"THIS IS MY NAME FOREVER..."


One of the most widely broken of the Ten Commandments is the Third Commandment: "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain" (Exodus 20:7). We are not to "take up the name of the LORD our God to no good purpose" (cf. The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon, p. 996a). "Vain" translates the Hebrew shaw, "emptiness, vanity", which in turn comes from a root word meaning "be evil, foul, unseemly" (ibid.).

What Divine "name" is specifically mentioned in the Third Commandment? The
Tetragrammaton (that is, the "four-lettered name" of God): Yhwh. In a broader sense, the name mentioned is "the LORD your God" (Yhwh Elohekha; compare Deuteronomy 28:58). So not only Yhwh, but also Elohim, must not be "taken in vain".

Now Orthodox Jews claim the Third Commandment forbids man even to
pronounce the name Yhwh. Not even in translation will they render its meaning, at least in the public reading of Scripture. Many are reluctant to pronounce or spell Elohim, or even English translations such as "Lord" or "God". Other religious movements claim (based on the same Commandment!) that we are forbidden to pronounce anything else but the Hebrew names for Deity. Some of these claim that Yhwh alone is the "name" of the Creator, and all other appellations even in Hebrew are mere "titles". Obviously, both points of view cannot be right - and both of them can be wrong.

What then is the "name" that we are commanded to respect - and how are we to respect it?

God Reveals His Personal Name

In Exodus 3, Moses encounters the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the Burning Bush. Evidently Israel had forgotten God's name during their captivity in Egypt, for Moses asked: "'Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," and they say to me, "What is His name?" what shall I say to them?' And God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM.' And He said, 'Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you."' Moreover God said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: 'The LORD (
Yhwh) God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations'" (verses 13-15). The Revised Standard Version puts it: "…and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations."

This was by no means the first time that God revealed the name
Yhwh to man. That name was known long before the Flood (e.g., Genesis 4:26). Exodus 6:3 should be understood to read as the margin of the New International Version has it: "…and by my name the LORD did I not let myself be known to them [the Patriarchs]?" (See the inset, "The Meaning of Exodus 6:3", for more details.) In Exodus 3:15, though, God gives His personal name -- His "memorial" -- special emphasis, as something His worshippers were to use forever.

Rabbinic Judaism, wishing to avoid the obvious, sometimes argues that "this is My name
forever" in Exodus 3:15 should be read as "this is My name as a secret". This would require that the Masoretic Text be altered from le`olam ("forever") to le`elem ("as a secret"). But does it really make sense that God would say to Moses, "This is My name, but you can't tell anyone about it?" How then would Israel remember it? What name did Moses tell Pharaoh, and what name did Pharaoh say he didn't know (Exodus 5:1-2)? Obviously, everyone was to know that name and to use it properly - not to avoid using it completely as the Pharisees and later Rabbis would have us believe.

How Was God's Personal Name Pronounced?

Let's look at that "memorial" name more closely. First, God gives His name as "I AM THAT I AM" (ehyeh asher ehyeh). Then, He gives His name as Yhwh. Evidently the first phrase is meant to give something of the meaning of Yhwh -- and therefore, a clue as to its derivation and pronunciation.

Masculine personal names in Hebrew are frequently the "masculine third person imperfect" form of some verb. For example, Ya`acov (Jacob) means "He catches by the heel" or "He supplants". The verb is in the imperfect state, which means the state of action (supplanting) continues into the future. Moreover, ehyeh ("I am") is also in the imperfect state, which implies that God's state of action (being) continues into the future. So from the form of Yhwh and the meaning of ehyeh asher ehyeh, we should expect that Yhwh is the masculine third person imperfect of some stem of the verb root "to be".

According to the rules of biblical Hebrew grammar (as preserved in the Masoretic Text), the verb root behind the name Yhwh should be hawah, "become". By contrast, the phrase ehyeh asher ehyeh (which effectively translates Yhwh’s meaning) is derived from the much more commonly used root hayah, "fall out, come to pass, become, be". The early rabbis thus understood the meaning of Yhwh as "He Who Was, and Is, and Will Be" (that is, asher hayah wehoweh weyihyeh, all of which words derive from hayah). The Greek phrase in Revelation 4:8 and elsewhere, once back-translated into Hebrew, is very similar (asher hayah wehoweh weyavo, "Who Was, and Is, and Is to Come"). The apparent conundrum here is resolved when one realizes that hawah had fallen out of common use when God revealed His personal name to Moses (or when the account of events was written down in its present form by later scribes).

Here is where nearly all serious scholars, sincere religionists and religious hobbyists jump the track of truth. Almost to a man, they reject the authority and antiquity of the grammar preserved in the Masoretic Text. Thus, even among professional Hebraists there is no universal agreement as to the original pronunciation or precise derivation of Yhwh. The New BDBG Lexicon (p. 218a) favors Yahweh, the pronunciation used by the Samaritans and supported by the early Greek commentators Theodoret and Epiphanius. (Yahweh is the pronunciation accepted conventionally by professional biblical scholars and most linguists today.) Others suggest Yahaweh through comparison with the conjugation of two verbs in the Masoretic Text (ibid.), yet while ignoring many other verbs whose structure is directly comparable to that of hawah. Many other suggestions, most of them in blatant defiance of biblical Hebrew grammar, have been made in ancient and modern times. As for the exact meaning of Yhwh (ibid.), while most take it as "the one who is, i.e., the absolute and unchangeable one" (as if derived from the "simple" stem of hawah), several other much different meanings have been suggested (as if derived from the "causative active" stem of hawah).

But what happens if one starts from the assumption that the grammar of the Masoretic Text is reliable? Abraham S. Halkin made that assumption, and published his results in his textbook 201 Hebrew Verbs (Barron's Educational Services, 1970, p. 66). His reconstruction of the pronunciation of Yhwh is Yehawweh (or in Israeli Hebrew, Yehavveh), which he takes as derived from the "intensive active" stem of hayah. While he takes the meaning of the name itself as "He shall form, constitute", his reconstruction of the pronunciation is the only one to date that truly fits the evidence preserved in the Masoretic Text.

Students of Hebrew have long overlooked or been ignorant of much of that evidence. First, the Masoretic Text has a good many verbs with roots similar in structure to hawah. Thus yeqawweh comes from qawah, yeshawweh comes from shawah, and so on. Verbs with a structure similar to hayah are not conjugated in the same way.  By grammatical analogy, then, the pronunciation of Yhwh should be Yehawweh -- not Yahweh, Yahaweh or some other more fanciful alternative. In effect, while the Masoretic Text does not preserve the pronunciation of Yhwh openly, it does so covertly via its rules of verbal grammar.

Second, the Masoretic Text contains a series of musical accents that traditionally preserves the melodies to which the Hebrew Scriptures were sung in the Temple. According to the Masorete Moshe ben Asher (fl. 895 AD), the priestly family which he called the "Elders of Bathyra" (and the Talmudists called the "Sons of Bathyra") "established" this notation in order to give the sense of the words and to interpret them. The Masoretes (again according to ben Asher) were the recipients of the notation, not its inventors as is commonly believed.
1

This notation follows very strict rules of layout relative to the words (in terms of phrase structure, the placement of particular accents on particular syllables, and so on). Sometimes the vowel-pointing and the syllable stress of a word very much depend on what musical accent(s) are associated with that word.

In the Psalms, a particular musical accent (tsinnorit), written above the word it marks, is frequently associated with Yhwh. This sign is only marked on open syllables, never closed ones, before the stressed syllable - and never on a syllable containing a "half-vowel".2 Now in many Hebrew manuscripts and printed editions, this accent is erroneously left out (as in Psalm 23:1, for example). But in Psalm 96:10, the rules of the notation demand the presence of this accent on Yhwh. Yet its position on Yhwh (also demanded by the accents which surround it) shows that Yhwh must be a three-syllable word, with the second syllable having a full vowel. (See the inset "Why Yhwh Must Be A Three-Syllable Word" for more details.) It cannot be a two-syllable word with a closed first syllable (like Yahweh), nor a three-syllable word with the second syllable having a half-vowel (like Yahaweh). Of all proposed pronunciations made to date, only Yehawweh fits these facts as well as the rules of Hebrew grammar and the need for the name to be derived from hawah.

In this light, the origins of
Yahweh may be readily explained. It would be natural for the Samaritans to shorten Yehawweh to Yahweh (by shortening Yeha- to Yah-), for the sake of "ease of pronunciation" in daily speech. (The Masoretic Text itself often does much the same thing, shortening Yeho- to Yo- in personal names that contain the "prefix form"3 of Yehawweh.) Since Greek has no "h" properly speaking, it would be easy for the Greek ear and palate to make the same elision. (Again, the Septuagint does something very similar when shortening Yeho- to Io- in translation.) Whereas in Second Temple times and in the synagogue reading, the Jews consistently substituted the three-syllable names Adonay ("the Sovereign Lord") or Elohim ("God") for Yehawweh, rather than two-syllable names such as ha-Shem ("the Name": Leviticus 24:11). This confirms that Yehawweh originally had three syllables, not two. For that matter, so does the substitution of Adonay or Elohim for Yehawweh in parallel biblical texts (e.g., Psalms 14 and 53).

Now does all this mean that we should only use
Yehawweh to address our Creator? Or barring that, is Yehawweh alone His "name" in Hebrew and everything else He calls Himself but a series of "titles"?

God Has More Than One Hebrew Name!

First, in Hebrew and Greek alike, there is
no formal distinction between "name" and "title" as there is in English. The word used to express both concepts is the same in each language. In Hebrew, that word is shem; in Greek translation, onoma. Any form of personal address is a "name" in these languages. What kind of "name" is meant is determined by the verbal grammar and content as well as by the context.

In biblical Hebrew,
Yehawweh is the personal or proper name of the Creator. Yah is the "short form" of that name. Adonay is one of several titular names denoting His offices. Elohim, though also claimed to be titular by some, is actually the kind or class name (and also the family name) of the Creator. El and Eloah denote God's singular power. Other names denote various attributes of God, and as such are added to Yehawweh or other names (e.g., Yehawweh Rof'ekha: "The LORD, your Healer"). Yehawweh Elohim is very common: God called by His "first and last names", so to speak. Yehawweh Elohê Tseva`ot and Yehawweh Elohim Tseva`ot (both translated "the LORD God of hosts") are also very common, as is Yehawweh Tseva`ot ("the LORD of Hosts"). Adonay Yehawweh (translated "Lord GOD") is also used at times.

Note that
Yehawweh is not the only Hebrew name of Deity specifically called such. Amos 4:13 states: "…the LORD God of hosts is His name." Amos 5:8 says "…the LORD is His name." Amos 5:27 states: "…the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts." So this "play on words" establishes that any part of "the LORD God of hosts" (Yehawweh Elohê Tseva`ot), or the whole phrase, constitutes His "name".

Even more instructive is God's
full revelation of His name and glory to Moses in Exodus 34. "Now the LORD [Yehawweh] descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, 'The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious [the LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious - Masoretic Text], longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation'" (verses 5-7). All this is God's "name": the character for which Yehawweh stands.

Yeshua ("Yehawweh is Savior"), the Hebrew personal name behind "Jesus", is a special case. The Hebrew original is not Yahshua as many claim today. Linguist Anson Rainey of Israel, who favors both Yahweh and Yahshua, nevertheless admits that if one starts from Yahshua, one cannot explain the origins of the Greek form Iesous.4 But then, Professor Rainey rejects the Masoretic Text as a record of how the pronunciation of Hebrew words changed over time.5 But take the Masoretic Text as authoritative, and all becomes clear.

The original form (used before the Babylonian Exile) was
Yehoshua (beginning with "Joshua, son of Nun"). After the Exile, it was shortened to Yeshua (in which the "e" sounds like "ay" as in "day"). When the Septuagint translation was made, Yeshua was transformed into Iesous, the better to fit it into the case structure of Greek grammar. Everywhere either Yehoshua or Yeshua was found in Hebrew Scripture, it was translated as Iesous. This translation carried over into other Jewish literature written in Greek.

When an angel gave Joseph the name of Mary's yet-unborn son, that name (according to current usage) would have been
Yeshua - not Yehoshua (let alone Yahshua). The name Yeshua was the same in Hebrew (the language of the Bible) and Aramaic (the language of daily life). In Greek, it would have been Iesous - and so it was written in the Greek New Testament.

It should be obvious by now that all these Divine names and many others have something to do with the
character of Yehawweh (and of Elohim). Therefore, to take any of these names in vain is to "take the name of Yehawweh your Elohim in vain".

The Substitution of Hebrew Names

Could one substitute another Hebrew name of God for
Yehawweh, then, when addressing God or reading the Bible? Would doing so constitute "taking the name of Yehawweh in vain"?

Of course not! The biblical authors themselves saw nothing wrong with such substitutions. Moses, shortly after receiving the name Yehawweh, called Him Adonay twice - evidently out of respect (Exodus 4:10, 13). David used Yehawweh in Psalm 14 and Elohim in the nearly identical Psalm 53. Daniel (in his prayer in chapter 9) interspersed Yehawweh and Adonay as if the names were interchangeable - especially in 9:19, where he (speaking to Adonay) says: "Your city and Your people are called by Your name." In many other verses, Jerusalem and Israel are called by the name of Yehawweh; but here, they are called by the name of Adonay. The one name stands for the other, again out of respect.

Evidently it was examples like these
6 that led the Jewish authorities to substitute Adonay and Elohim for Yehawweh in the public reading of Scripture. They became so concerned about avoiding actual blasphemy of Yehawweh that they increasingly forbade that name to be used at all, in or out of worship services. Thus, when John the Baptist quoted Isaiah 40:3 (John 1:23), and when Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2 (Luke 4:18-19) or quoted Psalm 110:1 before a hostile audience (Matthew 23:41-46), they must have said Adonay (translated into Greek as Kurios), not Yehawweh. Had they said the latter, they could legally have been stoned for blasphemy on the spot. As it was, they saw nothing wrong with substituting one name of God for another, due to both biblical precedents toward God and the desire not to cause needless offense to human beings. It was their messages that got people's attention, for good or ill.

Some sectarians in those days wrote the Tetragrammaton (in archaic characters) into Hebrew texts (such as a number of the Dead Sea Scrolls), and even into the Greek Septuagint. But this was not to encourage the reader to pronounce the name! On the contrary, as the specialists concede, the intent was to point out the name as especially "holy" while reminding the reader not to attempt to pronounce it "as written". The conventions of the Masoretic Text have the same purpose: the consonants of Yhwh are written out, but the vowel-points for Adonay or Elohim are added to remind the reader to substitute these names in public reading and private study.

Obviously, the Church of God was rooted in the Hebraic and Hellenistic contexts of its time. But so long as the Church remained steadfast in the "faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3), the use of Hebrew names for Deity was not an issue. The New Testament is silent on any controversies in this area. It was only the increasing detachment (largely under Samaritan influence) of the "mainstream Church" from its roots in Israel and God's law on the one hand and the increasing suppression of the pronunciation of Yehawweh by the Jews on the other that led to confusion and loss of knowledge regarding the original pronunciation of God's "memorial name". Its meaning, however, was never lost among the faithful, as we will see.

The Translation of Hebrew Names

Of course, the Bible gives Divine names in Aramaic as well as in Greek. The Aramaic names (Elah and Elaha, the one merely a variant of the other) are simply parallels to the Hebrew name Eloah, and have the same meaning. (Significantly,
Yehawweh is never found in the Aramaic portions of the Bible.) In the New Testament, the Greek names Kurios and Theos are usually translations of the Hebrew names Adonay and Elohim (or El). The Greek phrase ho Kurios Iesous Christos ("the Lord Jesus Christ"), however, translates ha-Adon Yeshua ha-Mashiach. The Hebrew Adon is one of God's titular names (Psalm 114:7); Mashiach ("Anointed One") is one as well (Psalm 2:2).

In principle, the New Testament Greek names for God are simply Greek translations of Hebrew concepts and phrases. For example, "the Word of God" and "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" (which we would call "titles" in modern English usage) are both called
names by the Greek New Testament (Revelation 19:13, 16). Nor does the New Testament ignore the meaning of Yehawweh. In Revelation 4:8 the four living creatures sing: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!" The Greek is simply a translation of Hebrew phrases found in Isaiah 6:3 and Psalm 89:8 (among other verses), and also of the very meaning of Yehawweh itself. But note as well, the Greek text substitutes Kurios ("Lord") for Yehawweh, just as the Jews would have substituted Adonay (also meaning "Lord") when reading the original Hebrew. So the Church remembered the meaning of Yehawweh, but also respected the conventional substitution of Adonay for Yehawweh -- and converted both into Greek for posterity.

Now let us return to the name "the Lord Jesus Christ" for a moment. The Greek
Kurios translates the Hebrew Adon; both words mean "Lord". The Greek Christos translates the Hebrew Mashiach; both words mean "Anointed One". But the Greek Iesous transliterates, transforms and translates the Hebrew Yeshua, which itself is the "short form" of Yehoshua! The transliteration and transformation convert the Hebrew name into a form declinable in Greek. The translation is given by the context, for the ancients considered that names retain their meaning no matter what language they are translated into. "And she [Mary] will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). The original Hebrew/Aramaic name, of course, was Yeshua, yet the Greek text of Matthew has Iesous. In English versions, the name is "Jesus". The meaning of the name in all languages remains the same: "Yehawweh is Savior".

And what of the name "God the Father"? Obviously, "the Father" or "Our Father" is a titular name, yet in Hebrew and Aramaic "My Father" and "Our Father" are
intimate forms of address. The Greek translation simply carries the Semitic concept over into Greek. Likewise with "the Son" or "the Son of God": while these names too are titular, yet they are intimate forms of address in Hebrew and Aramaic and remain so in Greek. Obviously, they do not lose their intimacy (or their titular honor) through translation into English.

It should be clear by now that the
meaning of a Divine name is of first importance. In Hebrew, the meaning of a name dictates its spelling and pronunciation and vice versa; yet a name does not lose its meaning when translated and/or transliterated into another language. Whether as Yehawweh, "the One Who Was, and Is, and Will Be", or "the Eternal", the meaning of God's personal name remains the same. The same principle applies when other Hebrew names for Divinity are translated into Aramaic and Greek within the original biblical text, or into other languages in modern versions.

"Hallowed Be Your Name"

To avoid "taking the name of the LORD your God in vain," then, is not a matter of either completely suppressing the use of
Yehawweh (as such or in translation), or of using that name only to address the Deity. Nor is it a matter of limiting oneself to the Hebrew names for Deity.

How then can one take God's name in vain -- that is,
profane God's name? One obvious way is by disobeying God through breaking His law (e.g., Proverbs 30:9). Another way is by setting a bad example as God's people to others, again through breaking His law and suffering the penalties that come from it (e.g., Ezekiel 36:16-21). A third way would be to swear falsely by God's name -- which is why Christians are told not to swear at all, not even by things that indirectly imply God's name (Matthew 5:33-37).

As already noted, in the Third Commandment the specific "name" we are not to profane is
Yehawweh Elohim. That name signifies many things, among them God's authority as Creator, Lawgiver and Maker of Covenants, His eternity (and thus His transcendence above the creation), His power to save, and His capacity to reproduce Himself. In a very real sense, then, all the other names of God derive their significance from Yehawweh Elohim. To profane any of them is by implication to profane the "glorious and awesome name" from which they derive their holiness (Deuteronomy 28:58).

Small wonder, then, that Jesus' sample prayer begins with, "
Our Father Who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name" (Matthew 6:9). In the Franz Delitsch Hebrew New Testament (which uses poetic, classical Hebrew), that phrase would be avinu shebashshamayim, yitqqaddash shemekha - terms which are both respectful and intimate at once. The Aramaic that Jesus would have used would have carried the same connotations; and these would have carried over into the Greek text. So then, rather than merely seeking to avoid taking God's name in vain, Jesus' disciples were to pray actively that it be hallowed. The name specifically cited is "Our Father Who is in Heaven", yet this name ties right back into the ancient name Yehawweh Elohim -- a name shared by the Father and the Son, but which is pre-eminently the Father's.

Now in Rabbinic Judaism today, as in the Judaism of Jesus' day, "the Hallowing of the Name" (
qiddush ha-Shem) has a special significance. This is spelled out in an article called "Kidush Hashem" [sic] by Agnes Waldstein, reprinted in the book A Way in the Wilderness (Baltimore, MD.: Lederer Foundation, 1981, pp. 36-37):

When Jesus taught his disciples he rarely used phrases completely new or alien to them, but spoke in terms with which they were familiar, to which he gave an enlarged meaning. He rendered explicit that which had been implicit, and endeavored to unfold more and more of the divine truth contained in the TORAH, so as to make it available for the perfecting of the religious life.

This is particularly true of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). There is nothing un-Jewish in it. In fact, some rabbis have said that this great prayer is the most Jewish utterance which has come from the mouth of Jesus.

To substantiate this assertion let us consider the first phrase of the Lord's Prayer: HALLOWED BE THY NAME. Its Hebrew equivalent is
Kidush Hashem. It is generally taught that this phrase is a reverend bow before the Father in heaven, an acknowledgment of His ruling.

How different it is in Hebrew!
Kidush Hashem is an awe-inspiring phrase by which a Jew is reminded of the tremendous power of God, of His unfailing judgment, His unfathomable perfection, but not less of His goodness, constant help in the trials of His people, and His faithfulness.

Because of all these implications
Kidush Hashem, the hallowing of the Name, the unknown Name of God,7 has also an active meaning. It is the phrase which is used for the death of martyrs. The Jew's duty is to hallow God's name by dying for it, to give everything and hold back nothing in order that God's Name may be praised. Kidush Hashem embodies the greatest demand on the Jew, and the greatest joy which is his in fulfilling it.

Thus when Jesus taught his disciples this prayer, he began with words which to his hearers meant that a demand for their whole being was being made by the Only One who had a right to make such demands. If we place this interpretation upon it, what enormous power and weight the Lord's Prayer receives!

The Jewish meaning of
Kidush Hashem throws its light also on the requests that follow: THY KINGDOM COME. THY WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.

We are bound to the Kingdom and its King by a loyalty that must prove itself by a preparedness for death. Just as we see soldiers ready to give their lives for their country, so we learn from
Kidush Hashem that the Kingdom we hope and pray for needs our complete surrender to the One who rules it. His will alone be done, no more ours, for we have made the great sacrifice that is demanded by Kidush Hashem.

We can now see that in the Lord's Prayer is suggested something of our cooperation with God, but it is a definitely defined cooperation, the name of which is sacrifice. Only as those who exist no longer for themselves may we put to God requests for our own needs: GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD; AND FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS, AS WE HAVE ALSO FORGIVEN OUR DEBTORS; AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL.

If we die for God, He will raise us to a new life in the Spirit, and our prayer for our own needs will no longer be a request that may or may not be granted. It carries in itself the assurance of fulfillment.

God grant that we may be able to hallow His Name!


And yet even this wonderful statement does not go far enough. We hallow the Name of God not merely by
dying to Yehawweh Elohim, but by living to Yehawweh Elohim - by rising from death to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4). We are the children of God the Father; and if by life or death we may serve Him, we will. That is what it means to "hallow His name" and to keep the "spirit" of the Third Commandment. ###


INSET: THE MEANING OF EXODUS 6:3

 

We read in Exodus 6: "And God spoke to Moses and said to him: 'I am the LORD (Yhwh). I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty (be'El Shaddai), but by My name LORD (Yhwh) I was not known to them" (verses 2-3). Now El Shaddai reflects the character of God as He revealed Himself to the Patriarchs. This is the significance of "as" in this case: the letter bet, used as the so-called bet essentiae (Duane A. Garrett, "Who Wrote Genesis?", Bible and Spade, Spring 1993, Vol. 6, No. 2, p. 39). But if we take the New King James Version (and most versions) at face value, then the name Yhwh was unknown to the patriarchs.

Yet we also read that the name
Yhwh was known to man even before the Flood (Genesis 4:26). Moreover, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (as a word count will show) actually used the name Yhwh far more often than they used the name El Shaddai. God revealed Himself under both names to Abraham (Genesis 17:1; 22:14, 16). Moreover, Abraham knew perfectly well what Yhwh meant (21:33) and that Yhwh kept His covenants and His promises (18:13-14). This apparent contradiction is part of the basis for the infamous "Documentary Hypothesis", which claims that the Five Books of Moses were not written by Moses at all, but were spliced together much later from different sources written by different authors using different names for God.

The solution to the problem lies in
how the Bible says what it says. This is not indicated by the words alone. Biblical Hebrew, like Arabic and other Semitic languages, used vocal inflection to convey part of the meaning. Like the vowels, this inflection was not normally written out in Semitic languages. Special notations, however (some merely speech-based, some actually musical), could be used to convey the vocal inflection in sacred texts. In the Hebrew Masoretic Text, the vocal inflection is conveyed by the musical accents, which preserve how the priests and Levites sang the Hebrew Scriptures -- all of them, including the Law -- in the Temple (compare David's personal practice in Psalm 119:54). Only the original meaning of these accents has needed to be rediscovered, for it has not been preserved by Rabbinic tradition. Thanks to the work of the late Suzanne Haik-Vantoura (as published in her book and recordings entitled The Music of the Bible Revealed), we now have access to the melodies that the accents preserve. These melodies are meant to magnify the normal vocal inflection of speech, and thus to clarify the meaning of the words they support.

Vocal inflection in Semitic languages, as in English, may denote an
implied question. (Consider the difference, in Leo Rosten's famous joke in "Jewish-American" English, between "You were right. I was wrong. I should apologize", and "You were right? I was wrong? I should apologize?") The accentuation of Exodus 6:3 indicates that an implied question should indeed be understood: "and (by) My name Yhwh was I not known to them?" Were the simple statement "but by My name Yhwh I was not known to them" implied, a different sequence of accents should have been used. For those able to read music, the following illustration (prepared by this author) gives the words, accents and modern musical notes for both the Masoretic Text as we have it (top staff) and as it would be were a simple statement intended (bottom staff). (Adonay, of course, is how the Masoretic Text indicates Yhwh should be read publicly in the synagogue.)
 

 
The text translates as follows:
 
oushmi Adonay lo noda`Ti lahem
And (by) My name the LORD not was I known to them
 
Between the two readings (one actually received, one theoretically possible), there is a difference of just one accent -- the one beginning the phrase lo noda`Ti, "not / was I known". The top staff has the 2nd degree of the scale (F) on lo ("not"); the bottom staff, the 1st or tonic degree (E). This seemingly small change is what makes all the difference in the vocal inflection and therefore, the implied meaning. The 2nd degree followed by the 3rd degree gives a sense of instability (and therefore of a question); the 1st degree followed by the 3rd degree, a sense of stability (and therefore of a simple statement).

This confirms the marginal reading given by the New International Version: "…and by my name the LORD did I not let myself be known to them?" Conservative translators have long suspected that an implied question must be involved here, because this is the only solution that keeps the Bible from contradicting itself. Being limited to the words alone, however, their attempts to prove the point have sometimes done violence to the grammar and phrase structure of the Hebrew text. Now, the point may be proven while respecting the verbal text as it is given.

Thus in Exodus 6:3, God notes that He revealed Himself
primarily in the character of El Shaddai to the Patriarchs, yet He also made His covenant name Yhwh known to them. In the same vein, God continues: "I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant" (verses 4-5). Now, in the character of Yhwh -- He who always exists to keep His covenants -- He is about to bring Israel out of Egypt and to the land of Canaan as His people (verses 6-8). ###

INSET: WHY YHWH MUST BE A THREE-SYLLABLE WORD

 
In many places in the Letteris Edition of the Hebrew Bible,8 the musical accent tsinnorit is associated with Yhwh. It is always positioned over the first "h" (he), as if Yhwh (like Adonay which substitutes for it) is a three-syllable word with an open second syllable. In most other editions of the Hebrew Bible, this accent is omitted as if superfluous, due to the tendencies of the scribes who wrote the manuscripts on which these editions are based.

However, in
all editions of the Hebrew Bible tsinnorit marks Yhwh in Psalm 96:10. This is because the rules governing the layout of the accentuation demand that tsinnorit be used. What follows is Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura's transliteration9 of the original Hebrew and its accompanying accents (with the melody as deciphered from the accents and added accompaniment):
 

 
Tsinnorit is found over "do" in Adonay (which is a circumlocution for Yehawweh). Given its position relative to the preceding accent (over "yim" in vagoyim), tsinnorit sets Adonay (that is, Yehawweh) apart for special emphasis. Whereas if Yhwh were a two-syllable word, the accentuation and the transcription of the melody it preserves into modern musical notation would look like this:
 
 
The accent (pashta) over "-yim" would be forced to "resolve" on the same syllable, and Yhwh would be given a much weaker division from vagoyim than it would have were Yhwh a three-syllable word. This lack of rhythmic emphasis would be contrary to the verbal syntax, which indicates that Yhwh malakh ("the LORD reigns!") is an emphatic announcement. Finally, of course, tsinnorit itself would rest on the syllable "Yah-", which is a closed syllable (and therefore forbidden to tsinnorit).

What if
Yhwh were a three-syllable word but pronounced Yahaweh? The vowel on the second syllable would be a half-vowel in such a case. But again, tsinnorit never falls on a syllable with a half-vowel. It could not fall on the first syllable ("Ya") either, for it must fall just before the stress syllable.

The evidence is consistent, then, with
Yhwh being (like Adonay which substitutes for it) a three-syllable word with an open second syllable. So far as I know, only the proposed pronunciation Yehawweh fits with the data presented above and with the rules of Hebrew grammar as well. ###

FOOTNOTES

 
1. I have often mentioned this notation in my writings. It has been given many different musical interpretations by the Rabbinic synagogues, none of which fit even most of the features of the notation. It was deciphered via comparison to the Hebrew verbal syntax by the late Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura (The Music of the Bible Revealed, trans. Dennis Weber, ed. John Wheeler, BIBAL Press/King David's Harp, Inc., 1991).
2. "As a rule it (tsinnorit) is marked on an open syllable immediately before the stress syllable. The vowel of the open syllable may be long…or short…" (Israel Yeivin, Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah, trans. and ed. by E.J. Revell, Scholars Press, 1980, p. 273, section 372). I know of no examples in the Letteris Edition (which among extant editions has the best accentuation) where tsinnorit is found on a syllable containing a half-vowel, or on a closed syllable.
3. Personal names in Hebrew may consist of Yehawweh combined with another word. In such cases the "prefix form" of Yehawweh is Yeho- or Yo- (or even Ye-), while the "suffix form" is -yahu or -yah. While these forms give important clues as to how Yhwh is to be pronounced, they should not be taken as "alternate forms" of Yhwh. Rather, the form and pronunciation of Yehawweh (or Yah) changes when it is combined with another word, yet without losing its meaning.
4. I am quoting from memory a book published by the Assemblies of Yahweh, which book I lost when moving from San Francisco to Houston.
5. As I infer from correspondence I have had with him years ago.
6. These examples and many others are explained away by one strand of Judaic tradition as deliberate scribal changes meant to keep the name of Yehawweh from being profaned. Supposedly, in 134 places Yehawweh was changed to Adonay, and in some 16 places Elohim was changed to Adonay (cf. E.W. Bullinger, The Companion Bible, Appendix 32, pp. 31, 33). Modern scholars often express skepticism at this alleged reason for the use of Adonay, and for good cause: in most if not all cases there is no justifiable reason why Yehawweh (were that the original reading) would "need" to be changed. These places are merely places where Adonay stands alone as a Divine name and is used much as Yehawweh or Elohim would be in similar contexts.
7. Of course, the Name of God referred to here -- Yehawweh -- was never meant to be unknown, and in fact has never really been unknown in its meaning.
8. This is the edition used by Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura as her source text. Produced in the late 1800's, it was a worldwide publishing phenomenon and became the standard for Rabbinic Bibles for much of the 20th century. Despite some typographical errors, it apparently has the best accentuation overall of any extant printed edition -- better, even, than that found in many ancient manuscripts.
9. Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura, La musique de la Bible révélée, 2nd Recueil (Paris: Editions Choudens, 1979), p. 3.

Created and Maintained Since 2010 By John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)


RETURN TO SITE INDEX

GO TO NEXT ESSAY


Updated October 27, 2014