Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Hebrew noun אלהים (ʾelōhím, pronounced el-oh-HEEM) is the Biblical Hebrew word for "god." Technically, it is in the masculine plural form, but is used to represent both a single and multiple deities. Despite being plural in form, אלהים (ʾelōhím) is also frequently used to refer to the singular Hebrew God. The multiple forms and uses appear to be derived from the fact that the chief deity in ancient Canaan was ʾEl. His name came to be used as a noun for any god, and thus, the plural of ʾEl (ʾelōhím) came to be the word used for many gods. As ancient songs and poems in praise of ʾEl and the ʾelōhím (gods) came to be appropriated by the ancient Israelites and attributed instead to their deity, YHWH, the word ʾelōhím simply became a synonym or surrogate for YHWH. Thus, instead of changing the the word ʾelōhím to YHWH in each psalm, the ancient Israelites simply redefined the word ʾelōhím to be a reference to YHWH, which required no change to the song's poetry at all. Perhaps the most famous example of the word ʾelōhím is from Genesis 1:1, which reads, "In the beginning, God (ʾelōhím) created the heavens and the earth."