Canaanite Phoenician Origin of the God of the Israelites

Phoenician Encyclopedia
Highlight any text; our page(s) will read it. Text-to-speech


The Israelites did not worship any god(s) before being exposed to the people of the Near East. Their religion evolved from the Canaanite, Mesopotamian and Egyptian religions over about two thousand years.

هذه الصفحة بالعربيّة
This page in Arabic

Facebook Logo Visit our Facebook Page
for additional, new studies
Map of Canaan Phoenicia Before Occupation by Israelites

Begged, borrowed or stolen God of the Israelites

The Canaanite people predate the arrival of Israelites by roughly two millennia. The early Canaanites arose around 3,500 BC and settled in the Eastern Mediterranean in the region extending from the borders of Sinai until Turkey. Canaan was a region in the ancient Near East situated in the southern Levant. It had significant geopolitical importance in the Late Bronze Age. During the Amarna period, it became an area where the spheres of interest of the Egyptian, Hittite and Assyrian empires converged.

Knowledge of Canaan comes from archaeological sources. Specifically, exclusives from artefacts dated to the period in which the region existed under the hegemony of the new kingdom of Egypt. Since the Egyptian empire controlled this region during that time, much of our knowledge from archaeology comes from the Amarna letters and other documents of governance which record information from the time of Egyptian rule. Much of the primary source knowledge of Canaan stems from excavations in areas such as Tell Hazor, Tell Megiddo and Gezer

The Israelite religion is one which originated out of these Bronze Age polytheistic, ancient, Semitic religious traditions. Specifically, the Canaanite religion impacted Israelite religion with influential elements from Babylonian and Egyptian religions.

The Canaanite God El

The Israelite religion began as a henotheistic offshoot of the Canaanite worship of El, along with his secondary epithet Yahweh which refers to El Yahweh Sabaoth often translated as Lord of hosts. It likely means El who creates the armies. El who was the supreme god of the Mesopotamian Semites later became the chief god of the Hebrew Bible. In Canaan he was known to be the father and the ruler of the Divines as well as the Creator. The God of the Jews evolved gradually from the Canaanite El who was the high god of the pantheon, to Israel the chief god of the Hebrews. The essential qualities of the Canaanite El were retained in the God of the Hebrews, along with memories of the theogony of El and gods. Over time the Israelite group of Canaanites converged the sky gods El and his son Baal Hadad and El was conflated as Yahweh. Early on, the Israelites also worshipped Yahweh along with his wife Asherah, who was originally the consort of El. In the Canaanite tradition, for a long time, scholars of the Hebrew Bible concluded that a major difference between the God of the Bible and the gods of other traditions was that so-called pagan gods had sexual lives and consorts. Yet, Yahweh did not maintain his wife Asherah as a consort. In the late 20th century, archaeologists uncovered two intriguing inscriptions from two different Middle Eastern sites. The inscriptions were blessings, not only in the name of Yahweh but also his consort, Asherah. Over time, there was a push towards monolatry — the worship of one God among many, but not necessarily denying the existence of other gods. This made the Israelites focus on El Yahweh and compelled them to make it appear that there was a greater divide between Yahweh and the older god Baal. Thus, in order to build up and emphasize the distinction between Yahweh and Baal, the Hebrew text goes to great lengths to make Yahweh’s conflict with Baal apparent. This marked the trend of Israel rejecting its heritage.

The attempts by monotheistic exegeses of the Israelite religion failed to define Asherah as a rock or pole, instead of a goddess. Poles and large stones where the main features of the Canaanite temples and were placed in their most holy places. Thereupon, the Israelites were always well aware of the holiness of such representations of Asherah in Canaanite temples. Hence, they accommodated them in their own temples as well.

God El in Canaanite Religion and the Hebrew Bible

ElAlthough the Israelites apparently broke off from Canaanite tradition, at some point the essential elements from the Canaanite sources were maintained in the Bible such as the same dwellings and epithets of El resides on Mount Zaphon. In certain texts, he dwells within a tent, just like the Tabernacle described in Exodus. Titles of the Canaanite El were preserved in the Hebrew tradition such as the following:

  • Elyon which is most high
  • Rahem which is bull, also
  • El was called the God of patriarchs, a warrior, and
  • El was called Olam which means eternal,
  • El-Olam, the Ancient One
  • El-Shadday, of the Holy Mountain
  • El-Elyon, the Most High
  • Toru, bull
  • Hatikkuka, god of the Patriarchs
  • Gibbor, warrior
Canaanite Phoenician God El

These were the names for the Canaanite El and they became the names for the Hebrew El. Interestingly, Babel relating to Babylon is a conjunction of Bab and El meaning “gate of the God.”It was not singly El from which Yahweh evolved but also Baal Haddad, the Canaanite storm god. Indeed, also the name which Jews substitute for Yahweh lest they utter it was Adonai. This term is from Canaanite which means Adon or Lord (Adonai comes from “Adon” for Lord and “ai” for the possessive meaning “My Lord”). It is a synonym for Baal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *