Conversations with Angie: If Jews borrowed terms for God from other cultures, does it follow that Judaism derived from those other cultures?
This is the last post for "Conversations with Angie." I timed it just wrong; school starts tomorrow. I should'ved saved the whole thing for when school starts since I won't have as much time to write new material for this blog once school starts.
Now about the "El" issue. You said, "Now, I know a Christian would argue that this is true only because God was revealing Himself to humanity throughout history, but I don't buy that." I don't buy that either, although I don't think we can rule it out as a possibility. According to the Bible, God HAS revealed himself in various ways to other people. Not all the descendents of Abraham, for example, became Israelites. Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. If God revealed himself to Abraham, then it shouldn't surprise us that Ishmael's descendents would be familiar with some of the stories passed on by Abraham. But only Isaac's descendents were part of Israel. And not even all of Isaac's descents became Israelites. He also had two sons, Jacob and Esau, and only Jacob's descendents became Israelites.
Since all of these people have a common ancestery, we should expect them to share a common language, including similar words used in reference to deities.
If you have access to the Anchor Bible Dictionary, there's an article on "Names of God in the OT" by Martin Rose that's worth reading.
The Jews used all kinds of titles to refer to God, but there was only one word they used as God's revealed name, and that was YHWH. Since this is the only name that was revealed to them by God himself, then the Bible supports the notion that the rest of these titles are just aspects of the Hebrew language that developed the same way all languages develope. Borrowing the language of another culture doesn't entail borrowing the ideas as well. The Greeks, for example, had a very different idea of deity than Jews had, but that did not stop the Jews from using the word "theos" when referring to their own God in the Greek language.
"Shaddai" just means "almighty." This is a description of deity. If other cultures called their deities "shaddai," it shouldn't suprise us that the Jews would borrow that title to refer to their own deity. It would be like saying, "No, your god isn't shaddai; OURS is!" Some people claim the same thing happened with various titles of Jesus. Titles like "lord" and "savior" were also used of Roman emperors. Some people speculate that calling Jesus "lord" was a way of denying the lordship of Caesar. Personally, I think they're mistaken, but even if it's true, what follows from that? Nothing. Likewise, nothing follows from the fact that Jews borrowed the title "shaddai" from other cultures or religions. The same is true with the word "Addonai" which just means "lord" or "master."
The word "El" and "Elohim" is more interesting. "El" was a generic term meaning simply "god," and "elohim" means "gods." At least that's the way the Jews used the word. They did not limit the term to their own God either. In Exodus 12:12, for example, it says, "all the gods [elohim] of Egypt..." According to this article in the ABD, "el" was used throughout the semitic world as a generic term for god. The Canaanites were the only ones who seemed to use it as a proper name. The reason I point this out is that nothing follows from the fact that the Jews used the word "el" to refer to their deity except that they lived in a semitic world in which "el" was a common word in semitic languages to refer to deity.
Your ole buddy,