Wednesday, 11 April 2018

How does the Adonai cookie crumble?

ADONAI SEEMS TO be as well known as a name for God among lay Christian believers as Yahweh. Both are used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to the Israelite deity, and are both typically translated into English by "Lord", although Yahweh often gets a capitalised treatment of course. Previous posts will explain more about this, but readers are probably aware that I am keen to disambiguate where possible and where intended.

I had planned to plunge readers into the fascinating depths of what I am calling "Yahweh's Stuff" (see Saturday's post), but it makes sense first of all to deal with:
- How was Adonai used by the Hebrews, and how was its use different to that of Yahweh?
- How effectively did the early Greek translators from 3rd century B.C.E. onwards deal with any distinctions or similarities they saw?

Let's take the first question first! Adonai was usually by the Hebrews as a familiar alternative but relatively infrequent reference to their god (and lord). The inflected Hebrew with the plural vowels (Adonai rather than Adoni) is a good guess based on tradition that contextual knowledge would have been sufficient for the Israelites or later Jewish communities to sometimes pronounce one and sometimes pronounce the other. Hang on, weren't they some of the earliest monotheists on Earth? Why the likely plural? It is used in order to magnify the greatness of their god. Thus, the singular form is reserved for earthly lords, thus reducing the number of references to God still further.

Yes, referenced under Strongs H136, while Adonai is used quite a bit, it's maybe much less than you might think if you account for the massive reliance on Ezekiel for its modest numbers: approx. 434 occurrences, of which Ezekiel accounts for half (214 occurrences)! Compare that to Elohim's approx. 2600 occurrences and Yahweh's (and Yah's) approximate 6900 occurrences, we're talking a minor player in the Hebrew parlance for their god. As the Greek translators would recognise, it was used as a title and possessively (e.g. "our Lord") in a way that Yahweh never was. The swathes of biblical data on Yahweh that could have suggested otherwise simply don't contradict this idea, thus reinforcing it.

We should also remember that the Hebrew was not written overnight and by a variety of authors with different Hebrew styles and preferences - as the Ezekiel example should make very clear. So while Ezekiel occupies the most extensive usage, we see that quite a few books never even mention Adonai: neither Leviticus nor Ruth nor 1 Samuel nor 1 nor 2 Chronicles nor Esther nor Proverbs nor Ecclesiastes nor Song of Songs nor Joel nor Jonah nor Nahum nor Haggai. Amos is actually the most Adonai-friendly literature, representing an even greater concentration than Ezekiel: 24 occurrences for a total of only 3027 words (1 occurrence every 126 words; Ezekiel is 1 every 140). But even the Hebrew Bible's most Adonai-friendly text, Amos, has a major preference for Yahweh (1 occurrence every 42 words).

The second question was How did the Greek translators deal with the distinctions? Firstly, as I have extensively stated, Adonai and Yahweh were drawn together when the Greek translators used Kyrios to translate both of them. Secondly, only Yahweh had the firm grammatical signature of the anarthrous rule: stripping away the definite article in a way that is fitting for a name more than a title. This is where I feel I have demonstrated contra NETS leading translator, Albert Pietersma, following my two key discoveries of comparing Yahweh and Adonai translations in the Psalms, the very translation for which Pietersma is directly responsible. This rule was made possible because of the pre-existing Hebrew fact that Yahweh could not be owned, like a title (our Yahweh, etc.). The anarthrous rule did not make Yahweh this way - it *preserved* Yahweh this way. 

The final thing this breakdown should prepare us for is that the Greek lexical units - Yahweh's stuff - are almost entirely avoided in the Adonai translation scenarios. Not quite completely, though as I will show.

That seems like quite a lot of information already for today's post (and it took a while to distil too), so I'll save the actual breakdown for a future post. I hope that both may serve as a useful breakdown and reference.

Related posts:

Kyrios (aka the LORD) in the Psalms: Results
Is Jesus' Other Name "Yahweh" for the first century church? Part 1: The Data
Why This Research Matters

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