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Elohim ( Hebrew אֱלֹהִים ělohīm also אַלִּים, literally gods ), in Ashkenazi pronunciation Elauhim, Eloihim , is in the Hebrew Bible - the Tanach - the term for " God ", but is often used as a proper name. It is used almost exclusively for YHWH , the God of the Hebrews or Israelites , especially in his capacity as creator of the world and in polemics against the worship of foreign gods in Israel.

Singular and plural forms

Elohim is the formal-grammatical plural for אֱלוֹהַּ or אֱלֹהַּ Eloah . If this term refers to the God of Israel, it always appears in the Bible with verb forms in the singular and is then translated as "God". Only when “(other) gods” are mentioned is the verb also in the plural.

Eloah appears seldom in the Tanach and only in later places in the history of literature and theology. In its basic Semitic form, it probably means “mighty” or “strong”. The same word is in Aramaic אֱלָהּ Elah or אֱלָהָא Elaha (with the attached article -a), in Arabic إله ilāh , from which with the article الـ al الله Allah (from al-ilāh 'the God') becomes.

The relationship between Eloah / Elohim and the word and proper name אֵל El is unclear. The three words in the Tanach can also designate angels and even people, for example in Ex 4.16  EU :

"... and he ( Aaron ) shall be your mouth and you ( Moses ) shall be God [ Elohim ] for him ."

Therefore, passages in the Bible in which Elohim is ambiguous due to the context of the text are translated differently. This is how the Luther Bible translates Ps 8,6  EU : וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ מְּעַט, מֵאֱלֹהִים; וְכָבוֹד וְהָדָר תְּעַטְּרֵהוּ.

"You [ YHWH ] made him [man] a little lower than God ..."

The Zurich Bible, on the other hand, translated here until 2007: "... as the angels".

Interpretation of the plural

Earlier Christian exegetes interpreted the plural form "Elohim" in connection with verbs in the singular often as a hidden reference to a trinity (Trinity) of God. Conservative theologians today understand it more as an expression of the power and appreciation of God ( pluralis maiestatis ).

The fact that the names Elohim and YHWH are mentioned in different contexts in the Pentateuch was a crucial starting point and starting point for the document hypothesis of the Old Testament exegesis in the 19th century: It claimed that the Pentateuch was literarily composed of two to four source writings written independently of one another. The presumed author of the strings of text that God calls God Elohim was called the Elohist in contrast to the Yahwist , to whom the exclusive use of the personal name YHWH was ascribed. The hypothesis of the Pentateuch sources, classically formulated by Julius Wellhausen , is considered outdated.

Religious historians, on the other hand, see it as a “still conscious or already suppressed relic of polytheism of Canaanite provenance”. The general term "Elohim" comes from the polytheistic world of the gods of Canaan , at the center of which is the main Canaanite-Syrian god El . For example, clay tablets with numerous names of gods were found in Ugarit , including "El Aeljon", which there denotes the male creator deity. In Gen 14,18-20  EU (recognizable a text insert) there could be a reminder that this creator god was recognized early by the Israelites and later identified with YHWH, the liberator from Egyptian slavery ( Ex 3,6-14  EU ). The plural form was evidently chosen in order to draw together the plurality of gods in the one person of the only God. In Psalm 82 ( Ps 82  EU ), which describes a court meeting, the term Elohim appears several times and can partly be translated as “judge”. Also in Daniel's late apocalyptic (around 170 BC ) the term appears in connection with the vision of the final judgment ( Dan 7,1-14  EU ): "Thrones were set up" it says there in verse 9, so that here too a late memory of a "council of gods" could be present.

Relationship of Elohim to YHWH

In order to unmistakably differentiate the God of Israel from other gods, who could also be called El / Elohim , early tribal traditions of the Israelites named their god with the proper name of the respective patriarch of their clan, such as El Abrahams, Isaac and Jacob . These clan gods were initially identified with one another when the clans grew together to form a people.

According to Ex 3.14  EU, the name YHWH is only revealed and interpreted in connection with the calling of Moses to deliver his people from Egypt . It is therefore reserved for the God of all Israel and his self-revelation. The statement, unique in the Bible, “I am who I am” or “I am who 'I am'” is understood as a rejection: In contrast to other names and titles of God, YHWH cannot be made an object and conjured up as a magic formula . This name can only be explained by its bearer himself; he binds this special god to the special history of Israel, distinguishes him from other gods and is therefore not interchangeable with "Elohim".

The New Testament has “Elohim” with the Greek “ho theos” (the God), “YHWH” but like the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible ( Septuagint ) consistently translated “ho kyrios” (the Lord) and with the name “ Jesus Christ "connected (e.g. in 1 Petr 1,3  EU ):

  • Praise be to God [theos] , the Father of our Lord [kyrios] Jesus Christ ...


Individual evidence

  1. Wolfhart Pannenberg : Systematic Theology. Vol. 1, Göttingen 1988, p. 78.
  2. mechon-mamre Psalms Chapter 8
  3. Karl Erich Grözinger , Jewish Thinking: Theology, Philosophy, Mysticism, Volume 1, 2004, p. 133 .
  4. Cf. Elohist . On the Jahwist the book by Hans Heinrich Schmid : The so-called Jahwist: Observations and questions on Pentateuch research. Zurich 1976. ISBN 978-3-290-11368-1 .
  5. Karl-Erich Grözinger, Jewish Thinking: Theology, Philosophy, Mysticism, Volume 1, 2004, p. 133 .
  6. Jochen Teuffel: NAME memory instead of God thinking. Of the difficulties with the European concept of God. Intercultural Theology. Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft (ZMiss) 37, 4/2011 (pages 332–348)