Graham Pemberton
5 min readApr 25, 2023

What Do the First Three Chapters of Genesis Really Mean? — Part 7, Elohim and Yahweh

pixabay, geralt and source

This is the latest in a series. It will make most sense if readers are familiar with what has preceded, especially parts 3, 4 and 5. (For previous articles please see this list.)

This article is going to be controversial because it potentially challenges the scholarly consensus, which says that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is derived from four separate sources, known as the Jehovistic (J), the Elohistic (E), Deuteronomy (D), and Priestly (P). These are believed to have been composed during significantly different periods¹.

In this article I’m only interested in the E and J sources. These are considered separate because one author calls God ‘Elohim’ and the other ‘Jehovah’ (more properly Yahweh). More importantly, it is believed that these sources are offering two distinct and separate accounts of creation. Is this based on a true understanding of the text, however, or does it arise because the scholars believe that the Jewish religion is monotheistic, therefore that two names for God must mean two different authors?

I don’t want to get into debates with other Medium readers about the historical merits of that theory. It’s possible that there are other reasons to believe it, based on differences of style and vocabulary. My interest is purely in assessing the validity of d’Olivet’s translation and understanding of the original text and Best’s esoteric interpretation. Even if there are reasons to believe that E and J are separate sources, it is still possible that in the earliest version of the text there was a continuous narrative with only one account of creation intended.

That is Best’s controversial point of view. He says: “Although there appear to be two accounts of the Creative Operation, a close analysis reveals that the narrative in the 1st chapter only describes the Divine Ideal and original project, as it was conceived by the SUPREME GODHEAD. It presents a synthesis of the pre-destined process of Cosmic Manifestation, first by Involution and in potentiality, to be followed by actual Evolutionary development. The description in the 2nd chapter, from V. 5, summarises the execution of this Divine Plan by His Cosmic Son, IHOAH, the Creative Deity, Who is both Manifest and Immanent”².

Elohim and Jehovah/Yahweh — or Ihoah, as Best chooses to call him — are not therefore different names for God, rather refer to different stages of the creative process. Something similar can be found in other traditions. The best known is in Hinduism where we find an ultimate supreme principle called Brahman and the creator god Brahma. In Kabbalism we find Ayin and En Sof. In Gnosticism, there is both nothingness and fullness, two different states of the Pleroma.

Possibly also relevant is the opening of the Tao Te Ching: “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth. The named is the mother of ten thousand things”. There is therefore an eternal mysterious Tao which is beyond all description (nameless), and which is the beginning of heaven and earth. This sounds very much like the opening of Genesis: “In the beginning when God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth…” There is a distinct something else (the named) which creates the multiplicity of the material universe (ten thousand things). Even though this is deemed to be feminine in the Chinese text, it may nevertheless be the equivalent of IHOAH in Best’s account.

Is there anything in the text to suggest such a viewpoint? Evidence that something strange might be going on is that in NRSV the second account of creation is said by the editors to begin halfway through verse 4 of chapter 2, not even at the end of a verse. That is a strange place for a second account to begin.

Along similar lines, it is also strange that chapter 2 begins before the first account of creation is completed. Wouldn’t it make more sense to devote chapter 1 to the first account, and chapter 2 to the beginning of the second? As Best says: “It seems obvious that the first four verses of Chapter II should belong to Chapter I, as they complete AELOHIM’S Creative Plan in Principle and Potentiality”. These two facts put together suggest that the text should possibly be regarded as continuous, that there is perhaps only one account of creation, if only we could penetrate to the text’s deeper meaning.

Here are some of Best’s statements in support of his position:

  • IHOAH (thus Yahweh) is “the Creative Deity and Manifest aspect of GOD”
  • “…the differentiation between AELOHIM, the ABSOLUTE UNMANIFEST as the GREAT ARCHITECT, and IHOAH the Manifest Creator and Great Builder”
  • “The fundamental principle of the 1st chapter passes from being ‘THE ONE UNMANIFEST POWER of AELOHIM, and becomes the Creative Action of IHOAH, the second Deity. We say that verses 1 to 4 of chapter 2 contain a re-affirmation that the Creative Plan of the Universe and Mankind was first conceived in its entirety, but only in principle and potentiality”.

In the next article I’ll briefly look at what implications this has for the concept of the Sabbath. After that I’ll look at chapter 2. Here are some tasters:

  • the garden of Eden is not a garden. In fact, there was no word corresponding to ‘Eden’ in the original text.
  • the narrative does not refer to anything on Earth, rather takes place in the spiritual realm. There can therefore be no rivers or trees there.
  • Eve is not a woman. (This obviously means that Adam and Eve, as I’ve said earlier in the series, were not — or do not symbolise — the first human beings.)
  • the text is actually describing the creation of the various levels of a human being.

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I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles, however, are only on Medium; for those please check out my lists.

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Footnotes:

  1. see, for example Microsoft Word — Sess12.doc (paultanner.org)
  2. Genesis Revised, Sufi Publishing Company, 1964, 2nd printing 1970, p12
  3. ibid., p16, p19, p19

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Graham Pemberton

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships. grahampemberton.com spiritualityinpolitics.com