Elohim

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And Elohim created Adam by William Blake.

Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֔ים) is a grammatically singular or plural noun for "god" or "gods" in both modern and ancient Hebrew language. When used with singular verbs and adjectives elohim is usually singular, "god" or especially, the God. When used with plural verbs and adjectives elohim is usually plural, "gods" or "powers".[1][2] It is generally thought that Elohim is a formation from eloah, the latter being an expanded form of the Northwest Semitic noun il (אֱל, ʾēl [3]). It is usually translated as "God" in the Hebrew Bible, referring with singular verbs both to the one God of Israel, and also in a few examples to other singular pagan deities. With plural verbs the word is also used as a true plural with the meaning "gods".[3] The related nouns eloah (אלוה) and el (אֱל) are used as proper names or as generics, in which case they are interchangeable with elohim.[3]

Mark S. Smith said that the notion of divinity underwent radical changes throughout the period of early Israelite identity. Smith said that the ambiguity of the term Elohim is the result of such changes, cast in terms of "vertical translatability" by Smith (2008); i.e. the re-interpretation of the gods of the earliest recalled period as the national god of the monolatrism as it emerged in the 7th to 6th century BCE in the Kingdom of Judah and during the Babylonian captivity, and further in terms of monotheism by the emergence of Rabbinical Judaism in the 2nd century CE.[4] A different version was produced by Morton Smith. Despite the -im ending common to many plural masculine nouns in Hebrew, the word when referring to the Name of God is grammatically singular, and takes a singular verb in the Hebrew Bible.

The word is identical to the usual plural of el meaning gods or magistrates, and is cognate to the 'l-h-m found in Ugaritic, where it is used for the pantheon of Canaanite Gods, the children of El and conventionally vocalized as "Elohim" even though this is a speculation as Ugaritic as a consonantal written language only recorded consonants. Most use of the term Elohim in the later Hebrew text imply a view that is at least monolatrist at the time of writing, and such usage (in the singular), as a proper title for the supreme deity, is generally not considered to be synonymous with the term elohim, "gods" (plural, simple noun). Hebrew grammar allows for this nominally-plural form to mean "He is the Power (singular) over powers (plural)", or roughly, "God of gods". Rabbinic scholar Maimonides wrote that the various other usages are commonly understood to be homonyms.[5] The plural form ending in -im can also be understood as denoting abstraction, as in the Hebrew words chayyim ("life") or betulim ("virginity"). If understood this way, Elohim means "divinity" or "deity".

Contents

Etymology

The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible defines "elohim" as a plural of eloah, an expanded form of the common Semitic noun "'il" (ʾēl).[3] It contains an added heh as third radical to the biconsonantal root. Discussions of the etymology of elohim essentially concern this expansion. An exact cognate outside of Hebrew is found in Ugaritic ʾlhm, the family of El, the creator god and chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon, in Biblical Aramaic ʼĔlāhā and later Syriac Alaha "God", and in Arabic ʾilāh "god, deity" (or Allah as " The [single] God").

"El" (the basis for the extended root ʾlh) is usually derived from a root meaning "to be strong" and/or "to be in front".[3]

Canaanite religion

The word el (singular) is a standard term for "god" in other related Semitic languages including Ugaritic.

In the Ugaritic Baal cycle we read of "seventy sons of Asherah" (KTU2 1.4.VI.46).[6]

Elohist

Elohim occurs frequently throughout the received text of the Torah. In some cases (e.g. Exodus 3:4, "... Elohim called unto him out of the midst of the bush ..."), it acts as a singular noun in Hebrew grammar, and is then generally understood to denote the single God of Israel. In other cases, Elohim acts as an ordinary plural of the word Eloah, and refers to the polytheistic notion of multiple gods (for example, Exodus 20:3, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me.").

The choice of word or words for God varies in the Hebrew Bible. According to the documentary hypothesis these variations are evidence of different source texts: Elohim is used as the name of God in the Elohist and the Priestly source, while Yahweh is used in the Jahwist source. The difference in names results from the theological point being made in the Elohist and Priestly sources that God did not reveal his name, Yahweh, to any man before the time of Moses.

While the Jahwist presented an anthropomorphic God who could walk through the Garden of Eden looking for Adam and Eve, the Elohist frequently involves angels. For example, it is the Elohist version of the tale of Jacob's ladder in which there is a ladder of angels with God at the top, whereas in the Jahwist tale, it is just a dream in which God is simply above the location, without the ladder or angels. Likewise, the Elohist describes Jacob actually wrestling with God.[citation needed]

The classical documentary hypothesis as developed in the late 19th century assumed that the Elohist portions of the Torah were composed in the 9th century BCE (i.e. during the early period of the Kingdom of Judah). This is far from universally accepted today, as there is evidence of a later "Elohist redaction" (post-exilic) during the 5th century BCE which makes it difficult to determine whether a given passage is "Elohist" in origin, or only as a result of late redaction.

Hebrew Bible

The word Elohim occurs more than 2500 times in the Hebrew Bible, with meanings ranging from "god" in a general sense (as in Exodus 12:12, where it describes "the gods of Egypt"), to a specific god (e.g., 1 Kings 11:33, where it describes Chemosh "the god of Moab", or the frequent references to Yahweh as the "elohim" of Israel), to demons, seraphim, and other supernatural beings, to the spirits of the dead brought up at the behest of King Saul in 1 Samuel 28:13, and even to kings and prophets (e.g., Exodus 4:16).[3] The phrase bene elohim, usually translated "sons of God", has an exact parallel in Ugaritic and Phoenician texts, referring to the council of the gods.[3]

Elohim occupy the seventh rank of ten in the famous medieval Rabbinic scholar Maimonides' Jewish angelic hierarchy. Maimonides said: "I must premise that every Hebrew knows that the term Elohim is a homonym, and denotes God, angels, judges, and the rulers of countries, ...[5]

Grammar – singular or plural

In Hebrew the ending -im, mainly indicates a masculine plural. However with Elohim the construction is grammatically singular, (i.e. it governs a singular verb or adjective) when referring to the Hebrew God, but grammatically plural elohim (i.e. taking a plural verb or adjective) when used of pagan divinities (Psalms 96:5; 97:7).[citation needed]

Plural "gods", with plural verb

The noun elohim is used with a plural verb in 1 Samuel 28:13. The witch of Endor told Saul that she saw "gods" (elohim) ascending (olim עֹלִים, plural verb) out of the earth.[citation needed]

God of Israel, with singular verb

In the Hebrew Bible Elohim, when meaning the God of Israel, is mostly grammatically singular. Even in Genesis 1:26 "Then God said (singular verb), 'Let us make (plural verb) man in our image, after our likeness'." Elohim is singular. Wilhelm Gesenius and other Hebrew grammarians traditionally described this as the pluralis excellentiae (plural of excellence), which is similar to the pluralis majestatis (plural of majesty, or "Royal we").[7]

Gesenius comments that Elohim singular is to be distinguished from elohim plural gods and remarks that:

the supposition that elohim‎ is to be regarded as merely a remnant of earlier polytheistic views (i.e. as originally only a numerical plural) is at least highly improbable, and, moreover, would not explain the analogous plurals (below). To the same class (and probably formed on the analogy of elohim) belong the plurals kadoshim, meaning "the Most Holy" (only of Yahweh, Hosea 12:1, Proverbs 9:10, 30:3 (cf. El hiym kadoshim in Joshua 24:19 and the singular Aramaic "the Most High", Daniel 7:18, 22, 25); and probably teraphim (usually taken in the sense of penates) the image of a god, used especially for obtaining oracles. Certainly in 1 Samuel 19:13, 16 only one image is intended; in most other places a single image may be intended; in Zechariah 10:2 alone is it most naturally taken as a numerical plural.

There are a number of notable exceptions to the rule that Elohim is treated as singular when referring to the God of Israel, including Gen. 20:13, 35:7, 2 Sam. 7:23 and Ps. 58:11, and notably the epithet of the "Living God" (Deuteronomy 5:26 etc.), which is constructed with the plural adjective, Elohim Hayiym אלהים חיים but still takes singular verbs. In the Septuagint and New Testament translations of Elohim has the singular ὁ θεὸς even in these cases, and modern translations follow suit in giving "God" in the singular. The Samaritan Torah has edited out some of these exceptions.[8]

Abraham's "the gods caused me"

In Gen 20:13 Abraham, before the polytheistic Philistine king Abimelech, says that "the gods (elohim) caused (plural verb) me to wander".[9][10][11] The Greek Septuagint and most English versions usually translate this "God caused", possibly to avoid the implication of Abraham deferring to Abimelech's polytheistic beliefs.[12]

Angels and Judges

In a few cases in the Greek Septuagint, Hebrew elohim with a plural verb, or with implied plural context, was rendered either angeloi ("angels") or pros to kriterion tou Theou ("before the judgement of God").[13] These passages then entered first the Latin Vulgate, then the English King James Version as "angels" and "judges", respectively. From this came the result that James Strong, for example, listed "angels" and "judges" as possible meanings for elohim with a plural verb in his Strong's Concordance, and the same is true of many other 17th-20th Century reference works. Both Gesenius' Hebrew Lexicon and the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon list both angels and judges as possible alternative meanings of elohim with plural verbs and adjectives.

The reliability of the Septuagint translation in this matter has been questioned by Gesenius and Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg. In the case of Gesenius, he lists the meaning without agreeing with it.[14] Hengstenberg stated that the Hebrew Bible text never uses elohim to refer to "angels", but that the Septuagint translators refused the references to "gods" in the verses they amended to "angels."[15]

Ambiguous readings

Sometimes when elohim occurs as the referent or object (i.e. not subject) of a sentence, and without any accompanying verb or adjective to indicate plurality, it may be grammatically unclear whether gods plural or God singular is intended. An example is Psalm 8:5 where "Yet you have made him a little lower than the elohim" is ambiguous as to whether "lower than the gods" or "lower than God" is intended. The Septuagint read this as "gods" and then corrected the translation to "angels", which reading is taken up by the New Testament in Hebrews 2:9 "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man." (full quote and compare)

Other plural-singulars in biblical Hebrew

The Hebrew language has several nouns with -im (masculine plural) and -oth (feminine plural) endings which nevertheless take singular verbs, adjectives and pronouns. For example Ba'alim "owner": "He is lord (singular) even over any of those things that he owns that are lordly (plural)."[citation needed]

Jacob's ladder "gods were revealed" (plural)

In the following verses Elohim was translated as God singular in the King James Version even though it was accompanied by plural verbs and other plural grammatical terms.

Gen 35:7 and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed (plural verb) himself to him when he fled from his brother (Genesis 35:7, ESV)

Here the Hebrew verb "revealed" is plural, hence: "the-gods were revealed". A NET Bible note claims that the Authorized Version wrongly translates: "God appeared unto him".[16] This is one of several instances where the Bible uses plural verbs with the name elohim.[17][18]

The Divine Council of Elohim

AV Psalm 82:1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.

82:6 I have said, Ye [are] gods; and all of you [are] children of the most High.
82:7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.

Marti Steussy in “Chalice Introduction to the Old Testament” discusses: “The first verse of Psalm 82: ‘Elohim has taken his place in the divine council.’ Here elohim has a singular verb and clearly refers to God. But in verse 6 of the Psalm, God says to the other members of the council, ‘You [plural] are elohim.’ Here elohim has to mean gods.” [19]

Mark Smith referring to this same Psalm states in “God in Translation:...” “This psalm presents a scene of the gods meeting together in divine council...Elohim stands in the council of El. Among the elohim he pronounces judgment:...” [20]

In Hulsean Lectures for..., H. M. Stephenson discussed Jesus’ argument in John 10:34–36 concerning Psalm 82. (In answer to the charge of blasphemy Jesus replied:) "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods. If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?" – "Now what is the force of this quotation 'I said ye are gods.' It is from the Asaph Psalm which begins 'Elohim hath taken His place in the mighty assembly. In the midst of the Elohim He is judging.'" [21]

Sons of God

The Hebrew word for a son is ben; plural is benim (with the construct state form being "benei"). The Hebrew term benei elohim ("sons of God" or "sons of the gods") in Genesis 6:2[22] compares to the use of "sons of gods" (Ugaritic b'n il) sons of El in Ugaritic mythology.[23] Karel van der Toorn states that gods can be referred to collectively as bene elim, bene elyon, or bene elohim.[3]

English Bible translations

Hebrew elohim in English translations of the Bible is usually rendered as gods when occurring with a plural verb and referring to pagan deities, and as God when occurring with a singular verb and referring to the God of Israel. In doing so the English translations generally follow the use of theos (θεος) in the Greek Septuagint and New Testament citations of the Old Testament.[citation needed]

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ Glinert Modern Hebrew: An Essential Grammar Routledge p14 section 13 "(b) Agreement of verbs Verbs agree with their subject, and not only in gender and number but also in person. Present tense verbs distinguish masculine from feminine and singular from plural:"
  2. ^ Gesenius A Grammar of the Hebrew Language
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst (eds), Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible (revised 2nd edition, Brill, 1999) ISBN 90-04-11119-0, p. 274, 352-3
  4. ^ Mark S. Smith, God in translation: deities in cross-cultural discourse in the biblical world, vol. 57 of Forschungen zum Alten Testament, Mohr Siebeck, 2008, ISBN 978-3-16-149543-4, p. 19.;
    Smith, Mark S. (2002), "The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel" (Biblical Resource Series)
  5. ^ a b Moses Maimonides. "Guide for the Perplexed" (1904)
  6. ^ John Day Yahweh and the gods and goddesses of Canaan, p.23
  7. ^ Gesenius Hebrew Grammar: 124g, without article 125f, with article 126e, with the singular 145h, with plural 132h,145i"
  8. ^ Richard N. Soulen, R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of biblical criticism, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-664-22314-4, p. 166.
  9. ^ Benamozegh, Elia; Maxwell Luria (1995). Israel and Humanity. Paulist Press International. p. 104. ISBN 978-0809135417. 
  10. ^ Hamilton, Victor P. (2012). Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary. Baker Academic. ISBN 978-0801031830. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=vUry0cGNR_IC&pg=PT1003&lpg=PT1003&dq=Abimelech%7CAbimilek+polytheism&source=bl&ots=-1cN-u2glE&sig=QZ0LeLWV6Vvn8302eBmXrmJlbpQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=pKgPUKvNKYOp0QXwzYD4AQ&ved=0CG4Q6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=Abimelech. 
  11. ^ e.g. Gen. 20:13 התעו אתי אלהים מבית אבי (where התעו is from תעה "to err, wander, go astray, stagger", the causative plural "they caused to wander")
  12. ^ LXX: ἐξήγαγέν με ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τοῦ οἴκου τοῦ πατρός; KJV: "when God caused me to wander from my father's house"
  13. ^ Brenton Septuagint Exodus 21:6 προσάξει αὐτὸν ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸ κριτήριον τοῦ θεοῦ
  14. ^ The Biblical Repositor p. 360 ed. Edward Robinson - 1838 "Gesenius denies that elohim ever means angels; and he refers in this denial particularly to Ps. 8: 5, and Ps. 97: 7; but he observes, that the term is so translated in the ancient versions."
  15. ^ Samuel Davidsohn An Introduction to the New Testament 3 1848 p282 "Hengstenberg, for example, affirms, that the usus loquendi is decisive against the direct reference to angels, because Elohim never signifies angels. He thinks that the Septuagint translator could not understand the representation ..."
  16. ^ NET Bible with Companion CD-ROM W. Hall Harris, 3rd, none - 2003 - "35:14 So Jacob set up a sacred stone pillar in the place where God spoke with him.30 He poured out a 20tn Heb "revealed themselves." The verb iVl] (niglu), translated "revealed himself," is plural, even though one expects the singular"
  17. ^ Haggai and Malachi p36 Herbert Wolf - 1976 If both the noun and the verb are plural, the construction can refer to a person , just as the statement “God revealed Himself” in Genesis 35:7 has a plural noun and verb. But since the word God, “Elohim,” is plural in form,8 the verb ..."
  18. ^ Psychology and the Bible: From Genesis to apocalyptic vision p243 J. Harold Ellens, Wayne G. Rollins - 2004 "Often the plural form Elohim, when used in reference to the biblical deity, takes a plural verb or adjective (Gen. 20:13, 35:7; Exod. 32:4, 8; 2 Sam. 7:23; Ps. 58:12),"
  19. ^ Steussy, Marti. "Chalice Introduction to the Old Testament"
  20. ^ Smith, Mark. "God in Translation:..."
  21. ^ Stephenson, H. M. (1890) Hulsean Lectures for... lecture 1, page 14
  22. ^ (e.g. Genesis 6:2, "... the sons of the Elohim (e-aleim) saw the daughters of men (e-adam, the adam) that they were fair; and they took them for wives... ,"
  23. ^ Marvin H. Pope El in the Ugaritic texts Supplements to Vetus Testamentum Vol. II Leiden, Brill, 1955. Pp. x—l-116, p49

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