The Biblical “Satanic Verses”: Genesis 49 and the “Prayer of Jacob”

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم

The Biblical “Satanic Verses”: Genesis 49 and the “Prayer of Jacob”

Read as PDF

“Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come.” (Genesis 49:1)

In their vain attempts to attack the character of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), many Christian apologists appeal to the so-called “Satanic Verses” story mentioned in some early Islamic sources, such as the Sirat Rasul Allah by Ibn Ishaq, even though it is only narrated through mursal ahadith and is not generally considered reliable. But could the Bible have its own “Satanic Verses” while faithful are none the wiser? Are Christians looking at the wrong book to try and find satanic ideas? In this article, we will see evidence for the nefarious influence of pagan mythology on the Bible. The example we will examine is the so-called “prayer of Jacob” in Genesis 49.

Jacob’s Prayer and Canaanite Paganism

            In Genesis 49, the patriarch Jacob, who is known in Arabic as Yaqub (peace be upon him) and is a prophet in Islam, prays for all of his sons, including, of course, Joseph (Yusuf in Islam). The passage of interest is Genesis 49:24–26, where Jacob prays for his most beloved son Joseph (emphasis ours):

“…yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), by the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents, up to the bounties of the everlasting hills. May they be on the head of Joseph, and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.”[1]

The epithet “Might One”, presumably used for YHWH, and the “blessings of the breasts and of the womb” are what interests us here.

Let’s start with the epithet “the Mighty One” (also translated as “the Strong One”). The Hebrew word “‘abiyr” is the word of interest. Scholars observe that the consonants in Hebrew are the same as in the word “bull”. John L. McLaughlin states in his book The Ancient Near East: An Essential Guide (emphasis in the original):

“…the Hebrew word translated as ‘Might One’ contains the exact consonants as the word for ‘bull’. ‘The Bull’ was another title for El in the Ugarit texts, and since early Hebrew wrote only the consonants, either ‘mighty one’ or ‘bull’ is a possible translation since they look the same without the vowels. However, the cluster of El titles in the next verse supports taking it as bull: Gen 49:25 speaks of ‘blessings by El, your father’ (not ‘God of your father’; see ‘the blessings of your father,’ v. 26) and by Shaddai.”[2]

So, the correct reading of “abiyr” is “bull”, and hence, the verse should read “the Bull of Jacob”. The reason is that there are other epithets (e.g., “Shadday”) that all just happened to be used for the Canaanite sky-god “El”.[3] So, it’s not a coincidence. The so-called “prayer of Jacob” uses numerous titles for YHWH that the Canaanites used for El. They are just assumed by Bible readers as referring to YHWH. Professor Mark S. Smith notes this as well in his book The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel:

“…‘El, your father, who saves you,’ and…‘Shadday who blesses you’…‘Heaven above,’ and…‘Deep crouching below’; and ‘Breasts-and-Womb,’ and…‘your Father, Hero and Almighty.’ Most of these epithets, including ‘Father’ and ‘Shadday,’ are attributed elsewhere to Yahweh-El.”[4]

However, it gets even more interesting! Genesis 49:25 has the phrase “blessings of the breast and of the womb”. The Hebrew for “breast and womb” is “sadayim waraham”. Is it just a coincidence that in a prayer that uses epithets of a Canaanite skygod, there is also a reference to Canaanite goddesses too? As Smith explains, “sadayim waraham” is associated in Canaanite myth with the goddesses Asherah and Anat! Smith writes:

“[t]he phrase…in verse 25e echoes Ugaritic titles of the goddesses Asherah and Anat. The word rhm is associated with the goddess Anat in KTU [Keilschrift Texte aus Ugarit] 1.6 II 27, 1.15 II 6, and 1.23.16. In KTU 1.23.13 and 28, this title refers to Anat in her pairing with Asherah. In an invocation in KTU 1.23.23-24, the ‘beautiful gods’…are characterized as receiving nourishment from Asherah and Anat…”

Smith continues:

“[t]hese terms meaning ‘breasts and womb’ could be interpreted in purely natural terms, as signs of natural fertility. This interpretation represents the traditional view of the terms and is reflected in most modern translations (e.g., RSV, NAB, New Jewish Publication Society). […] The pairing with El, however, favors the interpretation…as the epithets of Asherah. If this interpretation of Genesis 49:24-26 is correct, then El and Asherah were Israelite deities distinguished from Yahweh, who is invoked separately in verse 18. This chapter might then represent a tradition or early stage in Israel’s religious history in which El and Yahweh were not identified and Asherah stood as an identifiable goddess.”[5]

So, the word “rhm” (womb) in the Ugaritic texts was associated with both Anat and Asherah, just like “bull” and “Shadday” were associated with El. Any of these linguistic associations by themselves would not be of much interest or controversy (i.e., “breast and womb” could just refer to natural fertility), but when they appear together with known epithets Canaanite gods and goddesses in the same poem, it is not mere coincidence. Therefore, it is reasonable to interpret the choice of words in light of the similar language in the Ugaritic texts. Paired with the epithets for El, “breasts and womb” in Genesis 49 appear to be a reference to the pagan goddesses Anat and Asherah, the latter of which happened to be El’s “wife” in the Canaanite myth, as Smith explains:

“[t]he strongest evidence…supports Asherah as the goddess evoked by the female epithets in Genesis 49:25. The Ugaritic background of the epithets favors Asherah. Furthermore, the pairing of [breasts and womb] with El would further point to Asherah, since Asherah is the goddess paired with him in the Ugaritic texts.”[6]

Incidentally, we have evidence from an ancient inscription in which YHWH is seemingly paired with Asherah (see Figure 1)! The Kuntillet ‘Ajrud inscription, dated to c. 800 BCE, says the following:

“X says: Say to Y and Yau’asah and [to Z]: I bless you by Yahweh, of Samaria, and by his/its Asherah.”[7]

Figure 1: The Kuntillet ‘Ajrud inscription (Source: https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/image-gallery/y/yahweh-asherah-drawing)

            So, for some reason, the male epithets of El (and also Baal) became associated with Yahweh and the female epithets for Anat and Asherah were also incorporated in Genesis 49 (the male epithets/imagery are found elsewhere in the Bible as well). Smith cites such verses as Deuteronomy 33:26–27 and Psalm 18:14–16.[8]  This raises some troubling questions: what are these pagan epithets doing in a prayer of a supposed monotheist like Jacob (peace be upon him)? Are they simply the result of one culture appropriating and reusing an earlier culture’s language and symbolism (and thus, it’s not a big deal)?

We should keep in mind that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses (peace be upon him) but was the result of a centuries-long process of editing and fusing multiple source materials. Jacob (peace be upon him) would have lived more than 1000 years before Genesis received its final form around the 5th/6th century BCE. There is certainly overwhelming evidence that some aspects of Canaanite paganism found their way into the Bible (not just in Genesis). Could it just be appropriation? Is it not that big of a deal? Well, yes and no.

Let’s assume that “God” dictated the book of Genesis to Moses (peace be upon him), as fundamentalists would have us believe. Why would God have used pagan language or have taught Jacob to use such language? Imagine if there was an epithet like “sky father” in the Bible for the God of Abraham! Would that be an appropriate epithet for God, who is not a primitive “sky god” who literally “lives” in the sky, but who rather transcends time and space and is above creation? Of course not! The term “sky father” is the literal translation of the word “Jupiter”, the name of the Roman sky god, later associated with Zeus (derived from the Latin dieu- [bright sky] and pater [father]).[9] It is not an appropriate title for the One, True God. The same can be said of pagan epithets like “bull” and “breasts and womb”. Since the link with Canaanite paganism (via the Ugaritic texts) is undeniable, these terms are inappropriate and out of place in the prayer of a monotheist like Jacob (peace be upon him).[10]

However, we can be certain that God did not “dictate” the Pentateuch to Moses (peace be upon him). There is firm evidence that Genesis was cobbled together from different (human) source materials. So, the Canaanite symbolism was appropriated by the authors, though Muslims would argue that this appropriation was not authorized by God (Christians and Jews may deny any appropriation took place). Also, this appropriation is certainly a big deal. While there are clear Biblical condemnations of the worship of pagan deities such as Asherah (Micah 5:14) and Baal (Judges 3:7),[11] it is ironic that references to these pagan deities still found their way into the Bible in several places (e.g., Genesis 49:25; Daniel 7:13).[12]

Conclusion

            Genesis 49 contains problematic and troubling verses that have been attributed to the patriarch Jacob (peace be upon him). We have seen evidence of pagan epithets used as part of Jacob’s “prayer” for “blessings” for his sons, especially Joseph (peace be upon him). Could these verses be among the Bible’s so-called “Satanic Verses”? They certainly did not come from Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). The Bible’s human authors were not “inspired” by God. They were inspired by the cultures around them and perhaps Satan as well. There may be some truth in the Bible (elsewhere, it condemns pagan beliefs), but there is falsehood as well.

And Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) knows best!


[1] English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] John L. Mclaughlin, The Ancient Near East: An Essential Guide (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 2012), p. 101.

[3] The word “El” was used as the proper name of the Canaanite god but could also simply mean “God”. It may also have been the personal name of God in the Israelite-Semitic culture. Thus, names like “Ishma-El” (“El listens” or “God listens”) “Gabri-El” (“El is my strength” or “God is my strength”) incorporated the Semitic word “El”.

[4] Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), p. 50.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p. 51.

[7] Ibid., p. 118.

[8] Ibid., p. 52.

[9] Randall T. Ganiban, “Jupiter,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome, Volume I, eds. Michael Gagarin and Elaine Fantham (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 161.

[10] Compare the blasphemous “prayer” attributed to the blessed Jacob (peace be upon him) in Genesis 49 to the truly monotheistic Jacob in the Quran:

“Or did you witness when death came to Jacob? He asked his children, “Who will you worship after my passing?” They replied, “We will ˹continue to˺ worship your God, the God of your forefathers—Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac—the One God. And to Him we ˹all˺ submit”” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:133, Mustafa Khattab translation).

[11] The Quran also condemns the worship of pagan gods, such as Baal, by the Israelites. In Surah As-Saffat, 37:123–127, Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) tells us how He sent the prophet Elias (peace be upon him) to the Israelites to condemn their worship of Baal:

“And Elias was indeed one of the messengers. ˹Remember˺ when he said to his people, “Will you not fear ˹Allah˺? Do you call upon ˹the idol of˺ Ba’l and abandon the Best of Creators-Allah, your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers? But they rejected him, so they will certainly be brought ˹for punishment˺.”

[12] Regarding Daniel 7:13, see my article on the book of Daniel: https://quranandbibleblog.com/2020/05/07/updated-article-the-book-of-daniel-a-critical-examination/

15 thoughts on “The Biblical “Satanic Verses”: Genesis 49 and the “Prayer of Jacob”

  1. Pingback: The Biblical “Satanic Verses”: Uncovering the Bible’s Hidden Tolerance of the Cult of Asherah – The Quran and Bible Blog

  2. Pingback: The Biblical “Satanic Verses”: The “Wrath” of Chemosh – The Quran and Bible Blog

  3. Great article. I mean, ignoring your Islamo-narcissism, I really loved the fact that you took time to read a bit about Canaanite religion lmao. I do think those things are beautiful on their own, without any religion being “right”. Islam has much of its teachings originating in pagan stuff too, and “Allah” also had a wife, “Allat”, as shown by the lioness statue and her inscription in Palmyra, Syria. It is exactly this mentality that led ISIS to destroy that statue. Who do we want to be like? Multi-religious / multi-ethnic scholars and philosophers from Baghdad in the Islamic Golden Age, or ISIS? It seems like you’re more open minded than most Islamic apologists so I just think you should take this into account.

    Like

      1. Yes! The bible incorporates pagan stuff, because people are pagan in nature. The Qur’an is also pagan, and in case you’ve wondered, many arbitrary Surahs in the Qur’an which are named after animals actually come from Talmudic tractates which tell stories about the superpowers of animals that Solomon could talk to. Muslims circle the Kaaba, an originally polytheistic monument of which there have been numerous duplicates all throughout Arabia, including the Dhul Khalasa shrine. The people are going to become pagan no matter how you try to act like your religion is the best (because again, you are an Islamo-fascist / Islamo-narcissist). If the 3 pagan children of Allah (who I am pretty sure you believe was never born nor had he begotten) were removed from the Arabian pantheon and replaced by a monotheistic religion, then polytheistic, pagan-like elements re-incarnated in the form of the 99 names of Allah, in the form of a stupid devil statue that you throw stones at during Hajj, or in the form of ridiculous shrines for Elijah the prophet merged with a bizarre green prophet called Khidr who looks after the ocean. This being a very common practice in Palestine. I don’t think this is much less pagan than the trinity or whatever fishing and fertility saints that Catholics in Spain have, or less pagan than tiny chapels lit by olive oil that Orthodox Christians in Greece build.

        By the way, the picture you took of the inscription from Kuntillet Ajrood is not accurate. It’s just an edited form of the re-construction. The original reconstruction showed that Yhwh’s consort had a phallus. And the cow-woman on the right is playing harp and preparing to give labour by the way. By the way Yhwh was an Arabian god, the Song of Deborah says that he came from Se’ir, a place identified with Tayma in modern day Saudi Arabia.

        About the reason why the Qur’an talks a lot about monotheism unlike the bible, well, the Qur’an was written some 1000 years or so after most Old Testament stuff were written, and over the course of this time a lot of empires came by and collapsed, leading to lots of ideas changing, so it’s quite a time period. Still, one would have expected the Qur’an to come up with more original ideas but most of the stuff the Qur’an says is already in the messages of the Hebrew prophets or in non-trinitarian Christian nominations which were rampant at the time and especially in the Arabian desert. And those are the very same Christians whose beliefs Islam appropriated. If you want to talk about paganism for real though, look at Islamic Ahadith on the shape of Allah. Why did so many Islamic scholars come up with humanoid and even gremlin-like descriptions of God lol? What’s that to do with monotheism? Wasn’t god meant to be invisible, of transcendental qualities beyond the human imagination? Isn’t this what you Muslims pride in when you boast about Tawhid?

        The truth is that neither Judaism nor Islam fully had an idea of what “God” looks like, it was just forbidden to draw or make statues of their god because the temples would have been the only cultic centre where that stuff is allowed. Ashkenazi Jews still believed God/YHWH’s image is that of a human being, well until the 12th century AD when Maimonides insisted to renew Saadia Gaon’s rulings on the matter from the 9th century AD. And yes he was influenced by Muʿtazila. And Muʿtazila were influenced by Greek and Indian philosophy of the time. Ideas are relayed in such way that it’s ridiculous for one religion to be deemed supreme.

        The bible openly says that in the Temple of Yhwh there was a menorah which was meant to be a shrine to symbolise Yhwh’s wife Asherah and it had pagan symbolism of olive trees around it. Are you amused? Are you happy that you can use this now as evidence that the same Tawrat that Muhammad affirms, was actually pagan as well?

        In truth, the idea that God is invisible and beyond human imagination came from Greeks. Not Muslims, not Christians, nor Jews. I just don’t see what’s the point of reading so much into this stuff when it comes back and hits you like a boomerang? You point that Yhwh had a wife, and I say, Allah had a wife and 3 daughters. You mention an Ugaritic bull-god in the Jacob story, and I am indifferent, I find it interesting. I am glad to know. In the night journey to Al Aqsa, Muhammad rode a donkey-beast with a female human face called Al Buraq which was copied from Persian mythology.

        Like sure, most Islamic apologists don’t even bother read about this stuff, because they foster a culture of ignorance. Since you bother with reading about those things, you may as well acknowledge the truth and stop lying. And the truth is that monotheism is a very fragile thing and no religion was ever fully monotheistic. Many of the elements of what you call monotheism in Islam were copied from other religions, other peoples etc. And same goes with everything in Islam, a lot of practices copied from Arabian pagans as well as Jews and Christians. And the Christians themselves copied Jews as well as Greeks and Lydians etc. (the concept of a trinity). And yes Rabbinical Judaism emerged roughly at the same time as Christianity, stealing a lot from Second Temple Judaism which was basically Israelite religion centred around Jerusalem, and borrowed a lot of pagan practices from Canaanite and Babylonian polytheism. So why be so obsessed and have the inflated ego? You believe if everybody becomes Muslim suddenly the world will become an amazing place? You believe that your poorly defined cherry-picked set of beliefs accounts for a whole religion?

        Many Muslim scholars in the Middle Ages would have frowned at what you’re saying and accused you of blasphemy for implying that the Tawrat is pagan and that Yhwh had a wife, because when the Saracens invaded Palestine they formed a pact with the Sadducee Jews of Edessa and believed that they were joining a new ummah together which was all about reunion of Isaac and Ishmael’s descendants. To them, they were worshipping exactly the same god, just contending for which group is loved more by that god. Of course later on that religion grew very hostile to Jews and kicked them out of the Temple Mount, but your religion is very much intertwined with the same pagan stuff. Also remember what I said before about Menorah being a fertility symbol symbolising Yhwh’s wife, because Umayyad coins have been found showing that symbol. It’s just a shame because even the Arabs in the 7th century seem to have been more clever than modern Muslim apologists.

        Like

      1. stewjo004

        @ Simon

        Sometimes you gotta read the room, bruh. If we’re all going this hard in research for a religion that we don’t even believe in what do you think we do for something we actually think is true? Down the line here:

        1. “…many arbitrary Surahs in the Qur’an which are named after animals actually come from Talmudic…”

        To begin many suwar (that’s the plural of a surah btw) didn’t even have names during the time of Muhammad(ﷺ) that is something we came up with for ease of reference. If you actually look at how they reference a Surah they usually just recite the first verse and everyone knows what they’re talking about. Examples:

        It was narrated from Jabir bin Samurah that :
        The Prophet (ﷺ) used to recite “By the heaven holding the big stars” and: “By the heaven, and At-Tariq (the night-comer, i.e. the bright star)” and similar surahs in Zuhr and ‘Asr.

        It was narrated that Jabir bin Samurah said:
        “The Prophet (ﷺ) used to recite “By the night as it envelops” in Zuhr and something similar in ‘Asr, and he would recite something longer than that in subh.”

        The Talmud had nothing to do with the naming process

        2. “Muslims circle the Kaaba, an originally polytheistic monument of which there have been numerous duplicates all throughout Arabia…”

        And since you’ve brought this point up let’s clarify some points here. Muslims have NEVER denied pagan Arabs did some rituals we did. However, like Christians and Jews they altered things that Abraham(as) their forefather did.

        3. “then polytheistic, pagan-like elements re-incarnated in the form of the 99 names of Allah…”

        Uhhh…that was an interesting stretch. Please show what names of God’s names came from the idols. For example His most common name after Allah, Ar-Rahman, was hated by the pagans and they didn’t know who that was:

        “And yet when they’re told: “Bow down to Ar-Rahman” They say: “Who is Ar-Rahman? Are we going to just fall down and bow to whatever you order us?” And it only increases them in their hatred and they go out looking for trouble. (25:60)

        So I can’t wait for this analysis of your claim here.

        4. “in the form of a stupid devil statue that you throw stones at during Hajj”

        Again bring evidence of your claim

        5. “…the form of ridiculous shrines for Elijah the prophet merged with a bizarre green prophet called Khidr who looks after the ocean”

        Nobody authorized any shrine to Khidr. Also, Khidr isn’t based off Elijah(as) I have no idea how you made this connection. Elijiah(as) is in the Quran, bruh:

        “Elijah was of the those sent, he said to his nation: “Will you not fear God? How can you call on Baal and abandon the Best of Creators? This is God, your Lord and the Lord of your fathers!” Then they rejected him. Therefore, they will all be brought forth, except the chosen servants of God with true sincerity, And I let him be remembered with honor by the later generations: Peace be upon Elijah!” (37:123-130)

        6. “one would have expected the Qur’an to come up with more original ideas but most of the stuff the Qur’an says is already in the messages of the Hebrew prophets”

        Whaaat!?!?!?!? It’s almost like this a renewal of the messages of the same message by God over and over again like what Elijah (as) did with Israel or something. Weird….

        7. “Why did so many Islamic scholars come up with humanoid and even gremlin-like descriptions of God lol”

        Probably because you just made this up

        8. “Muʿtazila …(blah,blah, blah)

        They were never mainstream and this was something they were criticized for. Moving on

        9. “Are you happy that you can use this now as evidence that the same Tawrat that Muhammad affirms”

        We take the position they corrupted their text. We have never said their books were all good so this is just a strawman.

        10. “In truth, the idea that God is invisible and beyond human imagination came from Greeks.”

        Their were civilizations before them but like China (Shangdi), Somalia (Waaq) but whatever. Again we think prophets went to EVERY nation so this point is moot

        11. “I say, Allah had a wife and 3 daughters”

        Except the pagans didn’t think he had a wife. They added 3 daughters to him and they admit to this.

        12. “Muhammad rode a donkey-beast with a female human face called Al Buraq which was copied from Persian mythology.”

        Would love to see this claim proven

        13. “And the truth is that monotheism is a very fragile thing and no religion was ever fully monotheistic. Many of the elements of what you call monotheism in Islam were copied from other religions, other peoples etc.”

        Again prophets, other nations, moving on

        12. ” You believe if everybody becomes Muslim suddenly the world will become an amazing place?”

        Yes.

        13. “You believe that your poorly defined cherry-picked set of beliefs accounts for a whole religion?”

        Nobody cherry picked this is again you strawmanning

        14. “Many Muslim scholars in the Middle Ages would have frowned at what you’re saying and accused you of blasphemy for implying that the Tawrat is pagan”

        Again we have called them pagans since inception so….

        15. “Saracens invaded Palestine they formed a pact with the Sadducee Jews of Edessa ”

        Even if true, how does that prove or disprove anything? What muslims do is not evidence in our religion.

        16. “Umayyad coins have been found showing that symbol. ”

        Again what Muslims do is not proof in our religion

        17. “It’s just a shame because even the Arabs in the 7th century seem to have been more clever than modern Muslim apologists.”

        Sad to hear but after dissecting this rant I’ll take comfort in the fact that kuffar are still just as stupid.

        Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s