The Names of God: Poetic Readings in Biblical Beginnings

By Herbert Chanan Brichto | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
THE NAMES OF GOD

The Problem: A Preliminary Review
The problem of the names of God in the Hebrew Scriptures is so complex that movements toward the solution may be impeded, distorted, or even blocked by its formulation in the singular. It would seem advisable then to begin this review of the problem by breaking it down into the separate and sometimes separable constituents of which the problem is compounded. (And as I attempt to list these component elements in a logical order, I must warn the reader not to assign relative weightiness to these elements in respect to the order in which they are listed.)
There is the lexical problem of the meaning and function of the English word name and the Hebrew word that it most often translates, šem. Both words are nouns (names), and both may stand for both common and proper nouns. As common nouns, the words name and šem may be governed by the definite article (or, in Hebrew, be determined by construction); as such, the noun name will be governed by the indefinite article in English and the noun šem will appear without determination in the Hebrew language, which has no indefinite article. The connotations of both common nouns, English and Hebrew, are (a/the) name, label, epithet, title, designation, and so on.
A second problem is that there is in Hebrew a declinable noun, èō, which appears both as common noun (connoting god, deity, divinity, numen, divine figurine, an ancestral spirit or ghost, and so on), and as a proper noun, an alternate name for the one-and-only-deity whose most frequently occurring name is the grapheme YHWH. As common noun this noun is treated like all other such, and is

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