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The word Elohim that is translated as "gods" in Genesis 35:2 and Exodus 18:11 does not seem to substantiate that these gods as having plurality of persons within themselves. Does the meaning of Elohim change when it refers to the true God?

When God made Moses a god (Elohim) to Pharaoh, Exodus 7:1, was Moses perceived as having a plurality of person within himself?

Was the pagan god Dagon (Elohim) in 1 Samuel 5:7 perceived as having a plurality person within himself?

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    'Plurality of person'. 'Deity' is non specific, as is the term 'humanity', in relation to singularity/plurality. The terms relate to nature not person. Thus, they can be considered as singular or plural and can, overall, be seen as 'composite'. If the word elohim is used of visible objects (idols) which are evidently in the plural, that is not a matter of person as there are no persons involved, just bits of wood or metal. Your question is not clear and needs some more detail and some more focus, in my opinion. – Nigel J Apr 15 '20 at 7:33
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    If there is an underlying question here about the word elohim (or rather its Chaldee/Aramaic dialectic equivalent) as used by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:25 then I suggest the translation 'son of Deity' expresses the composite form and avoids arguments about the king imagining a son of Babylonian gods to be accompanying three Israelites in a furnace, rather than a Son of their own God. – Nigel J Apr 15 '20 at 8:21
  • does the questioner mean plural gods such as Russian nesting dolls? (I apologize that Nigel J apparently has the power and taken it upon himself to delete my Answer) – Walter S Apr 15 '20 at 10:40
  • This very good question needs for me to have a little more understanding as to what you consider a "person" to be. Perhaps, depending upon your intent, I would like to answer this question. – Bill Porter Apr 15 '20 at 16:14
  • @WalterSmetana I did not delete your answer. I flagged your question for moderation and, pending Moderator intervention, I edited out what appeared to me to be mockery. The Moderator has now deleted your answer, I notice. – Nigel J Apr 15 '20 at 21:04
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When used of idols, which are physical objects, the word elohim is clearly a plural. But in this context it is being used as a physical plural as there are no persons involved.

Thus the 'plurality' is nothing to do with person in these two passages.

It is a physical plural.

Therefore these two passages cannot be used to demonstrate anything about Deity, as such, nor can they be used to come to any conclusion about Person, within Deity.

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    Whether the word Elohim refers to a man or God shows clearly that the word itself does not have any plurality of persons. If it did, can it be translated as “god” when it refers to a pagan god, or as “judge” when it refers to a human judge.The bible does not justify the opinion that the Hebrew word Elohim contains the idea of a compound nature. – user35499 Apr 15 '20 at 8:29
  • In the beginning, in the first usage of elohim is the mention of 'the Spirit of God moving (fluttering/hovering)' and Elohim speaks 'Let light be' and light was. An agency is suggested, other than the speaker, in creation. Which is exactly what we see in John 1. 'Without him was not anything made that was made'. 'Elohim' is a plural or a composite, as opposed to 'El'. No, not a "compound nature" (as you call it) : that would be multiple gods. But scope for further revelation. And that further revelation is in the New testament. (though it was always there, to be seen, by faith, previously). – Nigel J Apr 15 '20 at 9:39
  • Is there biblical proof that the Hebrews believed or used the word Elohim to impart the idea of the plurality of God? – user35499 Apr 16 '20 at 3:28
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    @AlexBalilo I think you need to ask the question why the word Elohim is used at all. Why not use El ? – Nigel J Apr 16 '20 at 7:19
  • I think that my questions are not answered directly. The answers seem to deviate from the question. – user35499 Apr 16 '20 at 7:53
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Genesis 35:2

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Rid yourself of the alien gods in your midst, purify yourself, and change your clothes. (Genesis 35:2 NJPS)

Jacob's instructions which are directed to everyone, would apply to Rachel, who had stolen her father's household idols which her father called gods:

While Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole the household idols (הַתְּרָפִ֖ים) that belonged to her father. (Genesis 31:19 NET)
And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father's house, but why did you steal my gods (אֱלֹהָֽי)?” (Genesis 31:30)

It is clear Rachel stole Laban's physical idols (teraphiym - תְּרָפִים) which Laban called gods ('elohiym - אֱלֹהִים). The exact nature of the idols and Laban's gods are not described, but it is clear they were plural and likely represented different gods. Jacob's instruction continues to refer to the idols as gods and so the objects, hence gods were plural and a reflection of polytheism. In this case "gods" refers to individual (and so different) idols meant to represent individual (and so different) gods. The term 'elohiym used in Genesis 35:2 then certainly means different gods with different attributes and/or powers.

The notion of a "plurality of persons within themselves" (in contrast with a simple plural) would depend on the specific beliefs associated with a particular god. It is speculation, but the fact the same god or goddess could be depicted with a different idol, does suggest a plurality of identities, at least in the mind of idol maker or worshiper. In other words, if the same god or goddess could be represented by a different idol, it is not unreasonable to assume a different idol was a representation of a different "personage" of the deity.

Extra biblical material say Abram's father was a idol maker. So imagine shopping for an idol and choosing from different appearances of the same god or goddess. Likewise the use of idols or objects in worship could indicate a plurality of personages of the same deity. For example, the worship of Asherah was done both with idols and with groves, presumably appealing to a different aspect of the same deity. Finally polytheism is highly syncretic and the same deity takes on or is given a different personage by a different group. This is obvious across different cultures and as such possible within the same group. For example, as different people were traveling with Jacob and apparently others beside Rachel had their gods, different idols for the same god would be an indication of a plurality of belief about the god within the same group.

Exodus 18:11

Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, yes, by the result of their very schemes against [the people]" (Exodus 18:11 NJPS)

This statement is made by Jethro, a Midian priest. About the use Jeffrey H. Tigay says:

Now I know: In a further fulfillment of the LORD's aim that all come to know His name and acknowledge Him (see 5.1-6.1n; 62.n; 14.4; 15.3), Jethro recognizes His superiority, though he does not renounce other gods (contrast Naaman in 2 Kings 5.15, 17). The Torah does not expect Gentiles to become monotheists (see Deut. 4.19), only to recognize the LORD's superiority and authority when He asserts it, as in the case of Egypt. The ideal of universal monotheism first appears in the classical prophets (Jer. 16.19-20; Zech. 14.9) Neither the prophets nor Jewish tradition call for conversion to Judaism of Gentiles, though latter Jewish tradition - characteristically reading the Bible through the prism of the prophets - believed that Jethro did abandon idolatry (Exod. Rab. 1.32) and, going even further, became a Jew (Tg. Ps-J. Exod. 18.6, 27; Tanh. Buber Yitro, 5)1

First, it is worth noting that at this time in history, Judaic monotheism was not what it was later, say in the Second Temple period. Second, there is a contrast with Genesis, as the gods are gods. There may have been idols associated with them, but there is never mention as such. So the Egyptian magicians were able to duplicate the first two signs by magic (presumably by their gods) and the LORD executes judgement on all of the gods (אֱלֹהֵ֥י) of Egypt (Exodus 12:12). In other words, from Jethro's and the Egyptian's perspective, and likely Moses as well, the gods are real entities described using the word 'elohiym. As with Laban's gods, there are no Biblical details given other than they are called gods.

With regard to a plurality of personages, the Egyptian God Hathor offers some insight:

Hathor (Ancient Egyptian: ḥwt-ḥr "House of Horus", Greek: Ἁθώρ Hathōr) was a major goddess in ancient Egyptian religion who played a wide variety of roles. As a sky deity, she was the mother or consort of the sky god Horus and the sun god Ra, both of whom were connected with kingship, and thus she was the symbolic mother of their earthly representatives, the pharaohs. She was one of several goddesses who acted as the Eye of Ra, Ra's feminine counterpart, and in this form she had a vengeful aspect that protected him from his enemies. Her beneficent side represented music, dance, joy, love, sexuality and maternal care, and she acted as the consort of several male deities and the mother of their sons. These two aspects of the goddess exemplified the Egyptian conception of femininity. Hathor crossed boundaries between worlds, helping deceased souls in the transition to the afterlife.

Hathor was often depicted as a cow, symbolizing her maternal and celestial aspect, although her most common form was a woman wearing a headdress of cow horns and a sun disk. She could also be represented as a lioness, cobra, or sycamore tree.2

Indeed, this goddess had multiple "personages" and was represented by different idols.

Conclusion
First, based on what is known, it is reasonable to understand 'elohiym in these two contexts means both multiple entities and an individual entity with different idols and representations of their different "personages." In some cases the gods were real entities but likely in all cases, the human understanding of a god or gods was just that: a product of the human mind. As many deities and religious beliefs were subsumed or assumed by neighboring or conquering cultures, the human understanding was undoubtedly one of multiple personages for the same entity.

Second, the use of 'elohiym to describe other than the God of Israel, is of no value in identifying the meaning and/or character of the 'elohiym of Israel. The basic tenet of Scripture is a positive revelation of God to man and "what is not god" is useful only to point out the foolishness of other gods. Beyond that "what is not god" is of little, if any, use in stating "what is God."

Addendum
After recognizing a plurality of personages is present in the gods of Laban (Genesis) and the Egyptian gods (Exodus), the question was modified, adding Moses and Dagon. This addition addresses that change:

Dagon, the national god of the Philistines was widely worshiped throughout the Near East:

He was a West-Semitic god, probably of Amorite origin. His land is Syria, from the Euphrates to the Levantine coast. The evidence for the cult of Dagon begins in the third millennium Mesopotamia and continues uninterruptedly for near two thousand years.3

When the Philistines settled in Canaan, they originally worshiped a female goddess which morphed into the worship of Dagon:

…originally worshipped a “Mother Goddess” of Aegean-Anatolian type. A scrutiny of the syncretisms prevailing in the ancient world has revealed a close parallel between Dagan, the Semitic earth and grain god, and the “great mothers” of the Aegean-Anatolian realm, who were essentially also deities of the earth and everything that grows and lives on it. The functional correspondence that explains the establishment of this syncretism (despite the sexual difference), was probably further intensified by a phonetic resemblance in the names of the epithets of the two deities.4

So not only is it fair to say Dagon had a plurality of personages: "he" was originally "she" and during the "transition" some would still see Dagan in her original person while others in his new one (or perhaps both depending on the situation).

On the surface it seems unreasonable to suggest multiple personages for Moses. The reader knows and the Israelites knew Moses was not a god. Yet the question is what did Pharaoh believe about Moses? What is the god YHVH made him to be to Pharaoh (cf. Exodus 7:1)? At this point we can only speculate what Pharaoh might have believed about Moses. There may have been multiple personages or not.

What can be said for certain is since Pharaoh believed in multiple gods, Moses was "just another" of Pharaoh's gods. Judging from Pharaoh's response, it is fair to say Moses wasn't much of a god in Pharaoh's eyes. I think there are two possibilities. One, it is possible the LORD's point in making of Moses into "a god" for Pharaoh, was to show Pharaoh's complete disdain for all gods or how he thought of himself in relation to "the gods." Two, it is possible the LORD made Moses a representation or a type of one of Pharaoh's existing gods. In other words, Moses was not 'elohiym; rather Moses was just a human manifestation of one of the Egyptian gods Pharaoh believed existed in the spirit realm. In any event, there is no sound conclusion to be made about 'elohiym based upon what Pharaoh thought. Biblically speaking, Moses as 'elohiym should be limited to a judge not a god.


Notes:
1. Jeffrey H. Tigay, The Jewish Study Bible, Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 143-144
2. Hathor
3. Itamar Singer, Towards the image of Dagon, the god of the Philistines, Syria. Archéologie, Art et histoire Année 1992 69-3-4 p. 437
4. Ibid., p. 450

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  • I didn't not recognize the plurality of the personages. The questions was modified for clarity. Nothing on your answers prove that the god or gods were taken as composite or have plurality of person within themselves. Whether plural or not, the word Elohim doesn't not imply a plurality of persons or compound nature. To say so is like saying Elohim's meaning changes when it is referring to the true God. That is equivocation. Prove that Elohim means a plurality of person within Himself. – user35499 May 24 '20 at 3:59
  • @AlexBalilo Well, however true that may be about Elohim when used for God, it says nothing about the word when used about those that are not God, which is your question. – Revelation Lad May 24 '20 at 4:20
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Plurality of persons within themselves/himself, when regarding ELOHIM..........It is generally supposed that Elohim is the plural form of the general name of God (implying more than one spiritual personage), but this is more a case of wishful thinking, by those with a trinitarian bias, than anything else.

The Hebrews, of the Old Testament, never concluded that God exists in some form of plurality. The plural was viewed as an expression of majesty......"El-o-heem, or Elohim (gods), is more often used as a plural of majesty, dignity or excellence and describes JHVH, but even is used in reference to angels, to idol gods, singular and plural ( Dagon, being one example ) and even to men. Elohim, when applying to JHVH, is almost invariably construed with a singular verbal predicate, and takes a singular adjectival attribute, consequently, must rather be explained as an intensive plural, denoting greatness and majesty, being equal to The Great God.".....( see the American Journal of Semitic Languages & Literatures, Vol XXI, 1905, p. 208 ).

It would seem, therefore, to be a false assumption for anyone to conclude that the scriptures you mention, Gen,35:2; Ex,18:11; Ex,7:1 and 1 Sam,5:7, imply a plurality of persons within themselves.

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God will answer us according to our idolatry so truly he is a God of gods but ultimately there is one God.

There may be different ways of looking at God, but he is the same.

Space has three dimensions, length, breadth and height, but it is all one thing.

The Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost are all one.

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  • I up-voted to cancel the down-vote. But I would just point out that to insert 'Word' into your last sentence is, to my mind, inappropriate. 'The Son' belongs there. This is the mistake of the so-called 'Johannine comma' in 1 John, mistakenly included in the Greek text by Erasmus. – Nigel J Jun 1 '20 at 21:38
  • @Nigel J Using the Son instead of Word breaks the numerical structure of those verses. And this is not the only place this is established. – David Jun 2 '20 at 0:18
  • And the others are ... ? (Johannine comma excluded.) – Nigel J Jun 2 '20 at 14:35
  • John 1,6,15 come to mind. Revelation 19:13. In fact if you have not yet understood that Jesus is the Word of God, you've a lot to learn. – David Jun 2 '20 at 15:20
  • The Logos was from the beginning. And Logos was manifested. And his name, upon manifestation, is Jesus of Nazareth. But his relationship to the Father is 'Son' : an eternal relationship. In the beginning was the Logos - the summation of all that can be intelligently communicated. Deity was that Logos. And all that was created was an expression of Deity. By Deity, through Deity. All has purpose. All is intelligently expressed. And he who was Logos, came into the world. But Logos and Son should be used in the correct manner. We all have a lot to learn, David. And we all must keep learning. – Nigel J Jun 2 '20 at 15:58

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