This cannot be the first time that someone has remarked that mountains resemble breasts and are a symbol of fertility.
In seeking the meaning or connotation for El Shaddai I have come up with no answers but plenty of poetic allusions. Here are the three major connotations of El Shaddai – breasts and by association mountains, and destruction. These do not represent the known etymological roots of the word, but rather euphonic and associative connections.
In Genesis, El Shaddai is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. In Genesis 49:25, Shaddai, – שַׁדַּי the Almighty, is the one who blesses with the blessings of the heavens and the deep and the breasts שָׁדַיִם (the shadayim) and the womb.
Shaddai not only blesses the patriarchs with children but he takes children away from Naomi. Shaddai is the God of Job, who gave him life and children, the God who will not afflict. (Job 37:23.) In Isaiah 13:6 and Joel 1:15, destruction, שֹׁד (shod) comes from שַּׁדַּי Shaddai.
El Shaddai is mentioned only 6 times outside of Genesis and Job. One of these times is in Psalm 68:14.
- When the Almighty scattereth kings
therein, it snoweth in Zalmon.
A mountain of God is the mountain of Bashan;
a mountain of peaks is the mountain of Bashan.
Why look ye askance, ye mountains of peaks,
at the mountain which God hath desired for His abode?
Yea, the LORD will dwell therein for ever.
In Psalm 68, Shaddai can be associated with fertility and the blessing of children and homes in verse 6, with the mountains of the subsequent few verses, and also with the destruction of enemy kings.
It is perhaps best to simply remark that Shaddai is an archaic and poetic name for God. Perhaps it is a name remembered uniquely by the composer of this psalm, whether woman or man, one versed in the ancient poetic traditions. One of the most interesting things that I noticed about this psalm is that so many of God’s names appear in it.
Shaddai represents to me the mixing of traditions, contemporary with ancient, and feminine with masculine. However, I do not find any exclusively female association with the name Shaddai. After all, the promise of the blessings of breast and womb were made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob – through their wives, of course. Bearing children was front and centre in the ancient Hebrew culture; it was the immortality that was promised to the patriarchs.
However, Shaddai does not seem to be mainstream by the time of the Psalms, a little counter cultural. This could possibly be explained by supposing that women had retained some of the ancient poetic traditions which had not become part of the temple worship.
I don’t think one can attempt to find the original derivation of the name Shaddai, but as the Almighty He gives the blessing of life and immortality, He dwells in the mountains and has the power of destruction. He is sufficient.
Robert Alter transliterates Shaddai and simply remarks,
- El Shaddai. The first term as in El Elyon, means God. Scholarship has been unable to determine the origins or precise meaning of the second term – tenuous associations have been proposed with a Semitic word meaning “mountain” and with fertility. What is clear (compare Exodus 6:3) is that the biblical writers considered it an archaic name of God. The Five Books of Moses page 81
Reading “Shaddai” rather than “Almighty” reminds of the distance between us and the culture which first knew God.