Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe includes the story of Yael killing Sisera. The author renders the name with the common "Y" to "J" substitution as "Jael" and, in an aside, mentions that it means "God God." I think Mr. Gonick has in mind a spelling like “יאל”. I think this is just a careless translation, but just in case:

Is there any attestation to a name like “יאל” (or some other spelling variant) with a meaning like Mr. Gonick has in mind in use in ancient Israel?

3 Answers 3


A Midrash in Vayikra Rabba (23:10) teaches:

שְׁלשָׁה הֵם שֶׁבָּרְחוּ מִן הָעֲבֵרָה וְשִׁתֵּף הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא שְׁמוֹ עִמָּהֶם, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: יוֹסֵף וְיָעֵל וּפַלְטִי. יוֹסֵף מִנַּיִן, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים פא, ו): עֵדוּת בִּיהוֹסֵף שָׂמוֹ, מַהוּ בִּיהוֹסֵף יָהּ מֵעִיד עָלָיו... יָעֵל מִנַיִן, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שופטים ד, יח): וַתֵּצֵא יָעֵל לִקְרַאת סִיסְרָא וַתְּכַסֵּהוּ בַּשְּׂמִיכָה... אָמַר רֵישׁ לָקִישׁ חָזַרְנוּ עַל כָּל הַמִּקְרָא וְלֹא מָצִינוּ כְּלִי שֶׁשְּׁמוֹ שְׂמִיכָה, וּמַה שְׂמִיכָה, שְׁמִי כֹּה, שְׁמִי מֵעִיד עָלֶיהָ שֶׁלֹּא נָגַע בָּהּ אוֹתוֹ רָשָׁע. פַּלְטִי מִנַּיִן כָּתוּב אֶחָד אוֹמֵר (שמואל א כה, מד): וְשָׁאוּל נָתַן אֶת מִיכַל בִּתּוֹ [אשת דוד] לְפַלְטִי, וְכָתוּב אֶחָד אוֹמֵר (שמואל ב ג, טו): פַּלְטִיאֵל, קָרֵי לֵיהּ פַּלְטִי וְקָרֵי לֵיהּ פַּלְטִיאֵל, מִי נָסֵיב פַּלְטִי וּמִי יָהֵיב פַּלְטִיאֵל, אֶלָּא מֵעִיד אֲנִי עָלָיו שֶׁלֹּא נָגַע בְּאֵשֶׁת דָּוִד

The Midrash, attempting to demonstrate the chastity of Joseph, Jael and Palti, explains that Joseph’s name is once spelled ‘Jehoseph’ (containing an added letter forming God’s name), Palti had ‘El’ appended to his name and a peculiar word is used in the story of Jael -a word interpreted as a play-on of the words ‘My name is here’- all indicating that because of their chastity God attached His name to theirs/them.

Louis Ginzberg (Legends VI. p. 198 n. 85) seemed to have misquoted* this Midrash and wrote:

God attached His name to the names of Joseph (=יהוסף), Paltiel (=פלטי אל), the husband of Michal, and Jael (=יה אל) to testify that these pious persons withstood the temptations to which they were exposed and remained chaste.

As one can tell from the aforementioned Midrash, Jael’s name was not explicated as the two others’ names which were spelled with God’s name.

It is possible that Gonick relied on Ginzberg or a similar second-hand source.

*Disclaimer: on account of Ginzberg’s masterful erudition of rabbinic literature I don’t claim with certainty that there is no source at all attesting to the spelling of יה אל, though I do submit his misquoting as a strong possibility. Additionally I find it hard to imagine that Ginzberg thought for a moment יעל was spelled יהאל and therefore alternatively suggest that he (mis?)understood the Midrash to be saying that שמיכה=שמי כה is insinuating that ‘My name is here, [with her name]’, only that Jael’s name should be pronounced as יה אל.

  • I don't think that Ginzberg is misinterpreting the midrash. It's possible that for the author of the midrash (as for the ba'aley masora) the last syllable of יעל was pronounced the same way as the last syllable of יִשְׁמָעֵאל, and the first syllable was pronounced the same way as the last syllable of ירמיה, so the name יעל really could have sounded like יה אל
    – b a
    Aug 29, 2019 at 19:50
  • @ba So you agree with my alternative suggestion? I personally think this might be the case since the Midrash is more comprehensible, how else is שמי כה?
    – Oliver
    Aug 29, 2019 at 19:53
  • I agree except for "that Jael’s name should be pronounced as יה אל" - I think the pronunciation is already close enough that the midrash could connect יעל with יה אל with no change in pronunciation
    – b a
    Aug 29, 2019 at 21:44

A quick search shows that יאל does not seem to appear in Tanach, nor in the Mishna or Gemara.

Wikipedia does not acknowledge this variant spelling either for Yael, though it's the way they transliterate Yahel Ernesto Castillo Huerta's name into Hebrew, probabaly to differentiate it from Yael.

It appears that Larry Gonick either made that up, was misinformed or was using his poetic license.


The phrase יאל is a very common addendum to names in Tanach, and it indeed means "[relating to] God." (His doubling of "God" is probably based on the י also being used in some names to refer to God.) However, it is not used as a stand-alone word or name, nor am I aware of "Yael" being spelled that way. (This makes sense, as יאל is not a stand-alone word (though it may be a root), whereas יעל is an mountain-goat.)

It appears that Larry Gonick either made that up, was misinformed or was using his poetic license.

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