Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Rambling Post on the Name of G-d


Out of respect for The Name, the following measures have been taken to not render the following post sacred:
replace "@" with "a"
replace "q" with "h"
replace "-" with "o"
replace "*" with "e"

Thus, this post is safe for devout Jews as well.

This is inspired by comments by Wickedpinto and Michael.

A central claim of Jehovah's Witnesses is getting the name of G-d right. This name, they contend, is "Jehovah." In the King James Version of the Christian Bible, "Jehovah" has been used a number of times.

How this word came about fascinates Us to no end.

For Jews, The Name is extremely sacred. It has been called The Ineffable Name (the name that must not be spoken). Another name, especially common in Western Mysticism, is the Tetragrammaton or the Four-lettered Name (because it is written with four letters in Hebrew). The Name consists of the Hebrew letters yod (which has a "y" sound), heh (which has a "h" sound), vav (which has a "v" sound or may be used to indicate "o" or "u"; in Biblical times, its consonantal sound was "w"), and a final heh. As one can see, The Name, as given to this point, cannot be pronounced. Various traditions exist regarding when The Name can be used. It is usually said that it can be said only by the High Priest, on Yom Kippur, in front the Holy of Holies. To explain why no Jews pronounce The Name, it is now said that the true pronunciation had been lost since the destruction of The Temple in 70 CE.

However, The Name can be found everywhere. The Hebrew Bible has The Name countless times. Prayers have The Name as well. A dilemma arose: how ought Jews of the Biblical eras to preserve The Name while preventing people from profaning it? The custom had already existed to replace The Name with a Hebrew word, "Ad-nay", meaning "L-rd." The dilemma was solved by placing beneath the consonants of The Name the vowels of "Ad-nay" instead of the vowels of The Name. (In Hebrew, vowels are indicated by dashes and dots under, on top, or to the side of consonants. The Hebrew alphabet consists of consonants only.) Thus, when one would come across The Name, one would be reminded to pronounce it as "Ad-nay" (whose vowels were there) rather than as The Name would be pronounced. In the case the word "Ad-nay" preceded The Name, the vowels of the name "El-qim", which means, literally, "gods," but which connotes "G-d" (put into plural for majesty; when it means "G-d" it is treated as a singular masculine noun), were placed under The Name. With this constant substitution, the true vowels (and, thus, the true pronunciation) of The Name was forgotten.

If one were to recreate the pronunciation of The Name using the vowels of "Ad-nay," one would get "Yehovah" (or "Yehowah"). (Both "Yehovah" and "Yehowah" are nonsensical in Hebrew. Hence, the lack of rendering them profane: they were not sacred to begin with.) However, there seems to be something wrong. In places, it seems that the name of G-d was Y@h. The most famous example is "halleluyah," which is really two words: hallelu (imperative, "praise") and Y@h, meaning "Praise Y@h!" Such a pronunciation is also supported by various Hebrew names: Mattityahu (Matthew), Yeshayahu (Isaiah; also known as "Yeshaya"), Yechizqiyahu (Ezekiel), and Eliyahu (Elijah) are some examples. This also fits The Name: If one took the first three letters, one could derive from it the name "Y@hu."

But The Name has four letters: there is another heh. "Yahuh" cannot be The Name. Such a construction would not be in accordance with Hebrew. But, if The Name were to be divided into two syllables (assuming that Y@hu is a contraction and permutation of The Name), then one gets a Hebrew-sounding word (and, indeed, a word that follows the rules of Hebrew): Y@hv*h. This is especially plausible considering the tradition that The Name is to suggest that G-d was, is, and will be (havah hovah v'yihyeh). The phrase is spelled: heh-yod-heh heh-vav-heh vav-yod-heh-yod-heh. Notice that the phrase in Hebrew uses all of the letters of The Name, and that its letters come only from The Name.

Sometimes one will find The Name transliterated as Y@hw*h. This is to render The Name as one might imagine it would have been pronounced in the Biblical ages.

So, The Name, according to the Hebrew text of the Bible, is Y@hv*h. Nevertheless, it will always be "Ad-nay" or "hashem" (literally, "the name") for those who continue to keep The Name sacred according to Jewish traditions.

inna naHnu-l-a'lam.


At 9:54 AM, Anonymous adolfo velasquez said...

Wow, thanks. I've often wondered about the accurate pronunciation.

At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Michael said...

Good job, Musli. That's an excellent summary of a topic that is more complex than I realized.

I nominate you to gently break the news to Christendom that the Christ is not actually named Jeezuz. This bugs the heck out of me. We know his name was Yeshua, why don't we use it?

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Muslihoon said...

Thanks, adolfo!

Michael, thanks! You are quite correct. I may do a post on it.

It does seem odd we haven't emphasized the true pronunciation of the Lord's name.

At 7:10 AM, Blogger Retired Geezer said...

I thought, in my ignorance, that I was going to know everything in your post.

I was wrong.

Good Job.

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Wickedpinto said...

You write so much like an academic, but for some reason I'm compelled to read the whole thing a few times.

I likes it.

but yeah. in the big 3, christians jews and muslims, there are basic conflicts. When talking about "god" from a jewish standpoint, use the name of god, or god of abraham or whatever. When talking about islam, allah, and christ. that removes the disingenous argument that "god" is the same for all three. If that were true we wouldn't have such a legacy of murdering eachother in the name of our 3 different gods.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Mastiff said...


When I asked my teacher, Dr. Hayyim Tawil, why there was a "mapik" in the ending hei of "Y@h," he said that each consonant must be pronounced distinctly. In a two-syllable pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, the first hei (at minimum) would be silent.

My understanding (based on a miniscule amount of Kabbalah) is that the true pronunciation would have 4 syllables.

(Amusingly, Dr. Tawil is a short man despite his name.)

At 6:16 PM, Blogger Muslihoon said...

Thank you for your comments, adolfo, michael, retired geezer, wickedpinto, and Mastiff!

Mastiff: what ethnicity was your professor? The first name seems Jewish (Chayyim, life), but the second is certainly Arabic.


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