Monday, 4 July 2016

Brexit: What to expect

The outcome of the Brexit referendum may be one of the most important geopolitical events of the early twenty-first century. Some think that the EU would be dissolved by similar referendums elsewhere; others think that Britain would be dissolved when Scotland (and even Northern Ireland) decides to leave. In this essay I discuss the long term impact of Brexit on both the EU and Britain itself.

The rest of the world was quite surprised when Britain voted on 23 June 2016 with a 52/48% margin to leave the European Union of which it was a member since 1973. Financial markets reacted with alarm: the British sterling fell to a 31 year low against the dollar and stock markets lost 2 trillion dollars on 24 June – the biggest one day loss on record (it lost 3 trillion dollars in total). Shortly afterwards various credit rating agencies downgraded Britain's sovereign credit score. David Cameron, the prime minister, resigned and said that he would leave it to his successor to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which would start the process of Britain leaving the EU.

There can be no doubt that Brexit would have a far-reaching impact on both Britain and the EU. If Britain leave the EU, its economy may be severely affected by such a move. It is especially the power of the City of London – the leading financial center in the world – that may be diminished. And if Scotland leaves, Great Britain may be reduced to Little England. Some commentators think that Brexit would also have a domino effect which may lead to the undoing of the EU. This is unlikely to happen. In fact, the EU would most probably be in a much stronger position after Britain has left! We might even see that the EU and the US start drifting apart over the next few decades. This may be the most important outcome of Brexit.

Geopolitical trembles

Why is Brexit such a great deal? It is because of the geopolitical significance of Britain's place in the EU. Over the past few decades, Britain served the Anglo-American establishment's interest in the EU (also nowadays called "Atlanticist"). Since the Anglo-American establishment fears that the EU would rise to become an independent player on the world-stage, they tried their best to control the process of EU integration. They fear that the EU would develop in accordance with the Gaulist vision for Europe, named after President Charles de Gaulle of France, who vetoed British membership when that country originally applied to join the club. In recent times that vision was represented by French president Jacques Chirac (1995-2007) who resisted the George W Bush administration's ideas for the Middle East (and who became a hated figure in the Anglo-American press).

In the context of geopolitics, Britain anchors the EU within the Anglo-American world. As such Britain played two very important roles since it joined the European project, namely to represented the Anglo-American interests in the EU and to keep the process of EU integration within acceptable parameters. Originally Britain held (with the other EU countries) veto powers over a wide spectrum of EU matters. These were phased out within the context of a compromise between the Anglo-American and Continental (Gaulist) factions in the EU according to which every significant step in "deepening" the project through further integration was be complimented with a corresponding "widening" of the European project (which provided the Anglo-Americans with a larger market). During the first decade of the twenty-first century we, for example, saw a significant enlargement (in 2004 10 new countries joined) as well as a significant increase in political integration (with the Lisbon Treaty of 2007).

The effectiveness of Britain's power to block EU integration has, however, waned over the last few years since she lost her veto right in many areas. As such Britain was outvoted in 2012 when she tried to stop the Fiscal Compact as well in 2014 when she tried to stop the leader of the winning party in the EU elections (Jean-Claude Juncker) from becoming president of the EU commission (which was effectively a devolution of power from the EU Council to the EU parliament). Britain was also unable to block the financial transactions tax that 10 EU countries want to install in court (which has not yet been finalized). The main reason for Britain's setbacks in all these areas is that many other EU countries regard Britain as obstructionist. And the EU treaties – especially the principle of "enhanced cooperation" – allows groups of countries to establish advanced integration or cooperation within EU structures without the other members being involved.

The EU has now come to the point where there is a strong impulse to proceed with further integration in the context of so-called "economic governance". This basically means that some Eurozone countries want to proceed with further economic integration – they even envision an Eurozone finance ministry with its own budget. Britain is afraid that the Eurozone countries would introduce rules and regulations which would be enforceable in the City of London. In an effort to differentiate Britain within the EU, David Cameron concluded a "special status" agreement with the 27 other EU countries in February 2016 on which the British people voted in the 23 June referendum.

Although the agreement between Britain and the EU (now discarded) included various aspects of which the provisions regarding migrants and welfare benefits were especially accentuated, its most important feature was that it presented a framework to regulate all financial transactions in a fair manner. Both Britain and the other EU countries are afraid that the other would gain some undue advantage over her/them. The agreement states in this regard that a "single rulebook is to be applied by all credit institutions and other financial institutions in order to ensure the level-playing field within the internal market". But even in this context, the City of London would have had a large influence over the process of EU economic integration due to its more favorable regulatory environment.

If Brexit leads to Britain leaving the EU (which is not yet a foregone conclusion), then the Anglo-American establishment may eventually lose control over the process of EU integration. This would in the first instance involve economic integration – although the relevant EU countries (especially Germany and France) would probably wait until the period of "reflection" after the British referendum is over before commencing with a process of deepening "economic governance" of the Eurozone. The German chancellor Angela Merkel is especially concerned that too much talk of further integration at this stage would play into Euroskeptics' hands. After Brexit the EU would also be able to establish an EU army – something over with Britain still has a veto right. With Britain out of the EU, a core of EU countries would be able to pursue their vision of an "ever closer union" which could make the EU a very powerful economic and military player.

The Anglo-American and Continental factions in the EU have different visions as to what the EU should eventually look like. The Anglo-Americans want the EU to consist of various overlapping "clubs" whereas the Continentals want it to develop a multi-speed approach according to which a core of EU (Eurozone) countries would be allowed to proceed with further integration. The Eurozone and Schengen (a shared EU visa) areas may be regarded as such "clubs" in the framework of the EU. If the Continentals get their way, these would be further strengthened in such a manner that an EU "core" is formed through further economic and political integration - in contrast with those EU countries which would stay in the slower lane. Brexit would in time provide a strong impulse to realize the second vision.

The Anglo-Americans would do all in their power to bind the EU within their geopolitical sphere even when Britain has left the EU. As such they would try to bring the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to fruition. Although this agreement seems to establish merely a common economic zone, the leaders of these countries also view it in geopolitical terms – as integrating the economic interests of the USA and the EU. We can also expect that the EU's military capabilities would be integrated in the context of NATO – already during the next NATO summit. The question is whether these arrangements would be sufficient to keep US and EU interests aligned.

The EU would disintegrate?

There are two kinds of EU countries which stand to lose a lot when Britain leaves the EU. The first are those countries who share Britain's "Anglo-Saxon" approach to financial and economic matters. These include the Netherlands and Denmark. These countries traditionally relied on Britain to lead the pact of free marketeers in the EU (especially regarding financial services). There have been suggestions that some of these and other countries may also hold referendums and leave with Britain.

Whether or not more countries join Britain in leaving the EU (if it comes to that) would be determined by the divorce-deal that Britain would be able to negotiate with the EU. At this stage the EU holds the best cards – they have the much sought after market of about 500 million people. The challenge for the EU is to give Britain a fair deal (to not destabilize Britain's friends in the EU) but at the same time to discourage other countries from following Britain's lead. The strict terms that the EU leaders have set for the divorce – no informal negotiations before article 50 is triggered and no exemptions from the four basic principles of the free trade zone (free movement of workers, capital, goods and services) are intended to discourage others from doing the same. Although an eventual deal might see some leniency in some of these areas, the EU would not agree to a deal that would lead to its own destruction.

The other country that would find itself in a weaker position when Britain leaves the EU is Germany. Since Germany is an export country, and many of its cars (for example) are sold on the British market, she would work to not upset this arrangement. Germany also needs Britain to offset the French initiative in the EU (the French are openly hostile to the "Anglo-Saxon" model and would like to see more lenient fiscal policies in the EU). Although Germany and France have traditionally been regarded as the engine which drives the process of EU integration, Germany is not always at ease with the French ideas in this regard and Britain – as the second largest economy – often brought the balance. With Britain out of the EU, we would expect to see more of the trio Germany-France-Italy in action which means a much stronger role for the southern EU states and their particular approach (for example, in opposing the German idea of austerity).

There is, however, another even more important manner in which Germany would be effected by Brexit. With Britain out of the EU, the power of Germany with regard to the other EU countries would become an issue of major concern. Various southern EU countries (especially the Greeks) already view the Germans as the strict and uncompromising masters of the EU who force their view on them.

The new situation that Germany would find itself in would be similar to the period directly after the reunification of Germany in 1990 when there were fears that the new Germany would be too strong for the EU – which led to the Maastricht Treaty that created the European Union in 1993 and to the creation of the euro. The argument then was that a strong Germany necessitates a strong EU. One can expect (in the case of Brexit) that the same argument would be heard again in the not too distant future – which would pressure Germany to accept the French proposals for "economic governance" which may involve shared liability in some areas. This would be an important step towards the EU eventually becoming some sort of United States of Europe.

What about Britain?

Although it is possible that Britain might come out of Brexit as a stronger country, the odds are greatly against this happening. There are just too many things that can go wrong over which the British government has very little control. Some of these concern the City of London and others the geographical integrity of Great Britain.

The economic welfare of Great Britain is closely connected to that of the City of London which has grown over the last decade into the leading financial center of the world. The City has a GDP of about 17 % of that of Britain, which is larger than that of several EU countries! An important part of the City's wealth is in turn dependent on its access to the EU market – especially regarding financial services. As such it has what is called a "financial passport" which made it the best place from where to sell financial services throughout the EU. Brexit may change this.

There are various conflicting opinions as to whether the City would be better or worse off outside the EU. A major concern is whether the City would be allowed to keep its financial passport after Brexit. If this access to the EU market is lost, it may have a significant impact on the City's long-term future as a major financial center. Although the financial culture in the City is both specialized and global in a manner that cannot at this stage be equaled by other EU centers such as Frankfurt or Paris, future EU regulation may impact on the City in ways that are not conceivable at the moment. The French might not be willing to extend its offer of a "level playing-field" to Britain during the divorce-negotiations.

Another area of concern is whether Scotland would stay a part of Great Britain after Brexit. Both Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar have voted in the Brexit referendum in favor of staying in the EU. The Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has proposed that parts of Britain – which would include Scotland and maybe Gibraltar and Northern Ireland – stay part of the EU even when the rest of Britain leaves. There is a president for this – whereas Denmark is part of the EU, Greenland, which is an autonomous part thereof, is not. For Scotland to stay part of the EU after the rest of Britain leaves, it would have to negotiate its own special status agreement with the EU to retain its current EU benefits and obligations while the rest of Britain negotiates its departure. Since the Scottish parliament would have to agree to a Brexit, the Scots may have some leverage in this regard.

The reason why Sturgeon takes this option instead of merely going for full independence from the rest Britain, is that once Scotland is outside Britain (and the EU) it would be very difficult to get back into the EU. Spain would most probably veto an independent Scotland's joining the EU since it fears that Catalonia would do the same. If Scotland stays part of the EU after the rest of Britain has left, it can always become independent without endangering its place in the EU. We might therefore find that Scotland leaves Britain - and she might not be alone. There is also renewed talk of the reunification of Ireland. Such developments would significantly reduce Britain's stature in the world. One does not know what Britain (Little Britain or even Little England) would do with its nuclear submarine fleet stationed in Scotland.

In the final instance it seems that Brexit might result in the City of London loosing its financial EU passport and in Britain loosing Scotland. In the end this might leave Britain a much diminished country – maybe somewhat like Venice who was once a major financial center in Europe.


Although there are many commentators who think that the EU would become weak and disorientated after a Brexit, I am not one of them. In my view the EU would become stronger. In time it would become much stronger! The EU would not disintegrate. Instead, we might expect over the next few years that the EU would proceed with its program for stronger economic governance and stronger military cooperation. If the EU leaves Britain behind, it would proceed not only to form a political union; it would become one of the most powerful players on the world scene.

We might expect some surprises in the Brexit game. A large part of the Anglo-American establishment was caught by surprise by the Brexit vote. Since it has such far-reaching implications, they might even try to turn the wheel backwards and keep Britain in the EU. There is already a lawsuit filed which would require that the British parliament agree to Brexit. Some EU countries like Germany would also prefer that Britain stays in the EU. The Continentals would, however, rejoice. They would try to block all such efforts. They have an opportunity to place the City forever behind in their efforts to build a great United States of Europe. Coming events in Britain and the outcome of the negotiations with the EU would show how successful they were in this regard.

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Who is Elohim?

In this essay I focus on one of the great mysteries of the Bible: Why is the divine name Elohim in the plural form even though it refers to one God? Where did this name originate? And why is it used in a different manner than the divine name Yahweh? These issues are already prevalent in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis. I present a new solution to these intriguing questions. This is the seventh part in the series on the Book of Genesis.

Readers of my essays on the Book of Genesis would by now know that this book is full of surprises. There are indeed many more of these. In this essay we focus on the use of the divine names in the book and ask what they say about God. When we open the Bible at the first chapter and start reading the story of creation, we find that one of the first words used is "God". We read: "In the beginning God created". The word used to refer to God is "Elohim". When we read the next chapter we find that a new name for God is suddenly introduced, namely Yahweh (YHWH)-Elohim. This name appears in the established Hebrew text (called the Masoretic text) in Genesis 2-3. Then, from chapter 4, this name of God is shortened to Yahweh.

Although the inattentive reader may at first think that the author is merely using these divine names randomly since they all refer to God, the careful student would wonder if the author's use of these names is not signaling something more significant. In fact, careful analysis seems to suggest that the names are used in a systematic manner within certain contexts. As such the different names are used in different stories: the name of God used in the story of creation (in Gen. 1:1-2:3) is Elohim, whereas the name Yahweh is introduced in the context of the garden story (in Gen. 2:4-3:24). We also find that Elohim is typically associated with passages in which God is presented as aloof whereas Yahweh is used when God appears in anthropomorphic form (when he appears in human form or in dreams).

When we consider these names in more detail, something else catch our attention: the name Elohim is actually in the plural. Although it is used grammatically in the singular, that is, to refer to one God, it is also used in other contexts in the plural, for example, when referring to other gods (Ex. 20:3). Why would that be? Where did this name originate?

What is also interesting is that two other names for God are introduced in the Book of Genesis, both of which are presented in the singular form El, namely the Most High God (El-Elyon) and the Almighty God (El-Shaddai). Is there any particular reason why God is presented in these cases in the singular form El instead of Elohim? Both the names Most High God and Almighty God are associated with Abraham, who is introduced in the book as the forefather of the Israelites.

In Biblical Criticism there is an old but established theory that the different names of God associated with different contexts originated from the author's use of different sources. As such the appearance of the names Elohim and Yahweh in the creation and garden stories respectively are taken as reflecting their origin in two very different sources (called the P(riestly) and Y(ahweh) sources). But is this the only and even the most sensible manner to understand the use of these divine names?

I previously argued that the source theory is not well-founded [1]. In this essay I argue that there is another more likely way to understand the use of these names. As such I do not only provide a simple explanation for the different use of the divine names Elohim and Yahweh; I also show how these names relate to the other names of God in the Book of Genesis. I also explain the name Elohim.

The Most High God

In the Book of Genesis the first names that are associated with God in the context of God's revelation to the forefathers of Israel, is Most High God (El-Elyon) and Almighty God (El-Shaddai). According to the author these are the names under which God was worshiped by Abraham, the early forefather of the Israelites who is said to have come from the land of Sumeria to Canaan. As such these names would go back long before the Book of Genesis itself was written.

I previously argued that the Book of Genesis incorporates information that does indeed go back long before the time of Moses who is traditionally regarded as the author of the book. I showed that the Mesopotamian material that is included in the "ancient history" (Gen. 1-11) does not show any Babylonian influence whatsoever from after the early Old-Babylonian period – that is, the time of Abraham – which means that it could not have originated from the time of the Babylonian exile as is generally accepted in Biblical Criticism circles [2]. I now argue that the divine names El-Elyon and El-Shaddai that is associated with Abraham also go back to that early strata of Hebrew tradition. Although these names have been used throughout Israel's history, in my view they go back to exactly the context in which the author of the Book of Genesis places them.

We can first discuss the name Most High God (El-Elyon). This name has been used throughout Israel's history and became quite popular in the time after the exile when it was used in the Book of Daniel, the Pseudepigrapha and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some scholars, like Herbert Niehr, take this post-exilic usage as evidence that the appearance of that name in the Book of Genesis is also late. So, the question is: How do we distinguish between an early and late use of the name Most High God? There are various Biblical passages where this name is used in the context of an ancient manner of thinking which had for the most part died out in post-exilic Israel. If the use of this divine name in the Book of Genesis is consistent with such ancient usage, we would have good reason to think that the stories told in this book is indeed to be taken serious.

One of the ancient contexts in which the divine name Most High God is used, is when the cosmic mountain of God is referred to. I previously discussed the ancient worldview in which this mountain takes center stage and would not here go into all the details again [3]. This mountain was associated with the northern polar region of the starry heavens which is why it is said to be “in the sides of the north”. The great “gods”, who were called angels in later Israelite tradition, gathered on this mountain in council to discuss certain matters. The prophet Isaiah gave a beautiful description of this mountain of Most High God: “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High” (Is. 14:13-14).

The reason why the Most High God was associated with this mountain, is that he was regarded as the father of the gods. As such the great gods convened around their “father” on his cosmic mountain. This is an extremely ancient concept which is nicely expressed in the old poem in Psalm 82. After mentioning the “congregation of the mighty” – that is, the council of the gods – the poet says: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most High” (Ps. 82:6). Here the angels are called “gods” and are presented as “children of the Most High” which makes him their “father”. This also explains another ancient expression that is used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to the angels, namely “sons of God” (see Gen. 6:2; Job. 1: 6; 2: 1; 38: 7). This expression also appeared in the ancient Hebrew text that was used for the Greek translation of Bible (called the Septuagint) in the third century BC in Ps. 29:1 & 89:6 as well as Deut. 32:8, 43.

Another passage where the Most High God is presented as the father of the gods is in Deuteronomy 32:8. In this case he is presented as the father of the gods who divided the heritage between his children, the “sons of God”. As such they were appointed as rulers over the various nations. We read: “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the sons of God”. Although the Masoretic text has “children of Israel” instead of “sons of God”, an old fragment found among the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed the Septuagint reading which has “sons of God” as correct.

In the Book of Genesis we find that Abraham worshiped this God after he returned from his victory over the Elamites (Gen. 14:18-22). The one who served as Abraham's priest on this occasion was Melchizedek who is presented as the priest-king of the Most High God who was worshiped at Salem – which refers to the ancient Amorite city of Jerusalem. We should not read this story apart from the one where God told Abraham many years later to go to the land Moriah where he had to bring a sacrifice at the “mountain of the Lord” (Gen. 22:2, 14). According to Israelite tradition, this mountain was indeed the one in Salem where Melchizedek was priest-king (2 Ch. 3:1). It makes sense that Abraham would visit this mountain to bring homage to the God whom he previously thanked and worshiped for the victory over the Elamites.

Although the author of the Book of Genesis calls this mountain by its later name, namely “the mountain of the Lord (Yahweh)”, the name Yahweh was not known in that early period (see below). This is clearly a case where the author or maybe some later editor used Yahweh as equivalent for the God who was worshiped at that mountain at that early period. In this regard he actually mentions that he is using contemporary language when he says: “as it is said to this day” (Gen. 22:14). The ancient context suggests that the God who was worshiped at this mountain was the Most High God.

The story of Abraham and Melchizedek shows that this God was also worshiped outside Abraham's circle and it seems that Semites came from all over the ancient country of Canaan to worship the Most High God on this holy mountain in Salem. This is very much in line with the ancient Semitic practice of worshiping El as the father of the gods on some local holy mountain as is also attested in the Ugarit texts regarding his worship further north in ancient Phoenicia in the fourteenth century BC. The local and broader context of the story in the Book of Genesis strongly suggests that the worship of the Most High God mentioned in the Book of Genesis is not a late invention but based on a very old Hebrew tradition.

Michelangelo Sistine Chapel God

Almighty God

This brings us to the other name of God that is associated with Abraham, namely Almighty God (El-Shaddai). This name is first introduced in Genesis 17:1 where the God who has called Abraham in his original homeland Sumeria introduced himself as such: “I am the Almighty God, walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly”. This name appears six times in the Book of Genesis and the context shows that he was the ancestral God of Abraham's family (Gen. 17: 1; 28: 3; 35: 11; 43: 14; 48: 3; Ex. 6: 3 etc.). As such Almighty God is primarily concerned with Abraham's family and he enters into a covenant with him and his descendants.

Later in the Book of Genesis we read explicitly that the Almighty God (El-Shaddai) was the “God of thy father” (Gen. 49:25). This is an ancient expression which is also attested elsewhere in the ancient world from which Abraham came in the same period in which the Bible places him. This name “God of your/their fathers” is repeated when God appears to Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3-4). Now God reveals to Moses that his real name is Yahweh (YHWH). God, however, also mentions that he did not reveal himself in this manner to the patriarchs; rather, he revealed himself as Almighty God to them: “And God spake to Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD (Yahweh): And I appeared to Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of Almighty God, but by my name Yahweh was I not known to them” (Ex. 6:2-3).

According to this passage the forefathers of Israel knew God as Almighty God (El-Shaddai) and not as Yahweh. The name Yahweh was for the very first time revealed to Moses. Also, according to this passage the name Yahweh was given to the God who was previously known as Almighty God, who was the “God of your fathers”. As such Almighty God, the ancestral god of the forefathers of Israel now became known as “Yahweh God of your fathers” which refers to the God of the nation of Israel. As such he is also called “Yahweh God of the Hebrews” (Ex. 7:16) and “Yahweh God of Israel” (Ex. 5:1). We now understand why Yahweh is often presented in anthropomorphic form – he is the one who has throughout Israel's history appeared to them as their ancestral family God. According to the Book of Genesis, this God was concerned with humans from the beginning and he revealed himself to them already in the garden of Eden – long before his calling of Abraham (Gen. 2-3).

What is interesting about the Almighty God is that he is depicted in the Book of Genesis as distinct from the Most High God. Although Abraham worshiped God in both these forms, the context in which they are worshiped is very different. The Most High God was worshiped on the mountain of God in Salem, whereas the Almighty God was worshiped as the ancestral God of Abraham and the fathers, who introduced himself as Yahweh and became the God of Israel in the time of Moses. The Most High God was worshiped at some local mountain whereas the Almighty God was not worshiped as such before he became associated with mount Horeb in the Sinai desert.

We have also seen that the Most High God was worshiped as the father of the gods. We never find that this is said of the Almighty God or even Yahweh. In fact, the Almighty God (Yahweh) is depicted as a great warrior-king. Already in Jacob's blessing of his sons is he depicted as a great warrior-God (Gen. 49: 23-25). In the song about Israel's deliverance from Egypt, he is worshiped as “my father's God” who is a great warrior-king who “reigns for ever and ever” (Ex. 15:18; see Deut. 33:5). We read: “Who is like unto thee, O Yahweh, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Ex. 15:11). We even read in the Psalms: “For Yahweh is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Ps. 95:6). As such Yahweh is presented as the one who sits as king in the council of the gathered of the gods (1 Ki. 22:19; Ps. 82:1; 89:7-8).

One might think that the difference between the roles of the Most High God as father of the gods and Yahweh (Almighty God) as king over the gods is no big deal and that God merely fulfilled both roles. In the ancient context in which these concepts developed there was an enormous difference between these roles. We find, for example, in the Ugarit texts that El was the father of the gods and that other gods competed for the position of king over the gods (see note 13 in my discussion in [3]). Since Israel came into being in the context of that world, it would be very strange indeed if these roles were originally fulfilled by one divine entity.

The fact that the Most High God and the Almighty God – who is said to have taken the name Yahweh – is depicted so very differently in the Book of Genesis also suggests they were originally worshiped apart even though they were later worshiped as one Godly being. Although they might have been regarded as two manifestations of the God El who shared the same name (El) and therefore the same Being there cannot be any doubt that they would also have been regarded as two entities who were worshiped in different contexts.

The origin of the name Yahweh-Elohim

When can now study the expression “God of your father” more carefully. When this expression is first introduced in the Book of Genesis (in Gen. 49:25) the word God is used in the singular (as El) in accordance with its reference to Almighty God (El-Shaddai) which always appears in the singular form. Shortly thereafter, however, in the same book, the word for God is given as Elohim in the very same expression, namely as “God (Elohim) of your father” (Gen. 50:17). This is also the manner in which this expression is given when it is combined with the name Yahweh in the Book of Exodus: “Yahweh God (Elohim) of your father/s” (Ex. 3:15). When this expression is adapted to express the development from a patriarchal family to the nation of Israel, the name of God is given as Elohim: “Yahweh God (Elohim) of Israel” (Ex. 5:1).

The question is: Why was the name of God changed from El to Elohim, from a singular form to one that includes a multiplicity? My suggestion is that this has to do with the move from the early worship of Almighty God by the patriarchal family to that of Yahweh by the people of Israel. As such this change would be closely associated with the worship of God at mount Horeb in the Sinai where the name Yahweh was revealed to Moses.

The interesting thing about God's revelation of himself to Moses once Israel reached mount Horeb is that the name Yahweh is shared by two distinct entities! On the one hand there is the “angel of the Lord” which would be God appearing in human form (as an angel). This is the form in which Almighty God appeared to Abraham and the fathers (see Gen. 16:11-13; 18:2, 22; 19:1; 22:11, 15 etc.). This is also how he appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3:2-4). This is the form in which God led Israel out of Egypt and thereafter appeared in the pillar of fire which went before Israel (Ex. 14:19, 24). This is the form in which he appeared to Israel on mount Horeb when the covenant between God and the people of Israel was concluded (Ex. 24:10). There cannot be any doubt that according the Books of Genesis and Exodus both Abraham and Moses took this angel as God himself and he is often called Yahweh by the author.

On the other hand we read that God makes a very definite distinction between himself and the “angel of the Lord”, saying at the same time that they both share the name Yahweh! While Moses was on the mountain, God said to him regarding their future travel through the desert and their eventual entrance into Canaan: “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak, then…” (Ex. 23:20-22). The last sentence in the quotation is also very important. God says that Israel should obey him because God speaks through him. This is consistent with the fact that the angel of the Lord always embodies the word of God (Gen. 15:1; 1 Sam. 3:21 etc.).

Clearly the Being who revealed himself to Moses on mount Horeb involves (at least) two entities. From the quoted passage it seems that the one divine entity has some kind of higher authority over the one who appeared in the form of an angel. This might imply that he was the father of the gods who was worshiped under the name of the Most High God in that early period. I have shown that the Most High God was associated with the cosmic mountain of God (Is. 14:14) of which mount Horeb was a local representation (as was the holy mountain in Salem where Abraham brought a sacrifice). One might think that this God was worshiped on mount Horeb by Semites even before the time of Moses. As such we read that Jethro, Moses's father-in-law, who was “the priest of Midian”, actually brought offerings to God (Elohim) when Israel passed there on their way to mount Horeb (Ex. 18:1, 12). This might imply that he was a priest of the god El who was associated with the high mountain near his residence (mount Horeb).

In this reading the multiplicity in the Being of God became manifest in the name Elohim which includes two distinct forms of El who were previously known as Most High God (El-Elyon) and Almighty God (El-Shaddai) [4]. Although both share the name Yahweh (since they belong to the same “Being” – as the name “I am” is translated in the Septuagint in Ex. 3), in the context of God's revelation this name (Yahweh) was especially associated with God's manifestation as the ancestral God of Israel. As such we read that the name Yahweh was given to the God who was previously known as Almighty God (Ex. 6:2-3). This is the God who appeared in human or angel form throughout Israel's history.

As such the name “Yahweh God (Elohim) of your father” (Ex. 3:15) or “Yahweh God (Elohim) of Israel” (Ex. 5:1) refers to God's manifestation in human (i.e. angel) form even though he is a multiplicity in his being (who was worshiped in both El-forms by Abraham). Throughout the Bible the name Yahweh Elohim (which is sometimes shortened to this basic form - see Gen. 2-3; Ex. 9:30) is consistently used to refer to the ancestral God of Israel (in the Book of Genesis, see for example ch. 9:26; 24:12; 28:13). The author of the Book of Genesis also uses the name Yahweh Elohim when he first introduces God in his human manifestation in the garden of Eden (Gen. 2-3; see 3:8). The fact that he uses this name and not merely Yahweh, signifies that he wanted to accentuate that even at that early stage God's goal was to choose a people for himself.

We can now come back to the distinction between the Most High God who was regarded as the father of the gods and Yahweh the ancestral God of Israel. We have seen that the divine entity who spoke to Moses on mount Horeb seems to have had some kind of authority over the other divine entity who appeared as an angel throughout Israel's history and I suggested that he might be the father of the gods. As father of the gods the Most High God would have had some kind of special authority over all the other gods. But Yahweh was not merely another god. He shared in the being of God.

There is a passage that throws light on this issue, namely Deuteronomy 32:8-9 which I already mentioned above. Here the Most High God is depicted as the father of the gods who divided the nations among the sons of God as their heritage. In this case it is said that Yahweh received the portion set aside for the first-born son. Among all the nations the people of Israel was this choice portion. This would make Yahweh the first born son of the Most High God – and set him apart from all the other “sons of God” who do not share in God's being (this expression merely refers to heavenly beings in general).

In this remarkable passage we read: “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the sons of God. For Yahweh's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance” (Deut. 32:8-9). It has been suggested that Yahweh has merely set Israel apart for himself, but that goes against the idea of “inheritance”.

Since we know that the Most High God was indeed regarded as the “father of the gods” (Ps. 82:6) this passage makes by far the most sense if we understand it such that he gave the people of Israel as a special portion to Yahweh as his “first born” son. This also makes the most sense in the context of the clear distinction that is made in the early tradition about Abraham between the worship of the Most High God and the Almighty God who was later called Yahweh and who is throughout the Books of Genesis and Exodus presented as the ancestral God of Israel [5, 6].

Yahweh to become king of all the earth

We can now reread the first three chapters of the Book of Genesis in the light of this discussion. There is clearly no need to call upon various sources that the author supposedly used to explain the appearance of the names of God in these passages or anywhere else in the Pentateuch [7]. When God is introduced in the creation story as Elohim, the author merely wanted to present him as existing in this form before all else was created. This is the name that reflects his Being – which should be regarded as a multiplicity.

Already in the second verse of the first chapter is the Spirit of God introduced as moving upon the primal waters from which our world was created. Then Yahweh Elohim is introduced in the context of the garden story as one of the Elohim who had a special interest in humans but not before it is stated that all was created through him (Gen. 2:4). This makes sense when we consider that Yahweh Elohim is always throughout the Bible depicted as the “Word of God” [8]. When God created the cosmos through his word, he created it through Yahweh Elohim.

The author of the Book of Genesis seems to accentuate the multiplicity in the name Elohim in a manner that is clearly very old, namely by using it with the pronoun “us” instead of “I”. This is the only place in the Bible where we find this usage where it appears three times in the ancient history (Gen. 1: 26; 3: 22; 11:7). We read: “And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Although we find in the latter two of these passages that Yahweh Elohim (or Yahweh) also speaks in this manner, we should understand this in the context of the multiplicity of Elohim.

In one of these other two places (in Gen. 3:22), we find that the Septuagint has a different reading – the consistent use of Yahweh Elohim is interrupted with the use of Elohim when God speaks as “us”. This supports the idea that the name Elohim was associated with the “us” form. Another interesting feature of the Septuagint is that the divine name Yahweh Elohim does not appear only in the garden story; it appears throughout the ancient history and even sporadically thereafter in the Book of Genesis. This reading implies that the garden story should not be regarded on this particular feature as being uniquely taken from another source.

The multiplicity in the name of God is also manifested in the reference to two distinct divine entities that we find in various passages throughout the Bible. Although we find in later times that the name Most High God is sometimes used as a mere epithet of Yahweh (Ps. 47:2), the division of the roles of father and king of the gods did not disappear. In some of the passages where two such divine entities are distinguished, the one is clearly presented as the father and the other as the one who is destined to become king over all the gods of the earth.

We find already in the Book of Genesis that two Yahweh's are distinguished. In the passage about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah we read: “Then Yahweh rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Yahweh out of heaven” (Gen. 19:24). There are also two passages in the Psalms where a duality in the Being of God is accentuated. In Ps. 45:6, 7 we read how God anointed another divine entity, who is also called God, as king: “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the scepter of thy kingdom is a right scepter. Thou lovest righteousness, and hate wickedness: therefore God, thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows”. This would refer to that Yahweh who is anointed as king over the gods (no human king can rule forever!!).

The other passage is in Ps. 110:1, 4 where we read: “Yahweh said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool… Yahweh has sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among the nations”. In the Septuagint version which goes back to a Hebrew original of the third century BC both these names are translated the same, namely as “Lord” which usually refers to Yahweh. Also, in the Septuagint, Yahweh is the one who sits at the right hand of Yahweh and who will destroy the nations in his wrath and judge them (Ps. 110:5-6). The interesting thing about this passage is that it suggests that there are certain enemies who stand in the way of the God becoming king over all the nations (i.e. who are worshiped by them).

In the Prophet Zechariah this divine duality is depicted in the context of the council of the gods where Satan also appeared (see also Job 1:6; 2:1). In this case we read that the one who leads the proceedings is called the “angel of Yahweh” as well as Yahweh (Zec. 3:1, 2). This is not strange since we have seen that Yahweh is also elsewhere depicted in this manner, namely as the king who leads the council of the gods (1 Ki. 22:19; Ps. 82:1; 89:7-8). In this case Satan appears as the adversary in the council (as he also does in a similar passage in the Book of Job; Job 1:6; 2:1). This explains why Yahweh's authority has not yet been established over all the gods (see Ps. 110). In this case Yahweh calls upon another Yahweh to rebuke the Satan: “And Yahweh said unto Satan, Yahweh rebuke thee, O Satan” (Zec. 3:2). The reason why the other Yahweh would have the authority to rebuke Satan is that he is the father of the gods who have such power.

The Prophet Zechariah also tells how it would happen that Yahweh would become king over all the nations of the earth – in accordance with the prophecy in Psalm 110. In this case we read he would become king after a great battle during which he would appear on the mount of olives: “Behold, the day of Yahweh cometh… For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle… Then shall Yahweh go forth, and fight against those nations as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of olives, which is before Jerusalem… And Yahweh shall be king over all the earth” (Zec. 14:1-9). This depiction of Yahweh as warrior-king goes back to the early poem about the exodus from Egypt (Ex. 15).

The last passage is in the Book of Daniel. Here we find exactly the same depiction as in the above passages, namely of two divine entities, with the one who have the form of a man receiving kingship from the other, who is depicted as an old man who clearly represents the father of the gods. The one in human form – who is called “Son of man” – comes before the Ancient of Days, who sits on his glorious throne in heavenly context, and receives eternal kingship over all the earth from him.

We read: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13, 14).

Since this depiction is given in the context of a prophecy, the name “Son of man” might imply that he would take a human form different from his previous mere human appearance (as an angel). This prophecy is clearly messianic, as are the others that I discussed above (Ps. 45:6, 7; 110:1). In the New Testament we read that Jesus applies this expression to his incarnation as a human and casts this prophecy in the context of his second coming (Matt. 24:30).

The most important observation that we can make of all these passages in which God is depicted as a Being consisting of a father and his son, is not only that this is part of a continuous Israelite tradition which went back centuries, but also that it consistently shows that the two roles of father of the gods and king over the gods were never conflated. In the oldest extra-Biblical traditions in Canaan and Mesopotamia these roles were always clearly distinguished from each other; the same is true of the Biblical tradition! Whereas Baal/Marduk became king over the council of the gods in the worship of the surrounding nations (see [3]), Israel always worshiped Yahweh as the rightful king and the prophets proclaimed that he would one day become king over all the gods.


When one studies the names of God in the Book of Genesis and the rest of the Bible, it so often happens that one's judgment is clouded by the religious or scholarly tradition from which you come. It is not easy to consider the text on its own merit. Although Biblical Criticism has brought various criticisms in their arguments as to why the Book of Genesis should be regarded as a late literary work, these do not stand when they are subjected to real scrutiny. Scholars merely believe that because it has been deeply ingrained into their paradigm of thinking when they were taught those things at university. Although the source theory of the Pentateuch might have made sense to scholars a hundred years ago, this cannot be the case today.

I present an alternative interpretation which does not merely provide a sensible explanation for the names of God as well as the manner in which they are used in different contexts; I also show that this reading is consistent with Semitic practice in the ancient world from which the Bible originated. When the distinction between the roles of father of the gods and king over the gods is dropped in our conception of God, we end up with an idea that is totally foreign to the Bible and the world from which it originated. Although there developed a later view about God in Jewish circles in reaction against the Christian view in which God is regarded as three divine persons who include a father and a son, there cannot be any doubt that this view was well-established in the third century BC when the Septuagint was translated.

In my view there is no good reason to doubt that the Most High God and the ancestral God of Israel were originally worshiped in two very different contexts which were only later brought together. As such the oldest traditions about the Most High God present him as the father of the gods whereas Yahweh as the ancestral God of Israel was worshiped as king in the council of the gods. This duality in the roles regarding the council of the gods is attested in both ancient Canaan and Mesopotamia and has been preserved throughout Israel's history until we read in the vision in the Book of Daniel that the “Son of man” appeared before the Ancient of days sitting on his glorious throne to receive eternal kingship over all the gods. Although I did not discuss that, there cannot be any doubt that Jesus as the son of the Most High God (Luk. 1:32) fits the Biblical picture of Yahweh as “Son of man” perfectly.

[4] The name Elohim probably developed from the plural of Eloah. In my view this variant form of El was used in the time of Moses in the Sinai region where Moses is said to have lived for 40 years. Although the word is found rather sparsely in the Bible in its ancient use (instead of post-exilic use), it is interesting that we find it in the very old "Song of Moses" (see Deut. 32:15, 17). In later times the word Eloah was associated with the country of Teman (Edom). In the Book of Job it is predominantly used by his friend Eliphaz who came from that region. Teman means "south" and might have included vast areas towards the south in earlier times before it became associated with an area in Edom.
[5] The Biblical tradition of El-Elyon as father of the gods and Yahweh as king of the Gods who were considered to be a father and son who share in the divine Being shows a close correspondence with the ancient Sumerian tradition in the country of Abraham's origin. In that case the father of the gods was called An, who's name means “exalted, most high”. The elevated position of this god can be seen in the manner in which his name was written. All the names of the gods were combined with the sign for “god” which showed the reader that a god is spoken of (called a determinative). In the case of An, however, no such sign appears behind his name; his name is also the sign for god. He was “God”, the elevated one above all other gods. According to the earliest literary tradition from Fara (about 2500 BC) as well as later Sumerian tradition, the worship of this God was extremely old. Since this sign was read by the Semites as el, we may accept that the name An itself was understood as the god El who was incorporated in the Sumerian pantheon as the father of the gods.
The son of An was the god Enlil who was also the king of the gods in the council of the gods. Sumerian scholars have proposed that this name originated from a duplication of the name El, i.e. that the symbol for El was accompanied by the symbol for god (el) (Jacobsen 1977:115; Michalowski 1996:242). There are various problems with this view. Although Enlil was indeed a Semitic god, he was worshiped as king of the gods who was very much distinct from El's traditional role as father of the gods. The other problem is that El.El immediately also presents a duplication of the name El.
The Sumerians would have had theological speculations about the meaning of this name which implies a duplication of the God El into another God El. One might suggest that they would have thought that the God El, the father of the gods, duplicated himself to produce another God who shared his divine being, namely El.El (Enlil) who became the king of the gods. His kingship should be understood in the long Semitic (and Sumerian) tradition where this title was associated with warrior-kings. As king he had the title "Lord" and was the one who pronounced the decision (word) of the council of the gods. As powerful ruler of heaven and earth he was called the "Mighty One" (Jacobsen 1976:101; see Gen. 49:24; Deut. 10:17). At this point one cannot but see the close correspondence with the later Israelite tradition which would then constitute a continuation of this early Semitic tradition. 
What I am suggesting is that the relation between the Most High God (El-Elyon) and the Almighty God (El-Shaddai) as father and son goes back long before the time of Abraham in Semitic tradition – who were incorporated into Sumerian tradition as An and Enlil (as such these gods developed a particular Sumerian character). It may not be without reason that the author of the Book of Genesis calls the God of Shem by the name Yahweh Elohim, i.e. "Blessed be Yahweh Elohim of Shem" (Gen. 9:26). If we take the Book of Genesis as incorporating really old traditions about the patriarchs (as I do), then this may signify that El, the ancestral God of Abraham's family, was already worshiped by early Semites as a distinct entity from El, the father of the gods
It is interesting to hear Bileam, who did not participate in the Israelite tradition going back to mount Sinai, referring to both of El-Elyon and El-Shaddai in one proverb: “He hath said, which heard the words of God (El), and knew the knowledge of the Most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty” (Num. 24:16; see also Ps. 91:1). This parallelism is similar to one from Sumerian poetry in which the fall of Ur is bemoaned: In truth, I shed my tears in front of An. In truth, myself I mourned in front of Enlil” (Mullen 1980: 257).
Shortly after the time of Abraham, the god Marduk usurped the role of king of the gods to become ruler over the Babylonian gods. After that time the character of Enlil was slandered in Babylonia. There is, for example, the story of his banishment to the Western mountains in which he is depicted as having sexual relations with the goddess Ninlil. This story was clearly taken from the opposing Enki milieu as Michalowski (1996) has shown (Enki was the father of Marduk). Marduk was later worshiped by the Canaanites as Baal [3]. In both the Babylonian and Canaanite traditions he is presented as a rebel who led an insurrection against the king of the gods to become king himself. As such his role as king of the gods was never accepted in Israel. Instead, this rebel-leader in the council of the gods was called Satan, which means “adversary”, in the Biblical tradition. The figure of Satan is clearly very old and cannot be understood apart from the ancient concept of the council of the gods [3].
Jacobsen, Thorkild. 1976. The Treasures of Darkness. New Haven: Yale University.
Jacobsen, Thorkild. 1977. Inuma Iiu awilum, in Maria de Jong Ellis (ed.). Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Arts & Science Vol xix. Hamden: Archon Books.
Michalowski, Piotr. 1996. The Unbearable Lightness of Enlil, in J. Prosecky (ed.). Intellectual Life of the Ancient Near East, papers presented 43e Rencontre assyriologique Internationale.
Mullen, E. Theodore. 1980. The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature. Chico (California): Scholars Press.
[6] The New Testament presents us with exactly the same picture. We read that Jesus was born as “Son of the Most High” which clearly agrees with Yahweh as the only-begotten son of the Most High God (Deut. 32:8, 9; Luk. 1:32). Jesus proclaimed Himself to be Yahweh, the Son of the Father, who came forth from his being (see Joh. 8:38, 42, 58). He identified himself with the “Son of man” who will come with the clouds of heaven and stand next to the Ancient of days (Matt. 24:30 etc.). As such he says that the Son has a position above the angels before the father (Mark 13:32). He also identifies himself with the Lord on the right hand of Yahweh in Psalm 110:1 (Mark. 12:35-37) and equates this figure with the Son of man who stands next to God in Daniel 7 (Matt. 26:64). In both these prophecies God is said to give kingship to this being next to him which is also what the angel Gabriel said when he announced Jesus' birth, namely that God would give him the throne of his father David (see Ps. 45:6, 7; 110:1; Dan. 7:13, 14).
[7] We do find that the author of the Book of Genesis mentions various “(books of) the generations of” which seem to refer to material that he received from the fathers (Gen. 2:4a; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10,27; 25:12, 19; 36:1,9; 37:2). One of these books begin with the garden story. This implies that this story was indeed taken from such an early source which may have had some distinct features different from other such “books”. This is, however, not the kind of sources that are spoken of in Biblical Criticism.
[8] In my view the author of the Gospel of St. John got his view regarding Jesus as the Word of God through whom God has created all things from Gen. 2:4. Once we understand that Yahweh Elohim is a distinct entity (person) in the Being of God (Elohim) who embodied the Word of God, the beginning of this gospel makes absolute sense: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (Joh. 1:1-3).

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref.
The author has written a book on the Sumerian roots of the Bible (Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012)) and is a scientist (PhD in Physics; MA in Philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

Read also the other parts of the series on the Book of Genesis:
Intro: The Book of Genesis - the Sumerian hypothesis

If readers find the article interesting, they are welcome to share it or forward it to others, including their pastors or other scholars. 

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Biblical inspiration: in a postmodern world

In this essay I discuss the contentious subject of the divine inspiration of the Bible. Can a postmodern generation still believe that God inspired the Biblical text? I engage on a serious level with the problems and shortcomings of some popular views. I also present my own view.

Our world has changed dramatically over the last few decades. A new postmodern era has dawned. The question is whether Christians can still defend the inspiration of Scripture in our day and age? Although the typical Christian would instinctively answer “yes”, there are may contemporary theologians who regard this concept with unease. Those from the Biblical Criticism school have for the most part rejected the inspiration of Scripture as an indefensible idea. But is it really true that there is no place for the inspiration of Scripture in a postmodern era? (the postmodern era should not be confused with postmodernism as a philosophical paradigm). I argue that we have – even in this era – all reason to believe in the inspiration of the Bible.

There are in general three ways to interpret Biblical inspiration. Within these three views there are obviously many variations in thinking and some of these may even be considered views in their own right. I call these 1) the traditional verbal inspiration view 2) the Biblical Criticism view 3) the integrity view. Each of these views have their own presuppositions, manner in which they read and interpret the Biblical text as well as way in which they understand the concept of divine “inspiration”. In my discussion of these views I have to generalize but think that the views are nonetheless adequately presented. In my view the integrity view makes the most sense in our day and age and is the most balanced manner to engage with the Biblical text.

The traditional verbal inspiration view

About all Christians are familiar with those Biblical passages where the inspiration of Scripture are mentioned. We read, for example, in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” and 2 Peter 1:21: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (see also 1 Pet. 1:10-12). The question is: How should we understand these passages?

Many Christians have an “existential” faith. In their view all sorts of rational arguments and perspectives regarding the Bible are not really important. They merely believe the Biblical truths and try to live in accordance with that. Since these Christians do not really incorporate any scientific or philosophical approach in their understanding of the Bible, their view is actually quite simple. They accept that the whole Bible – down to every written word – was given by the Holy Spirit through the Biblical authors.

Among these Christians are those who do not suppose any distance between them and the Biblical authors – they think that they have access to the minds of those authors through the working of the Holy Spirit. They are not aware that they – as do all people who read the text – do in fact “interpret” the text [1]. Their view about the verbal inspiration of Scripture means in practice that the words of Scripture can only be understood in one manner – that is, in accordance with their interpretation which was delivered to them within the community of Christians to which they belong. As such they do not have an openness to really consider the Biblical text on its own terms when interpreting it – only their interpretation which was delivered within the given paradigm of their school of thinking is accepted.

In some sense these Christians follow a pre-scientific approach to the Bible (i.e. which dates from the time before the development of modern science) when the Biblical text was often interpreted rather simplistically. Their current scientific understanding of the world, however, becomes clear when they assert that the Biblical wording be taken in a scientifically correct manner. In their view of the inspiration of Scripture the Biblical wording should be understood in a scientific manner even though the Biblical authors obviously did not view the world through that lens. This cannot be correct since the Biblical authors did not make scientific pronouncements; their statements were based on observation, delivered tradition and faith experience which were always embedded in the ancient worldview.

There are many Christians in this school of thinking who approach the Biblical text in a more sophisticated manner. They incorporate the distance between them and the Biblical authors in various manners in their views. They take into account that the Biblical text reflects the personal and cultural context as well as the ancient worldview of the authors and that we should read the text with that in mind. They also accept that certain passages – for, example, St. Paul's reference to woman covering their heads (1 Cor. 11: 3-16) – are culture-based and not applicable for today (St. Paul even mentions that some of his prescriptions in this regard should not be regarded as the final word on things – 1 Cor. 7:6, 12). Even Jesus says in the Sermon of the Mount that certain things that those “of old time” believed (Matt. 5:27 etc.) should be interpreted differently. These things imply that we should not have a simplistic understanding of the inspiration of Scripture.

The Christians that adhere to this view of the inspiration of Scripture believe that each word in the original Biblical text was inspired and is inerrant – even though they know that can never be proven. In general they accept that some minor errors crept into the text in the process of its transmittance through the ages (in contrast with the original text), but they assert that this does not have any impact on the essence of our Christian faith. An example of this view can be found in the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Christians. Orthodox Christians also adhere to this view.  

The view of these Christians is closely connected with their understanding of the Biblical canon, namely that the early authors wrote the texts included in the Bible in the form that we have it today (except for the minor errors mentioned above) and that it was always regarded as sacrosanct throughout the ages by those who transmitted it. They assume (although only implicitly) that their view of the canon was always prevalent – even though the Old Testament canon was probably only reckoned as such in the second century BC as is mentioned by Josephus in his Contra Apionem (1, 38-43).

The problem for this view is that the people of early Biblical times did not regard the text as such; they viewed it as part of a living tradition in which they partook. The Biblical text – especially those parts that are concerned with early events in Israel's history – was not written in one single effort and then kept untouched throughout the ages. There were those who wrote down certain information in the form of poems, genealogies and events, others brought it all together in a coherent text and still others worked as editors throughout the ages to keep the text readable and intelligible for the people of their times. Sometimes there were variations in the transmitted source material due to such editing which resulted in amalgamated and repetitive narratives as we sometimes find in the Bible.

Although this was an organic process through which the Biblical text was written and edited, it was not a process by which the authors and editors freely changed the texts as it suited them. There is good reason to think that this was in fact a very carefully considered process. We find, for example, in the Chronicles of the kings of Israel and Judah that the author often mentions the sources that he used for the various parts of the text. This shows how the authors in old Israel went about in writing and editing their history – they took great care to give a correct account of their oracles and history. The process of transmitting the text incorporated a continuous process of editing the texts in accordance with well-established oral traditions of interpreting and reading the texts. In this manner the text was made intelligible to the people of their own time. 

The editing of texts and differences in traditions of interpretation, however, also led to differences in the transmitted text. A good example of editing by a later author is the expression “Ur of the Chaldees” that appears in Genesis 11:31. Although one may accept that Moses reworked the material handed down by the fathers into one narrative as is accepted in traditional circles (I argue that the Mesopotamian material in the Book of Genesis could only have come from this source [2]), there cannot be any doubt that this expression dates from long after the time of Moses. The Chaldeans appeared sporadically since the tenth century BC in the area of Babylon and ruled the city in Neo-Babylonian times (626-539 BC). The most likely source for this change in the text would be someone like Ezra who lived in that period. The reason for incorporating the words “of the Chaldees” was to ensure that the readers would understand which Ur was spoken of (there was another Ur near Haran). Another change in the Book of Genesis would be the reference to the “kings” who ruled in later times over Israel (Gen. 36:31). Such changes obviously do not degrade the text in any manner but they pose serious questions for those who believe that the text was considered to be canon at that early period.

This dynamical process resulted in certain variations in the transmitted text. In this regard one can think of the Vorlage-text which served since the early-third century BC as mother text for the translators of the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of the Old Testament. This Hebrew text shows some differences with the later Hebrew text that Jewish scholars accepted at Jamnia in the late-first to early-second century AD and which resulted in the well-known Masoretic text. Although many traditional Christians prefer the Masoretic text on various grounds above the Septuagint, the early church actually used the Septuagint for the most part as their Bible! The differences between these texts are manifest in those passages in our Bible that were left out by the Jewish editors at Jamnia (see Hebrews 1:6 and 10:5 which appear only in the Septuagint in Deut. 32:43 and Ps. 39:6). (For a more detailed discussion of the Septuagint, see [3]). These differences are not due to errors that crept into the Biblical text; we should rather consider the Vorlage text and Hebrew mother text of the Masoretic version as different texts in which the hand of various editors can be discerned (one can also in this regard think of the long and short versions of the Book of Jeremiah).

The changes that these editors made to the text have in effect established various families of texts and there is no way in which we can establish what the “original text” looked like. Since these variations go back to the period before the text was established as canon – and we do not have many texts from that early period – it is in effect impossible to try and establish which is “correct”. In some sense both versions of a text may be regarded as divinely inspired (say the one before and after the incorporation of the words “of the Chaldees”). Although it sounds good in theory and has great emotional power to speak of an original inerrant inspired Biblical text, it does not help us in practice to confront the mentioned problematic aspects of the text.

The Biblical Criticism view

Already early in the modernist period – that is the period when science was used as measure for all aspects of life – the scholars who established the Biblical Criticism tradition started to approach the Bible in an empirical-scientific manner. These scholars on purpose distinguished between the faith-based acceptance of the Biblical message and the Bible as historical document that may be studied scientifically. We can remind ourselves in this regard of the well-known distinction between the “Jesus of faith” and the “historical Jesus”. The challenge for Christian theologians was (and is) to use the critical-scientific approach to the Bible in such a manner that faith is not undermined.

In this approach it is accepted that the scientific study of the Biblical text is the best way to approach it. The Bible is now placed on the same level than all other historical texts. The supposed context in which these scholars think that the authors complied the text (which is a serious bone of contention) is of central importance in this approach. Theoretical models like the sources for the Pentateuch were used as basis for understanding the text. This source theory has recently been comprehensively criticized as superficially cutting the text apart and undermining the unity thereof [4].

In this approach the trustworthiness of the text is directly connected with archaeological evidence (or the lack thereof) in spite of the fact that the archaeological record is typically an unrepresentative sample which cannot be used scientifically in such a positivist manner (that is, which focus exclusively on verification as measure of truth; for the problems with this view of archeology, see [5]). Although scholars during the modernist-positivist period thought that things that cannot be proven empirically do not exist, this view has been comprehensively discredited. The hypercritical and “pedantic” approach by which scholars think that they are necessary in a better position than the authors of the ancient world to understand their positions, to which Martin Bernal [6] refers in his book Black Athena, is still present in a large segment of this group of thinkers.

In this regard it is generally accepted in Biblical Criticism circles that the Bible should not be considered as a trustworthy source of history. It is often said that the “Bible is not a source book of history”, which it obviously is not. Often these scholars write as if they are somehow in a position to know how old Israel would have thought – which merely reflects their own preconceived ideas about Israel's history. Gerda De Villiers from the University of Pretoria wrote for example in the official bulletin of their theological faculty: “This text [about the flood] was never intended to be taken literal: not in the context of the theology of ancient Mesopotamia nor of old Israel” (TEO, 7 May 2012). From their paradigm such pronouncements may seem sensible, but from a hermeneutical perspective it is astonishingly that any scholar could think that they are sure that they know how old Israel would have thought about such things!! (for a detailed criticism of Biblical Criticism as a scholarly discipline, read [7]).

It is immediately clear that this view cannot strictly speaking accept any supernatural events described in the Bible seriously – this would not be “scientific”. Although the different genres in the Bible are accentuated, they do not accept the real possibility of a prophetic genre according to which God supernaturally revealed the future. Biblical books like Daniel and Revelation in which the authors assert that it was revealed through divine inspiration, are instead sorted under apocalyptic literature – which is understood in such a manner that such claims are excluded. Insofar as it can be shown that prophecies do in fact agree with historical events, they merely accept that these were written after those events since the prophet could (in their view) in no possible way know the future. In this regard there can also not be Old Testament prophecies about Jesus; in their view these were later interpretations which were read back into the text since the Biblical authors did not consciously refer to him. In this approach there can obviously not be any real acceptance of the divine inspiration of the Bible.

In an effort to secure the trustworthiness of the Bible – and more specifically, the New Testament – as basis for their faith, some of these theologians try to draw the line with Jesus. In this case they are prepared to make an exception for certain supernatural events – especially the resurrection of Jesus. Strictly speaking such exceptions cannot be made without compromising the whole scientific approach to the Bible. There are therefore theologians – who call themselves “Biblical scientists” (Bybelwetenskaplikes) – who assert that this method should be applied consistently. They are committed to another “reformation” in this regard (this is, in the South African context).

There are also efforts to reconcile this modernist approach with postmodernism. Ben du Toit spells out such a view in his book God? Geloof in ’n postmoderne tyd (2012). His roots are in the reformed tradition in South Africa which has been deeply influenced by Biblical Criticism over the last few decades. As such his view is also not really “postmodern”, but rather “late-modern” as he himself concedes. He also subscribes to the scientific approach to the Bible – in his view the pre-scientific nature of the Bible forces us to engage with it in this manner. He does not support any doctrine of Biblical inspiration.

According to Du Toit the most important reason why the Bible still has authority for Christians in the postmodern era, is that it is our primary source about Jesus' life, doctrine and deeds. In his view we may believe the “Christian truths” but not necessarily the “Biblical truths”. For most Christians the authority that he ascribes to the Bible is not sufficient to establish faith in God and the resurrected Lord. If we cannot take the death of Jesus on the cross in the context of God's unfolding plan of salvation throughout the ages, then the question is whether it was not merely a loose-standing event which was blown out of proportion by later Christian tradition as some critics think.

The problem with the Biblical Criticism view is that it excludes all possibility of the supernatural from the start (this is the basic point of departure of the scientific method). It does not allow space for a divine dimension in the events mentioned in the text or regarding the text itself. As such it excludes the central assumption of the Christian faith, namely that God revealed Himself through the Biblical authors as well as through Jesus Christ. Although one might study the text from a scientific point of view, most Christians would always reject this as a reductive approach – which is also why some reformed (and other) theologians cannot reconcile themselves with it.

We can even bring in serious objections against the scientific study of the Bible. One can, for example, argue that Biblical Criticism is no more than an “ensemble of learned opinion”. This discipline cannot make any real knowledge-claims. Since the origins of the Biblical text are forever lost (and nothing in this regard can be proven) and archaeological data is non-representative and wide open to interpretation, the “scientific” study of the Bible is actually not scientific at all if measured against empirical standards. There is no possible way that their hypotheses can be tested in a controlled manner as is done in the natural and social sciences. It is and will always be a mere hermeneutic (interpretive) discipline which can never give any final answers.

The integrity view of Biblical inspiration

We live in a postmodern era in which people think differently from both the pre-modernist (pre-scientific) and modernist eras and we can bring some of these insights to the study of the Biblical text. As such one may value the scientific study of the Bible, not as an empirical endeavor but in the sense of systematic study, while at the same time aspire to a more comprehensive supra-scientific understanding of the text. Although other views show some agreement with the one that I present here, my approach has a certain unique focus which can be further developed into a more comprehensive view. The purpose with this writing is merely to make some proposals in this regard.

In the postmodern era there is a new openness in accepting our human limitations when it comes to the enormous complexity of our cosmos. Scholars accept that our empirical access to the world cannot give us complete access to reality as it really is [8]. This creates the space to accommodate God and his interaction with humans in our metaphysical understanding of the cosmos (i.e. not to believe anything but to present good reasons for belief). This means that we cannot from the start excludes the possibility of the supernatural from our inquiry and immediately negate the spiritual character of the Bible (as is done in the Biblical Criticism view).

The integrity view rejects all reductive approaches that think in simplistic terms and forces us to follow a more complex approach in the study of the Bible. As such Christians can accept that science can help us to understand the Bible better, but they can also assert that there is a supernatural dimension to the Bible that cannot be accessed by science. In this regard Christians may regard the Bible as a remarkable text which is different from other texts from the ancient world.

But how can we sensibly think about the Biblical text in this manner? Although the rational thinking about God goes far back in church history – due to the Platonic influence on the early church fathers – this approach effectively displaced all other ways of thinking during the modernist epoch. The end result of the rational is science. The philosopher Immanuel Kant has, however, shown long ago that there are clear limits to our rational thinking (through reason alone) which can never fathom the sum total of all existence. He showed that we should complement reason with faith. We can mitigate the rational study of the Bible with faith in believing that God worked supernaturally in history as well as in inspiring the authors of the Biblical text. Faith enables us to appreciate the “wonder” of God's revelation in Scripture.

This approach to the Bible implies that we should not only consider the available data regarding the personal and cultural context and the ancient worldview of the authors as well as the complex manner in which the Biblical text was formed in our study of the Biblical text. We must also seriously engage with the early traditions that are transmitted in the Bible. These traditions were indeed grounded in the historical context from which the Bible originated.

Although the Bible originated in the pre-scientific age and those people had a different worldview, the Biblical authors still wrote down their experience, their (orally and written) transmitted traditions, their intuitive insights about the cosmos (like the existence of the spiritual realm) as well as their pronunciations about their faith with seriousness and integrity. This is probably the greatest claim throughout the Biblical text, namely that it was written down by people with integrity in character. Although modernist man fundamentally doubted those traditions and rejected its validity, we can today in this postmodern era engage on a much more sophisticated manner with those traditions and acknowledge them as valid.

We know today that scientific knowledge about the past is provisional and that the Biblical authors belonged to the very traditions about which they wrote. The texts show how those people understood their own texts and how it impacted on their faith – which provide our only access to the thinking of those people about ancient events. This shows not only that they themselves believed in the inspiration of the Biblical text, but also how they interpreted the older texts, for example, those about their own history and prophecy as well as those about Jesus as the Messiah [9].

I would like to suggest that we learn from Martin Bernal's insights regarding ancient Greek tradition in our study of the Biblical text, especially insofar as the modernist tendency to regard old traditions as untrustworthy is fundamentally flawed. There is absolutely no way in which researchers in our day can show that they have a better knowledge about those times than the authors who lived much closer to the events themselves. Bernal pleads for a more balanced approach in which more weight is given to those early traditions in the scientific study of Greek history.

We can also in the systematic study of the Bible built upon the philosophers' Aristotle and Kant's “practical wisdom” (phroneses) and “practical reason”. Kant's “practical reason' is important because he also incorporates a “noumenal” aspect in the cosmos (which largely agrees with the Christian concept of a spiritual world). As such he presupposes that realty goes beyond the material world. He even incorporated this noumenal realm in his philosophy of science [10]. This creates the space in which Christians can accommodate a supernatural aspect within our scientific understanding of the world. In this manner the Biblical traditions as well as early traditions about the text can be integrated in a sensible manner with the scientific study of the Bible. As such Christians can believe in the supernatural workings of God in history as well as in the authorship of the Biblical text without reading the text in a simplistic manner.

We can also learn from the hermeneutics of the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. Gadamer strongly rejects the reading of texts from both a modernist and postmodernist framework in accordance with our own secular or even spiritual agendas. He accentuates that we must strive to really listen to both the voices of the author as well as the tradition from which they originate. We must not force our own view onto the text and in this way ignore the voices in the text. He writes: "I must allow tradition's claim to validity, not in the sense of simply acknowledging the past in its otherness, but in such a way that it has something to say to me" [11]. We must accept that those authors have a valid perspective. We should not merely discard their views as "primitive" and think that we are necessary in a better position to decide about the trustworthiness of their tradition.

Such an approach to the Bible can only be sensible if we accept that the Biblical texts were written with integrity in accordance with the fact that the Biblical authors often mention that they have gone to great lengths to present a reliable version of events (see 1 Ch. 29:29; 2 Ch. 9:29; 12:15 etc.; Luk. 1:1-2) – not in an absolute scientific sense but in the context of the author's perspective and worldview. Although this integrity view of inspiration does not accept that the original Biblical texts were written down as final products by its authors, it does nonetheless strive to establish the correct readings down to the particular words in the oldest texts available to us on the basis that these texts were written down with integrity [12]. As such it accepts that the Bible is a “faithful” witness who speaks with authority and integrity. Some of the Biblical authors also accentuate the trustworthiness of the Biblical account of events (1 Tim. 1: 15).

Although it would always be possible to construct a critical version about the Biblical text in which the supernatural aspect is doubted and its context is regarded as late and full of untrustworthy legends, in my view we can present an even better version which shows that the Biblical version corresponds well with extra-Biblical sources and archaeological data. I have written many essays in which I argue exactly for such a narrative [13]. In my view we have “good reason” to take the Bible as a trustworthy text.

There is, however, another level on which Christians can accept the integrity of the Biblical text. We believe not merely that the text is trustworthy because people with integrity wrote it, but also because God has inspired the Biblical authors through his Spirit. We cannot prove it – we believe it because we trust the pronouncements that are made in this regard in the Bible. We believe it because authors like St. Paul says explicitly that the texts are divinely inspired – which also refers prophetically to the eventual text of the Bible that would come into existence.

But what is meant by “inspiration”? I suggest that it means above all that God is the guarantor of the trustworthiness of the text as his Word, both in its historical (backward-looking) and prophetic (forward-looking) aspects. This divine working in the compilation of the text was a supernatural influence that operated through the authors (although not such that their own will was controlled (see 1 Cor. 14:32) which excluded any conscious action from their side. In this manner the Old Testament prophets could write about Jesus without having him consciously in their minds.

Although there are not enough archaeological and literary evidence to prove the historicity of all Biblical events as well as the correct outcome of all Biblical prophecies (in many cases there are), we can nonetheless believe that the Bible gives a reliable account of such events (even though the earliest traditions are not in the post-Herodotus style of "history" writing) and that the prophecies have happened and will happen. Although we do not have access to all the particularities of those times and there will always be aspects of the text that we do not understand, we can still believe that it was written with integrity. We need not immediately come to the conclusion that the text is untrustworthy; we should rather strive to understand why they have written what they did. 

I can illustrate this approach with an example from my book Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012), namely from the discussion about the Biblical story of the "tower of Babel". When we try to relate this story with events in ancient Mesopotamia, where the story supposedly originated, we come upon a clear contradiction: the city of Babylon did not exist in the early period in which the Bible place the story. Does this mean that the Bible is wrong and that the tradition about such a tower is an untrustworthy account based on stories that the Jews came across during the exile? 

The Biblical Criticism view holds that the story was indeed written late (often taken as written after the exile) and that we should not even think about looking for an historical base for it. The traditional verbal inspiration view merely asserts that the Bible is correct and that we should believe every word even though it is clearly in conflict with the archaeological data. Although this view acknowledges that some errors may have crept into the text, they assume that the reference to "Babel" is not such an error (they cannot prove that it is not an error; they merely believe it). They acknowledge that they do not know which words appeared in the "original" text, but in practice they have to work as if each word in our available text is correct.

An alternative option would be to accept that the Biblical author told the story from his perspective with integrity as part of the tradition that was delivered to him by the fathers (see [2]). This implies that we should accept the tradition as valid (i.e. not immediately discard it) and try to place it in the context of the original Sumerian world from where Abraham originated. When we do this, an important possibility presents itself: we find a very similar tradition in ancient Sumeria but the city involved is not Babylon but Eridu where the oldest sanctuary in that country was situated - which consisted of a large platform built in the relevant period. 

A little more digging reveals that the original name of Babylon (in cuneiform script) was, which is the exact same name given to Eridu! This strongly suggests that a later editor changed the Biblical name with good reason to Babel (which was written as In line with this assumption, we find that the well-known extra-Biblical author Berossus who wrote the Babylonian History also reads the name Eridu as Babylon. Something similar happened when the translators of the Septuagint changed On to Heliopolis in Genesis 41:45. This was clearly a general post-exilic practice to edit the text to make it intelligible to contemporary readers. In this approach the integrity of the text is not merely assumed, but also confirmed [14]. 

The divine inspiration of the text gives it a dynamic character which allows for viable and relevant interpretations which make sense for the people of our time. This implies that we should aspire to establish interpretations of the text that do not only ground the integrity of the text using good hermeneutical principles [4], but which also makes sense for scientifically-informed people. God's revelation in Scripture can obviously not be in conflict with that in nature, which is studied in science.


In this essay [15] I focus on the concept of Biblical inspiration in a postmodern era. I discuss three views about the inspiration of the Biblical text, namely the traditional verbal inspiration view, the Biblical Criticism view and the integrity view. I show that the first two views have certain difficulties. The verbal interpretation view does not take the scientific study of the Bible seriously enough whereas the Biblical Criticism view does not take the supernatural character of the Bible sufficiently into account. The first group provides interpretations of the Biblical text which do not make sense to the scientifically-informed people of our day. The second group in effect negates the divine inspiration of Scripture.

I suggest a supra-scientific understanding of Biblical interpretation. By this I mean that Christians may assume a larger reality than that accessible to science (i.e. beyond science). This is in line with the new appreciation that the postmodern person has for the extreme complexity of the cosmos as well as the new openness towards spirituality. In my view the scientific study of the Bible (as a systematic field of study) is important in providing valid insights, but this should be complimented with the acceptance of the validity of the Biblical traditions. These traditions show how those people understood their own texts and how it impacted on their faith. We must reject the hypercritical and “pedantic” arrogance which characterized the modernist approach to the Bible according to which views of the pre-scientific Biblical authors are regarded as primitive and invalid. 

In the final instance we as Christians have "good reason" to believe in the trustworthiness of the Biblical text. The text is not only trustworthy because people with integrity wrote it, but also because the Holy Spirit moved them. This is where we encounter the divine inspiration - it is the divine seal of guaranty on the text. Although we cannot prove it, we may believe that it guarantees the trustworthiness of the text. This trustworthiness also implies that the text has a dynamic potential for interpretation which makes it relevant for each generation. This makes the Bible a book that stays relevant for every generation who study and believe it.

[1] Some Christians wrongly interpret 2 Peter 1:19-21 as meaning that we should not "interpret" Scripture but take it "as it is". This view probably originated with the King James version where we read: "no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation". The reference here is, however, not to our interpretation of Scripture (which we all do all the time!!) but to that of the authors who did not interpret future events according to their own human insight, but spoke though the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. A more satisfactory translation of the text would be: "no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (New Living translation).
[6] Bernal, Martin. 1987. Black Athena. New Brunswick: Rutgers University.
[11] Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1994. Truth and Method (translation revised by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, second, revised ed.). New York: Crossroad. 
[12] The view that there was always only one original Biblical text and that all variations are deviations from that text (i.e. various source texts are not acknowledged) may even undermine the integrity of the text. This is especially relevant insofar as the New Testament authors used the Septuagint in their arguments regarding Jesus as Messiah.
When scholars work with the assumption that the Masoretic text (i.e. the accepted Hebrew text) was the source text for the Septuagint, i.e. when they do not acknowledge different source text traditions (which was exactly the mistake made by the later church fathers; see [3]), then the differences with the Masoretic text are assumed to be changes made by the translators due to the particular manner in which they interpreted the text. In this reading the Septuagint is regarded as deviant which has significant consequences for the integrity of the New Testament where some authors, like the one who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, used the Septuagint as basis for their arguments.
When the Masoretic text is regarded as the “correct” text, then this author's whole argument that Jesus was high priest according to the "order of Melchizedek" may not be that strong because one does not have to read the Masoretic text in this manner. Instead of the reading “You are a priest after the order [manner] of Melchizedek” one may prefer: “You are a priest forever, a rightful king by My decree” (Ps. 110:4). Why would one prefer the reading (which is also the Septuagint reading) that includes the name Melchizedek (except if you do this on theological grounds)? This preferred reading is closely connected with one's reading of Genesis 14:17-24 where Melchizedek is first mentioned.
The Masoretic text suggests that Melchizedek was NOT a priest of JHWH whereas the Septuagint suggests that he was indeed a priest of JHWH! This can be seen (among other things) from the fact that the God of Abraham is called “JHWH, God the Most High”, whereas the God of Melchizedek is merely called “God the Most High” (this expression was also used in the Roman empire outside a Jewish context). When we take the Masoretic text as point of departure, then we must read Psalm 110:4 in accordance with Genesis 14:22 (in the Masoretic text), in which case the argument of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews could collapse! This is the position of the Dutch scholar Pieter de Boer in his essay "Dienen Abram én Melchizedek JHWH?" published in Nieuwe en oude dingen (Vuurbaak, 2013).
The alternative is to view these two lines of thought as belonging to two different textual traditions that go back to the Vorlage text and the mother text used at Jamnia (which became the Masoretic text) respectively. In this case we would regard the Septuagint reading as going back to a well-established Vorlage text which was preferred by the Hebrew scholars of the third and second century BC [3].
Why should we prefer the Septuagint reading? Although neither Genesis 14 nor Psalm 110 was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint confirms that this reading (without JHWH before “God the Most High” in Genesis 14:22) goes back to a Hebrew original in the early third century BC (which cannot be said of the Masoretic reading!). When we furthermore compare this reading with that of other early texts founds among the Dead Sea Scrolls which include this passage, namely the Genesis Apocryphon and the book of Jubilee, the Masoretic text stands out as deviant because the name JHWH does not appear in any of them in Gen. 14:22.
We have two ways to understand this: 1) the Masoretic text goes back to an early (unattested) mother text that was different from the Vorlage-text, 2) the scholars at Jamnia actually changed the text!! In this case the name JHWH was inserted to distinguish the God of Abraham from the god of Melchizedek, both of which are called “God the Most High”! One may suggest that such a change was a deliberate one which had the purpose to create some distance with the Christian interpretation!
The shared divine name, however, that appears in all versions (“God the Most High”) strongly suggests that the oldest text tradition (before JHWH was inserted into the Masoretic text) regarded them as serving the same God (as we find in the Septuagint). We therefore have good reason to accept the arguments by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
[14] I plan to write a detailed essay about the tower of Babel in the series about the Book of Genesis.
[15] This essay originally appeared as an appendix to the book Abraham en sy God.

Author: Dr. Willie Mc Loud (Ref.
The author is a scientist-philosopher (PhD in Physics, MA in Philosophy) and has written a book on the Sumerian roots of the Bible (Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012)). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.