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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Evolution of many gods to one.

Those of us who grow up in English-speaking countries where Judaism or Christianity is the principal religion learn very early in life that the Bible opens with the phrase: “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth”. 

Believers accept that statement as truth. Others assume that it reflects unchanging doctrine. And most are unaware that this opening line is a translation of words written thousands of years ago - words that may be inaccurately translated.

What happens when we compare the translation with the original text? (Don't forget to read from right to left.)
בְּ רֵאשִׁית , בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים , אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם , וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim
ve'et ha'arets
Hebrew, like Arabic, was originally written without vowels. That allows some words to be interpreted differently depending on which vowels are inserted. However, there is little dispute over this opening verse.

Look at the third word, Elohim. The -im ending means that it is plural, like cherubim and seraphim. Elohim means "gods", not "god". That means an accurate translation would read:

“In the beginning, the gods created heaven and earth.”

Yahweh is only one of many Hebrew gods, elohim,which the ancient Hebrews worshiped.

In The Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments, Oxford professor of Assyriology A. H. Sayce maintained:  'Even the most devoted adherents of the supreme God of Israel sometimes admitted that he was but supreme among other gods, and David himself, the friend of seers and prophets, complains that he had been driven out of 'the inheritance of Yahveh' and told to go and 'serve other gods'  (1 Sam. xxvi. 19)."

In The Religious Teachings of the Old Testament, Albert C. Knudson, a professor in the Boston University School of Theology, also pointed out:
"The sole godhead of Yahweh was a truth that was only gradually attained. The different steps in this development may be distinguished with a fair degree of clearness.  We begin with the Mosaic age. It was to Moses, as we have seen, that the establishment of Yahweh-worship was due. Previous to his time the Israelites seem to have been polytheists.  On one of the cuneiform tablets discovered by Winckler at Boghazkj and belonging to the pre-Mosaic age we read of 'the gods' of the Habiri or Hebrews, and in Josh. 24.2, 14f. and Ezek. 20.7f., 24 we are told that both in Mesopotamia and Egypt the Israelites worshipped other gods.  The very name 'Yahweh' also points in the same direction.  The manifest purpose of such a name was to distinguish the god of Israel from other gods. If the Hebrews had not believed in the existence of other deities, there would have been no need of giving a personal name to the Divine Being through whom they were delivered from Egypt.   He would have been to them simply God."

Ask any Jew, Moslem or Christian, “How many gods are there?” And 100 out of 100 times the answer will be “One.” What those 100 people do not know is that nowhere in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, does it ever say that there is only one God. In fact, it actually says the opposite.
I am Yahweh your Elohim. (Exodus 6:7, LT)
In this verse, Yahweh, a singular entity, identified as a Elohim. In this case, this word is being used in a singular sense.
I know that Yahweh is great, more than all the Elohim. (Exodus 18:11, LT)
In this verse, Yahweh, a singular entity, is being contrasted with “all” the Elohim, a plural entity. From these two verses (along with many others in the Biblical text, many of which we will be looking at) we can see that Yahweh is an Elohim (singular) among the Elohim (plural). This is also demonstrated in the following verse.
Elohim stands in the counsel of El; he judges among the Elohim. (Psalm 82:1, LT)
In this verse we have Elohim (as a singular) standing in the counsel of El, and Elohim (singular) will judge among the Elohim (plural) who are also standing in the counsel of El. While the singular and plural aspects of the word Elohim is obvious in this translation of the verse, it is not as obvious in some Christian translation as demonstrated in the translations of Psalm 82:1 below.
God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. (NASB)
God hath stood in the company of God, In the midst God doth judge. (YLT)
God presides over heaven's court; he pronounces judgment on the judges. (NLT)
God stands in the Divine assembly, in the midst of judges she He judge. (SET)
A Psalm of Asaph. God standeth in the congregation of God; in the midst of the judges He judgeth (JPS)
This is one of the problems with the translations; oftentimes the text is translated to comply with the theology instead of complying with what the text actually states. There are however, a few translations that do translate this verse correctly.
God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.(KJV)
God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the “gods”. (NIV)
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment. (RSV)
Even though the Bible is pretty clear on the point that there is more than one god, those 100 people will, when shown this, still insist that there is only one God. This is a clear case of interpreting the Bible through theological filters. And to support their argument that there is only one god, they will bring up a verse such as this one.
I am He, And there is no god besides Me. (Deuteronomy 32:39, NASB)
It looks like this is a pretty good verse to prove that there is only one god, isn't it? Well, in the English yes, but not in the Hebrew. The Hebrew of this verse should be translated as “I am he, and am without a god (Elohim) next to me.” This verse is saying that Yahweh stands alone and does not share his position as the god of Israel, with anyone else, a clear henotheistic view of God. Again, the above translation of this verse is a case of translating the Bible to fit a specific theology-monotheism. This is very unfortunate as the readers of a translation trust the translator to translate the Bible true to the text, but instead, are given the translators interpretation of the text based on his theology.
Here is the same verse from another version which has remained more true to the Hebrew text.
I, am he, and there is no god beside me. (Deuteronomy 32:39, RSV)
Notice that the difference between the NASB and the RSV is one letter, the letter "s," in the word "beside." In the NASB, the word "besides" implies "no other," but in the RSV the word "beside" implies "next to." This one letter completely changes how that verse is going to be interpreted by the reader.
Throughout the Bible we are told about the existence of other gods. In Exodus 12:12 Yahweh confirms the existence of other Elohim in Egypt. In Exodus 18:11 Jethro confirms the existence of other Elohim. In Exodus 20:3 Yahweh tells Israel not bring any other Elohim before him. In Exodus 23:32 Moses confirms the existence of other Elohim. In Deuteronomy 6:4 Yahweh tells Israel not to go after other Elohim. In Deuteronomy 6:14-15 and 13:7 Yahweh confirms the existence of other Elohim around the people of Israel. In Joshua 24:2 Joshua confirms that their ancestors served other Elohim. In 2 Samuel 7:23 David confirms that other nations have their own Elohim. In 2 Chronicles Solomon confirms the existence of other Elohim. In Psalm 8:5, 86:8 and 138:1 David confirms the existence of other Elohim. In Psalm 82:1 Asaph confirms the existence of other Elohim. In Hosea 13:4 Yahweh instructs Israel to not know (literally experience) the other Elohim. In Micah 4:5 Micah confirms the nations have their own Elohim. To say that there is only "one" God, is a clear disregard for what the Biblical text actually states.

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