"El" as the Levantine supreme God
ʾĒl (written aleph-lamed, i.e. אל, ) is the Northwest Semitic word for "deity", cognate to Akkadian ilum. In the Canaanite religion, or Levantine religion as a whole, Eli or Il was the supreme god, the father of humankind and all creatures and the husband of the goddess Asherah as recorded in the tablets of Ugarit. ... Cognate forms are found throughout the West and East Semitic. Forms include Ugaritic ʾil, pl. ʾlm; Phoenician ʾl pl. ʾlm; Hebrew ʾēl, pl. ʾēlîm; Aramaic ʾl; Akkadian ilu, pl. ilāti.
El's association with the bull:
In the Ugaritic texts from northern Syria, "Ēl is called again and again Tôru ‘Ēl ("Bull Ēl" or "the bull god")." (http://religion.wikia.com/wiki/El_(deity))
Frank Cross of Harvard Divinity school suggests that to some Israelites in the 2nd millenium BC, including Aaron, there was an association between El, the bull, and Yahweh:
If 'El and Yahweh were related as we have suggested, many of the puzzling features of the cult of Jeroboam 139 would have immediate explanation. On the one hand, the "sin of Jeroboam" was claimed to be the chief sin of Israel by Deuteronomic sources, themselves rooted ultimately in Northern circles. Moreover, the traditions of Aaron's sin in the matter of the bull 4o stemmed from the North, and transparently reveal shaping by the polemic against the Bethel cultus. However, one notes that the slogan "Behold your god/gods who brought you up out of the land of Egypt," is a characteristic Yahwistic confession, and that further scrutiny reveals that the singular "god" must have been original.
The young bull was no doubt conceived as a pedestal for the god. However, there were, we suspect, grounds for the accusation in Exodus 32:4 / I Kings I2:38 that the bulls of Dan and Bethel were worshipped. A god and his animal "participated in each other," and while the god might be conceived as enthroned or standing on the bull, in Canaanite mythology, he also easily transformed himself into his animal and vice versa. Obviously the term 'elohim, capable, whether singular or plural, of taking a plural verb, lent itself to retouching (in Ex. 32:4). However, the effect is weird. Aaron only made one calf. "These gods" belong to Dan and Bethel.
Further, it is impossible to believe that opponents of the Bethel establishment from the Northern Kingdom invented a tradition crediting venerable Aaron with manufacture of the double of Bethel's bull, and recited a classic Yahwistic cult cry over it, unless in fact the old sanctuary of Bethel possessed a cult legend claiming Aaronic authority for the iconography of its shrine. In short, it appears that Jeroboam did not invent a new cultus, but choosing the famous sanctuary of El, attempted to archaize even more radically than the astute David had when he brought tent and ark to Jerusalem, transferring the nimbus of the old league sanctuary at Shiloh to Zion. He attempted to go back to the tradition of the Fathers choosing for the iconography of his Patriarchal shrine the bull, animal of Tdr 'II 'abika,' "Bull 'El your father."
The bull was associated, of course, with other gods, not least Ba'l-Haddu[, but] Jeroboam did not attempt to introduce Ba'l; if he had, tradition should have pre- served the fact in vivid invective.
"Yahweh and the God of the Patriarchs", https://vdocuments.site/yahweh-and-the- ... archs.html
Cross notes that the calf must have been a pedestal for the God El, whom the Canaanites believed could transform into a bull. By comparison, the image of a deity standing on an animal into which he could transform exists in Hinduism. It also makes sense when Cross proposes that the bull images had been worshiped because of the belief that the animal and the deity participated in each other.
Bible History Online points out that in the ancient Mediterranean there were giant bull-like animals, now extinct, called Aurochs. These could be a center of cultural attention, impressing ancient societies with their size and power:
The Extinct Giant Bull
In ancient Mesopotamia, bulls were long venerated as symbols of majestic strength and potency. Savage wild bulls, called aurochs, once roamed the region, some weighing up to 3000 pounds and the size of an elephant. Julius Caesar wrote about aurochs in Gallic War Chapter 6.28, "...those animals which are called uri. These are a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, color, and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied."
http://www.bible-history.com/biblestudy ... rship.html
The ISBE Bible Encyclopedia says of Aaron's Golden Calf:
Modern Bible scholars, however, are practically unanimous in the opinion that the Golden Calf, if worshipped at all, must have been a representation of a Semitic, not an Egyptian, deity. ... When Moses disappeared for forty days in the Mount, it was not unnatural that the people should turn back to the visible symbols worshipped by their ancestors, and should give to them the new name or new attributes which had been attached to deity by Moses.
It says of Jeroboam's Golden Calves:
These calves which Jeroboam set up were doubtless bulls (1 Ki 12:28, Hebrew ) ... These bull images were undoubtedly intended to represent Yahweh ...
(1) The text itself states that it is Yahweh who brought them from Egypt (Hos 2:15; 12:13; 13:4), whom they call "My lord," and to whom they swear (Hos 2:16...; Hos 4:15); and to whom they present their wine offerings, sacrifices and feasts (Hos 8:13; 9:4,5, Hebrew; compare Am 5:8).
(2) Jehu, though he destroyed all Baal idols, never touched these bulls (2 Ki 10:28,29). ...
(5) The places selected for the bull worship were places already sacred to Yahweh. This was preeminently true of Bethel which, centuries before Jerusalem had been captured from the Jebusites, had been identified with special revelations of Yahweh's presence (Gen 13:3,4; 28:19; 31:13; 35:15; 1 Sam 7:16; Hos 12:4). (6) The story shows that the allegiance of his most pious subjects was retained (1 Ki 12:20) and that not even Elijah fled to the Southern, supposing that the Northern Kingdom had accepted the worship of heathen gods as its state religion. Instead of this, Elijah, though the boldest opponent of the worship of Baal, is never reported as uttering one word against the bull worship at Dan and Bethel.
The God El and the ox
In some Bible translations, Numbers 23:22 compares God to a wild ox, whereas others compare Him to a unicorn. Which translation is better?
JPS Tanakh 1917
God who brought them forth out of Egypt Is for them like the lofty horns of the wild-ox.
King James Bible
God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.
The Hebrew word in question is "Reem", which Strong's translates as "ox" (http://biblehub.com/hebrew/7214.htm)
The Letter Aleph, the "ox"
The "Aleph" letter evolved in Hebrew as follows, with late and modern Hebrew switching to the Assyrian alphabet from the Phoenician one:
The alef is a silent letter and simply carries the sound of the vowel. The word picture for alef is a bull or ox’s head with the horns.
The letter Aleph had as its "Original pictograph a bull or an ox, symbol of strength. Hence, Aleph came to mean strength." (http://www.bibloscope.com/content/lette ... w-alphabet)
Two of God's titles, "Adonai"(Lord) and "El Elyon"(God most high) begin with Alephs.
Jeff Benner's Ancient Hebrew Research Center claims that the Lamed is a shepherd staff, but isn't the Lamed really an ox-goad?
The original pictograph for this letter is a picture of an ox head- a representing strength and power from the work performed by the animal.
The J [Lamed] is a shepherd staff and represents authority as well as a yoke... Israel chose the form of a calf (young bull) as an image of God at Mount Sinai showing their association between the word EL [Aleph & Lamed] and the ox or bull.
https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/heb ... habet.html
Benner writes that "The can also be understood as the "ox in the yoke.""(http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/alphabet_ ... aleph.html). I can see an association between an ox and an ox-goad, but it is hard for me to find a clear, definite meaning from the combination of "ox" and "ox goad" related to the Hebrew word El (meaning "God" or "power").
Associations between El and the letter Aleph.
I am skeptical of Benner's claim that "The root (אלף) is an adopted root from the parent root אל (el), written as in the original script, meaning, strength, power", and he claims that this "is the probable original name of the pictograph ." What basis is there for the proposition that the word or letter אלף comes from אל, other than the fact that Aleph contains the letters for El, and that an ox connotates strength, one of the meanings of the Hebrew "el"?
According to Strong's, the Hebrew word Aleph (oxen) comes from the word אָלַף(Alaph):
From 'alph; a family; also (from the sense of yoking or taming) an ox or cow -- family, kine, oxen.
see HEBREW 'alph
Strong's, Entry 504
However, when we turn to "'alph" in Strong's, it says not "family", but "learn (1), teach (1), teaches (2)."
I can understand how an ox goad "teaches" an ox. So I can see how EL (Ox and goad) is related to Aleph and 'Alph, if they are related to oxen and teaching. Still, I don't feel that I have a clear grasp on how that comes together etymologically.
The Hebrew 4 Christians website proposes that since the Aleph is the first letter of the alphabet, it therefore "is preeminent in its order and alludes to the ineffable mysteries of the oneness of God. Indeed, the word aluph (derived from the very name of this letter) means "Master" or "Lord."" The site also says that it "may have pagan overtones (e.g., the "bull" god) derived from ancient Canaanite culture"
(http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Gramma ... aleph.html)
Do you see a relationship between the word "El" and either the meaning of its component letters or of the letter Aleph?