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Notes About Different Names for God

In the calling of Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex 3:1-4:18), the divine presence has three different names: Elohim (God), YHWH (LORD), and Ehyeh [Pla81].

``Elohim'' is a basic generic name for god, e.g., the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex 3:6). First appearing in the creation story, ``Elohim'' is a variant of the name ``El,'' meaning ``godhead'' in Semitic languages, e.g., Ugaritic ``El,'' Babylonian ``Ilu,'' and Arabic ``Allah.'' It is used for the god of Israel and also generically for gods of other nations. According to the Documentary Hypothesis, it is used by E, i.e., the Elohist.

When Moses asks for the name of which god is sending him to Egypt, the reply is ``Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh'' and ``Ehyeh.'' (How would a name which none of the Israelites had previously heard give credence that God actually called Moses?) ``Ehyeh'' is first person singular of the verb ``to be'' with an unclear tense, and ``Asher'' means ``who'' or ``what.'' Combining these together yields many different possible meanings:

Should we interpret this as an absolute, unchanging divine presence or in an active sense, i.e., a God that responds to human needs? Do you agree with this commentary?
The Midrash2 conveys a similar interpretation: while God is called by many names, He is what He is by virtue of His deeds. That is to say, you cannot really know Him until you experience Him in your own life. [Pla81, p. 406]

Since name-giving implies power over the one named, only Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh itself can use the name. Instead the Tetragrammaton ``YHWH'' uses the third person masculine singular. In English, it is written using small-capital letters: LORD. The vowels are never written, and, to avoid accidental blasphemy, it is not pronounced. Instead ``adonai,'' ``Kyrios,'' ``Jehovah,'' or ``Lord'' are frequently used. According to the Documentary Hypothesis, it is used by J.

The phrase ``God is my/your/his father,'' frequently connected with ``Abraham'' and/or ``Isaac,'' is a distinctive and characteristic feature of Genesis (Gen 31:5, 46:3, 31:29, 46:1, 24:12, 46:1, 28:13, 32:10, 24:12, 27, 42, 48, 28:13, 32:10). In Exodus 3:6, 3:15, 16, 4:5, this becomes ``God of your/their fathers,'' to provide continuity with the past but also with plural referring to the entire people of Israel. Other ancient Near East cultures use similar phrases likes ``Ashur, god of my father'' and ``Shamash, the god of my father.'' This divine epithet connotes a special, personal relationship between an individual and his god, his patron and protector [Sar91, p. 268].


... Midrash2
Jewish oral tradition, subsequently written down, interpreting their scriptural texts.

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Next: Bibliography Up: Names of God and 3:16 Previous: Published Translations
Jeffrey David Oldham