Elohim: the meaning

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Elohim (אֱלֹהִים) is a grammatically singular or plural noun for “god” or “gods” in both modern and ancient Hebrew language.

When used with singular verbs and adjectives elohim is usually singular, “god” or especially, the God. When used with plural verbs and adjectives elohim is usually plural, “gods” or “powers”.[1][2] It is generally thought that Elohim is a formation from eloah, the latter being an expanded form of the Northwest Semitic noun il (אֵל, ʾēl[3]). It is usually translated as “God” in the Hebrew Bible, referring with singular verbs both to the one God of Israel, and also in a few examples to other singular pagan deities. With plural verbs the word is also used as a true plural with the meaning “gods”.[3] The related nouns eloah (אלוה) and el (אֵל) are used as proper names or as generics, in which case they are interchangeable with elohim.[3]

Mark S. Smith said that the notion of divinity underwent radical changes throughout the period of early Israelite identity. Smith said that the ambiguity of the term Elohim is the result of such changes, cast in terms of “vertical translatability” by Smith (2008); i.e. the re-interpretation of the gods of the earliest recalled period as the national god of the monolatrism as it emerged in the 7th to 6th century BCE in the Kingdom of Judah and during the Babylonian captivity, and further in terms of monotheism by the emergence of Rabbinical Judaism in the 2nd century CE.[4] A different version was produced by Morton Smith. Despite the -im ending common to many plural masculine nouns in Hebrew, the word when referring to the Name of God is grammatically singular, and takes a singular verb in the Hebrew Bible.

The word is identical to the usual plural of el meaning gods or magistrates, and is cognate to the ‘l-h-m found in Ugaritic, where it is used for the pantheon of Canaanite gods, the children of El and conventionally vocalized as “Elohim”. Most use of the term Elohim in the later Hebrew text imply a view that is at least monolatrist at the time of writing, and such usage (in the singular), as a proper title for the supreme deity, is generally not considered to be synonymous with the term elohim, “gods” (plural, simple noun). Hebrew grammar allows for this nominally-plural form to mean “He is the Power (singular) over powers (plural)”, or roughly, “God of gods”. Rabbinic scholar Maimonides wrote that the various other usages are commonly understood to be homonyms.[5] The plural form ending in -im can also be understood as denoting abstraction, as in the Hebrew words chayyim (“life”) or betulim (“virginity”). If understood this way, Elohim means “divinity” or “deity”.[

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