Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav


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How do Elohim and Yahweh differ?

Elohim was the name of God for the Israelite (northern) tribes.

IHVH was the name of the God of the Judeans (southern tribe).

Since both religions were based on the belief in a single, Creator, God, the two traditions were knitted into one when the refugees of the northern kingdom were absorbed into Judea following the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians around 725 BCE, at the instruction of the Judean King Ezekiah.

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Why is “אלוהים” translated as “God” in the singular, when it is actually plural – “Gods”?

This is one of those fun questions, like “Mummy—how do babies come into the world?”, or “How does Santa deliver our presents when we have no chimney?” The actual history is a lot more prosaic but more interesting than the pat answers, such as that the Hebrew words for water (mayim) and sky (shamayim) are also seemingly plural but are not (actually they are, as they use plural adjectives as well, and if quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck—it’s a duck). Talmudic tradition of centuries of pilpul is capable of much greater feats than that—such as why placing restrictions on women is really a sign of respect, or why there are several different answers to what happens when Two Men Come Down The Same Chimney.

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Are Palestinians descendants of formerly Jewish/Israelite populations who converted to Islam and Christianity?

This is indeed one of the conclusions that Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, a historian and ethnographer who would later become Israel’s first President, reached from studies of the names and traditions of many Palestinian villages and Bedouin communities.

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Is it true that in the earliest Hebrew texts that the word used to denote the holy spirit was feminine in form?

The Hebrew term ruaḥ haqodesh רוח הקודש still is feminine—grammatically speaking. But it doesn’t have the same meaning as in Christianity, where it was elevated to one of the Trinity or a manifestation of God, so the notion that you may be implying that God was perhaps originally conceived in Judaism as a feminine entity is a non-starter.

In Judaism, the holy spirit is merely of a type of connection or communication between God and man, similar to the ‘divine voice’, and therefore usually associated with prophets.

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(Originally written in reply to a question at Quora.com).