Saturday, 6 August 2016

Science and metaphysics: in search of Russell's teapot

Presenting a new argument for the existence of God

In the modernist era science was often contrasted with metaphysics. Nowadays philosophers accept the inevitable: the metaphysics of science. But how does the metaphysics of science stand in relation to the metaphysics of worldviews? And how does the metaphysical views of Christians and atheists fare under the scrutiny of scientific discovery over the last two hundred years? It is a remarkable fact that the Christian worldview is historically much better confirmed than the atheistic one. This is in fact the raw nerve of atheism!! This is part three of the series Science and God.

Since the time when humans first wrote things down, they had metaphysical beliefs about the world. They held views about our cosmos that go far beyond the possibilities of our five senses. As such they believed that humans have a soul (spirit), that other spirits or gods exist in a spiritual realm beyond our material world and that there are life for humans beyond our earthly existence. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition people furthermore believe in one creator God who gave his moral law and that humans have the ability (free choice) to live in accordance with that law [1].

Since the time of the Enlightenment many people have rejected these metaphysical views. Atheists and agnostics think that these views are the remnants of a pre-scientific worldview. They reject the idea that spirits or God exist (some developed new rationally inclined views, for example, about what the idea of “God” entails, but that is beyond the scope of this essay). They believe that science and only science should guide our thinking. In this regard they often confuse science with scientism – thinking that our human existence should be viewed only in terms of empirically demonstrated facts. As such they often do not appreciate the fact that this is also a mere metaphysical view about our human existence which makes claims that go far beyond the reach of science.

The million dollar question is: which metaphysical view is correct? Both camps argue that they are right. As such a more sensible question is: How can we determine which view is correct? The problem in this regard is that the things that Christians and atheists argue about lay beyond our sensible world. Although this might seem to be a dead end, it is not. A possible solution is to consider these worldviews in their historical context as theories which have over time been confirmed or denied by scientific research.

In this essay I cast the disagreement between Christians and atheists in terms of metaphysical worldviews that can be treated as theories and ask: which one has over the course of the last two hundred years shown itself to be correct insofar as we have been able to confirm or deny its presuppositions when measured against scientific progress? I use the work of the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) who has contrasted these metaphysical views in the context of some of his so-called antinomies, that is, conflicts of logical possibilities. In these antinomies opposing rational positions are effectively brought into conflict with each other. I show that although the Christian worldview has not originated in science, it has by far been more successful than the atheistic view.

The metaphysics of science

The conversation between Christians and atheists is often cast in terms of knowledge claims. In this regard atheists often present the Christian view as not built on any real knowledge. They argue that the Christian presuppositions about our cosmos go beyond that which is scientifically known and postulates things that can never be known. In this regard atheists often speak about the “god-in-the-gap” perspective: in the context of that which is unknown, one can postulate anything. The atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) famously wrote that the claims of the Christian religion are in effect unfalsifiable claims similar to saying that a tiny, undetectable teapot exists between Earth and Mars. In his view the burden of proof lies with those making such claims to show that they are true.

Bertrand Russell
Russell lived in the modernist period (from the Enlightenment to the first part of the twentieth century) when most scientists believed that the nature of our world is in the realm of scientific proof. Although it is surely true that we can “objectively” assert certain things about the empirically accessible part of our world (see part 2 - the link is at the bottom of this essay), we know today that there are large parts of the cosmos for which this is just not possible (scientists nowadays think that more than 93 % of our world may be “dark” to our instruments). Even the well-known theories of general relativity and quantum physics describe events and entities that are not empirically accessible. The “Big Bang” is not so accessible; quantum entities (particles) are also outside direct empirical access – they are mathematically described as existing in a complex (abstract) space which is definitely not our space!! In Quantum Field Theory they are even described as being outside proper space-time. Only when we measure them do they appear in our space-time.

In this world the idea of “proof” evaporates. That which Russell set out to do in this regard is today generally regarded as a total flop (i.e. his "logical atomism" which engendered the discredited "logical positivism"). Instead we find that various “interpretations” of especially quantum physics theory have been developed – all of which view the reality of our world very different (for example, the Copenhagen interpretation, Bohm's interpretation, Von Neumann's observer interpretation and the many-worlds interpretation). Today we speak in philosophy of science of the metaphysics of quantum physics. That is, there are various metaphysical views as to how the world really is beyond our empirical access. In the place of “proof” we are now engaged with “interpretations” due to the simple fact that we as humans are severely constrained in our experiential and experimental access of the world (see part 2).

This problem has been foreseen long ago by Kant. A large part of his philosophy is concerned with the constrained nature of our human sensibility and understanding which in turn restrict our ability to acquire “objective” knowledge. Once we proceed in our thinking and theoretical (mathematical) modelling beyond these boundaries, we cannot obtain proof of anything. We may have good reason to think that something is such or such but one cannot prove it. Even in the case of our best scientific theories, nothing is proven!

Although we may have indirect evidence which confirms the “correctness” of our theories, this can never prove that the world is like that. In the “Big Bang” theory, for example, we have indirect evidence that confirms this theory: the expanding universe (red shift of light) and the absorption line features in the background radiation which agree with star formation. Although this is empirically confirmed, the true nature of this event may be very different from what we think – in the same way that Newton's theory was empirically confirmed but has been surpassed by Einstein's theory [2].

Scientists describe the Big Bang mathematically as a singularity – which merely means that we do not know what really happened. Empirical evidence supports the theory that our material space-time world had a beginning in time. Although there are various speculative mathematical theories about how the Big Bang happened, about all of these confirm that our material space-time world came into being after the Big Bang. Insofar as we engage with the question about what "really" happened at the beginning, this is beyond empirical access. We may have all sorts of speculative ideas about the origin of the cosmos – Christians believe that God created the world – but we can never prove any of that.

This is the bottom line. The time when philosophers thought that only those things that can be proven should be allowed into serious discussion is long gone. We know that the largest part of our world is not empirically accessible and we can always only have theories about that. Now, this is the important point: we can test our best theories to determine if they are empirically confirmed. Although the metaphysics of worldviews goes beyond the metaphysics of science, we can do exactly the same. The metaphysical worldviews of Christians and atheists can be constructed as rational models which may be confirmed or rejected in the progress of science. This is in fact the scientific method and there is no other “objective” way to decide between such theories [3]. We can now delineate this approach in more detail.

The metaphysics of worldviews

In this essay I am primarily concerned with the Christian worldview (insofar as religion is concerned). The most important aspect of Immanuel Kant's work in this regard, is that he developed an integrated rational position which is in accordance with the Christian worldview. In opposition to this stood the atheistic worldview which originated in Enlightenment thought. Both these metaphysical views are rationally consistent perspectives and none can as a whole be proven to be true for the simple reason that they are concerned with at least some entities that lay (or do not lay) beyond our experience and experiments. This does not mean that aspects of these metaphysical worldviews cannot over the course of time become accessible to scientific research. In fact, certain aspects did come within scientific range.

Where did the Christian worldview originate? Christians believe that it originated with God's revelation in Scripture. As such they believe that their view is not built upon mere ideas that were taken out of thin air. Rather, it is in accordance with God's revelation of Himself through his Word and his Son to mankind. Although aspects of this worldview is not exclusive to Christians (like the belief in the spirit realm), we focus only on the Christian view in this essay.

Where did the atheistic view originate? The basic point of departure for that view was that there is no God (a-theist). This means that atheists oppose the worldview through which a creator God, souls/spirits, moral law (free choice) etc. become possible. Since all of these stand outside the material cosmos studied by science and cannot on logical grounds in a systematic and consistent manner be included in the atheistic view (without leaving at least some space for the idea of God), they were traditionally rejected by atheists. The atheistic view effectively originated from a scientism view which regards empirical science as the basic norm in constructing any metaphysical view of our world.

Immanuel Kant presented the basic aspects of these opposing views in terms of opposing logical possibilities. In the fourth antinomy discussed in his famous Critique of Pure Reason he sets the possibility of a necessary being (i.e. God) who brings forth contingent existences against the opposing view which rejects that. In the third antinomy in the same work he sets the possibility of an intelligible cause (a cause that we can merely conceive of intellectually) that produce phenomenal effects against the opposing view which only allow for deterministic causes. The first position is consistent with a creator God who created our material world which came into being at the beginning of our cosmic history. The second position rejects the idea of such a God and thinks that everything always existed in the context of mechanistic causality.

Kant's third antinomy was also important for another reason. It is not merely consistent with a first beginning of our universe; it also makes free choice possible. Without such absolute spontaneity – that is, when only deterministic causes exist – there cannot be any free choice. This means that God's requirement that humans follow the moral law only makes sense if humans have free choice – that is, if such spontaneity exists in the cosmos. The traditional atheistic view rejected the possibility of free choice since through that the possibility of the moral law given by God as requirement for human living is established.

The problem for Kant's view was that such spontaneity is not logically possible in a mechanistic (that is, material) world. A world that consists only of matter that is connected mechanistically through deterministic causality can in no possible way supports absolute spontaneity. The only solution for Kant was to postulate the existence of another realm which is not in space and time and therefore not sensibly accessible in experience and experiment. Since this realm is not sensibly accessible, we as humans can only think about the existence of such a realm – which is why Kant called it the “noumenal realm”, derived from the Greek word for mind (“nous”). The logical possibility of absolute spontaneity and human choice only arises when we postulate the existence of such a realm.

This realm also makes it possible that non-extended wholes-and-parts (situated in this noumenal or supersensible realm as it is also called) may have a spontaneous potentiality to produce extended parts and aggregated wholes in the context of nature. This means that everything in nature is not necessarily produced through mechanistic causality! The first view excludes "creation" insofar as it is a random process; the second view is consistent with a creator God who included an unfolding design in the cosmos when he created it [4]. Kant presents these two opposing possibilities as part of his philosophy of science in the seventh antinomy in the Critique of the Power of Judgement.

The interesting thing about the noumenal realm is that it was already introduced in philosophical conversation by the Greek philosopher Plato. Kant's contribution was to ascribe “freedom” to this realm. For human freedom (choice) to be possible, such a realm should not only exist; a part of humans should also be situated in that realm. Kant calls that the soul. If humans have souls – that is, noumenal selves – then they may be able to choose between good and evil in accordance with God's moral laws. In this manner, the possibility of a creator God, of human freedom, of the soul and of the “noumenal realm” (realm of the soul/spirit) are introduced as part of a consistent rational conception of the world. This is consistent with the Christian worldview and Kant effectively contrasted it with the prevailing atheistic view of that time which postulated exactly the opposite.

Over the next century this Kantian metaphysics was rejected by philosophers and scientists alike. In the modernist period atheists strongly believed that there is no God, that our material universe had no beginning, that absolute spontaneity does not exist, that humans have the mere illusion that they have free choice, that no supersensible realm exists and that there can therefore be no part of humans belonging to that realm (souls/spirits). The whole march of freedom on the political sphere which started with the French Revolution was seemingly merely one great collective illusion!! (That is if we take the atheists really serious).

Scientific progress

We all know that the world has changed a lot since the time of Kant. We can now go back to our million dollar question: which worldview has been consistently confirmed through science as correct insofar as that is possible to do that? Was that the Christian worldview or the atheistic one? One need not be a scientist or philosopher to see what has happened over the course of the last two centuries. Most of the things that Kant postulated have been accepted as part of our scientific worldview!! And most of those things that atheists believed in were rejected by science – although I must admit that there are some who are still trying (struggling) to keep the pure deterministic worldview alive!

The first thing regarding the Christian worldview in which Kant was right insofar as it is widely accepted by the scientific community today, is that our material world had a beginning. The scientific model which confirms that is the Big Bang model. Although there was originally an enormous amount of resistance from atheists within the scientific community against this theory due to its obvious metaphysical implications (which seems to be largely forgotten nowadays!), science has accepted it as part of its own. 

The second thing in which Kant was right, is that absolute spontaneity has been empirically confirmed in science where we see its most dramatic confirmation is in the form of atomic decay - which atom will decay, or when, is completely indeterminate. Niels Bohr used the empirical evidence for quantum spontaneity to formulate his quantum postulate. This does not mean that some (atheistic) quantum theorists have not tried (and are still struggling) to present consistent interpretations of quantum theory that are merely deterministic. The problem is that, as Michael Redhead has shown, when the Aspect experiment confirmed the violation of the Bell inequality, it at the same time proved that all forms of determinism had broken down [5]. I think one can safely accept that most scientists today believe that absolute spontaneity is a fact of our universe.

The third thing in which Kant was correct is that there is another non-material part of our universe which exists within the context of our world - that is, Kant's "noumenal" or "supersensible" realm. Although Kant thought that this realm may never become empirically accessible, the decoupling of space and time in quantum mechanics has allowed scientists to at least indirectly confirm the existence of such a realm which is nowadays called the quantum realm (see part 1). Not only is the quantum realm indeed outside our space-time as Kant postulated, it also behaves in a manner that is totally different from our classical world as described by all mechanistic theories (like general relativity). And it is exactly in the context of this realm that spontaneity is observed - exactly as Kant proposed. 

What we find is that the basic features of the Kantian rational position that agrees with the Christian worldview have been accepted in science. On all these points the Christian worldview may be regarded as correct whereas the atheistic view held by the pioneers of that position is generally rejected. I would even go further than this. I would suggest that even the one great showpiece of atheism, namely the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution which is a purely mechanistic theory, is under threat in this regard. Some leaders in the new academic discipline of quantum biology have recently proposed that even genetic mutation may be due to non-mechanistic factors [6]. The incorporation of quantum mechanics in biology immediately implies a role for spontaneity and the kind of design that Kant postulated [4]

This is not the only remaining atheistic pillar of faith that is challenged by contemporary science. In the theoretical reconstructions regarding "dark" matter we find that scientists propose that such matter is not confined to the high end of the energy spectrum - they now accept that there might be dark entities (like atoms etc.) that occupy even our human bodies [7]. This means that humans may have a dark "body" that corresponds with their fleshly body. In this regard it seems to me that even the existence of the Kantian soul which exists as a noumenal self may in time be scientifically confirmed!

A new argument for the existence of God

How did atheists react to the rejection of their traditional position? Some merely adapted and took the scientific position as their own - even though it does not fit consistently into one comprehensive rational atheistic position. Others have adopted theoretical positions that are consistent with the atheistic view - for example, certain speculative theoretical interpretations about how the Big Bang happened which exclude the possibility of a creator God. These atheists are indeed able to save their position - but their solution cannot be confirmed or denied (i.e. that this was what happened) since it is beyond empirical reach! 

Now, Christians also cannot prove that God created the cosmos for the same reason. As such it is of no use to argue about things that lay beyond empirical confirmation. We should rather stay within the confines of the scientific method - we should test the metaphysical positions as theories against empirical evidence in the context of the progress of science. When we consider the Christian and atheistic positions in historical context, it is clear that the currently accepted scientific position that the material space-time universe had a beginning in time, is in conflict with the original atheistic position in this regard. Such is the clear evidence that the cosmos includes aspects where determinism breaks down and that the quantum realm is a supersensible realm. If atheists are honest about their worldview within a historical context, they would at least admit that science has been much more in line with the Christian position than the atheistic one!

Atheists often say that they are mere atheists in the sense of not believing in God. As such they then adopt the ever-changing scientism position - often saying that their position is not a metaphysical position at all!! They are merely taking the science-position!! The problem is - as I have already mentioned - that insofar as this approach allows them to make claims that go far beyond the domain of science this is just another metaphysical position. This metaphysical position, however, has certain disadvantages when compared with a fully-developed rationally-coherent atheistic position that can be tested over time. This position is per definition unfalsifiable!! It can never be presented as a true metaphysical position that can be subjected to scientific scrutiny - it merely changes it colors with the progress of science. And there are always all sorts of "teapot-in-the-gap" theories available to support their "position". Russell's heirs does not seem to share his concerns in this regard.

Some atheists and agnostics may be described as "soft" in the sense that they are inclined to take that position on other grounds. In some manner the popular narratives that are propagated by the mass media which often involve a strong anti-Christian bias appeal to them. These may include the false but popular claims that the Bible is an untrustworthy source of information. I discuss such positions elsewhere for those readers who are open to carefully consider them [8]. 
Although God's existence cannot be proven, I present a theoretical model (the Kantian model) which takes God's existence as point of departure. This model is well-delineated with particular predictions and as such it is falsifiable. In modernist times it was believed to be false - but since then three of its basic predictions which have all been considered highly improbably (even impossible) at the time, have been confirmed, namely that our space-time universe had a beginning, the occurrence of absolute spontaneity in quantum physics and the existence of a supersensible realm (the quantum realm). Two other predictions may be confirmed over the next few decades (an unfolding design in the cosmos and the existence of the human soul). On no single point have this metaphysical position been shown to be wrong!

We can compare this theoretical (metaphysics) model with the Big Bang model. Although the Big Bang model is a mathematical model and the Kantian metaphysical model a mere rational model, both make clear testable predictions. In the same manner that the singularity of the Big Bang is forever outside empirical reach, God is forever outside such reach. In the same way that scientists accept the empirical evidence for the (unprovable) Big Bang as good reason to think that it happened, we may accept the empirical evidence for God's existence. I can see no substantial difference between the two approaches.

In the final instance it is in fact amazing that the Christian worldview was arrived at not via science but through divine revelation! This means that insofar as metaphysical truth is concerned – that is, which concerns the totality of our human existence – divine revelation is a better guide than science when tested with the only “objective” scientific measure available to us as humans, namely the scientific method.  


We are long past the point where philosophers think in terms of "proof" when it comes to metaphysical issues. Only those who are uninformed would today take such positions. Our world is just too complex for that. What we have instead are various metaphysical positions which may be tested in the framework of the progress of science to see whether they have withstood the test of time. I am afraid that we must concur that the atheistic position has been a total failure in this regard. When we take it as a theory that is submitted to empirical testing, it has been spectacularly unsuccessful. 

So, why are atheists unmoved by this? One reason is that their position has been constantly shifting - just like a chameleon. The new generation is not aware that the current scientific position is much more in line with the Christian worldview - and I predict that this trend of confirming the Christian position will continue in future - than the atheistic one from two hundred years ago. Since such historical considerations are about the only "objective" way in which we can test such metaphysical views, I recommend that atheists reconsider their "teapot-in-the-gap" approach of always calling upon unfalsifiable theories to counter the Christian position and accept that science has not been on their side in this conversation.

In contrast I presented a new argument for the existence of God which shows close agreement with the scientific approach through which the Big Bang is accepted. Not only is the Kantian model falsifiable, it has in fact been confirmed - insofar as it has become possible - against great odds in the progress of science. If one believe in the Big Bang, one should seriously consider believe in God too. 

[1] There are Christian viewpoints which do not accept the idea of free will. Our concern is not here which such theological issues.
[2] We may say that a theory is "empirically confirmed" insofar as we are able to confirm its predictions within the scope of empirical science. But that does not mean that we know what the world is "really" like! Aspects of the theory might be forever outside empirical reach. As such we may compliment "empirically confirmed" with "good reason to think". 
[3] The scientific method is “objective” insofar as it enables us to test whether theories are empirically confirmed in the framework of certain parameters.
[4] In plan to discuss this in more detail in this series
For a technical discussion see: Mc Loud, W. 2015. Introducing a Kantian Interpretation of Quantum Physics, in accordance with Kant's Philosophy of Science in the Critique of the Power of Judgment, reinterpreted and reworked with special attention to the supersensible realm. Masters thesis. UCT. Cape Town.
[5] Redhead, M. 1987. Incompleteness, Nonlocality, and Realism. A prolegomenon to the philosophy of quantum mechanics. Oxford: Clarendon.
[6] Al-Khalili, J & McFadden, J. 2014. Life on the Edge, The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology. London: Bantam Press.
[7] See, for example,

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.

Readers are welcome to forward this essay to their atheist, agnostic and Christian friends

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

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