In yesterday’s post, Dr. Heiser demonstrated a simple example of using the Bible Word Study report with the syntax databases to get answers to syntax questions without ever learning how to write a syntax query manually, showing how even people who don’t know Greek or Hebrew can use these databases to make connections between verses. However, if you learn how to compose your own syntax queries, you can learn to ask a wider range of questions about the Bible. In today’s example, Michael uses the syntax databases to find hits that would take hours to sort through with the older generation of tools.
One of the Hebrew terms for God is Elohim. The ‘im’ ending is morphologically plural, but almost everywhere in the Hebrew bible, the verbs associated with Elohim are singular in number, making it clear that these are references to God, not the plural ‘gods’. Dr. Heiser has done a lot of research in the field of Israelite religion, so when he was learning about syntax databases, one of the first questions he asked was: where does Elohim appear as the subject of a plural verb? He knew that instances of this phenomenon might be theologically or exegetically significant and was quite familiar with several examples, but had never encountered a published list of every time this happens.
Knowing if ‘Elohim’ is the subject of a verb in a given sentence, rather than an object for example, is a syntax question. Without access to syntax tags, one could search for every plural verb that occurs in the same verse as the word Elohim. One would get over 3400 hits (i.e. words returned) in 1057 verses. Only a small fraction of those verses are useful, though, and wading through 1057 verses isn’t a small chore. One might be able to get really creative with filters, and start ruling out verses where certain words occur immediately before Elohim that would typically indicate that Elohim is something other than the subject of the sentence. This approach of simulating syntax using only morphological or lexical form tags is a rather blunt instrument, but I’ve used it in the past to narrow my search results. In capable hands, this blunt instrument can save time over manually checking thousands of hits, but there is now a better way.