🔼The name Eli in the Bible
There are two men named Eli in the Bible, but although their names are the same in English, they aren't in Hebrew/Greek:
- The only Eli (עלי) mentioned in the Old Testament was the high priest in Shiloh when the prophet Samuel was a child (1 Samuel 1:3).
- According to the Lucan genealogy, Eli (Ηλι; Heli) was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and the legal father of Jesus the Nazarene (Luke 3:23). For reasons that are still debated, the genealogy of Matthew takes a different turn after David and results in Jacob as the father of Joseph (Matthew 1:16). When Jesus was dying on the cross, he cried out to the Father with the words, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani" (Matthew 27:46). That Eli is the same as the name of His Lucan grandfather Eli, namely Ηλι. The evangelist Mark uses a completely different transliteration of the same word (or name), and writes Ελωι (Eloi; Mark 15:34).
Eli (עלי) the high priest was an honest man but his two priestly sons, Hophni and Phinehas didn't share his passions for righteousness. They were worthless men who didn't know the Lord (1 Samuel 2:12), who had turned the Temple's sacrificial procedures into a scam (1 Samuel 2:17), and were sleeping with women whose unclear duties had them stationed in or near the tabernacle's entrance (1 Samuel 2:17). Eli reprimanded his sons to no avail. Then a man of God showed up and informed Eli that both his sons would die on the same day (1 Samuel 2:17), and the Lord would raise up for Himself a proper priest.
That proper priest would be young Samuel, who had come to live with Eli to learn the priesthood. His mother Hannah had devoted him to YHWH, out of gratitude for being no longer childless (1 Samuel 1:28). Samuel toddled around the tabernacle in his little starter's ephod, and every year Hannah brought him a new, slightly larger, robe (1 Samuel 2:18-19).
Eli was an old man and messages from the Lord were rare. But one night the Lord called Samuel and told him that he would destroy Eli's household. And it didn't stop with that one visit. The Lord was with Samuel continuously, and word of Samuel's true gift spread across the country. Nevertheless, when a war with the Philistines erupted, the people ignored this new lifeline to the Lord and decided to bring to Ark to the battle, as a talisman. Hophni and Phinehas personally accompanied it, but the sight of this famous object made the Philistines fight even stronger. They won the battle, killed Hophni and Phinehas, captured the Ark and took it home with them.
When someone informed the now ninety-nine year old Eli about the death of his two sons and the loss of the Ark, Eli fell off his chair and broke his neck (1 Samuel 4:18). Many years later, Eli's descendant Abiathar was removed from the priesthood by king Solomon, thus ending the priestly line of Eli (1 Kings 2:27).
🔼Etymology of the name Eli
The Greek name Eli is a transliteration of the Hebrew word אלי, which comes from the word (or name) אל (El). And El is either a proper divine name that became applied to the living God, or else the abbreviated form of the word (or name) אלהים (Elohim), also denoting the living God:
The added letter י (yod) in this case creates a possessive form: My God.
The Hebrew name Eli is a wholly other name, and there are quite a few ways to go with it, although it's clear that it comes from the following root group:
The name Eli is a construct consisting of two elements. The first element is either any of the words על, or else it's a contracted form of any of the words עול.
The postfixed letter י (yod) may either denote a possessive form: my עול; or it forms an adjective: על-like; or the י is a remnant of יה (Yah) = יהו (Yahu) = יו (Yu), which in turn are abbreviated forms of the Tetragrammaton; the name of the Lord: יהוה (YHWH).
If we assume that the name of the Lucan grandfather of Christ is the same as Jesus' outcry on the cross (in stead of a confusing transliteration of the Hebrew name Eli), it means My God, or God Of Me.
For a meaning of the Hebrew name Eli, NOBSE Study Bible Name List takes the על-part to come from עלה ('ala), meaning to ascend. The י, NOBSE seems to explain as an adjective-maker but also as a remnant of יה. Hence NOBSE reads "High that is God Is High".
Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) thinks that the name Eli is part of a trend in classical names; names that are constructed from the name of a deity plus a verb that expresses this deity to care for or nurse an infant. Hence Jones thinks that the על-part is a contracted form of עול ('ul), meaning suckling, and the postfixed י a remnant of יהוה (YHWH). Hence Jones reads A Foster Son for Eli.
BDB Theological Dictionary doesn't translate our name but does list it under the verb עלה ('ala), meaning to ascend.