Copyright © 2003, Dorian Scott Cole
God, a classification, not a name
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Most civilizations in the greater Orient were polytheistic, but all believed in one supreme god, while relegating other gods to lesser status in their mythology.
The most common meanings associated with the general title translated God in all of the languages in the greater Orient (that is, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Persia, Palestine, bordering European, Asian (India), African, Egyptian, and Saharan populations) convey the ideas of pre-existence, creativity, wisdom, and power:
Characteristics of God are communicated by naming God with a name that carries a meaning. The name typically takes the form: God + characteristic.
God: etymology of the classification (not name) through the years in the greater Orient in descending order from more recent to the earliest dates:
Aramaic/Syriac (language spoken by Christ):
Semitic (from the earliest Semitic writings):
Persia, Indo-Iranian into Afghanistan (European and India language influences):
Within these various cultures, gods are often given names that describe their characteristics, such as in Sumer, Enki, the father of the gods, and Ea, the God of Wisdom. Also see New Advent at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06608x.htm
A classification is designated by a name that refers to a type that includes one or more like things. For example, the "chair" is the name of all types of items that resemble a chair. If all other chairs disappeared, we would refer to the remaining chair as "Chair," just as we refer to "God" or "gods."
These classification designates, or classification names, which differ in various languages, are often the stem words that are used in those languages to create differentiating categories and more personalized names. For example, "highchair" and "armchair" are further designations of even more categories of chairs. In Hebrew, the word for God (or gods), El, is made descriptive in El'azar (meaning God is helper), El'elohey (God of Israel), Elda'ath (God of knowledge). These forms aren't yet personal names, as would be "Ea," the God of Wisdom.
The name, Jehovah (Yehovah), which means "the eternal and self-existent one" became the national name (personalized) of God for Israel. This name was also often extended with descriptive words: Jehovah-jireh (God will see to it), Jehovah-nissi (God is my banner), and Jehovah-shalom (God is peace). In Hebrew writing, vowels are left out, so YHWH is "Jehova," which is pronounced closer to the form "Yahweh."
The word "God," then, as commonly used, most commonly means "The God." It indicates that there is only one commonly recognized God, the one who is above all. The word "God" refers to a category or type, and is not a personalized name.
The stem or root word for God, in any language, is often extended to reflect a characteristic of God, or to reflect a relationship. Examples are, "God is good," or "Lord."
When a god is referred to by a personalized name, this usually indicates some lesser god, not the "One God" recognized by most people.
Representatives of God, such as prophets (spokesmen), angels (messengers) and cannonized saints (recognized for working miracles), are not gods.
The exceptions are among Christians and Hindus. Christians believe that God (the Father) is personified in human form by the Son (Jesus the Messiah), and in spirit form by the Holy Ghost. Various religions similarly believe that we are all children of God, and that God is in us. Hindus believe that we all return to the One God, and there are three aspects of creation through which God is personified.
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