“And Jacob said to Joseph, “El Shaddai appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and He blessed me, and said to me, ‘I will make you fertile and numerous…’ And Shaddai who blesses you…blessings of the breast and womb.” Genesis 48:3-4; 49:25
“God also spoke to Moses and said to him: ‘I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by my name Yahweh.” Exodus 6:3
God of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs
Rooted in a very old poetic tradition, the divine name Shaddai occurs 48 times in the Hebrew Bible and has traditionally been translated as Almighty. The early Hebrew ancestors of Israel “worshipped the supreme god under various appellations, such as El (as among the North Canaanites of Ugarit), (El-) ‘Elyon, (El-) Saddai” (Albright, p.191). Perhaps the deity’s name is related to Shaddai, a late Bronze Age Amorite city on the banks of the Euphrates River (in what is now northern Syria). It has been surmised that Shaddai was the god worshipped in this area, an area associated with Abraham’s home. It is “quite reasonable to suppose that the ancestors of the Hebrew brought it [Shaddai] with them from northwestern Mesopotamia to Palestine” (Albright, p.193). The early patriarchs and matriarchs then would have perceived Shaddai as their chief god. Continue reading
“You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods, whether on lofty mountains and on hills or under any luxuriant tree” Deut. 12:2
What is the importance of these trees? After some research I learned that the
“phenomenon of a sacred tree, particularly one associated with a sacred site, is well known in a variety of cultures. A distinguished tree, especially one of great antiquity, might be looked upon as the ‘tree of life’ or as being ‘cosmic,’ its stump symbolizing the ‘navel of the earth’ and its top representing heaven. In this sense, it is a bridge between the human and the divine spheres, and it becomes an arena of divine-human encounter, an ideal medium of oracles and revelation. Trees may have also symbolized the protection or fertility the worshiper hoped to receive from a deity. Fertility cults flourished in connection with such trees, and this form of paganism proved attractive to many Israelites” (Sarna, p.91).
The Canaanite goddess Asherah is closely related to the sacred terebinth trees. Even etymologically the Hebrew words for “goddess” (elat), “terebinth tree” (ela or alla) and the two words for oak (elon and allon) are closely related (Ackerman, Asherah). It has been well known for some time that the Israelites embraced monotheism quite late in their history as evidenced by archaeological finds. Despite the fact that Israelites were forbidden to worship Asherah under the sacred Canaanite trees, “there are multiple indications in biblical tradition that many in ancient Israel did regard Asherah’s cult icon as an appropriate sacred symbol within the religion of YHWH,” (Ackerman, Asherah).
Deborah and the Sacred Tree
It is against this backdrop that I read about Deborah who sat under a “luxuriant tree” called “the Palm of Deborah.” From this location Deborah summoned the general Barak to march against Sisera, the general of Israelite’s oppressors. Then she acted as military mastermind for the ensuing battle. Continue reading
“…Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he married: ‘He married a Cushite woman!’ They said, ‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” Numbers 12:1-2
This scene begs us to ask, “Who was this Cushite woman? And what does Moses’ marriage to her have to do with his siblings’ concern about prophetic authority?” The answer to who this woman was will help us understand what part she played in the struggle between the siblings and therefore will provide us with a better understanding of the point of the story. Continue reading