Let’s take the Pentateuch as a story, beginning to evaluate its characteristics. It is composed of three basic parts:
Genesis 1-11:26 [at v. 26 ends the story of the origins]: God and humanity
Genesis 11:27 [at v. 27 begins the Terach family’s story] -50:26: God and the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob)
Exodus – Deuteronomy: God and Israel
In these three parts God is called in different ways. In the first part, He is called ‘Elohìm; in the second part, He is called ‘El-shaddai; in the third part God reveals himself as Jhwh. These names don’t appear consistently in each of these parts. Indeed, God is called with the name of Jhwh already in Genesis 2, though he will call himself Jhwh in Exodus 3.
In Hebrew, ‘Elohìm is the plural of’ ‘Eloah. The singular ‘Eloah occurs just ten times in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed the name is found always in the plural form. Literally ‘Elohìm means “gods”, i.e. more than a god. Its name would therefore would contradict the strictly monotheistic faith of Israel. However the plural name ‘Elohìm appears (almost) always with singular verbs and therefore it must be considered as a singular subject.
Moreover, it must be said that the Jews did not immediately came to worship only one God. In contact with the pagan peoples who inhabited Canaan before the Jews occupied it, they used the names of pagan deities to talk about their God. One of these names was, in fact, ‘Elohìm. The strictly monotheistic faith appeared in Israel only from the fifth century onwards.
The name ‘El-Shaddai is more difficult to explain. Typically, it is translated “God Almighty”, although its etymology is very dark. This darkness is a sign of antiquity of the name. For this reason, the name was located in the oldest part of the history of Israel, the one concerning the Patriarchs.
The name Jhwh is the proper name of the God of Israel. Jhwh is the God worshiped by Jews and also by Christians. Also its etymology is dark. It can be said that, on the basis of the consonants whose name is made, Jhwhw means “to be”, the One who makes all things exist and that is everlasting (cf. Exodus 3). He is the God above all other gods: this means the expression “Lord God” that we find in the second and third chapters of Genesis.
Usually Jhwh is pronounced as Jahwé. But this is a wrong pronunciation. In fact, no one knows the exact pronunciation of the name, so it is substituted with ‘Adonai that means “the Lord”. However, in the Hebrew Bible you’ll find always the form Jhwh without the vowels. (To be continued)
P.s.: If you want a complete Course on the Pentateuch, with readings, exercises and personalized supervision, write to this address: email@example.com