Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I just picked up a publication from the SBL Dissertation Series. It's Joel S. Burnett's A Reassessment of Biblical Elohim. It's a fascinating read, but I thought I'd highlight the first section, which discusses the early Near Eastern manifestations of the plural of El/'ilu as a singular title. Burnett groups the Hebrew 'elohim, the West Semitic 'ilanu, and the Phoenician 'lm together as "concretized abstract plurals" that were used with singular verbs in reference to patron or personal gods, and sometimes to the Egyptian king. They are found from the Amarna Letters to Mari, Ugarit, Taanach, and Qatna. Burnett rejects the notion of a "plural of majesty" on the grounds that it is not clearly found in all the languages which preserve the above plural noun. It is more closely related in all the languages to an abstract plural, like 'adonim (lordship), or 'abot (fatherhood). He calls it "concretized" because of its appropriation as a title for specific gods. This would render a literal translation of the word in the Hebrew Bible "deity." ha'elohim would be "the deity."

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