The Hebrew El Elyon first appears in the Bible in Genesis 14 where Abraham is praised for defeating the kings of the East and rescuing Lot. He is called Abraham of the Most High God (El Elyon). In Jewish theology this event occurs somewhere near the second millennium BC. Chris disagrees with this analysis in his video (HERE) stating that el elyon is the name of one of the Canaanite gods and appears in a clay tablet dating sometime earlier than 1200 BC.
Chris (or perhaps he is summarizing from Karen Armstrong’s book A History of God) extrapolates from the fact that none of the earlier civilizations (Babylonians and Canaanites) mention anything like the stories found from Genesis 2 to 11 that these chapters must be mythical in nature and created to explain the world around them and how they, Abraham’s descendents, would fit into that cultural climate. At about the time of Abraham (a mythical figure according to the Documentary Hypothesis) the name El Elyon is given first mention in the Bible. Chris believes and the Documentary Hypothesis would also have us believe that El Elyon was edited into the Genesis account from earlier Canaanite and Babylonian texts.
The problem with this idea is that the term most high is seldom used outside the Bible in ancient sources. According to what is determined HERE, the “most controversial (mention) is in the earliest of three Aramaic treaty inscriptions found at Al Safirah 16 miles south of Aleppo. The “Sfire I inscription, which dated to about 750 BC, lists the major patron deities of each side, all of them in pairs coupled by ‘and’, in each case a male god and the god’s spouse when the names are known. Then, after a gap comes ’l wʿlyn.”
What does this mean? According to this same website, it can mean only one of three things:
- “This possibly means ‘’Ēl and ʿElyōn’, seemingly also two separate gods, followed by further pairs of deities.
- “It is possible also that these indicate two aspects of the same god.
- “Or it might be a single divine name. The Ugaritic texts contain divine names like Kothar-wa-Khasis ‘Skilful-and-Clever’, Mot-wa-Shar ‘Death-and-Prince’ (or possibly ‘Death-and-Destruction’), Nikkal-and-Ib which is in origin the name of the Sumerian goddess named Ningal combined with an element of unknown meaning. Therefore Ēl-wa-ʿElyōn might be a single name ‘God-and-Highest’ identical in meaning with Biblical Ēl ʿElyōn even though this would be unique.”
We can conclude from this that Chris has no real source for dating El Elyon in non-Biblical texts before 750 BC. Furthermore, by his own admission his sources J & E wrote one to two centuries earlier than the Sfire I Treaty. This being so, we have no compelling reason to believe El Elyon wasn’t worshiped by the Jews much earlier than the 10th century BC, because, if the Jews didn’t copy the names of the gods of the nations around them, there is no reason not to believe the texts shouldn’t be read as written.
Chris says that Abraham mirrored others who worshiped El Elyon in speaking and walking with him, yet no documentation of this is offered. Moreover, he says that Genesis 28:11-19 shows Jacob climbing a ladder to speak with El Elyon. Nevertheless, once we examine the text for ourselves, we find that Jacob dreamed a dream of ‘others’ climbing and descending’ the ladder, but not himself. In the text it is Yehovah who stands at the top and speaks with Jacob (still sleeping on the earth). When Jacob awoke he claimed that God was “in this place” i.e. the place where Jacob slept, and he named it Beth-el, meaning the House of God. Therefore, whatever literal meaning a “ladder” has to us, Jacob believed God was “in” the very place where he slept. This idea seems to be quite different from what we know of how the ancients viewed God and heaven.