Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Yah: A Name of God

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Yah: A Name of God

Article excerpt

In the Bible, God has a personal name. It was revealed to Moses at the time when he delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 3:15; 6:2-9). According to Exodus 6:3, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not know God by that name. On this passage, Josephus wrote, "God declared to him [Moses] His holy name, which had never been discovered to man before, and concerning which it is not lawful for me to speak" (Antiquities of the Jews II.12.4). In Hebrew it has four consonants: Y-H-V-H. The original vowels are now unknown. The form Yahveh or Yahweh is a conjectural scholarly reconstruction, but no complete certainty attaches to it.

"Jehovah" derives from a Christian misunderstanding and mispronunciation of the name. In 1971, it disappeared from The New American Standard Bible, which had used it uniformly for nearly 7000 occurrences in the earlier American Standard Bible of 1901. The translators changed their stance after learning to their embarrassment that they had made a serious mistake. The Jewish Encyclopedia calls this hybrid form "a philological impossibility". (1) Even Milton's Paradise Lost is marred by it. In Book VII, lines 601-603, where he relates the angels' celebration in Heaven of the creation of the world, Milton writes:

Creation and the six days acts they sung:

Great are thy works, Jehovah, infinite

Thy power.

Earlier on, in the fourteenth century, Dante's Divine Comedy avoided this mistake by simply using the letter I for yod, the first letter of the Shem ha-Meforash, to represent God's name. In Paradiso XXVI, lines 134-136, where Dante meets Adam through John, Adam says:

I was the name on earth of the Sovereign Good, whose joyous rays envelop and surround me.

Later El became His name ...

Yet I is clearly not the complete Hebrew personal name of God, and how many readers would understand what Adam says without an explanation from someone who knows Hebrew?

The four-letter Name of God, Y-H-V-H, also called the Tetragrammaton, was unknown to millions of Christians for many centuries. Jerome's Latin Vulgate did not transliterate it, and this was the Bible of Western Christians for over a millennium. Even the (Catholic) Douay version in English, which appeared in 1610 and was used until 1964, did not transliterate Y-H-V-H, since the Douay version was based on the Vulgate. The Septuagint, used universally in early Christianity and by the Greek Orthodox Church today, likewise does not transcribe it. The translation of the Hebrew Scriptures made by Aquila, the disciple of Akiva in the second century, used Paleo-Hebrew script for every instance of the Tetragrammaton (see "Aquila" in the Jewish Encyclopedia), but Christians did not generally use it because he translated the almah of Isaiah 7:14 as neanis (young woman), not parthenos (virgin). Protestant translators who, beginning with Tyndale in 1530, thought they were revealing a great secret to Christians by employing the notorious hybrid form mentioned above, made use of it only a few times, so that it was easily overlooked. The Authorized King James Bible of 1611, for example, uses it only seven times. Thus, ignorance of God's sacred Hebrew personal name has been long-standing and widespread--but there is good news.

There is a short form of this name. It occurs for the first time in the Song of Moses (Ex. 15:2) as Yah. It appears soon after in Exodus 17:16, but major English translations generally obscure this fact by not transliterating it. Twenty-four times it appears conjoined in the liturgical Halelu-Yah doxology in Psalms; eighteen times it stands alone, and once it is conjoined with a preposition in Psalm 68:5. In Isaiah it occurs together with the long form as Yah Y-H-V-H in 12:2 and 26:4, and twice on its own in the Psalm of Hezekiah (Isa. 38:11). It stands in the same verse as Y-H-V-H in Exodus 17:16. This is a difficult verse in Hebrew and, following the conjectural emendation proposed in The New Jerusalem Bible, it may be translated along with verse 15 as follows: Moses then built an altar and named it Y-H-V-H-Nissi [Y-H-V-H-My-Banner]. …

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