Farewell LORD, Hello GOD
Overcoming Other Hurdles: Yahweh our GodI identify five more important hurdles, even if all of these are relatively small or even tiny in comparison to the thousands of simple Yahweh occurrences. Today we will also attempt the first of these additional hurdles: Yahweh our God. In fact, Yahweh + possessive + God breaks down roughly as follows:
- Yahweh our God, approx 90 times,
- Yahweh your God approx 150 times,
- Yahweh his God approx 30 times (plus "Yahweh Israel's God, approx 90 times)
- Yahweh her God = never!
- Yahweh my God approx 20 times,
- Yahweh their God approx 40 times.
So far, I have shown nothing but love for Peterson's approach, but here I'm not so sure his gloss works particularly well: "GOD our God" (the Message). Although Peterson does not seem to have any qualms over it (he's just using his normal methodology) I think it's clunky. Not the GOD bit, obviously.
You see, you already have something very special going on with the unification of title and Name in GOD, so to get a variant of that word again in a capitalised G-God two words later requires a lot of mental gymnastics for the reader: according to my brief calculations in around 420 places. There has to be an improvement to that, and Tom Wright, Michael Heiser and others have prepared it for us perfectly, even if their logical answer may not be one that Jews or Christians (more "Tina"s) today may love. But the logic and another reason I will give in a minute will reassure us I am sure.
Michael Heiser agrees and his whole theological framework hangs off a form of henotheism* that fits the Divine Council portrayal of Palms 82 and Deuteronomy 32:8-9 really well.
We are going to look at these passages now to see how they highlight the henotheistic divine Council worldview of the time, using a more classic translation of ESV (MSG unfortunately really strays from the clarity of other mainline translation traditions here). Even in good translations, it is so easy just to skip over the Deuteronomy verses and miss it, but this is what it says (ESV):
8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders/territories of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
9 But the LORD's portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.
Ancient near Eastern religions of the time of Israel believed in a plurality of divine beings. The Israelites were no different. What was fresh about Israelite theology was that one god, the Creator god, was the Head god, who presided over His divine council. The Israelites had the enormous privilege of being the nation chosen by him as his uniquely his own.
What this means is that when used possessively, my, your, his, her, our and their god, we are not exegeting from a monotheistic culture as we have often assumed and our transitions have reinforced. Since Yahweh is the greatest of the gods there was no problem there, but there is no attempt to deny the existence of the others. Those are the gods of the other nations.
As a result, it is also correct and even less confusing to use this possessive approach in the Bible, "Yahweh your god", etc.
Since we have seen a suitable candidate for Yahweh translation is GOD all caps, then we have our translation solution for obstacle 1:
NB It may be appropriate to add commas to give some breathing and mental space to the clarifications of the "my god"/"our god"/"your god"/"their god"/"his god"/"Israel's god", e.g. GOD, your god, is ....
In my next post I will proceed to the next obstacle in the path of the translation, GOD.
*Not all scholars like speaking of henotheism any more, which is odd to me as the ideas it contains are alive and kicking hard!