Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Q: Jehovah, Elohim, what's the dif?

Today's question is from the same blog reader who asked Monday's question.

I was reading Science and Health when I read that Jehovah God is the tribal God of the Hebrews and not the Almighty God we worship today. That disturbed me so much that I closed the book and have not read it again. Please, comment on these facts. Thanks.

Thanks, another great question. To sort this one out requires context.

It's well to remember the full title of the book when reading Science and Health—it's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Throughout Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy writes about the Bible from a scholarly point of view. She was herself a deep Bible scholar. She could read it in the original, and was well versed in Bible commentary and in history. She was therefore qualified to comment on Biblical issues from the perspective of what these issues must have meant to the early Hebrews or Christians during Biblical times.

For example, in a section such as this one, from the chapter on Genesis:

It may be worth while here to remark that, according to the best scholars, there are clear evidences of two distinct documents in the early part of the book of Genesis. One is called the Elohistic, because the Supreme Being is therein called Elohim. The other document is called the Jehovistic, because Deity therein is always called Jehovah, — or Lord God, as our common version translates it.

Throughout the first chapter of Genesis and in three verses of the second, — in what we understand to be the spiritually scientific account of creation, — it is Elohim (God) who creates. From the fourth verse of chapter two to chapter five, the creator is called Jehovah, or the Lord. The different accounts become more and more closely intertwined to the end of chapter twelve, after which the distinction is not definitely traceable. In the historic parts of the Old Testament, it is usually Jehovah, peculiarly the divine sovereign of the Hebrew people, who is referred to. Science and Health

To me, when MBE is discussing the use of the term Jehovah in Science and Health, she's exposing for further thought the limited concept of the Divine as evident in those early chapters of the Bible, juxtaposed against the higher concept of Elohim. She is not discussing what a person might mean today when they use the term Jehovah. When someone uses that term today, they may in fact mean something closer to Elohim, the God of Love and light revealed in the New Testament. When reading MBE's works, though, it's good to keep in mind her context of discussing what those words meant in early Bible times.

Here's her definition of Lord God from the Glossary—again, this chapter in Science and Health is specifically meant to define Biblical terms for use in gaining a deeper understanding when reading the Bible.

LORD GOD. Jehovah.

This double term is not used in the first chapter of Genesis, the record of spiritual creation. It is introduced in the second and following chapters, when the spiritual sense of God and of infinity is disappearing from the recorder's thought, — when the true scientific statements of the Scriptures become clouded through a physical sense of God as finite and corporeal. From this follow idolatry and mythology, — belief in many gods, or material intelligences, as the opposite of the one Spirit, or intelligence, named Elohim, or God. Science and Health

See how the wording is explored to give greater meaning to the Biblical text? I'm only emphasizing this so that we can sort out the difference between what MBE is saying about the use of the word Jehovah in the Bible from what a person today might mean when using the word to describe Almighty God. If you use MBE's ideas when reading the Bible, you will gain a deeper understanding of what the text meant to those who wrote it.

MBE also comments on the "Jewish concept," which I've heard some objections to as proving she was anti-Semitic. However, it's my belief that she's not criticizing today's Jews in any way. My reading of her words tells me that she's giving an explication of the Jews of the Bible, not those of today. Here's an example:

The Jewish conception of God, as Yawah, Jehovah, or only a mighty hero and king, has not quite given place to the true knowledge of God. Creeds and rituals have not cleansed their hands of rabbinical lore. To-day the cry of bygone ages is repeated, "Crucify him!" At every advancing step, truth is still opposed with sword and spear. Science and Health
I think when she's talking about the "Jewish conception" of Yawah having not given place to the true knowledge of God, she's meaning this for all of us, and not as a specific comment on today's Jewish thinkers. She's warning us all to uplift our concept of the Divine to something higher than a potentate or warrior-like god. She's saying there is too much creed and ritual in all forms of religion, and not enough truth. And she's saying this reliance on creed and ritual continues the crucifixion of the truth to this day.

In this next passage, to me MBE is talking about the trajectory of increased spiritual understanding that courses through the entire Bible from start to finish. Again, I believe the "Jewish concept" she's referring to is that of the Old Testament, and is not a comment on today's Jewish worshipper.

The term Lord, as used in our version of the Old Testament, is often synonymous with Jehovah, and expresses the Jewish concept, not yet elevated to deific apprehension through spiritual transfiguration. Yet the word gradually approaches a higher meaning. This human sense of Deity yields to the divine sense, even as the material sense of personality yields to the incorporeal sense of God and man as the infinite Principle and infinite idea, — as one Father with His universal family, held in the gospel of Love. Science and Health

"… the word gradually approaches a higher meaning…" in the Bible. As you read the Bible from cover to cover, you can see how "…the human sense of Deity yields to the divine sense…" She's talking about the Bible and how it shows the advancement of human thought about the Divine. The Divine did not change—our concept of the Divine has grown.

Mary Baker Eddy was committed to helping people read the Bible with greater understanding. I myself have found through studying MBE's words that the Bible holds very little mystery to me—just a wealth of inspiration and hope. I read the words and I understand because of what Christian Science has taught me. It's important to remember MBE's goal in her explanation of Biblical terms. She was not trying to undermine other teachings or criticize, but to provide a key to unlock the truths of the Bible—and promote greater understanding for all of us.


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