Elohim#Hebrew Bible

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Elohim#Hebrew Bible
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{{About|the Hebrew word}}File:Elohim.svg|thumb|Elohim in Hebrew script. The letters are, right-to-left: aleph-lamed-he-yud-memmemElohim (Hebrew: {{Script/Hebrew|אֱלֹהִים}} {{IPA-he|ʔɛloːˈhim|}}) is a word in the Hebrew Bible, which sometimes means deities in the plural,{{sfn|Van der Toorn|1999|pages=352–353, 360–364}}{{sfn|McLaughlin|2000|pages=401–402}} and elsewhere refers to a single deity, particularly (but not always) the Jewish God.{{sfn|Van der Toorn|1999|pages=352–353, 360–364}}{{sfn|McLaughlin|2000|pages=401–402}}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". Most uses 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). Rabbinic scholar Maimonides wrote that the various other usages are commonly understood to be homonyms.The notion of divinity underwent radical changes in the early period of Israelite identity and development of Ancient Hebrew religion. The ambiguity of the term elohim is the result of such changes, cast in terms of "vertical translatability", i.e. the re-interpretation of the gods of the earliest recalled period as the national god of 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.{{sfn|Smith|2010|page=19}}

Grammar and etymology

{{Further information|El (deity)|Ilah|Allah}}The word elohim or 'elohiym (ʼĕlôhîym) is a grammatically plural noun for "gods" or "deities" or various other words in Biblical Hebrew.WEB, Strong’s Definitions,weblink 8 August 2019, WEB, Outline of Biblical Usage,weblink 8 August 2019, In Hebrew, the ending -im normally indicates a masculine plural. However, when referring to the Jewish God, Elohim is usually understood to be grammatically singular (i.e. it governs a singular verb or adjective).{{sfn|McLaughlin|2000|pages=401-402}}{{sfn|Van der Toorn|1999|page=353}} In Modern Hebrew, it is often referred to in the singular despite the -im ending that denotes plural masculine nouns in Hebrew.Glinert, Modern Hebrew: An Essential Grammar, Routledge, p. 14, section 13 "(b) Agreement".Gesenius, A Grammar of the Hebrew Language''.It is generally thought that Elohim is derived from eloah, the latter being an expanded form of the Northwest Semitic noun ’il.{{sfn|Pardee|1999|pages=285-288}}Karel Van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter W. Van der Horst (eds.), Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible (revised 2nd edition, Brill, 1999) {{ISBN|90-04-11119-0}}, pp. 274, 352-353. The related nouns eloah () and el () are used as proper names or as generics, in which case they are interchangeable with elohim. The term 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,{{sfn|Pardee|1999|pages=285-288}} 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").{{sfn|Pardee|1999|pages=285-288}} "El" (the basis for the extended root ʾlh) is usually derived from a root meaning "to be strong" and/or "to be in front".

Canaanite religion

{{Further information|Ancient Canaanite religion}}The word el (singular) is a standard term for "god" in Aramaic, paleo-Hebrew, and other related Semitic languages including Ugaritic. The Canaanite pantheon of gods was known as 'ilhm,BOOK, Pardee, Dennis, Eloah, Van der Toorn, Karel, Becking, Bob, Van der Horst, Pieter Willem, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, Eerdmans, 285, 1999,weblink The term expressing the simple notion of 'gods' in these texts is ilm..., the Ugaritic equivalent to elohim.{{sfn|Van der Toorn|1999|pages=352–353, 360–364}}For instance, in the Ugaritic Baal cycle we read of "seventy sons of Asherah". Each "son of god" was held to be the originating deity for a particular people. (KTU 2 1.4.VI.46).{{sfn|Day|2000|page=23}}


{{Further information|Elohist}}The Hebrew Bible uses various names for God. According to the documentary hypothesis these variations are the products of different source texts: Elohim is the name of God in the Elohist (E) and Priestly (P) sources, while Yahweh is used in the Jahwist (J) source. Form criticism postulates the differences of names may be the result of geographical origins; the P and E sources coming from the North and J from the South. There may be a theological point, that God did not reveal his name, Yahweh, before the time of Moses, though Hans Heinrich Schmid showed that the Jahwist was aware of the prophetic books from the 7th and 8th centuries BCE.H. H. Schmid, Der Sogenannte Jahwist(Zurich: TVZ, 1976)J presents Yahweh anthropomorphically: for example, walking through the Garden of Eden looking for Adam and Eve. The Elohist often presents Elohim as more distant and frequently involves angels, as in the Elohist version of the tale of Jacob's Ladder, in which there is a ladder to the clouds, with angels climbing up and down, with Elohim at the top. In the Jahwist tale, Yahweh is simply stationed in the sky, above the clouds without the ladder or angels. Likewise, the Elohist describes Jacob wrestling with an angel.The classical documentary hypothesis, first developed in the late 19th century CE among literary scholars, holds 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, however, is not universally accepted as later literary scholarship seems to show evidence of a later "Elohist redaction" (post-exilic) during the 5th century BCE which sometimes makes it difficult to determine whether a given passage is "Elohist" in origin, or the result of a later editor.{{Citation needed|date=February 2018}}


{{further information|Names of God in Judaism}}Elohim occurs frequently throughout the Torah. In some cases (e.g. Exodus 3:4, "Elohim called unto him out of the midst of the bush ..."), it behaves like 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, "You shall have no other gods before me").The word Elohim occurs more than 2500 times in the Hebrew Bible, with meanings ranging from "gods" in a general sense (as in Exodus 12:12, where it describes "the gods of Egypt"), to specific gods (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). The phrase bene elohim, translated "sons of the Gods", has an exact parallel in Ugaritic and Phoenician texts, referring to the council of the gods.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 [now] knows that the term Elohim is a homonym, and denotes God, angels, judges, and the rulers of countries, ..."Moses Maimonides. Guide for the Perplexed (1904 translation by Friedländer). Starting from the beginning of chapter 2.

With plural verb

In {{bibleverse|1|Samuel|28:13|HE}}, elohim is used with a plural verb. The witch of Endor told Saul that she saw elohim ascending (olim , plural verb) out of the earth.Brian B. Schmidt, Israel's beneficent dead: ancestor cult and necromancy in ancient Israelite Religion and Tradition, "Forschungen zum Alten Testament", N. 11 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr Siebeck, 1994), p. 217: "In spite of the fact that the MT plural noun 'elohim of v.13 is followed by a plural participle 'olim, a search for the antecedent to the singular pronominal suffix on mah-to'ro in v.14 what does he/it look like? has led interpreters to view the 'elohim . . . 'olim as a designation for the dead Samuel, "a god ascending." The same term 'elohim ... He, therefore, urgently requests verification of Samuel's identity, mah-to'"ro, "what does he/it look like?" The .... 32:1, 'elohim occurs with a plural finite verb and denotes multiple gods in this instance: 'elohim '"seryel'ku I fydnenu, "the gods who will go before us." Thus, the two occurrences of 'elohim in 1 Sam 28:13,15 — the first complemented by a plural ...28:13 manifests a complex textual history, then the 'elohim of v. 13 might represent not the deified dead, but those gods known to be summoned — some from the netherworld — to assist in the retrieval of the ghost.373 ...In {{bibleverse||Genesis|20:13|HE}}, Abraham, before the polytheistic Philistine king Abimelech, says that "Elohim (translated as God) caused (, plural verb) me to wander".BOOK, Benamozegh, Elia, Israel and Humanity, 1995, Paulist Press International, 978-0809135417, Maxwell Luria, 104, BOOK, Hamilton, Victor P., Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary, 2012, Baker Academic, 978-0801031830,weblink e.g. Gen. 20:13 (where is from "to err, wander, go astray, stagger", the causative plural "they caused to wander") Whereas the Greek Septuagint (LXX) has a singular verb form (ἐξήγαγε(ν), aorist II), most English versions usually translate this as "God caused" (which does not distinguish between a singular and plural verb).LXX: ; KJV: "when God caused me to wander from my father's house"

With singular verb

Elohim, when meaning the God of Israel, is mostly grammatically singular, and is commonly translated as "God", and capitalised. For example, in {{bibleverse||Genesis|1:26|HE}}, it is written: "Then Elohim (translated as God) said (singular verb), 'Let us (plural) make (plural verb) man in our (plural) image, after our (plural) likeness{{'"}}. 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").Gesenius, Hebrew Grammar: 124g, without article 125f, with article 126e, with the singular 145h, with plural 132h, 145iGesenius comments that Elohim singular is to be distinguished from elohim plural gods and remarks that:}}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 but still takes singular verbs.In the Septuagint and New Testament translations, Elohim has the singular 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.Richard N. Soulen, R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of biblical criticism, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, {{ISBN|978-0-664-22314-4}}, p. 166.

Angels and judges

In a few cases in the Greek Septuagint (LXX), Hebrew elohim with a plural verb, or with implied plural context, was rendered either angeloi ("angels") or to kriterion tou Theou ("the judgement of God").Brenton Septuagint Exodus 21:6 προσάξει αὐτὸν ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸ κριτήριον τοῦ θεοῦ These passages then entered first the Latin Vulgate, then the English King James Version (KJV) 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.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." 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".Samuel Davidsohn, An Introduction to the New Testament, Vol. III, 1848, p. 282: "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..."The Greek New Testament (NT) quotes Psalm 8:4-6 in Hebrews 2:6b-8a, where the Greek NT has "ἀγγέλους" (angelous) in vs. 7,WEB, Hebrews 2:7 with Greek,weblink 18 March 2013, quoting Ps. 8:5 (8:6 in the LXX), which also has "ἀγγέλους" in a version of the Greek Septuagint.WEB, Psalm 8:5 with Greek (8:6 in the LXX),weblink 18 March 2013, In the KJV, elohim (Strong's number H430) is translated as "angels" onlyWEB, Elohim as angels in the KJV only in Psalm 8:5 (8:6 in LXX),weblink 18 March 2013, in Psalm 8:5.The KJV translates elohim as "judges" in Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8; and twice in Exodus 22:9.WEB, Elohim as "judges" in the KJV,weblink 18 March 2013, Angels and Fallen angels cited in the Hebrew Bible and external literature contain the related noun el (אֵל) such as Michael (archangel), Gabriel and Samael."Samael" weblink

Ambiguous readings

Sometimes when elohim occurs as the referent or object (i.e. not the 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",{{Citation needed|date=March 2013}} 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." ({{Bibleref2|Hebrews.2:5-9;Psalm.8:3-5||9|full quote and compare}})Another example is in Genesis 3:5 where the KJV says: "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." But the NASB (1995) has ""For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."" While the NET version says "divine beings".

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, Baalim,Exodus 21:34, 22:11, Ecclesiastes 5:10, 7:12, Job 31:39 Adonim,Genesis 39:20, 42:30, 42:33, I Kings 16:24 Behemoth.Job 40:15 This form is known as the "honorific plural", in which the pluralization is a sign of power or honor.Mark Futato (2010). "Ask a Scholar: What Does YHWH Elohim Mean?".

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.Here the Hebrew verb "revealed" is plural, hence: "the gods were revealed". An NET Bible note claims that the Authorized Version wrongly translates: "God appeared unto him".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" This is one of several instances where the Bible uses plural verbs with the name elohim.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 ..."J. Harold Ellens, Wayne G. Rollins, Psychology and the Bible: From Genesis to apocalyptic vision, 2004, p. 243: "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),"

The Divine Council

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."BOOK,weblink Steussy, Marti, Chalice Introduction to the Old Testament, Chalice Press, 9780827205666, 2013, 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: ..."BOOK,weblink Smith, Mark, God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, William B. Eerdmans, 2010, 9780802864338, In Hulsean Lectures for..., H. M. Stephenson discussed Jesus' argument in {{Bibleref2|John.10:34-36;Psalm.82:6-7||9|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.{{'"}}Stephenson, H. M. (1890) Hulsean Lectures for... lecture 1, page 14

Sons of God

The Hebrew word for "son" is ben; plural is bānim (with the construct state form being "benei"). The Hebrew term benei elohim ("sons of God" or "sons of the gods") in {{bibleverse||Genesis|6:2|HE}}(e.g. {{bibleverse||Genesis|6:2|HE}}, "... 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...," compares to the use of "sons of gods" (Ugaritic: b'n il) sons of El in Ugaritic mythology.Marvin H. Pope, El in the Ugaritic texts, "Supplements to Vetus Testamentum", Vol. II, Leiden, Brill, 1955. Pp. x—l-116, p. 49. Karel van der Toorn states that gods can be referred to collectively as bene elim, bene elyon, or bene elohim.

Latter Day Saint movement

In Mormonism, Elohim refers to God the Father. Elohim is the father of Jesus in both the physical and the spiritual realms, whose name before birth is said to be "Jehovah".First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, "The Father and the Son", Improvement Era, August 1916, pp. 934–42; reprinted as "The Father and the Son", Ensign, April 2002. The Book of Abraham, which members of the Latter Day Saint movement hold to as divinely inspired scripture revealed through the prophet Joseph Smith, contains a paraphrase of the first chapter of Genesis which explicitly translates Elohim as "the Gods" multiple times; this is suggested by Elder James E. Talmage to indicate a "plurality of excellence or intensity, rather than distinctively ofnumber".BOOK, Talmage, James E., Jesus the Christ, (1956 ed.), September 1915, 38,

See also




  • BOOK, Day, John, John Day (Old Testament scholar), Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan,weblink
    Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series), 265, Sheffield Academic Press, 23, 2000, harv, 978-1-850-75986-7,
    • BOOK, McLaughlin, John L., Elohim, Freedman, David Noel, Myer, Allen C., Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, Eerdmans, 401–402, 2000,weblink harv, 0-8028-2400-5
    • BOOK, Miller, Patrick D., Patrick D. Miller, The Religion of Ancient Israel, Westminster John Knox Press, 2000,weblink 978-0-664-22145-4, harv
    • BOOK, Miller, James M., Hayes, John H., A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, Westminster John Knox Press, 1986,weblink harv, 9780664212629
    • BOOK, Niehr, Herbert, The Rise of YHWH in Judahite and Israelite Religion, Edelman, Diana Vikander, The Triumph of Elohim: From Yahwisms to Judaisms, Peeters Publishers, Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology, 13, 1995,weblink 978-90-390-0124-0, harv
    • BOOK, Pardee, Dennis, Eloah, Van der Toorn, Karel, Becking, Bob, Van der Horst, Pieter W., Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, Brill, 285–288, 1999, 2nd,weblink 90-04-11119-0, harv
    • BOOK, Preuss, Horst Dietrich, Old Testament Theology, Westminster John Knox Press, 1, The Old Testament Library, 147–149, 1995,weblink 0-664-21844-X, harv
    • BOOK, Römer, Thomas, The Invention of God, The God of Israel and His Name,weblink Harvard University Press, 2015, 978-0-674-50497-4, harv
    • BOOK, Smith, Mark S., Mark S. Smith, El, Freedman, David Noel, Myer, Allen C., Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, Eerdmans, 2000,weblink harv, 9789053565032
    • BOOK, Smith, Mark S., 2001, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts, Oxford University Press,weblink harv, 9780195167689
    • BOOK, Smith, Mark S., 2002, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, Eerdmans,weblink harv, 2nd, 9780802839725
    • BOOK, Smith, Mark S., 2010, God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World, Eerdmans,weblink harv, 978-0-8028-6433-8
    • BOOK, Van der Toorn, Karel, Karel van der Toorn, God (I), Van der Toorn, Karel, Becking, Bob, Van der Horst, Pieter W., Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, Brill, 352–353, 360–364, 1999, 2nd,weblink 90-04-11119-0, harv
    • BOOK, Vriezen, T. C., Van der Woude, S. A., 2005, Ancient Israelite and Early Jewish Literature,weblink Doyle, Brian, Brill, 978-90-04-12427-1, harv,

    External links

    • {{Strong Hebrew|430}}
    • NIE, Elohim, 1905, x,
    {{Names of God}}

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