View Full Version : Question for the Board

06-08-2004, 12:08 PM
I heard a preacher yesterday say that El Shaddai could also mean "Many-breasted" and could refer to God metaphorically or symbolically as God our sustainer/provider. I don't know Hebrew at all, though i hope to learn in the near future. Is this at all true? I didn't see this meaning at all when i opened TWOT and BDB, though i did notice that it was immediately preceded by the Hebrew word for "breast," and the words seemed to look and sound alike. Root falacy, perhaps? Descendant of the "breast" meaning but by the time Israel used it, it had totally taken on the meaning "God-Almighty"? Any further clarification from someone familiar with Hebrew would be appreciated. I find it hard to believe that YHWH could also be referred to as "Many-breasted" and i've never heard of this before, though i could be mistaken.


06-08-2004, 05:32 PM
G'day Frank

In HALOT, [do you have a copy in BibleWorks?] I read that it can be from a root meaning "to be strong" but also "Despite several attempted and suggested explanations, the etymology has still not been clearly indentified."

The etymology from a word for mountain is discussed, but I see no references to its derivation from SHAD, breast.

Dogmatism here is most unhelpful.

David McKay

Joe Fleener
06-08-2004, 08:32 PM
I am reluctant to get into (what some would perceive) theological discussions on a web forum, especially one dedicated to a software program.

However, here I go:

1. The meaning of a word is not derived from a lexicon nor etymology. It is derived from sound exegesis. A lexicon is an obvious aid, etymology is often not, but can be occasionally. The issue is even if a word can carry a particular meaning that does not demand it carry the same meaning in every context. Exegeting the context will bring to light the meaning of each word in that context.

2. There is an excellent book: Our Father in Heaven: Christian Faith and Inclusive Language of God by: John W. Cooper which addresses this very subject. I highly recommend it.

In conclusion, although am no Hebrew expert, I am very confident that El Shaddai does not mean "Many-breasted," at least in reference to YHWH.

God bless your studies and give us all wisdom as we strive to "rightly divide the Word of Truth."

06-09-2004, 09:10 AM
Thanks for your replies. I knew i could count on BW users to enlighten me here. This would be more of an exegetical discussion than a theological one, right? Anyways, that's why i posted it in the general section. Since my studies at Bible College, i've long been a believer that words don't have meanings, they have uses. My guess is that the preacher in reference either mistook Shaddai for Shad when doing his word study or he read it somewhere else and since it "preached" well, he used it. I would think though, that one would put in a great deal of thought before calling God "Many-breasted" if for no other reason than b/c it sounds so far-fetched and unbelievable for a thinking Christian to accept without adequate proof and examples. Plus, it sounds dangerously close to whatever goddess it was from ancient mythology (i forget which one) that was formed in the image of a woman with many-breasts. Now i'm getting theological, so i'll stop. I must say that one of my pet-peaves are preachers who try to pass themselves to their congregation as being scholarly and authoratative concerning biblical languages but really don't have a clue.

I didn't get HALOT since it was an expensive add-on for a language i'm not yet familiar with. And, just to make sure, the book you mentioned, Joe, discusses El Shaddai or the use of words in context? I'll need to check it out when i get a chance.

Joe Fleener
06-09-2004, 09:19 AM
the book you mentioned, Joe, discusses El Shaddai or the use of words in context? I'll need to check it out when i get a chance.
Here are the contents of the book:

The book is very well written. It contains 11 chapters and some 280 pages of text in paperback.

Cheaper 1: "The Controversy Over Inclusive Language for God"

Chapter 2: Theological Arguments for Inclusive Language for God" (In this chapter he presents this position so clearly that someone who holds to the position of Inclusive Language for God would read it and say "yes that is exactly what I believe.")

Chapter 3: The Bible's Feminine and Maternal References to God

Chapter 4: The Bible's Masculine Language for God

Chapter 5: The Essential Difference between Biblical and Gender-Inclusive Language for God

Chapter 6: Revelation, Scripture and Naming God

Chapter 7: But God is beyond Gender (Again he deals with the other side's arguments to the previous 4 chapters.)

Chapter 8: Inclusive Language and Christian Truth

Chapter 9: Inclusivism and Christian Piety

Chapter 10: Is the God of the Bible a Sexist? (Again he deals with arguments against his position.)

Chapter 11: The Motherly Touch of Our Heavenly Father: The Language of Biblical Christianity.

It is a 1998 Baker publication. ISBN: 080102188X

It is in chapter 6 where he discusses El Shaddai.

06-09-2004, 05:28 PM
G'day Frank
Google has links to a many-breasted Druid sphinx, but firstly to Artemis of Ephesus, complete with pictures.

Doesn't sound a lot like Yahweh of the OT, though he certainly sustains those who trust in him.

I had heard this said of Cybele, but articles don't confirm this.

David McKay

Ben Spackman
06-09-2004, 10:33 PM
The NEt note under Genesis 17:1 is quite instructive in this regard. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense for the two words - to be connected to the same root. Some of our modern languages do it as well- the grand Teetons for example. The question is, why is it applied to God?

NET "The name is used in contexts where God appears as the source of fertility and life. In Gen 17:1-8 he appeared to Abram, introduced himself as El Shaddai, and announced his intention to make the patriarch fruitful. In the role of El Shaddai God repeated these words (now elevated to the status of a decree) to Jacob (35:11). Earlier Isaac had pronounced a blessing on Jacob in which he asked El Shaddai to make Jacob fruitful (28:3). Jacob later prayed that his sons would be treated with mercy when they returned to Egypt with Benjamin (43:14). The fertility theme is not as apparent here, though one must remember that Jacob viewed Benjamin as the sole remaining son of the favored and once-barren Rachel (see 29:31; 30:22-24; 35:16-18). It is quite natural that he would appeal to El Shaddai to preserve Benjamin's life, for it was El Shaddai's miraculous power which made it possible for Rachel to give him sons in the first place. In 48:3 Jacob, prior to blessing Joseph's sons, told him how El Shaddai appeared to him at Bethel (see Gen 28) and promised to make him fruitful. When blessing Joseph on his deathbed Jacob referred to Shaddai (we should probably read "El Shaddai," along with a few Hebrew MSS, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the LXX, and Syriac) as the one who provides abundant blessings, including "blessings of the breast and womb" (49:25). (The direct association of the name with "breasts" suggests the name might mean "the one of the breast" [i.e., the one who gives fertility], but the juxtaposition is probably better explained as wordplay. Note the wordplay involving the name and the root ddv [šädäd, "destroy"] in Isa 13:6 and in Joel 1:15.)

06-10-2004, 02:19 PM
Thanks for the NET notes. I did a google search on "many breasted god" and found some interesting things. Nothing very scholarly, but it showed me that this is not a new interpretation of El Shaddai, "the God of the many-breasts."

06-10-2004, 04:45 PM
I wonder if the preacher had something like the stuff you gave us from the NET notes, Ben, in the back of his mind, but it it didn't come out right?

Although the NET notes version was more restrained, I wonder if this speculation is really suitable for a sermon, or more in place in a bible footnote or dictionary?

David McKay