Hebrew Roots/Neglected Commandments/Honouring His Name/History

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
< Hebrew Roots‎ | Neglected Commandments/Honouring His Name
Jump to: navigation, search

Until the beginning of the nineteenth century the Name of Yahweh had fallen into disuse, but now it is being restored to His covenant people.


The Name is represented by the Hebrew letters Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh (YHVH). It is often referred to in Judaism as the "Unutterable Name".

In Scripture, this Name is used when discussing God's relationship to humanity, and when emphasizing His Qualities of Loving Kindness and Mercy. It is derived from Yah (Yod-Heh), God the Father. The root of the noun YHVH [יהוה] is YaH יה God the Father, Name which occurs 49 times in the ThaNYYK [תנייך the Hebrew Bible]. Appearing first in Genesis 3: [22], then in Exodus and later on, particularly, in the Psalms. It appears last in Isaiah 12: [2]

It is evident from Scripture that God's Name was pronounced in normal worship and discussion. Many common Hebrew names contain derivations from YHVH like Yahu or Yeho (Yod-Heh-Vav), are especially used in combination with names or phrases, as in Yehoshua (Joshua, meaning "God the Father is my Salvation"), and Hallel u YaHh ("praise ye God the Father"). The Name was also pronounced as part of daily services in the Temple.

The Mishnah confirms that there was no prohibition against pronouncing The Name in ancient times. In fact, the Mishnah recommends using God's Name as a routine greeting to a fellow Jew (Berakhot 9:5).

Unger's Bible Dictionary says that inscriptions from the 1st and 2nd century B.C. Indicate that YaHVeH was the Name used by the Hebrews. (p. 1177)

The Jewish Encyclopedia of 1901 says, "In the early period of the Second Temple the Name was still in common use, ....... At the beginning of the Hellenistic era, however, the use of the Name was reserved for the Temple ...... It appears that the priests were allowed to pronounce the Name at the benediction only in the Temple; elsewhere they were obliged to use the appellative name of "Adonai" .... Pronunciation of the Name by the Temple priests ... also gradually fell into disuse. Tosef Sotah "from the time Simon the Just died [this is the traditional expression for the beginning of the Hellenistic period], the priests refrained from blessing the people with the Name. Formerly they used to greet each other with the ineffable Name; When the decline of the study of the Law came the elders mumbled the Name." Vol.1 p. 201-202

The Name began to be suppressed when YShRaEL went into dispersion among the pagan nations in 586 B.C.. The Babylonians referred to them as “Yahudim” and to ridicule them began to call them “Yahoo's”. Hearing the Name blasphemed on the lips of pagans was so offensive, the use of it became avoided. Over time what was an avoidance of saying the Name, to keep it from being taken in vain, evolved into it being banned by the rabbis in 400 BC as a result of Hellenistic influence.

This came from the pagan concept in the secret mysteries, of hiding the name of the 'god' to all but the initiates. They adopted this from the Babylonians and the Greeks which each had held their period of dominion over YShRaEL, one after the other. Later further restrictions were imposed, making only the high priest able to pronounce the Name on the Day of Atonement. From this time onwards in 290 BC, if any other than the high priest pronounced the Name it meant a death sentence.

Craig Emsweller quotes from the book “The Old Rabbinic Doctrine” by Rabbi A. Marmostein, saying, “There was a time when this prohibition of not using the Divine Name was entirely unknown among the Jews .... neither in Egypt, nor in Babylonia, did YShRaEL know or keep a law prohibiting the use of God's Name, the ... Tetragrammaton, in ordinary conversations or greetings. Yet from the third century BC to the third century CE, such a prohibition existed and was partly observed.”

Not only was the use of the Name allowed in earlier times, but it was used freely and openly used even by laymen, as quoted in the book of Dr. Cohen “Every Man's Talmud” - “it was YaHVeH Himself, Who announced His Name and told worshipers to use it.” It was the combined pressure of the Hellenistic opposition to the Jewish religion and the apostasy of the priests and nobles, which led to the introduction of the ban in using the Name.


The earliest inscription of His Name is on the Moabite Stone in ancient Hebrew script, dated 890 BC.

Murashu texts from the fifth century BC reveal that names of people with prefixes of the Name started with the spelling of YAHU (IAU in Greek). These texts were written before the Talmud, and the scribes who wrote them were not under a compulsion to hide or disguise the Name as were the Masorites in the seventh century AD, and therefore their texts are more valid historically and linguistically. Regarding the pronunciation of YHVH, Jewish authorities indicate that it is lost. Recovery attempts have insinuated that the Noun is pronounced Yahweh. The problem with this, is that we know that the consonant W did not exist in the Paleo- Hebrew Alefbet. The phoneme associated with the letter [w] appeared in the eighth century with the earliest writers of Old English and Old High German Gothic [Oxforddictionaries.com]. It was initially written as UU in the Germanic language, and later as a joint double V [W]. Thus, YaHWeH is close, but not the correct pronunciation.

The Encyclopedia Britannica (Micropedia vol.10) states regarding YaHVeH's personal name "The Masorites, Jewish Biblical scholars of the Middle Ages, replaced the vowel signs that had appeared above or beneath the letters of YHVH with the vowel signs of Adone or of Elohim."

This was done to disguise the Name so that it would not be pronounced, according to the instruction given in the Mishnaic text of Tamid vii 2 (=Sota vii. 6), so that anyone reading the Tetragrammaton would be inhibited from vocalising it as "YaHVeH". Instead of using the first vowel diacritical marking of 'a' in Adone, they used an 'e' so that the reader would be saying 'Yeh' and not the true 'Yah' form. Thus the vowel markings were an attempt to mislead, rather than to indicate the true pronunciation of the Name.

However, by the time the Talmud was written, it was the custom to use substitute Names for God. Some rabbis asserted that a person who pronounces YHVH according to its letters (instead of using a substitute) has no place in the World to Come, and should be put to death. Instead of pronouncing the four-letter Name YHVH, "Adone," or "Ha-Shem" (lit. The Name) was substituted.

With the Temple being destroyed and the prohibition on pronouncing The Name outside of the Temple in force, the pronunciation of the Name fell into disuse. Scholars passed down knowledge of the correct pronunciation of YHVH for many generations, but eventually it was lost in common usage.

The commandment not to erase or deface the Name of God comes from Deuteronomy 12: 3. There, the people are commanded that when they took the promised land, they should destroy all items related to the idolatrous religions, and should destroy the names of all local deities, then they are commanded not to do the same to YHVH. Jews today apply this by avoiding to write the Name, in the event that it may be inadvertently destroyed. Nothing in the Torah prohibits pronouncing or writing the Name of God.


Some people render the four-letter Name as "Jehovah," but this pronunciation is incorrect. The word "Jehovah" comes from the fact that the ancient Jewish texts used to put the vowels of the Name "Adone" (the usual substitute for YHVH) under the consonants of YHVH to remind people not to pronounce YHVH as written. A sixteenth century German scribe, Peter Gallatin, confessor to Pope Leo X, while transliterating the Bible into Latin for him in 1518, wrote the Name out as it appeared in his texts, with the consonants of YHVH and the vowels of Adone, and came up with the word YeHoVaH. This invalid name has been widely circulated in Christian churches, to the point it is widely regarded by most to be the Name of God...as used in Webster's New World Dictionary: College Edition states (on pages 766-767 and p. 1657)

In the Septuagint (written in Greek) which was used in the early Assembly, the Name of YaHVeH was written in Hebrew into the text in gold Hebrew letters. Being ignorant of Hebrew, the readers of the text transliterated it incorrectly into Latin.

On the other hand, Jehovah, or more correctly YeHoVaH was apparently a Jewish ruse designed to stop prying Christians of the 12th century. They intercalated, in reverse order [e, o, a], the vowels attributed to ADoNe [Lord] to the Tetragrammaton [YHVH]. It was popularized by William Tyndale, and the Geneva Bible [1560] and the King James Version [1611] during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Modern Jewish authorities characterize this pronunciation as nonsensical, or as the Jewish Encyclopedia puts it, a philological impossibility. Theodoret (Quæst. 15 in Exodum) stated that the Samaritans pronounced the Name Iαβέ

Dr. J.B. Rotherham states in the preface of his Bible concerning the name 'Jehovah' “Erroneously written and pronounced Jehovah, which is merely a combination of the sacred Tetragrammaton and the vowels in the Hebrew word for Lord, substituted by the Jews for YHVH, because they shrank from pronouncing the Name, owing to an old misconception of the two passages, Exodus 20:7 and Leviticus 24:16 ..... To give the name YHVH the vowels of the word Lord [ Heb Adone] is about as hybrid a combination as it would be to spell the name Germany with the vowels of the name Portugal – viz., Gormuna. The monstrous combination Jehovah is not older than about 1520 A.D.”

The consonant [J] started to have a distinctive use in the High Middle German, -spoken between 1050 and 1350. And it was not until the XVI century that the consonant [J] began to be considered as having a distinct phonetic value. It was the Italian grammatician Gian Giorgio Trissino (1478–1550) the first to distinguish between the letters [I] and [J] as representing different sounds. The consonant [J] was the last letter to be incorporated in the Latin Alphabet by Pierre de la Ramée (1515-1572), to distinguish it from the phonetic value that the vowel [I] had developed in the Romance Languages. The introduction of [J] in Modern English occurred in the late seventeenth century.

The Encyclopedia Britannica (Micropedia, vol.10) says, “YaHVeH – the Personal Name of the God of the Israelites ... the Masorites, Jewish biblical scholars of the Middle Ages, replaced the vowels signs that had appeared above or beneath the consonants of YHVH with the vowel signs of Adone or of Elohim. Thus the artificial name of Jehovah (YeHoVaH) came into being. Although Christian scholars after the Renaissance and Reformation periods used the term Jehovah for YHWH, in the 19th and 20th centuries biblical scholars again began to use the form YaHVeH, thus this pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton was never really lost. Greek transcriptions also indicate that YHWH should be pronounced YaHVeH”

Even the Jehovah's Witnesses which have promoted this form acknowledge that it is not correct in their book “Let Your Name Be Sanctified” p.16,18; and in their own translation of the scriptures they write “While inclining to view the pronunciation 'YaHVeH' as the more correct way, we have retained the form 'Jehovah' because of peoples familiarity with it since the 14th century. Moreover it preserves equally with other forms, the four letters of the Tetragrammaton YHVH”.

James Moffatt uses the substitute “Eternal” in his Bible, but he also says in his preface, “Strictly speaking, this ought to be rendered 'YaHVeH', which is familiar to modern readers in the erroneous form of 'Jehovah'. Were this a version intended for the students of the original, there would be no hesitation whatever in printing 'YaHVeH'.”

The King James, Today's English Bible and the NIV replace the Name YaHVeH with the form "LORD".


The Encyclopedia Britannica 15th edition says, "After that event (70 AD) the liturgical use of the name ceased, but the tradition was perpetuated in the Rabbinic schools; it continued also to be employed by healers. exorcists and magicians, and is found on many magical papyri. It is asserted by Philo that only priests might pronounce it and by Josephus that those who knew it were forbidden to divulge it. Finally the Samaritans shared the scruples of the Jews, except that they used it in the judicial oaths ....... The early Christian scholars therefore easily learnt the true pronunciation." Vol.12 p.995

We have recorded that Clement of Alexandria wrote that it was transliterated into Greek as IAUE which as a transliteration retains the form of "YaHVeH". (d. 212) Theodoret says that the Samaritans pronounce it as IAVE (d. 457 Vol 12) (Journal of Biblical Literature, 25, p 50 and Jewish Encyclopedia, vol.9, p.161)

"The pronunciation YaHVeH is indicated by transliteration of the name into Greek in early Christian literature, in the Greek form of IAUE (Clement of Alexandria) or IABE (Theodoret - 'b' in Greek is pronounced 'v')..... Strictly speaking, YaHVeH is the only 'Name' of God. In Genesis wherever the word shem ('name') is associated with the divine Being, that name is YaHVeH" Eerdmans Bible Dictionary 1979 page 478.

Encyclopedia Britannica 15th edition Volume 10 p. 786 also says "Greek transcriptions also indicated that YHWH should be pronounced YaHVeH." As do most basic encyclopedias.

The Encyclopedia Judaica vol.7 pp.679 , “the true pronunciation of the Name YHVH was never lost. Comparisons with transliterations of the name into other alphabets from very ancient times confirm that the name was pronounced very much like "YaHVeH" Most modern Bibles acknowledge the pronunciation was "YaHVeH" (N.K.J., R.S.V., R.E.B.)

Prof. Anson F, Rainey, professor of Semitic linguistics at Tel Aviv University confirms that YaHVeH is the correct pronunciation. London Papryi, xlvi, 446-483

The Biblical Archeological Review, Sept.-Oct. 1994 confirms that from the evidence of the Hebrew language the Greek transliteration is correct. Therefore we have assurance in knowing that YaHVeH is the correct form and pronunciation of the Name.