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The word for G-d in Genesis 1:1 is plural in all the manuscripts, there's no debating that it's plural. So really it should read "In the Beginning Gods created the heavens and the earth". Why is this plural?

.. or, is there debating on what it says?

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See also judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/4155/…. –  Alex Jul 13 '11 at 18:13
    
@Alex, isn't this an exact duplicate of that? –  msh210 Jul 13 '11 at 18:48
    
see the Torah Temima where he discusses this. –  Hacham Gabriel Jan 20 '12 at 2:06
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6 Answers 6

it's not in plural form, see how the verb is. another example in hebrew is the word maim (water), which has no singular or plural. this may seem plural to you but it actually isn't, simply because god is one.

your question is basically on the quality of the translation. one can see (at least as an reflection) the importance each culture (or language) gives to something by how many words it has for it. meaning a culture give more importance to fishes would name each one different exposing the nuances while someone that hates fish would just call all of them fish and would't see the difference from one to another.

hebrew has many words for god, soul etc. lots of different words are commonly translated to one general losing great part of it's meaning. but that happens with all translations.

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Mayim is plural (or dual anyway): it takes plural adjectives and, when it's the subject, verbs. E.g., Cant. 8:7. –  msh210 Jul 13 '11 at 18:47
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I think your question is the word Elohim for G-d, which is used in the Bible to indicate authority -- sometimes G-d (as in the first chapter of Genesis), sometimes idols (as in the Second Commandment), sometimes the court system.

Yes, the ending im usually indicates plural. Keep in mind that el or eloha means "a mighty one" or "force." As the pagans of the time believed in one god with power over this, one god with power over that, the Torah makes it clear that the entire creation was performed Elohim, i.e. by "All Forces" or "Almighty" (likely the best one-word translation for Elohim.)

This focus on G-d's force also can refer to G-d's using a harsh attitude of judgment towards creation. The first block of sentences describing creation (Genesis 1:1 -- 2:3) are at this macroscopic scale, and thus Elohim is the description for G-d used there. The next block is an intermediate level, as humankind is trying to understand its boundaries here (2:3--4:1); the name used is "Tetragrammaton (Yud - Heh - Vav - Heh) Elhoim" (the Talmud says this refers to "kind when in judgment"). Finally, starting in Chapter 4, the name Man uses to refer to G-d is simply the Tetragammaton, a name that references G-d's mercy and existence beyond time.

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Simple answer: it's not plural.

Complex answer:

Rambam addresses the apparent plurality of the word Elohim in the מורה נבוכים, The Guide for the Perplexed. He addresses it for the sake of explaining passages where it sounds like Elohim could imply God is corporeal, but I think we can use his teachings to address this first passage.

He states that its common knowledge that in Hebrew, Elohim is a word that can designate the diety (singular), the angels (plural), and the rulers governing the cities (plural), later he adds Judges (I.2 & II.6). And Onqelos gives an accurate translation of it. In the Creation passage he translates it simply as Yod-Yod, a singular name of God.

So when Elohim is describing God, it is the singular form of the word, but if the word is describing angels and rulers then it can be plural.

You could also say the name "Elohim", when referring to the Diety imparts the many definitions of the word to God. So while God himself is singular, his attributes are plural. He is the God of gods Ruler of rulers, Judge of judges (all referring to his superiority above the angels).

In chapter I.61, Rambam says that "all the names of God, may He be exalted, that are to be found in any of the books derive from actions" (except the name Y,H,V,H). And he says in II.6, 'God only acts through an angel (messenger)'.

If we then take it all and tie it together then we can interpret "Elohim" in first passuk to mean (the singular) God (Elohim) creates the heavens and earth through the use of his messengers/angels/rulers/judges (Elohim), of which God is the ruler (Elohim), and Judge (Elohim).

the guide of the perplexed I
the guide of the perplexed II

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The text in hebrew is (transliterated) " Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve'et ha'arets" Gramatically, there are 3 nouns, 1 verb and one adverb. The one verb is singular, 2 of the nouns have a plural suffix, and one of the nouns is singular, and the adverb "bereshit" is also singular.

Since there are no verbs written in the plural, none of the possible subjects are plural either. (in this case, all the nouns happen to be singular nouns).

A literal translation of the phrase, without any correction for english grammer would be "In beginning, created(singular masculine) Elohim, the sky and the earth"

The word Elohim itself, can be translated in one of six ways. Gd, gods, Powers, Leaders, Judges, Forces

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Direct objects can be plural; the verb number only needs to match the subject (grammatically). "Heavens and earth" is not a problem. –  Monica Cellio Jul 13 '11 at 14:54
    
true, I wasn't clear. Shemaim though isn't a plural word. Some say it means "sham maim" (over there is water) Its really heaven or sky and earth, not Heavens. –  avi Jul 13 '11 at 15:14
    
@avi shamayim takes plural verbs when it's the subject and takes plural adjectives, so, yes, it's plural. E.g., verb, Ps. 68:9. (Or dual anyway.) –  msh210 Jul 13 '11 at 18:44
    
is that always true? I remember a shiur explaining that its singular. –  avi Jul 13 '11 at 19:27
    
Both "Elokim" and "shamayim" are grammatically plural. The latter is, as @msh210 said, also a dual. Notwithstanding this fact, they both refer to singular objects. It should be obvious that grammar alone is not sufficient to explain God's manifestation, but if it is not, the inconsistent quantity agreement of verbs ascribed to God throughout Tana"ch should make it clear. –  WAF Jul 14 '11 at 2:47
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Elokim is connected to the sfira of Gevura, strength, which is the source of constriction of G-dly light. This results in multiplicity in the world (while Chesed, kindness, is connected to Hashem, who is one, and is singular).

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I think that the plural usage here is an instance of a form of respect unknown to English speakers, where plural is a way of expressing gravitas. In most non-English Western languages, for example, in French the 2nd person plural pronoun ("you all" in English) is used to refer to persons deserving respect. This form is also found in Spanish, German and Yiddish. I think these common expressions among language all show that, to refer to someone with respect, we often use the plural. Personally, I think this is related to the older (ancient?) belief that bigger/fatter=healthier, but that's just my opinion. Does anyone know if Arabic used 2nd person plural pronouns as a symbol of respect? It would be interesting to know how old this practice is, and if it is inherited from Semitic languages.

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user747, Welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for this insight! –  Isaac Moses Jul 14 '11 at 2:08
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I think Ibn Ezra agrees with the gravitas point. See here: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/4155/… –  WAF Jul 14 '11 at 2:50
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See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-V_distinction. –  msh210 Jul 14 '11 at 3:16
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