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Elyon (Biblical Hebrew עליון'; Masoretic ʿElyōn; traditionally rendered in Samaritan as illiyyon) is an epithet of the God of Israel in the Hebrew Bible. ʾĒl ʿElyōn is usually rendered as English "God Most High". The Septuagint translation is ὕψιστος "highest". It derives from the Hebrew root ʿly "go up, ascend".
The term also has mundane uses, referring simply to the position of objects, e.g. applied to a basket in Genesis 40.17, or to a chamber in Ezekiel 42.5. The critical scholar and Reform rabbi Abraham Geiger asserted that Elyōn was a word of late origin, dating it to the time of the Maccabees. However, its use in the Ras Shamra tablets has proven it to be pre-Mosaic (Hertz 1936)
Elyon is also used by Christian fiction writer Ted Dekker to refer to God in Thomas Hunter's dreams in the Circle books: Black, White, Red, and Green; as well as other books that connect to this saga.
The compound Ēl ʿElyōn
The compound name Ēl ʿElyōn 'God Most High' occurs in Genesis 14.18–19 as the god whose priest was Melchizedek king of Salem. The form appears again almost immediately in verse 22, used by Abraham in an oath to the King of Sodom. In this verse the name of God also occurs in apposition to Ēl ʿElyōn in the Masoretic text but is absent in the Samaritan version, in the Septuagint translation, and in Symmachus.
Its occurrence here was one foundation of a theory first espoused by Julius Wellhausen that Ēl ʿElyōn was an ancient god of Salem (for other reasons understood here to mean Jerusalem), later equated with God, and that the Zadokite priests of Jerusalem claimed to be descended from this Melchizedek or at least to have inherited his position.
The only other occurrence of the compound expression is in Psalm 78.35:
And they remembered that God (’elōhīm) was their rock,
and God Most High (’ēl ʿelyōn) their redeemer.
It has been suggested that the reference to 'Ēl ʿElyōn maker of heaven and earth' in Genesis 14:19 and 22 reflects the belief that ʿElyōn was progenitor of Ouranus and Gê, as suggested in Philo of Byblos's account of Phoenician History.
ʿElyōn standing alone
The name ʿElyōn 'Most High' standing alone is found in many poetic passages, especially in the Psalms.
It appears in Balaam's verse oracle in Numbers 24.16 as a separate name parallel to Ēl. It appears in Moses' final song in Deuteronomy 32.8 (a much discussed verse). A translation of the Masoretic text:
When the Most High (ʿElyōn) divided to the nations their inheritance,However many Septuagint manuscripts have in place of "sons of Israel", angelōn theou 'angels of God' and a few have huiōn theou 'sons of God'. The Dead Sea Scrolls fragment 4QDeutj reads bny ’lwhm 'sons of God', 'sons of the gods'. The NRSV translates this as "he fixed the boundaries according to the number of the gods" Interestingly, the following verse speaks of God using the tetragrammaton:
he separated the sons of man (Ādām);
he set the bounds of the people
according to the number of the sons of Israel
For God's (yhwh) portion is his people;This passage appears to identify ʿElyōn with Elohim, but not necessarily with God. It can be read to mean that ʿElyōn separated mankind into 70 nations according to his 70 sons (the 70 sons of Ēl being mentioned in the Ugaritic texts), each of these sons to be the tutelary god over one of the 70 nations, one of them being the God of Israel, Yahweh. Alternatively, it may mean that ʿElyōn, having given the other nations to his sons, now takes Israel for himself under his name of God. Both interpretations have supporters.
Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.
In Isaiah 14.13–14 ʿElyōn is used in a very mystical context in the passage providing the basis for later speculation on the fall of Satan where the rebellious prince of Babylon is pictured as boasting:
I shall be enthroned in the mount of the council in the farthest north [or farthest Zaphon]In this context it would be natural to avoid the name Yahweh and use a more general term for the high god.
I will ascend about the heights of the clouds;
I will be like the Most High.
But ’Elyōn is in other places firmly identified with God, as in 2 Samuel 22.14:
God thundered from heaven,
and the Most High uttered his voice.
Also Psalm 97.9:
For you, God, are Most High (ʿelyōn) over all the earth;
you are raised high over all the gods.
Sfire I Treaty
Outside of the Biblical texts the term occurs seldom. The most controversial is in the earliest of three Aramaic treaty inscriptions found at Sfire 16 miles southeast of Aleppo . The Sfire I inscription (KAI. 222.I.A.8–12; ANET p. 659) date 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 meaning '’Ēl and ʿElyōn', seemingly also two separate gods, followed by further pairs of deities.
It is possible 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. Frank Moore Cross (1973) accepts all three interpretations as possibilities.
Yet in Sanchuniathon's euhemeristic account of the Phoenician deities, Elioun, whom he calls Hypsistos 'the highest' and who is therefore certainly ʿElyōn, is quite separate from his Elus/Cronus who is the supreme god Ēl. Sanchuniathon tells only:
In their time is born a certain Elioun called "the Most High," and a female named Beruth, and these dwelt in the neighbourhood of Byblos.According to Sanchuniathon it is from Sky and Earth that Ēl and various other deities are born, though ancient texts refer to Ēl as creator of heaven and earth. The Hittite theogony knows of a primal god named Alulu who fathered Sky (and possibly Earth) and who was overthrown by his son Sky, who was in turn overthrown by his son Kumarbi. A similar tradition seems to be at the basis of Sanchuniathon's account.
And from them is born Epigeius or Autochthon, whom they afterwards called Sky; so that from him they named the element above us Sky because of the excellence of its beauty. And he has a sister born of the aforesaid parents, who was called Earth, and from her, he says, because of her beauty, they called the earth by the same name. And their father, the Most High, died in an encounter with wild beasts, and was deified, and his children offered to him libations and sacrifices.
As to Beruth who is here ʿElyōn's wife, a relationship with Hebrew bərīt 'covenant' or with the city of Beirut have both been suggested.
- El (god)
- The names of God in Judaism
- The Hypsistarians, worshippers of the Most High God, were a distinct non-Jewish monotheistic sect which flourished from about 200 B.C. to about A.D. 400
- Cross, Frank Moore (1973). Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-09176-0.
- Hertz, J.H. (1936). The Pentateuch and Haftoras. Deuteronomy. London: Oxford University Press.
- "The treaty between KTK and Arpad" (1969). Trans. Frans Rosenthal in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 3rd ed. with Supplement. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03503-2.
- Bartleby: American Heritage Dictionary: Semitic Roots: cly
- The Divine Council: "Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God", by Michael S. Heiser (PDF.)
- The Realmwalker Chronicles Character Profile: Elyon