Use of plural Elohim?

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rgprice
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Use of plural Elohim?

Post by rgprice »

Elohim is the plural of Eloah. I've read many of the rabbinical explanations about use of the term Elohim in the Jewish scriptures, but I doubt these have real merit. They seem more like justifications than actual explanations.

Where exactly are all the places that Elohim appears in the Pentateuch?

Might the YHWH Elohim in Genesis 2-4 be taken to mean Yahweh of the Elohim, meaning Yahweh from the Divine Counsel or something along those lines?

Is it possible to read Elohim in Genesis 1 as "gods" or are there other aspects of the text that indicate Elohim is being used in a singular sense?

Is there any evidence that the term "Elohim" was used to refer to a single god outside of the Jewish scriptures, dating prior to the 3rd century BCE?
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billd89
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Re: Use of plural Elohim?

Post by billd89 »

Elohim Redux.

fwiw, I think the Elohim of the OT is a family of gods syncretized to a synthetic One God Concept imposed c.300 BC upon a wild and wooly Judaism(s) of plurality. In Elephantine Egypt (where Beth-El was a House of God not deity proper) c.400 BC, I see :
1) Yahu (YHWH)
2) Anat (= Astarte, Queen of Heaven)
3) Herem (= Horon)
4) Ishmum (= Eshmun)

There is no reason to assume all (Proto-) Jews of that day accepted that particular 'Family of God' nomenclature, either. The Baals were the "Elohim".

I believe Horon was assimilated to Yahu and/or (alternately) Melqart-Herakles. However, the Young God was a replacement and increasingly popular after 400 BC: in the region from Pelusium to Gaza, this Canaanite-Egyptian Apollon-type merges Osiris and Horus, Melqart and Eshmun, Herakles and Iolaos. Furthermore, c.300 BC I think 'Jews' in this region also knew the Young God as 'Rimmon' (among other names); that's a common statuary in subsequent centuries as I've illustrated on other threads.

To make things more complicated, as time passed (c.75 BC?) a three-fold abstraction of the Godhead developed (somewhere: Tanis?) ; Philo Judaeus addressed that Lineage later (c.25 AD) as 'Chronos'.

Which I would simplify:
1) Supreme God
2) Artificer (Elder Son)
3) Savior (Younger Son)

Beyond the OT, we assume that Alexandrian Jews had assimilated the Legendary High-Priest as a Divine Intermediary in Exagoge, Lines 67–90, c.150 BC. More conclusively, 11Q13(Mel) identifies Melchizedek as Elohim c.100 BC. About a century afterwards, Philo Judaeus calls Melchizedek the Logos; the Logos should certainly be Elohim! However, the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions (w/ underlying material c.100 AD) demotes the Unnamed Being ('Melchizedek' sequentially as Michael,Yahoel and Metatron) to Archangel. By extant evidence, logically, Melchizedek could not have been widely considered 'Elohim' after 70 AD, but relic traditions may have persisted somewhat longer in odd corners. {As a side-note, the Mormons have divined something along these lines; I am not qualified to address that.}
andrewcriddle
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Re: Use of plural Elohim?

Post by andrewcriddle »

When Elohim is translated as God the Hebrew verb is usually singular.
See for example Jeff Benner's answer here

Andrew Criddle
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Use of plural Elohim?

Post by neilgodfrey »

rgprice wrote: Sun Nov 13, 2022 9:46 am
Is it possible to read Elohim in Genesis 1 as "gods" or are there other aspects of the text that indicate Elohim is being used in a singular sense?
One source I found of some use in discussing that question:

https://archive.org/details/genesiscomm ... 4/mode/2up

Westermann concludes that the "let us" indicates a "plural of deliberation". But when one turns to Schmidt, one finds a possible rebuttal of that conclusion:

https://archive.org/details/dieschpfung ... 6/mode/2up

Schmidt's text is in German but I have distilled his main points for an upcoming blog post:
Is it the Trinity speaking?

An early church view was that God was speaking as the Trinity. There is nothing else in Genesis to suggest the Trinity so we can put that view aside.

Is it a plural of majesty?

Another is that we have a "plural of majesty" ... as in the monarch saying "we" where lesser mortals would simply say "I". Exegetes who have worked on the view that Genesis was written very early have discounted that possibility because a clear instance of a "plural of majesty" only appears elsewhere for the first time in the mouth of the Persian king in the Book of Esther. (RG, though, does argue for a post-Persian era composition of Genesis.)

Is it a council of gods?

What should be noted, though is that God is found speaking of "us" in other books of the Old Testament whenever he is in a council with other divine beings. .... e.g. ..... But again, many scholars have been reluctant to accept the view that God is addressing a council of gods in Genesis because they are convinced that the ("priestly") author would never have thought to imagine God as a "first among equals".

Is God talking to himself?

Another view: are we reading here God turning over an idea in his mind, speaking to himself? The problem with that view is that there is nothing in the declaration to suggest a pondering: the words are a proclamation, an announcement, of what "they" are about to do.

After weighing up the above options, Schmidt concludes that the sentence here is a relic from a polytheistic era. The saying began in the context of a heavenly court of divine beings, but continued as a "speech form" even after the idea of a heavenly court was no longer part of the belief system.
Russell Gmirkin
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Re: Use of plural Elohim?

Post by Russell Gmirkin »

neilgodfrey wrote: Sun Nov 13, 2022 3:51 pm
rgprice wrote: Sun Nov 13, 2022 9:46 am
Is it possible to read Elohim in Genesis 1 as "gods" or are there other aspects of the text that indicate Elohim is being used in a singular sense?
One source I found of some use in discussing that question:

https://archive.org/details/genesiscomm ... 4/mode/2up

Westermann concludes that the "let us" indicates a "plural of deliberation". But when one turns to Schmidt, one finds a possible rebuttal of that conclusion:

https://archive.org/details/dieschpfung ... 6/mode/2up

Schmidt's text is in German but I have distilled his main points for an upcoming blog post:
Is it the Trinity speaking?

An early church view was that God was speaking as the Trinity. There is nothing else in Genesis to suggest the Trinity so we can put that view aside.

Is it a plural of majesty?

Another is that we have a "plural of majesty" ... as in the monarch saying "we" where lesser mortals would simply say "I". Exegetes who have worked on the view that Genesis was written very early have discounted that possibility because a clear instance of a "plural of majesty" only appears elsewhere for the first time in the mouth of the Persian king in the Book of Esther. (RG, though, does argue for a post-Persian era composition of Genesis.)

Is it a council of gods?

What should be noted, though is that God is found speaking of "us" in other books of the Old Testament whenever he is in a council with other divine beings. .... e.g. ..... But again, many scholars have been reluctant to accept the view that God is addressing a council of gods in Genesis because they are convinced that the ("priestly") author would never have thought to imagine God as a "first among equals".

Is God talking to himself?

Another view: are we reading here God turning over an idea in his mind, speaking to himself? The problem with that view is that there is nothing in the declaration to suggest a pondering: the words are a proclamation, an announcement, of what "they" are about to do.

After weighing up the above options, Schmidt concludes that the sentence here is a relic from a polytheistic era. The saying began in the context of a heavenly court of divine beings, but continued as a "speech form" even after the idea of a heavenly court was no longer part of the belief system.
I did a pretty thorough independent research on that whole "plural of majesty" thing. This theory was first put forward, as near as I can discover, after the time of Elizabeth I, who famously started the English custom of monarchs referring to themselves as "we". I can find no evidence that this was earlier put forward as an explanation of Elohim, and no evidence of any ancient god in the Mediterranean or Ancient Near Eastern world in any language referring to themselves in the plural. I haven't found other academics who have undertaken a similar study on the history of scholarship on this topic, so don't cite me as a source, since there's always the chance that I missed something. I'd be delighted to be shown I'm right or I'm wrong, either way, but I find the whole theory to be pretty crackpot and desperate.

Esther 8.8 allegedly has Ahasuareus refer to himself in the third person, but I don't read it that way. In any case that is different from referring to himself in the plural (which I can't find anywhere in Esther or elsewhere of a king or god in the biblical text). Esther is in any case a text of 163 BCE or later, since the festival of Purim was a response to the persecutions under Antiochus Epiphanes. But I'll be interested to read your future posting on the subject to see if it clarifies any of these matters.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Use of plural Elohim?

Post by neilgodfrey »

Russell Gmirkin wrote: Mon Nov 14, 2022 1:52 am But I'll be interested to read your future posting on the subject to see if it clarifies any of these matters.
Sorry, but I won't have anything more to add on that particular question. I'm really struggling to get just part way up to speed with any one facet of OT studies.
rgprice
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Re: Use of plural Elohim?

Post by rgprice »

It is interesting that there is a widespread assumption that "polytheism = older". Of course we know that Semitic cultures prior to the 4th century likely were polytheistic, BUT, polytheism remained the dominant view of the Hellenistic world for quite some time.

It seems to me that there is no reason not to conclude that Genesis 1-11 is both the most recent writing of the Pentateuch AND that it introduces polytheism in opposition to the monotheism of Gen 12-Deut as a part of its overall anti-nationalistic agenda. Gen 1-11 is both polytheistic and concerned with the larger world beyond simply the civilization of the Israelites. I don't think this is a coincidence.
rgprice
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Re: Use of plural Elohim?

Post by rgprice »

After weighing up the above options, Schmidt concludes that the sentence here is a relic from a polytheistic era. The saying began in the context of a heavenly court of divine beings, but continued as a "speech form" even after the idea of a heavenly court was no longer part of the belief system.
The question remains, is there evidence of the use of "Elohim" to refer to a single God outside of the scriptures? If Schmidt's conclusion is correct, there should be evidence of this apparent colloquialism.

I would suggest the possibility that this wasn't a common colloquialism left over from polytheistic times, but rather a deliberate statement by the author of Gen 1-2:3.

Another possibility is that the writer of Gen 1-2:3 knew Gen 2:4-4 and took Elohim from YHWH Elohim.
Russell Gmirkin
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Re: Use of plural Elohim?

Post by Russell Gmirkin »

rgprice wrote: Mon Nov 14, 2022 7:36 am It is interesting that there is a widespread assumption that "polytheism = older". Of course we know that Semitic cultures prior to the 4th century likely were polytheistic, BUT, polytheism remained the dominant view of the Hellenistic world for quite some time.

It seems to me that there is no reason not to conclude that Genesis 1-11 is both the most recent writing of the Pentateuch AND that it introduces polytheism in opposition to the monotheism of Gen 12-Deut as a part of its overall anti-nationalistic agenda. Gen 1-11 is both polytheistic and concerned with the larger world beyond simply the civilization of the Israelites. I don't think this is a coincidence.
While Gen. 1-11 introduces Gen. 12-50 and is quite explicitly polytheistic, in a positive way, there is no evidence of monolatry in Gen. 12-50 (unlike Exodus-Joshua where exclusive worship of Yahweh was the central feature of the religion and morality of the children of Israel). Gen. 12-50 has nothing bad to say about any of the gods; seems quite friendly to the Egyptian religious milieu, given that Joseph married the daughter of the priest of On; and has multiple altars and seemingly multiple gods in Canaan, since it is not apparent that all the deities mentioned had yet been conflated into Yahweh. Indeed, multiple gods continue to be acknowledged in Exodus-Joshua, except now these other gods (and the nations that worshipped them) are demonized, unlike in Genesis.
rgprice
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Re: Use of plural Elohim?

Post by rgprice »

Russell Gmirkin wrote: Mon Nov 14, 2022 12:25 pm While Gen. 1-11 introduces Gen. 12-50 and is quite explicitly polytheistic, in a positive way, there is no evidence of monolatry in Gen. 12-50 (unlike Exodus-Joshua where exclusive worship of Yahweh was the central feature of the religion and morality of the children of Israel). Gen. 12-50 has nothing bad to say about any of the gods; seems quite friendly to the Egyptian religious milieu, given that Joseph married the daughter of the priest of On; and has multiple altars and seemingly multiple gods in Canaan, since it is not apparent that all the deities mentioned had yet been conflated into Yahweh. Indeed, multiple gods continue to be acknowledged in Exodus-Joshua, except now these other gods (and the nations that worshipped them) are demonized, unlike in Genesis.
Right, but I think for many people this leads to an assumption that the Genesis material is older, reflecting an earlier time when the society was more polytheistic. But this is not necessarily the case. It may well be that Exodus-Joshua came first, then Genesis 12-50 was written, attempting to soften the nationalism of Exodus-Joshua, with Gen 1-11 being then written as an intro to Gen 12-50, with even broader embrace of Hellenisim.
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