El Shaddai

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El Shaddai (Hebrew: אל שדי‎, IPA: [el ʃadːaj]) is one of the Judaic names of God, with its etymology coming from the influence of the Ugaritic religion upon modern Judaism. Shaddai was one of the many Gods in Canaanite religion. El Shaddai is conventionally translated as God Almighty. While the translation of El as "god" in Ugarit/Canaanite language is straightforward, the literal meaning of Shaddai is the subject of debate.

Shaddai as a theonym[edit]

According to Exodus 6:2, 3, Shaddai (שַׁדַּי) is the name by which God was known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The name Shaddai is again used as a name of God later in the Book of Job.

Shaddai meaning destroyer[edit]

The root word "shadad" (שדד) means "to overpower" or "to destroy". This would give Shaddai the meaning of "destroyer", representing one of the aspects of God, and in this context it is essentially an epithet. The meaning of Shaddai may go back to the original sense of "shadad" which was "to be strong" akin to Arabic "shadiid" (شديد) "strong".[1] The termination "ai", typically signifying the first person possessive plural, functions as a pluralis excellentiae like other theonyms of the Hebrew God Elohim and Adonai. The possessive quality of the termination had lost its sense and become the lexical form of both Shaddai and Adonai, similar to how the French word Monsieur changed from meaning "my lord" to being an honorific title.[2]

Another theory is that Shaddai is a derivation of a Semitic stem that appears in the Akkadian shadû ("mountain") and shaddā`û or shaddû`a ("mountain-dweller"), one of the names of Amurru. This theory was popularized by W. F. Albright[citation needed] but was somewhat weakened when it was noticed[by whom?] that the doubling of the medial d is first documented only in the Neo-Assyrian period. However, the doubling in Hebrew might possibly be secondary. According to this theory, God is seen as inhabiting a mythical holy mountain, a concept not unknown in ancient West Asian mythology (see El), and also evident in the Syriac Christian writings of Ephrem the Syrian, who places Eden on an inaccessible mountaintop.

Shaddai meaning fertility[edit]

Harriet Lutzky, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology at John Jay College, City University of New York, has presented evidence that Shaddai was an attribute of a Semitic goddess, linking the epithet Shaddai with the Hebrew šad meaning "breast", giving the meaning "the one of the Breast", as Asherah at Ugarit is "the one of the Womb".[3]

A similar theory proposed by Albright is that the name Shaddai is connected to shadayim, the Hebrew word for "breasts". It may thus be connected to the notion of God's gifts of fertility to the human race.[citation needed]

In several instances in the Torah the name is connected with fruitfulness: "May God Almighty [El Shaddai] bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers…" (Gen. 28:3). "I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]: be fruitful and increase in number" (Gen. 35:11). "By the Almighty [El Shaddai] who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts [shadayim] and of the womb [racham]" (Gen. 49:25).

Shaddai meaning sustainer and destroyer[edit]

As mentioned above there are two words in Hebrew that could be the origin of Shaddai: "shada" and "shadad" meaning to nurture and destroy respectively. They are derived from two Semetic root words, one meaning breast or fertility and the other meaning to lay waste, desolate, or bring to ruin. Shaddai can mean either "my sustainers" or "my destroyers" (possessive plural) in Hebrew when referring to humans and could mean both "my ultimate sustainer and my ultimate destroyer" in the majestic plural when referring to the God of Israel.

In Hebrew a verb can be made into a singular possessive pronoun with the addition of the suffix "i" and it can be made into a plural possessive pronoun with the addition of the suffix "ai". However the plural possessive suffix "ai" and the plural masculine suffix "iym" can be used as a majestic plural when referring to the Abrahamic God or a suzerain, similar to the royal we in English. For example the Hebrew word for "owner" is "adon". A slave's owner is referred to as his "adon" (singular) however an animal's owner is referred to as its "adoniym" meaning "their owners" (plural) even if the owner is a single person. Similarly a slave would refer to his master as adoni (my owner) but to multiple masters as adonai (my owners). However when referring to the God of Israel humans use the majestic possessive plural pronoun "Adonai" instead of the singular possessive pronoun "adoni", although the God of Israel is absolutely singular (see Deut. 6:4).

If one refers to a single sustainer or destroyer one uses shada and shadad respectively. If one refers to multiple sustainers or destroyers one would use the plural shadayim and shadadiym respectively. If one refers to one's sustainer or destroyer (possessive singular) both words become shaddi and if one refers to one's sustainers and destroyers (possessive plural) both words become shaddai. Since all epithets referring to the Abrahamic God in Hebrew are in the majestic plural, God is referred to as El Shaddai (the force that is my ultimate sustainer and destroyer) in the possessive majestic plural and not as El Shaddi (the force that is my sustainer and destroyer) in the possessive singular.

If this theory is correct then the term El Shaddai is an epithet that alludes to the primary aspects of the Abrahamic God as the solitary being who creates, sustains, changes, and destroys the universe and all that is within it. Interestingly enough when the epithet El Shaddai is considered with YHWH (the proper name of the God of Israel, derived from the root word "howa" meaning to exist or come into being, and meaning literally the "cause of all existence" or "the one whose existence is absolute"), they show a surprising correlation to the concept of the Trimurti the triune Godhead in Hinduism consisting of Brahma (the cause of reality and existence), Vishnu (the creator and sustainer), and Shiva (the changer and destroyer).

Shaddai as a toponym[edit]

The term may mean "God of the mountains," referring to the Mesopotamian divine mountain.[4] The term was one of the patriarchal names for the tribal god of the Mesopotamians.[4] In Exodus 6:3, El Shaddai is identified explicitly with the God of Abraham and with YHWH.[4] The term appears chiefly in the Torah. This could also refer to the Israelite camp's stay at Mount Sinai where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.

Shaddai was a late Bronze Age Amorite city on the banks of the Euphrates river, in northern Syria. The site of its ruin-mound is called Tel eth-Thadyen: "Thadyen" being the modern Arabic rendering of the original West Semitic "Shaddai." It has been conjectured that El Shaddai was therefore the "God of Shaddai" and associated in tradition with Abraham, and the inclusion of the Abrahamic stories into the Hebrew Bible may have brought the northern name with them (see Documentary hypothesis).

Shaddai in the Midrash[edit]

There is a Midrashic interpretation as an acronym standing for "Guardian of the Doors of Israel" (Hebrew: שׁוֹמֶר דְלָתוֹת יִשְׂרָאֶל). This acronym is commonly found as carvings or writings on the mezuzah, which is placed on the doorposts of Jewish homes and other dwellings.

Still another view is that "El Shaddai" is composed of the Hebrew relative pronoun She (Shin plus vowel segol), or, as in this case, as Sha (Shin plus vowel patach followed by a dagesh) [5] The noun containing the dagesh is the Hebrew word Dai meaning "enough,sufficient, sufficiency".[6] This is the same word used in the Passover Haggadah, Dayeinu, which means "It would have been enough for us." The song Dayeinu celebrates the various miracles God performed while liberating the Hebrews from Egyptian servitude.[7] The Talmud explains it this way, but says that "Shaddai" stands for "Mi she'Amar Dai L'olamo" - "He who said 'Enough' to His world." When God was creating the world, He stopped the process at a certain point, holding back creation from reaching its full completion, and thus the name embodies God's power to stop creation.

It is often paraphrased in English translations as "Almighty" although this is an interpretive element. The name then refers to the pre-Mosaic patriarchal understanding of deity as "God who is sufficient." God is sufficient, that is, to supply all of one's needs, and therefore by derivation "almighty". It may also be understood as an allusion to the singularity of deity, "El", as opposed to "Elohim" (plural), being sufficient or enough for the early patriarchs of Judaism. To this was latter added the Mosaic conception of the tetragrammaton YHWH, meaning a God who is sufficient in Himself, that is, a self-determined eternal Being qua Being, for whom limited descriptive names cannot apply. This may have been the meaning the Hebrew phrase "ehyeh asher ehyeh" (which translates roughly as "I will be that which I will be") and which is how God describes himself to Moses cf. Exodus 3:13-15. This phrase can be applied to the tetragrammaton YHWH, which can be understood as an anagram for the three States of Being: past, present and future, conjoined with the conjunctive Hebrew letter vav.

Biblical translations[edit]

The Septuagint and other early translations usually translate "El Shaddai" as "God Almighty." However in the Greek of the Septuagint translation of Psalm 91.1, "Shaddai" is translated as "the God of heaven."[8]

"God Almighty" is the translation followed by most modern English translations of the Hebrew scriptures, including the popular New International Version[9] and Good News Bible.

The translation team behind the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) however maintain that the meaning is uncertain, and that translating "El Shaddai" as "Almighty God" is inaccurate. The NJB leaves it untranslated as "Shaddai," and makes footnote suggestions that it should perhaps be understood as "God of the Mountain" from the Accadian "shadu," or "God of the open wastes" from the Hebrew "sadeh" and the secondary meaning of the Accadian word.[8]

The translation in the Concordant Old Testament is 'El Who-Suffices' (Genesis 17:1) from the Hebrew Al-sh-di, Subjector-Who-Suffices.

Use by Bunyan[edit]

In the 1682 Christian allegorical novel "The Holy War" by John Bunyan, God is throughout called "Shaddai".

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H7703&t=KJV
  2. ^ http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H7706&t=KJV
  3. ^ Lutzky, Harriet (1998). "Shadday as a goddess epithet". Vetus Testamentum 48: 15–36. 
  4. ^ a b c Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
  5. ^ A Beginner's Handbook to Biblical Hebrew, John Marks and Virgil Roger, Nashville:Abingdon, 1978 "Relative Pronoun, p.60, par.45
  6. ^ Ben Yehudah's Pocket English-Hebrew/Hebrew-English,New York, NY:Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster Inc.,1964,p. 44
  7. ^ It is understood as such by The Stone Edition of the Chumash (Torah) published by the Orthodox Jewish publisher Art Scroll, editors Rabbi Nosson Scherman/Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, Brooklyn, New York: Mesorah Publications,Ltd. 2nd edition, 1994, cf. Exodus 6:3 commentary p. 319
  8. ^ a b New Jerusalem Bible Standard Edition. London: Dartman, Longman & Todd. 1985. p. 908. ISBN 0-232-51650-2. 
  9. ^ Goodrick, Kohlenberger (1990). The NIV Exhaustive Concordance. London: Hodder & Stoughton. p. 1631. ISBN 0-340-53777-9.