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I checked some bible translation here:

http://www.biblestudytools.com/deuteronomy/32-8-compare.html

Almost every translation translates Elyon as the Most High. The Hebrew Names Version1 translation writes:

When Ha`Elyon gave to the nations their inheritance, When he separated the children of men, He set the bounds of the peoples According to the number of the children of Yisra'el.

The problem is the article "ha" which means the, doesn't seem to be on the original text at all.

Some articles wrote that Elyon is a name. In other words, it's not supposed to be preceded by Ha.

Yet most biblical translations translate that as either the Most high or transliterate that as Ha Elyon.

What am I missing? What's the truth?

The reason why this question is important is because there is a theory that Elyon may be a name rather than a title. It may be a name of a different God than say Yahweh. By inserting article the, the translator already decide that Elyon is a title, instead of a name. Determining that Elyon is a title or epithet instead of a name seems like theological filtering instead of translation. When I see translation I expect translating and that's it.

http://bewaredeception.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=86:yahweh-was-one-of-the-sons-of-el-elyon&catid=1:articles&Itemid=3

The title Elyon whenever used of the Super Being it is never preceded with a “definite article.” According to the grammar of the Hebrew language names are never preceded with a definite article while the titles are. This is what The Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 7, on p. 680 has to say concerning ‘Elyon:’

“The Hebrew word ‘elyon’ is an adjective meaning “higher, upper,” e.g., the “upper” pool [Isa. 7:3], the “upper” gate [2 Kings 15:35], and “highest” e.g. the “highest” of all the kings of the earth [Ps. 89:28]. When used in reference to God, the word can rightly be translated as “Most High.” Since in reference to God ‘elyon’ IS NEVER PRECEDED BY THE ARTICLE ‘HA’ [“THE”], IT MUST HAVE BEEN REGARDED AS A PROPER NOUN, A NAME OF GOD.


NOTES
1. The Hebrew Names Version is derived from the World English Bible by writing proper names in their Hebrew form. See more in http://ebible.org/.

  • (A.) ScottS points out: "one must bring a presupposition of polytheism to impose on the text, rather than letting the [Text] speak for itself, to conclude the name refers to another being besides YHWH." (B.) This insight points to the Fallacy, "Begging the Question". (C.) Specifically, "a Presuppositional Theory" exists which creates ambiguity in this passage. So, this ambiguity calls for the Presuppositional Theory to reso;ve it." (D.) Since the context clearly removes ambiguity from this passage, (as in Psalms 82), there is no need to inject the presuppositional theory. – elika kohen May 27 '15 at 20:36
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Of the several dozen English translations offered at the Bible Study Tools link, the three that include the Hebrew word Elyon are all publications of Messianic Judaism. They are not English translations of the Hebrew text but paraphrases of English versions with some words translated back into Hebrew (or Yiddish). The two translators who added the ‘ha’ article before Elyon apparently didn’t notice the Hebrew text of this verse does not have the article, though their English sources did.

So a correct English translation of Deut.32:8, in which Elyon is standing alone (not preceded by El or an article), depends on whether one is treating the word as a proper name or an epithet (title):

  • If a name, it should be rendered ‘Elyon’ (no article).
  • If an epithet, it should be rendered ‘the Most High’ (adding an article, by English convention).

Tradition, clearly, considers Elyon an epithet of Yahweh, God ‘the Most High’. But scholars continue to debate: Is Elyon the name of an independent Canaanite god (following Wellhausen), or is it an epithet? And if an epithet, to which god does it refer? The text, as in this case, is not always clear.

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  • I agree the text isn't clear – user4951 May 24 '15 at 14:09
  • @schuh Your last comment, in your answer, seems to have led the OP to believe that there are places in Scripture where Elyon could be seen as a proper name, because it is "unclear". Are arguing there are ambiguous uses of Elyon which are not clarified by the text? Where? The idea that Elyon is a "proper name" for God is very antithetical to the prohibition of writing or stating the name of God--which implies any, and all "names" for God are actually titles/epithets with the exception of the Tetragrammaton, which is likely not "THE" name either, but rather code. Please clarify. – elika kohen May 27 '15 at 7:30
  • That means we do not know whether Elyon is a name or a title. Nothing in the text shows either. One thing for sure is that the definitive article is not in the original text – user4951 May 27 '15 at 8:30
  • Thanks, @e.s.kohen. The question was only about 'the', but on the wider question, I don’t think Elyon was ever a name for YHWH, but maybe for another god. Over time Yahwism appropriated many names and titles from other religions; e.g. El, Elohim, Elyon, Shaddai. It’s not always clear – and thus an issue of scholarly debate – where a text figures in that process; Gen.14 and Deut.34 are classic examples. Many Bible publishers dislike ambiguity and provide only the traditional interpretation, frustrating translation purists (like the OP). Better translations provide variant readings. – Schuh May 27 '15 at 19:04
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    @e.s.kohn, my answer is limited to the OP’s question about the translation of Elyon. I’m trying not to engage the wider question, not asked by the OP, about to whom Elyon refers. A summary of the scholarly debate about that question (outside the bounds of discussion here) can be read in the entry for Elyon in Toorn, Becking, and van der Horst’s ‘Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible’ (tinyurl.com/p28y28g). – Schuh May 28 '15 at 1:04
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Relevant Basics About Translation

  1. All translation involves interpretation: The source word will potentially have a number of meanings associated to it, some meanings may be similar but nuanced (small vs. miniature), others may be completely different (the bark of a dog vs. the bark of a tree). This is an interpretive step, which then must have a word matched to the target language, with some interpretation as to which of potentially a great many words best fits the context of the original source word. Additionally, other word choice factors can come into play:

    • In some cases a transliteration may be deemed best, if the word meaning is in doubt.
    • Variants in different copies (or notes in the document of) the source reading create additional options of what may be best to reflect in the translation.
    • A phrase in the source may have an idiomatic meaning that loses the real meaning if translated literally, so completely different words may be used in the target language to convey the idea; or conversely, an idiom in the target language may express the idea best, and what was more literal in the source may be deemed best reflected idiomatically in the target language.
  2. Language syntax conventions: Translation of texts involves working with language syntax conventions of not just the source language, but also the target language. A translator must make a decision about which language convention to follow for structuring the sentence when the two languages do not have similarity in how things are represented. These decisions can include omitting non-translatable words from the original, or adding words to the target language to express the idea correctly in that language.

  3. Context matters: For both (1) and (2), the immediate context of the statement itself, as well as the body of work it may appear in, also informs translators about what the best choice of wording is. And yes, even theology can come into play with making a proper translation in the Bible, as theology is part of the context of the Bible.

In all cases, however, the translation involves many levels of decision making. There is no magic formula, and differing philosophies will make differing decisions. So a statement such as "When I see translation I expect translating and that's it" evidences a serious ignorance of what "translating" involves.

Answering the translation of Elyon

Grammatical Possibilities

To begin with, let's reexamine the quote you included from a blog, not the most academic of sources, but at least the blog itself cites some sources, which is a good thing. Some relevant comments follow the quote:

The title Elyon whenever used of the Super Being it is never preceded with a “definite article.” According to the grammar of the Hebrew language names are never preceded with a definite article while the titles are. This is what The Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 7, on p. 680 has to say concerning ‘Elyon:’

“The Hebrew word ‘elyon’ is an adjective meaning “higher, upper,” e.g., the “upper” pool [Isa. 7:3], the “upper” gate [2 Kings 15:35], and “highest” e.g. the “highest” of all the kings of the earth [Ps. 89:28]. When used in reference to God, the word can rightly be translated as “Most High.” Since in reference to God ‘elyon’ IS NEVER PRECEDED BY THE ARTICLE ‘HA’ [“THE”], IT MUST HAVE BEEN REGARDED AS A PROPER NOUN, A NAME OF GOD.

  1. It is true that names are not preceded by articles (Gesenius, 125d).
  2. It is also true that adjectives are not necessarily preceded by articles, in particular "the article is sometimes omitted also with the attributes referring to proper names" (Gesenius, 126y). This means the final conclusion above, "IT MUST HAVE BEEN REGARDED AS A PROPER NOUN," is a false conclusion based on the evidence, though not necessarily inaccurate (that is, it may still be a proper noun, just not because of that fact alone of not having an article).
  3. Note that the term elyon itself is readily acknowledged as an adjective (as in the quote you gave). This means, by conventional default, the term is used to describe something. This fact favors the word being understood as a title (as titles describe), not a name. However, names can be derived from adjectives, so a name cannot be wholly discounted by this alone. It is just that being an adjective, a title is more likely the correct understanding.

Background Use

The very first use of the elyon in Scripture, uses the term in relation to God. This is in Gen 14:18-22, where it occurs four times. In the first three uses (v.18, 19, 20), it is coupled with el (אל אליון). Since it lacks the article, elyon could be understood variously:

  1. If el is taken generically, then elyon may be a name, in apposition to el, thereby denoting what god is being spoken about. So generically, "a god, Elyon" or "a god, Highest."
  2. If el is taken generically, then elyon may be an adjective describing a particular god, "highest god" or "god most high." But the concept of "highest" is determinate, that is, there is only one; so English would translate it "[the] highest god" or "[the] most high god" because English convention is to use the article for a determinate reference.
  3. If el is taken nominally (and thus itself definitely), "God," then elyon may be a name also in apposition to el, equating the two names "God, Elyon" or "God, Highest."
  4. If el is taken nominally, then elyon may be an adjective describing the nature of "God" as supreme, so "God [the] Highest," or "God [the] Most High," "the Most High God."

However, the passage does not leave the reader with the ambiguity of these four options. This is because the fourth use directly associates el elyon with YHWH in v. 22 (יהוה אל אליון). YHWH is a proper noun, and so whatever way one wants to read the el elyon, the phrasing is in apposition to YHWH, and thus definite. So whether:

  1. YHWH, the God Elyon (i.e. Elyon, or Highest, is another name for YHWH); this would work out the same for option (3) above.
  2. YHWH, the highest God or the most high God (i.e. describes YHWH); this would work out the same for option (4) above.

In all cases, the epithet elyon (whether name or title) is equated to YHWH, and the meaning of the term as "highest" makes it a unique association (there can be only One Who is Highest), and so the appellation is definite.

Deut 32:8 Use

From the background information, the reader has the definite Being YHWH associated directly as the God who is named or describe as Most High. Couple this with the further evident fact that YHWH is the subject being discussed in Deut 32:6 and 9, then the lone elyon reference in v.8 can only contextually refer to YHWH.

The reader is left with no doubt YHWH = Elyon, as in they refer to the same Being.

In the end, whether elyon is a name or a title does not really matter, for inherent in the meaning of elyon itself is the definite descriptive and superlative concept of "highest" contained in the adjectival nature of the word. Such a definite concept in English convention normally takes an article to convey, so adding the article in translation is perfectly acceptable.

Additionally, in English, names at times receive an article before them:

The definite article is sometimes also used with proper names, which are already specified by definition (there is just one of them). For example: the Amazon, the Hebrides. In these cases, the definite article may be considered superfluous. Its presence can be accounted for by the assumption that they are shorthand for a longer phrase in which the name is a specifier, i.e. the Amazon River, the Hebrides Islands (Wikipedia).

One can see this English convention coming into play in Deut 32:8 as well, and may be another, differing reason why the article is added. By choosing to add the article to the translated meaning of elyon, it is a way of reflecting the idea elsewhere in the Scripture that associates elyon to God (and the individual YHWH), so just as the Amazon may be a shorthand for the elided idea of the Amazon River, English choosing *the Most High" as a translation may be shorthand for "the Most High God."

Whether seen as name or as descriptive title, the main question of "why" it sometimes gets translated with the article as "the Most High" is answered by the fact that this addition, for purposes of the target language, is acceptable, and so this is "why" it occurs.

The name/title is unique, and associated to YHWH. If choosing...

  1. to transliterate it as a name is okay, but then it loses the descriptive point of the name, "highest," for the English reader (IMO not good).
  2. to translate it as a name without the article is fine, "Highest" or "Most High," but the superlative (and therefore definite) and descriptive meaning of the term sounds odd in English without the article (IMO not ideal) and leaves one jarred wondering "Highest what?" since an adjectival concept, even used as a name, tends to want the article (e.g. "The Hulk" more often than simply "Hulk").
  3. to translate it as a name or title with the article is best (IMO), because the addition, whether viewed as title or name, fits the target language better for conveying the definite concept contained in the Hebrew word and usage.

In all the choices above, one must bring a presupposition of polytheism to impose on the text, rather than letting the Bible speak for itself, to conclude the name refers to another being besides YHWH.

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  • ScottS, are you suggesting Elyon in Deut.32:8 should be rendered YHWH? Isn't this an even worse example of interpreting rather than translating? No English translations I've seen render it this way. – Schuh May 27 '15 at 1:29
  • BTW, basing your interpretation on Gen.14:22 is problematic since it’s pretty clear YHWH was a late edit to that verse. It’s in the MT but not the LXX, Samaritan, or Symmachus texts. Even logically, did Abram really swear by “God YHWH, God Elyon” some 800 years before the revelation of the Name to Moses? – Schuh May 27 '15 at 1:50
  • @Schuh: (1) No, I am not saying Elyon should be rendered as YHWH, but that the text supports that the referent of both is to the same Being. (2) There is nothing logically contradictory to Abram swearing "to YHWH, the God most high," for God had the name YHWH prior to revealing it to Moses (Gen 12:8 testifies to Abram calling on YHWH, even in the LXX). (3) I do not take YHWH as being a late edit to the verse and consider the Hebrew text the locus of preservation over any translation of that text. – ScottS May 27 '15 at 3:06
  • OK, so in your view Elyon in Deut.32:8 should be translated as ... ? – Schuh May 27 '15 at 3:22
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    @JimThio: Recall I noted "variants in different copies" affects translation. One must choose the variant deemed best before translating, and one's selection of that will affect other translations of the term. So for those like me who take the Hebrew text as more authoritative than translations, that will inform my decisions; while those choosing to take a translation over the original language form may make different conclusions/translations. I think, however, that I have adequately answered "why" the article "the" is often added in Deut 32:8. Whether you agree that it should is your opinion. – ScottS May 27 '15 at 13:23
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Question Restatement: When translating Deut. 32:38 from Hebrew to English, why is the definite article, "The", injected before "[The] Most High", when the definite article, "The/ה", is not present in the original text?

NOTE: The Original Question exemplifies the Fallacy, "Begging the Question", and is very difficult to reasonably frame a response: Specifically, "a Presuppositional Theory" exists which creates ambiguity in this passage. So, this ambiguity in this passage calls for that same Presuppositional Theory to resolve it." ... this is "Begging the Question."

Resolution: The "false dilemma" is quickly resolved, (whether the God of Abraham is being referenced, or some theorized third pagan god), because there is evidently no ambiguity in this text, and the passage is "paralleled" in a completely different book, to indicate the God of Abraham.

Answer:

  1. Deut 32:38-39 is certainly a parallel of Numbers 26:52-56, and even clarifies itself, (in Deut. 32:39), clearly showing that "Elyon" in the previous verse, is associated with the "Name", the God of Abraham.
  2. In this context, "אל עליון" is a Title, and not the Name of God, and as a Title, under English grammar, the definite article, "The" should be injected--even if not present in the original manuscript;
  3. Psalms 82:6 is very clear that "Elyon" is a tile, ("עליון", at verse 6, with no definite article). but rather an epithet/Title, distinguishing God (אל, El, God/Mighty), with a qualifier, (עליון, Highest) from the others, (אלהים, Elohim, gods, mighty ones).
  4. There simply nothing in the text that leads to ambiguity, or any basis to infer that "Elyon" referred to any other "god";

Deuteronomy 32 is Certainly Parallel to Numbers 26

NOTE: The Hebrew "נחל" is the word for inheritance, or "to will to someone, as an inheritance".

Deut. 32:8, WLC - בהנחל עליון גוים בהפרידו בני אדם יצב 8גבלת עמים למספר בני ישראל׃

Deut 32:8, NASB - “When the Most High [עֶלְיוֹן֙] gave [בְּהַנְחֵ֤ל] the nations1 their inheritance [בְּנַחֲלָ֖ה], When He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the sons of Israel.

Deut. 32:9, WLC: כי חלק יהוה עמו יעקב חבל נחלתו׃

Deut. 32:9, NASB - “For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment [חֶ֥בֶל] of His inheritance [נַחֲלָתֽוֹ].

Num. 26:52-56, NASB: Then the Lord [יְהוָ֖ה] spoke to Moses, saying, 53 “Among these the land shall be divided [תֵּחָלֵ֥ק] for an inheritance according to the number of names. 54 To the larger group you shall increase their inheritance [נַחֲלָת֔וֹ], and to the smaller group you shall diminish their inheritance [נַחֲלָת֔וֹ]; each shall be given their inheritance according to those who were numbered of them. 55 But the land shall be divided [יֵחָלֵ֖ק] by lot. They shall receive their inheritance according to the names of the tribes of their fathers. 56 According to the selection by lot, their inheritance shall be divided between the larger and the smaller groups.”


English Grammar Note:

In English Grammar, when translating into English we make distinctions between cases of "Peoples Names" and "Titles". In cases of Peoples Names, we often omit the preceding definite article, (if one exists), but in cases of "Titles", we often inject the definite article into the translation, (even if one does not exist in the original text).

It is common to inject the definite article into a Hebrew passage, when translating Titles--because a supreme title is itself a "definite concept".

Gen. 14:18 - לאל עליון, (to the "Most High")

Gen. 14:22 - "אל־מלך סדם, (to the King of Sodom)

Ex. 3:18 - "אל־מלך מצרים", (to the King of Egypt)


Greek Note:

Similar issues exist when translating from Greek into English we translate out the "definite" article, when referring to People's Names. But in Greek texts, the definite articles are present for Titles too, "Τῷ δὲ Βασιλεῖ τῶν αἰώνων," (1 Tim 1:17, to the King Eternal).

Footnotes:

1: A multitude of foreigners, (עֵ֥רֶב) left Egypt with Israel, Ex. 12:38]

Disclaimer: This answer cannot fully address the rhetoric from the organization that the Original Poster identified, which is spreading this idea, but this answer is only intended to reasonably, and firmly, establish that this context is not at all ambiguous, and is indeed talking about the God of Abraham, and not some theorized pagan god that seems to have existed only to cause ambiguity in Biblical texts.

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  • Here, you presume that Elyon is a title of Yahweh instead of a name of another God. That is what I want to know. – user4951 May 24 '15 at 14:08
  • @Jim, (A.) it is not a presumption. There simply is NO indication in any Biblical text, that "Elyon" refers to some other "Divine"; (B.) If the name, or title, of The Most High is given to a hand carved household god, do we have to change the name of the Most High? Can we? Are we forbidden to call God, "The Highest", or "Lover of my Soul", if someone uses those titles for another god? (C.) Ultimately, this entire challenge to the validity of the Title, "The Most High" is refuted as the entire argument descends into absurdity--like this illustration shows. – elika kohen May 27 '15 at 7:41
  • There is no indication in that particular text of a definitive article. Yet, the translation contains definitive article. Hence, it's not a faithful translation. Also presuming that the writer of torah is monotheist and shoe horn translations to fit that translations is not very natural – user4951 May 27 '15 at 8:29
  • If the text says the president did lie, it should be translated to the president lied, at most. It shouldn't be translated to Obama lied. – user4951 May 27 '15 at 11:13
  • the Most high may refer to yahweh. It may not be. That is the job of interpretors or readers, not translators. Got it? – user4951 May 27 '15 at 12:42

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