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By DrMarcusDavis
Posted Nov 27, 2008 in
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This article is about the Hebrew word. For other uses, see Elohim (disambiguation).
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Elohim (אֱלוֹהִים , אלהים ) is a Hebrew word which expresses concepts of divinity. It is apparently related to the Hebrew word ēl, though morphologically it consists of the Hebrew word Eloah (אלוה) with a plural suffix. Elohim is the third word in the Hebrew text of Genesis and occurs frequently throughout the Hebrew Bible. Its exact significance is often disputed.
"And Elohim created Adam" by William Blake.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 (see next section), 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 (אלוה), and refers to the polytheistic notion of multiple gods (for example, Exodus 20:3, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." This may reflect the use of the word "Elohim" found in the late Bronze Age texts of Canaanite Ugarit, where Elohim ('lhm) denoted the entire Canaanite pantheon (the family of El אל, the patriarchal creator god). It may also refer to a Henotheistic strand of Judaism. In still other cases, the meaning is not clear from the text, but may refer to powerful beings (e.g. Genesis 6:2, "... the sons of Elohim saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them for wives... ," Exodus 4:16, "He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you [Moses] were Elohim to him [Aaron]... ," Exodus 22:28, "Thou shalt not revile Elohim, or curse a ruler of your people... ," where the parallelism suggests that Elohim may refer to human rulers). See Sons of God for more information.
Contents [hide]
1 Hebrew grammar
2 Significance in the documentary hypothesis
3 Etymology
4 Elohim in Islam
5 Elohim in the Latter Day Saint movement
6 Elohim in anthroposophy
7 Raëlism
8 Popular Culture
9 See also
10 Notes
[edit] Hebrew grammar
Elohim has plural morphological form in Hebrew, but it is used with singular verbs and adjectives in the Hebrew text when the particular meaning of the God of Israel (a singular deity) is traditionally understood. Thus the very first words of the Bible are breshit bara elohim, where bara ברא is a verb inflected as third person singular masculine perfect. If Elohim were an ordinary plural word, then the plural verb form bar'u בראו would have been used in this sentence instead. Such plural grammatical forms are in fact found in cases where Elohim has semantically plural reference (not referring to the God of Israel). There are a few other words in Hebrew that have a plural ending, but refer to a single entity and take singular verbs and adjectives, for example בעלים (be'alim, owner) in Exodus 21:29 and elsewhere.
In most English translations of the Bible (e.g. the King James Version), the letter G in "god" is capitalized in cases where Elohim refers to the God of Israel, but there is no distinction between upper and lower case in the Hebrew text.
[edit] Significance in the documentary hypothesis
Main article: Documentary hypothesis
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.
[edit] Etymology
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The most likely derivation comes from the word Elohim ('lhm) found in the Ugarit archives, meaning the family or pantheon associated with the Canaanite father God El.
Joel Hoffman derives the word from the common Canaanite word elim, with the mater lectionis heh inserted to distinguish the Israelite God from other gods. He argues that elohim thus patterns with Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah.[1] (See also Yahweh.)
Karel van der Toorn repeats the common claim that elohim is the plural of eloah. D. Pardee notes the lack of any clear etymology for eloah[2], but the word itself is well-attested (57 times in the OT).
Some trace its origin in el or ul which may mean ("to be strong") or possibly ("to be in front"), from which also are derived ayil ("ram", the one in front of the flock) and elah (the prominent "terebinth"); Elohim would then be an expanded plural form of El. (However, Semitic etymologies are generally based on triconsonantal roots, which this proposal completely ignores.)
Others relate the word (and Eloah, "a god") to alah ("to terrify") or alih ("to be perplexed, afraid; to seek refuge because of fear"). Eloah and Elohim, therefore, would be "He who is the object of fear or reverence," or "He with whom one who is afraid takes refuge".
The form of the word Elohim, with the ending -im, is plural and masculine, but the construction is usually singular, i.e. it governs a singular verb or adjective when referring to the Hebrew god, but reverts to its normal plural when used of heathen divinities (Psalms 96:5; 97:7). There are many theories as to why the word is plural:
In one view, predominant among monotheists, the word is plural in order to augment its meaning and form an abstraction meaning "Divine majesty".
Among orthodox Trinitarian Christian writers it is sometimes used as evidence for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. This is regarded as fanciful by some secular linguists and some biblical scholars.[citation needed]
In another view that is more common among a range of secular scholars, heterodox Christian and Jewish theologians and polytheists, the word's plurality reflects early Semitic polytheism. They argue it originally meant "the gods", or the "sons of El," the supreme being. They claim the word may have been singularized by later monotheist priests who sought to replace worship of the many gods of the Canaanite or Semitic pantheon with the Hebrew singular patron god YHWH alone.[citation needed]
A plural noun governing a singular verb may be according to oldest usage. The gods form a heavenly assembly where they act as one. In this context, the Elohim may be a collective plural when the gods act in concert. Compare this to English headquarters, which is plural but governs a singular verb: there are many rooms or quarters, but they all serve one purpose. Thus, it is argued, the meaning of Elohim therefore can mean one god, with many attributes.
The alternative polytheist theory would seem to explain why there are three words built on the same stem: El, Elohim, and eloah. El, the father god, has many divine sons, who are known by the plural of his name, Elohim, or Els. Eloah, might then be used to differentiate each of the lesser gods from El himself.
While the words El, Elohim, and eloah are clearly related, with the word El being the stem, some have claimed it is uncertain whether the word Elohim is derived from El through eloah. These have suggested that the word Elohim is the masculine plural of a feminine noun, used as a singular. This would imply indeterminacy in both number and gender, although, as mentioned above, from Canaanite texts in Ugarit, this is what appears to be intended in this case. However, to many this is speculative and confusing, although consistent with many other Jewish and Christian views of the nature of the Godhead.
Note that contrary to what is sometimes assumed, the word Eloah (אלוה) is quite definitely not feminine in form in the Hebrew language (and does not have feminine grammatical gender in its occurrences in the Bible). This word ends in a furtivum vowel (i.e. short non-syllabic [a] element which is part of a lowering diphthong) followed by a breathily-pronounced final [h] consonant sound — while feminine Hebrew words which end in "ah" have a fully syllabic [a] vowel which is followed by a silent "h" letter (which changes to a [t] sound in the grammatical "construct state" construction, or if suffixes are added). The pronounced [h] (or he mappiq) of Eloah never alternates with a [t] consonant sound (the way that silent feminine "h" does), and the [a] "furtivum" element in Eloah is actually a late feature of masoretic pronunciation traditions, which wouldn't have existed in the pronunciation of Biblical times.
The meaning of Elohim is further complicated by the fact that it is used to describe the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel, raised by Saul in 1 Samuel 28:13. The witch of Endor tells Saul that she sees 'gods' (elohim) coming up out of the earth; this seems to indicate that the term was indeed used simply to mean something like 'divine beings' in ancient Israel.
It is worthy of note that, in the Biblical Hebrew (as well as in many other languages, such as Yaqui) the customary grammatical "plurality" of a word is often simply that: a grammatical plural. The use of "plural" forms for singular nouns is common in the Hebrew Bible, and often connotes quintessence, uniqueness, or might rather than plurality (though it may connote both). Thus, the phrase "מלך מלכי המלכים" ("melekh maləkêi ha-məlâkhim") does not refer to "a king, kings of kings", but to "a king of unsurpassed kingship"; שיר השירים, ("shir ha-shirim") does not refer to "a song of songs", but to "a song that is the quintessential song"; ימים רבים ("yamim rabim") refers to "a great sea" as easily as to "great [or 'many'] seas". A clue to this is the Hebrew grammatical term for "plural": lâshon rabbim, meaning a term of grandiosities.
[edit] Elohim in Islam
In the context of Islam, the divine name Allah, used in the Qur'an, has a linguistic cognate relationship with the Hebrew word "Eloah (אלוה)". See "La ilaha illallah...", the Muslim declaration of faith, where the word for a god is Ilah (from which the word Allah derives by prefixation of the Arabic definite article).
In the Qur'an, a first person plural pronoun ("we") is used in a similar way when the angels are involved in executing the will of God, implying the presence of these divinely guided beings. As in the Bible, when the focus is on the oneness of God (as in worship of God alone) the singular is used.
[edit] Elohim in the Latter Day Saint movement
Main article: Godhead (Latter Day Saints)
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes referred to as the LDS Church or "Mormons") as well as some other denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement, the term Elohim (also spelled "Eloheim") is often used to distinguish God the Father as a distinct member of the Godhead.
The plural sense of "Elohim" is generally recognized by the LDS Church as meaning "the council of the gods", often interpreted as the Godhead, in the creation story. This is particularly evident in Chapter 4 of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price.
[edit] Elohim in anthroposophy
In anthroposophy, based on the teachings by Rudolf Steiner, the Elohim represent the sixth realm of the Christian angelic hierarchy of the Roman Catholic tradition. Using the terminology of Dionysius the Areopagite, this hierarchic level of divine spirits is referred to as Exousiai (Greek) or Potestates (Latin) and is immediately above the three levels comprising the Angels, Archangels and Archai/Principati. The role of the Exousiai/Elohim in spiritual evolution is essential, since the human Self has emanated from them. Having their residence in the spiritual spheres of the Sun, the Exousiai/Elohim are specially devoted to the development of Earth and humanity. Yahweh is one of them, who moved to the Moon spheres for the sake of humanity and took up the task as the divine ruler of the biblical Israelites, destined to receive the incarnation of Christ in the man Jesus. Christ, himself originating from Trinity (which supersedes all hierarchies), is the direct leader of the Exousiai.
[edit] Raëlism
The Raëlian Movement translates 'Elohim' to "Those who come from the heavens" or "Those who came from the sky", keeping with the hypothesis that it is a plural form of 'Eloha', which would in turn mean, "He/She who comes from the heavens/sky". Elohim would then be human-like extraterrestrials who came from another world and created all life on Earth using advanced genetic engineering and bio-science as declared in the book of Genesis.
[edit] Popular Culture
The Elohim are a race of mysterious, immensely powerful beings in Stephen Donaldson's Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.[citation needed]
On their 2003 album Heretic, the death metal band Morbid Angel has a track called, "Cleansed in Pestilence (Blade of Elohim)"
In the computer game Homeworld 2, there is a minor character named Captain Elohim.
In the comic series 'Lucifer' (most prominently in #29) a "tiny demon of the Elokim" appears
[edit] See also
Creation according to Genesis
Documentary hypothesis
El (god)
Elohim (gods)
Names of God
Names of God in Judaism
Theophoric name
[edit] Notes
^ Hoffman, Joel M.. In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language. ISBN 0-8147-3654-8.
^ Both Karel van der Toorn's and D. Pardee's claims are found in "Elohim", in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible ISBN 90-04-11119-0.
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