The New International Encyclopædia/Elohim

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ELOHIM, ĕl-o-hēm′ (Heb., gods, plural of elōah, God, Ar. ‘ilāh, Aramaic elāh, Assyr. ilu, god) . One of the names by which Yahweh, the national deity of the Hebrews, was known. It signifies, like el, adon, and in a measure baal, ‘power,’ and the attachment of the plural ending serves, as it often does in the Semitic languages, which have various peculiar uses different from modern grammatical notions, to express the idea of greatness, supremacy, and the like. Elohim is, therefore, equivalent to ‘the great Eloah’ — the Eloah, or powerful deity par excellence. Already in the Tel-el-Amarna letters (c.1400 B.C.) we find in letters addressed by Palestinian officials to the Egyptian king ilâni, the plural of the Assyrian ilu, ‘god,’ used much in the same way as Elohim is in the Old Testament. The use, if not the introduction, of Elohim as a description of Yahweh (Jehovah) seem to belong to the northern Hebrew domain rather than to the southern. At all events, in northern literary sources we encounter it earlier than in the south. So the collection of creation and deluge narratives, early history of mankind, and traditions of the patriarchs, which was made in the northern kingdom probably in the eighth or possibly the ninth century B.C., makes use of ‘Elohim,’ whereas the parallel collected from the sources that originated in the south is characterized by the use of ‘Yahweh.’ It may reasonably be supposed that the use of ‘Elohim’ arose from a desire to avoid the stronger anthropomorphic implications connected with ‘Yahweh,’ which is more in the nature of a personal name. Subsequently, as the conceptions connected with Jehovah became spiritualized, as it were, largely through the influence of the prophets, the objections to the use of Yahweh disappear, and in the post-exilic period Yahweh becomes a common designation, though as a trace of the old feeling against its use, the view arises that Yahweh is too sacred a name to be employed on ordinary occasions, and it gives way to various descriptive epithets and subsequently to disguises. See Elohist and Yahwist.