Back before Hebrew became the First Language of monotheism, it was a fine old pagan language in its own right, with words (for example) for “standing stone” (matsevá) and “stone circle” (gilgál).

The Hebrew word that usually gets translated “idol” is 'elíl. Scholardom has generally read this word as a cacophemism based on the root √ ' L L (alef-lamed-lamed) meaning “weak.” This even though words similar to 'elil occur in other Semitic languages—for example in Sabaean, the South Semitic language of the Arabian kingdom of “Sheba”—in religious contexts as well.

It occurs to me, however, to wonder if the derivation from “weak” is really the correct one. Hebrew (like its sister Semitic languages) has a pattern of word-creation called “reduplication,” in which the second part of the word is repeated; reduplicated words are usually diminutives. Hence, kélev, “dog” becomes k'lavláv, “puppy”; qatán, “little” becomes q'tantán, “teensy.”

I wonder if 'elil is the same. 'El = god. 'Elil = “little god.”

This makes sound theological sense. The gods themselves are the Big Gods. Their images here on earth are the little gods. Makes sense to me.

Once again in our day the Gods of Canaan have worshipers in Their own Lands: Israel, Lebanon, even (gods help them) Syria. I'm told that relations between the pagan communities of Lebanon and of Israel are quite cordial.

As Thunder (called Ba'al Hadád in both Hebrew and Arabic) awakens from his summer sleep and the rains of autumn begin, may the Gods of Canaan bless Their people.

Gods both large and small.


Above: Votive images, probably of Ba'al (bronze and gold foil)

Sidon, circa 1000 BCE