That was the challenge levelled at historian Tom Holland on The...
What does the Hebrew language tell us about God?
So we have two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. We remind ourselves of the first three words,
“I AM the LORD* your God.”
Elohekha Adonai Anoki
We can see that there are two alephs
- the one at the beginning of the first word and the one at the start of the third word. The first word,
takes the meaning “I am”, but this very word is mainly used in the context of a royal command. Its literal meaning is Because I Am and is used over a hundred times in Scripture.
You will notice the extra emphasis placed on those two words, “I AM” – capitalised and in bold – in the One New Man Bible. A translation that “reveals Jewish Roots”, is always going to have the highest view of Almighty God, never better demonstrated than in this first part of Exodus 20:2.
It is God Himself speaking here and we’re not to forget that. It underlines all that follows and puts a Divine seal on the proclamations that form the Ten Commandments. These aren’t ordinary instructions, these are part of God’s Word of life for us!
We are now going to look at this third word, or rather, the first two letters:
We have already seen the first letter, the aleph
the letter that evolved from the Proto-Canaanite letter picture:
We remember that this is a picture of an ox’s head, signifying the idea of leadership and strength. The other letter is a lamed (l). Here is the original Proto-Canaanite letter picture, representing a staff or a crook and conveying the idea of guiding:
This, in turn, transformed into the Phoenician – Old Hebrew letter:
So, the original word gives the sense of “strong guided leadership”. The modern pronunciation of
is el and is the generic title for God. This is a good fit to the original meaning of those letters. It is not the personal name of God, more of that later, but it is a word that appears all over the Hebrew Scriptures, sometimes as a prefix or suffix.
Here’s our phrase again.
“I AM the LORD* your God.”
translates as ”your God”, formed from two parts,
Now God has many Names, each expressing a facet of His character. Here’s one of them:
(aleph - lamed shin – dalet – yod) = el shaday.
Most Jewish and Christian Bibles translate this as “God Almighty”, but that doesn’t tell the full story. Actually it’s quite an earthy one, so, if you’re easily shocked, cover your eyes now!
Let’s look at the root of shaday:
Let’s see what Proto-Canaanite letter pictures this developed from:
The first letter (reading from right to left) is a shin and the picture is of the two front teeth, or of just two ... Well, it needs to be seen in conjunction with the other letter, the dalet, which can be a door, or something that hangs down, like a shutter. The overall impression of the root word of shaday is of two dangling objects. Perhaps the second picture is a clue as to what is being referred to here. Hebrew can be a very graphic language. The word shaday can also mean teats and so the overall picture is of God nourishing His children and providing all they need for life. God of Teats has not been an acceptable image for the Bible translators, so they provide the more acceptable (though not as accurate translation) God Almighty.
We also see this word el
as a suffix in a whole swathe of Old Testament names. Here are some names and their meanings:
Dani-el (God is my judge)
Jo-el (The Lord is God)
Ezeki-el (God will strengthen)
Ishma-el (God hears)
Isra-el (Struggles with God)
Immanu-el (God is with us)
Samu-el (Name of God)
Here’s another one, Uzzi-el (God is my strength). He was Moses’ uncle, which brings us back to our historical story.
For the previous article in this series, click here.
For the next article in this series, click here.
To find out what is my favourite book of the Bible, click here.
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