Psalm 97:9

9 For You, O Lord, are Most High above all the earth; You are very much exalted above all gods.

There are many similar indications, that the Jews (at least in the time of the king David) thought, that other gods do exist, but Hashem is the greatest one.

Is it true?

  • perhaps. The idols that are considered as G_ds from others. There is comments in traditional litterature about "others" – kouty Mar 4 '16 at 11:24
  • It is not duplicate but here the point is the explanation of the expressions that spoke on concurrence of different divinities. The degree of metaphor and metonymy is important – kouty Mar 6 '16 at 5:10
  • Ancient Israelites believed in many false notions, including monolatric. However, Moshe knew that G-d has no body and is one. – Jonathan Jan 3 '20 at 21:56

The commentators explain "other deities" in different ways

We will start with the verse you quoted

כִּי אַתָּה יְהֹוָה עֶלְיוֹן עַל כָּל הָאָרֶץ מְאֹד נַעֲלֵיתָ עַל כָּל אֱלֹהִים:

For You, O Lord, are Most High above all the earth; You are very much exalted above all gods

Malbim (Psalms 97, 9)

שכל כחם מאתך, ולא כפועל בהכרח רק כפועל ברצון ובמשפט וצדק, שבזה נעלית על כולם, כמשיהם מוכרחים ובלתי יודעים ובוחרים במעשיהם
It speaks about the stars, about natural "forces", which give an impression of independent power, but they are only performers (Lieutenants) in the hands of G_d. {They are real objects but false gods}

but we find more comments in the ten Commandments

    (exodus 20, 3)
    You shall not have the gods of others (litterally other gods) in My presence..
    לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, עַל-פָּנָי
  1. Onkelos
    other than me לָא יְהֵי לָךְ אֱלָהּ אָחֳרָן בַּר מִנִי
    ("על פניי" "above me". like another word than my name from the perspective exclusion by logic. "If I exist, they do not exist" & "And I've already manifest my presence" => "They do not exist". {Other deities do not exist at all} )
  2. Rashi: 2 explanations

    1. שאינן אלהות, אלא אחרים עשאום אלהים עליהם (מכילתא שם).
      They aren't deities, but others made them deities. "Others' are other people. they confer by mistake, to some real objects (which are in reality creatures), divine virtues .
      Rashi apparently rejects the explanation of Onkelos. The next line is the rejection of Onkelos comment (I confess I do not understand Rashi. He quotes the Pizmun Mi kelokeynu, Ein kelokeynu, Ata hu Elokeynu. It highlights that the comparison leads negation. The conclusion is that deity status is denied to any other. And that is the message.). .
      ולא יתכן לפרש אלהים אחרים זולתי, שגנאי הוא כלפי מעלה לקרותם אלהות אצלו
      To call them Others give them status of deities, It is an insult regarding G-d to call other existing deities when He exists, so it is impossible (for someone who believes in G_d) to explain the text in this way.
    2. דבר אחר אלהים אחרים, שהם אחרים לעובדיהם, צועקים אליהם ואינן עונים אותם, ודומה כאילו הוא אחר שאינו מכירו מעולם
      Who are "others" that is to say that are foreign to those who serve them.Some real objects, to whom were conferred by mistake divine virtues continue to be simple objects and are foreign to the prayers addressed to them..

  3. The Ramban

    ודע כי בכל המקום שאמר הכתוב ''אלהים אחרים'' הכוונה בו אחרים זולתי השם הנכבד, ויתפוס זה הלשון בקבלת האלהות או בעבודה לו, כי יאמר לא תקבלו עליכם אלוה בלתי ה' לבדו, אבל כשידבר בעשייה לא יאמר בכתוב אחרים חלילה [1], אבל יאמר ואלהי מסכה לא תעשו לכם (ויקרא יט ד), אלהי מסכה לא תעשה לך (להלן לד יז), ויקראם כן בעבור שיעשה בכוונה להיות אלהיו. אבל בהם אמר הכתוב (ישעיה לז יט) כי לא אלהים המה כי אם מעשה ידי אדם ואבן ויאבדום:
    Ramban Says that this expression is a reference to the faith, someone can believe in objects that they are deities, or can sculpt a statue because he believes in it the verse says that the faith in G_d is superior to other such different faiths. {other gods that exist as such only in the imagination of people}

We saw four definitions to the term.

[1] A very interesting issue of this opinion of Ramban is in Sefer Hamitsvot, see here near the (ב). A very good lecture.

But if you search in Psalms, an other verse attracts even more curiosity (135, 5):

כִּי אֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-גָדוֹל ה' וַאֲדֹנֵינוּ, מִכָּל-אֱלֹהִים For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods.

See Metsudoth and Malbim commentaries. The explanation is the same than the commentary of the Malbim in the verse you quoted, but enhanced and enlarged.


If in one comparison of concepts, there are several theoretical concepts: Concept number 1, concept number 2, etc. (before you know the Truth, the world of possibilities is defined as containing all the concepts). When you get a conclusion, you may conclude that the concept number 1 is

  • better than the others,
  • or more likely than...
  • or Great then,
  • or the one true, because I am convinced that it is true and other are false
  • .

    • Yeah, I agree you don't have to be entirely sure, wheter other gods exist to believe to specific one. Thank you. – Probably Mar 4 '16 at 11:55

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