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Thursday, April 12, 2007
  El Shaddai as the breasted god
In preparation for the colloquium on "God and Gender"1 I have been corresponding with another participant (she's a psychologist and spiritual director - not a biblical scholar) and in the course of the conversation the claim that the name אֵל שַׁדַּי ('el shadday often rendered "God Almighty") might mean "the breasted god", because of the association of שַׁדַּי shadday with שָׁדַיִם shadayim "breasts".

The proposal rests on two false assumptions:
  • that שַׁדַּי shadday is somehow etymologically or morphologically related to שָׁדַיִם shadayim (it is not notice the doubled ד d)
  • that such a morphological connection of itself implies a connection of meaning, Barr laid into that one long long ago ;-)
However, there is at least one interesting passage where the verbal echo functions powerfully. In Gen 49:22ff. where dying Jacob blesses Joseph using a string of divine names and epithets:
... by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
by the name of the Shepherd,

the Rock of Israel,
25 by the God of your father, who will help you,
by the Almighty (shadday) who will bless you
with blessings of heaven above,

blessings of the deep that lies beneath,

blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
26 The blessings of your father
are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains,

the bounties of the everlasting hills;

may they be on the head of Joseph,

on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.
Here the echoes of שַׁדַּי shadday "Almighty" with שָׁדַיִם shadayim "breasts" resonates strongly, and perhaps is echoed more weakly (in sense if not by sound) with the "eternal mountains" and "everlasting hills" of the next verse. The effect is perhaps to mitigate the exclusively male patriarchal feel of the blessing - especially since שָׁדַיִם shadayim is paired with that most female of words רָחַם racham "womb".

So, not a "breasted god", but a God who consistently and persistently fulfils the ideas of this blessing in the gift of childbirth and motherhood. (For YHWH is persistently described as the giver of birth, even as the midwife of human life, and even or most poignantly when fertility of the womb is withheld.)
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1. Organised by the new Centre for the Theology of Gender and hosted by Tyndale-Carey Graduate School in July. [RETURN]

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