El was a storm god in Canaanite mythology, whose rain fertilized the earth, making agriculture possible. In a country dependent on rain, his role (and cult) were crucial, and he rapidly emerged as the chief deity in the Canaanite pantheon. In turn, he was apparently adopted by the Israelite tribes, who settled in the region and identified with Yahweh. Throughout the Bible, the name "El" (or in its expanded version, Elohim) is interchangable with Yahweh, though ancient Jewish scholars identified the former with the Divine attribute of justice and the latter with the attribute of mercy.

At the same time, the Hebrew term el also became an equivalent to the English term god, as in the verse: "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods" (Exodus 15:11), in which elim (the plural of el) is used as gods.

Indications of the biblical god's Canaanite orgins can be found throughout the Bible, most notable in the Genesis creation account (Genesis 1-2) , in which Elohim floats across the waters and causes it to rain.

El was the father of Baal in Ugaritic texts of the second millennium BCE.