to the Hebrew word ʾelōhiym (430). Furthermore, it always occurs in the construct with qaddiyš (6922), meaning the holy ones or saints of the Most High God, and in the context of Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the four beasts, where four kingdoms were represented (Dan. 7:18, 22, 25, 27).

Warren Baker and Eugene E. Carpenter, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2003), 837–838.

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