El Shadai (hebrew Insight)

El ShadaiEl ShaDai (אֵל שָׁדַּי)is just one of the many names of God in Hebrew. El means “God.” The rest, however, is slightly more complicated.

In our Bibles, אֵל שָׁדַּי “El Shadai” is most often (mistakenly) translated as “God Almighty”. The main reason for this stems from an opinion that Hebrew word שָׂדַּי ShaDai is connected with the verb לְשְׁדוד liShDoD, which means “to destroy” or “overpower”.  For example, Hebrew word for “bandit” has the same root –שׁודֵד ShoDeD.

El Shadai אֵל שָׁדַּי does have another meaning though. The word שָׁד ShaD has a much closer grammatical connection to ShaDai and it means – “breast.” Moreover, when a word ends with an “i”or “ai” it is almost always means “my”. So, literally, “El Shadai” could very well mean “God (is) my Breast/s”.

If we consider this intriguing imagery as interpretive possibility we may see that the breast is one of the key symbols of sustenance and parental love passed on from God, the parent, to humanity, God’s child. So instead of “God Almighty”, El Shadai should probably be translated as “God All-sufficient” instead.

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  1. Cynthia Ebert

    This is an informative blog. I have been studying ‘Elohim and have of course looked at ‘El Shaddai. I remember years ago when a wonderful Jewish man Mr. Israel Mannes, an orthodox Jew who escaped Germany prior to the Holocaust, was trying to teach me Hebrew from a child’s primer I had at the time. I say “tried” because I wasn’t a good pupil back then. In one of our many discussions he began a soliloquy about ‘El Shaddai, and finished with, ” ‘El Shaddai, the one who says Shad! It is finished.” I didn’t even know enough to ask him any questions. Today, I am looking at the December 2013 threads.
    P. Albert
    Someone told me, it literally means: the G-d who said “enough!” – Ha El she
    amar SHe Daiv- Enough of the unrighteousness of wicked people towards
    G-d’s pious followers.
    I obviously do not know Mr. Mannes’ ultimate source for his statement. I only know that his father was a rabbi and began teaching him Hebrew when he was 3-years-old. I have nothing more to offer in this regard.

    I don’t want to read too much into this interpretation by Mr. Mannes. It loosely fits P. Alberts statement, “the G-d who said “enough!” in that when it is finally enough already, it is also finished. It also loosely fits your intrepretation that by being “breast” it can come to mean God all Sufficient. Both enough and sufficient are the end of needs, thus reflecting that whatever is the need, it is now enough, sufficient, complete and it is finished. Okay, I could be stretching it, but there is a loose connection between the 3 this way.

    I must confess I continued in my studies because of his many stories. He would wax on quite a bit about all things Jewish, according to his life and world view. I confess I was in it for the stories. Of the many conversations in my life, I remember his stories like they were yesterday. He was an utterly delightful person.

    This is just my mental whimsy today. I’m not calling it scholarship. I appreciate the better scholarship I read here. Thank you for this blog.

  2. TVSCHAN

    EL in Tamil also is God. Anybody observed it.

    1. Maria Nazarane

      No I haven’t heard before what you claims. Can you show any proof?

  3. John Young

    The word shad shin dalet means breast but it also means demon.also el means gods the plural of the word elohim.

  4. Roger Allen

    I recently learned that El Shaddai meant ” breasts” and has NOTHING to do with God Almighty. I thought it was funny because there is beautiful Christian song Called ” El Shaddai”. I thought to myself, ” Does Amy Grant know that she was actually sing about “breasts”?

    I learned about the real meaning for the word Shaddai from a book “God’s Secrets Only Hebrew Can Reveal” This book takes 145 Hebrew words found in the Tanack and gives the deeper meaning of the words. Here is an example: the word “Hosanna” This is translated ” Save us.” in the English Bibles. In the Hebrew Hosanna actually means ” Save us please”. The English Bibles makes God Seem to so harsh ! The English version of Genesis 22:2 makes the reader feel that God is harsh. The English version reads : ” And he said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you.” How mean and uncaring this makes God appear. The merciful heart of God is revealed in the Hebrew text where God actually says “Na” please. ” Please take your son, your only son”. In Matthew 9:18, there is no please. Now back to the word Shaddai. For some unknown reason Shaddai is a masculine word, when all other body parts that come in a pair such as legs, arms, eyes ect.and those that are more than two such as teeth, fingers or toes are all feminie nouns. The “ai” at the end of Shaddai indicates that the word is a masculine word.
    Shaddai means breasts, the nourishment organs. Every English Bible translates El Shaddai as God Almighty. Yes, God is a Mighty God/ Almighty, but El Shaddai has nothing to do with ” God Almighty” The Hebrew for ” Mighty God” is El Gibbor as in Isa. 9:6.
    All verses the that use Shaddai, are verses about fertility. The letters in the word Shaddai – Sheen (sh), Dalet(D) and Yood(i) represent human’s and other mammal’s nourishment, the rest of God’s creatures are nourished from the field.
    field in Hebrew is spelled sa*deh – sheen (sh) Dalet (D) and Hey (H). Almost identical to the word “breast”. If put the yood (i) from Shaddai with the Hey(H) from Shadeh, you get ” Yah” God’s better known name.

    I think El Shaddai shows that God’s nature is not all masculine, but He has a loving , motherly, parental, caring side to Him. This is just my opinion.

    all

    Back to the word Shaddai.

  5. RamonAntonio

    As of this moment I’m writing from Puerto Rico the morning of the 25th of December, Nativity of Jesus and so Christmas Day. So Rejoice for Jesus has been born!

    I am reading Jesus, First Century Rabbi by Rabbi Joshua Zaslow and I find it a very thoughtful (and most needed) approach to the study of Jesus from a Jewish perspective. One of the firsts comments in the book (in fact Number 2) is devoted to clarify that the term “rabbi” is not used anywhere before 70 CE and appears first in the Gospels as such. Even though the book elaborates this significance from a rabbinical perspective and emphasizes the possibility of the existence of other “rabbis” in the time of Jesus, it is sufficiently clear that rabbi is a noun that belongs AFTER Jesus.

    I make this comment to exemplify an issue that I suggest we inspect in detail and which is evident in the excellent comment by Michal: the nature and structure of etymology in biblical interpretation and use. And for this I will refer to the use of etymology as accustomed in Spanish which, as a millennial language as such and its roots going back so much as greek has a sufficiently broad base to make comparisons.

    The first proposal by Michal is self evident and clear to me. But the second begins to confuse me as it commences with exegesis from textual sources (priestly) but then uses rabbinical sources to explain. This is where I’m confused and ask for clarification. If we are to follow a clear etymology as in Spanish usage, the structure of time has to be clearly followed in the use of the word. However, Jewish use, and here I’m only guessing from my limited Jewish language use, usually hops from any timeframe to rabbinical explanations without regard to the etymological position of rabbinical exegesis in time which is AFTER Jesus and AFTER Christianity. Thus, in my opinion and very respectfully, there is a flaw in exegesis if we try to explain an etymological term beginning with textual analysis and then “hoping” to rabbinical exegesis without making clear that any rabbinical exegesis is, by definition, millennia away from the etymological original proposal. Further, rabbinical exegesis is based in the MT which is by definition a 5th Century textual agreement by Jewish rabbinical thought. Then etymology using this approach literally “jumps” (thus hops) centuries when a rabbinical interpretation is applied.

    In Spanish language, that “jump” would be unacceptable from an etymological standpoint and would require to be timeframed and thus, filled with the timeline of use that connects the original textual proposition (the priestly root proposition anchored in the past) to the centuries revision that a 5th century rabbinical definition advances. However, I do understand that maybe Jewish use cannot make that timeline etymology easy because of the fact that the very nature of the MT dictates that the form to be considered authentical is the form of the MT and not that of previous readings. Then, if I am correct, the “jump” in time is intrinsically ingrained in Jewish thought. If this is true, then we would have to accept that etymology, in Jewish thought and use, parts from a rabbinical timeline and not a historical timeline for the base of interpretation is not the timeline but the rabbinical canon of the text. Any clarification is expected and hoped…

  6. Michal

    I have never come across this rendering of the name *El Shaddai. I looked it up in various sources, but I could not find a match. Here is what I’ve found:

    ADELE BERLIN AND MARC ZVI BRETTLER, Editors a Consulting editor MICHAEL FISHBANE. The Jewish study Bible: [featuring the] Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, s. 37. ISBN 9780195297546:
    “El Shaddai is believed to have originally meant “God, the One of the Mountain” and thus to have expressed the association of a deity with his mountain abode well known in Canaanite literature (cf. the “LoRD, Him of Sinai” in Judg. 5.5). In the Priestly conception, the four-letter name translated
    as LoRD was disclosed only in the time of Moses (Exod 6.2-3), and El Shaddai was the name by which God revealed Himself to the patriarchs.”

    FRED SKOLNIK, Editor-in-chief a Executive editor MICHAEL BERENBAUM. Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2nd ed. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2007, s. 673. ISBN 9780028660974:
    ʾEl Shaddai
    According to the literary source of the Pentateuch that the critics call the “Priestly Document,” YHWH “appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai” (Ex. 6:3). The traditional English rendering of the obscure Hebrew term ʾEl Shaddai as “God Almighty” goes back to ancient times. The Septuagint renders Shaddai as Pantokrator, “All-powerful”; this is followed by the Vulgate’s Omnipotens, “Omnipotent.” Apparently, this rendering is based on an ancient rabbinic interpretation,sha, “who,” and dai, “enough,” i.e., “He who is self-sufficient” (e.g., Ḥag. 12a); thus, the Jewish translators Aquila and Symmachus in the early centuries C.E. translated shaddai by Greek hikanos, “sufficient, able.” But this definition can hardly be taken as the true etymology of the term. No fully satisfactory explanation of it has yet been accepted by all scholars. The
    term is often explained as a cognate of the Akkadian word šadū, “mountain,” either in the sense that ʾEl Shaddai would mean “God the Mountain” (cf. ẓur, “Mountain,” an epithet of God, e.g., Deut. 32:4, 30, 37); the abode of “ ʾEl of Heaven,” or ʾEl Shaddai could mean “ ʾEl-of-the-Mountain,” i.e., of the cosmic mountain, the abode of “ ʾEl. of Heaven.” The ending -ai of shaddai would be adjectival, as in Ugaritic ʾrṣy (to be vocalized ʾarṣai), “She of the Earth,” the name of one of the
    three daughters of the Ugaritic ʾEl. No Ugaritic equivalent of ʾEl Shaddai has yet been found. Deities known as šdyn are mentioned in the ninth-eighth century *Balaam text unearthed at
    Deir Alla (probably biblical Sukkoth) in Jordan. In the Bible the full name, ʾEl Shaddai, is used only in connection with Abraham (Gen. 17:1), Isaac (Gen. 28:3), and Jacob (Gen. 35:11;43:14; 48:3). The word Shaddai alone occurs as God’s name in the ancient oracles of Balaam (Num. 24:4, 16), in poetic passages (Isa. 13:6; Ezek. 1:24; Joel 1:15; Ps. 68:15; 91:1; and 31 times in Job), and even in archaizing prose (Ruth 1:20–21). Moreover, Shaddai is an element in Israelite names with parallels
    in ancient sources, such as Ammishaddai (“My Kinsman is Shaddai”; Num. 1:12) and Zurishaddai (“My Mountain is Shaddai”; Num. 1:6).

    Even Shoshan Dictionary:
    [הגיזרון אינו ודאי; יש גוזרים מן שדד לשון חוזק; ויש מאכדית: šadu הר; אחרים: מן שָׁד שהוא זן ומפרנס כל חי; לדעה אחרת: בהקבלה לערבית: שַׁדַּ סגר, סתם, היינו: המגן, המשמש מחסה ומגן: לפי חז”ל: שַׁדַּי = שֶׁדַּי] מִתְּאָרָיו שֶׁל אֱלוֹהִים הַכֹּל יָכוֹל: “אֲנִי אֵל שַׁדַּי” (בראשית יז א).

    Only in “A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language” I found reference to this rendering. However, from all what I found, I do not see any reason to render or to give more credibility to the one translation you have suggested.
    Sincerely,
    Mike.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Mike, hi. Thanks for providing detailed feedback. I don’t normally approve such a long feedback but I think in this case it was justified. I will readily admit that from all Biblical Hebrew Insights I published so far, this is more speculative :-). For me it would be enough to say that the translation of God All-Powerful/Al Mighty is just a possibility and no more than that.

      Now the Translation of God All-sufficient though also only a possibility fits in my mind much better in the initial context.

      As someone who regularly contributes to dictionaries and encyclopedias myself I can assure you (and I do know what it takes and how it all works) that you rely way too much on “what got in into the print” vs. “what yet did not”. As someone once put it about somewhat a different topic – “a traitor” and “a patriot” is a matter of dates. Sometimes roles are switched rather dramatically.

      El Shadai as God all sufficient grammatically is a strong possibility whether or not it got published in something big as such 🙂 Big is the matter of dates and other things involved not all of which have to do with truth and accuracy :-). Let’s keep thinking together. Dr. Eli

  7. P. Albert

    Someone told me, it literally meatn: the G-d who said “enough!” – Ha El she amar SHe Daiv- Enough of the unrighteousnous of wicked people towards G-d’s pious followers.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dai in Hebrew is enough, but the rest of the word broken done to me seems unlikely. When etymologies are not clear we should not be dogmatic either way however.

  8. Peter Prolix

    You are quite right. El Shaddai should be translated not ‘God Almighty’, but ‘God All Sufficient’.
    I hope you will be able to lead people to a true, spiritual understanding of who the Lord Jesus Christ is. Too many are blinded by their own peculiar doctrines and creeds, and what their own ‘Sardis’ churches teach.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      This calls for prayer. Dr. Eli

  9. Kristine Holland

    In the beginning He created them male and female….for the perfection of El Shadai’s involvement with we Adam and Eve humans, surely this insight of yours is a true response of what we as children experience with a mother and a father. Balance.

  10. RamonAntonio

    The eminent british theologian Margaret BArker has for years supported the interpretation of EL Shaddai as “the God with breasts” addign to her exegesis a profoundly feminine interpretation of its meaning. Although somewhat extreme to many, nonetheless her views have drawn much attention and discussion.
    HEr point is extreme because she wants to tie El Shaddai to the cult to Isha, the female god of antiquity and she proposes that El Shaddai evolved as an accommodation of the feminine worship of God, the one with “entrails” of compassion and life giving, towards a masculine image of God nownadays encompasing those qualities as El Shaddai.
    I have been intrigued by her so called extreme position but upon ample consideration and meditation I think that somewhat she may be around something substantially true although in need of further study. I truly like Dr. Eli’s straightforward approach (as usual direct to the point and unambiguous) but based en true erudition and research. As always, Ely brings light to obscure passages and shines that light towards uncharted territory…
    DUC IN ALTUM we go with Him on charge…

  11. Premkumar Samuel

    Dear Dr, How was El Shadai translated in the Septuagint?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      THIS NOTES ARE FROM NET.BIBLE

      3 tn The name אֵל שַׁדַּי (’el shadday, “El Shaddai”) has often been translated “God Almighty,” primarily because Jerome translated it omnipotens (“all powerful”) in the Latin Vulgate. There has been much debate over the meaning of the name. For discussion see W. F. Albright, “The Names Shaddai and Abram,” JBL 54 (1935): 173-210; R. Gordis, “The Biblical Root sdy-sd,” JTS 41 (1940): 34-43; and especially T. N. D. Mettinger, In Search of God, 69-72. Shaddai/El Shaddai is the sovereign king of the world who grants, blesses, and judges. In the Book of Genesis he blesses the patriarchs with fertility and promises numerous descendants. Outside Genesis he both blesses/protects and takes away life/happiness. The patriarchs knew God primarily as El Shaddai (Exod 6:3). While the origin and meaning of this name are uncertain (see discussion below) its significance is clear. The name is used in contexts where God appears as the source of fertility and life. In Gen 17:1-8 he appeared to Abram, introduced himself as El Shaddai, and announced his intention to make the patriarch fruitful. In the role of El Shaddai God repeated these words (now elevated to the status of a decree) to Jacob (35:11). Earlier Isaac had pronounced a blessing on Jacob in which he asked El Shaddai to make Jacob fruitful (28:3). Jacob later prayed that his sons would be treated with mercy when they returned to Egypt with Benjamin (43:14). The fertility theme is not as apparent here, though one must remember that Jacob viewed Benjamin as the sole remaining son of the favored and once-barren Rachel (see 29:31; 30:22-24; 35:16-18). It is quite natural that he would appeal to El Shaddai to preserve Benjamin’s life, for it was El Shaddai’s miraculous power which made it possible for Rachel to give him sons in the first place. In 48:3 Jacob, prior to blessing Joseph’s sons, told him how El Shaddai appeared to him at Bethel (see Gen 28) and promised to make him fruitful. When blessing Joseph on his deathbed Jacob referred to Shaddai (we should probably read “El Shaddai,” along with a few Hebrew mss, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the LXX, and Syriac) as the one who provides abundant blessings, including “blessings of the breast and womb” (49:25). (The direct association of the name with “breasts” suggests the name might mean “the one of the breast” [i.e., the one who gives fertility], but the juxtaposition is probably better explained as wordplay. Note the wordplay involving the name and the root שָׁדַד, shadad, “destroy”] in Isa 13:6 and in Joel 1:15.) Outside Genesis the name Shaddai (minus the element “El” [“God”]) is normally used when God is viewed as the sovereign king who blesses/protects or curses/brings judgment. The name appears in the introduction to two of Balaam’s oracles (Num 24:4, 16) of blessing upon Israel. Naomi employs the name when accusing the Lord of treating her bitterly by taking the lives of her husband and sons (Ruth 1:20-21). In Ps 68:14; Isa 13:6; and Joel 1:15 Shaddai judges his enemies through warfare, while Ps 91:1 depicts him as the protector of his people. (In Ezek 1:24 and 10:5 the sound of the cherubs’ wings is compared to Shaddai’s powerful voice. The reference may be to the mighty divine warrior’s battle cry which accompanies his angry judgment.) Finally, the name occurs 31 times in the Book of Job. Job and his “friends” assume that Shaddai is the sovereign king of the world (11:7; 37:23a) who is the source of life (33:4b) and is responsible for maintaining justice (8:3; 34:10-12; 37:23b). He provides abundant blessings, including children (22:17-18; 29:4-6), but he can also discipline, punish, and destroy (5:17; 6:4; 21:20; 23:16). It is not surprising to see the name so often in this book, where the theme of God’s justice is primary and even called into question (24:1; 27:2). The most likely proposal is that the name means “God, the one of the mountain” (an Akkadian cognate means “mountain,” to which the Hebrew שַׁד, shad, “breast”] is probably related). For a discussion of proposed derivations see T. N. D. Mettinger, In Search of God, 70-71. The name may originally have depicted God as the sovereign judge who, in Canaanite style, ruled from a sacred mountain. Isa 14:13 and Ezek 28:14, 16 associate such a mountain with God, while Ps 48:2 refers to Zion as “Zaphon,” the Canaanite Olympus from which the high god El ruled. (In Isa 14 the Canaanite god El may be in view. Note that Isaiah pictures pagan kings as taunting the king of Babylon, suggesting that pagan mythology may provide the background for the language and imagery.)