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maklelan

Are YHWH and El Distinct Deities in the Hebrew Bible?

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Rob Bowman, the new director of research at the Institute for Religious Research, recently started a thread at CARM about the Latter-day Saints belief that YHWH is the premortal name of Christ and that Elohim is YHWH's father. He raised a number of concerns with this interpretation and invited a response from Latter-day Saints. I am unable to respond on that board because I

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This subject is utterly fascinating and I hope Rob brings the discussion here in Pundits. I also have some materials on this I will share as I have time. Nice start, and very interesting. I have read, and will find, that even the LDS scriptures sometimes conflate Elohim with YHWH. Our themes of Divine Investiture of authority are interesting in that regard as well. And of course, the Malak YHWH - Angel of Yahweh speaking as if He were YHWH. Anyway, I will bring some materials to bear on this discussion later tonight.

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This subject is utterly fascinating and I hope Rob brings the discussion here in Pundits. I also have some materials on this I will share as I have time. Nice start, and very interesting. I have read, and will find, that even the LDS scriptures sometimes conflate Elohim with YHWH. Our themes of Divine Investiture of authority are interesting in that regard as well. And of course, the Malak YHWH - Angel of Yahweh speaking as if He were YHWH. Anyway, I will bring some materials to bear on this discussion later tonight.

My post could have gone on for much longer, but I wanted to keep the focus on the primary questions Rob raised. His thread is here, by the way.

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My post could have gone on for much longer, but I wanted to keep the focus on the primary questions Rob raised. His thread is here, by the way.

What do you want to bet Bowman never replies?

How are things in Oxford?

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What do you want to bet Bowman never replies?

How are things in Oxford?

Bowman sent me a message thanking me for the gracious offer and said he'd get on it as soon as he can. I'm hopeful that he will respond.

Oxford is great. We've been snowed in for the last week, but everything is pretty much gone now. My wife and I have a car now, which makes getting around a lot easier. The European Seminars in Advanced Jewish Studies are here at Yarnton for the next six months, so we have Tessa Rajak, Emanuel Tov, Anneli Aejmelaeus, and a dozen other scholars living on the grounds, in addition to the normal presence of Alison Salvesen, Martin Goodman, Joanna Weinberg, and others.

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Dan,

I'm not a happy camper right now. I just lost over an hour of work trying to respond to your post. At first I tried composing it in Word, but it wouldn't paste correctly into the forum. Then I tried writing it here and copying it from here so I could paste it in Word, but it would not let me do that, either. Then when I clicked "Add Reply," I lost the whole thing.

Oh well. I'll try to reconstruct my brilliant reply and post it later. rolleyes.gif

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Dan,

I'm not a happy camper right now. I just lost over an hour of work trying to respond to your post. At first I tried composing it in Word, but it wouldn't paste correctly into the forum. Then I tried writing it here and copying it from here so I could paste it in Word, but it would not let me do that, either. Then when I clicked "Add Reply," I lost the whole thing.

Oh well. I'll try to reconstruct my brilliant reply and post it later. rolleyes.gif

The best thoughts lie in the graveyards of cyberdom. You might try a neat utility that saves your writing automatically...

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/6984

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Dan,

I'm not a happy camper right now. I just lost over an hour of work trying to respond to your post. At first I tried composing it in Word, but it wouldn't paste correctly into the forum. Then I tried writing it here and copying it from here so I could paste it in Word, but it would not let me do that, either. Then when I clicked "Add Reply," I lost the whole thing.

Oh well. I'll try to reconstruct my brilliant reply and post it later. rolleyes.gif

Sorry about that. All the formatting disappears once you paste it in here. It can be frustrating sometimes.

-Dan

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Dan,

It will be a little while before I can finish my response. I start teaching two courses this week and the prep for those and some other responsibilities are taking precedence. In addition, I have a couple of things of relevance to our discussion that I want to read before finishing my response. But I will get to it as quickly as I can. Thanks for your patience.

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Hey Rob,

The cool thing is that there are no time limits in this forum. I am looking forward to the discussion, and hopefully I can have something to contribute.

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Dan,

It will be a little while before I can finish my response. I start teaching two courses this week and the prep for those and some other responsibilities are taking precedence. In addition, I have a couple of things of relevance to our discussion that I want to read before finishing my response. But I will get to it as quickly as I can. Thanks for your patience.

That's fine. Take you time. A thoughtful response is more important than a quick one.

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Dan,

Thanks for your patience. I'm going to post my response in three sections because it's long. Hopefully I'll get the formatting right....

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Dan,

Thanks again for the invitation to participate in this forum, and for your thoughtful (and heavily researched!) response to my post on CARM concerning Jehovah and Elohim. I

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[continuation of previous post]

Psalm 82

You then turned to the first of your two texts that you think

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Dan,

Thanks again for the invitation to participate in this forum, and for your thoughtful (and heavily researched!) response to my post on CARM concerning Jehovah and Elohim. I

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Furthermore, it appears to me that you have misinterpreted Smith; let me explain why. Your note cites page 151 of Smith

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I doubt the readers of Isaiah 43 were supposed to wait until 44:9 to understand that 43:10 was aimed exclusively at refuting idol worship.

But in Isa 42:17 they would have read,

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Dan,

You wrote:

That's fine. This topic is part of research I've been doing for the last couple years that I'm planning on turning into my doctoral dissertation.

That explains why you seem to have read so much on this subject. Now I don't feel so badly that it took me a few days to put together the response I did.

You wrote:

I don't disagree, but why is this message so explicit? In historical criticism the proliferation of strong arguments is usually taken as an indication that there is opposition to the idea. The primacy of the Jerusalem temple is asserted over and over again because other temples were in use. Polemic is common against Asherah because she was commonly seen as a consort to El. Child sacrifice is heavily militated against because it was being practiced. YHWH is frequently identified with Elohim because their distinction was common. The shared thread in all these problems is that they seem to be representative of the earliest normative Israelite ideologies. The fact that the Hebrew Bible in a few limited instances seems to preserve an early distinction between the two shows what that particular rhetoric is trying to mitigate.

I think you may be assuming here that the words El and/or Elohim were term used to refer to one specific deity, so that the OT polemical affirmations that YHWH is El/Elohim are conflating two specific deities into one. You seem to know more about the Canaanite/Ugaritic background than I do, but it's my understanding that the term El, and possibly Elohim as well (or similar forms in other languages), could be used with reference to a number of deities. In any case, the OT polemic never seems to be directed against some form of bitheism ("No, YHWH and Elohim are not two gods, but only one"). Rather, it is directed against confessions of other deities as El/Elohim (e.g., "If YHWH is Elohim, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him," 1 Kings 18:21). The OT writers don't seem worried about the Israelites worshipping YHWH and Elohim, but about them worshipping YHWH and Asherah and Baal....

You wrote:

I make no value judgments in my historical criticism. It was a conflation, that's all.... Again, I make no judgments of value or theological veracity.

Forgive me, but you are LDS, are you not? And your interest in this supposed earlier religious belief in which Elohim and YHWH were two separate deities is, at least in part, the possible correlation of such a belief with the LDS doctrine, is it not?

You wrote:

And your theory rests on the theological authority of a univocal view of scripture. I do not hold to that view. I explained my position a while back on my blog here.

I read your blog on this subject, and I have a question for you. Do you reject a "univocal" view of scripture with regard to the LDS scriptures (the Book of Mormon, D&C, and the books in PGP) as well as with regard to the Bible? What about, say, the specific books within the BOM--must they also be read in a non-univocal, non-judgmental, purely diachronic fashion?

I have some further thoughts on this subject with regard to the Bible, but they'll have to wait.

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Dan,

You wrote:

That explains why you seem to have read so much on this subject. Now I don't feel so badly that it took me a few days to put together the response I did.

There's a lot to read, and I find something new every day.

You wrote:

I think you may be assuming here that the words El and/or Elohim were term used to refer to one specific deity, so that the OT polemical affirmations that YHWH is El/Elohim are conflating two specific deities into one. You seem to know more about the Canaanite/Ugaritic background than I do, but it's my understanding that the term El, and possibly Elohim as well (or similar forms in other languages), could be used with reference to a number of deities.

A good book on this is Joel Burnett's A Reassessment of Biblical Elohim, which concludes the term ????? was originally an abstract plural. This is similar to other Hebrew abstractions, like ???? (life), ????? (old age), or ?????? (maidenhood), and it would have meant something like "divinity," or "deity." The plural of 'l appears all over the languages of the Semitic family with a singular meaning. Over time the repeated usage in reference to Israel's deity concretized the word (made it definite - God instead of god). The adjectival, generic, and simple plural senses remained, so the usage is mixed. This is why YHWH is often followed with ??????, or "our god." With the singular ??, it is most often making reference to the deity named El, but there are plenty of exceptions. Josh 22:22, for instance, has it in the construct: ?? ????? ???? ("YHWH, god of gods"), and at Josh 24:19 we have ??? ?? ???? ("he is a jealous deity"). When used generically it should be understood in the same sense as elohim ("deity"). Where ?? is the nomen rectum in a construct phrase it is generally to be understood as a proper name.

In any case, the OT polemic never seems to be directed against some form of bitheism ("No, YHWH and Elohim are not two gods, but only one"). Rather, it is directed against confessions of other deities as El/Elohim (e.g., "If YHWH is Elohim, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him," 1 Kings 18:21). The OT writers don't seem worried about the Israelites worshipping YHWH and Elohim, but about them worshipping YHWH and Asherah and Baal....

If you mean to say that the rhetoric of "YHW is elohim" is using the generic sense of elohim ("YHWH is the divinity") then you're correct much of the time, but elsewhere it seems to be aimed at equating the two. The parallelism you mentioned earlier with the YHWH and elohim often seems to be trying to promulgate their identification, and even as late as the second or first century BCE this rhetoric is at work. MT Gen 14:22, for instance, interpolates the name YHWH right before El Elyon. It's not there in the Septuagint, the Syriac, or in the Genesis Apocryphon at Qumran.

You wrote:

Forgive me, but you are LDS, are you not? And your interest in this supposed earlier religious belief in which Elohim and YHWH were two separate deities is, at least in part, the possible correlation of such a belief with the LDS doctrine, is it not?

I am LDS, but my interest in this is primarily academic. The work I've done with this illuminates far more aspects of early Israelite religion that are not in agreement with LDS ideology than aspects that are. As I stated in my original post, I am not interested in trying to support all aspects of LDS belief in the Godhead, but merely in supporting the early Israelite distinction between YHWH and El. It can be done from a purely secular point of view, and it's that perspective that I am adopting in this thread.

You wrote:

I read your blog on this subject, and I have a question for you. Do you reject a "univocal" view of scripture with regard to the LDS scriptures (the Book of Mormon, D&C, and the books in PGP) as well as with regard to the Bible? What about, say, the specific books within the BOM--must they also be read in a non-univocal, non-judgmental, purely diachronic fashion?

I do not presuppose a univocal view of the Book of Mormon. I believe that it has errors and contains the opinions of the authors just as much as I believe that about the Bible. I don't believe that it fell into the hands of as many propagandist scribes, but I believe it evinces historical layers as well.

I have some further thoughts on this subject with regard to the Bible, but they'll have to wait.

Take your time. Thanks for the prompt response, and I look forward to your comments.

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Dan,

You wrote:

If you mean to say that the rhetoric of "YHW is elohim" is using the generic sense of elohim ("YHWH is the divinity") then you're correct much of the time, but elsewhere it seems to be aimed at equating the two. The parallelism you mentioned earlier with the YHWH and elohim often seems to be trying to promulgate their identification, and even as late as the second or first century BCE this rhetoric is at work. MT Gen 14:22, for instance, interpolates the name YHWH right before El Elyon. It's not there in the Septuagint, the Syriac, or in the Genesis Apocryphon at Qumran.

I don't think this is a particularly good example. By the second or first century BC, the identification or YHWH with El/Elohim would surely not have been a contemporary theological issue. Your own comments about the general timing of the "conflation" of YHWH and El/Elohim would seem to preclude any need for such a polemic in the Hasmonean era. More likely, I'm guessing, the interpolation of YHWH in Genesis 14:22 is better explained in some other way. Here are two that come immediately to mind. (1) Scribes were more likely to expand divine names than to contract them; at least, this is clearly evident in the Greek NT manuscripts (e.g., later scribes often expanded "Jesus" to "Jesus Christ," etc.). This seems to have been simply a matter of pious preference for fuller designations of the deity. You can probably address more knowledgeably than I can whether this was so for the OT text as well. (2) A scribe may have written the name YHWH in the margin of Genesis 14:22 (as simply his own explanatory gloss) and then a later scribe mistakenly took it to be part of the Genesis text (as I understand it, this kind of mistake is well attested).

I had asked you: "Forgive me, but you are LDS, are you not? And your interest in this supposed earlier religious belief in which Elohim and YHWH were two separate deities is, at least in part, the possible correlation of such a belief with the LDS doctrine, is it not?" You replied:

I am LDS, but my interest in this is primarily academic. The work I've done with this illuminates far more aspects of early Israelite religion that are not in agreement with LDS ideology than aspects that are. As I stated in my original post, I am not interested in trying to support all aspects of LDS belief in the Godhead, but merely in supporting the early Israelite distinction between YHWH and El. It can be done from a purely secular point of view, and it's that perspective that I am adopting in this thread.

You didn't answer my second question directly, but you seem to be denying any interest in correlating early Israelite belief with LDS doctrine. I don't know you personally at all, and so I'm in no position to question your sincerity (and am not doing so), but there's something a bit strange about your seemingly disclaiming any apologetic interest. You were participating in the CARM forum, which is where you saw my post. CARM is an apologetics-oriented forum. You posted your reply here, on the Mormon Apologetics Discussion Board (mormonapologetics.org). You have also posted comments here, on your blog, and elsewhere responding to orthodox or evangelical apologists. You may be attempting to do your work "from a purely secular point of view," but it seems clear that you do have an apologetic interest or agenda here. And that's fine. I have my own apologetic interest, and I'm quite open about it.

I had asked you: "Do you reject a 'univocal' view of scripture with regard to the LDS scriptures (the Book of Mormon, D&C, and the books in PGP) as well as with regard to the Bible?" You replied:

I do not presuppose a univocal view of the Book of Mormon. I believe that it has errors and contains the opinions of the authors just as much as I believe that about the Bible. I don't believe that it fell into the hands of as many propagandist scribes, but I believe it evinces historical layers as well.

And what about D&C and PGP?

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Dan,

You wrote:

I don't think this is a particularly good example. By the second or first century BC, the identification or YHWH with El/Elohim would surely not have been a contemporary theological issue.

This is an assumption, though. There are a lot of things we don't know about this time period. Gen 14:18 states that Melchizedek was a priest of El Elyon. The deity is thus not necessarily equated with the Israelite deity. The phrase ??? ???? ???? is also not attested elsewhere in reference to YHWH or Elohim (it's ??? ???? ???? everywhere that YHWH is associated with it, and it's nowhere associated with Elohim). I explained when I think the conflation took place, but I don't think it was universally accepted until Jewish orthodoxy began to take shape, and that wasn't until the last century BCE and the opening centuries of the Common Era.

Your own comments about the general timing of the "conflation" of YHWH and El/Elohim would seem to preclude any need for such a polemic in the Hasmonean era. More likely, I'm guessing, the interpolation of YHWH in Genesis 14:22 is better explained in some other way. Here are two that come immediately to mind. (1) Scribes were more likely to expand divine names than to contract them; at least, this is clearly evident in the Greek NT manuscripts (e.g., later scribes often expanded "Jesus" to "Jesus Christ," etc.). This seems to have been simply a matter of pious preference for fuller designations of the deity. You can probably address more knowledgeably than I can whether this was so for the OT text as well.

Expansion like this is rarely the case in the Hebrew Bible. YHWH and Elohim are occasionally traded off and on in LXX, but LXX also leaves out the definite article when it translates YHWH as ?????? (interestingly, see here), and will sometimes contract from two names to one. You mentioned parallelisms before that used different names for the same God. Gen 14:18 and 19 have the exact same phrase as v. 22 where YHWH is interpolated, but there's no text anywhere with YHWH in v. 18 and 19. A scribe probably got nervous about so many repetitions of God's name without a reminder that it's YHWH. That Melchizedek is not readily identifiable as an Israelite compounds that concern.

(2) A scribe may have written the name YHWH in the margin of Genesis 14:22 (as simply his own explanatory gloss) and then a later scribe mistakenly took it to be part of the Genesis text (as I understand it, this kind of mistake is well attested).

Glosses are well attested, but such a gloss would support my suggestion. There's no need for an explanation if the conflation is universally accepted.

I had asked you: "Forgive me, but you are LDS, are you not? And your interest in this supposed earlier religious belief in which Elohim and YHWH were two separate deities is, at least in part, the possible correlation of such a belief with the LDS doctrine, is it not?" You replied:

You didn't answer my second question directly, but you seem to be denying any interest in correlating early Israelite belief with LDS doctrine. I don't know you personally at all, and so I'm in no position to question your sincerity (and am not doing so), but there's something a bit strange about your seemingly disclaiming any apologetic interest. You were participating in the CARM forum, which is where you saw my post. CARM is an apologetics-oriented forum. You posted your reply here, on the Mormon Apologetics Discussion Board (mormonapologetics.org). You have also posted comments here, on your blog, and elsewhere responding to orthodox or evangelical apologists. You may be attempting to do your work "from a purely secular point of view," but it seems clear that you do have an apologetic interest or agenda here. And that's fine. I have my own apologetic interest, and I'm quite open about it.

I interact with apologists and will be one when I feel the need, but my treatment of the Hebrew Bible is purely academic. If that academic treatment intersects with apologetics then I have no problems with participating, but I generally keep my exegesis within the academic scope. Often that takes me outside the scope of LDS apologetics. For instance, a while ago I was on CARM discussing the nature of deity when someone asserted that God has no sexuality. I responded that according to Gen 4:1b YHWH conceived Cain. That's what the text says if we accept the semantic nuance of the verb ??? in procreative contexts (which I then showed must be done). Now, Latter-day Saints obviously don't believe this is the case (see here, here, here, and herefor one person's response), and the first part of that verse conflicts with that reading. I stated that we're dealing with a fractured text, but we have to let it speak for itself.

I had asked you: "Do you reject a 'univocal' view of scripture with regard to the LDS scriptures (the Book of Mormon, D&C, and the books in PGP) as well as with regard to the Bible?" You replied:

And what about D&C and PGP?

It's the same.

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Dan,

Thanks for your comments on Genesis 14:22. Your suggestion that a scribe was nervous about so many references to God without the name YHWH is possible, but I think it probably significant that the insertion of the name comes in Abram's speech. The change may reflect a belief that Abram's knowledge of God was fuller or more complete than that of Melchizedek.

I still plan on commenting more on the issue of reading Scripture "univocally." Thanks for this discussion.

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