From: philippos2003
Message: 17691
Date: 2003-01-16

in Aramean you have the form elah (book of Daniel...)
so eloah founded in Job principally may be a hebrew term buit on


(Sept., theos; Vulg., Deus).

Elohim is the common name for God. It is a plural form, but "The
usage of the language gives no support to the supposition that we
have in the plural form Elohim, applied to the God of Israel, the
remains of an early polytheism, or at least a combination with the
higher spiritual beings" (Kautzsch). Grammarians call it a plural of
majesty or rank, or of abstraction, or of magnitude (Gesenius,
Grammatik, 27th ed., nn. 124 g, 132 h). The Ethiopic plural amlak
has become a proper name of God. Hoffmann has pointed out an
analogous plural elim in the Phoenician inscriptions (Ueber einige
phon. Inschr., 1889, p. 17 sqq.), and Barton has shown that in the
tablets from El-Amarna the plural form ilani replaces the singular
more than forty times (Proceedings of the American Oriental Society,
21-23 April, 1892, pp. cxcvi-cxcix).


Elohim has been explained as a plural form of Eloah or as plural
derivative of El. Those who adhere to the former explanation do not
agree as to the derivation of Eloah. There is no such verbal stem as
alah in Hebrew; but the Arabist Fleischer, Franz Delitzsch, and
others appeal to the Arabic aliha, meaning "to be filled with
dread", "anxiously to seek refuge", so that ilah (eloah) would mean
in the first place "dread", then the object of dread. Gen., xxi, 42,
53, where God is called "the fear of Isaac", Is., viii, 13, and Ps.
lxxv, 12, appear to support this view. But the fact that aliha is
probably not an independent verbal stem but only a denominative from
ilah, signifying originally "possessed of God" (cf. enthousiazein,
daimonan) renders the explanation more than precarious. There is no
more probability in the contention of Ewald, Dillmann, and others
that the verbal stem, alah means "to be mighty": and is to regarded
as a by-form of the stem alah; that, therefore, Eloah grows out of
alah as El springs from alah. Baethgen (Beitrage, 297) has pointed
out that of the fifty-seven occurrences of Eloah forty-one belong to
the Book of Job, and the others to late texts or poetic passages.
Hence he agrees with Buhl in maintaining that the singular form
Eloah came into existence only after the plural form Elohim had been
long in common use; in this case, a singular was supplied for its
pre-existent plural. But even admitting Elohim to be the prior form,
its etymology has not thus far been satisfactorily explained. The
ancient Jewish and the early ecclesiastical writers agree with many
modern scholars in deriving Elohim from El, but there is a great
difference of opinion as to the method of derivation. Nestle (Theol.
Stud. aus Würt., 1882, pp. 243 sqq.) supposes that the plural has
arisen by the insertion of an artificial h, like the Hebrew amahoth
(maidens) from amah. Buhl (Gesenius Hebraisches Handworterbuch, 12th
ed., 1895, pp. 41 sq.) considers Elohim as a sort of augmentative
form of El; but in spite of their disagreement as to the method of
derivation, these writers are one in supposing that in early Hebrew
the singular of the word signifying God was El, and its plural form
Elohim; and that only more recent times coined the singular form
Eloah, thus giving Elohim a grammatically correct correspondent.
Lagrange, however, maintains that Elohim and Eloah are derived
collaterally and independently from El.

The Use of the Word

The Hebrews had three common names of God, El, Elohim, and Eloah;
besides, they had the proper name Yahweh. Nestle is authority for
the statement that Yahweh occurs about six thousand times in the Old
Testament, while all the common names of God taken together do not
occur half as often. The name Elohim is found 2570 times; Eloah, 57
times [41 in Job; 4 in Pss.; 4 in Dan.; 2 in Hab.; 2 in Canticle of
Moses (Deut., xxxii); 1 in Prov., 1 in Is.; 1 in Par.; 1 in Neh. (II
Esd.)]; El, 226 times (Elim, 9 times). Lagrange (Etudes sur les
religions sémitiques, Paris, 1905, p. 71) infers from Gen., xlvi, 3
(the most mighty God of thy father), Ex., vi, 3 (by the name of God
Almighty), and from the fact that El replaces Yah in proper names,
the conclusion that El was at first a proper and personal name of
God. Its great age may be shown from its general occurrence among
all the Semitic races, and this in its turn may be illustrated by
its presence in the proper names found in Gen., iv, 18; xxv, 13;
xxxvi, 43. Elohim is not found among all the Semitic races; the
Aramaeans alone seem to have had an analogous form. It has been
suggested that the name Elohim must have been formed after the
descendants of Shem had separated into distinct nations.

Meaning of the Word

If Elohim be regarded as derived from El, its original meaning would
be "the strong one" according to Wellhausen's derivation of El, from
ul (Skizzen, III, 169); or "the foremost one", according to
Nöldeke's derivation of El from ul or il, "to be in front"
(Sitzungsberichte der berlinischen Akademie der Wissenschaften,
1880, pp. 760 sqq.; 1882, pp. 1175 sqq.); or "the mighty one",
according to Dillmann's derivation of El from alah or alay, "to be
mighty" (On Genesis, I, 1); or, finally "He after whom one
strives", "Who is the goal of all human aspiration and
endeavour", "to whom one has recourse in distress or when one is in
need of guidance", "to who one attaches oneself closely",
coincidentibus interea bono et fine, according to the derivation of
El from the preposition el, "to", advocated by La Place (cf.
Lagarde, Uebersicht, etc., p. 167), Lagarde (op. cit., pp. 159
sqq.), Lagrange (Religions semitiques, pp. 79 sqq.), and others. A
discussion of the arguments which militate for and against each of
the foregoing derivations would lead us too far.

If we have recourse to the use of the word Elohim in the study of
its meaning, we find that in its proper sense it denotes either the
true God or false gods, and metaphorically it is applied to judges,
angels, and kings; and even accompanies other nouns, giving them a
superlative meaning. The presence of the article, the singular
construction of the word, and its context show with sufficient
clearness whether it must be taken in its proper or its metaphorical
sense, and what is its precise meaning in each case. Kautzsch
(Encyclopaedia Biblica, III, 3324, n. 2) endeavours to do away with
the metaphorical sense of Elohim. Instead of the rendering "judges"
he suggests the translation "God", as witness of a lawsuit, as giver
of decisions on points of law, or as dispenser of oracles; for the
rendering "angels" he substitutes "the gods of the heathen", which,
in later post-exilic times, fell to a lower rank. But this
interpretation is not supported by solid proof.

According to Renan (Histoire du peuple d'Israel, I, p. 30) the
Semites believed that the world is surrounded, penetrated, and
governed by the Elohim, myriads of active beings, analogous to the
spirits of the savages, alive, but somehow inseparable from one
another, not even distinguished by their proper names as the gods of
the Aryans, so that they can be considered as a confused totality.
Marti (Geschichte der israelitischen Religion, p. 26), too, finds in
Elohim a trace of the original Semitic polydemonism; he maintains
that the word signified the sum of the divine beings that inhabited
any given place. Baethgen (op. cit., p. 287), F.C. Baur (Symbolik
und Mythologie, I, 304), and Hellmuth-Zimmermann (Elohim, Berlin,
1900) make Elohim an expression of power, grandeur, and totality.
Lagrange (op. cit., p. 78) urges against these views that even the
Semitic races need distinct units before they have a sum, and
distinct parts before that arrive at a totality. Moreover, the name
El is prior to Elohim (op. cit., p. 77 sq.) and El is both a proper
and a common name of God. Originally it was either a proper name and
has become a common name, or it was a common name has become a
proper name. In either case, El, and, therefore, also its derivative
form Elohim, must have denoted the one true God. This inference
becomes clear after a little reflection. If El was, at first, the
proper name of a false god, it could not become the common name of a
false god, it could not become the common name for deity any more
than Jupiter or Juno could; and if it was, at first, the common name
for deity, it could become the proper name only of that God who
combined in him all the attributes of deity, who was the one true
God. This does not imply that all the Semitic races had from the
beginning a clear concept of God's unit and Divine attributes,
though all had originally the Divine name El.

VIGOUROUX in Dict. de la Bible, s.v.; KNABENBAUER, Lexicon Biblicum
(Paris, 1907), II, 63; KAUTZSCH in Encyclopaedia Biblica (New York,
1902), III, 3323 sq.; LAGRANGE, Etudes sur les religions semitiques
(Paris, 1905), 19, 71, 77 sqq.

Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett
Dedicated to the glory of God and His Son, Jesus Christ

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V
Copyright © 1909 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 2002 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor
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