What's in a name?
April 27, 2004 6:34 PM   Subscribe

One God, Many Names. An intriguing short paper (pdf) from the Nawawi foundation on names given to God within the Abrahamic faiths and beyond.
posted by Mossy (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Really good and interesting--thanks Mossy! I never knew Muslims said anything about Abraham and Sarah in their prayers. And that 99 names thing is fascinating--reminds me of Kabbalah a little. Has anyone examined what Islam took from those pre-Islamic microreligions in the region, like Christians did with pagan rituals and holidays?

I'm of 2 minds tho, about encouraging the use of the word "God" instead of Allah. The word "God" is an important placeholder or reference, but it's not at all the word/words in the Bible (esp. since there are so many names in both the Koran and Old Testament). Does the author only want it used when talking to people outside the faith?
posted by amberglow at 8:53 PM on April 27, 2004

I've never understood why "Allah" is not conventionally translated "God" or "The Lord".

Point of comparison: many of my Orthodox brethren are prone to saying "Hashem" (lit: the Name) rather than "God", or writing "G_d" to mimic the avoidance of vowels in YHWH. Don't ask me why...

... but I bet Languagehat can help!

amberglow, I think if you compare a King James translation with Hebrew, you'll find "God" used to translate YHWH and "The LORD" to translate "Adonai" and "Elohim".
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:00 PM on April 27, 2004

I think if you compare a King James translation with Hebrew, you'll find "God" used to translate YHWH and "The LORD" to translate "Adonai" and "Elohim".

ah. That reminds me of the Shma--one line is "Adonai Elohanu" which i've always been told means "The Lord our God"
posted by amberglow at 9:08 PM on April 27, 2004

I was wrong anyway, amberglow: see here and here.

Adonai is most literally "Lord", however. (Interestingly, so is "Ba'al"). "Elohim" is literally "gods", it's a plural form, but it's mostly just treated as one of His names. There are some interesting theories out there about what the use of different names might signify in terms of the origins of biblical narratives, but that takes us into deep oceans of conjecture.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:18 PM on April 27, 2004

Interesting how it pointed out Christian fundamentalist insistance that muslims worship the "mood god" (a poorly-disguised pseudonym for Satan) when only a cursory glance at religious texts will reveal they worship the god of Abraham. Nice link, Mossy.
posted by Jimbob at 10:45 PM on April 27, 2004

Actually, kabbalah is pretty much based around the same basis as the Islamic idea of kalam. Look deeper into the Islamic spirituality and you'll see a whole host of similarities - the correlation between the Neshamah and the Ruh springs to mind.
posted by Mossy at 8:37 AM on April 28, 2004

There are some interesting theories out there about what the use of different names might signify in terms of the origins of biblical narratives.

I find the polytheism which should be obvious to unbiased Hebrew-speaking Bible-readers to be fascinating:

Gen 1:26 (fixing the KJV's less-than-literal interpretation of Elohim, a plural noun:) And the Gods said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.

Then there's that whole don't worship other Gods (not "idols," another mistranslation -- the phrase "elohim acheirim" is often used, which means "other Gods" no matter how you slice it) thing. And the use of "the God of Abraham" as a way to point to that particular God. And the whole Hebrew God vs. Egyptian God thing in Exodus.

Judaism was a lot different before Plato. :)
posted by callmejay at 9:40 AM on April 28, 2004

(Well, not "And the Gods," just "and Gods," to be fair.)
posted by callmejay at 9:42 AM on April 28, 2004

callmejay, I think us Jews have always accepted that there were/are other Gods around. Every group had their own, pretty much, let along the Roman empire's pantheon (It also fits in with the microreligions mentioned in the piece.) How do Christians deal with that fact?
The examples you mentioned, and the Golden Calf in the desert, etc--they all show that there were always other options. It's a big world, and we've only ever been a small part of it, throughout history, so it stands to reason that there are other Gods. Our God is the same for us Jews, Christians and Muslims, but that still doesn't cover most people on Earth, either now or back then.

Mossy, I know so little about Kabbalah, but it's interesting to see yet another connection--I can easily picture Jews and Muslims sitting around a cafe discussing and arguing about all that stuff, and more, in Damascus or Spain or wherever ages ago. : >
posted by amberglow at 10:28 AM on April 28, 2004

Typing that made me realize how sad it is--there was so much cross-pollination of ideas between us ages ago, and now things are so fractured. It's such a waste.
posted by amberglow at 10:30 AM on April 28, 2004

Excellent post, Mossy. I wholeheartedly agree with the author of the article, and for years I've been correcting people who talk about "Allah" as if it represented some other competing deity. Islam worships the same god as Judaism and Christianity, and I would think Muslims would want to emphasize that fact. (I give the author particular praise for not trying to etymologize the word god, which can't legitimately be traced back farther than Germanic. And I'm crossing my fingers that the militant atheists will spare this thread their repetitive and boring rants about how stupid the whole idea is.)

the "mood god" (a poorly-disguised pseudonym for Satan)

Ah, if I were a male chauvinist pig, the jokes I could make...

And since we're talking about the names of God, allow me to link to the famous Arthur Clarke story "The Nine Billion Names of God" for those who have missed it. It's short and has one of the best last lines in sf. Read it.
posted by languagehat at 12:20 PM on April 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Maybe G_d needs so many names so the true name of G_d will stay hidden ?

Isn't the world supposed to wink out of existence if someone utters it, sort of like how the world was supposed to end with the disappearance of the Last Just Man, as in Andre Schwarz-Bart's "The last of the Just" ?
posted by troutfishing at 2:26 PM on April 28, 2004

Trout, did you hear what I said? Read the story.
posted by languagehat at 1:45 PM on April 29, 2004

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