Harry McCall on God, Yahweh and Elohim

Harry wrote:
The word θεὸς “Theos” (God) in the major Liddell & Scott, et. al., Classical Greek Lexicon published by Oxford University Press: "God is defined by the deities of ancient Roman and Greece. As such, the Greek Classical textual tradition links “God” directly with the Classical Gods and not with the Christian pagan god Yahweh. When Rome left the Gods that had made them great and became Christian, the mighty Roman empire began its decline until it was sacked. It was Christianity and its god that ushered in the Dark Ages at the end of this great Classical period."
Brad Haggard responds to Harry,
1. You know you are not using lexical information correctly. Barr should have already warned you about context and semantics.

2. I don't suppose that, oh, economics, social dynamics, politics, and military tactics had anything to do with the fall of Rome. Or, I guess then Christianity really can take credit for the Renaissance and the scientific/industrial revolution.
Harry responds to Brad,
Would you agree that אלהים (Masoretic text) is masculine plural?

Would you also agree that ὁ θεὸς (LXX) is masculine singular?

So, in Genesis 1:1, did an assembly of male gods create the heavens and the earth or did one god create? (If you want to play the Trinity card, then I’ll let your explain the other names of אל + prefixes in the MT text.)

Can you show me why the divine name יהוה does not occur in the entire New Testament? Could it just be that “son of god” fit the Hellenic context of the Greek would while יהוה would have been an abhorrent pagan name for them, especially after the Jews were expelled from Rome in 46 CE?

Secondly, my view is in line with that of Edward Gibbons The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Weather or nor Gibbons was anti-Christian, his views of the end of the Roman Empire agrees with mine.

Another insider's look at how Christianity really worked in the late Empire is discussed in G.W. Bowersock’s award winning book: Julian the Apostate.

Julian, the grandson of Constantine, gives a horrific story about members of his own Christian family were murders and why he remained a non-Christian ("pagan", a derogatory term
Brad Haggard said...
Harry, this makes me reminisce about our knock downs from a while ago.

I just want to talk about your first point now. Are you getting this from mythicist literature?

Elohim is not cut and dry, because the "oh" is an additive. The basic 3mp form would be "elim", which is attested in the OT. Elohim is also used for plural, but not uniformly (don't forget Barr's warning on lexical information). But the way to distinguish is really pretty simple. In Ge. 1:1 the main verb, "bara" is the 3ms form. So in this sentence, the subject is singular. This is consistent throughout Genesis 1 until 1:26, where the 1st person plural is used (you know, with the nun on the front). This is where echoes of the divine council are seen, not in 1:1. If you hold to the Documentary hypothesis, which I assume you do, I have no idea how you would make sense of the Priestly writer in Genesis 1:1 allowing for a pantheon. The divine council is more of a literary device, with most of the rest of the evidence for it coming from wisdom literature.

Next, as to why there is no mention of "yahweh" in the NT. All you have to do is pick up a LXX and read Psalm 1. There YHWH is translated as the Greek "kyrios". This is consistent in the LXX and makes sense because YHWH is pointed in the Masoretic as the Hebrew word for "lord", "adonai." Fast forward to the "Hellenistic" gospel of John, and what is Thomas' confession at the climax of the book upon seeing the resurrected Jesus? "Ho kyrios mou kai ho theos mou!" (My Lord and my God!)

I have no idea why you bring up the Jews' expulsion from Rome in 46 AD, and it sounds like you're getting farther out on the branch here. "Son of god" is widely attested in 2nd Temple literature, so I also can't see how that would be anachronistic (don't believe me, as Thom Stark).

If you want to keep this argument up, it's going to need some serious revision.
Harry H. McCall, CET said...
Hi Brad,

First up is Elohim.

The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (DDD, E.J. Brill; p668) states: The usual word for ‘god’ in the Hebrew Bible is ‘elohim, a plural formation of ‘eloah, the latter being expanded from the Common Semitic noun ‘il (=Eloah). // Since the Israelite concept of divinity included all praeternatural beings, also lower deities (in modern usage referred to as ‘spirits’, ‘angels’, ‘demons’, ‘semi-gods’, and the like0 maybe called ‘elohim. (p.669)

What follows in DDD are numerous examples of uses where אלהים is not the Judeo-Christian God, but false gods or teraphim (Gen. 31:30,32), or anonymous heavenly creatures (Ps. 8:6) and spirits of the dead (1 Sam. 28:13)also called אלהים.

While ‘el and ‘eloah are use as proper nouns in the Hebrew Bible, ‘elohim is not.

Your claim that ברא makes אלהים understood a 3rd person singular carries no real weight until the time of the Massoretes (600CE -750CE) when the text was standardized as drawn both from the LXX and rabbinic traditions. This is easily verifiable by photos of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Most Hebrew Lexicons will list verbs in their Qal / three letter roots, thus ברא is defined as “to create” and not as "he (god)created” as the late 7th century vowel pointing would have it read. (On this see: Williams Holladay’s discussion of the qal in his: A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament; Introduction, p. VIII. Plus, “to create” is not an infinitive either since it would have had the “ל” prefix to the root.)

What you have not considered in your apology is that אלהים, based on its etymology, could be anything from angles to demons doing the creating here, but I contend it means some type of “gods” for whatever reason the Temple scribe meant here.

Secondly, considering Genesis 1 & 2 are late stories (God’s Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea: Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the Old Testament, by John Day (Cambridge University Press 1985)) even if it is of the Temple / Priestly authorship, you have not attempted to explain why a monotheistic religion would have used a plural form of a Semitic language when their nearest and older neighbors at Ugarit (1300 BCE)list their main god ’il (who is the head of the Ugaritic pantheon) as well as the younger ba’al as singular!

Even older Akkadian cuneiform texts from where these mythical stories of creation and Eden are set, list their gods in the singular, be they male or female (An Illustrated Dictionary: Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, University of Texas Press, 2006).

So again, if Yahwehism is really monotheistic, why even use an undefined plural term in Genesis 1 that can carries with it numerous meanings?

Moreover, the use of יהוה אלהיםbeginning in 2:4 adds even more to the confusion in trying to identify this vague term with the Israelite creator god Yahweh.

Both the terms אלהי השמים (Ugaritic: “Ba’al shamem” and Phoenician 10th century BCE) along with Yahweh are singular terms and much older than the vague and confused term used in

Thirdly, the LXX is a running commentary on the Hebrew text (See John W. Wevers' Notes on the Greek Text of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

The fact that the term Yahweh is not used in the New Testament points to the fact of a severe break with the original Jesus Jewish movement (represented by Peter and James) and Paul’s radical revision of Judaism which the Hellenists preserved.

Both Paul’s authentic letters and the Gospels have anti-Jewish interpolations in them (See Birger Pearson’s The Emergence of the Christian Religion: Essays on Early Christianity (Trinity Press International, 1997) especially Chapter 3: 1 Thessalonians 2:13 -16: A Deutero-Pauline Interpolation, pp.58 – 74).

This anti-Jewish polemic is placed on the lips of Jesus in the hash woes of Matthew 23:29 – 24:2 where the Jews and not just the Romans, “will crucify” (σταυρώσετε) prophets of god as if the Jews killed Jesus: “And all the people said, "His blood shall be on us and on our children!" Matt. 27: 25.

My point about the expulsion of the Jews from Rome in 46 CE is the matrix of the anti-Jewish polemics interpolated into the New Testament.

As such, the old Jewish Hebrew god Yahweh is replaced with the Greek pagan term "θεὸς" and the more genetic term “κύριος” used in the N.T. for both men and god.

Finally, as to your claim that “υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ” is “wildly attested in 2nd Temple literature” is vastly over stated:

See υἱὸς in Albert-Marle Denis, Concordance Grecque Des Pseudepigraphes D’ancien Testament (Universite Catholique De Louvain, 1987, pp 755 -758) where, in a quick scan, I counted only 5 or 6 references.



Lvka said...

It was Christianity and its god that ushered in the Dark Ages at the end of this great Classical period.

You DON'T say! -- So it wasn't the fall or Rome under invading barbaric hordes in the West, or the fall of C-tinople under Ottoman rule in the East that had anything to do with it? -- BTW, exactly what "dark ages" were there in Byzantium between 400 and 1400 AD? The Empire flourished.

Rhacodactylus said...

It's a simple case of the "single cause fallacy," even if someone could contribute a portion of the blame to Christianity, to deny the other causes is . . . silly.


nazani said...

Rather than argue about the derivation of ancient names and words, I suggest everybody read The Evolution of God, by Robert Wright. This book deals with the origins and identities of Yahweh, El and Elohim completely to my satisfaction. I think Wright's conclusions will be acceptable to most people who don't care deeply about ancient mythology (or any mythology.) I don't deny linguistics geeks their fun, I'm just suggesting that Wright's book offers the rest of us a way to cut to the chase.

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

It's a simple case of the "single cause fallacy,"…

I agree! There was truly more than one cause that led to the Roman Empire’s demise. Let me name at least three: 1. God the Father; 2. God the Son (Jesus) and 3. God the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost).

Sorry if I sound like and non-Trinitarian here (Arianism), but paganism (a derogatory term used by the Church) was socially inclusive and religiously accommodating.

Unlike its entire past religious history (both Republic and Empire), Rome did not spend major amounts of time and money debating religion, much less allowing Church Councils (First Council of Nicaea, 325; First Council of Constantinople, 381; Council of Ephesus, 431; Second Council of Ephesus, 449; Council of Chalcedon , 451) lead by Bishops to wasting valuable time and resources debating just who and what the hell Jesus was!

If I were an observing “pagan” during the Christianizing of the Roman Empire, I would have to conclude that the Bible and Christianity were created by an evil god to destroy humanity.

Christianity is the only religion that divides as fast as it grows and considers Heretics more dangerous than atheists.

J. Quinton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. Quinton said...

The reason why YHWH doesn't appear in the NT is because the earliest Christian writings were in Greek and used the LXX.

There doesn't seem to be any reference to YHWH in the LXX; they are all replaced with kyrios.

So if anyone is to blame for using "pagan" terms for the god of the Jews, it would be the Jews who translated the Hebrew bible into Greek allegedly for Ptolemy Philadelphos c. 280 BCE.

Check out Psalm 82 LXX: ὁ (El) θεὸς[nominative singular "god"] ἔστη ἐν συναγωγῇ (Elohim) θεῶν [genitive plural "gods"] ἐν μέσῳ δὲ (Elohim) θεοὺς [accusative plural "gods"] διακρίνει

Also, Paul's argument in Romans 10 only makes sense if his version of the LXX had no YHWH in it:

9 That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.


13 for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Joel 2:32).

Paul implies that the name that you call on as "lord" that saves you is Jesus, using Joel 2:32 as his proof. Paul's argument here only makes sense if Joel 2:32 has the word "lord". But it doesn't. It actually says YHWH. Joel never once writes the word "lord".

Also, to confuse matters, the word "adonai" is also plural but evolved into singular usage. Isaiah 7:14 uses "adonai" to imply YHWH whereas Genesis 19:18 uses "adonai" as a plural.

This is because the original Jews were polytheists. An example is Deut. 32:8-9:

8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, When he separated the children of men, He set the bounds of the peoples According to the number of the children of Israel.

9 For Jehovah's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.

The LXX has alternately "sons of god" or "sons of angels" in verse 8 (along with the DSS, which has "sons of El"). The Masoretic has phased this out and renders it "sons of Israel".

Brad Haggard said...

John, thanks for posting this up, it makes it easier to find.

Harry, I'll go point by point to keep my thoughts organized again.

1. You are mis-using your lexicon again. The first rule of word-study is to not abuse context, or over-apply obscure meanings. The DDD may cite legitimate examples of those uses of "elohim", but the common use of "God" is attested in Holladay 2250 times!! I think the word for that is "passim."

2. You are correct that the Masorets standardized the pronunciation in the 7th century, but that doesn't really help your argument at all. If you want the syntax to reflect a plural usage for elohim, then you are going to need a shurreq at the end of the word, which is a consonant that would have been in the proto-masoretic text. Beyond that, the uniform testimony of the LXX, Vulgate, and Samaritan texts show a singular usage. Are you going to argue against the syntax of 4 different languages? What's more, "elohim", the subject, carries a singular usage throughout the passage, until 1:25, so you're not just having to work with bara, but also asah, amar, and a number of other verbs all reflecting singular forms (i.e. without a shurreq).

3. Bringing in other languages' formulations, like Ugaritic and Akkadian, doesn't really have any bearing on the specific context here. Also, if you are wanting to try to draw any strong paralells between "tehom" in 1:2-3 and "tiamat" in the Enuma Elish, a simple cursory reading shows that that can't be held. You're bringing in fringe readings to try to cast doubt, but that doesn't really deal with the text at hand.

4. Genesis 1 being priestly is a huge problem for your theory that you don't even address. Remember, the Priestly writer was the final redactor, and his influence was the most absolutizing. This was post-exilic, so you're going to have to pretty much chuck current source criticism to make this claim. You can't appeal to 2:4 either because that comes from a different redaction.

5. I'm not sure why you're looking for YHWH in the NT when it isn't in the LXX. When you look at the Dead Sea Scrolls you'll see that sometimes the Essenes didn't even write the four letters, and there is just a blank in the scrolls. I'm not sure this even holds as an argument from silence.

6. Matt 23:29 doesn't even have any relation to the argument in Gen. 1.1. What's more, I don't think there is any textual evidence for an interpolation, but that has to stay in the area of speculation. But you aren't even talking about interpolation, you're talking about wholesale redaction, which is even more speculative.

7. I'm not even worried about "son of God" at this point, so you can take that up with Thom.

Thanks for the interaction!

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

Part 1

Hi Brad,

I think we can agree to disagree. After all, you have a faith ground in the Biblical text, while I see it as a text much like Homer. But I would like to quickly address your comments.

Holladay’s Lexicon is a shorten version based on the late Ludwig Koehler and Wlater Bumgartner’s Lexicon Veteris Testamenti Libros (1953) and Supplemented (1958) which I have.

In his introduction (page xiv), Holladay states his lexicon “…is meet to meet the needs of the beginning student, uncertain of his way, anxious to ‘get his assignment done,’ whose overriding question is simply, ‘What does this word , this verse , this passage mean?

Unlike the text on which this lexicon is based (Lexicon Veteris Testamenti Libros) , Holladay’s text has not been updated since it was published in 1971 or right at 40 years ago!

For example, you stated the number of times Elohim is cited by Holladay (2250X) (p.16), but DDD now states “The term ‘elohim occurs 2570 times in the Hebrew Bible, with a variety of meanings.” (p. 668). Thus, Holladay lexicon missed 320 more places where the term ‘elohim occurs!

A much better reference would be The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (5 vol. set) from EJ Brill, but at $910.00 few can afford it (I also have bought this set) which does use other Semitic entomologies to determine Hebrew word since Hebrew is a late Canaanite language.

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

Part 2

As far as the use of Shuruq at the end of a word, I find its use in personal pronouns such as “we”, but not in making plurals of general nouns (R.J. William. Williams’ Hebrew Syntax 3rd edition, Revised and expanded by J.C. Beckman (University of Toronto Press, 2007) pp. 2-4. However, Genesis 3:22 does make your point with the plural pronoun מִמֶּ֔נּוּ (us).

The shorting or abbreviations of a divine name is not uncommon; not only in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the Coptic Gnostic texts from Nag Hammadi, Egypt where the Sahidic (also a Semitic language) texts uses “ic” with a line over the letters to mean Jesus Christ.

Finally, I agree that there are not any textual witnesses (Lower Criticism) to support New Testament interpolations, but Literary Criticism (Higher Criticism) makes clear cases where the scribes lost touch with reality and when anachronistic.

Such a case would be the use of the word “Church” (ἐκκλησίᾳ) by Jesus in Matthew 18:17.

Anyway, enough for now and thanks for your comments and time.


Brad Haggard said...

Harry, first to your points:

1. I am aware that Holladay's work is a digest, and I am acutely aware of my financial inability to buy the larger version. If you want me to save you the trouble of lugging around all 6 volumes, I'll be happy to oblige.

However, you misunderstood my argument. I was saying the the singular use of "elohim" is attested 2250 times. There are, of course, other readings attested, and Holladay didn't miscount, I was just being selective in my definition. So by sheer semantic probability, your argument doesn't look good.

2. Your point about the shurreq is addressed to nouns, but bara is a qal perfect verb. The plural inflection of that would require a shurreq. It's in any verb-chart you can look up.

3. Referencing the ubiquitous shortening of divine names in antiquity I think either is irrelevant, or it actually helps my case. Remember, we're looking for a direct transliteration of YHWH in the LXX.

4. I'm not averse to higher criticism (I used Wellhausen to argue against your postition), but when a huge theory is supported by a couple of interpolations without any textual evidence, I think it's legitimate to ask whether we are looking at the chicken or the egg (I'm looking at you, Bob Price).

But with that out of the way, I'm really surprised at your tone, Harry. I was expecting to have to take some verbal volleys and dish some out. If this keeps up, we might have to be friends instead of internet nemeses.

Be well,

David B Marshall said...

Nazani: Let me recommend to you my review of Wright's book for the First Things website from a year ago:


Harry H. McCall, CET said...


Sorry you took offence at my last reply to you.

My point about the 5 vol. Hebrew lexicon set is to let you know I am committed to my study and my non-religious believe system.

Secondly, I worked two jobs for 19 years to have money to create the personal library I now have and I just don’t go to Amazon.com and copy titles and claim they say something I never read. (In fact, at one point I have ordered so many Biblical books from the EJ Brill's U.S. representative, that I was on a first name bases with them and got a Christmas card from the publisher one year. Am I proud of my personal library? You damn right I am!)

I have both met and I have talked to Bill Holladay at SBL (Society of Biblical Literature Meetings) and once over the phone in reference to the late G.R. Drive (Professor of Semitic Philology Oxford and son of the noted O.T. Hebrew scholar S.R. Driver) about Driver’s use of Arabic in determining the meaning of obscure Hebrew words in the first edition of the New English Bible (Driver was director of the O.T. section.)

Bill said they had a major task cleaning up the revised edition and getting rid of Driver’s odd verse renderings.

Now, as to this post, I'll let my last replies speak for themselves.

As for the use of ברא without the suffix ו, the text remains confused: A plural subject “gods’ without a plural verb.

This remains as confused as Genesis 3:22 where Yahweh modifies Elohim and is grouped under the objective pronoun מנו. The same plural form is used in Genesis 11:7 where the Yahweh says: "Come, let Us go down (נרדה)…”

My point remains this. For an inspired Hebrew text that is reveling eternal truth, the syntax is (without the LXX) often confused and imprecise.

It’s little wonder the New Testament scribes have Jesus and Paul only quoting from the LXX!


Brad Haggard said...

Harry, one of my frustrations with these conversations is that sarcasm doesn't make it through well. I wasn't offended in any way by your comment (a little jealous, maybe) and in fact am impressed by your demeanor.

Quickly, because this issue has about been beat dead, but for "bara" (as a qal perfect verb) there wouldn't be any suffix, it would be an inflection. The syntax is really quite clear, here.

It isn't as clear in 3:22, but then you are arguing from a different redaction. However, the LXX reflects the same person ("ex hemon" is equivalent to "mimenu") as the Hebrew, so the real question is what is the interpretive significance? Alas, I don't have time or interest to pursue that right now.

(interesting tidbit: I looked at 3:20 in the LXX and instead of transliterating the name for Eve as we do in English, they actually translated her name to "Life" (zoe))

My best as well,

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

Hi Brad….It’s me again.

Let's off Genesis 1:1 and renew the quest for polytheism in Israel’s religion with Genesis 6:2 & 4: “The sons of God (בני־האלהים) saw that the daughters of other humans were beautiful. So they married any woman they chose //… when the sons of God (בני האלהים)came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them…"

Some questions:

A. Could this use of האלהים here (with the definite article ה )be a scribal attempt (maybe added) to make
אלהים singular? That is, is this god really Yahweh or is it just another of Israel’s gods, as in Job 1:6? “Now there was a day when the sons of God (בני האלהים) came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.

B. Is this the God (Yahweh) of Israel?

C. How did "God" produce his / these sons? Is this left over form Israel’s polytheistic past when God had a wife (Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel by William Dever as well as the text from Kuntillet Ajrud)?

D. If this is indeed the Yahweh of Israel and the God / father of Jesus, do these verses defeat the stereological meaning of John 3:16?

I would be interested in seeing how you would deal with the Hebrew text and not destroy John 3:16 at the same time.


Brad Haggard said...


Since elohim has the semantic range to be singular, then the article by itself isn't enough in my mind to warrant looking at an interpolation. But this is a really weird passage, and you've piqued my interest. I'll email you so we can continue this over email rather than on this thread.