Good Question...

On...did Jesus cry out to the pagan deity known as 'El' on the Cross?

[Created 4/28/97]
Recently, XXX wrote:
 When christ was on the cross, he blurted out "Eloi, Eloi, ...". The literal translation is NOT "My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?" Rather, it is "My El, My El, why has thou forsaken me?" El is a pagan god, a *very* specific pagan god. Why would christ call out to this pagan god?

Can you help me with this question (even if the help is pointing to where it is on your pages). It troubles me a little and I do not have the scholarship to even attempt a response... Thank you.

There are basically two issues we need to sort out for this question:
  1. Who or what was "El"?
  2. What is the likelihood that Jesus was praying to this 'El'?
What we know about "El"

First, let's look at the extra-biblical data...

Next, we need to see what "El" meant in biblical usage...

The Net:

El (and its linguistic variants) as a name for a significant pagan deity was in mainstream usage in the early cultures of Ebla and Sumer, but dropped out of the mainstream by 1200 bc. The specific name El disappears from the records altogether by the close of the OT (circa 500-400bc). In the biblical data, the Israelite God Yahweh can usurp the name 'El' since He is the true and only God--in opposition to the passive Canaanite El and His active son Baal. The biblical 'El' is thus NOT the pagan deity (except in contexts in which polemic is obviously at work), but is rather Yahweh--the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


Given this, what is the likelihood that Jesus was praying to this 'El'--a pagan deity that dropped off the face of the earth for 4-5 centuries?

There are a number of approaches and issues we need to keep in mind as we ponder this:

  1. When a Satanist today says "Lord" in the cult, is he or she addressing the same person I am when I say "Lord"? Definitely not! The word 'lord' itself is a title, just as "god" can be so used. So, even if "El" meant "El" by Jesus, it certainly does not require the 'addressee' to be the same as that intended by a Canaanite worshipper!
  2. Almost all scholars accept that Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22 here. [EBC: Mt 27.46]. This would make the referent of Psalm 22.1 (2 in the MT) the most likely candidate for Jesus' address. In Psalm 22, 'my God' (as noted above) refers to Yahweh, in a form approximating "my Father" (EBC: in loc).
  3. The LXX translates the passage using 'God' (theos) instead of 'El' .
  4. The gospel writers translate the term for us!--look at the passage in Matthew 27.46:
  5. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" -- which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
    Both Matthew and Mark (Mark 15.34) understand Jesus to be saying "God" (theos) instead of "El".
  6. The fact that "El" had not been a pagan deity 'in circulation' for 4-5 centuries (at least) argues VERY strongly that Jesus was not somehow calling out to this El-thing.
  7. There is not the slightest evidence to support the view that Jesus had all of a sudden changed allegiance from Yahweh to some Canaanite deity, after a lifetime of trying to honor Yahweh!
  8. Strictly speaking, the 'eloi' and 'eli' forms in Mark and Matthew respectively, are generally considered Aramaic. [The Hebrew form that Matthew uses--"eli"--still supports an Aramaic quote, since the Targum on the psalm preserves the Hebrew form of the name of God, even in the middle of an Aramaic we sometimes use the Jewish term Yahweh in sentences of English. Cf. EBC: in Matt. Loc.] The chances of combining the possessive pronoun "my" with a proper name "El" is significantly less than that of combining "my" with a noun form such as "god" or "father". The form my+name (as an vocative, or term of address) is very, very rarely attested in religious literature, so the probabilities are decidedly against it.
  9. Jesus had maintained earlier that Jews had the only true knowledge of God, in the conversation with the Samaritan woman. (John 4.22: You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. ). Why would he at the last minute cry out to a non-Jewish god?!
  10. Finally, the passion narratives are teeming with allusions to the Righteous Sufferer Psalms--at various levels of certainty and obviousness. These different Sufferer Psalms address God with His more traditional names (e.g. Yahweh, Elohim), helping to identify the referent of Psalm 22 as the same. To see how woven into the passion narrative these psalms are, I have listed below some of the suggested parallels from DJEC:207ff. (See also the extensive discussion of the role of the Psalms in the Passion in DM:1452-1465.) The format below is [gospel passage, item, psalm parallel (with "?" for possible, but questionable, allusions)]:
  11. [One sees now why the Risen Christ singled out the book of Psalms as the backdrop for his exposition on the Road to Emmaus--He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." ]


The net is simply this:

The linguistic, historical, and religious background information is overwhelmingly AGAINST the position that Christ was calling upon the pagan god 'El' during His suffering of the Cross.

The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)