Who ‘the elohim’ were? (Third part)

A Rabbi that places a ‘mezuzah’ on the jamb

Today I would like to propose an interlude on our analysis of the word elohim as it appears in the Hebrew Bible. Today we offer a grammatical analysis of the term. It may be that it will be helpful to compare the noun elohim with the italian word truth. We can consider these two sentences: (first case) inconvenient truths floor all of us; (case 2) the truth will make you free. The word is one but with different meanings. The plural or singular meaning depends not only on the word, but also on the context in which the word is found.

When elohim is followed by plural verbs the meaning is plural. But in this case the reference is generally not to God but to humans that represented God on earth (click here). But elohim is almost followed by singular verbs. According to some people also in these cases elohim is to be understood as plural noun. The problem would not exist because the singular verb requires the singular meaning. But to many people this is not a sufficient argument. Another argument is that elohim is the superlative of eloah.

Elohim could be the plural of eloah or the superlative of eloah, approaching a bit to our notion of’ abstract noun. Eloah comes from the root ‘alah which is related to the fear or to the judgment. Thus the superlative/abstract elohim would mean something like ‘”the one that inspires great fear”. In Hebrew there are other plural words that are to be translated as superlative names. For example damim which in Hebrew means only ‘blood’ and not ‘blood types’. It is a kind of plural of abundance (see e.g. 2 Sam 3:28); also chaiim is a plural noun which means ‘life’ and not ‘lives’ (see e.g. Gen 2:7); shamaim indicates the ‘sky’; zequnim indicates ‘old age’.

If elohim is a superlative, there is also elohe-ha-elohim which is the absolute superlative. It appears in Deuteronomy 10:17, where there is a definition of YHWH: For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward

Then taking into account that the book of Deuteronomy is – according to the latest scholarly research – the book that provides the plot of the entire Pentateuch, we might consider verses like those of Deuteronomy the definition of God which is the background for understanding the sense of all other occurrences of elohim in the Pentateuch.

Simone Venturini


Comments are closed.