What in God's Name?

Guest post by Don Alabaster

Let’s talk about God’s name and how it gives us clues about the origins of the Abrahamic faiths. Or maybe we should say his lack of a name.  “God” isn’t a name, it's a job title. You don’t go to work and refer to your boss as “Boss” or “Team Leader”.  Your Mom probably isn’t actually named “Mom”, either.

But God does have an actual name! The Hebrew God of the Old Testament is named “Yahweh”, but even then it's not so simple.  Yahweh has many names sprinkled throughout the Hebrew Bible: YHWH (Yahweh), Adonai, Ehyeh, El, Elohim, El Shaddai, and Tzevaot, among others.  Rabbinic Judaism says that many of these names of God are so holy that they should never be erased. 

The many names of God Yahweh, Most High, Canaanite deities
I feel like I would have a lot of questions for this guy at happy hour

Why did the Israelites end up with all of these names in their holy book? Because the Israelites were Canaanites before they were Israelites. The ancient Canaanite religion had an entire pantheon of gods and goddesses.  El was the ruler of the Canaanite pantheon and he had a queen, Asherah. They had 70 sons, including Yahweh, a storm god. After the Israelites emerged from the Canaanites and established their own religion, they shifted from polytheism to monalatry to monotheism. Yahweh won out as the Israelites tried to make sense of the world around them.  They attributed aspects of all the other gods to Yahweh, merging them into one god.  They tried to standardize their holy texts by erasing references to other gods, but the polytheistic strands clearly remain.  

So how do these various names (multiple Canaanite deities merged to one Israelite deity) translate into the Christian Bible?  In general (and this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Whenever El Shaddai appears in the Hebrew Bible, it is translated as "Lord God Almighty" in the Christian Bible
  • El/Elyon translates to "The Most High God"
  • Adonai translates to "Lord, Master"
  • Yahweh translates to "Lord, Jehovah"
  • Elohim translates to "God"

And so on.  Turns out these names are truly clues to the origin of this book. 

The Evidence

Deuteronomy 32:8-9 is the perfect verse to demonstrate the polytheistic origins of the Bible. The amazing discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls really helps elucidate this.

The pertinent differences between the NIV and the Dead Sea Scrolls will be highlighted


When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples, according to the number of the sons of Israel.  

For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance.

Dead Sea Scrolls (4QDeutj)

When Elyon gave the nations as an inheritance, when he separated the sons of man, he set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.

For Yahweh's portion was his people; Jacob was the lot of his inheritance.

Did you catch that???

  • In the Dead Sea Scrolls, Elyon and Yahweh are two separate entities. Elyon was the "father" God, and Yahweh was one of the sons of God.  Yet, in the Christian Bible, Elyon and Yahweh are merged into "Most High" and "Lord", which are two names for the same entity (the Christian God).  
  • The phrase "sons of God" is changed to "sons of Israel".  The Hebrew for "sons of God" is b'nei elohim.  Why would this have been translated to Israel in the Christian Bible?  Are they trying to mask the remnants of polytheism?

This isn't the only place to find polytheism.  During one of the creation stories, God says, “The man has now become like one of us."  In the Tower of Babel story, God says to “let us go down and confuse their language.” God states in the Ten Commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me…You shall not bow down to worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous god.” All of that sounds like a god who knows there are other gods (and has an inferiority complex!).

So what's the bottom line?

Why doesn't Christianity use his name, instead genericizing it? “God”, “Lord”, and other similar translations in various Christian Bibles seem like a way for Christians to reaffirm monotheism as the one true way, because things get complicated when you start talking about Yahweh’s name. Yahweh seems to be having a bit of an identity crisis.

Christian translations of the Bible do a great job of masking and misconstruing the wording of the original manuscripts. The Abrahamic religions pretty clearly look to be evolutions of Canaanite polytheism. 

Does this all sound like a single omnipotent deity?

Further reading:


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