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And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:18 ESV)
ויאמר אברהם אל־האלהים לו ישמעאל יחיה לפניך

The phrase אל־האלהים treats אל as a preposition: Abraham spoke "to" God (Elohim). However, it is obvious "to" whom Abraham is speaking and the preposition אל is unnecessary:

And Abraham said "HaElohim, Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”
ויאמר אברהם האלהים לו ישמעאל יחיה לפניך

The unmarked אל is also a noun meaning "God," which is is how God identifies Himself:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless (17:1)
ויהי אברם בן־תשעים שנה ותשע שנים וירא יהוה אל־אברם ויאמר אליו אני־אל שדי התהלך לפני והיה תמים

Obviously, if Abraham had used אל־אברם then his request would have been understood as, "El Shaddai, Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”

What factors require אל to be read as the preposition and prevent Abraham from addressing God as El, HaElohim"

And Abraham said, "El, HaElohim, Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”

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  • Segol Alef אֶ is used when אֶל serves as a preposition. – חִידָה Feb 24 at 20:08
  • @חִידָה Is that in the original or an addition in the Masoretic text? – Revelation Lad Feb 24 at 20:11
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    Masoretes used the Segol as a pointer [>] when אל points אֶל towards someone אֶל into something. – חִידָה Feb 24 at 20:17
  • @חִידָה My question is on the words spoken by Abraham, not the MT conventions or how the MT interprets them. Obviously the additions in the MT bring clarity to those texts which in the unpointed state can give rise to more than one reading. But they are additions not present in the original, – Revelation Lad Feb 24 at 20:24
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What factors require אל to be read as the preposition and prevent Abraham from addressing God as El Elohim?

There is a definite article ה between el and elohim, אל־האלהים.

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  • That you for pointing that out. I have edited the question to include the article. I don't think the article necessarily is the answer as האלהים without the preposition is used when speaking to God (eg. Judges 16:28). Also if one takes the definite article to be the-Elohim, then it could be taken to mean HaElohim i.e. "The" Elohim to contrast with "elohim" which can mean "god" or "gods" or "judges" and so forth. That is, by HaElohim Abraham means specifically "God, The-God" El HaElohim. – Revelation Lad Feb 24 at 19:50

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