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Is Allah the God of the Bible? Words from Christians Pt. 2 of 3

From:

https://wordpress.com/post/wedefendislam.wordpress.com/1491

In Part 1 we addressed the differences in belief about Allah and God and began the discussion by sharing research and perspective on the argument that Allah is a pagan moon-god.  We continue this dialogue with a linguistic overview of the words used to name God in various languages.

Is the English “God” Pagan?

If one argues the name “Allah” is pagan-based, what about the origins of the English word “God?”  I personally was stunned to learn that it actually has more historic baggage than Semitic words such as Allah.  “God” is derived from a proto-Germanic pagan word (possibly Zoroastrian) for a water god, water spirit, or idol (pronounced “gut”). It held no gender until the Germanic tribes adopted Christianity, when the male gender was later included.

Is the Greek and Latin for “God” also Pagan?

Next the students and I reviewed the history of our theologically favored Greek and Latin words for “God.”   The Greek Theos (from whence we derive “theology,” “theologian,” etc.) has a heathen Greek origin, from the Indo-European root dhes. The popular Latin word deus –along with the Spanish dios and French dieu-is also pagan-based.  The Greek god Zeus has the root dyeu and is the origin of the word for God used in the early Latin Vulgate version of the Bible.

So, let’s say that thousands of years ago, the ancient word Allah may have been based on a moon-god (which as we have seen is itself an open question). Perhaps the more relevant question is: what meaning does the present use of the word evoke for people today and to which god is it referring? Would any English speaking person think when they say “God” that they are referring to a Germanic water-spirit?  Of course not!  The English word is commonly used by Christians for false gods, simply inserting a capital “G” when referring to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael. When Latino believers speak of Dios, are they referencing the origin of the name, and speaking of the Greek god Zeus?  Certainly not!

For over 500 years before the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, Arab Christians and even some Jews in the Arabian Peninsula used the Arabic word Allah for God. 10-12 million Christian Arabs currently use Allah every day as their Arabic word for God.  Are they praying to a moon-god?  What of the five million Assyrian and Chaldean Christians who pray to Alaha, a derivative of Allah? [8] Rev. John Booko, one of the officiating pastors at my wife’s and my wedding, who is an Assyrian Evangelical Christian, always prays “in the Aramaic/Syriac name of Alaha.”

The Hebrew Name for “God”

Are the Jews who pray to the Old Testament’s Elohim praying to the same God as all the rest?  Is it, or is it not, the same God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael, whether spoken in any language?

An Israeli Semitic language scholar once told me:

In Canaan El was the chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon and was worshipped as a bull deity (which is where the whole idea of the golden calf in Exodus came from). The Israelites were worshipping the true God in a proscribed form. The Aramaic form of this was Alah, which under the influence of a linguistic shift known as the “Canaanite Shift” in Hebrew became Eloah. The plural form of the latter, which is also used in the Hebrew Bible, is Elohim. But the Aramaic Alah was how one said “God” in that language, even in Jesus’ day. Thus if Jesus spoke Aramaic, then he also called God Alah; Arabic came up with nothing new when it referred to the one true God as Alah. In fact, Arabic-speaking Christians would have used this word for God long before Mohammed was born.[9]

The general Hebrew term for God is El. The Israeli airline is named El Al, where El also means “up” in the air.  El is a shortened version of Elohim,[10] which is the plural of Eloah, as we touched on before. It is used throughout the Old Testament over 2,300 times. Ironically, even Elohim has pagan roots.  Elohim as well as El were ancient Canaanite, Phoenician and Amharic/Ethiopian names for deity.[11]

Perhaps the most specific Hebrew name for God is YHWH, also mistakenly referred to as Yehovah, meaning self-existent and eternal. YHWH is rooted from ‘Hayah’, the to be verb, which is from ‘Hava’, to breathe, or to be, which connects to ‘Ayil’.  Finally ‘Ayil’ leads us back to ‘El’, which is the root of all the Semitic names for God.  YHWH is spoken aloud on rare Jewish celebrations as just “Ya.” Jews often replaced the actual name of God for Adonay (Lord) orally and in their written scripts.

The Arabic Name for “God”

As we have discussed, the Arabic word for God is Allah. It also is derived from the Aramaic Hebrew word, El. It is a contraction of Al and Ilahi, which literally means “the God.”  (Al is Arabic for “the” as in Isa al-Mesiah “Jesus the Christ.”) The Arab “Ilahi” is the same word for God as used in the Hebrew and Aramaic.[12] In fact, if one were to remove all the vowel markings (Semitic languages are all consonants and use markings to make vowels) from the Arabic Al-Ilahi and Hebrew El-Elohim (both meaning “the God”), remove the plural of the words and they are transliterated nearly identically as Al-Alh and A-Alh.  Both words correspond back to the Aramaic Alah and the Syriac Alaha.

The definition afforded by The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia is as follows:

Allah (ăl’ə, ä’lə), [Arab.=the God]. Derived from an old Semitic root referring to the Divine and used in the Canaanite El, the Mesopotamian ilu, and the biblical Elohim, the word Allah is used by all Arabic-speaking Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others. Allah, as a deity, was probably known in pre-Islamic Arabia. Arabic chronicles suggest a pre-Islamic recognition of Allah as a supreme God, with the three goddesses al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat as his “daughters.” The Prophet Muhammad, declaring Allah the God of Abraham, demanded a return to a strict monotheism.”[13]

Aramaic: Could Jesus Have Used the Same Word for “God” as the Muslims?

The Aramaic word for God is Elah, or Alaha, [14] also derived from El.[15] The ancient Hebrew word Elah, means “something strong,” like trees of the oak, rooted in Elijah, meaning God of YHWH, which again leads us to its root, El. [16]

Elah [17] is used about 70 times in the Old Testament. When combined with other words, we see different attributes of God. Some examples: Elah Yerush’lem – God of Jerusalem: (Ezra 7:19); Elah Yisrael – God of Israel: (Ezra 5:1); Elah Sh’maya – God of Heaven: (Ezra 7:23); Elah Sh’maya V’Arah – God of Heaven and Earth: (Ezra 5:11). [18]

There are also several verses in the Qur’an using Elah and its derivatives, Il or El. These words are specifically referred to in the Qur’an (see Sura 9:8 and 10). While some Islamic scholars understand it to mean blood ties, most others take it as short for the Arabic word Ilah, meaning “Lord.” It could also be the Arabicized Aramaic Hebrew for EL as in Ismael (Ishmael), which means “God listens” and/or Elah, or Deity, from its original Aramaic or Syriac. It may surprise some people to know that even Jesus used this form for God in Matt. 24:47 when he cried out in the Aramaic language, “Eli, Eli“, meaning “my God, my God.”

Jesus, an Aramaic speaker, would naturally use Alaha just as Aramaic speakers do today. It is simply the Aramaic version of the identical Arabic word Allah. “The cognate Aramaic term appears in the Aramaic version of the New Testament, called the Peshitta, as one of the words Jesus used to refer to God, e.g., in the sixth Beatitude, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see Alaha.’ The Arabic Bible uses the same word in Matt. 5:8, for instance, translated Allah.”[19]

While all this may seem confusing, simply stated and confirmed by Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, El is the root word for God in Hebrew, Elohim; in Aramaic, Alaha; and in Arabic, Allah. Furthermore, they connote the same God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael. In addition, the prophesied Messiah in Isaiah 9:6 of the Tenach is referred to as El.

After speaking at a peace conference in Egypt, I approached the heads of the Lutheran and Coptic (Egyptian) Churches who were in attendance. I asked these two Christian leaders what name they used for “God” in their churches.  They looked at me very puzzled and responded “Allah, of course!” They would be shaken to know that probably 99 percent of Western Christians do not think Allah is the same God as the Christian God. Their response to my seemingly stupid question is a microcosm of the answer; it is simply the Arabic word for “God.”

The “Correct” Name of God

Eventually the seminary students clearly understood the different forms of “the name of God” used in the Holy Books. Hebrew El, Aramaic Alaha and Arabic Allah are identical words derived from the same linguistic root, using the Semitic letters Alef-Lamed-He, pronounced ila.  Such names should not be the focus of scorn, or the cause of division and war. The slight modifications among each of the language groupings simply reflect different pronunciations conforming to the historical pattern of cognate shifts in each tongue, not different words. To put it simply, the Latin, Spanish, and Italian words for God (Deus, Dios, and Dio) and the English and German words (God and Gott) all mean the same as do the Semitic Allah, Alaha and Elohim.

Islam and Judaism do not have a problem seeing the God of each tradition as the God of Abraham, so why should we? The seminary students were intrigued and lined up after the presentation to express their excitement.

While we have addressed a dialogue on the linguistic roots of the name for God here in Part 2, many believers (and several students I addressed) feel that the larger issue is not only the name of God, but what each religion teaches about who God is.  Part 3 will address questions related to the Christian and Islamic views on this topic.

—————————————-

[8] The Aramaic word Alaha is also spelled Elaha. “The -‘a’ at the end is the determined form, which originally meant ‘the’ in regular Aramaic. By the time the Syriac language was in its heyday, the determined forms were otiose, as occurred in the East Aramaic dialects in general, including Jewish Babylonian Aramaic and Mandaic.” Dr. Eldon Clem, private communication to author.

[9] Dr. Eldon Clem, Syriac scholar of Jerusalem, Israel, Quote from a private conversation, February 2006.

[10] The Hebrew word translated “God” (‘elohim) is a plural noun denoting majesty, and the writers of Scripture used it as an honorific title. Though it is plural in form, it is singular in meaning when referring to the true God. This name represents the Creator’s transcendent relationship to His creation. Dr. Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Genesis” Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes, 2009 Ed., http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes.htm (Jul. 29, 2009).

[11] M. James Sawyer , Th.M., Ph.D., Lecture Notes on The Names Of God, Bible.org, http://bible.org/article/lecture-notes-names-god (Jul 29, 2009).

[12] “Jewish Arabic translation of the Torah was translated by the Jewish scholar Saadia Gaon before 1000 AD and has been used by Middle Eastern Jews until the present time…There were other Jewish Arabic translations as well, notably the one made by the Karaites at the same time as Saadia. All of these Jewish translations use Allah as the name of God, using it to translate both Elohim and YHWH. There are multitudes of ancient Christian Arabic translations of Scripture, from the seventh century until now, and they all without exception use Allah.”  Brown, 80-81.

[13] “Allah,” The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. (Columbia University Press, 2003), Dec. 9, 2005 (http://www.answers.com/topic/allah).

[14] The determined form, meaning “the God,” although in later Syriac when the determined forms lose their force, “Alaha” becomes the normal way of saying “God.”

[15] Dr. Imad Nicola Shehadeh, President and Professor of Theology, Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, private communication to author, Feb. 2006: “I agree with you that the term ‘Allah’ comes from the Aramaic/Syriac ‘Allaha’  (from now on, when I say Aramaic, I mean Aramaic/Syriac).  The evidence is overwhelming.  I have published an article on this in order to show that Allah was not originally a moon-god as some have suggested, but came from the Aramaic Allaha used by Jews and Christians of Muhammad’s day.  (If interested, please see Bibliotheca Sacra journal, volume 161, issue 641, 2004).”

[16] Associated with this name in the OT (Old Testament) is the idea of power, “The Strong One.” http://bible.org/article/lecture-notes-names-god.

[17] “Elah” is Aramaic, corresponding to the Aramaic sections of Ezra.

[18] Tracey R. Rich, The Name of G-d, Judaism 101, http://www.jewfaq.org/name.htm (Jul. 29, 2009).

[19] “Allah,” Wikipedia, 2005, http://www.answers.com/topic/allah, Dec. 9, 2005.

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