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Yahweh יהוה

(6,733 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name Yahweh is the name of the official god of Israel, both in the northern kingdom and in Judah. Since the Achaemenid period, religious scruples led to the custom of not pronoucing the name of Yahweh; in the liturgy as well as in everyday life, such expressions as ‘the Lord’ ( ʾădōnāy, lit. ‘my Lord’, LXX κύριος) or ‘the Name’ were substituted for it. As a matter of consequence, the correct pronunciation of the tetragrammaton was gradually lost: the Masoretic form ‘Jehovah’ is in reality a combination of the consonants of the tetragrammaton with the vocals of ʾădōnāy, the ḥaṭēf p…

Gabnunnim גבננים

(297 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name The expression har gabnunnîm in Ps. 68.16, literally ‘mountain of peaks’ and usually translated as ‘mighty mountain’ (RSV), is interpreted by del Olmo Lete (1988:54–55) as ‘mountain of the Gabnunnim’, the latter being a designation of underworld deities. II. Identity The reasoning that lies behind del Olmo Lete’s suggestion is based on the opposition in Ps. 68 of Mt. Sinai versus Mt. Bashan, the one being the holy mountain of Yahweh, the other the holy mountain of a group of Canaanite gods (vv 15–17). For his interpretation of Bashan as a dwe…

Jael יעל

(367 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name Jael at whose hands Sisera met his death ( Judg. 4–5) has been interpreted as a demythologized incarnation of the goddess Amaltheia (Garbini 1978). II. Identity The principal motive for speculations about the mythological background of Jael is the conjectural connection between the name Sisera (סיסרא) and the name (j)a-sas-sa-ra in a votive text written in Minoan ‘Linear A’. The latter corresponds with Gk. ΣΑΙΣΑΡΑ and belongs to Zeus Krētogenēs, the god born on the isle of Crete (G. Pugliese Carratelli, ΣΑΙΣΑΡΑ, 31 [1976] 123–128). Garbini argues that if the figure of Si…


(318 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name According to Hommel (1929), the field of Machpelah ( Gen. 23.9, Gen. 17, Gen. 19; Gen. 25.9; Gen. 49.30; Gen. 50.13) was named after the goddess Ma-Cybele. II. Identity Cybele (Κυβέλη) or Cybebe (Κυβήβη) is a goddess of the fertile earth originating from Asia Minor, where she was known in the second millennium bce as Kubaba (Laroche 1960). Having made her way into the Greek world, the deity was identified with a number of other ‘mother goddesses’ such as Rhea, Agdistis, Ma, and Bellona. Her cult had orgiastic traits. The latter were accentuated in the course of t…

God (I) אלהים

(8,580 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name The usual word for ‘god’ in the Hebrew Bible is ʾĕlōhîm, a plural formation of ʾĕlōah, the latter being an expanded form of the Common Semitic noun ʾil (Eloah). The term ʾĕlōhîm occurs some 2570 times in the Hebrew Bible, with a variety of meanings. In such expressions as “all the gods of Egypt” ( Exod. 12.12) it refers to a plurality of deities—without there being a clear distinction between these gods and their images. Far more frequent is the use of the plural with reference to a single being: Chemosh is the ʾĕlōhîm of Moab (1 Kgs. 11.33); the plural here is a plural…

Keseʾ כסא

(700 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name The Hebrew word keseʾ ‘full moon’ (?) occurs in two Bible passages ( Ps. 81.4; Prov. 7.20), and possibly in a third as well ( Job 26.9). The word is also known in other West-Semitic languages. J.-M. Durand identifies a Mesopotamian divinity Kisa with West-Semitic keseʾ, attested in a Ugaritic god list under the form ksa (1997: 279). II. Identity In an Old Babylonian augury text (divination by birds), some omens are interpreted to signify ‘presence of Kisa’ ( ma(- an) -za-az ki-sa). The fact that the term manzaz/ mazzaz is normally followed by the name of a deity in divinatory …

Arvad ארוד

(386 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name The city of Arvad (modern Ruad) is the most northern of Phoenician cities, situated on an island two miles off-shore. Less illustrious than Tyre and Sidon, Arvad and its inhabitants are mentioned only a few times in the Bible ( Gen. 10.18//1 Chr. 1.16; Ezek. 27.8, Ezek. 11). It has been said that the city is homonymous with an Assyrian deity (Lewy 1934). II. Identity In Neo-Assyrian annals, the city of Arvad is sometimes referred to as Ar-ma-da (S. Parpola, Neo-Assyrian Toponyms [AOAT 6; Neukirchen-Vluyn 1970] 37). This spelling corresponds exactly to that of the god A…

Eternity עלם

(992 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name The Hebrew term ʿôlām, customarily translated as ‘eternity’, corresponds etymologically with the divine name Oulomos occurring in a Phoenician cosmology attributed to Mochos of Sidon. Although the authenticity of this deity has long been a matter of uncertainty, the occurrence of the theonym Ḫalma in texts from Emar shows that a god ‘Eternity’ was indeed part of the West Semitic pantheon. His name occurs in first millennium cuneiform texts from Nineveh as Alam and Alama. Whilst the occurrences of ʿôlām in the Hebrew Bible show little to no trace of a mythologica…


(282 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name It has been speculated that the city of Nahor ( Gen. 24.10) was named after a deity Nahor. Nahor the grandfather of Abraham ( Gen. 11.22–25; Josh. 24.2) and Nahor the brother of Abraham ( Gen. 11.26–29; Gen. 22.20–24; Gen. 24.15, Gen. 24, Gen. 47; Gen. 29.5; Gen. 31.53) would have been named after the city of Nahor, and thus, indirectly, after the god of that name (Lewy 1934). II. Identity There is no extra-biblical evidence whatsoever attesting to the cult of a god Nahor. Lewy’s argument is based on circular reasoning. He writes: “In view of the evidence that the cities of Ḫarrān, Naḫur…

Euphrates פרת

(1,572 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name The MT refers to the Euphrates as Pĕrāt, ‘Euphrates’, nĕhar Pĕrāt, ‘River Euphrates’, and as ( han)nāhār, ‘(the) River’. The designation hannāhār haggādôl, ‘the Great River’, was applied to the Euphrates ( Gen. 15.18; Deut. 1.7; Josh. 1.4) as well as to the Tigris ( Dan. 10.4). The two streams appear as a pair in the dual nah!rayim, ‘the two rivers’, confined to the expression ʾăram nahărayim, ‘(Western) Mesopotamia’. Hebr Pĕrāt (and its Qumran variant Purat, פורת, 1QapGen. xxi 12, 17, 28; 1QM. ii 11) derives from Akk. Purattu < Purantu, cf. the forms Purantum in the…

Viper אפעה

(285 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name The viper ( ʾepʿeh) occurs three times in the Hebrew Bible, always in poetic contexts to describe negative environments or sensations. Third-millennium texts from Mesopotamia attest to the veneration of a god Ibaʾum, etymologically related to Heb. ʾepʿeh. II. Identity A third-millennium Akkadian seal depicting a fully developed snake-dragon is dedicated to a god i-ba-um (R. M. Boehmer, Die Entwicklung der Glyptik während der Akkad-Zeit [Berlin 1965] Tafel XLVIII no. 570). This snake-god is probably identical with d ip-pu, the vizier of the chthonic deity Ningišzida…


(515 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name Rakib-El is known to have been the god of the kings of Samʾal, a Neo-Hittite dynasty in South-East Anatolia. It has been suggested that the Rechabites, a religious minority group in ancient Israel, were originally named after Rakib-El (Ramey 1968). A variant proposal connects the name with the god Rkb, presumably short for Rakib-El or the epithet rkb ʿrpt, ‘Rider of the clouds’ (Blenkinsopp 1972) II. Identity Rakib-El is a poorly known deity whose name occurs a number of times in Phoenician and Aramaic inscriptions from Zinjirli ( KAI 24:16; 25:4, 6; 214:2, 3, 11, 18; 215:22;…


(553 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name The word hyn occurs a number of times in Ugaritic texts as an epithet of Kothar-wa-Hasis (Kothar). It has been suggested that the same word is found in Hab. 2.5 (Albright 1943; 1968) and Job 41.4[ Job 12] (Pope 1965) as a divine title. II. Identity The word hyn occurs in KTU 1.3 vi:22–23; 1.4 i:23; 1.17 v:18, each time in a synonymous parallelism with Kothar-wa-Hasis. The interpretation of the term is based on comparative Semitic philology: Syr. hawnâ means ‘intelligence’, hence Ug. hyn is usually translated as ‘intelligent’, This meaning fits well with the name Kothar-…

Shepherd רעה

(753 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name On the basis of Gen. 49.24, Maag reconstructed the expression Rōʿeh Yiśrāʾēl, ‘Shepherd of Israel’ as the name of the personal god of Israel/Jacob, comparable in his view to the ‘Fear of Isaac’ and the ‘Mighty One of Jacob’ (1980:121). Since the name can only be obtained by textual emendation, Maag’s proposal is hardly convincing (cf. Köckert 1988:65–67). Though ‘shepherd’ is not unusual as an epithet for Near Eastern gods, it has nowhere attained the status of an independent divine name. II. Identity In antiquity the occupation of shepherd was regarded as a manly an…

Shahan שׁאן

(408 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name II. Identity In Old Babylonian texts the god Šaḫan occurs a number of times as theophoric element in personal names and place-names; it is always preceded by the divine determinative (references Krebernik 1984). So far, only one independent attestation of the deity is known. One Warad-Šaḫan refers to himself in the inscription on his cylinder seal as “servant of the god Šaḫan” (YOS 14 no. 68). Little is known about the deity. Though identified once with the god Irḫan (Euphrates), the two are to be distinguished; confusion could arise because d Ir-ḫa-an has sometimes mist…


(1,430 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name Amurru is the eponymous god of the nomadic peoples of the western desert that began to manifest themselves in Mesopotamia from the late third millennium bce onward. These peoples are known in cuneiform sources as ‘Amorites’ ( Amurru, Sum. mar-tu). Their god, known as Amurru (Akkadian) or Martu (Sumerian), is best characterized as a storm god, comparable in type with Hadad or Yahweh. References to Amurru in the Hebrew Bible are either indirect or debated. As the god is eponymous, his name can be heard in the ethnic designation ʾĕmōrî, ‘Amorite’. The name Amraphel ( Gen. 14.1, Gen. 9…


(479 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name Hebat (or Hepat) is an important goddess venerated by the Hurrians as well as the Hittites. Her name is found as a theophoric element in the biblical anthroponym Eliahba ( 2 Sam. 23.32 = 1 Chr. 11.33), written אליחבא, and originally pronounced *Elli-Heba, ‘Elli of Hebat’ (Maisler 1930). II. Identity In the Hurrian pantheon, the goddess Hebat occupies a high rank: she is the wife of the weather-god Teshub and the mother of Sharruma (Danmanville 1972–75:326). Her epithet ‘Lady of heaven’ or ‘Queen of Heaven’ underscores her celestial character. In the course of tr…

Beltu בלתי

(869 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name The name of the Babylonian goddess Beltu (var. Belit, Belti) is the feminine form of Bel (‘Lord’), and means ‘Lady’. She is identified either with Ishtar or Ṣarpanitu. Her mention in the Hebrew Bible is conjectural; P. de Lagarde ( Symmicta [Göttingen 1877] 105) was the first to emendate biltî in Isa. 10.4 into bēltî, ‘my Lady’. The proposal cannot be seen in isolation from the emendation, in the same verse, of ʾassîr (‘prisoner’) into ʾōsîr (Osiris). II. Identity Since the name Beltu is not really a name but an epithet (‘Lady’), the identification with a spec…

Mouth פה

(342 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name The mouth or utterance of a god—the two notions are often expressed with the same word (Sum. ka, Akk. pû)—is sometimes made into an independent deity in Mesopotamia. The etymological equivalent in Hebrew ( peh) does not seem to have enjoyed a comparable divine status. II. Identity In third millennium texts the Akkadian word pûm, ‘mouth, word’, occurs repeatedly as a theophoric element in personal names; its divinity is marked by the divine determinative (Gelb 1992:126–127). First found as a deified entity in Middle Babylonian (Kassite) seal inscriptions, the d…

Meriri מרירי

(430 words)

Author(s): K. van der Toorn
I. Name On the basis of the alleged parallelism of mĕrîrî with Resheph and Behemoth in Deut. 32.24, Gordis has urged that “it seems highly reasonable to assume that Meriri is also a mythological term, probably representing a type of demon” (1943:178). Others make a similar suggestion (cf. HALAT 601 s.v. מרירי); it is without solid foundation, though. II. Identity Since a supposed demon Meriri is not attested in extrabiblical texts from the ancient Near East, the proof rests entirely on Deut. 32.24. It cannot be denied that this verse lists a number of demons known from th…
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