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Philo on Reviling Gods


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Common wisdom has it that in the Bible that elohim, the Hebrew word for gods, can refer to human judges or magistrates.

This notion stems from Targum Onkelos, was developed by medieval exeggetes, and reigned uncontested until the 1920s. It has been thoroughly debunked in academic circles, yet persists among fundamental evangelicals and orthodox Jews.

It is worth looking beyond ibn Ezra, beyond Onkelos, examining different sources and different voices. I found an intersting Philo quote referenced in an essay by Eliezer Segal. "Aristeas or Aggadah: Talmudic Legend and the Greek Bible in Palestinian Judaism," in: W. O. McCready and A. Reinhartz, eds., Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 159-172, 286-292. The chapter is available by Segal in a free PDF. http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/PDFs/Aristeas.pdf

Philo of Alexandria was a prolific Jewish writer contemporary with Christ. Philo came from an important family, his brother Alexander even serving as one of Alexandria's top officials. The Septuagint, the Bible that he used, rendered Exodus 22:28 (thou shalt not revile elohim) as theous ou kakologeseis. Philo himself when interpreting this passage does not allude at all to magistrates.

"But, as it seems, he is not now speaking of that God who was the first being who had any existence and the Father of the universe, but of those who are accounted gods in the different cities; and they are falsely called gods, being only made by the arts of painters and sculptors, for the whole inhabited world is full of statues and images, and erections of that kind, of whom it is necessary however to abstain from speaking ill, in order that no one of the disciples of Moses may ever become accustomed at all to treat the appellation of God with disrespect; for that name is always most deserving to obtain the victory, and is especially worthy of love."

-Philo of Alexandria, The Life of Moses 2.205, trans. C. D. Yonge.

Philo reads the word gods as (surprise, surprise) refering to gods, divine beings. That he does not believe in their existence does not change the definition of the word for him. Theous means divine beings, which is also a title of God, hence respect should be shown it even if applied to beings that exist only as a figment of gentile imagination.

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the "el" prefix or suffix always refers to deity


But what sort of "deity?"

Could it refer to a minor supernatural entity who, say,

inhabits a stream crossing or a hilltop grove?

Or could it refer to the Creator of the world?

Are these two examples precisely the same? That is,

are they the same "thing," in the sense that a small

rock and a medium sized rock are the same "thing?"

If Joseph Smith is now "mingling with gods" and

planning for his brethren, does he merit the title

of "el?" Or, if not today, will he ever merit that title?

And, if one day he does -- will he be something like the

supernatural entity that inhabits a hilltop grove, or

will he be the Most High, the Creator of all things?


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If Joseph Smith is now "mingling with gods" and

planning for his brethren, does he merit the title

of "el?" Or, if not today, will he ever merit that title?

If Samuel merited it, then obviously Joseph could.

Glenn, you are correct.

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If Samuel...

Samuel is the creator of our cosmos?

Unto Samuel shall hosannas and burnt offerings arise?

What godly realm does Samuel reign over?

Is the Andromeda Galaxy perhaps his? Does he

there send down his only begotten as an atonement?

What hymns are sung to Samuel? What scriptures written?

I'll ask my wife's rabbi, next chance I get. But I

doubt you'll get much support, in elevating Samuel

to the status of the Most High (Just because he

has an el at the end of his human name? "God hears"

or "God has heard" -- and so the God Samuel hears

himself, or has heard himself?)


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Who said the most high? You asked about divine beings, I answered. Are you going to spend this thread sniping?

No -- but if Samuel is somebody's God, it is an assertion

that calls for some discussion, I would think. Have you

said all that you care to say about that topic?


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And in case you missed the reference, have your wife's rabbi tell you what the witch at Endor is said to have exclaimed when conjuring up Samuel.

Necromancy is forbidden by the Torah. We threw out the

Ouija Board decades ago -- sorry about that.


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Great post, volgadon.

Since I'm not taking classes this summer I finally got around to teaching myself some basics of Hebrew. Awesome stuff!

Thanks. Philo has some cool stuff, I really need to explore him more.

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Forbidden or not, how does that change her exclamation?

OK -- Suppose I called in a witch and she summoned up the

soul of Brigham Young from Sheol. In in the course of her

seance, that same witch cried out: "Oh, hail Brigham, thou

true son of Lucifer and now reigning in his stead!"

What would that show? That the witch spoke of a "son of Lucifer,"

in a way that we had not previously heard? That the witch knew

something that we had not previously known?

Or that the witch was untrustworthy for doctrine, in the first place?

But let's go one step further. Suppose that the Church of Christ,

Temple Lot added the transcript of that seance to the version of

the Bible it authorizes as revealing God's word.

Now our witch's proclamation has become a part of some latter day

sect's "standard works," and has become "doctrine."

Or has it? Is the pseudo-theology spun out by Job's three "friends"

true doctrine, just because it is reproduced in pious words in

all of our bibles?

So -- that is my answer -- when it comes to wisdom from witches.

"But, stop, Dale!" A voice cries out. "Learned Philo has explained

all. The sage in Alexandria has used the exact same Wiccan language

as the old hag, and he too has applied it to a deceased person.

Surely old Philo's knowledge of Wiccan surpasses our own, and he

will tell us exactly what the recorded seance in the Church of

Christ Temple Lot's new bible edition must mean. I mean, after all,

Philo was practically a Christian Church Father, in all but name!!"

Pshaw on such stuff!


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Pshaw on you. Might I ask why everything of mine you comment on you invariably fill with such a vitriolic spew?

You set up a strawman on my thread and proceeded to act like a grade-A prat tearing it down. If you want to crusade against Joseph Smith, do so on your own threads.

Elohim means a divine being, it is a neutral term, unlike your example.

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Elohim means a divine being, it is a neutral term, unlike your example.

Or, is it the plural of Elohe?

At any rate, I began by asking what sort of things the els were,

which inhabited all sorts of nooks and crannies in ancient Canaan.

Were they the same "thing" as the Lord God Almighty?

Quote Philo if you wish -- but it seems like an easy enough question.


I have no desire to be disrespectful to you, as a person,

but your stated views are obviously open for anybody to

question, disagree with, or even find offensive. Doubtless

you already know that, and can defend them without any undo

complaining or distractions.



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I answered, they are divine beings, pure and simple. The difference between them and Elohim as in a title of El or YHWH is their power. Other than that, a divine being is a divine being.

You say you have no desire to be disrespectful, but merely disagree on my POV, fine, but stick to the topic at hand. No more tangents and strawmen attacking me or attacking Joseph Smith. You want that go hijack a different thread. I couldn't give a fig if you find Philo offensive. If you don't want to discuss the history, then don't post here. No one is forcing you to. Seriously, every thread of mine you've commented on has been the same story. I welcome debate, but not attacks or strawmen.

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Let me restate the thread topic. Interpretations of the word elohim in the Jewish world of antiquity, especially focusing on Philo's quote as opposed to the magistrate interpretation of Onkelos. If you can't keep reasonably within these boundaries (whether or not you agree with the premise of the OP), if all you (or anyone else) are going to do is snipe at Joseph Smith, or the church, or LDS, or me personally, do so elsewhere.

I am however at a loss to see how anyone could find the quote offensive. Philo does not believe that other gods exist, but that respect should be shown the word because a lack of it could lead someone to treat God's name the same way. His concern is with a potential lesse majeste. It also sheds an interesting light on the Alexandrian Jewish community's relations with its neighbours.

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