The puzzling mechanics of the divine name

Psalm 63 is a great example of the puzzling mechanics of the divine name. All the English versions I checked rendered the opening line as:

O God, thou art my God.

Why are both capitalized?

The first capital is easy: the vocative indicates personal address. But the second would be odd to take as a personal address. Example: if I were talking to my mom I could say

Mom, you are my mom.

The structure is identical, but to convey the sense the second noun has to be lower case. If I say

Mom, you are my Mom.

then the sentence is equivalent to

Mary Quayle, you are my Mary Quayle.

But I don’t know what I am saying when I say that.

Theologically, perhaps the point of this pan-capitalization was to emphasize the divine simplicity, sc. to stress the point that G/god, properly understood, cannot be in a genus or one among many. God in this sense is The (Neoplatonic) One, who cannot be multiplied in any way, even in thought. Even though we can say “The One is one” the sentence involves a failure to understand who one is speaking about.

Or maybe the point of the pan-capitalization is to stress Buber’s idea that God can only be Thou and never an it. Obviously, this theory is too late to explain anything, unless we take it as making explicit something implicit in an earlier idea (like the Neoplatonic one?)

More likely, the original point of the capitalization is to divide the true from the false or the honorific from the false, but this is self-defeating since it renders the distinction impossible to write down. We can’t say “God is the true god” since the capitalization rule itself demands that we change the sentence into something that is either incoherent or tautological, i.e. “God is the true God” which, again, is like saying “Barack Obama is the true Barack Obama.” …Sure, I guess, but such a sentence has no possible use, even if you were in a room full of Obama clones and wanted to point to the real one.

Most likely of all, however, is that the only rule in play is a speech-taboo, comparable to the speech taboos that now exist against “dead-naming” or referring to a transgender person by their old name or gender.* Since some search engines have been programmed against dead-naming if you ask “What was Caitlyn Jenner’s old name” you get “Caitlyn Jenner’s old name was Caitlyn Jenner”.


*Where “to refer” means “any utterance or use of the word”. This is a crazy theory of reference for normal words, but remember that these are taboos, and reference among taboo words does seem to be something like this: hence “the f-word” and “the n-word”.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: