[lit-ideas] The tetragrammaton

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" for DMARC)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 28 Feb 2015 09:49:54 -0500

My last post today!
McEvoy refers to
i. I am what I am.
as an 'anthem'. It contrasts with 
O. K.'s citing of
ii. I am that I am
-- King James Version.
Neither i nor ii capture the implicature of 'tegragrammaton', literally,  
'four letters', of the original:
iii. אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה 
iv. ehyeh ašer ehyeh 

In a message dated 2/28/2015 4:06:41 A.M.  Eastern Standard Time, 
omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx writes:
I Am that I Am (אֶהְיֶה  אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, ehyeh ašer ehyeh [ehˈje 
aˈʃer ehˈje]) is the common English  translation (JPS among others) of the 
response God used in the Hebrew Bible when  Moses asked for his name 
(Exodus 3:14). It is one of the most famous verses in  the Torah. Hayah means 
"existed" or "was" in Hebrew; "ehyeh" is the first person  singular imperfect 
form and is usually translated in English Bibles as "I will  be" (or "I shall 
be"), for example, at Exodus 3:14. Ehyeh asher ehyehliterally  translates as 
"I Will Be What I Will Be", with attendant theological and  mystical 
implications in Jewish tradition. However, in most English Bibles, in  
the King James Version, this phrase is rendered as I am that I  am.
Indeed. The tetragrammaton in Hebrew and Aramaic is the Htheonym יהוה
The tetragrammaton is a variant of the verb, "to be" -- cfr.  Geary "God is 
The four letters of the tetragrammaton should be read from right to left.  
This confused the Romans. 
The four letters are:
י Yod [j] 
ה He [h] 
ו Waw [w], or placeholder for "O"/"U" vowel (see  mater lectionis) 
ה He [h] (or often a silent letter at the end of a word) 
"YHWH" derives from the root היה (h-y-h), which means "to be" --  hence 
Geary, "God is ising"
It is surely connected to that famous passage in Exodus 3:14 in  which 
Moses asks
"What is your name?"
and God gives his name as אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (Ehyeh Asher 
His full answer being:

"My name is "I Will Become whatsoever I  please""
The implicature seems to be that God already knew that Moses's name was  
Moses. Otherwise, the proper answer would be, as per Tchaikovsky's  Iolantha:
VADEMONTE (to the King of Naples -- on first meeting him in the woods). Who 
 are you?
The King of Naples: Surely it's me who has more of a right to make YOU  
that question.
VADEMONTE: I am Gofreddo VADEMONTE, conde d'Issodun, Clervaux, e  
Montargis, friend of the duca di Borgogna. 
---- INTERLUDE:  "Actually sentences like '[Moses] is called "Moses" '  are 
very interesting and one can spend, strange as it may seem, hours talking  
about their analysis. I actually did, once, do that. I won't do that, 
however,  on this occasion. (See how high the seas of language can rise. And at 
the lowest  points too.)." (Kripke). (Moses means literally saved from the 
It should be pointed that that God's answer is perhaps obscure in terms of  
the intended implicature:
יהוה with the vocalization "Yahweh" could theoretically be a hif'il  
(causative) verb inflection of root HWH, with a meaning something like 
"My name is "he who causes to exist""
"My name is "who gives life""
Donnellan would take that as a 'description' rather than as a name -- I'm  
less sure about his teacher Max Black.
Tthe root idea of the word is"to breathe", and hence, "to live").

It can be also be paraphrased as
"My name is "He causes to become"".
This left, for a while, Moses pretty speechless.
As a qal (basic stem) verb inflection, it could mean 
"My name is "he who is, who exists"
The most widely accepted pronunciation of the tetragrammaton (YHWH) among  
non-Jews is Yahweh, but surely God meant it originally for Jews.
Genebrardus suggested, some time ago, that the pronunciation should be  
"Jahve" based on Theodoret's assertion that the Samaritans used the  
pronunciation Iabe.
("But this is hearsay," he added).
A. Lukyn Williams proposes the pronunciations of the tetragrammaton to be  
"Yaho" (or perhaps "Yahu") based on theophoric names in the Hebrew Bible 
that  end in YHW.
The current scholarly consensus is that the vowel diacritic points attached 
 to the written consonants YHWH in the Masoretic orthography of Hebrew were 
NOT  intended (by God?) to represent the vowels of such an authentic and 
historically  correct pronunciation.
The original consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible was, several centuries  
later, provided with vowel marks by the Masoretes to assist reading. 
"It also assisted me," Geary notes.
Thus, Geary goes on, "in places where the consonants of the text to be read 
 (the Qere) differ from the consonants of the written text (the Kethib), 
the  Masoretes wrote the Qere -- in the margin, and in small letters -- as a  
note showing what was to be read."
"At least that's how _I_ read it."
"In such a case the vowels of the Qere were written on the Kethib."
However, as Geary also points out, "for a few frequent words the marginal  
note was omitted", which can confuse. "Tthis is called Q're perpetuum", he  
One of these frequent cases was the tetragrammaton.
hich according to later Jewish practices should not be pronounced, but read 
 as "Adonai" ("My Lord"), or, if the previous or next word already was 
"Adonai"  or "Adoni", as "Elohim" ("God"). This combination produces יְהֹוָה 
and יֱהֹוִה  respectively, non-words that would spell "yehovah" and 
"yehovih"  respectively.
The oldest complete or nearly complete manuscripts of the Masoretic Bible  
seems to point to Qere being 'Shema', which is Aramaic for "the Name".
"My name is "the name". 
"In unpointed Biblical Hebrew, most vowels are not written."
But it should be pointed out that God PRONOUNCED the name to Moses, never  
wrote it.
For this reason, an appearance of the tetragrammaton in an ancient  
Egyptian record found in Memphis (dating from the 13th century BCE)  sheds 
light on God's original pronunciation of His Own Name. 
Therefore it is, in general, difficult to deduce how a word is pronounced  
from its spelling only -- Geary jocularly contrasts this with "Geary" which 
some  pronounce /geri/ and some /giari/.
In the tetragrammaton, two of its letters can serve as vowels, and two are  
vocalic place-holders, "which are typically not pronounced -- at least by 
me"  (Geary). 
It is for reasons like this that Josephus said that the sacred name of God  
consists of "four vowels" only. 
This difficulty occurs somewhat also in Greek because of Greek's blatant  
lack of a letter for consonant 'y' and (since loss of the digamma) of a 
letter  for "w", forcing the Hebrew consonants yod and waw to be transcribed 
Greek  as vowels. 
Also, non-initial 'h' causes difficulty to the Greeks and  is liable to be 
The vocalizations of יְהֹוָה (Yehowah) and אֲדֹנָי (Adonai) are not  
The schwa in YHWH (the vowel ְ under the first letter) and the hataf patakh 
 in 'DNY (the vowel ֲ under its first letter) appear different. 
The vocalization can be attributed to Hebrew phonology, where the hataf  
patakh is grammatically identical to a schwa, always replacing every schwa naḥ 
 under a guttural letter. 
Since the first letter of אֲדֹנָי is a guttural letter, while the first  
letter of יְהֹוָה is not, the hataf patakh under the (guttural) aleph 
reverts to  a regular schwa under the (non-guttural) Yod.
The table below considers the vowel points for יְהֹוָה (Yehowah) and  
אֲדֹנָי (Adonai), respectively:
In any case, "Jehovah" is a mere Latinization (offered by the Ancient  
Romans) of the Hebrew יְהֹוָה, a vocalization of the tetragrammaton.
Most scholars believe "Jehovah" to be a late (c. 1100 CE) hybrid form  
derived by combining the Latin letters JHVH with the vowels of Adonai, but 
 is some evidence that it may already have been in use in Late Antiquity, 
5th  century -- hence the reference to these Romans being 'ancient'. 
The consensus among scholars is that the historical vocalization of the  
tetragrammaton at the time of the redaction of the Torah (6th century BCE) is  
most likely Yahweh.
However there is disagreement. 
The historical vocalization was lost because in Second Temple Judaism,  
during the 3rd to 2nd centuries BCE, the pronunciation of the tetragrammaton  
came to be avoided.
"Jehovah" was popularized in the English-speaking world by William Tyndale, 
 but it is no longer used in mainstream English translations, with "Lord" 
used  instead, generally indicating that the corresponding Hebrew is Yahweh 
or  YHWH.
"My name is "Lord""
Wilhelm Gesenius suggested in 1839 that the Hebrew punctuation יַהְוֶה,  
which is transliterated into English as "Yahweh", might more accurately  
represent the pronunciation of the tetragrammaton than the Biblical Hebrew  
punctuation "יְהֹוָה", from which the English name "Jehovah" has been 
Alas, Gesenius's proposal to read YHWH as "יַהְוֶה" was based in large 
part  on various somewhat apocryphal Greek transcriptions, such as 
dating from the first centuries CE, but also on the forms of theophoric  
In his Hebrew Dictionary, Gesenius supports "Yahweh" (which would have been 
 pronounced [jahwe], with the final letter being silent) because of the 
Samaritan  pronunciation 
reported by Theodoret, and that the theophoric name prefixes YHW [jeho] and 
 YH [jo] can be explained from the form "Yahweh".
Today many scholars accept Gesenius's proposal to read YHWH as יַהְוֶה. 
Gesenius' proposal gradually became accepted as the best scholarly  
reconstructed vocalized Hebrew spelling of the tetragrammaton.
Yeho or "Yehō-" is the prefix form of "YHWH" also used in Hebrew theophoric 
The suffix form "Yahū" or "-Yehū" is just as common. 
These simple facts have caused two opinions:
A) In former times (at least from c.1650 CE), the prefix pronunciation  "Yeh
ō-" was sometimes connected with the full pronunciation "Yehova" derived  
from combining the Masoretic vowel points for "Adonai" with the consonantal  
tetragrammaton YHWH.

B) However, recently, since "Yahweh" is likely an imperfective verb form,  
"Yahu" is its corresponding preterite or "jussive" short form.
Those who argue for the first opinion (A) include George Wesley Buchanan in 
 Biblical Archaeology Review; Smith's 1863 A Dictionary of the Bible; and 
Section  # 2.1 The Analytical Hebrew & Chaldee Lexicon (1848) in its article  
The second opinion (B) is supported on grammatical grounds, because  
shortening to "Yahw" would end up as "Yahu" or similar, and forms like Yo (יוֹ) 
contracted from Yeho (יְהוֹ) and the suffix "-yah", as well as "Yeho-" or 
"Yo"  can most readily be explained as derivatives of "Yahweh" rather than 
from  "Yehovah".
The oldest known inscription of the tetragrammaton dates to 840 BCE, on the 
 Mesha Stele. 
It bears the earliest certain extra-biblical reference to the Israelite God 
The most recent discovery of a tetragrammaton inscription, dating to the  
6th century BCE, was found written in Hebrew on two silver scrolls recovered  
from Jerusalem.
In the Hebrew Bible, the tetragrammaton occurs (Geary counted some of them) 
 6,828 times.
142 as can be seen in the Biblia Hebraica and Biblia Hebraica  
In addition, on the margins there are notes (masora) indicating that in 134 
 places the Jewish Sopherim (scribes) altered the original Hebrew text from 
YHWH  to ʼAdho·nai′ and 8 places to Elohim.
According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon, יְהֹוָה (Qr אֲדֹנָי) 
occurs  6,518 times, and יֱהֹוִה (Qr אֱלֹהִים) occurs 305 times in the 
Masoretic Text. 
It first appears in Hebrew appropriately, in, the first book, Genesis  -- 
but not in the first chapter, but in 2:4.
The only books it does not appear in are Ecclesiastes, the Book of Esther,  
and Song of Songs.
In the Book of Esther the tetragrammaton does not appear. ("But then it  
does not have to appear EVERYWHERE", Geary complains). 

But it is in Esther's book present in four different places as an  acrostic 
in the Hebrew text.
The initial letters of four successive words comprise YHWH. 
These letters were distinguished in at least three ancient Hebrew  
manuscripts, for some reason, in the red colour.
Another acrostic containing the tetragrammaton also composed the first four 
 words of Psalm 96:11.
Short form Jah occurs 50 times: 43 times in the Psalms, one in Exodus 15:2; 
 17:16; Isaiah 12:2; 26:4, and twice in Isaiah 38:11. 
In the Song of Songs 8:6 as a component expressions šalehebeteja, "the  
flame of Jah".
Jah appears in the abbreviated form Yah in the Greek word Ἀλληλουϊά  
(hallelujah) in Revelation 19:1–6..
God's name is also found in the Bible as a component in teoforic Hebrew  
Some may have had at the beginning of the form: ion or Jehovah (29 names),  
and the other at the end: jāhû- or jāh- (127 names). 
One name is a form of Jehovah as the second syllable (Elioenaj, hebr.  ʼ
Onomastic Studies indicate that teoforic names containing the  
Tetragrammaton were very popular during the monarchy (8th-7th centuries  BCE).
The popular names with the prefix jô-/jehô- diminished, while the suffix  jā
hû-/jāh- increased.
The Septuagint typically translates YHWH as kyrios, that means  "Lord".
"My name is "Lord"". 
Six Hebrew spellings of the tetragrammaton are found in the Leningrad Codex 
 of 1008–1010
In the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Hebrew and Aramaic texts the  
tetragrammaton and some other names of God in Judaism (such as El or Elohim)  
sometimes written in paleo-Hebrew script, showing that they were treated  
Most of God's names were pronounced till about the 2nd century BC. 
Then, as a tradition of non-pronunciation of the names developed,  
alternatives for the tetragrammaton appeared, such as Adonai, Kurios and  Theos.
The 4Q120, a Greek fragment of Leviticus (26:2-16) discovered in the Dead  
Sea scrolls (Qumran) has ιαω ("Iao"), the Greek form of the Hebrew 
trigrammaton  YHW.
John the Lydian (6th century) wrote that Varo [a Roman,116–27 BCE] defining 
 the Jewish god, says that he is called Iao in the Chaldean mysteries (De  
Mensibus IV 53). 
Van Cooten mentions that Iao is one of the "specifically Jewish  
designations for God" and "the Aramaic papyri from the Jews at Elephantine show 
'Iao' is an original Jewish term".
The preserved manuscripts from Qumran show the inconsistent practice of  
writing the tetragrammaton, mainly in biblical quotations.
In some manuscripts is written in palaeo-Hebrew script, square scripts or  
replaced with four dots or dashes (tetrapuncta).
The members of the Qumran community were aware of the existence of the  

But this was not tantamount to granting consent for its existing use  and 
This is evidenced not only by special treatment of the tetragrammaton in  
the text, but by the recommendation recorded in the 'Rule of Association': 
"who  will remember the most glorious name, which is above all..."
Interestingly, no Greek manuscript of the New Testament uses the  
The Vulgate (Latin translation) made from the Hebrew in the 4th century AD, 
 uses the word "dominus" for the Tetragrammaton.
"Nomen dominus".
-- which arguably, in contrast with "I am that I am" is hardly  tautologous.
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