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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?

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  • I don’t have full edit rights, but shouldn’t a single equal sign be sufficient, unless we’re doing computer programming?
    – Golden Cuy
    Dec 23, 2019 at 0:27
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    The original question here is based on a translation and semantic theories that seem to have been invented primarily to ask the sort of question put here. In short, the answer is no; there is no evidence that this text makes reference to a pagan idol, and the argument put forward in the "question" has nothing to recommend it. Sep 19, 2022 at 0:14
  • Does this answer your question? An explanation of El Shadai, please! Jan 25 at 14:30

4 Answers 4

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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

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  • 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, 2012 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, 2012 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, 2012 at 5:33
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    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, 2012 at 19:15
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    @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, 2012 at 14:25
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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:

http://tora.us.fm/tnk1/kma/qjrim1/jdy1.html

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    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. Apr 1, 2012 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, 2012 at 5:45
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    +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, 2012 at 5:48
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    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. Apr 3, 2012 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, 2012 at 3:57
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FIRST STEP

Could the Septuagint witnessing be useful to understand the correct meaning of שׁדי ('Shaddai')?

Now, I present an amount of examples of LXX’s renditions of the term שׁדי (sometimes those ancient translators rendered it with a Greek corresponding term, other times with an expression, or, in some instances, this Hebrew term remains untranslated at all. Finally, in one instance this term is only transliterated [not ‘translated’]):

θεός, ‘God’ = Gen 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; 49:25; Exo 6:3; Num 24:4, 16.

θεου του ουρανου, ‘God of the Heaven’ = Psa 91:1.

(ο) ικανος, ‘(Who) Being Fit, Competent, Proficient’ (as in Xenophon, Plato, Isocrates, and others) = Rut 1:20; Job 6:4 (same context of Job 6:14); 40:2; Eze 1:24.

παντοκράτωρ, ‘Almighty, The Dominator of Universe’ = Job 5:17; 8:5 (same context of Job 8:3); 11:7; 15:25; 22:17, 25 (same context of Job 22:23); 27:11 (same context of Job 27:10); 32:8; 33:4.

κυριος, ‘Lord’ = Job 6:14 (same context of Job 6:4); 13:3; 21:20; 22:23, 26 (same context of Job 22:17); 31:35.

ο τα παντα ποιησας, ‘The One Making All Things’ = Job 8:3 (same context of Job 8:5).

υλωδης λιαν, ‘flush exceedingly’ [ABP]; ‘very fruitful’ [Brenton]; ‘Blooming (One), Florid (One), Prosperous (One)’ [Starfield] = Job 29:5.

υψιστος, ‘The Highest, The Supreme’ = Job 31:2.

επουρανιος, ‘Heavenly One’ [ABP] = Psa 68:15 (14).

σαδδαι, a mere transliteration of the Hebrew term = Eze 10:5.

  • untranslated - = Job 27:10 (same context of Job 27:11); 37:23.

Now, are we able – treasuring these LXX’s renderings - to draw some hints about the real meaning of שׁדי ? ‘No’ and ‘Yes’.

No’, because it is evident that the LXX’s translators had no complete view of the full semantic value of the Hebrew term (the frequent and generic renditions like θεός, κυριος, and alike, are completely useless to comprehend its semantic value).

Yes’, because it seems that a shard of meaning was maintained in at least LXX’s one instance. Indeed, the expression υλωδης λιαν (in Job 29:5) make us to conclude that שׁדי could has - at least - something to do with the idea of ‘to bloom’, ‘to be florid’, ‘to be prosperous’.

Having considered the above renderings of the LXX’s translators, we may ask if the Hebrew text – instead - could offer us some major hints about this divine title.

SECOND STEP

Well, I think that some occurrence of שׁדי – in MT - are really enlighting, offering us a clue to the real meaning of this quite obscure term. Let discover how.

First of all, the same Hebrew term שׁדי, šdi may mean ‘breasts’, as in Gen 49:25, Psa 22:9 (10), Son 8:1, and Eze 23:21, and this rendering – too - has surely something to do with the idea of ‘to bloom’, ‘to be florid’, ‘to be prosperous’, isn’t it?

Umberto Cassuto (A Commentary on the Book of Exodus; bold is mine): “With the name […] ‘Shaddai’ […] the Israelites were wont to associate the idea of the Divinity who rules over nature and bestows upone mankind fertility, as we can see from every verse in the Pentateuch, in which this name occurs; for example, Gen. XVII 1-2: ‘I am El Shaddai… and I will multiply you exceedingly’; ibid. XXVIII 3 ‘And El Shaddai bless you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you’; ibid. XXXV 11: ‘I am El Shaddai. Be fruitful and multiply: a nation and a company of nations shall be of you’; see further ibid. XLVIII 3-4; XLIX 25 […].” (p. 78)


Further, also the text of Genesis 49 makes light to this regard. It is traditionally known as ‘The Jacob’s Blessings to His Sons’, and was wrote in a Hebrew poetic style.

Lingering over the ‘blessings’ reserved to Joseph (verses 22-26) we can observe that also this passage revolves itself around the idea of real blessings, fruitfulness, prosperity, and alike (I speak here of ‘real’ blessings because Jacob’s declarations towards – for example – his sons Simeon and Levi were more execrations that ‘blessings’, as traditionally the term brk is translated by many).

For example, on verse 22 we find twice the expression bn prt, that means – literally - ‘son of fruitfulness’. After, the second time Jacob did add the supplement words oli oin, that is, ‘near (or, ‘on’) a spring’. Again, we find (vs. 26) another word related to this idea, taut, that is linked with the concept of ‘fullness, satiety’ (see – for an example - Psa 78:30, tautm, ‘what they [Israelites] craved [to fill their belly]’).


And, finally, we arrive to vs. 25 (I’ve italicized here two pivotal terms):

מאל אביך ויעזרך ואת שׁדי ויברכך ברכת שׁמים מעל ברכת תהום רבצת תחת ברכת שׁדים ורחם

Even if one doesn’t be familiar with Hebrew language he will able to grasp the (graphical) similarity between the two underlined terms (šdi [‘Shaddai’] and šdim). As for me, I think it is not due to chance that these two words were spoken by Jacob in the same micro-context of his ‘blessings’.

The term šdim must be concept-related with šdi [‘Shaddai’]. And, indeed, šdim is related with the idea of ‘to be bloom’, ‘to be florid’, ‘to be prosperous’. Its meaning? ‘Breasts’ again (in this very verse in a conceptual couple with רחם, ‘womb’). What a beautiful and graphical synthesis of all these ‘prosperity-related’ terms!

Similarly, also C. I. Scofield, in his Reference Bible Notes (bold is mine): “The qualifying word ‘Shaddai’ is formed from the Hebrew word ‘shad’, ‘the breast’, invariably used in Scripture for a woman’s breast; e.g. Gen 49:25; Job 3:12; Psa 22:9; Son 1:13; Son 4:5; Son 7:3; Son 7:7-8; Son 8:1, 8, 10; Isa 28:9; Eze 16:7. ‘Shaddai’ therefore means primarily ‘the breasted’. God is ‘Shaddai’, because He is the Nourisher, the Strength-giver, and so, in a secondary sense, the Satisfier, who pours himself into believing lives. As a fretful, unsatisfied babe is not only strengthened and nourished from the mother’s breast, but also is quieted, rested, satisfied, so El Shaddai is that name of God which sets Him forth as the Strength-giver and Satisfier of His people. It is on every account to be regretted that ‘Shaddai’ was translated ‘Almighty’.”

THIRD (AND LAST) STEP

The last step that will help us to reach a more probable understanding of the meaning of the divine title of שׁדי is to analyze the passage of Exo 6:3 (bold is mine):

and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name Jehovah I made Me not known to them.” (JPS)

Now, this God’s reasoning is very useful to help us to reach a conclusion about this topic. How?

Well, any meanings we may apply to the name יהוה (‘Jehovah’, JPS) it has safely related with the concept of ‘to become’ (not ‘to be’, as many today again claim!).

This verb doesn’t carry a static factor on it, never. It carries only a dynamic factor on it. I try now to explain more simply this concept.

Undoubtedly, the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) is linked with the God’s explanation related in Exo 3:14. There, the majority of the Bibles translated the famous Hebrew expression אהיה אשׁר אהיה, included in it, as “I Am that I Am”. But this rendering is incorrect for two reasons: (1) it doesn’t carry a dynamic factor on it, as always the verb הוה/היה does. Furthermore (2) this expression (“I Am that I Am”, “I Am Who I Am”, “I Am That Which I Am”, and so on) isn’t a peculiar and exclusive characteristics of God!

Indeed, everyone of us ‘is that he/she is’. Each one animal, too, if they could speak, would say, ‘I am that I am’. This happens because these translators mistakenly apply – into their Exo 3:14’s translations – a static factor to this Hebrew verb.

Since the Divine Name was ideated by God Himself, are really we correct to conclude that He liked to compose a name for Him, which was possible to be attached also to humans, as well as animals? I don’t think so. Why? Simply because if we apply – as always the TaNaKh does – a dynamic factor to the verb הוה/היה we may – at last – understand the real meaning of the Divine Name, namely, ‘I will become what I (want to) become’.

This synthetic description is – really – a peculiar and exclusive characteristics of God! Indeed, what human are able to state truly this fact? We human are not able ever ‘to know what our life will be tomorrow’ (Jam 4:14). How we may claim or assert ‘I will become what I (want to) become’?

Summing up, we’ve said that (1) any meanings we may apply to the name יהוה (‘Jehovah’, JPS) it has safely related with the concept of ‘to become’, and (2) that this concept must be applied along with a dynamic factor inside it.

All this data force us to conclude that the real and full meaning of the Divine Name is related with omnipotence, at all. In fact, if I am able to say – truly – ‘I will become what I (want to) become’ this means I have every powers to perform what I want. In few words, the Divine Name’s has to related to the expression of Lord Jesus: “With men this is impossible, but with God everything is possible” (Mat 19:26, Weymouth).

Now, and this is the point, since the Divine Name is surely Omnipotence-related this fact triggers the exclusion of meanings of ‘omnipotence’ or ‘all-mightiness’ among the meanings of šdi [‘Shaddai’]. Then, is incorrect to translate šdi [‘Shaddai’] as ‘the Almighty’.

Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary – Exodus (bold is mine): “Although [Shaddai] is usually translated ‘God Almighty’, there are no convincing traditions as to its meaning and little etymological justification for that particular rendering.”


The very phraseology of Exo 6:3 – too – drive us to conclude that ‘Shaddai’ isn’t linked with the concept of omnipotence (I add now a math mark to the two terms at issue [a and b]).

“and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty (a), but by My name Jehovah (b) I made Me not known to them. ” (JPS)

Here, tackling the issue from a math viewpoint, it is clear that a is a subset, whereas b is a superset. It cannot be otherwise, because God’s talk was about an increasing amount of information (about his personality), from ‘Shaddai’ (a) to ‘Jehovah’ (b).

So, if we wrongly assign to the term a (‘Shaddai’) the primary status of superset, to the second term b (‘Jehovah’) it must be assigned a secondary status (underset). And this is absolutely incorrect, because (1) is the term ‘Jehovah’ to be Omnipotence-related, and because (2) the Exo 6:3 God’s phraseology proceed from a less-information name (šdi [‘Shaddai’]) to a more-information name (יהוה, ‘Jehovah’).

Indeed, the astounding chain of miracles performed by God against the wicked Egyptian Pharaoh, as well as against some rebellious Israelites, did show that the goal of God was to demonstrate his Omnipotence, not only his liberality (an aspect yet known to the previous patriarchs).

NLT Illustrated Bible (bold is mine): “[…] it is possible that they [the pre-mosaic patriarchs] had never seen God’s nature displayed as it was in the Exodus and the Sinai covenant. […] People’s names were intended to reflect their character and nature, not just serve as a label. […] In this case, the patriarchs knew God’s name, but they did not know and experience his nature fully as he revealed himself in the Exodus.” [ft. to Exo 6:2-3]

To conclude all the argument, I think that the more probable meaning of the divine title (šdi [‘Shaddai’]) is: “The Bestower”, “The Munificent”.

Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible (bold is mine): “[שׁדי, šdi comes] from שדה shadah, ‘to shed’, ‘to pour out’. I am that God who pours out blessings, who gives them richly, abundantly, continually.”  

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The idea that El Shaddai bestowed the female deity who bestowed the blessings of breasts and womb is based on the fact that word שַׁד (shad) means breast (Strong's 7699). The Akkadian shadû (mountain) may also be related to breasts as well. In Canaanite mythology, the twin mountains Targhizizi and Tharumagi held the heavenly firmament up above primordial ocean. However, the hypothesis that Shaddai was "She of the Breast/s" is based on linguistics and has no known basis in surviving Canaanite or Mesopotamian literature.

Shaddai can also mean 'power' (the traditional understanding) and is related as well to 'destruction' (Strong's 7703).

Conclusion: The hypothesis that Shaddai could refer to a female deity who bestows the blessings of breasts and the womb is not completely out of the question, but it is speculative, rather than being based on written records.

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