YHWH, the Snorter of Smoke
H. Abdul Al-Dahir
Nachor/Nahor, according Genesis, was a son of Terah and brother of Abraham. It is also the name Laban’s city and the name of the god of that city. (Laban is the father of Rebecca who became the wife of Isaac.). Nahor’s name has caused much consternation as the meaning is ‘snorter’. However, the problem of the name Nachor/Nahor is solved. Like the name Lot, which is a shortened form of the name Lutpan or Veiled Face, an alternate name for El/Elohim, Nachor or snorter is an alternate name for YHWH. According to William Henry Irwin in his book, Isaiah 28-33 Translation with Philological Notes, page 102, Isaiah 30:30 is transliterated, translated and explained as:
30. w’hish’mi`a Yahúwah ‘eth-hod qolo
w’nachath z’ro`o yar’eh
w’lahab ‘esh ‘okelah
nephets wazerem w’eben barad.
Then Yhwh will emit his majestic voice
and his descending arm display
with snorting of nostrils
and flame of devouring fire
downpour and storm and hailstones
b) with snorting of nostrils. The preposition expresses accompaniment (cf vs 29). The mention of voice and arm in the preceding bicolon suggests the literal sense of ‘p ‘nostrils’ as does the phrase b’r pw ‘blazing his nostrils’ (vs 27)…
Here is vs 27 & 28 according to pages 96 & 97:
hinneh shem-Yahúwah ba’ mimer’chaq
s’phathayu mal’u za`am
ul’shono k’esh ‘okaleth
w’rucho k’nachal shoteph
lahanaphah goyim b’naphath shaw’
w’resen math’`eh `al l’chayey `amim.
Look, the Name of Yhwh is coming from afar
blazing are his nostrils and his liver fuming
his tongue is like a devouring fire
and his breath is like a stream in flood
which reaches to the neck
yoking nations with the yoke of destruction,
and a bridle leading to ruin on the jaws of the people
According to Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew & Greek Lexicon, the Hebrew word for ‘aph’ means nostril:
aph from ”anaph’ (599); properly, the nose or nostril; hence, the face, and occasionally a person; also (from the rapid breathing in passion) ire:–anger(-gry), + before, countenance, face, + forebearing, forehead, + (long-)suffering, nose, nostril, snout, X worthy, wrath.
According to Gen 31:53, Yhwh was the god of Nahor where Laban dwelt. Laban worshipped idols but his chief god was Yhwh:
According to Carl Armerding, in his article, The God of Nahor:
“The expression, “the God of Nahor,” is found but once in Scripture (Gen 31:53), in a chapter which contains several other very interesting references to God. In verse 5 Jacob refers to God as the God of his father. In verse 13 the Lord speaks of Himself as “the God of Bethel.” Then in verse 29 Laban, speaking to Jacob, calls Him “the God of your father.” This is amplified by Jacob who later speaks of Him as “the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac” (v. 42). But it is not until we come to verse 53 that we find Him referred to as “the God of Nahor.”
According to one authority, “Laban, with polytheistic views, distinguishes between his god, ‘the god of Nahor,’ and ‘the God of Abraham,’ Jacob’s God” (Fausset’s Bible Encyclopedia). Commenting on this same verse Dr. Jamieson says, “It is observable that there was a marked difference in the religious sentiments of the two. Laban spake of the God of Abraham and Nabor, their common ancestors; but Jacob, knowing that idolatry had crept in among that branch of the family, swore by the Fear of Isaac. It is thought by many that Laban comprehended, under the peculiar phraseology he employed, all the objects of worship in Terah’s family, in Mesopotamia; and in that view we can discern a very intelligible reason for Jacob’s omission of the name of Abraham, and swearing only by ‘the Fear of his father Isaac,’ who had never acknowledged any deity but ‘the Lord.’“
But we have already seen that Jacob did refer to the God of his father as “the God of Abraham,” in verse 42 .
BSac 106:423 (Jul 49) p. 364
Moreover, Laban must have known the true God also because it is written that “God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad” (v. 24). His respect for that communication is indicated in verse 29. Laban said to Jacob, “It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake to me yesternight, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.” It is not difficult to guess what he might have done to Jacob but for that warning. He did accuse Jacob of stealing his gods, but at the same time he had a healthy fear of Jacob’s God.”
According to Psalm 18:8, Yhwh’s nostrils discharged (snorted) smoke and fire issued from his mouth. Yhwh was a storm god; a divine sky serpent. His earthly counterpart was Leviathan, the great sea serpent who also snorted smoke from his nostrils while flames issued from his mouth according to Job 41:20 & 21. The city of Nahor, the god of Nahor and the character Nahor all bore the name of the deity, i.e., Yhwh the sky serpent whose image was the copper serpent or nehushtan. (The nehushtan was the copper serpent forged by Moses which he used to lead the Israelites on the Exodus.).The divine smoke issuing from Yhwh’s nostrils was imitated when the priest burnt incense which produced a cloud of smoke in the holy of holies and signified Yhwh’s presence. The same cloud of smoke is what led the Israelites by day during the exodus. The fire issuing from his mouth (Psalm 18:8) led the exiting Israelites by night. This cloud of smoke by day and flaming fire by night is explained in Isaiah 4:5:
“Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy.”
There is no doubt that Nahor/Yhwh was the great sky serpent who snorted smoke from his nostrils and blasted fire from his mouth. The combination of cloud of smoke and the flames of the fire became the glory of the divine presence or Shekinah.
Yhwh was not the only god referred to as Snorter, the term for a storm god. The Egyptian god Mar was also known as Snorter. He like Yhwh in Psalm 18:8 snorted smoke from his nostrils. So, Nachor/Nahor is another name for Yhwh just as Lutpan or Lot was another name for El/Elohim.
Yhwh was a smoke snorting, fire breathing storm god. The idol representing that god shows up in Numbers 21:8. This idol was worshiped in the Temple until Hezekiah supposedly destroyed it (2 Kings 18:4). (The reason I say supposedly is because Ezekiel in verses 8:10-12 complains that serpents decorated the Temple walls which indicates that the idol was very likely still in existence at the time of the Babylonian exile.). Nahor was named after that smoke snorting, fire breathing serpent just as Lot was named after Lutpn, an alternate name for El. This alternate name is found throughout the Book of Genesis.
Most scholars think Genesis was written in the 6th & 5th Centuries BCE or during the Babylonian and Persian occupation. However, there are many indications that passages of Genesis were written during the Ptolemaic period as the description of Noah’s ark which matches the ship the Syracusia which was given by the king of Syracuse to Ptolemy III. In any case, under Persian influence, Yhwh became officially imageless. Nevertheless, the celebratory song or psalm 18 continued to praise Yhwh as a smoke snorting, fire breathing serpent. In addition, the priesthood or Levites were named after Yhwh as a serpent (the word levi derives from the root, lavah, meaning to twine, to twist which is why the sea serpent is named Leviathan or ‘the twisting one’ ).
Furthermore, In the Book of Exodus 15 aka The Song of Moses, Yhwh is described as blasting from his nostrils or snorting. Isaiah, who served under Hezekiah, continued to describe Yhwh as a fire breathing, smoke snorting serpent in Isa 30:30. This description by Isaiah leads one to conclude that Hezekiah did not destroy the nehushtan and that Yhwh, as a fire breathing serpent, was worshiped in that image even through the Babylonian captivity as indicated by Ezekiel’s description of the temple walls. To add to the priesthood being named after the serpent, the forging of the nehushtan (Yhwh’s serpent image), Psalm 18, the Song of Moses in Exodus 15, Isaiah’s description of Yhwh in Isa 30:30, one can also reference Isaiah 6 which indicates that Yhwh was served by celestial serpents or Seraphim who were fiery, flying serpents (Isa 14).
The authors of Genesis were greatly influenced by the Persian concept of the deity as an invisible spirit. However, the long tradition of Yhwh as a smoke snorting, fire breathing storm god whose image was a celestial serpent is a consistent theme which does show up in Genesis in the name Nahor as well as in the god and city of Nahor. In addition, according to Chron 4:12, there was a Judaite whose name was Iyr Nachash, which means City of the Serpent (Chron 4:12). This name indicates that there existed in Judah a city named after Yhwh as a serpent. Serpent worship also shows up in the name of Levi, the patriarch of the Levites. Another place one can find Yhwh referenced as a serpent is in Gen 3:22. In that verse Yhwh declares that Adam and Eve had ‘become one of us’. The only other ‘us’ or deity in the garden was the serpent. So, by declaring that the serpent deity (probably Ningizzida aka Nira in Babylon), who guarded the tree of knowledge, and Yhwh, who guarded the tree of life, were one of a kind, the Genesis authors are harking back to the image of Yhwh as a serpent. To top all of this off, Yhwh’s image as a serpent became the zoomorphic image or icon of the tribe of Dan according to Gen 49.
The Biblical evidence that Yhwh began as a serpent is irrefutable. To find that image one can begin in the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, where one encounters Yhwh’s alternate name, Nahor.