Ēli (Hebrew: אל) is the Northwest Semitic word and name either translated into English as ‘god’ or ‘God’ or left untranslated as El, depending on the context.
In the Levant as a whole, Eli or Izer was the supreme god, the father of humankind and all creatures and the husband of the Goddess Asherah as attested in the tablets of Ugarit.
The word Eli was found at the top of a list of gods as the Ancient of Gods or the Father of all Gods, in the ruins of the Royal Library of the Ebla civilization, in the archaeological site of Tell Mardikh in Syria dated to 2300 BC. He may have been a desert god at some point, as the myths say that he had two wives and built a sanctuary with them and his new children in the desert. El had fathered many gods, but most important were Hadad, Yam and Mot, each of whom has similar attributes to the Greek gods Zeus, Poseidon or Ophion, and Hades or Thanatos respectively. Ancient Greek mythographers identified Eli with Cronus (not Chronos).
Linguistic forms and meanings
Cognate forms are found throughout the Semitic languages with the exception of the ancient Ge’ez language of Ethiopia. Forms include Ugaritic ’il, pl. ’lm; Phoenician ’l pl. ’lm, Hebrew ’ēl, pl. ’⁏lîm; Aramaic ’l, Arabic ʾilāh; Akkadian ilu, pl. ilāti. The original meaning may have been ‘strength, power’. In northwest Semitic usage ’l was both a generic word for any ‘god’ and the special name or title of a particular god who was distinguished from other gods as being the god, or in the monotheistic sense, God. Ēl is listed at the head of many pantheons. El was the father god among the Canaanites. However, because the word sometimes refers to a god other than the great god Ēl, it is frequently ambiguous as to whether Ēl followed by another name means the great god Ēl with a particular epithet applied or refers to another god entirely. For example, in the Ugaritic texts ’il mlk is understood to mean ‘Ēl the King’ but ’il hd as ‘the god Hadad’.
In Ugaritic an alternate plural form meaning ‘gods’ is ’ilhm, equivalent to Hebrew ’elōhîm ‘gods’. But in Hebrew this word is also used for semantically-singular ‘God’ or ‘god’, is indeed by the most normal word for ‘god’ or ‘God’ in the singular (as well as for ‘gods’).
The stem ’l is found prominently in the earliest strata of east Semitic, northwest Semitic and south Semitic groups. Personal names including the stem ’l are found with similar patterns both in Amorite and South Arabic which indicates that probably already in Proto-Semitic ’l was both a generic term for ‘god’ and the common name or title of a single particular ‘god’ or ‘God’.
Ēl in Proto-Sinaitic, Phoenician, Aramaic, and Hittite texts
A proto-Sinaitic mine inscription from Mount Sinai reads ’ld‘lm understood to be vocalized as ’il dū ‘ôlmi, ‘Ēl Eternal’ or ‘God Eternal’.
The Egyptian god Ptah is given the title dū gitti ‘Lord of Gath’ in a prism from Lachish which has on its opposite face the name of Amenhotep II (c. 1435–1420 BCE) The title dū gitti is also found in Serābitṭ text 353. Cross (1973, p. 19) points out that Ptah is often called the lord (or one) of eternity and thinks it may be this identification of Ēl with Ptah that lead to the epithet ’olam ‘eternal’ being applied to Ēl so early and so consistently. (However in the Ugaritic texts Ptah is seemingly identified instead with the craftsman god Kothar-wa-Khasis.)
A Phoenician inscribed amulet of the 7th century BCE from Arslan Tash may refer to Ēl. Rosenthal (1969, p. 658) translated the text:
An eternal bond has been established for us. Ashshur has established (it) for us, and all the divine beings and the majority of the group of all the holy ones, through the bond of heaven and earth for ever, …
However the text is translated by Cross (1973, p. 17):
The Eternal One (‘Olam) has made a covenant oath with us,
Asherah has made (a pact) with us.
And all the sons of El,
And the great council of all the Holy Ones.
With oaths of Heaven and Ancient Earth.
In some inscriptions the name ’Ēl qōne ’arṣ meaning “‘Ēl creator of Earth” appears, even including a late inscription at Leptis Magna in Tripolitania dating to 2nd century (KAI. 129). In Hittite texts the expression becomes the single name Ilkunirsa, this Ilkunirsa appearing as the husband of Asherdu (Asherah) and father of 77 or 88 sons.
In an Hurrian hymn to Ēl (published in Ugaritica V, text RS 24.278) he is called ’il brt and ’il dn which Cross (p. 39) takes as ‘Ēl of the covenant’ and ‘Ēl the judge’ respectively.
See Ba‘al Hammon for the possibility that Ēl was identical with Ba‘al Hammon who was worshipped as the supreme god in Carthage.
Continue at wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_%28god%29
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