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Is “Israel” a three word hybrid of “Isis”, “Ra”, and “El”? If so, is Isis a representation of chaos and destruction and Ra representation of order and construction? In this case, does the name Israel mean that “El” presides over chaos and order? In Jacob‘s case (Genesis 32:28) his name is changed to Israel to infer sustained conflict (wrestles) with the “El”.

The aim of this question is to explore the shared concepts of Egyptian mythology (Isis and Ra) and even perhaps the concept of yin and yang energy (opposite forces) that are inferred to be under the rulership of “El”. Could that be a meaningful derivation of Israel?

The grandfather of Jacob was Abraham who was credited with destroying his father idols (polytheism) and addressing God as a singular ruler. Could the conflict between Jacob and the “Man” be a reverberation of the revelation of God’s rulership over all things (as represented by the totality of the opposites from which all matter is constituted)?

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No. Neither Isis nor Ra (two gods of Egypt) is involved in the etymology of the word "Israel." At the time in question in the narrative, Jacob had never been to Egypt; and the word-play is based on Greek pronunciations of the Egyptian gods. So the idea of Egyptian deities being involved would be anachronistic. I was not able to find scholars of biblical studies - even those who assign a late date to Genesis - who endorse the Egyptian hypothesis, although it is indeed promoted by experts in other fields, such as chemistry professor Douglas C Youvan of MIT.

But regarding the deity "El" the answer is yes. El means simply "god" but it was also the name of high deity of the Canaanite pantheon. El-elyon (God Most High) was worshipped by both Abraham and Melchizedek. The syllable "ish" means "man," and the name also puns on the word for "fight" or "contend." The sense of the word in the OP's passage is that Jacob has wrestled (fought/contended) with God and prevailed. A note in the NET provides a good summary:

The explanation of the name Israel includes a sound play. In Hebrew the verb translated “you have fought” (שָׂרִיתָ, sarita) sounds like the name “Israel” (יִשְׂרָאֵל, yisraʾel), meaning “God fights” (although some interpret the meaning as “he fights [with] God”). The name would evoke the memory of the fight and what it meant. A. Dillmann says that ever after this the name would tell the Israelites that, when Jacob contended successfully with God, he won the battle with man (Genesis, 2:279).

Conclusion: While connecting El with Isis and Ra in the name "Israel" has gained some popularity in recent times, the proposition is not endorsed by well-known scholars specializing in biblical hermeneutics.

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The name יִשְׂרָאֵל (Yisrael) has a simple origin that is twice explicitly stated in the OT as:

  • Gen 32:28 - Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men, and you have prevailed.”
  • Hos 12:3 - In the womb he [Jacob/Israel] took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God.

Lexical Etymologies

  • BDB suggests Israel means, "El persisteth, persevereth", usually "contendeth"
  • NAS Exhaustive Concordance suggests that Israel comes from two words, שָׂרָה (sarah) = "to persist, exert oneself, persevere"; and אֵל (el) = "God". Thus, the meaning, "God strives", etc.

APPENDIX - "Sounds Like"

Beginning in the 16th century with M. le Loyer's "The Ten Lost Tribes", but championed and popularized by John Wilson's book in 1840, "Our Israelitish Origin" (inter alia) the British Israelite idea is based purely on a series of words that sound similar such as "Saxon" being "Isaac's son"; Denmark was supposed to be relatives of the tribe of Dan, etc.

Now to the untrained, these all sound plausible but are NOT based on historical facts, nor sound linguistic analysis, nor ethological analysis, nor genetic studies, etc. That is, the entire idea was wishful thinking based on words in different, unrelated languages that sounded similar.

This showed that such a process can arrive at fantastic and fanciful conclusions that are divorced from historical facts and realities.

The same can be said of the origin of "Israel" being related to Isis, Ra and El - the idea is historically and linguistically untenable.

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It's useful to use a cross reference to this episode in Hosea. Hosea 12:5 says:

וָיָּ֤שַׂר אֶל־מַלְאָךְ֙ וַיֻּכָ֔ל בָּכָ֖ה וַיִּתְחַנֶּן־ל֑וֹ בֵּֽית־אֵל֙ יִמְצָאֶ֔נּוּ וְשָׁ֖ם יְדַבֵּ֥ר עִמָּֽנוּ׃

He strove with an angel and prevailed— The other had to weep and implore him. At Bethel [Jacob] would meet him, There to commune with him. (JPS 2023)

וָיָּ֤שַׂר meaning "he struggled" -- is the origin of the name "Israel".

See Malbim on Hosea 12:5, Radak on Hosea 12:5 who see a connection between Jacob wrestling with the angel and his naming

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  • Generally speaking, if would be helpful if you could cite a source (Lexicon, commentary) for the claim the Hosea passage inspires this much as Dottard did in their answer. Commented Mar 13 at 21:39
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Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.”

The word "Sar" means prince. The angel says to Jacob, because you have fought nobly you willed now be called Prince (minister) of God.

Other sources split up the word as ישר (pronounced "shar" which means just) + אל but the simple meaning is using שר (pronounced "sar" which means minister.)

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