The Religious Imagination and the Sense of God

The Religious Imagination and the Sense of God

The Religious Imagination and the Sense of God

The Religious Imagination and the Sense of God

Synopsis

Oxford Scholarly Classics is a new series that makes available again great academic works from the archives of Oxford University Press. Reissued in uniform series design, the reissues will enable libraries, scholars, and students to gain fresh access to some of the finest scholarship of the last century.

Excerpt

'You shall be holy to me, as I, Yahweh, am holy. I have separated you from other people that you should be mine alone' (Lev. 20:26). It seems straightforward enough as a command, but it implies underlying questions: first, who is this strange sounding 'Yahweh', and how did he come to the position of being entitled to demand the obedience of this particular nation? and second, who are these people? How did a kinship group of Semitic tribes come to a sense that they had a uniquely significant history and a uniquely distinctive destiny as a consequence of God's action in relation to themselves?

To answer those questions, we must return to the basic command, Shema Israel, Adonai Eloheynu Adonai ehad. But that is a very strange combination of words. Adonai means 'my Lord', and it represents a way of reading (or, to be more accurate, a way of avoiding reading) the four letters (i.e., the Tetragrammaton), Yhwh. It is now customary to write this name of Israel's God as Yahweh, but no one knows what its original pronunciation was. the original text of Scripture contained no vowels, only consonants; the vowels of the existing text were added by the Massoretes many centuries after the time of Jesus. Even if the early worshippers of Yhwh pronounced the name, it is impossible to know how they did so: in the course of time, it became an assertive arrogance to pronounce the name Yhwh on lips which also bear the profanities of life. the Massoretes decided that wherever the letters Yhwh occurred, the reader should be reminded to convert the name to Adonai. They therefore inserted the vowels a.o.a. and produced the impossible and hybrid form Yahowah--hence Jehovah, a bogus name which is certainly not original. If the name is pronounced Yahweh (and many Jews would certainly not pronounce haShem, the Name, in that or any other way), it is simply a guess at the original, but as a guess, it has become the conventional spelling.

Eloheynu is the word elohim (God) with the pronominal suffix, 'our'; so it means 'our God'. Ehad is the word meaning 'one'. So the sentence is literally, Yahweh our elohim, Yahweh is one. Since . . .

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