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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Psalm 68: Almighty

It is always nice these days to find something to say that hasn't been already been said in greater detail in wikipedia. I note that the origin of the word Almighty does not fare too well there.

There is all kinds of silliness out there to connect the word Almighty with Shaddai. However, it was not the translation for Shaddai at all.

But first, let's line up the words that are a translation for each other. Pantocrator was a name for God in the Septuagint. Pantocrator translates into Latin as Omnipotens, into German as Allmächtige and into English as Almighty. Almighty appeared already as a name of God in Wycliff's translation and predates it by some time.

But, here is the catch. Pantocrator was not primarily the translation for Shaddai, but for the Lord of Hosts, or Lord Sabaoth. This is the name that Robert Alter refers to as the Lord of battalions or Lord of Armies, YHWH tseva'ot. So Pantocrator was the all-powerful God, the Lord of Hosts.

The meaning of Pantocrator, all powerful, has no connection to the name Shaddai. Not that Shaddai was not all powerful, but this is not an accurate translation of the name. Shaddai was Shaddai.

Throughout the LXX Pantocrator translates the Lord of Hosts. In Genesis, Shaddai is translated simply as theos. However, in Job, Shaddai was also translated as Pantocrator. So it appears that once the name Pantocrator had already been established in other books of the LXX for Lord Sabaoth, it was then used for Shaddai in Job.

Now it makes sense. Pantocrator, all powerful, the Lord of Hosts.

However, in the Vulgate, another twist, most references to both Shaddai and Lord of Hosts were translated as Omnipotens, all powerful. And finally, in the English, Lord Sabaoth was translated Lord of Hosts and only Shaddai was translated Almighty. This is the short story of how Shaddai came to be Almighty in English.

But, just to make this more confusing, in Isaiah 9:6, the Mighty God, is a translation of a completely different word, El Gibbor - God the mighty (hero).

I will have to write about how Shaddai was translated in Psalm 68 next time. Sometimes there are just too many twists and turns.

I almost forgot to mention that Pantocrator was a title for Zeus, and also associated with Apollo, the sun god. So we see Jesus Pantocrator portrayed as a sun god in some early Christian and even later Byzantine art. Pantocrator was not a name that was invented to translate Lord of Hosts, it already existed as a title for a god in Greek.

I realize that as Christians we might be very attached to the name Almighty for God, but in a translation, I find Shaddai and Lord of Hosts or Armies more in character with the Hebrew.

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4 Comments:

At Mon Nov 05, 10:14:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

As usual, Suzanne, you've done fascinating research to get us thinking! Thanks.

I almost forgot to mention that Pantocrator was a title for Zeus, and also associated with Apollo, the sun god. So we see Jesus Pantocrator portrayed as a sun god in some early Christian and even later Byzantine art. Pantocrator was not a name that was invented to translate Lord of Hosts, it already existed as a title for a god in Greek.

It's curious that LXX translators so readily use pantokrator when they so conspicuously avoid using other Greeky terms such as eros (for which they substitute agape even for Amnon's eros-feelings for Tamar) and rhetoric (for which they substitute variations of phrases with rhema and logos) and even the suffix -ike (which they slip into very infrequently).

What may be less surprising is that New Testament writers entirely avoid using pantokrator. The NT writers avoid eros, rhetoric, and -ike although John, Paul, and James slip.

And Paul slips and uses pantokrator with the Greek-Jew Christians in Corinth only once: 2 Cor 6:18, which may be his paraphrase of LXX 2 Sam 7:14 and Isa 6:14. Similarly, John keeps his gospel and epistles clean of the word until his Apocalypse, when he uses pantokrator nine times, mostly with references back to LXX passages.

Because of Paul's and John's (because of the LXX translator's) taking liberties with pantokrator, was the Xristos Pantokrator the popular image it became (an odd connection between an ancient Greek god, the Hebrew moshiach, and the Christian idea of God-all-powerful?

 
At Tue Nov 06, 12:14:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks for outlining that. I did wonder what Pantocrator was doing in the NT. This is something I hadn't studied before, and I could find little to read apart from sholarly articles which I don't have access to. Maybe just as well though. I am behind in my reading.

 
At Tue Nov 06, 01:27:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, have you come across the theory that Shaddai means something like "many-breasted one", linked with shad "breast"? I guess there are also supposed to be links to mother goddess themes, like the many-breasted Artemis of Ephesus. But if there is anything in this etymology it would be an interesting use of feminine imagery for God.

 
At Tue Nov 06, 10:02:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Peter,

You would have to ask John about that. I have come across those references and many people seem to take comfort in this imagery. I am not qualified to comment on it.

 

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