[b-hebrew] Plural verbs/adjectives modifying Elokim

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Tue Dec 4 22:33:36 EST 2007

In many passages which appear in Samuel-Kings and in Chronicles as 
almost-identical parallels, there are many such "small" differences which 
subtly change the meaning of the text. The usual assumption made by scholars 
is that the Chronicler, writing several centuries after the author of Samuel 
and Kings, is personally responsible for many of these differences, where he 
attemptd to either clarify passages that were unclear to him, or to bring 
theologically difficult passages more into line with his beliefs. One good 
example is at the end of the next chapter: 2 Sam. 8:18 clearly states that 
"David's sons were priests". 1 Chr. 18:17 has "David's sons were first at 
the hand of the king". To the Chronicler, living in the early Second Temple 
period, it was unthinkable that anyone but a direct decendant of Aaron would 
legitimately be called a "priest". In our case, the Chronicler may well have 
had a problem with the idea that Elohim "went" in the plural, and so changed 
the verb to the singular. Notice that he also added the definate article 
"Ha-Elohim" - "The God".
On the other hand, there are actually so many small differences between the 
Samuel text and the Chronicles version that it is not impossible that the 
text that Chronicles used was different in the first place, or even that 
both the present text of Samuel and the present text of Chronicles have been 
corrupted over the centuries by scribal errors. Look through any good 
commentary on Chronicles (such as Sarah Japhet's NCB or Gary Knoppers' 
Anchor Bible) and you'll find a lot on both possibilities.

All of this, or course, says little about the meaning of the "original" text 
in Samuel. Why the monotheistic Hebrews referred to their God in the plural 
is a topic that goes way beyond this discussion: does it reflect the 
Hebrews' polytheistic origins? is the plural form simply an honorific form 
of address? In my mind, the author of Samuel certainly only had one God in 
mind (and while I think that Kevin overstated his point, let's leave the 
Trinity out of this) and did not see the plural verb as a problem. 
"Attraction" sounds like a possibility, but is surely not the only one. BTW, 
it's interesting to note how some of the classic Jewish commentators dealt 
with this passage: Rashi, quoting the Targum Jonathan, writes that the 
"Elohim" referred to here are actually God's "messengers" Moses and Aaron. 
Kimhi (Radak) states that the plural is an honorific, but then mentions the 
Chronicles version and the TJ and writes that a "drash" interpretation could 
be that the singular refers to God, while the plural refers to Moses and 

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Yosef Shalom" <yossiyeshua at yahoo.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Wednesday, December 05, 2007 4:38 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Plural verbs/adjectives modifying Elokim

> Kenneth,
> I never took the two passages as implying David actually prayed the prayer 
> twice in both forms.
> What I take it as is that David said it originally as in Samuel, and then 
> later when the Chronicler recorded it, he did so without the plural, since 
> it had no bearing on the essential meaning of the passage and was more in 
> line with the normal appearance of Elohim with singular verbs.
> kenneth greifer <greifer at hotmail.com> wrote:
> Yosef,
> If 2 Samuel 7:23 and 1 Chronicles 17:21 say the same thing, but one is in 
> plural, and the other is in singular, maybe one of them has mistakes, even 
> if you don't know which one. I doubt King David said the same thing twice, 
> once in plural and once in singular.
> Kenneth

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