The God Gad.

Author:Thomas, Ryan

The cult of the god Gad in ancient Israel-Judah is obscure. As a god identified with good fortune--gad is a common noun meaning "fortune, luck" (1)--the divine name is attested sporadically in the Bible as well as in personal names and inscriptions from throughout the ancient Near Eastern/Mediterranean world. The laconic quality of personal names provides few hints about his character and identity, while the single literary text in which the divine name occurs is highly polemical and of limited use (Isa. 65:11). Further complicating matters is that not only was there a god in the southern Levant known as Gad, but that the noun gad was also commonly used in personal names in its appellative sense to identify a particular god as a source of good fortune.

During the first millennium it seems a multitude of gods are described as a source of gad, as reflected in the personal names gdmlqrt ("Melqart is fortune"), gd'strt ("Astarte is fortune"), gdnbw ("Nabu is fortune"), gdyhw ("YHW is fortune"), gdy'l ("El is fortune"), mlkmgd ("Milkom is fortune"), slmgd ("Slm is fortune"). Eventually the concept gad was generalized and came to be used as a title for patron deities of cities, tribes, and localities in the Graeco-Roman Near East (Hofner 1965: 438-39; Lipinski 1995: 62-64; Kaizer 1997, 1998; Dirven 1999).

So who was the god Gad? Why was he worshipped among so many cultures? And what was his relationship to other, better known, regional/national gods? Unfortunately, there has been rather limited investigation into the origin and nature of the deity. Although the existence of a god named Gad has long been recognized (e.g., Baethgen 1888: 76-80; Skinner 1910: 387-88; Noth [1928] 1966: 126-27), the general tendency of biblical scholarship has been to treat him as an abstract figure exclusively associated with the concept of fortune and thus essentially a lesser divinity in the West Semitic pantheon. For example, Tigay classified Gad among "semi-divine beings or spirits instead of full-fledged deities ... Like tyche, gad was sometimes personified and worshipped as the genius or fortune of an individual, a tribe, a city, a garden, or a well" ([1987] 2009: 163-67), and Ribichini similarly states, "Gad is the name of a deity of good luck, equivalent to the Greek Tyche and Latin Fortuna" (1999: 339). (2) Furthermore, in connection with the assumption that Gad arose as a personification, the worship of this deity has often been regarded specifically as a late religio-historical phenomenon, corresponding to its occurrence in Isa. 65 and attestation in Aramaic, Nabataean, Palmyrenian, and Safaitic personal names from the fifth century and later (e.g., Schunck 1999: 383-84; Worschech 1991: 722; Maier 1992: 863-64).

However, the assumption that Gad was a personification comparable to Greek tyche or essentially a late development in West Semitic religion is not borne out by a closer examination of the available onomastic evidence. For we have clear attestation of Gad used as a self-standing theophoric in West Semitic proper names throughout the first millennium BCE: (3)

  1. gdrm "Gad is exalted" (eighth a), gdql "Gad has spoken" (eighth c), and gd'zyz "Gad is strong" (fifth c.) in Aramaic; (4) cf. 'lrm "El is exalted" in Hebrew and Ammonite and b'lrm "Baal is exalted" in Phoenician; (5) qlyhw "YHW has spoken" in Hebrew and b'lrgm "Baal has spoken" in Aramaic; (6) 'zzyhw "YHW is strong" in Hebrew (1 Chron. 15:21).

  2. gad-iata' "Gad has delivered" in West Semitic preserved in Neo-Assyrian (seventh c.); (7) cf. Adda-iata' "Adda has delivered" and lata'-il "El has delivered." (8)

  3. 'brgd "Gad is strong/my strength" (eighth c); gdytn "Gad has given" (Punic), and gdn'm "Gad is kind" (Punic) in Phoenician; (9) cf. 'brb'l "Baal is strong" in Phoenician and 'bryhw "YHW is strong" in Hebrew; (10) ytnb'l "Baal gave" in Phoenician and yhwntn "YHW gave" in Hebrew; (11) n'm'l "El is kind" in Phoenician and Hebrew. (12)

  4. mgdlgd "Tower of Gad" (Josh. 15:37) and 'zgd "Gad is protection" (Ezra 2:12; 8:12; Neh. 7:17; 10:16) in Hebrew; (13) cf. 'zyhw "YHW is protection" in Hebrew and 'z'l "El is protection" in Ammonite and Aramaic; (14) 'sr "happiness," a near synonym of gd, also occurs as a theophoric in 'srhy "Asher lives" and 'sryht "?" in Hebrew and 'srslh "Asher has set free" in Phoenician. (15)

  5. gdmlk "Gad is king" in Moabite (sixth c); (16) cf. 'lmlk "El is king" in Ugaritic, Aramaic, and Ammonite and Il-milki "El is my king" in Neo-Assyrian. (17)

  6. gd'zr "Gad has helped" in Ammonite (fifth-fourth c.); (18) cf. 'l'zr "El has helped" in Hebrew, b'l'zr "Baal has helped" in Phoenician, and hdd'zr "Hadad has helped" in Aramaic. (19)

  7. gdtb "Gad is good" in Nabatean; (20) cf. tb'l "El is good" in Hebrew. (21)

In none of the above personal names is it plausible to interpret gad (or 'sr) in its generic appellative sense. In line with West Semitic theophoric personal names more generally, gad is appended to a predicative element in the form of an adjective or verb, implying that it functions as the subject of the simple clause, i.e., a proper name.

Furthermore, the god Gad is treated as a distinct mythological figure with powers to intervene in the lives of individuals virtually indistinguishable from those of established high gods. Gad is said to be exalted and strong, to rule as king, to have responded to a vow, provided protection, and bestowed a child, etc., statements that elsewhere in the West Semitic onomasticon are regularly used to describe deities such as El, Baal, or YHWH. In addition. Gad is consistently implied to have been male, based on the use of masculine verbs and adjectives in the associated predicative elements. The evidence of personal names shows that Gad was conceptualized as a male divinity throughout his early career and it is only in the Hellenistic period when we find gad used as an epithet for female deities in the Punic world and in Graeco-Roman Syria, likely a result of Greek influence that conceived the patron goddess of a city/kingdom as tyche (cf. Barre 1983: 64-73; Lipinski 1995: 62-64; Kaizer 1998; Lichtenberger 2008: 140).

The traditional interpretation of Gad as a personification of "fortune" has relied to a great extent on Isa. 65 as well as later Graeco-Roman sources that equate gad with tyche (e.g., Blenkinsopp 2003: 278-79). But Isa. 65 is a problematic source for elucidating the earlier West Semitic understanding of Gad. The consensus of modern scholarship is that chapter 65 belongs to a very late stratum of the book and the reference to Gad is found in a polemical accusation that members of the Jerusalem community have abandoned YHWH to worship Gad and Meni, the god and goddess of fortune and fate. The language is highly rhetorical, as suggested by the dense use of wordplay and metaphor in the surrounding literary context. (22) In this case, the prophetic author is not describing Gad and Meni as they would have been understood by actual worshippers of these deities, but is using them as a foil for YHWH to dramatize and exaggerate the impiety of his adversaries (cf. Hanson 1979: 198; Koenen 1990: 180, 2009; Rom-Shiloni 2013: 127-34). Further, the Hellenistic usage of gad as a generic appellative equivalent to tyche is clearly a late historical development. As I mentioned above, in earlier West Semitic sources Gad is used as the proper name of a male deity.

On the basis of personal names alone, we would have to conclude that Gad was far more than simply a personification or secular notion that existed alongside deity and competed for attention as an explanatory model (so Eissfeldt 1963: 200). Indeed, because the god Gad is only sporadically attested in personal names before the Hellenistic period and yet appears with the same kinds of predicates as established high gods, it seems an unavoidable conclusion that the name functioned as an epithet and referred to a deity commonly known by another name. The widespread attestation of theophoric personal names that link a major national god to gad in the predicative element noted above shows that the...

To continue reading