Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I found the name "El-Shaddai" mysterious, but while going over Genesis, found the following passage (Gen 49) Wikisource translation

From the god of your fathers, and he will help you, and the Shaddai, and He will bless you, blessing on the breasts, blessings of the skies above, blessings of the abyss squatting below, blessings of breasts and womb.

(This translation is an edit. The original Wikisource translation, also due to me, but from a while ago, was wrong in several respects. It was missing the sentence part "and the Shaddai, and he will bless you", the reason being that it confused me on first reading, and I skipped it, and never went back to fill it in. It was subtly wrong in other ways too, I fixed it--- apologies--- this does not affect the question.)

This is Jacob giving last testimony to his sons. The interesting part is that two parts of the world, the skies, and the abyss, are compared to the breasts and womb of a gigantic fertility goddess figure. The idea seems to be that the skies are like the breasts of an enormous woman, and the abyss like the sexual organ, so we live in the belly part (think like an ancient fertility figurine with sprawling breasts and a wide womb).

This idea motivates El-Shaddai, as "god of my breast", or "god of the skies" in this parallel. This is not a completely natural interpretation, because it would more naturally not be "my breast" but "the breasts" or "her breasts" if it referred to another place. But I couldn't find any other textual clue to this.

Is this idea at all plausible? Is it in the hermeneutics literature?

share|improve this question

There are several options for the etymology of Shaddai. My opinion is to take it from a word for "mountain."

I can't see how the wikisource gets to the translation it does. That certainly varies from the BHS. I think what they are doing is taking the et before shaddai as the mark of the accusative (thus making shaddai the direct object of the verb). While this is often the case (the most common that I have seen in my studies), it can also function to emphasize the subject in (see 2 Kings 6:5 and Gen 17:5 for two examples). I also note that there are several disjunctive accent marks in places that would shift the meaning closer to the more common translation.

Genesis 49:25 From the God of your father who helps you, And by the Almighty who blesses you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. [NASU]

There is Hebrew parallelism in this verse that the Wikisource misses. Notice how it breaks down;

From the God of your father who helps you, 
And by the Almighty who blesses you With blessings of heaven above, 
                                         Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, 
                                         Blessings of the breasts and of the womb.

The first two parts line up in direct parallel. "The God of your father who helps you" parallels with "the almighty who blesses you." Then the next 3 clauses tell how that help and blessing comes. "A blessing on the breasts" misses that and breaks the flow.

Also, the word they translate as "squatting" means "lie down, recline, stretch out, lie down stretched out." That is a different position than "squat."

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament has this entry on el-shaddai.

[Skipping the breakdown of where it is found to get to the analysis]

The translation "Almighty" goes back to ancient times, at least as far back as the LXX, which translates shadday as pantokratœr "all powerful." This is also reflected in the Vulgate, omnipotens. The rabbinic analysis of this word is that it is a compound word composed of the relative she, "who" and the word day, "enough: she-day," the one who is (self-)sufficient" (Babylonian Talmud, Hagigah 12a).

In recent times these earlier suggestions have been all but rejected and new ones have been put in their place. We need to mention only some of the more tenable suggestions. One is that shadday is to be connected with the Hebrew verb shadad "to destroy," hence "my destroyer." A second possibility, and this is the most widely accepted today, is that shadday is to be connected with the Akkadian word, šadu "mountain." Thus El Shaddai would translate into English something like "God/El of the mountain," i.e. God's abode. The ending - ay is to be understood as an adjectival suffix (and thus the translation "of the.... "), a morphological feature now demonstrated by Ugaritic: for example, one of El's three daughters is called °rƒy ( °arƒi) and means, "she of the earth." Also related etymologically, in addition to Akkadian šadu is Ugaritic ¾d, (Cross, see bibliography pp. 248-250).

As El Shaddai God manifested himself to the patriarchs (Exo 6:3): specifically to Abraham, Gen 17:1; to Isaac, Gen 28:3; and to Jacob, Gen 35:11; Gen 43:14, Gen 48:3. The context for most of these references is the covenant, more precisely the command for obedience and faithfulness on the part of the vassal and the promise of progeny by God. It is not to the hills (natural phenomenon) that these men of faith looked for confidence but to the Lord of these hills, the Lord of the mountain (Psa 121:1-2).

Bibliography: Albright, W. F., "The Names Shaddai and Abram," JBL 54:173 - 93. Pope, M., in Job, AB, p. 44. Walker, M., "A New Interpretation of the Divine Name 'Shaddai'," ZAW 72:64-66. THAT, II, pp. 873-81. Cross, F. M., Harvard Theol. Review, Vol. 55 (1962), p. 246. V.P.H.

Emphasis added

share|improve this answer
The word "rovetz" is not quite reclining, it is a prone position, which is not necessarily lying down--- it's more like crouching. Squatting though has a similar "dirty" connotation, and is closer to the meaning--- something rovetz is something kind of that you don't want to be around, like the sins that is rovetz at the door for Cain. I would not translate it as "lying down", perhaps "waiting prone", but this has connotation of inaction. It's more like "crouching ready", and "squat" I find to have similar connotations. It's a judgement call, I agree. – Ron Maimon Apr 1 '12 at 4:55
The Rabbinical commentary that it is "el-she-dai" as in "God that is sufficient" is ridiculous. First, it is using "she-dai" in a different pronounciation, not "sha-dai", second, it is obviously a much later Hebrew construction, like in a Haggadah, not like the Hebrew of Genesis. The interpretation is as silly as saying that when Jesus said "I am the son of man", he was saying "I am the son of ... , MAN!" because someone stepped on his toe as he was saying it. This kind of stuff is why I find it difficult to take Rabbinical sources seriously. The root is obviously breast, not sufficiency. – Ron Maimon Apr 1 '12 at 5:03
First, +1, because the Wikisource translation was totally missing the clause: וְאֵת שַׁדַּי וִיבָרְכֶךָּ . It didn't interpret it as anything--- it just omitted these three words, that was my fault, and I went back and retranslated these verses. Thanks. I am well aware of the academic interpretations, I don't buy them. My question was about the fertility symbol interpretations – Ron Maimon Apr 1 '12 at 5:33
It seems to me that you'd prefer "breasts" for non textual reasons(?) I'm no expert in biblical Hebrew but have talked to or read the works of quite a lot of them, many of whom do not have a high view about the inspiration o the Scriptures. Never have I heard anyone give linguistic credibility to the view that Shaddai would be based on "breasts". – itpastorn Apr 9 '12 at 19:15
@Ron Maimon: Since my books are in storage, I can not give you any details as to why the scholars I was referencing preferred "mountain", but their reasons were along the lines of TWOT cited in the answer above, even though they provided more etymological detail. Compared to other discussions I've seen about interpreting biblical Hebrew, they did not seem particularly stretchy at all. But since I am now giving an opinion based on memory only, I have nothing further to contribute to this discussion. – itpastorn Jul 11 '12 at 14:25

Rav Hannan Porat Z"L explained the name "El Shadday" as stemming from "Shad", meaning "breast", a symbol of fertility. See here, in Hebrew; number #4:

share|improve this answer
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics—Stack Exchange! Thank you for summarizing the content of the link as I can't read Hebrew. I wonder if I could persuade you to expand on this answer? It would be especially helpful if you could show how the given definition fits into the passage referenced in the question. – Jon Ericson Apr 1 '12 at 5:36
I can summarize it: points 1+2 give two different "She-dai" interpretations as in "God that is sufficient", this is ridiculously anachronistic Hebrew, and wrong pronounciation, also obviously, terribly, wrong. 3 is "shadad" which is a stretch, plunder-God, stretch because two "d"s. 4 says "shaddai" comes from breast, but it does not link it up to a cosmology which identifies the sky with breasts and the Abyss with a womb. Religious sources won't do that, because it is a flat-Earth cosmology, and they don't usually want to treat Genesis as a flat-Earth document. – Ron Maimon Apr 1 '12 at 5:45
+1 for the link, but I am looking for a source (or a refutation) of the idea that the sky is the breasts and the abyss is the womb of the universe conceived as an enormous woman (Mother-Earth indeed!). This is the interpretation I eventually settled on, although it isn't perfect, but I don't see it anywhere. – Ron Maimon Apr 1 '12 at 5:48
about point 3: Note that the Hebrew word has a "dagesh" in the d, which makes it actually two "d"s. Thus the link to "shadad" makes perfect sense. This is common in Hebrew, for example, "haggim" (=holidays) is written with a single g but it has dagesh; the verb "hogeg" (=celebrates a holiday) is written with two "g"s. – Erel Segal-Halevi Apr 3 '12 at 5:55
@ErelSegalHalevi: That is very interesting! Thanks for the heads up. The problem I have is that the duplication "Chag" "Chogeg", "Chad", "Chidud", "Ketz", "Katzatz" etc,etc, are (at least in modern Heb.) a general grammatical method to turn a 2-consonant root into a 3-consonent verb. In this regard "Shaddai" would have to be turned into "Shadad" as a verb, and in noun form, it should mean "Something robbed"/"Robber", but I can't connect that to the breast meaning. It's an interesting idea, but it still sounds intuitively all wrong to me, perhaps my intuition is not sharp enough. – Ron Maimon Apr 4 '12 at 3:57

Look, El Sha and ddai (I'm jewish I can't put the holy name down here in one word) is actually a hebrew acronym for

Shin(ש) Shomer

‎Dalet(ד) Delasot

Yod(י)‎ Yisrael

which means protector/keeper guardian of Israel (The Jews). In all Shin, Dalet and Yod(hebrew letters) make up the hebrew word Sha and ddai.This name is a very holy sacred name of God in Judaism.

share|improve this answer
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. – Steve Taylor May 17 at 10:02
Are you sure this acronym can be the origin of the name? When God applies this name to himself when speaking to Abram in Genesis 17:1-2, what would it have meant to Abram? – Steve Taylor May 17 at 10:05
El Shad dai just means Gd(the) protector in general – Avishai EliYahu Jun 27 at 14:40
And Yisroel/Israel means prince of the Almighty one. – Avishai EliYahu Jul 21 at 5:33
Okay, and what is your actual source for that understanding? There are lots of understandings different Jewish sources have tried - whether it's tracing it from 'shadaim' (breasts -> the G-d who nourishes), or from 'sha' and 'dai' (who + enough -> the G-d who is enough), or is it from shadad (overpower -> the G-d who is Almighty). This answer needs to spend more time explaining why it arrives at this specific conclusion and not any of the common ones. – Steve Taylor Jul 21 at 14:12

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.