Hebrew: Elohim, Eloheinu. Am I correct

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by skaught, Dec 22, 2010.

  1. Haledjian Registered Member

    I know I'm raising this thread from three years ago but I've been taking Hebrew for several years and there were a couple of things I wanted to add.

    "Eloheinu" (as you noted later) is a word with a possessive suffix on it, but not just any word--it's in the Hebrew Shema ("Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad") and at the beginning of numerous Hebrew blessings ("Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha-Olam..."). In every case I know of it's written as one word, אֱלֹהֵינוּ, so it's one of the most-used words in the Hebrew language. Its wordhood should be indisputable (and slightly embarrassing to the OP's friend).

    If there WERE a space, it would not read as "El Oheinu" because the "O" vowel is sandwiched between the L and the H. If you added another Alef to support the O you could get "אֵל אֹהֵינוּ", but just adding a space would get you "אֱל הֵינוּ" which reads as "El Heinu."

    I've never heard the word "Oheinu" before. If you wanted to indicate first-person plural possessive you would use "Shelanu." "Heinu" I haven't heard either although I suppose it could mean "is ours" if derived from the root היה. Definitely not standard in Israeli Hebrew, though.

    This is mostly correct but I also wanted to add something:

    The first vowel is "ְ", or "sh'va." In Hebrew it's pronounced either not at all (when ending a syllable) or as a minimally-pronounced sound something like "ə", which usually gets transcribed as "e" or as an apostrophe. However, four Hebrew consonants including the glottal stop Alef (א) are considered unable to support the "ə" vowel, so it is "expanded" into various forms by placing another vowel diacritic next to it. In the case of Adonai, the "ְ" is written as "ֲ" and pronounced as "ַ". Grammatically, however, it still counts as "ְ", though, and as soon as those vowels are transposed to a set of letters that CAN support the sh'va, it returns to its normal pronunciation. Hence "יְהֹוָה"--it's a lot of explanation for a really minor thing but I wanted to mention that it's a result of Hebrew grammatical rules rather than "scribal corruption" as you said.

    Sorry if this is too much of a faux-pas but I happened across this and wanted to fill in some blanks hahah.
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Hebrew and Arabic are closely related, both members of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. -im is a common plural suffix in Hebrew. So elohim is, precisely, the plural of eloh -- an ancient word for "god" that predates the shift to monotheism, and therefore can take the plural suffix. The cognate in Arabic is, of course, Allah.
    German linguists appropriated this Hebrew word as the name for an unaccented neutral vowel, which they wrote as schwa. That name is now widely used in linguistics. In English we use it, for example, as the name of the unaccented neutral vowel in "affair," "colon," etc. Of course we pronounce its name as "shwa," rather than "shva," like the Germans. As you note, the International Phonetic Alphabet symbol for the schwa is "ə."
    In Modern Israeli Hebrew, which has been influenced by the many languages that the Jews adopted from their rulers, the schwa is very often not pronounced at all.
    In Modern Israeli Hebrew, the letter aleph (the standard spelling of its name in the Roman alphabet) is completely silent in all instances.

    It's worth noting that the vowel diacritics are never written in Hebrew, except in instructional texts. Vowels have no phonemic value in the Afro-Asiatic languages, so instead of alphabets, most of them use abjads, which are alphabets that record consonants only.

    Yiddish, on the other hand is an Indo-European language, essentially a dialect of medieval German. It uses the Hebrew abjad, but in order to transcribe the vowels it uses consonants that are now silent in modern Hebrew (such as aleph and ayin) and attaches the vowel diacritics to them. Sorry, I can't write them in the SciForums character set. If you're interested, see the Wikipedia article on Yiddish. (Or the Yiddish version of Wikipedia!)
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2015
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  5. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    I think Hebrew has been dead as a spoken language far too long to use this kind of analysis to sort out the meaning of "Elohim."

    El was the father of humanity, through his consort Asherah, in the prevailing religions of the pre-Hebraic cults of the Levant. The Elohim were the pantheon of gods which developed as the creation myth grew to include more deities with specific roles. Ba'al, for example, was a son of El. And it is now known that Asherah was worshiped in the proto-Hebraic culture, since thousands of her statuettes have been recovered recently.

    Without this larger scope it is next to impossible to arrive at an explanation of the true meaning of "Elohim" (and the related words) simply by treating this as a question of Hebrew grammar.
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Jewish men are expected to be able to read the Torah in Hebrew; it's one of the requirements for a successful bar mitzvah. Of course, this is Biblical Hebrew, the language as spoken more than 2,000 years ago, when it was still the vernacular of the Israeli people. Modern Israeli Hebrew is one of the official languages of the modern nation of Israel--Arabic is the other, since a large percentage of the population of the country are Palestinians.

    The major differences between the modern language and the ancient are, of course, phonetic. It would not be unreasonable to call the modern language and the ancient one merely different accents of a common tongue. The definition of "accents" is: differences in pronunciation only, with a few differences in grammar and only very few differences in vocabulary. Speakers of two accents are expected to be able to understand each other, needing at most a few days' exposure to each other's speech to get the hang of it.

    This contrasts with the definition of "dialects," which have sufficient differences in vocabulary as to require a little more time for complete intercomprehensibility.

    All Jewish citizens of Israel are assumed to be able to read the Torah. A citizen of Ancient Israel could probably read a modern Tel Aviv newspaper, although the topics might leave him scratching his head.

    Hebrew is by no means a "dead language."
  8. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    I guess that's not a very precise term by today's standards. Latin persisted as the lingua franca of Western Europe for longer than its use in Imperial Rome, but was still considered a dead language.

    Regardless of all that, I think the issue here has to do with the death of the culture (particularly the early cult) which ascribed meanings to words, and the evolution of new cults and cultures which lost the original meaning as the earlier context vanished under the sands of time.

    While it wouldn't normally apply to proper names, I think etymology has to be invoked here. Since El was the Levantine name of the father-god in the Assyrophonecian cults ("Canaanites") who owned the parent language and script from which Hebrew evolved, then I suppose we ought to speak of the etymology of Elohim and its related forms. Tracing it to the cult that preserved Gen 1, the proximity in time to the Canaanite cultures suggests the proto Hebraic people adopted a pantheon of creators from their predecessors . . . but it's not clear exactly when that notion of "godhead" evolved into the less controversial meanings ("Lord", etc.).

    Thus, while some elements of a language can be preserved long after it ceases to live as the mother tongue of a culture, no doubt some of the cultural attitudes and beliefs also necessarily die, as the language can only be salvaged and pieced back together through the lens of new and foreign cultures. A good example for native English speakers is reading Shakespeare; so much of the language requires translation, but even then the cultural context is sometimes elusive. Beowulf takes that effort to the extreme. Obviously these are strong evolutionary deviations (from which modern English evolved) so it's not a perfect example of the issue ( of correctly interpreting "dead" Hebrew). But that sort of idea comes to mind. Maybe it would suffice to say that once the Elohists became a "dead" cult, the word Elohim (and its variants) "died" and became supplanted by the later meanings, meanings which were compatible with Yahwism, leaving only this "vestigial tail" that links the modern monotheistic species to the older Assyrian-Phoenician species, who were their apparent ancestral cultures.

    Your point is well taken. As in many religions, Judaism promotes scholarship in the language of the religious texts, and in this way the language is "kept alive".
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    In Europe, well into the 17th century, the vast majority of books and important documents were written in Latin. This is hardly the definition of a "dead" language. Science and diplomacy, in particular, required fluency in Latin.

    Latin has always been the official language of Vatican City, with no interruptions. All the priests and all civic officials speak it fluently. Communications from the Pope are always written in Latin, requiring all Catholic priests and their clerks to be reasonably fluent. Obviously an avalanche of new words had to be added to the language's vocabulary, but the fact that we still coin many of our new words from Latin and Greek roots makes them easy to assimilate.
    Classical Hebrew was notorious for forming compounds by taking only the first syllable of the individual words. So Eloh, the Hebrew version of the Afro-Asiatic name of God, was often truncated to El. Many Hebrew names which are still in wide use were formed this way, such as Dan-i-El, "My judge is God," and Mi-kha-El, "Who is like God?"
    Shakespeare wrote in Early Modern English. To us it is a dialect, since we can understand it with only a little study. But "Beowulf" was written in Anglo-Saxon. We used to call this language "Old English," but since it is not at all understandable by people who speak Modern English, it's incorrect to call it a dialect. It is a separate language, one which ours evolved from just as Spanish evolved from Latin.

    You'd do better to pick Chaucer, who wrote in Middle English. The influence of the Norman conquerers had taken hold in the vocabulary, grammar and phonetics of Anglo-Saxon, changing it into a new language. It is difficult but not impossible for a speaker of Modern English to learn to read Chaucer within a few months of diligent study. But learning Anglo-Saxon is like learning German or Dutch: it's a foreign language, albeit one with many tantalizing similarities to our own.
    Hebrew is not dead. It is just as "alive" as Latin, and arguably more so. Not only was it read in the Torah by all literate Jews (and the Jews place great importance on literacy so the majority of them can indeed read the Torah), but it is now the official language of a nation with eight million citizens--considerably larger than Vatican City, not to mention one of the world's nuclear powers. And unlike the gap between Anglo-Saxon and Modern English, Modern Hebrew is not very different from Biblical Hebrew except in pronunciation.
    As I've noted more than once, a dialect of Hebrew that is only slightly different from the Biblical language is the official language of a modern nation. It is not being "kept alive" by any heroic or academic means. My hairdresser is from Israel and she speaks it at home with her family.
  10. Haledjian Registered Member

    Ani kvar yodea et kol ze but thanks!

    "Elohim" is actually plural of "Eloah," not "Eloh," although the way it's spelled (with a patach under the final hei) is relatively uncommon, I think.

    Not quite! Both alef and ayin are still pronounced as glottal stops in many circumstances (e.g. in a word like ha'aretz) but it's not done with diligence and they're often slurred. Both are often silent, though, as you said.

    Regardless, though, Hebrew does not permit a shva under the Alef, Ayin, Chet, or Hei letters, and when a shva is required grammatically under one of those letters it will be replaced with a chataf patach, chataf qamatz, or chataf segol (pronounced the same as patach, qamatz, and segol, respectively).

    As you said, these diacritics aren't written except in poetry, scripture, and children's literature, but the rules governing pronunciation are largely preserved in spoken Hebrew.
  11. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    So we have three main events in the history of Judaea forever altering the course of its language, which I will call classical Hebrew. The first was the rise of Aramaic, probably brought home after the return of the Babylonian exiles (6th c. BCE). Next was the influx of Greek, beginning with Alexander's conquests in the 3rd c. BCE, followed by several centuries of Hellenization, diaspora, and the rise of Jewish scholars abroad, such as Philo of Alexandria, who relied on Greek as the first international language. And the Apocrypha and New Testament were mainly written in Greek, embedded with a few traces of Aramaic. Then came the crushing Roman reprisal against the Judaean rebellion in 70AD. At this point classical Hebrew had vanished within the lingua franca of Judaea and a new dialect, Mishnaic Hebrew, replaced it. Maybe you can think of a better term than "dead language" to describe this. But that's part of what happened as the legacy of the ancient Elohists was handed down through Gen 1.

    To me the big curiosity surrounding this strange vestige of Judaic polytheism, the "Elohim", is that it managed to survive in the plural, or as a collective noun, but only by "disremembering" the pantheon of which it speaks, whether through mistake, collective memory lapse, or even arbitration between opposing Elohist and Yahwist factions.

    In the process, the word itself had to acquire a new meaning, otherwise the contradiction would overshadow the entire premise of Judaism. And somehow, in the process, that plurality was swept under the rug.

    The most devious alteration in meaning is the one used by certain Christians: that the Elohim are Yahweh plus Jesus, or else the Holy Trinity.

    Good points about the survival of Latin as the main international language ( next to Greek) for most of the history of Western Europe, since the fall of the Roman Empire.

    And yes, Chaucer would be the next step back whereas Beowulf is practically a foreign language. Now imagine the concept "pantheon" transmuted into "God" in the process. And on top of that, there are Thumpers, insisting that their English versions ("God") are "literally correct" and all statements to the contrary are effectively heresy.
  12. Haledjian Registered Member

    Maybe I wasn't clear. The "einu" suffix is extremely well-established and regularly used throughout both Classical and Modern Hebrew, as part of a set of possessive noun suffixes.

    Take the noun bayit, or "house/home," as Fraggle Rocker used as an example earlier.
    Beit... = "house of..."
    Beiti = "my house"
    Beit'kha = "your house" (m singular)
    Beitekh = "your house" (f singular)
    Beito = "his house"
    Beiteinu = "our house"
    Beit'khem = "your house" (m pl)
    Beit'khen = "your house" (f pl)

    The last two I'm not sure about. I think it's "Beitam"and "Beitan" but don't hold me to that haha.

    In any case these forms are regularly used in Hebrew and their meaning is well-established. They have very closely parallel forms in Arabic, as well. It's not necessary to "sort out the meaning," except insofar as you want to determine the origins of "Eloah" which I probably can't help with.
  13. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The reason I don't consider Classical Hebrew a dead language is that literate Jews (i.e., almost all of them, especially those close to the Holy Land) have been reading the Torah in Classical Hebrew forever. They also wrote the Talmud in that language.

    Of course changes were made along the way, especially in pronunciation--which could not be recorded accurately before the invention of electronic technology. Many of the consonants in Classical Hebrew have been folded into other phonemes, so the modern language has many fewer phonemes than the ancient. For example, there is no TH or Q sound in the modern language.

    But the ancient vocabulary has been more-or-less faithfully retained. New words have been invented, built from old words, or borrowed from other languages. To "dizengof" means to sit on a park bench and watch beautiful young ladies coming out of a high-class department store in their new clothes, because this phenomenon was observed in the park across the street from Dizengof's department store. And abbreviations have become words in their language just as in ours: the Shin Bet is their version of the F.B.I.
    Many Christians have little respect for the ancient faith of which theirs is a spin-off. Without Judaism there would be no Christianity, Islam, Baha'i or Rasta.
  14. Haledjian Registered Member

    Tell us how you really feel.
  15. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Yes I was belaboring the etymology of Eloah itself, more as a commentary on the polytheistic roots of Judaism, and the syncretic influences of neighboring animists, esp. Ugarit. At some point the particular myth of El detached itself as the paleo Israelite culture carried it into a separate evolutionary thread. But once the differences were clear, there came a point when the -einu suffix would have been useful in referring to "the God of us, Israel" as opposed to the god of some neighboring kingdom. If there is one thing the Torah dwells on, it is the concept of foreign gods, who are insignificant under Yahweh. Thus Eloaheinu becomes "the true God" and/or "the Almighty God".
    I wonder if these forms were imported from the older Phoenician or whether they evolved independently. And imagine a time when this language was new. It was then that the mythology was being reestablished, in the new and evolving tongue. At some point the animist El emerged as the anthropomorphic El, setting the stage for the fully idealized intelligence now worshiped as the Personal God. Thus Elohaheinu theoretically imbues the animist El with "care and concern" for all of those insignificant goatherds who would become Israel; the probable descendants of the survivors of some catastrophe that left Ugarit in ruins, perhaps an incursion by "the Sea People" (marauders, probably from Crete). In fact in major upheavals like this Judaism kept reinventing itself: the notions of prophets and a messiah coincident with the Babylonian captivity; the Apochryphal books coincident with Hellenization; and the legend of Jesus coincident with the massacres and crucifixions perpetrated by Romans during the 70CE reprisal for the rebellion in Judaea.
    There is an issue here I am addressing. It so happens that millions of people (probably hundreds of millions) do not snap to the fact that there are two creation myths in Genesis: the first is done by the Elohim, which refers to the pantheon of animist gods of Ugarit (who owned the predecessor creation myth), and then the myth is retold in Gen. 2 using the newly invented Yahweh as the quasi Personal God, filling in a lot of detail, incorporating other influences such as the Mesopotamian flood myth, and setting the stage for a huge elaborate system of lore and taboos that would reinvent religion itself.

    That mistake -- the one which conflates Gen 1 and Gen 2 -- is largely lost on the huge global population of Bible readers who are neither fluent in Hebrew, nor aware of or curious about the exegetical and historical analysis which explains this.

    I was forking from the road of pure linguistics, and yet the mistake I am referring to is largely due to a loss of collective memory within the paleo Jewish culture, one which allows the meanings of words to drift, and their context to be forgotten.
  16. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Nonsense. Jesus is nothing more than a shadow of the Roman crucifixions of rebels.

    That is impossible. Here we are addressing the linguistic influences concerning the events much later than " the beginning if time", specifically, the Iron and Bronze ages, long before a Mashkiah and even before Yahweh replaced El as the chief deity.

    No, the legend says he lived between the reign of Augustus and Nero, which places him in the shadow of Imperial Rome. The mode of his alleged execution places him in the shadow of rebellion. And the lack of authorship of any text attesting to his historicity places him in the shadow of legend.

    No, the discussion concerned the linguistic treatment of one word, God, which is syncretically linked to the animist mythology of Ugarit and Phoenician Canaan. Therefore Jesus stands in the shadow of a chain of myths. But if his "father" is the Elohim of Gen 1, then he stands in the shadow of absurdity -- although if you exchange "progenitor" for "father" and ignore the gender, you will note that Jesus stands in the shadow of animism -- with the goddess of fertility, Asherah, reimagined as the virgin concubine Mary.

    No, it occurred during the reign of Cyrus, who released the Jews from their Babylonian captivity and became the first "anointed one" to be identified as a "savior king". That places Jesus and Christianity in the shadow of ancient Persia.

    That pretty well defines your apologetics.

    No. They were a race of goatherds, descended from a race of sailing merchants. All one race biologically, and historically insignificant. However they had an abundance of skins upon which to record their evolving myths, legends and fables.
    No, linguistics and the historical contexts of words demonstrates that you are misinterpreting the words that were preserved on those skins, nothing more.

    No, the Christian movement had nothing to do with the notion of Gentiles. The latter became a linchpin of their particular variation on the myth of origins, to include the origin of nations.

    Without exegesis you can't possibly parse that text for meaning. First go find out when it was written and next revisit the DNA carried by the person purporting to be Jesus, and you will snap to the error in your interpretation.

    Ah. Back to the guy standing in the shadow of Cyrus. Of course "worldwide" meant Mesopotamia, Northern Africa and the Levant. So no, the modern guy would be better characterized as a Shiite mullah reigning in Tehran. Except of course that collides with the Jewish nationhood myth. Which is why we fall back to the safety of exegesis, discarding all the erroneous interpretations you've adopted, relying instead on the linguistic foundations for analysis.
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    No need to wonder. The Afro-Asiatic language family has been studied extensively, second only to Indo-European. For starters, you should be able to compare these inflections to their cognates in Arabic, the living language most closely related to Hebrew.
    Languages don't suddenly pop into existence with their structure and vocabulary already in their modern forms. There is no moment when a language is "new." They all have older forms. But of course, if you go back beyond the Bronze Age, when the technology of writing was invented, there is no written evidence of the earlier forms. At this point all we can do is compare a language to another language that is obviously related, and by comparison try to track changes in phonetics, grammar and the meaning of words. We have considerable evidence of Phoenician and other ancient Semitic languages, as well as languages in other branches of the Afro-Asiatic family. Egyptian (an Afro-Asiatic language but not in the Semitic branch of the family) was one of the earliest languages to have a written form, so it's helpful in this effort.
    This happens to all languages over time. Obviously the invention of writing slowed it down, but it still happens.

    Compare Spanish, Italian, Romanian, French, Portuguese and Occitan to each other. . . . and then compare any of them to Latin. All of these languages had written forms.
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  19. Haledjian Registered Member

    אז נוצרי אתה יכול לדבר עברית באמת? או אתה רק משתמש זה בשביל קישוט תחת שמך חחח

    Is it, for certain? It's definitely possible but the use of "Elohim" as a grammatical singular in Genesis 1 throws some doubt on it, in my mind. It would have been a theologically messy stage, though, so who knows.
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Where is the word "Elohim" in that passage? Lamedh is an easy letter to spot since it extends above the tops of the other letters, and I don't see it in the middle of any of those words.
    I'd like to see an early (pre-Christian) Greek translation of Genesis. I wouldn't be surprised if the ambiguity about the singular/plural nature of the word is a phenomenon of the Christian appropriation of the old Bronze Age Canaanite mythology.
  21. Photizo Ambassador/Envoy Valued Senior Member

    Close..."The modern guy" will an immam (possibly Shiite (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahdi) )--with a sidekick (Isa) who tells people that he is the biblical Jesus. He will insist all accept the immam and islam--including Christians (Rev. 13). Then, the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masih_ad-Dajjal will arrive (Rev. 19:11-21).
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2015
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