Engaging in Elohiming

A History of God is a bestselling book written by Karen Armstrong. While reading it today, I discovered something etymologically interesting in the word, “elohim.”

Armstrong discusses Jacob’s encounter with Yahweh, and she claims that, after some sort of divine deal was struck, Jacob makes Yahweh his “elohim,” which, according to Armstrong, means “the only god who counted.”

Jacobs elohimic decision only makes sense within a henotheistic paradigm. It may seem a bit odd for modern westerners (like me) to adopt this type of theological paradigm. Perhaps this reluctance is just as much a result of the West’s obsession with reductionism and Occam’s razor and ontological parsimony. Regardless, perhaps Jacob was right to recognize the existence of other gods.

Indeed, it seems that the only theological position that does not suffer from naivete is henotheism. There are indeed other gods. Their names and faces have changed, but they do exist. The local American deities could be called, as Borg semi-suggests, Affluence and Achievement and Appearance. These deities are all vying for my loyalty and sacrifices. They are all competitors to take the place of my “ultimate concern.”

It is in this context, that I must strive to make God my elohim, the only god that counts. The ancient prescriptions for keeping the people’s heart focused solely on Yahweh are certainly archaic and sometimes seem to be immorally brutal, but perhaps there is something that can be gained from studying their practices.

“Elohiming” was taken so seriously back in that day that they would often cast out members of the community who were beginning to worship other gods. Indeed, Jesus seems to carry perpetuate their harsh practices of purity when he suggests, hyperbolically, that we should rip out our eyes if they cause us to sin. Both with the Israelites and with Jesus there is a casting out of that which interferes with “elohiming.”

If indeed, the ancients and I are in the same theological boat, I should take a few lessons from them since they have some experience with “elohiming.” This, I hope, can be a new way of seeing some of the prescriptions of OT. I hope that I can begin to see them not as egregious violations of God’s will (even though that seems to be the case), but instead, as metaphorical prescriptions to aid me in my journey to elohim God.

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