Recently i’ve watched a yale lecture on the OT on youtube from Christine Hayes, an important Old Testament scholar. She noted that in the original hebrew, God is called ‘El’ in the OT, and ultimately, El was the name for a Canaanite deity (and in fact head of the canaanite pantheon) and now it’s in the OT. I’ve read, however, a number of arguments attempting to show that El is in fact, not the Canaanite deity in the OT, but rather simply the generic term for God in Hebrew. I find this convincing because, even in later biblical books like Daniel, which clearly has no interest in the beliefs of canaanites, the term for God is still ‘El’ and there appears to be no other generic term for God present in the OT. However it could also be that the Hebrews borrowed ‘El’ from the Canaanite’s, and the name later evolved into the generic term for God (explaining why Yahweh-centric Daniel still calls God ‘El’). I’m not exactly sure how to understand the relationship here between the Canaanite deity El and El in the OT. Is the Bible borrowing? Is El just the generic term for ‘God’ in Hebrew? Any ideas?
I don’t know the particulars of the argument you are referencing, but it is true that El is the generic Hebrew word for god. It is used in the Bible to refer to YHWH the God of Israel, as well as other gods like Molech.
It might interest you to know that the generic English word for God is etymologically related to a Gothic word that was probably originally used in their pre-Christian religion. Languages are related and the meanings of words evolve and change as languages borrow terms and infuse them with their own meanings. Languages borrow all the time, and God’s word is written down in human language. If the Canaanite diety was El and in the Hebrew language the generic term for ‘god’ was etymologically related, so what? That doesn’t mean the Israelites worshiped the Canaanite god any more than it means we English speakers worship some pagan Gothic deity. Words are arbitrary signs. You don’t learn to speak a language by studying the etymology of words.
Thanks for this contribution, it is very well appreciated.
I think there is a more convincing version of this theory!
See this article on Luwian (an Indo-European language related to the Hittite language):
The pdf is a nice background, but the details are laid out in other places, like Javier Teixidor’s book “The Pagan God: Popular Religion in the Greco-Roman Near East”:
"In the bilingual inscription of Karatepe, a ninth-century B.C. fortress in the Taurus mountain range [the text, however, is usually dated to the 600’s BCE], the god EL -
Creator of the Earth ('l qn 'rs) of the Phoenician text
is equated in the
Luwian hieroglyphs to ‘a-a-s’, the [Luwian] name of the Babylonian god Ea
whose realm was the waters that surround the earth."
[Footnote: For the pantheon of Karatepe, see . . . E. Lipinski also deals with the equation 'l qn 'rs = Ea at Karatepe in El’s Abode: Mythological Traditions Related to Mount Hermon and to the Mountains of Armenia," Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 2 (1971), 13-69 see especially pp. 65-69.]
The point the author wants to make is that Phoenician EL is construed in parallel to the Hellenic god of water, Poseidon. This need not detain us at this point. Because what we are also seeing is that the Phoenician EL is construed in parallel to the Semitic god of Water “Ea”.
Now, we turn to Genesis 14:19
"Blessed be Abram of the most high . . . God, possessor of . . . earth. . .
with the Hebrew for those last words being:
'El [Strong’s H410] = EL ['l]
possessor [Strong’s H7069] = qanah [qn]
[The full range of the meaning includes: “to get, acquire, create, buy, possess”]
earth [Strong’s H776] = 'erets ['rs]
In the article below, a catalog of virtually identical wording is provided:
"The title qny ʾrṣ is widely attested in the Syria-Palestinian cultural region, showing that it originated as an ancient epithet belonging to the Canaanite god El (Pope 1955: 52-54; Stolz 1970: 130-132; Miller 1980; Röllig 1999a; Smith 2001: 137; 2002: 41; Steiner 2009; Kottsieper 2013). This includes the references to
 dEl-ku-ni-ir-sa or dKu-ni-ir-sa in Hittite texts (Otten 1953; KUB 36.38; McAffee 2013; Weippert 2014),
 ʾl qn ʾrṣ in the Phoenician Karatepe inscription (Weippert 1969: 197; Röllig 1999b: 50-55; Hawkins 2000: 45-68),
 qn ʾrṣ on an ostracon from Jerusalem (Miller 1980; Aḥituv 2008: 41-42; cf. Renz 1995a: 198),
 ʾl qnrʿ and ʾl qwnrʿ from Palmyra (Cantineau 1938: 78-79; RTP no. 220; Teixidor 1979: 25-27; Dirven and Kaizer 2013: 402),
 bʿ[l]šmwn qnh dy rʿ h from Hatra (Caquot 1963: 15),
 ʾl qn ʾrṣ in a Neo-Punic inscription from Leptis Magna (Levi Della Vida and Guzzo Amadasi 1987: 45-47; Cadotte 2007: 314-315; Hocek 2012: 208),
 Connarus/Konnaros in Latin and Greek inscriptions from Baalbek (Rey-Coquais 1978; Hajjar 1977: 81-83; 1985: 241; 1990: 2483, 2504; Aliquot 2009: 163-164),
 and finally ʾl ʿlywn qnh šmym wʾrṣ in the Bible (Gen 14: 19, 22)."
[End of Catalog]
Now, of course, this is all speculative… but instead of arguing something as limited as the EL of the Bible was the Canaanite God EL, we can go further back… looking at the origins of the Canaanite God EL!
Why would a Semitic/Luwian bi-lingual intentionally put the water god of “Ea” (written in cuneiform, not in letters), when it came to translating the ever-popular EL, provided in Semitic letters? The phrasing is most distinctive. Creator or Possessor of Earth (in the Bible, Heaven is added to the phrase as well).
This goes back to my old challenge: if a Yah worshipper, fluent in Hebrew, were to travel to Babylon and get into a religioius discussion with a Babylonian priest … and the Priest was taking notes to relay to his fellow priests back at the Temple, how would the Babylonian, writing in cuneiform, write the name “Yah”?
Would it be surprising to think the priest, familiar with the Akkadian God “Ea” (the Semitic name assigned to the Sumerian water God of Enki), might write “Ea” to approximate the sound of Yah, spoken by the Hebrew?
Case #1: Sumerian Enki (water god) is renamed “Ea” (who possessed the Underworld and all its waters).
Case #2: Luwian “Ea” (just Ea, with no qualifiers) is the equivalent to “EL Possessor of Earth”
Case #3: Biblical “EL” is the equivalent of Yahwist’s divine name: “Yah” or the longer “Yah-weh”, described as "Posessor of the Earth.
Case #4: Hypothetical interaction between Hebrew Priest and Babylonian Priest. One says “Yah”; the other writes down the virtual equivalent of Water God possessor of the world: “Ea”.
Everything you said! Just to keep adding to this, since I just happened to have looked this up yesterday: The Proto-Germanic precursor to the word “god” technically meant “that which is invoked.” But as you said, that word was definitely used to refer to pagan deities long before it referred to the Trinity. And, similarly, the Greek word theos referred to Zeus and Apollo before Hellenistic Jews started using the same word to refer to YHWH. And actually the Arabic word Allah was used by Christians before it was used by Muslims, and it is still used by Christians in many languages to refer to the Trinitarian God… because it’s just that language’s word for “God.”
No language starts with a word that means exactly what we mean by “God.”