Elohim—Who Are They?


WHEN I WAS A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS, I would read my Bible along with the Watch Tower publications giving the official explanation of “how things are”, but sometimes things just didn’t seem to add up. Of course, I learned to suppress my inner voice and “trust the governing body”, but those nagging doubts were always there in the back of my mind and now I know why. Things were “off”. It’s only after I did my own research into the Bible, unencumbered by Watch Tower publications, that I was able to see how poor the explanations were, and how they lacked any real substance.

As I discuss the elohim below, ask yourself if you’ve ever questioned the things I’m writing about. If you have, it probably means something isn’t right, either with the Biblical narrative itself or with the explanation Watch Tower gave you. If that’s the feeling you get, I suggest you trust your instincts and do some additional research as did I.

Turning to Genesis chapter 1, aside from the presupposition that God already exists in Genesis 1:1 it starts out pretty straightforward. There is a singular entity, Elohim, translated “God”, who creates the heavens and the earth. Then he gets Earth ready for human habitation. But that’s where it gets a bit weird. At only 26 verses in, we read, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness”. Who is God speaking to? Who is this “us” that suddenly appears out of nowhere? Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in the Trinity, so whoever God was speaking to can’t have been a person within the Godhead as Trinitarians suggest, but they fail to fall back on the simplest explanation, namely that “elohim” in Genesis 1:1 can be translated “gods” (plural) and that it was a council of gods, not a single Elohim, that made man in their image.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, God was speaking to Jesus in his pre-human existence as the “Logos” or “Word”, basing their assumption on their New World Translation of John 1:1 that suggests Jesus was “a god”, but this is a huge leap. At the time Genesis 1:26 was written there was no notion of Jesus, let alone a pre-human version of him, so what would the Israelites, a supposedly strictly monotheistic people with no room for a second “god” with a small “g”, have thought when they read this verse?

It would seem the original story that Genesis chapter 1 was based on did indeed speak of “gods” (plural), not God (singular), doing the creating. Elohim is a word like “sheep”. It can refer to one or many. Genesis chapter 2 is clearly a later retelling of the story appending a singular “Yahweh” onto the plural “elohim” to give us one God, Jehovah God. The first occurrence of Yahweh in chapter 2 verse 4 always jarred with me, and now I know why. Modern scholars have deduced that the Divine Name was shoe-horned into the creation account by the post-exile redactors around 500-400 BCE to give the impression that the Jews had always believed in one Elohim, one Yahweh, one and the same God—except they hadn’t. As I explained in a recent podcast entitled Who Is Yahweh? at earlier times in their history, the Israelites worshipped two distinct gods—El and Yahweh of the Canaanite pantheon—and at earlier times still, they may have revered many gods, the elohim, or sons of the chief God, El. It was only after the Babylonian exile in Persian times that the narrative was cleaned up and monotheism became the new, official line.

Maybe the “us” refers to the “sons of God” who appear regularly in the Old Testament from Genesis 6 onwards, a Hebrew idiom for angels or “god-like ones”. In scripture, we often come across occurrences of the word elohim which are obviously plural and clearly refers to “gods”, not “God”. We also read of “b’nai elohim” or “sons of God”. Maybe the elohim and the b’nai elohim are one and the same? Job 38:7 seems to concur with this idea. It tells us that these angelic sons of God, also called “morning stars”, were on the scene when God created the earth, so maybe they are the “us” referred to in Genesis 1:26. Interestingly though, there is no mention anywhere in the Old Testament of angels being created. They just appear in the Bible narrative out of nowhere. That always struck me as strange. It’s almost as if the writer of Genesis 6 was referencing an already commonly-held belief and thus didn’t feel the need to go into too much detail. 

Indeed, the non-canonical Book of Enoch sheds much more light on heavenly proceedings than any book of the accepted Bible canon apart from Job does. We have scraps of Enoch dating from around 300 BCE suggesting the book, or at least the stories contained within, may have been familiar much earlier, possibly even around the time that the final edit of Genesis was made by the Jewish redactors. Fragments of Enoch even appear in the Dead Sea Scrolls along with Bible manuscripts indicating it was known by Jews and early Christians. So why is The Book of Enoch not included in the Bible canon?

The Book of Enoch tells of “the watchers” a term that does appear in the Bible, but only in Daniel chapter 4. In that account it’s apparent the watchers are synonymous with angels or “god-like ones”, but little more is explained. That always struck me as odd. The term “watchers” in isolation seems so out of place like it’s been lifted from another piece of literature and dropped into Daniel, and it has, I’m certain. Meanwhile, The Book of Enoch goes into much greater detail. It feels like Enoch should have been included in the Bible canon but wasn’t for some nefarious reason.

We’re told the watchers were dispatched to Earth to watch over humans. They soon begin to lust for human women and, encouraged by their leader Samyaza, defect from El en masse. Thereafter, they instruct humanity with forbidden knowledge and even procreate with them. The offspring of these unions are the Nephilim, hybrid giants who pillage the earth and endanger humanity. So far very similar to the Genesis account, but then we get some additional details:

Samyaza and the watchers, we are told, teach humans the arts and technologies such as weaponry, cosmetics, mirrors, sorcery, and other techniques that would otherwise have been discovered gradually over time. These “discoveries” are only vaguely glossed over in Genesis chapter 4, and not attributed to the angels as bestowers of this knowledge, but it’s there in The Book of Enoch.

Eventually, according to Enoch, the chief God (El?) allows a Great Flood to rid the earth of the Nephilim, but first sends Uriel, an archangel, to warn Noah so as not to eradicate the human race entirely. Henceforth, the defecting watchers are bound “in the valleys of the Earth” until Judgment Day. This reminds us of Jude’s letter which tells us, “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.” (Jude 6, NIV). Again, where was the writer of Jude getting this information, if not The Book of Enoch?

The Book of Enoch even lists the names of the elohim. First, we have Samyaza the leader, who appears synonymous with the Bible’s “Satan” character, although I question the presence of a personal Satan in the Old Testament. Then we have 20 watchers under his charge known as the “chiefs of tens”:

  • Arteqoph
  • Remashel
  • Kokabel
  • Armumahel
  • Ramel
  • Daniel
  • Ziqel
  • Baraqel
  • Asael
  • Hermani
  • Matarel
  • Ananel
  • Setawel
  • Samshiel
  • Sahriel
  • Tummiel
  • Turiel
  • Yamiel
  • Yehadiel

Notice how nearly all of these watchers’ names incorporate the term “el” in them. Not surprising, I guess, for b’nai elohim—”sons of El”. We are even told that the fallen angels who married and procreated with human women numbered 200.

Now, assuming The Book of Enoch and even books of the Bible such as Job are accurate in their claims that angels, or elohim, were around during the physical creation, we run into a contradiction in the Bible because Isaiah 44:24 suggests that God was alone when he created the heavens and the earth. There it reads:

“I stretched out the heavens by myself,
And I spread out the earth.
Who was with me?

This is at odds with the idea that angels pre-existed the creation of the earth, and it certainly doesn’t fit with Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teaching of a pre-human Jesus acting as God’s “master worker”, the “Wisdom personified” of Proverbs chapter 8. Interestingly, Watch Tower makes no attempts to explain Isaiah 44:24 in its vast array of publications. Even the book Isaiah’s Prophecy—Light for All Mankind II, a verse-by-verse commentary on Isaiah, glosses over this claim that God was by himself when he created the heavens and the earth. 

So, which is it? Was God alone during the creation as Isaiah clearly states? Or was Jesus with him? And if so, were they accompanied by billions of angels or b’nai elohim as Job indicates? That’s the heavenly picture Jehovah’s Witnesses paint for their readers, which ironically is much closer to the heavenly council presented in The Book of Enoch. But the Bible, redacted as it has been, is less than clear. Sometimes it presents a heaven consisting of a large assembly of angels or “sons of God”, the elohim. Other times it seems to be trying to force the idea of a Yahweh-only heaven, at least at the time of creation. Obviously, there’s been a lot of retelling going on, with stories being pulled from multiple conflicting sources and being rebranded into what we now know as the Old Testament. But the only thing clear about the Bible narrative is it’s not clear. It’s messy. It’s contradictory. It seems to be hiding things from plain view using language as an invisibility cloak.

So who is this “us” Genesis refers to? Jesus? Angels? Both? Something altogether different? In the original telling of Genesis 1:26, no doubt handed down verbally through the generations, I think it was referring to angels, the elohim as a group, the b’nai elohim or sons of God, the “watchers” of Daniel and Enoch. But chapter 2, which introduces Yahweh into the text, obscures the plurality of the elohim and instead makes us think of a singular “God”. Isaiah 44:24 then attempts to shore up the Yahweh-only story told in Genesis chapter 2, but fails to address the “us” of chapter 1 verse 26. Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others, then complicate things further by taking the “Word” of John 1:1 to be a pre-human Jesus and then seeking to force him into the Old Testament narrative by inferring that the Logos is synonymous with Wisdom of Proverbs chapter 8.

Let’s take a closer look at Proverbs 8 for a moment. Who is this “master worker” that was supposedly with God in the beginning? Is it the same as the Logos of John chapter 1? Wisdom and Logos or “logic” appear to be related, and I believe they are, but are these references to Jesus in a pre-human form? Well, the first clue that Proverbs 8 is not talking about a second person, and certainly not a second god, is in the first few verses. There, Wisdom is identified as a “she”. For example, the NIV reads:

​​”Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
Where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
Beside the gate leading into the city,
At the entrance, she cries aloud:”

But now read that same verse in the New World Translation and the fact Wisdom is female is obscured thus:

“Is not wisdom calling out?
Is not discernment raising its voice?
On the heights along the road,
It takes its position at the crossroads. 
Next to the gates leading into the city,
At the entrance[s] of the doorways,
It keeps crying out loudly:”

Despite arguing that “Wisdom personified” is the pre-human Jesus and the same as the “Word” of John 1:1, the New World Translation goes to great lengths here to de-personify it, relegating Wisdom from a “she” to an “it”. My guess is that referring to Wisdom as “she” and then applying “her” to Jesus would raise too many questions for the genuine Bible student! The thing is, if you do the research it leads you down a path which gives a whole new meaning to the “Wisdom” of Proverbs and even the “Word” of John 1:1. 

Without going too deep into it in this podcast, I would highly recommend that you read a book entitled The Only God—A Study of Biblical Monotheism by Eric H. H. Chang. This is a brilliantly written book by a once-Trinitarian who did the research and found an alternative explanation for John 1:1, one that advocates neither the Trinity nor Jehovah’s Witnesses’ peculiar “a god” translation. Chang explains that the writers of the Old Testament recognised Wisdom to be an aspect of God’s personality.

On page 207 Chang links Wisdom to the Word of John 1:1 stating: “Trinitarians [and I would add Jehovah’s Witnesses] are so anxious to ‘prove’ their doctrine from Scripture that they do not hesitate to ignore that… wisdom is feminine…”

He continues: “Once we adhere to the fact that what we have in Proverbs is metaphor, then no Scriptural contradiction with Isaiah exists… If wisdom is not a person, then there is no problem whatsoever to say that Yahweh employed wisdom in accomplishing His creative work, any more than saying that a man building a house employed his knowledge [or could we say logic?] in building it. If the man says that he employed his knowledge to guide him through every step of the building process, no one in his right mind will assume that he is speaking literally of a person called Knowledge who guided him in his work…”

This makes so much sense to me. The Wisdom of Proverbs 8 is not a person. It’s not Jesus in a pre-human form. It’s exactly what it says on the tin: God’s Wisdom. It’s only when you have an agenda, namely to support the existence of either a triune God or “a god” with a small “g” that you have to revert to the mental gymnastics that trinitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses employ. Shame on both groups, I say! 

Chang goes on to introduce another word used by the Jews in the Old Testament, namely “memra”. This basically equates to the Greek word “logos” which appears not just in John chapter 1 but in Greek philosophy in general. Again, Logos is not to be understood as a personal being or a third person of a trinity, and certainly not as “a god”. It is, like Wisdom, an aspect of the one God. Chang notes, “The Word as a person distinct from Yahweh simply did not exist anywhere [in scripture].” When the gospel of John was written, Jews believed in one God, Yahweh, employing Logos (logic) or Wisdom in his creative acts, and this had, apparently, been the official line at least since the redactions of the 4th century BCE.     

Thus, the Old Testament does not support the idea of a pre-human Jesus accompanying God in his creation of the Universe. True, the New Testament contains verses that may seem to allude to this, such as Colossians 1:15, 16, but a closer examination of these verses shows them to be poorly translated, by Trinitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses alike. When referring to Christ as the “firstborn of all creation” it’s not referring to an order of Time but to the pre-eminence of Jesus who had been “given the name above all names”, much as King David was called the “firstborn” on account of his elevated status, despite the fact he was the youngest of Jesse’s sons. (Philippians 2:9; Psalm 89:27; 1 Chronicles 2: 13-14) As an aside, Jehovah’s Witnesses meddle with the text of Philippians 2:9 by adding the word “other” which doesn’t appear in the original text. They also meddle with Colossians 1:16 which refers to all [other] things being created “by means of him.” Not especially unique. The King James Version also translates “en auto” as “by him”, but a more fitting translation would be “in him” which, suspiciously, is exactly how en auto is translated a few verses later in verse 19.  

A comparison of Colossians 1:16 with Ephesians 2:10 further helps us to see that the “creation” being referred to in Colossians is not the physical heavens and earth. In Ephesians, we read: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This “creation” is what the apostle elsewhere refers to as the “new creation”, God’s plan of salvation in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17). This, indeed, can be thought of as a “cosmic event” even as Colossians 1:19, 20 goes on to explain: “For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him [in Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven…”

What’s more, the Logos of God in John 1:1 can be thought of as God’s same “plan of salvation”, the thought-out, logical purpose of God that manifested itself in the form of human “flesh”, that of Jesus Christ. Such did not require Jesus to be pre-existent, only chosen by God as King David was, anointed and appointed to the position of “firstborn of all creation”, the pre-eminent one over all God’s creative works. Thus, the New Testament lends no real support for a Yahweh accompanied by another “god”, and why would it? That’s not what the Jews, of which the first Christian groups were comprised, believed. Despite their early polytheistic beliefs they had, for at least 400 years, been strictly monotheistic on account of their redacted scripture texts, even though these same texts still hinted at something more below the surface.

A close friend of mine who exited Jehovah’s Witnesses before me suggested to me years ago that there was no pre-human Jesus and that references to “Wisdom” and the “Word” in scripture were merely references to God’s Mind, his plan for salvation in Christ, his “logic” if you will. At the time I rejected the idea vehemently, but the idea sat with me. My friend was an intelligent person who had obviously done his research. It wasn’t until I followed suit and found Chang’s The Only God that everything slotted into place for me. I really can’t do the book justice in this podcast, so I recommend you get a copy and read it for yourself.

So what do we have when all is said and done?

  • We have, according to Genesis chapter 1, a heaven and earth created by the elohim—gods (plural), sons of the chief God, El, b’nai elohim, angels, “watchers”, morning stars.
  • We have the early bronze-age Israelites worshipping El and Yahweh as two distinct gods, singled out from a Canaanite pantheon of many elohim, Yahweh being just one of El’s many sons.
  • We have a fourth-century attempt by Jewish scribes to rework the ancient stories into a Yahweh-only, monotheistic religion, a rebrand if you will, a clean-up attempt, which failed to completely eliminate the earlier polytheistic beliefs from the texts resulting in confusion when anything more than a cursory glance is given to the texts.
  • We have a mish-mash of Old Testament texts that contain contradictions, conflicting accounts of creation by many elohim or one Yahweh, and only half the picture. For the bigger picture, we need to elicit non-canonical texts such as The Book of Enoch,
  • and finally, we have a conflated New and Old Testament Bible that has been interpreted by Trinitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses alike to sell us a pre-human Jesus, either as God’s Wisdom or Word, but that on closer examination does no such thing. There was no pre-human Jesus. Removing this error from our religious doctrine changes little if anything in respect of the gospel. The Word, Wisdom, Memra, was merely an aspect of God’s Mind, his logic, employed in his acts of creation whether physical or spiritual.

And so I am left wondering was there one God or many? I think many. Who was Yahweh? I think probably one of the sons of the chief God, El, and what happened to the elohim? Where are they now? Who knows? Maybe they were assigned to some cosmic jail as Enoch and Jude suggest. Maybe they died thousands of years ago and only the stories remain. Or maybe, just maybe, they got bored with their creation and disappeared from whence they came. Could it be they are still “out there” somewhere, just not taking an active interest in humanity? 

For further reading, I would recommend you read Escaping From Eden by Paul Wallis. In its opening chapter, Wallis addresses a number of the points I’ve highlighted today. He calls them “anomalies” and goes on to link the Genesis account to not only The Book of Enoch but also the Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s an interesting rabbit hole to fall down in which he even asks the reader to consider whether the elohim were, in fact, extra-terrestrials! Crazy as it may sound at first, Wallis goes on to make a convincing argument, one I will be investigating further in future OnionUnlimited podcasts.

But for now, by way of a summary, I will just read from a conversation I’ve had just today with my friend, mentioned earlier. These are my words to him, as follows:

“I’m coming to similar conclusions to you. I agree with you that the elohim in Genesis chapter 1 are “gods” (plural). This could well represent the reality of the situation, namely that a council of gods, god-like ones, sons of El—extra-terrestrials even—created the heavens and the earth. Whether that actually happened is open to debate, but I think that’s what Genesis 1 is telling us.

But then Genesis 2, conflated with chapter 1 by post-exilic redactors circa. [500 to] 400 BCE, seems to take advantage of elohim being both singular and plural (like the English word “sheep”). The first occurrence of Yahweh in chapter 2 really jars. It smacks of someone trying to change “gods” into “God”.

Further digging into Old Testament texts convinces me there was a pantheon of gods (elohim) and that El (or Elyon) was the “Zeus” of them all, the chief God with a number of “sons” (b’nai elohim). 

And The Book of Enoch, which provides much more information as to what was going on in the heavenly council, seems to me to have been purposely dropped from the Bible canon. The redactors, I think, have done their best to cobble together existing verbal stories and texts into one coherent monotheistic account, but they didn’t do a great job. If you look hard enough there are still very clear indications of a pantheon of gods operating together, competing with each other, falling out and warring with each other, and ultimately giving up on humanity. Maybe they died. Maybe they moved on. Maybe they’re in some ‘cosmic jail’ somewhere (Jude 6), but the idea of their being just one God—at least according to the texts behind the texts—seems to me to be flawed.

And finally, I think Jesus was highlighting this. He doesn’t seem to have been a fan of Yahweh. He seems to be encouraging his followers to return to Source, or at least El Elyon. 

I’m not sure if any of this makes sense, but I’m slowly piecing it together. The only thing that is clear to me is that the Bible isn’t clear! We have to look elsewhere to fill in the gaps that the redactors created by ripping out, wholesale, sections that didn’t support their new monotheistic beliefs.”

Further reading