What Do the First Three Chapters of Genesis Really Mean? — Part 6, the Elohim Problem
This is the latest in a series (for previous articles please see this list). It’s possible to read this one in isolation, although I assume readers will have some familiarity with what has preceded. (This particular article does not add anything to the overall theme of my series. I include it merely because it throws some light on one of the scholarly problems encountered when reading Genesis.)
I’ve now finished my discussion of chapter 1. Before moving on, it’s worth making an observation about the word used for the divinity in the text. Modern English versions say simply ‘God’. This seems to be somewhat misleading since, as every scholar knows, the word used in the original text, Elohim, is plural. Less well known, at least by the public, is that the following verb is singular. This suggests that the original true meaning of the term is somewhat complicated.
I remember reading some time ago the preface in one edition, where the translators said that they had chosen to translate Elohim as God, although they knew it is a plural word, because Christianity is a monotheistic tradition. They were therefore admitting that they had mistranslated the word, or had made no attempt to explain the true meaning, because they didn’t want to confuse or distress any Christian readers. This is disappointing, and certainly not helpful, even if they meant well.
There has been much debate in academic circles about what was meant originally by ‘Elohim’, given that it is a plural word. The version that in the past I have come up with myself is ‘God-in-its-plural-form’. If that is appropriate, the question then arises, does this imply some form of polytheism? Is this some kind of pantheon of deities?
Shabaz Britten Best in his esoteric interpretation (what in previous articles I have been calling BEI), offers the following explanation, based on d’Olivet’s translation:
“It is worthy of note that many ancient languages used the pronoun ‘HE’, in its absolute sense, to serve as the synonym for GOD, the MOST HIGH… However, this is not adequate to convey THE SUPREME BEING. The word AELOHIM employed by Moses in this sense is far more complex and profound. It combines the relative pronoun HE, with the verb ‘To be BEING’, and has the root meaning ‘GOD WITH ABSOLUTE LIFE’, to which is added the plural suffix. So this remarkably composite word really means: ‘HE-THEY WHO ARE THE BEING OF LIFE’. It was compiled to signify all the superlative potencies of the Divine Nature, and is therefore expressed as plural, though it actually defines ‘THE ONE’ and ‘The Only Being’…
“Some writers have merely perceived that this divine name AELOHIM has a plural ending, and so have translated it as ‘The Gods’, while others assume it refers to the ‘Seven Spirits around the Throne of GOD’. However, the prerogative of conceiving and establishing the fundamental principles of All Manifestation must belong to the ABSOLUTE SUPREME GODHEAD, the ONE Who is All-Inclusive, and who alone has the right and power to delegate the execution of His Great Plans to qualified Subordinates, such as the Creative Deity IHOAH, and the Cosmic Logoi operating under His Authority”.
The meaning of IHOAH (Yahweh) will be the subject of the next article.
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