Bethel, the Forgotten God of Israel

Few literary sources about the early religion of Israel are available to us. There is the Old Testament of course, and although many of its stories and traditions are old, the text itself comes to us through redacted manuscripts produced by Judean scribes at a fairly late date. From archaeological evidence and careful analysis of some of the Bible’s earliest passages, scholars have developed a view of early Israel that was much more polytheistic right from its origins than the traditional story would have us believe.

In the early 20th century, a collection of Aramaic papyri discovered in Egypt opened a new window on Israelite religion. They consist of letters, legal documents, and literature written by and for a colony of Israelites and Arameans who were apparently recruited as mercenaries to guard the southern frontier of Egypt at what is now Aswan. Dated to the fifth century BCE, these papyri are far older than any biblical manuscripts we possess, and unlike the Bible, they are original documents with no opportunity for editing and revision over the centuries. Although Yahweh is frequently mentioned in the form “Yaho” (YHW or occasionally YHH), the letters also mention the god Bethel and the goddesses Anat-Bethel (i.e. Anat consort of Bethel), Anat-Yaho, and the Queen of Heaven in association with people who are clearly Israelites. There seems to be a clear implication that these were other deities venerated by at least some Jews and Israelites. Can we find other evidence that such was the case? For this article, I am particularly interested in Bethel, but others may occasionally come into the picture.

Additional Geographical Context

The colony at Aswan consisted of two districts: Elephantine, which was on an island (Yeb) in the Nile River, and Syene, which was on the riverbank. The colony predated the Persian conquest of Egypt, though the date of its founding is unknown; the reign of Pharaoh Psammetichus I (664–610) is one possibility (Porten, 458ff.). There was a full-fledged temple to Yaho¹ at Elephantine, and additional temples to Bethel, Anat, and other non-Egyptian gods in Syene. It has often been assumed that the inhabitants of Elephantine were strictly Jewish, and those of Syene Aramean (Syrian), but the documents themselves make no such distinction, and the same person may be described as a Jew in one text and an Aramean in another. For example, one prominent individual with the Hebrew name Meshullam son of Zaccur is called both a “Jew of Elephantine” and an “Aramean of Syene”, depending on the occasion. There are also many instances of individuals with clearly Hebrew names simply referred to as “Arameans of Syene”. In general, the lines between Judahite, Israelite, and Aramean were blurred in this community, as were the distinctions between their respective religions. Did this mixing take place after the colonists were settled Elephantine-Syene, or was it present in the lands where they originally came from — Israel, Aram, and Judah?

Map of Egypt showing the location of Elephantine on the southern frontier

Bethel in the Elephantine Papyri

Document TAD A2.1, a commercial letter from one Nabushezib to several associates in Syene, including one with the Hebrew name Shabbethai, includes the temples of Bethel and Anat in his greeting.

Papyrus No. 22 is a list of donations made by each member of the Jewish garrison to “Yaho the god”. Some of the funds are divided between Yaho, Eshem-Bethel, and Anat-Bethel.

Papyrus TAD B7.2 (Cowley No. 7) is a legal declaration by a Jew named Malchiah son of Jashobiah, described as an “Aramean” who owns property in Elephantine. Answering an accusation of theft and assault, he swears an oath by the god Herem-Bethel that he is innocent.

Document TAD B7.3 (Cowley No. 44) is an oath text involved in a property dispute between two Jews, Menahem son of Shallum and Meshullam son of Nathan. Menahem swears by Herem-Bethel [text partially reconstructed] and Anat-Yaho that he is half-owner of a certain she-donkey.

Numerous theophoric names containing “Bethel” as an element also appear: Bethel-nathan (compare biblical Jonathan and Elnathan), Bethel-zabad, Bethel-shezib, Bethel-teden, Bethel-rai, Bethel-nuri, and others. “Eshem” and “Herem” are also theophoric elements found in the names of several inhabitants.

Additionally, Papyrus TAD A4.1 (the Passover Letter) is a letter from Hananiah, a Jewish official from either Jerusalem or Persia, to the Jewish garrison and its leader Jedanaiah, providing instructions on how to perform the Passover. Although it doesn’t mention Bethel, Hananiah greets the Jewish garrison in the name of the gods (plural), implying a common polytheistic background. Similarly, Papyrus TAD A4.4 (Cowley No. 56) is a letter written by one Jew to another regarding the imprisonment of Jewish leaders in Elephantine, possibly due to a dispute with the Egyptian priests of Khnum. Twice in the short letter, he invokes “the gods” in his greetings. This is not what we would expect from a monotheistic follower of Yahweh. It is quite apparent that these Jews and Israelites practiced a polytheistic religion.

Elephantine – Temple of Khnum. Aswan, Egypt; photo by Tore Kjeilen / Looklex

Bethel in Ancient Inscriptions

So where do this Bethel and the variants Herem-Bethel and Eshem-Bethel come from? Is “Bethel” derived from “El”, the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon? (After all, it literally means “House of El” in Hebrew.) Even so, a connection would not necessary mean they were the same deity. Remember that Yahweh, Baal, and others had local manifestations — Yahweh of Samaria, Yahweh of Teman, etc. — that were often treated as separate deities, even if the root name was the same.

The pre-Israelite texts from Ugarit, which are foundational for understanding Israelite religion and the gods El and Baal, make no reference to a Bethel. The earliest known reference to Bethel comes from a seventh-century treaty between Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, and Baal, king of Tyre. The treaty lists Bethel and Anat-Bethel among a list of oath-gods. The same pair are mentioned in the Succession Treaty of Esarhaddon. Bethel’s placement in the list suggests an Aramean connection. Around this time, Bethel also replaces El as a theophoric element in personal Aramean names. (Röllig 1999) Eshem-Bethel (Ashim-Bethel) is also mentioned in a Syrian inscription (van der Toorn 1992, p. 86).

The same god seems to have been known to the Greeks by way of the Phoenicians, under the name “Baetyl”. He was a son of Ouranos (‘Sky’) and Ge (‘Earth’), brothers of El/Kronos, Dagon, and Atlas according to the Phoenician theogony of Philo Byblius. There is also epigraphic evidence during the Hellenistic period for a “Zeus-Baitylos” and a “Symbetylos” (probably equivalent to the aforementioned Eshem-Bethel). (Ribichini 1999)

Our best evidence so far places Bethel’s origins in Syria (Aram) to the northeast of Samaria. Was it solely the Arameans who brought the cult of Bethel with them to Elephantine, where it was adopted by fellow Israelite colonists? Or can we show evidence that Bethel was also worshipped as a god in ancient Israel itself?

Bronze figure of Anat, 1200-1400 BCE, Syria

The God Bethel in the Bible

“Bethel” appears numerous times in the Bible of course, but it usually seems to refer to a city or location in Samaria (Israel) where an important temple or sanctuary to Yahweh was located. However, there is one passage in Jeremiah where Bethel is explicitly referred to as the god worshipped by Israel, in a parallel with Moab and its national god Chemosh:

And Moab shall be betrayed by Chemosh, as Israel was betrayed by Bethel in whom he trusted. (Jer. 48:13)

As van der Toorn observes, this prophecy about Moab, which places Israel’s fealty to the god Bethel in the past, would place the cult of Bethel in Israel to the 7th century BCE (or earlier), before the establishment of the Elephantine colony in Egypt. The reference in Jeremiah also suggests that Israel’s devotion to Bethel predated the Assyrian conquest of the late 8th century BCE, though it’s possible the author is wrong on this matter. More on that below.

The most famous biblical story that involves Bethel is probably that of Jacob, who arrives at a “certain place” while travelling toward Haran, and sleeps with his head on a sacred stone. The dream that results shows him that he has discovered the gate of heaven.

Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.  And he dreamed that there was a staircase set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the messengers of God were ascending and descending on it.  … Then Jacob woke from his sleep… And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God (bet-elohim), and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel. (Gen. 28:11-17)

Van der Toorn (1997) describes this story as a “cult legend of Bethel” to explain the origins of Samaria’s national temple and its town. The stone is a sacred pillar or altar, a massebah that represents the god itself. According to van der Toorn, then, the name of Bethel originally belonged to the pillar and the divine presence of the god inhabiting it, and was transferred to the town secondarily. In other words, Genesis 28 preserves a tradition that confirms ancient Samaria’s most famous site as a sanctuary to the god Bethel, even though that piety is refocused on Yahweh in the Jacob stories in their present form. We may also note that the use of sacred stones is explicitly forbidden by the Deuteronomistic writers in passages such as Deut. 16:22, and this altar itself may have been considered the “sin of Jeroboam” by those writers (Heckl 2013, p. 44). Within these diverse biblical contexts, we see that veneration of the god Bethel and his association with sacred stones were closely bound up in Israelite religion one point in time, and regarded as a grievous sin at a later time.

Psalm 20 and Papyrus Amherst 63

Another fascinating link between Israelite religion and Bethel comes from Papyrus Amherst 63, a document found in Egypt that dates to roughly the same period as the Elephantine papyri and was written by a community similar to that of Elephantine/Syene (Vleeming and Wesselius 1985). It contains several polytheistic Israelite hymns written in Aramaic using the Demotic script, including one that appears to be an early version of Psalm 20 (Kottsieper, pp. 217-244; van Der Toorn 2016, p. 668). This hymn is addressed to the god Eshem-Bethel, whom it also refers to as Yaho, Adonay, and Mar (meaning “Lord”).

As an interesting aside, being written with an Egyptian script, the hymn uses the “Horus sign” several times as an equivalent to the tetragrammaton (Steiner 2017, p. 42; Heckl, p. 363). Each time, it is preceded with a Demotic aleph to indicate that the symbol should be read as ’dny (Adonay).

Papyrus Amherst 63 XI.11-19

Psalm 20

May Adonay answer us in our troubles.

1a. May Yahweh answer you in time of trouble.

May Adonay answer us in our troubles.

1b. May the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

O Bow in Heaven, crescent moon, send your emissary from the temple of Rash;

2a. May he send you help from the Sanctuary,

And from Zaphon may Adonay sustain us.

2b. And from Zion may he sustain you.

May Adonay grant us our heart’s desire. May the Lord grant us our heart’s desire.

4a. May he grant you your heart’s desire,

May Adonay fulfill our every plan.

4b. And may he fulfill your every plan.

May Adonay fulfill—may Adonay not withhold in part—every request of our hearts.

5b. May Yahweh fulfill all your requests.

Some with the bow,
Some with the spear;

7a. Some in chariots, and some in horses;

But as for us, Mar is our god. Adonay, Yaho, our bull is with us. (Or: We are sighing to Mar. Our god Yaho will grant our people.)

7b. But we put our trust in the name of Yahweh our god.

May Lord Bethel answer us tomorrow.

9. O Yahweh, give victory to the king. Answer us when we call.

May Baal of Heaven, the Lord, pronounce blessings upon your faithful.

Earlier scholarship tended to assume that the papyrus must be a later version of Psalm 20, but for numerous reasons—including the lack of consistency regarding the speaking voice, the insertion of additional lines, fewer polytheistic elements, and possible allusions to late post-exilic texts—the prevailing view now favours Papyrus Amherst 63 as the older version (Heckl 367-368). The Israelite nature of the papyrus is explicitly confirmed by one passage in particular (Col. XVI.1-6):

I come from Judah, my brother has been brought from Samaria, and now someone is bringing up my sister from Jerusalem.

Further insight into the Israelite community that produced this early version of Psalm 20 comes from other hymns contained in the papyrus. One is a psalm addressed directly to Eshem-Bethel (one of several manifestations of Bethel), with “Yaho” as an alternate name for this warrior god, who is armed with a bow and a hammer.

Your force is the force of divine bulls, Yaho;
Eshem-Bethel, your force is the force of divine bulls.
Your venom is like that of the sea-serpents.
Your bow in heaven, You, Lord, you have drawn.
You strike, Eshem-Bethel, your enemies.
You see that your hammer is good

I am coming forth from Darga and Rash
In a fire you have not seen [before].
(Col. 16, lines 13-17; translation by van der Toorn, 2016, p. 671)

Another features Eshem-Bethel as well as the Mesopotamian god of writing and proclamations, Nabu. 

The burning one appears, Eshem-Bethel;
Nabu has proclaimed your kingship.
Stand up, young man, in …
I presented myself at your banquet, son of man.
You will establish peace everlasting!
At new moon [and …] Nabu will mention you;
He will put you in my mind
On earth and on high.
(Col. 16, lines 1-3; translation by van der Toorn, op. cit., p. 674)

Another hymn separates the marriage between the god Herem-Bethel and the Babylonian goddess Nanay. It is polyphonous, alternating speakers much like the biblical Song of Solomon. Nabu is normally the partner of Nanay in non-Israelite texts, but Herem-Bethel — a manifestation of Bethel — has usurped him as the supreme deity of the community that produced and used this papyrus (van der Toorn, op. cit. 677).

Further on, a blessing in the papyrus associates Bethel with the Syrian Had (Hadad) and Baal.

In his heavens, the Lord from Rash blesses;
Lord, a blessing before Bethel that is everlasting.
My sister, Lady (Marah), blessed are you, O cow, our lady.
Blessed are you, O Had, with a blessing worthy of El.
Blessed are you, Baal of Heaven.

A hymn about bringing offerings to the gods (Col. VII.7-19) names Bethel, who it calls the “lord of heaven”, along with Anat and Nabu.

In summary, we have an ancient Israelite compilation of texts — older than any surviving biblical manuscripts — that regards Bethel and his manifestations as the chief god in a polytheistic context that includes references to various Canaanite, Syrian, and Babylonian deities: Yaho (Yahweh), Baal, Hadad, El, Nabu, Nanay, and Anat.

Old Testament scholar Raik Heckl (University of Leipzig) believes that this represents a traditional form of religion practiced by the Israelites before the composers of the Bible tried to steer its readers toward the worship of Yahweh alone.

The religious system presupposed in the papyrus Amherst 63 XII existed for a long time. We find many, very late polemics against the worship of other gods in the Hebrew Bible. Moreover, in Zech 7:6 Beth El still seems to exist as a relevant religious place. It is also important to consider the account in 2 Kgs 23:14-16. There, we find the report that Josiah made the altar of Beth El unclean just after it is said to have been destroyed. In my opinion, this strange bundle of information shows that the authors of 2 Kgs 23 wanted to delegitimize the later usage of the altar in Beth El. That the authors or composers of the Book of Psalms received and used traditional texts indicates that this was a strategy of persuading the population of Judah and Samaria to worship Yahweh alone. (Heckl, p. 376.)

Ruins of the temple of Khnoum at Elephantine

Bethel’s Adoption by Israel

When did Israel and Judah become acquainted with Bethel? One possibility is that the Arameans introduced him to the Israelites in colonies such as Elephantine where the cultures intermixed. But as we have seen, Jeremiah regards Bethel as a god worshipped (in vain) by Israel before their conquest by Assyria.

According to 2 Kings 17:24, when the Assyrians conquered Syria, they settled some of the Arameans in Samaria, and it is possible that from them the Israelites might have adopted Bethel and other Syrian gods. 2 Kings goes on to say that the new arrivals feared Yahweh but continued to serve their own gods (17:33). Jeremiah’s assertion that Israel’s belief in Bethel led to its defeat would then be an anachronism. However, it is also possible that Arameans might have arrived in Israel earlier, as the Syrian kingdom of Hamath was allied with Israel in the 8th century BCE (van der Toorn 1992, p. 94). 

Throughout the Aramaic papyrus, the god Bethel is associated with a land called Rash (or Arash). This appears to have been a kingdom on the border of Babylon that was captured by the Neo-Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. Richard Steiner, an expert on the papyrus, believes there is strong evidence that the inhabitants of Rash were deported to Samaria, and settled specifically in the city that became known as Bethel (Steiner 1991, p. 363). This gives us yet another possible source of the introduction of the god Bethel in Samaria, and suggests possible connections with the naming of the city Bethel and its importance as a holy site in the Hebrew Bible.

Recent Old Testament scholarship has demonstrated that ancient Samaria had two competing origin traditions: a Yahweh-centric tradition of Egyptian origins, and a Jacob-centric tradition of Aramean origins. Is it possible that Jacob’s close association with the location Bethel in the Pentateuch is related to the deity Bethel’s Aramean origins and prominence in Samarian religion?

El sueño de Jacob by Jusepe de Ribera, 1639

El sueño de Jacob by Jusepe de Ribera, 1639

Putting the Picture Together

In another article, I looked at scholarship on the origins of Yahweh, particularly the evidence suggesting that he originated as a god of the Edomites and Kenites who was eventually brought north to Samaria, where El, Baal, and other Canaanite deities were previously worshipped. In this article, I’ve examined very briefly how the Aramean god Bethel also become an integral part of Samaria’s religious tapestry, even though the Bible has eliminated almost all memory of him. When people from Samaria and her sibling Judah migrated to Egypt some centuries later, they brought a richly synchronistic religious tradition that venerated Yahweh, Bethel, Baal, El and other gods as well as the goddess Anat (the Queen of Heaven). Eventually these deities would be merged into one single lord of heaven during Israel’s long, slow march toward monotheism.


The top illustration for this article is the painting Island of Elephantine (Egypt) by Edwin Howland Blashfield, painted ca. 1886-1891. It now belongs to the Brooklyn Museum.

Footnotes

  1.  • The colonists apparently had no knowledge of the Torah, which prohibited the cultic sacrifices and other forms of Yahweh worship outside of the temple in Jerusalem (or, in the case of the Samaritans, Mt. Gerizim). In fact, the Pentateuch may not have been written yet, and there are no references among the documents to the Law of Moses or to the patriarchs and events described in the Pentateuch.
    • The Egyptian locals also had a temple to Khnum on the island, right next to Yaho’s temple.

Bibliography

Bezalel Porten, “Settlement of the Jews at Elephantine and the Arameans at Syene”, Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period, 2003.

Wolfgang Röllig, “Bethel”, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, Second Edition, 1999.

Sergio Ribichini, “Baetyl”, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, Second Edition, 1999.

Karel van der Toorn, “Anat-Yahu, Some Other Deities, and the Jews of Elephantine”, Numen, Vol. 39, Fasc.1, 1992.

Karel van der Toorn, “Worshipping Stones: On the Deification of Cult Symbols”, Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 23/1, 1997.

Karel van der Toorn, “Eshem-Bethel and Herem-Bethel: New Evidence from Amherst Papyrus 63”,  ZAW, Vol. 128, No. 4, 2016.

S. P. Vleeming and J. W. Wesselius, Studies in Papyrus Amherst 63, 1985.

I. Kottsieper, “Anmerkungen zu Pap. Amherst 63”, ZAW 100, 1988.

Richard C. Steiner, “The Aramaic Text in Demotic Script”, JAOS Vol. 111, No. 2, 1991.

Richard C. Steiner, The Aramaic Text in Demotic Script: Text, Translation, and Notes, 2017.

Raik Heckl, “Remembering Jacob in the Late Persian/Early Hellenistic Era”, Remembering Biblical Figures in the Late Persian and Early Hellenistic Periods, 2013.

Raik Heckl, “Inside the Canon and Out: The Relationship Between Psalm 20 and 375 Papyrus Amherst 63”, Semitica 56, 2014.

 

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16 thoughts on “Bethel, the Forgotten God of Israel

  1. Two points, both probably familiar to you.

    1) The use of the plural form Elohim (the singular is rare) need not imply plural Gods. It can be an intensifier for a single God, taking a third person singular verb, as in Genesis 1:1. on the other hand, ha-elohim would mean *the* Gods. I think similar considerations would apply in Aramaic, but don’t really know. Which form do we see in the papyrus?

    2) Adonai has been the pronounced form of YHWH in Hebrew since Mishnaic times or earlier, YHWH being too holy and powerful to actually say out loud.

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    • Regarding #1, I don’t think Elohim is ever used for God in the papyri. (Remember also they’re written in Aramaic.) El appears a few times, and “Mar” (Lord) is the generic name most frequently used.

      Regarding #2, the papyrus is also significant in showing how early Adonay was used for Yahweh (as apparently some scholars already suspected).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can understand choosing one god out of many, its easier to keep track of just one. But did the Israelites have to pick the one who was such a dick?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Biblical scholar Karel van der Toorn, cited frequently in this post, wrote another article on this topic: https://pure.uva.nl/ws/files/20990634/2016_FS._Ziony_Zevit_Ps_20_vdToorn.pdf. In the article, van der Toorn elaborates on the principle of textus brevior anterior , i.e. that “brevity is a sign of antiquity in the history of a text,” which supports the belief that Amherst Papyrus 63 is the older text. He also tells us how Amherst Papyrus 63 got its name–from Lord Amherst of Hackney–who was interested in all things Egypt. Pretty interesting stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for linking that article. I’ve actually had some limited correspondence with Dr. van der Toorn, but he didn’t mention that article to me (or else I overlooked it). He has an entire book on Amherst Papyrus 63 coming out this year. I think it was supposed to be out in March, but it’s not available on Amazon yet.

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  4. Thanks for this article. I’m a complete amateur and I appreciate the way you popularize this research.

    In the footnotes you say: In fact, the Pentateuch may not have been written yet, and there are no references among the documents to the Law of Moses or to the patriarchs and events described in the Pentateuch.

    My question then is how did the author of the Passover Letter know how to instruct them on the Passover?

    Thanks again.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Paul. Like most religious festivals and institutions, Passover evolved over time. It originated as two originally unconnected feasts (Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread), and the story of its origins in Exodus is more of an etiology to explain where it came from after Israelites were already practicing it.

      To the Elephantine community, then, this was a relatively new festival instituted most likely by the Jerusalem temple that was being conveyed to the Elephantine temple. The version taught to them does not fully conform to the biblical version as we now have it. Furthermore, the Passover in the Torah itself is a late addition by the priestly writer, not present in the non-P (Yahwist) source, which is further evidence that it is a post-exilic Persian-era development.

      I highly recommend this university lecture by Old Testament scholar Thomas Römer:
      http://www.college-de-france.fr/site/en-thomas-romer/course-2014-04-10-14h00.htm

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  5. Usually articles that argue that before The Jews were monotheistic they were not monotheistic annoy me but I have to confess that yours is well-written and interesting. I think though that in the big picture it was The Jewish Bible that created the Judaism we know and not verse-vice (same for Christianity).

    Considering its size The Jewish Bible is really careful to not explicitly indicate that any other God had any real power. The closest it comes is Exodus 7. Does it indicate that what the Egyptian priests did were just tricks or does it indicate a source of another god who was just inferior to the Jewish One? What do you think?

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    • Hi, Joe, always happy to hear your thoughts. I agree with your big picture summary.

      I do think the Egyptian magicians are portrayed as having actual magical powers in Exodus 7. There is little reason aside from theological angst to read it otherwise. They are able to match some, but not all, of the wonders performed by Aaron/Moses, showing in the end that Yahweh was more powerful.

      There are other passages that imply other gods are real, such as Judges 11:24, or the remarkable battle story in II Kings 3 where a human sacrifice to Chemosh wins the battle. But I’m sure you know all about these.

      Like

  6. Thank you so much for this very good article. I would like to know who the author is.

    In my book on the Tel Dan Inscription, I argue that there is an extra letter on Fragment A, which is always left out of transcriptions unfortunately. When the extra letter is taken into account, it produces a reference to “El Baytel,” which I understand as a reference to El in the form of a “bethel stone”—that is, a massebah. I would argue, then, that when we have “Bethel” in other texts, as this article neatly surveys, it is referring to the physical representation of deities as aniconic stones.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr. Athas, thank you for the comment. That is great praise indeed, coming from you.

      I have skimmed your book on numerous occasions, since it’s the definitive work on the Tel Dan inscription. Unfortunately, I failed to notice or recall the part about El Baytel. I’ll take a look and consider updating the article.

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  7. matts2 wrote: “Did Elohim mean singular God to “them” or is that something later writers have said to explain away the plural?”

    Paul Braterman at least partially answered your question when he said, “The use of the plural form Elohim (the singular is rare) need not imply plural Gods. It can be an intensifier for a single God, taking a third person singular verb, as in Genesis 1:1. on the other hand, ha-elohim would mean *the* Gods.” I would add that there are biblical passages in which elohim is used of deities other than Yahweh, and is obviously intended as singular. E.g., a passage that Paul D. references in his reply to Joseph Wallack, Judges 11:24, which reads, “Should you not possess what your god (elohim) Chemosh gives you to possess…” (As an aside, Chemosh is the tutelary deity of the Moabites, not the Ammonites, the people whom Jephthah is addressing.) There are cases in which the choice of God/gods is at the translators’ discretion. E.g., Genesis 6:2 in many English translations reads “sons of God” (beni ha-elohim). However, the International Standard Version reads “divine beings,” while the Revised English Bible, which can be viewed at http://download.sabda.org/mobile/pdf/REB.pdf, says “the sons of the gods.” So to answer your question, elohim as a singular noun is not something that was made up.

    Liked by 1 person

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