Is Gad Jacob's son, a troop, fortune or a pagan deity?
"But you are those who forsake the Lord,
Who forget My holy mountain,
Who prepare a table for Gad,
And who furnish a drink offering for Meni" (Isaiah 65:11, NKJV)
Gad is first mentioned in Genesis 30:11 when "Leah said, "A troop comes!" So she called his name Gad" (KJV), as the traditional translation has it. Whilst the Authorised Version has Gad meaning "troop" the more modern NIV renders the Genesis passage, "Leah said, "What good fortune!" So she named him Gad" (cf. NRSV etc). Gad, the proper name of a person and tribe, occurs some 70 times (Strong's #1410).
The next and apparently only other mention of the Hebrew word גָּד gâdh (Strong's #1409), as distinct from the patriarch and tribe, is in Isaiah 65:11 where it is unlikely to be referring to Jacobs son. A number of translations offer differing alternatives such as "troop" or "fortune", the Greek Old Testament Septuagint goes so far as to render it by δαιμονι daimoni "devil, demon" (Strong's #1142) and the Aramaic Targum by "idols".
"prepare a table for that troop, and that furnish the drink offering unto that number" (KJV)
"prepare a table for Fortune, and that offer mingled wine in full measure unto Destiny" (JPS)
"prepare a table for the devil (δαιμονι), and fill up the drink-offering to Fortune" (LXX)
It has even been noted that the English word "god" may derive from gâdh according to a website (http://assemblyoftrueisrael.com/Documents/Yahwehandgod.html) that refers the English "god" back to a Canaanite deity. It is pointed out here and elsewhere (e.g., http://www.search-the-scriptures.org/artic-34.htm, http://members.cox.net/thomasahobbs/yea_11-9.htm) that the original Hebrew of gâdh would have been simply GD without vowels and that even when the "â" vowel was added it could be pronounced "o" as well, suggesting that the word could stand for "god".
Thus, these sites suggest that we should avoid calling God "god" as it associates him with a pagan deity, much as calling him "lord", the term Ba`al (Strong's #1168), does (see Hosea 2:16-17). It should be noted that there are several words for Lord in Hebrew and Adonai "my Lord" (Strong's #136) is not a pagan deity. Some of these sites attempt to teach a theology of only calling God YHVH, a bit like Jehovah Witnesses with Jehovah.
Various sources refer Gad back to either a Babylonian, Canaanite, or Syrian, deity. The medieval Jewish commentator Kimchi wrote that Gad was used by the Arabs to refer to the Roman Jupiter and Greek Zeus. Jupiter was the largest planet and father of the gods. He is almost akin to the sun god just as Meni/Mani may refer to the moon god, since the moon was used for numbering (see the KJV use of "number" in the translation of Isaiah 65:11 above) the months.
Coincidentally, it was Gad the prophet who was sent to David to denounce him for having "numbered" the people (2 Samuel 24:10-13).
According to Joshua 11:17; 12:7; 13:5 there is even a city named after this deity "Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon".
Some refer this Gad to a god of fortune and luck and Meni, likewise, to fate. We have already noted that the Arabs regarded Gad as Jupiter, which was itself called "the greater fortune" to Venus "lesser fortune", perhaps Meni. It is shame more background information on this is not available although Hislop, in his The Two Babylons does make several remarks:
"The name of the Lord Moon in the East seems to have been Meni, for this appears the most natural interpretation of the Divine statement in Isaiah lxv. 11, "But ye are they that forsake my holy mountain, that prepare a temple for Gad, and that furnish the drink-offering unto Meni." There is reason to believe that Gad refers to the sun-god, and that Meni in like manner designates the moon-divinity. Meni, or Manai, signifies "The Numberer," and it is by the changes of the moon that the months are numbered: Psalm civ. 19, "He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth the time of its going down." The name of the "Man of the Moon," or the god who presided over that luminary among the Saxons, was Mané, as given in the "Edda", and Mani, in the "Voluspa." That it was the birth of the "Lord Moon" that was celebrated among our ancestors at Christmas, we have remarkable evidence in the name that is still given in the lowlands of Scotland to the feast on the last day of the year, which seems to be a remnant of the old birth festival for the cakes then made are called Nûr-cakes, or Birth-cakes. That name is Hogmanay. Now, "Hog-Manai" in Chaldee signifies "The feast of the Numberer;" in other words, the festival of Deus Lunus, or of the man of the Moon. To show the connection between country and country, and the inveterate endurance of old customs, it is worthy of remark that Jerome, commenting on the very words of Isaiah already quoted, about spreading "a table for Gad," and "pouring out a drink-offering to Meni," observes that it "was the custom so late as his time [in the fourth century], in all cities especially in Egypt and at Alexandria, to set tables, and furnish them with various luxurious articles of food, and with goblets containing a mixture of new wine, on the last day of the month and the year, and that the people drew omens from them in respect of the fruitfulness of the year." The Egyptian year began at a different time from ours; but this is as near as possible (only substituting whisky for wine), the way in which Hogmanay is still observed on the last day of the last month of our year in Scotland. I do not know that any omens are drawn from anything that takes place at that time, but everybody in the south of Scotland is personally cognisant of the fact, that, on Hogmanay, or the evening before New Year's day, among those who observe old customs, a table is spread, and that while buns and other dainties are provided by those who can afford them, oat cakes and cheese are brought forth among those who never see oat cakes but on this occasion, and that strong drink forms an essential article of the provision." (Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, chapter three)
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, (p.545), Gad was known to the Jews of the Talmudic era:
"Gad, the god of fortune, is frequently invoked in Talmudic (magic) formulas of good will and wishes; for instance, in Shab. 67b ("Gad eno ella leshon 'abodat kokabim"; comp. Targ. Pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xx. 10, 11). The name is often synonymous with "luck" (Yer. Ned. iv. 38d; Yer. Shab. xvi. 15d). Gad is the patron saint of a locality, a mountain (Hul. 40a), of an idol (Gen. R. lxiv.), a house, or the world (Gen. R. lxxi.). Hence "luck" may also be bad (Eccl. R. vii. 26). A couch or bed for this god of fortune is referred to in Ned. 56a".
That the word "god" derives from Gad is disputable but plausible. Online etymology dictionaries such as http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?l=g&p=7 suggest a derivation from a verb "to our out a libation" as in the drink offering in the verse above. So perhaps "god" is a pagan word for "the God", but it is a bit like the issue in Arabic where Allah is simply the Arabic for God and the Arabic equivalent of one of the Hebrew words used for God.
God can redeem words though names are important to biblical thought and should be used with respect. The important thing is to treat YHVH as God, whether the names El, Elohîm, Lord, God, etc have alternative connotations or not.
[For further reading see Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, on Isaiah 65:11]
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KJ Went has taught biblical Hebrew, hermeneutics and Jewish background to early Christianity. Their "Biblical Hebrew made easy" course can be found at www.biblicalhebrew.com.
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