How does the Bible explain the name “Israel”?


Jacob wrestling with the angel, Gustav Dore

In the Hebrew bible, Jacob receives the name Israel (יִשְֹרָאֵל) after he has wrestled with the angel. In Genesis 32:29 we read:

וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לֹ֤א יַעֲקֹב֙ יֵאָמֵ֥ר עֹוד֙ שִׁמְךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹ-הִ֛ים וְעִם־אֲנָשִׁ֖ים וַתּוּכָֽל׃

“And he said, “No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob, but Israel, because you have striven with G’d and with men and have overcome.”

When we look at the Hebrew text, it will explain the word יִשְֹרָאֵל.

We have two elements: יִשְֹר and אֵל

The first element is derived from the root שֹרי (with עִם) “to strive (with)”. That is the same root as in the verb שָׂרִ֧יתָ that we find in our verse. The second element אֵל is short for אֱלֹ-הִ֛ים. The Hebrew original gives us, as in so many other examples, the etiology of a name.

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