What’s in a name?

Hidden in plain sight from the reader of the English translations of the Bible are several linguistic nuances that range from how the shaping of the letters are to the number of letters in a parshat to the different names used for the Almighty. You don’t even have to go very far – in the book of Genesis the following names are used – Elohim, YHVH, YHVH Elohim, El Shaddai, and Yah. Some attribute this to multiple authors whose works were compiled and redacted numerous times before the canon was sealed and others believe that the various names are in relation to the different attributes of God. The 2 most commonly used names in Jewish Scripture (aka Old Testament) are Elohim and YHVH. These names have different meanings and I will focus on these 2 names for now.

Elohim
Elohim is typically rendered in English as “God”. So Genesis 1:1 when properly rendered would read: In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth.
Elohim is the name that is used to describe the unknowable and almighty Creator. Elohim is not an anthropomorphic (or human like) being. Elohim a spirit which utters and wills things into existence and the interaction with man is always through a mediator – typically an angel. When used as elohim (not capitalized) it refers to gods in the plural. Keep in mind up until the second temple Jews believed that other nations had other gods and that they were to be obedient and follow their own deity. It wasn’t until the second temple when Ezra and the returning Jews changed their belief to a monotheistic one and that there was only one Almighty God and that all others were false deities and didn’t exist.

YHVH
This is the Ineffable Name and is known as the Tetragrammaton. It has typically been rendered as Yahweh and Jehovah, both of which are incorrect. The name is unspeakable and as such the English rendering you are used to seeing is “The Lord”. At times both Elohim and YHVH are used together and that combination is rendered as “The Lord God”. The first instance of this combination occurs during what many believe to be the second creation account which is found in Genesis 2:4: This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When YHVH Elohim (or the Lord God) made the earth and the heavens When the name YHVH (or the combination) is used we see a more intimate God. One who walks with man and can even be questioned, rebuked, and even wrestled with by man. While the Christian rendering for YHVH is “The Lord”, this is not a common practice within Jewish Scholarship. When reading from the Torah or when praying, YHVH is spoken as “Adonai”.  In discussions and study the name “HaShem” is also used, which another way of saying “the Name”.

Now lets tackle another position. What if Elohim, Adonai, and YHVH aren’t really supposed to be nouns. What if they are really verbs. Consider the fact that YHVH is a variation of the speakable “h-v-h” which is a verb meaning “to be”. Now consider that in Exodus 3:14 that we read: Elohim said to Moses “Eyeh Asher Eyeh..” What does Eyeh Asher Eyeh mean? Here we have seen 2 common mistranslations: one is “I am that I am” and the other is “I am who I am”.  Neither are technically right because it is more properly rendered: “I shall be what I shall be” or “I will be what I will be” and another rendering “I will become what I will become” may be as close to a proper English translation as we can get. This may seem subtle on the surface, but when you really think about it, it completely changes the concept of what the Almighty is. If our Creator is not a noun, then we shift from a Creator to a Creative process. A process that continues and does not remain stagnant. One that evolves so that it does not become obsolete.

In the Jewish (and some Christian) mystical schools of thought a person is thought to be a vessel. Each with the ability to receive as much or as little of the Divine Presence as they are willing to accept. This is the “breath of life” that was breathed into us from the very beginning. Now think about that too. The receiving of the breath started the process of breathing which started the process of life. So when one goes through life, each breath they take is the opportunity to receive more life and with it more of that which made life possible. Just as breathing is an action and receiving is an action, perhaps the old man in the skies is really the winds and the rain, the compassion and the love or to those who prefer to do without, just another breath.

The Blood, The Word, and the Reason

There are 2 passages of scripture that almost everyone has heard at one point in their life regardless of whether they are religious or not:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

and

For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish…” John 3:16

The first passage is clear. All things come from God. No other being. The ultimate sovereign of the universe is God and only God. And as Deuteronomy 6:4 states: “Hear O Israel the Lord our God is One”. There is only one God and there is not a multiplicity of this God nor is there any other being – good or evil – equal to God.

So why would the second passage be necessary? Why would the Creator of all things and Master of the Universe have to sacrifice his “son” for anything? I personally have a hard time with the concept that God would have to do anything to forgive me outside of let say… Forgiving me.

This is where context and an allegorical exegesis of scripture is needed. The kind of things mainstream preachers would denounce as heresy. Frankly, I’d rather interpret scripture for myself than let someone who’s paid to do it do it for me. Jewish tradition has always held to individual commentary of scripture because only the Decalogue (10 commandments) is “etched in stone”. The Talmud, Mishnah, and Zohar are examples of that continuous search for hidden meaning. Jesus himself used parables to provide his interpretation of the Torah and the Psalms and the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are perhaps the best interpretation of Torah ever uttered.

We are in the midst of Passover, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday. I personally believe that there is a deeper allegorical meaning in all of these mythological events. However to keep this blog post under a thousand words, I am going to focus on the Passion of Jesus from a non-dogmatic and allegorical perspective.

The primary verse in all of Christian scripture is John 3:16. It is this verse that billions of Christians base their faith and belief in Jesus. What if there is an entirely different meaning than the one developed by the early church fathers? A tradition that was formed then that has snow-balled into a religion that worships Jesus instead of following him. Let’s take a look at another series of passages:

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” – John 1:1

“and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” – John 1:14

Now I am going to paste all of these passages together:
In the beginning the One and only God created the heavens and the earth. From God’s word all things were created and through God’s word all men can be one with Him for eternity. Man was created in the image of God and wanted to be God, so man rejected the Word. Man became a mortal being and God had compassion on him. Many times God had compassion on man and many times man rejected his Word. So God made the Word into flesh so that man could know God face to face and have a living example of the Word. Once again man rejected the Word and rejected the Word by shedding blood. Man can reject God’s Word but, that will never destroy it. So therefore God so loved the world that he gave us his Word and whoever believes in God and follows his Word will be one with God for all eternity.

I know what you are thinking. I used a lot more passages than I said I was going to do. To be completely honest every single word I just wrote came from somewhere in the Bible. (all are easy to find)

But wait, there’s more. I am obviously not going to leave you hanging without talking about the actual death of Jesus. The death of Jesus was a tragedy. The greatest of all Rabbis who wanted nothing more than to teach everyone the sum total of the Word:

“Love your neighbor as yourself”. The lesson was so important that Jesus even gave us an example of the most profound act of love a person can show anyone “that a man lay down his life for his friends”.

In a world so technologically advanced it is difficult for many people to believe the miracles attributed to Biblical characters. It is also very difficult to accept that some of the very violent forms of punishment in the Bible can be attributed to a merciful and loving God. Whether the characters in the Bible actually lived or whether the events recorded actually happened is irrelevant. What is so ever critical to remember is that it doesn’t really matter what the Bible says – it is the underlying meaning that matters the most.

The Bible is unique in that it can be interpreted in so many ways – good and bad. I personally believe that to truly understand it you need to keep reading it.