Yehowah Vowel Points for YHWH Aleppo Codex 3
Papers, Religion

The Name of God YeHoWaH. Its Story by Gérard Gertoux

Hebrew scholar and Gérard Gertoux, president of the Association Biblique de Recherche d’Anciens Manuscrits and author of The Name of God Y.eH.oW.aH Which Is Pronounced As It Is Written I_Eh_Ou_Ah: Its Story reveals the pronunciation of the God’s name, Yehowah, with scriptural and cultural evidence.

Reprinted. Written by Gérard Gertoux.

A1 – Is it possible to pronounce the divine name if its genuine vowels are not known ?

The question of knowing which vowels were with the four consonants of God’s name is absurd because the Masoretic vowels, which are the vowel-points, appeared after 500 of our common era. Before this time the only vowels were the matres lectionis. Furthermore, the vowels e,o,a did not play any role to find again the true pronunciation among Hebrew Christian scholars. On the other hand, in order to justify their pronunciation of the Name “according its letters”, they quoted the book of Maimonides The Guide of the Perplexed (part 1 chapters 61 to 64) very often. In addition, before 1100, the vowel-points written with the Tetragram were not e,o,a but e,a that is to say the vowels of the Aramaic word Shema’ meaning “The Name”.

The present Masoretic vowels are not the genuine vowels because they appeared only after 500 CE. Before this epoch, the Jews used a “mothers of reading” system (some consonants were used as vowels) to pronounce most of the proper names. The writings from Qumrân have shown that before the second century CE even usual words were vocalized owing to these special letters (mothers of reading, that is to say Y for the vowels I and E, W for O and U, and H for an A at the end of words), proving that the “mothers of reading” system was widely used. Judah Halevi wrote in his book The Kuzari (1140), that the letters of the Tetragram are used as vowels for any other words (furthermore Judah Halevi in The Kurazi IV:3 related that Y is used for I, W for O, and H for A). A long time before, in the first century, Flavius Josephus, a Jewish writer, had written that the Tetragram is written with four vowels (and not four consonants).

Flavius Josephus 37-100), who knew the priesthood of this time very well, clarified that, when Romans attacked the Temple, the Jews called upon the fear-inspiring name of God (The Jewish War V:438), but he wrote of his refusal to give it his reader (The Jewish Antiquities II:275). However, he gave some information of primary importance to rediscover the pronunciation he wanted to conceal. One can read indeed in the work The Jewish War the following remark: “The high priest had his head dressed with a tiara of fine linen embroidered with a purple border, and surrounded by another crown in gold which supported into relief the holy letters; these ones are four vowels.” (The Jewish War V:235) This description is excellent; moreover, it completes the one found in Exodus 28:36-39. However, as each one knows, there are no vowels in Hebrew, but only consonants. Regrettably, instead of explaining this visible abnormality, certain commentators (influenced by the form Yahweh) mislead the readers of Josephus by indicating in note that this reading was IAUE. Now, it is evident that the “sacred letters” noted the Tetragram wrote in paleo-Hebrew, and not in Greek. Furthermore, in Hebrew these consonants Y, W, H, are exactly used as vowels; they are moreover called matres lectionis “mothers of reading”. Qumrân’s writings showed that in the first century Y as vowel served only to indicate sounds I and E, W served only for sounds Ô and U, and a H final served for the sound A. Furthermore, the H was use as vowel only at the end of words, and never inside of it (but between two vowels the H is heard as a slight E). So, to read the name YHWH as four vowels, it is to read IHÔA that is IEÔA.

The orthography of the Aramaic portion of the Tell Fekherye Bilingual dated before 9th century BCE(D.N. Freedman A.D. Forbes F.I. Andersen – Studies in Hebrew and Aramaic Orthography in: Biblical and Judaic Studies vol.2 Indiana 1992 Ed. University of California pp. 137-170) proves that for a long time three vowels were used,waw for û, yod for î, and he for final â. For example, numerous words were read “according to their natural reading” in this old inscription:

Complete study, see : A. Abou-Assaf, P. Bordreuil, A. R. Millard – La statue de Tell Fekherye et son inscription bilingue assyro-araméenne. in: Etudes Assyriologiques Cahier n°7, Paris 1982, Editions Recherche sur les civilisations. pp. 13-60

 Writing  Reading  Writing  Reading
 ’LYM  ’aLIM  NHR  NaHaR

As a general rule the ‘natural reading’ was mainly used to vocalize proper names.

Reading according to:  Reference:
 Syllabic > Akkadian  M.T.  LXX
 HBWR  Ha-bur  HaBUR  HaBOR  Abôr  2 Ki 18:11
 NYRGL  (Nè-iri-gal)  NIRGaL  NéRGaL  Nèrigél  2 Ki 17:30
 GWZN  Gu-za-ni  GUZaN  GOZaN  Gôzan  2 Ki 18:11>
 HDDSKN  Adad-si-ka-ni  HaDaDSiKaN  HaDaD-  Adad-  Gen 36:35
 SSNWRY  Šama Š-nu-ri  SaSNURI  SiS-  Sos-  1 Ch 2:40
 (YHWH)  –  (YiHWA)  (YeHoWaH)

The word YHWH meaning ‘He will [prove to] be’ is found in the Sefire inscription dated 750 BCE. The normal vocalization is probably YiHWaH at this time because the sound -èH comes from an old -aH

A second witness of this period about the pronunciation, is the Talmud itself, because the Tetragram is called the Shem Hamephorash which means “the name distinctly read” or “the name read according to its letters” (Sifre Numbers 6:23-27) Hemephorash means “distinctly [read]” or “separately [read]” in Hebrew. The early sense of “distinctly read” is “word by word” or “letter by letter” (see Gesenius 6567 comment on n°2), the sense “interpreted” or “translated” is a later meaning. In spite of the fact that some cabalists affirmed that the word mephorash meant “hidden” it is easy to check the correct meaning of this word in the Bible itself (Neh 8:8; Ezr 4:18). Furthermore, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 101a 10:1) forbids the use of the divine Name for magical purposes, and the rabbi Abba Shaul (130-160?) adds not to use biblical quotations containing the Tetragram for exorcizing purposes and the pronunciation of the Tetragram according to its letters as a preventive warning that those transgressing this command would forfeit their portion in the future world. The sentence “to pronounce the Name according to its letters” means pronouncing the Name as it is written, or according to the sound of its letters, what is different to spell a name according to its letters. Indeed, it was authorized to spell the name YHWH according to its letters (because the Talmud itself did it), that is in Hebrew Yod, He, Waw, He (or Y, H, W, H in English); on the other hand, it was forbidden to pronounce it according to these same letters.

A third witness, always from this epoch, coming from persons who had access to the priesthood, is that of the translators of the Septuagint. This text had indeed fixed the vocalization of proper nouns just before that was adopted the custom not to use any more the Name outside the Temple. Now, one notices that all the theophoric names beginning in YHW-() in the Hebrew Bible were vocalized Iô-(a) in the Septuagint and ever in Ia-. So, the divine name, constituting the theophoric name par excellence (that is to say YHW-H), to be in agreement with all the other theophoric names should have been vocalized Iô-a in Greek, or, if one restores the mute H (which did not exist in Greek) : IHÔA. Some authors, as Severi of Antioch (465-538), used the form IÔA in a chain of comments on the chapter eight of John’s gospel (Jn 8:58), by clarifying that it was God’s name in Hebrew. Another book (Eulogy of John the Baptist 129:30) made also allusion to the name IÔA written in Greek iota, omega, alpha. In the codex Coislinianus dated 6th century, several theophoric names are explained owing to the Greek word aoratos meaning “invisible” is found in the LXX in Genesis 1:2) and which is read IÔA. The words aoratos or arretos (meaning “unspeakable”) are the equivalents to the Latin word “ineffable”.

A2 – Is there a trace of the pronunciation of the Name in the Talmud or in the Bible ?

There are several places in the Talmud where it is written not to pronounce the Name “as it is written” or “according to its letters“. Maimonides, a good Talmudist, quoting these remarks in his book The Guide of the Perplexed (1190) conclude that this Name was pronounced with no difficulty (without giving any vocalization). He said to his readers that knowing the meaning of this name was more important than knowing its pronunciation, because the meaning alone can incite to action.

There are several hundreds of theophoric names in the Bible, which retain the vocalization of the Tetragram. For example, the usual name “John” comes from the Hebrew name Yehôhanan, which means “Yehow[ah] has been gracious”. In the Septuagint the name Yehôha-nan (YHWH-NN) became Iôa-nan in Greek, therefore, if the part Yehoha (YHWH) has been vocalized IÔA (or IOOA), this last vocalization is a good approximation for the Tetragram.

The Septuagint (usually) used an epsilon when there was a shewa (e) in Hebrew, for example Yerûshalem became Ierousalem, Debôrâ became Debbôra, Yeroham became Ieroam, Qetûra became Kettoura, etc. However the Septuagint used Zakaria instead of Zekaria because at this time (before the third century BCE) the first vowel was an “a”, which fall after this period, becoming a shewa. Numerous linguists postulate that, even though YHWH was pronounced Yehouah in the first century, this pronunciation in fact would result from an “archaic” Yahowah or Yahwoh with a classic fall (because of the stressed accent) of the initial vowel, so the first syllable Ya- became Ye-. Now, although change is witnessed in numerous names (although the influence of the Aramaic language on the Hebrew could also explain this modification), there is no trace of this phenomenon for the divine name. If, according to the hypothesis of the previously mentioned linguists, theophoric names were still pronounced Yaho- (in Hebrew) at the beginning of third century BCE, the translators of the LXX should have kept these names as Iaô-. Now, among the thousands of theophoric names in the Greek (or Hebraic) Bible, none remained as Iaô- or even simply as Ia-. So, linguistic laws cannot be used to explain why the Septuagint did not retain any trace of this term Iaô-, which should nevertheless have been very common if the Name had been Yahwoh. Additionally, if the Name had been Yahwoh, the “archaic” pronunciation of the usual name Yôtam (which is found 25 times in the Hebrew Bible) might logically have been Yawtam (Yahwoh being likely to be abbreviated into Yaw-). Unfortunately, its Greek transcription is never Iaôtam (like Nékaô instead of Nekô) or Iautam (like Nabau instead of Nabû), but always Iôatam. In a same manner the transcription of the name Yôqîm is Iôakim (1Ch 4:22), the name Yôah is transcribed Iôaa (1Ch 26:4), the name Yûkal is transcribed Iôakal (Jr 38:1), etc. Thus, according to the Septuagint the “archaic” pronunciation of the name Yô was Iôa, not Iaô or Iau. Furthermore, the name John is written YHWHNN in Hebrew, making the first part of the name, YHWH, very similar to the Tetragram YHWH. If the name Yehowah is rendered as Iaô it would be logical to render the name Yehoha-nan similarly as Iaô-nan, but that is not the case.

A3 – What exactly does the expression “the Name read according to its letters” mean ?

In order to contend with cabalistic influences Maimonides, a Jewish scholar and famous talmudist, gave a whole new definition of Judaism. The central point of his reasoning was about the Name of God, the Tetragram, which was explained in his book entitled The Guide of the Perplexed, written in 1190, where he exposed the powerful following reasoning: Maimonides noted that the God of philosophers didn’t involve any worship because it is impossible to establish relations with a nameless God (Elohim), then he proved that the Tetragram YHWH is the personal name of God, that is to say the name distinctly read (Shem hamephorash), which is different from all the other names like: Adonay, Shadday, Elohim (such ones are only divine titles with an etymology), and so forth, because the Tetragram has no etymology. However, Maimonides knew the problem about the pronunciation, because the Jewish tradition stated it had been lost. On the other hand, he also knew that some Jews believed in an almost magical influence of letters or a precise pronunciation of the divine names, but he informed his reader against such practices as pure invention or madness. The remarkable aspect of his argumentation lies in the fact of which he managed to avoid controversy on a subject so ticklish. He asserted indeed that in fact it was only the real cult that had been lost, and not the authentic pronunciation of the Tetragram, because this one was always possible according to its letters. To support this basic idea (real cult is more important than real pronunciation), he quoted Sota 38a to prove this name is the essence of God and that is the reason not to abuse it, then he quoted Zechariah 14:9 to prove the oneness of this name, he also quoted Numbers 6:23-27 to show that the priests were obliged to bless by this name only.

Then, to prove that the pronunciation of the Name did not carry any problem in the past, and did not contain any magic aspect, he quoted at first Qiddushin 71a, which said that this name was passed on by certain rabbis to their sons. Furthermore, according to Yoma 39b, this pronunciation was widely used before the priesthood of Simon the Just, what proves the insignificance of magic conceptions, because in this time if the Name was used it had no supernatural aspect, except the spiritual aspect. Maimonides insisted on the fact that what it was necessary to find was the spirituality connected to this Name, and not the exact pronunciation. Well to demonstrate this major notion, to understand sense and not sound conveyed with this name, he quoted a relevant example. Indeed, in Exodus 6:3 the text indicates that before Moses, the Name was not known; that is the exact meaning of this name, and not of the pronunciation, because how can anybody reasonable believe that a good pronunciation would have been suddenly able to incite the Israelites to action, unless supposing a magic action of this name, what is contradictory to the continuation of events? To conclude his demonstration, Maimonides quoted Exodus 3:14 to show that the expression èhyèh ashèr èhyèh, that one can translate into “I shall be who I shall be”, is above all a spiritual teaching. Because the Tetragram had no (linguistic) etymology, this link with the verb “to be (haya)” expressed above all a religious “etymology”, that is a teaching on God, who can be defined as “the Being who is the being” or “the necessary Being”.

It is interesting to observe that Judah Halevi, another Jewish scholar, gave almost the same arguments in his bookThe Kuzari published some years before, in 1140. He wrote indeed that the main difference between the God of Abraham and the God of Aristotle was the Tetragram (Kuzari IV:16). He proved also that this name was the personal name of God (idem IV:1) and that it meant “He will be with you”. To prove again that was the meaning of this name which was important and not the pronunciation, he quoted Exodus 5:2 where Pharaoh asked to know this Name: no the pronunciation which he used, but the authority of this Name (idem IV:15). He clarified finally that the letters of the Tetragram have the remarkable property to be matres lectionis, that is the vowels associated to the other consonants, as the spirit is associated to the body and let it lives (idem IV:3).

These two scholars gave so convergent information which marked a turning point in the history of the Name. However, the expression “pronounced according to its letters” which Maimonides called back (vowel letters as clarified Judah Halevi) is strictly exact only in Hebrew. Joachim of Flora gave a Greek transliteration of the Tetragram (I-E-U-E) in his work entitled Expositio in Apocalypsim, that he achieved in 1195. He also used the expression “Adonay IEUE Tetragrammaton nomen” in his another book entitled Liber Figurarum. Joachim of Flora gave also the three other names: IE, EV, VE, whom he associated to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit!

The vocalization of the Tetragram (IEUE) connected to the name of Jesus (EU) was going to be quickly improved by the pope Innocent III in one of his sermons (Sermo IV, in circumcisione domini) written around 1200. Indeed, he noticed that the Hebraic letters of the Tetragram Ioth, Eth, Vau (that is Y, H, W) were used as vowels, and that so the name IESUS had exactly the same vowels I, E and U as the divine name. As Joachim of Flora, he decomposed the divine name IEUE into IE-EU-UE, what allowed him to suppose that the name IE-SUS contained God’s name IE. He drew also a parallel between the name written IEVE but pronounced Adonai and the name written IHS but pronounced IESUS. The link between these two names will play afterward a determining role in the process of vocalization of the Tetragram.

In the following years, knowledge of the Hebraic language progressed strongly, involving notably the role ofmatres lectionis. For example, the famous scholar Roger Bacon (1220-1292) wrote in his Hebraic grammar that in Hebrew there are six vowels (aleph, he, vav, heth, iod, ain) near to the usual masoretic vowel-points. The French erudite Fabre d’Olivet also explained in his Hebraic grammar the following equivalence: aleph = â, he = è, heth = é, waw = ô/ u, yod = î, aïn = wo. He said in his work entitled La Langue hébraïque restituée (The Hebrew Tongue Restored) published in 1823, that the best pronunciation of the divine Name according to its letters was Ihôah/ Iôhah/ Jhôah. Moreover, when he began to translate the Bible (Genesis, chapters I to X), he used systematically the name IHÔAH in his translation. Antoine Fabre d’Olivet, renowned polyglot, knew numerous oriental languages, what brought him to privilege the philological choice rather than theological), that is to say he refused to mix the sound with the sense of the word. Moreover, Judah Halevi already clarified in his work that the yod (Y) served as vowel I, the waw (W) served as O, and that the he (H) and the aleph (’) served as A. According to these rudimentary indications, one already could read approximately the name YHWH “according to its letters”, as I-H-O-A (because the letter H is never used as vowel inside words; in that exceptional case the use of the letter aleph is preferred.) For example, the name YH is pronounced according to its letters IA in Hebrew, IH in Latin and IE in Greek.

Paul Drach, a rabbi converted to Catholicism, explained in his work De l’harmonie entre l’église et la synagogue(Of the harmony between the church and the synagogue) published in 1842, why it was logical that the pronunciation Yehova, which was in agreement with the beginning of all the theophoric names, was the authentic pronunciation, contrary to the form of Samaritan origin Yahvé. He proved the silly way of criticisms against the form Yehova, as the charge of erroneous reading attributed to Galatino. He quoted Raymond Martin and Porchetus de Salvaticis to reject this assertion. Then he demonstrated the delirious way of the transmutation of vowels a, o, a of the word Adonay into e, o, a, because this hypothetical grammatical rule (and against nature concerning a qere / ketib) was already running down with the word Èlohim which keeps its three vowels è, o, iwithout needing to change them in e, o, i. In spite of the support of Vatican at this time, these denials had not great effect.

Furthermore, this vocalization has always been considered as the most correct by the Jews themselves. For example, in the first Jewish translation in French (from 1836 to 1852) the Jewish translator Samuel Cahen systematically used the name Iehovah. He defended his choice owing to the work of the famous German grammarian W. Gesenius. The Jewish professor J.H. Levy explained why he preferred the form Y’howah, instead of Yahweh, in his article published in 1903 in The Jewish Quarterly Review. At the present time, it can be seen in a book written for the Jews, prefaced by the French Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk, that the name (Jéhovah), written with the Hebrew letters Yod, He Vav, He, is considered as the genuine name of God.

A4 – Is it frequent in Hebrew to pronounce names as they are written ?

In actual fact it is the general case as one can check up on the following board.

 1 Ch 3:5  Yrwlym  Irušalim  Iérousalèm  Yerušalaïm
 Gn 29:35  Yhwdh  Ihuda  Iouda  Yehudah
 Gn 25:19  ‘brhm  ‘Abaraham  Abraam  ‘Abraham
 Gn 25:19  Ysàq  Isaàaq  Isaak  Yisàaq
 Jr 30:18  Y‘qwb  I‘aqub  Iakôb  Ya‘aqôb
 2 Ch 27:1  Yrwšh  Iruša  Iérousa  Yerušah
 Gn 46:17  Yšwh  Išua  Iésoua  Yišwah
 1 Ch 2:38  Yhw’  Ihu’  Ièou  Yéhu’
 Gn 3:14  Yhwh  Ihua  (Kurios)  (Adonay)

In Hebrew, the majority of proper nouns, in full writing, can be read according to their letters. In the first century, one has the equivalence Y = I, W = U, and H = A at the end of words. Furthermore, one has always alternation consonant – vowel in the reading of these names, except in the case of a guttural or of a H in final, which are vocalized a. When a vowel is not indicated in a name, consonants are vocalized with an a. This style of reading is usual in Hebrew, for example with some famous names or a few names with an orthography close to the Tetragram.

One notices in the board above a remarkable agreement with the reading of these names according to the Septuagint and their reading according to their letters (in Hebrew language). The process of reading according to its letters is, on principle, very rudimentary, because it containsonly three sounds I (Y), U (W) and A, while Hebraic language possesses seven (i, é, [e], è, a, o, u). In spite of this intrinsic handicap, this method of reading gives rather good results on the whole.

The two sounds “e” and “o” are not archaic, because the original vowels in Hebrew, as in the other Semitic tongues are only a, i, u, that is to say e and o always arise from an obscuring or contraction of these three pure sounds (A.E. Cowley – Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar,1988 Oxford Clarendon Press p. 35). Furthermore, the Hebrew use of H for word-terminal o was anomalous (F.I. Andersen A. Dean Forbes – Spelling in the Hebrew Bible, 1986 Rome Ed. Biblical Institut p. 324). Many scholars propose to read the H letter as a mater lectionis for the sound ô, but this solution is unlikely, because this abnormal writing resulted from a historical spelling of the pronoun -Hu “him” which became -Ho (see Gn 9:21; 1K 19:23; etc.) that is a defective spelling for -Hô, moreover Gesenius wrote that a large number of proper names ending in -oh or -ô (like Shlomoh and Par’oh) used to be classed as nouns originally formed with the affix -ôn (A.E. Cowley – Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar,1988 Oxford Clarendon Press p.239). To check that the ending -W-H was read -U-A in Old Hebrew, note: ‘Alwah / ‘Alua (Gn 36:40); Ishwah / Ishua (Gn 46:17); Puwah / Puua (Nb 26:23); Tiqwah / Tiqua (2K 22:14); ‘Iwah / ‘Iua (2k 19:13) etc. (Very often the Septuagint kept the sound oua).

The modern standard transliterating for vowel /consonant is purely conventional. As professor James Barr wrote “phonetically and acoustically, there is no absolute and objective difference between the sound of the vowel i and that of the consonant y (and similarly with u and w). As Abercrombie puts it, an element like the y in English yet, or the w in English wet, is a semivowel, but phonological function is a consonantal element in a syllable pattern.” (J. Barr – The Variable Spelling of the Hebrew Bible, The Oxford University Press 1989 p.147). On the other hand, the y in the name Yehudah is a consonant, but it becomes a vowel i in the expression Wihudah “and Yehudah”. “To Israel” is pronounced in Ben Asher’s tradition “Le-Yisrael”, but “L-Israel” in the Ben Naphtali’s tradition (Angel Sàenz-Badillos – A History of the Hebrew language Cambridge 1996 Ed. Cambridge University Press pp. 94-102). Thus, an initial y consonant could have been read as i vowel (P. Joüon T. Muraoka – A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew in: Subsidia Biblica 14/I. Roma 1993 Ed. Pontificio Istituto Biblico p. 94 §26e).

Ambiguities exist only in Masoretical Hebrew, because of (later) contraction of letters, but these ambiguities did not exist in Old Hebrew. When official Hebrew became in time rabbinical Hebrew, the main changes concerned precisely the pronunciation of the letters y and w (ay became e, aw became ô, hû became ô/ w, ehû became aw, etc. – D.N. Freedman -The Massoretic Text and the Qumran Scrolls: A Study in Orthography. Ed. Textus 2, 1962 pp. 88-102; D.N. Freedman K.A. Mathews- The Paleo-Hebrew Leviticus Scroll Ed. A.S.O.R. 1985 pp. 52-54,58,68,79,82; E. Qimron -The Hebrew of the Dead sea Scrolls in: Harvard Semitic studies n°29 Atlanta 1986 Ed. Scholars Press p. 59).

The “e” in I-eH-oU-Ah corresponds to the shewa in the same way the “modern” Shlomoh is pronounced Shelomoh with its shewa. Moreover, the Name Judah is correctly pronounced with its shewa, that is I-eH-U-dAh, not I-U-dAh, even if the first H (which is not a mater lectionis) is very light. One notes that the verbal form yhwh in Qoheleth 11:3 is vocalized Yehou'[a] (instead of Yihweh) and it means “He will be”.

A5 – Did the name Jehovah come from a wrong reading which mixed together the consonants of the Tetragram with the vowels of the word Adonay?

The word Yahowah has never been used in any Bibles. The (fanciful) grammatical pattern which involves a changea to e has never existed. In actual fact, before 1100 CE, the Tetragram has been pointed with only the two vowels e, a of the Aramaic word Shema which means “The Name”.The vowel o appeared, after 1100 CE, owing to the influence of the reading of the word Adonay.

Paul Drach, a rabbi converted to Catholicism, explained in his work De l’harmonie entre l’église et la synagogue(Of the Harmony between the Church and the Synagogue) published in 1842, why it was logical that the pronunciation Yehova, which was in agreement with the beginning of all the theophoric names, was the authentic pronunciation, contrary to the form of Samaritan origin Yahvé. He also demonstrated the delirious way of the transmutation of vowels a, o, a of the word Adonay into e, o, a, because this hypothetical grammatical rule (and against nature concerning a qere / kethib) was already running down with the word Èlohim which keeps its three vowels è, o, i without needing to change them in e, o, i.

A6- Did some Hebrew Christian scholars read the vowels e,o,a of the Tetragram with its consonants YHWH getting the hybrid form Jehovah (YeHoWaH) ?

Of course, Hebrew Christians knew the Masoretic pointing YeHoWaH but they rather used the remarks from Maimonides, that they frequently quoted, to vocalize the Tetragram (The variants came from a bad knowledge about the “mothers of reading” system).

1- Period of Discovery (1200-1500). Early on Hebrew scholars, such as Joachim of Flora (1195) and Pope Innocent III (1200), tried to vocalize the name of God and they used the name IEUE. Why such a vocalization ? The starting point came from the book of the famous Maimonides, written in 1190, entitled The Guide of the Perplexed in which he explained that the Tetragram was the true name of God and he asserted that in fact it was only the true worship which had been lost, and not the authentic pronunciation of the Tetragram, because this was still possible according to its letters. That is why Pope Innocent III noticed that the Hebrew letters of the Tetragram Iohdh, He’, Wav (that is Y, H, W) were used as vowels, and that the name IESUS had exactly the same vowels I, E and U as the divine name IEUE. He used the Hebrew/ Greek equivalencies : Y = I, H = E and W = U (In the first century, Josephus explained that the Tetragram was written with four vowels.) Additionally, the French translator Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, obtained the name IHEUHE, because he preferred using the Hebrew/ Latin equivalencies : Y = I, H = HE and W = U in his comments on the Psalms written in 1509. However, Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa explained in one of his sermon (Sermo XLVIII Dies sanctificatus) written in 1445, that God’s name is spelled in Hebrew Iohdh, He’, Waw, He’; and these four letters serve as vowels, corresponding to I, E, O, A in Greek, because in this language there is no specific vowel for the sound OU (the letter U in Greek is pronounced as the French Ü). So, in Greek, the transcription IEOUA would be more exact and would better reflect the OU sound of the Hebrew name Ieoua, becoming in Latin Iehova or Ihehova, because the letter H is inaudible and the vowel U serves as a consonant (V). The best equivalencies would be Y = I, H = A (at the end of words) and W = O, as explained the Jewish writer Judah Halevi in his book The Kuzari written in 1140. That is why, the modern scholar Antoine Fabre d’Olivet said in his work entitled La Langue hébraïque restituée (The Hebrew Tongue Restored) published in 1823, that the best pronunciation of the divine Name according to its letters was Ihôah/ Iôhah/ Jhôah. Moreover, when he began to translate the Bible (Genesis, chapters I to X), he used systematically the name IHÔAH in his translation (that is to say Y-H-W-H = I-H-Ô-AH.) Several scholars preferred the equivalencies Y = I, H = A (at the end of words) and W = OU, because the sound OU is older than the sound Ô, for example the name Y-H-W-D-H is read I-H-OU-D-AH, not I-H-Ô-D-AH. They obtained the name I-H-OU-AH or IOUA because the letter H is inaudible. Strangely, many scholars believed that this name JOVA has been kept in the ancient name JOVE (Joue-pater that is Jupiter).

2- Improvements (1500-1600). To set in order the variants of pronunciation of the Tetragram, Pietro Galatino dedicated a good part of his work entitled De arcanis catholice ueritatis (Concerning Secrets of the Universal Truth), published in 1518, to explain the reasons for this pronunciation. First, he quoted the book of MaimonidesThe Guide of the Perplexed abundantly, specially the chapters 60-64 of the first part, to remind that the Tetragram is the proper noun of God which can be pronounced according to its letters. However, he demonstrated that the pronunciation Ioua, admitted in his time, was too rough and he gave the reasons for this. He explained for example that the name Iuda, written הדוי hdwy (YWDH), was an abbreviation of the name Iehuda written hdwhy (YHWDH). All the Hebrew proper nouns beginning in YHW- [why] are moreover always vocalized Ieh-. Consequently, if the Tetragram was really pronounced Ioua it would have be written hW:y (YWH) in Hebrew, which was never the case. So, because the Tetragram is written hwhy (YHWH), the letter H inside the Name has to be heard. He concluded that, because this name is pronounced according to its letters, that the best transcription was the form I-eh-ou-a (Iehoua), rather than the form I-ou-a used, for example, by Agostino Justiniani, in his polyglot translation of Psalms published in 1516 (if Galatino had directly transcribed the masoretic form, he would have obtained Yehouah and not Iehoua). The French translator Pierre Robert Olivétan also recognized in hisApologie du translateur (Apology of the Translator) written in 1535, that God’s name was in Hebrew Iehouah rather than Ioua, because this last form did not express the aspiration of the letter H.

Joachim of Flora IEUE 1195
Pope Innocent III IEUE 1200
Raymond Martini YOHOUA 1278
Porchetus de Salvaticis YOHOUAH 1303
Nicholas of Cusa IEOA, IHEHOUA 1455
Marsilio Ficino HIEHOUAHI 1474
Jacques Lefèvres d’Etaples IHEVHE 1509
Sébastien Chateillon IOUA 1555

Most of the time these scholars specified that they tried to pronounce the Name “as it is written”; only the cardinal Nicolas of Cusa explained the difficulties to get a good transcription from Hebrew to Greek [I-E-O-A] or to Latin [I-HE-HOU-A].

A7 – Is Galatino the first who introduced the name Jehovah in 1518 ?

The cardinal Nicholas of Cusa used this name almost one century before (circa 1428). In actual fact Galatino used this form explaining several important points. All the Hebrew names beginning by YHW- are vocalized Ieh- in Latin. For example the name Juda (YWDH) is pronounced Iouda but its whole form is I-eh-ou-d-a (YHWDH). If the divine name was pronounced Ioua (I-OU-A) the correct writing would be Y-W-H and not Y-H-W-H. Therefore the name Iehoua (I-eH-OU-A) is the best form taking into account the letter H inside the name, besides this name had no link with the name Iouis (Jupiter).

A8 – Was the pronunciation Jehovah widely accepted in the 16-th century ?

In spite of the remarks of Galatino, numerous Hebrew scholars believed, owing to the work of John Pic della Mirandola, that the name Iehoua had a pagan origin that is to say that it came from a change of the name Ioue (Jupiter) into Ioua then Iehoua. Besides several grammar scholars thought that the Aramaic form “he will be” (yhwh) was pronounced Iehue (or Iahue) and was connected with the Name.

As Michael Servetus noticed in his treatise against the Trinity De Trinitatis erroribus written in 1531, the name Iehouah is very close to the theophoric name Jesus which is Iesua in Hebrew. This link seemed to him more convincing than the grammatical form supposed by some cabalists of his time -a future piel (vocalized YeHaWèH and meaning “He will make to be”, “He will constitute” or ” He will cause to become”). For example, this Hebrew form yehabe had been used by Abner of Burgos, a converted Spanish Jew, in his work entitled Mostrador de Justicia (1330). Servetus defended the name Iehouah against its supposed grammatical form (a future piel!)yehauue explained as “He will generate” in the book entitled The Epistle of Secrets of the Christian cabalist Paulus de Heredia, published around 1488.

The debate of knowing if it was necessary to use Iehoua or Ioua had been a felted quarrel of Hebraists. However, when the victorious form began to reach the general public, the debate changed to become much more theological and polemical. The first to start hostilities was the archbishop Gilbert Genebrard, in his book written in 1568 to defend the Trinity, in which he dedicated several pages to prove the errors of S. Chateillon, P. Galatin, S. Pagnin, etc. First of all, he attacked the form Ioua used by Chateillon reminding that St Augustine had explained according to the writer Varro that the Jews had worshiped Ioue (Jupiter!), and that the use of Ioua was thus a return to paganism. He even indicated in his foreword to comments on the Psalms that this name Ioua was barbarian, fictitious and atheistic! Concerning the testimonies of Clement of Alexandria (Iaou), Jerome (Iaho), Theodoret (Iabe), he considered that they reflected altered forms of Ioue, and apparently these testimonies appeared to him little reliable, because they were too late and the Jews had not been pronouncing the Name for several centuries. Finally, he reproached P. Galatin (and S. Pagnin), who had used the form Iehoua, for not having taken into account the theological meaning: “He is” to find the right vocalization. Indeed, since the translation of the Septuagint, it was known that the divine name meant essentially “He is”. Genebrard tried to confirm this definition due to his knowledge of the Hebraic language. Thus, because God indicates in Exodus 3:14 by the expression “I am”, (in Hebrew Ehie), one should say in speaking about God “He is”, that is in Hebrew Iihie (a future qal form). Because of linguistic laws, it was likely that this form Iihie came from a more archaic form Iehue suggested in 1550 by Luigi Lippomano, Genebrard pointed out then that the abbot Joachim of Flora had used this more exact form (Ieue) in his book on the Apocalypse. The demonstration of Genebrard, while not convincing, impressed a lot by its learning. Moreover, during the century which followed, biblical commentators often quoted this form Iehue (or Iiheue) near to Iehoua. However, in spite of the brilliant aspect of the demonstration, this remained speculative because of the absence of testimonies (afterward, to mitigate this gap, the Protestant theologians rehabilitated the historic testimonies of the first centuries). Genebrard’s major innovation was so to introduce the theological meaning of the Name into the search for its vocalization (which was in fact a cabalistic concept), a process which engendered (the knowledge of the Hebrew language and of its history increasing) a profusion of new vocalized forms.

A9 – Today, is the pronunciation Yahweh widely accepted ?

Those who believe that Yahweh is the correct vocalization of the Name usually quote Clement and Theodoret. The testimony of Clement of Alexandria appeared very late (around 200 CE), furthermore as he explained that God’s name Iaoue may be translated into “the one who is and who will be”, it appears that Iaoue is more a theological pronunciation than philological (A. Caquot – Les énigmes d’un hémistiche biblique in: Dieu et l’être 1978 Paris Ed. Études Augustiniennes C.N.R.S. p. 24 note 23). Clement’s Iaoue can not represent an original God’s name for the following reason: In spite of his claim about God’s name, Clement did not believe that God had a proper name. For him Iaoue was only a word (not a name) which means ‘the one who is and who will be.’ (Stromateon V:6:34), because God is ineffable (Stromateon V:10:65), without name (Stromateon V:12:81,82). For him the real name of God was the “Son” (Stromateon V:14:136). Another example of the same confusion comes from Irenaeus of Lyons (130-202) who believed that the word IAÔ (Ιαω in Greek, [Iah] in Latin) meant ‘Lord’ in primitive Hebrew (Against Heresies II, 24:2) and he esteemed that the use of this Hebrew word IAÔ to denote the Name of the unknown Father, was intended to impress gullible minds in worship of mysteries (Against Heresies I, 21:3).

A remark from the book of Theodoret (Quaestiones in Exodum cap. XV) is very often quoted to support the pronunciation Yahweh, because of the following sentence: “the name of God is pronounced Iabe”. This remark is true, but Theodoret specified that he spoke about Samaritans and he added that the Jews pronounced this name Aïa. In another book (Quaestiones in I Paral. cap. IX) he wrote that “the word Nethinim means in Hebrew ‘gift of Iaô’, that is the God who is”. According to Theodoret there were three different forms, but as Theoderet probably ignored that there were several substitutes for the Name, at his time. The intervening period which preceded the destruction of the Temple, the Talmud (Sotah 7,6 Tamid 33b) makes it clear that substitutes of the Name were used in Palestinian liturgy. These substitutes were numerous, as one can notice in the literature of this time (2M 1:24 , 25; 15:3; Si 23:4; 50:14-19).

The Greek Iaô (which comes from the old Hebrew Yahu) and the Samaritan Iabe (which comes from the Aramaic Yaw) are not the pronunciation of the only name YHWH. The name Aïa (probably) represents a transcription of ’ehyeh form.

Even if the name Yahweh is widely used its bases are very incertain and that is why most of scholars prefer the form YHWH. At the present time there are two main trends among scholars. The first ones are those who think that the form YHWH is equivalent to its etymology “He is” and they obtain the forms Yahve, Yahwoh, etc. The second ones are those who try to read this name only owing to the philology. For example, the French erudite Antoine Favre d’Olivet used Ihôah in his translation of the Bible (1823),the Jewish translator Samuel Cahen used Iehovah in whole his Bible (1836), the Jewish doctor J.H. Levy preferred the name Y’howah (1903), and so on. Strangely, some people put more faith in Professor Freedman than (1) in most other competent scholars, (2) than the Bible and (3) than Professor Freedman puts in himself.

1) In the note on Exodus 3:14 The Jerusalem Bible (Paris 1986 Éd. Cerf p. 87 note k) recognizes that «at present the causative form “He causes to be” is an old explanation, but it is more probably a qal form, that is “He is.”» According to the competent Hebrew scholar André Caquot, the name Yahwe or Iaoue is a theological rather than a philological form of God’s name. (Les énigmes d’un hémistiche biblique in: Dieu et l’être. 1978 Paris Ed. Études Augustiniennes C.N.R.S. p. 24 note 23). See also the Karaites website.

2) In Exodus 3:14 the Hebrew Bible uses a qal form “I shall [prove to] be what I shall [prove to] be” and not a hiphilform “I cause to become what I cause to become.” (see

3) Professor Freedman’s answer to my letter in which I asked him about his amazing assertions, wrote : «I was pleased to hear from you and to have your detailed treatment of this valuable and interesting subject, on which I have written from time to time. I have never been entirely satisfied with my own analysis and interpretation of the divine name in the Hebrew Bible, or with that of others, including my own teacher, W.F. Albright and his teacher (from whom Albright derived his position), Paul Haupt. At the same time, I haven’t seen anything to persuade me of the superior value of another interpretation, but I will be glad to learn from your study and perhaps discover that you have finally solved this long-standing puzzle.» Despite Professor Freedman’s reputation as a famous editor, I would say that his arguments are poor. For example, he stated «However, the name could be a unique or singular use of the causative stem.» This cannot be taken seriously because there is no evidence, because the causative form of the verb “to become, to be” does not exist in Hebrew and it has never existed. Whereas, the dogma of the causative form «He causes to become» is not in the Bible. Therefore, can we believe in it ?

Furthermore, professor Freedman chose this analysis not for grammatical reasons but for theological reasons (See his own comment in the Anchor Bible Dictionary.) Therefore the name Yahweh “He causes to become” is a theological choice against Jehovah, who said that “He will [prove to] be”. For example, to prove the causative form Professor Albright (who was Professor Freedman’s teacher!), in his book From the Stone Age to Christianity, supposed that the true name could be rediscovered through names coming from false religions (Babylonian and Egyptian). He then supposed that the formula of Exodus 3:14 was modified to fit his first hypothesis. By saying that, Professor Albright modified the biblical formula. Thus, should we accept Professor Albright’s hypothesis concerning an old modification of Exodus 3:14 ?

Professor Freedman’s theory is only supported by a tiny group of supporters (Freedman’s teacher and a few others) but it is not based on reliable analysis. Even in 1906, the Brown, Driver and Briggs dictionary stated: «Many recent scholars explain יֲהוָה as Hiph. of הוה (…) But most take it as Qal of הוה.» At present, competent scholars know (for example, L. Pirot, A. Clamer Bible Ed. Letouzey et Ané, 1956, p. 83) that the causative form can not be taken into account for two main reasons. Firstly, the causative form of the verb “to be” is not known in Hebrew, furthermore to express a causative sense, the Piel form was used. Secondly, this philosophical notion did not come from Hebrew (but from Greek philosophy) and the more natural meaning is: “I shall be with you” according to Exodus 3:12. Thus, the position taken by several Bible Translation Committees is based on the Hebrew concept being the omnipotent One who is the First Cause of the entire universe, but it appears that there is confusion between philosophy and grammar. Furthermore, this “Hebrew concept” is above all a “philosophical Greek concept”. The translators of the Septuagint made a similar mistake, changing the meaning of Exodus 3:14 “I shall [prove to] be what I shall [prove to] be” into “I am He who is.” In the same way, the sentence “I shall [prove to] be what I shall [prove to] be” is sometimes modified into “I cause to become what I cause to become”, based on the same philosophical concept, which is not an additional insight. In addition, the assertion that the name of God means “He causes to become,” is in itself a “description” of God. However, there is no evidence except for the dogma of the causative form.

The emeritus professor E.J. Revell of the University of Toronto, in an answer to a letter of mine, wrote: «I was very interested to read the copy of your work which you sent me. Before reading your study, had no particular opinion on the pronunciation of the name of God. As a student in the 50’s, I was told that scholars had determined that “Yahweh” was the ancient pronunciation. I did not find the argument well-grounded, but the view was held almost as an article of faith by my instructors, and I had no superior argument, so I ignored the problem. I have occasionally thought about it since, but I have not acquired any information that you have not noticed in your study. You have certainly collected more information on the question than any other study I know, and you are to be congratulated on the production of a valuable work. Many thanks for sending it to me.»

Moses gave the right explanation “He will [prove to] be” of the name Jehovah (Ex 3:14). Furthermore, it is written «my people will known my name» (Is 52:6) that is, of course, the true name because Jehovah “will guard it”(Ps 12:7) for his servants (Is 43:10). Jesus officially declared the name of his Father to his brothers (Heb 2:12). The name Yahweh (which is a barbarism) has only been created to battle with the true name Jehovah. (The emeritus professor C. Perrot, of the Institut Catholique de Paris, wrote to professor Gertoux “Your arguments are very pertinent, but it would be hard to come back without yielding to Jehovah’s Witnesses.” !

A10 – Does the meaning “He is” of the Tetragram help us to know its pronunciation ?

First, if God says in Exodus 3:14 “I am who I am” that involves one speaking of God would say “He is who He is”, but most of the Hebrew scholars agree, at the present time, that God said “I shall be” and therefore one would rather say speaking of God “He will be who He will be”. However the meaning “He will be” (or “He will prove to be”) does not allow finding a vocalization because this meaning is above all a religious explanation without scientific purpose (grammatical).

Very early etymology intervened, not to vocalize the divine name again (which was usefulness) but ‘to explain the real sense’ of this name. Indeed, the Hebraic Bible gives an etymological definition of this name in Exodus 3:14 which is “I shall be which (who) I shall be”. Generally the Talmud and Targums commented on this sentence by clarifying that God strengthened his servants by saying to them ‘I shall be [with you]’. One finds this same notion in the Christian Greek Scriptures «If God is for us, who will be against us» (Rm 8:31). However, the translators of the Septuagint (towards 280 BCE), under the influence of Greek philosophy, modified this etymology by translating this sentence into “I am the being” that is ‘I am He who is’, God becoming ‘the one who is’. Then at the beginning of the third century there was a slight development of this definition. In the Christian environment, Clement of Alexandria explained that God’s name Iaoue means ‘the one who is and who will be.’ In the Jewish environment the Targum of Jonathan explained that in, Deuteronomy 32:29, that God’s name means “I am the one who is and who was and I am the one who has to be”. At the end of the twelfth century Maimonides explained the name as meaning: ‘The necessary being’. But in no way did these etymologies serve to find the original vocalization of the Tetragram.

When the understanding of the Hebraic language rose again in Europe during the thirteenth century, some scholars tried to vocalize this name YHWH from an existing verbal form. The choice was only between two possibilities: YeHaWèH (piel form 3rd person of masculine singular), which means ‘He will make to be’ or ‘He will constitute’ a Hebraic reconstituted form and YiHWèH a West Aramaic form (peal imperfect, 3rd person of masculine singular) which means, ‘He will be’. The vocalization yehaweh had the favor of a few cabalists (see the Academy of Jerusalem) and the vocalization yihweh had the favor of some Hebrew Christian scholars. The vocalization YiHWèH rather than YèHèWéH (B. Davidson – The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon) derives from the word YeHU’a (Qo 11:3) meaning ‘He will be’.

 3-rd person
 Meaning  1st person
 YeHaYèH ?  He will constitute  ’ahayèh ?  I shall constitute
 YiHYèH  He will come to be  ’èhyèh  I shall come to be
 YaHaYèH ??  He will cause to be  ’ahayèh ??  I shall cause to be
 HÛ’  He [is]  ’anî  I [am]
 YéŠ  He exists  –
 HoWaH  Coming to be  –
 HaYaH  He came to be  hayîtî  I came to be
 3-rd person
 Meaning  1st person
 YeHaWèH  He will constitute  ’ahawèh  I shall constitute
 YiHWèH  He will come to be  ’èhwèh  I shall come to be
 YaHaWèH ??  He will cause to be  ’ahawèh ??  I shall cause to be

However, no verbal form (3-rd person) corresponded exactly to the biblical definition ’èhyèh (1-st person). Additionally, the form yehaweh would come from an Aramaic root HWH (see the piel form YeHaWèH of the verbHWH in Psalm 19:3), not from a Hebrew root HYH (see the piel form YeHaYèH of the verb HYH in Job 36:6). The normal piel form of the verb HYH would be, according to Hebrew, the form yehayeh, not yehaweh. Even the modern hypothetical form ‘I shall cause to become’or ‘I shall cause to be’ Yahayèh (hypothetical hiphil form 3-rd person of masculine singular)does not agree with the biblical form ‘I shall [prove to] be’ that is: ’èhyèh in Hebrew. Two explanations have been put forward to try to resolve the differences between the biblical sense and the grammatical meaning. These were to supposethat either the Masoretes had incorrectly vocalized the form ‘I shall be’ or that the theophoric names which all begin by Yeho- have lost their link with the Tetragram. For example, Johannes Wessel Gansfort who proposed Iohauah for the name of the Father in his comment on the prayer called ‘Our Father’ (around 1480), supposed that the sentence “I shall be who I shall be” eheieh azer eheieh in his Latin manuscript could be vocalized aheieh azer aheieh. The Masoretic vocalization had shown itself to be very reliable; some scholars preferred to reconstruct an archaic vocalization of the Tetragram based on its etymology ‘He will be’ or ‘He is’. The first to start this process was probably Gilbert Genebrard in 1568, who proposed the verbal form Iehue or Iihue for the divine name corresponding to the Aramaic yihweh, rather than Iehoua, the usual Hebrew name. At the present time, the Karaites propose the same choice, see this link.

A11 – Do the etymologies found in the Bible allow us to find a primeval vocalization ?

(etymology: “The origin and historical development of a linguistic form as shown be determining its base elements, ealiest known use, and changes in form and meaning, tracing its transmission from one language to another, identifying its cognates in other languages, and reconstructing its ancestral form where possible.” – American Heritage College Dictionary)

Among the 60 etymologies found in the Pentateuch, 15 of them have no link with their grammatical meaning, in this last case some specialists speak of “folk’s etymology”. For example the name Babel means “Gate of God” (grammatically) but it means “Confusion” according to the Bible definition, the name Noah means “Rest” but it means ” Consolation” according to Genesis 5:29 and so forth.

The method of identifying a proper noun with its verbal shape is nevertheless contradicted by several cases in the Bible. It can be seen that the Masoretic spelling is in agreement with the vocalization of the Septuagint, but is not in agreement with its own grammatical vocalization implied from its etymology. For example:

Name M.T. Etymology Meaning LXX
Joseph YÔSéPh YÔSÎPh He will add Ioseph
Judah YeHÛDaH YeHÔDèH He will laud Iouda
Seth ŠéTh ŠaTh He has set Sèth
Jehovah YeHoWaH YiHWeH He will be (Kurios)

Therefore, those who want to revocalize Jehovah into Yihweh or Yahweh should also change the names of Joseph into Yosiph, Judah into Yehodeh, Seth into Shath, etc., which was never done even by the translators of the Septuagint.

Therefore, as the famous grammarian W. Gesenius acknowledged, according to the theophoric names, that the name of God could be easily vocalized Iehouah. However, the evident form Iehouah was under attack very soon because of cabalists then theologians who supposed that God’s name was a verbal form. This assertion is absurd because if God’s name was a verbal form, Moses who spoke Hebrew, would understand its meaning with no problem, which was not the case (Ex 3:13). In fact Moses knew God’s name, but he received a religious insight of God’s name which means “He will [prove to] be” (yihyeh) and not a grammatical explanation. Furthermore, the normal way to ask a name is to use the Hebrew pronoun  (מִי); as in Judges 13:17 to use mah (מָה) invites an answer which goes further, and gives the meaning (‘what?’) or substance of the name. Therefore, this answer “I shall [prove to] be what I shall [prove to] be” is more a religious explanation rather than a grammatical remark!

To sum up the problem, the pronunciation of God’s name, that is Jehovah, is easy to find using the theophoric names because without exception, all the theophoric names beginning in YHW- are vocalized YeHÔ- (IÔ- in the Septuagint). Therefore the ultimate theophoric name that is to say YHW-H must be read as YeHÔ-AH. The meaning of God’s name is also easy to determine, that is “He will [prove to] be” according to Exodus 3:14, which gives the correct insight. To suppose an additional insight from the Cabal (“He will make to be”), Hebrew grammar (“He causes to become”) or Greek philosophy (“He is, He exists”) introduced serious confusion.

The vital key to avoid confusion is to note that there are not equivalencies between the religious etymologies in the Bible and the hypothetical grammatical etymologies.

Rest Nuah Noah Naham Comfort (1Ch 4:19)
He will be laud Yudeh (?) Yehudah Yodeh He will laud”
He will [prove to] be Yihweh (?) Yehowah Yihyeh He will [prove to] be
(?) Abraham Abhamon Father of a crowd

For example, the famous name Yehudah means “He will laud” according to Genesis 29:35, but not according to Hebrew grammar (Yodeh). Thus, despite the biblical explanation, Yehudah is a name and not a verbal form. Not understanding these differences, many scholars and translators have tried to harmonize grammatical etymologies and biblical etymologies. For example, one of the translators of the Septuagint modified the biblical etymology “He will comfort” (Ge 5:29) into a better grammatical etymology “He will rest”. In the same way, the Jewish writer, Philo, modified the biblical etymology “Father of a crowd” (Ge 17:5) into a better grammatical etymology “[chosen] father of noise” (De mutatione Nominum §66) that is Abra‘am in Hebrew which harmonizes betterwith the name Abraham than Abhamon. In the past, many scholars tried to modify the biblical etymology “He will [prove to] be” into a better grammatical etymology “He causes to become”, because this last form (hypothetically vocalized Yahayeh which can hypothetically be derived from an ancient Yahaweh) could explained the frequent beginning in Yah- of the Greek testimonies in Iaô of the first century.

A12 – Was the exact pronunciation of the divine name known before Moses, and if yes why did Moses ask it to God ?

Before Moses Abraham called on this Name and even Eve knew it. In actual fact Moses ignored the true meaning of this Hebrew name Yehowah and that is why he asked his question in Exodus 3:13, because the name (or the fame) of God did not mean anything for most of Israelites. His question is about the meaning of the name and not about its pronunciation (like in Judges 13:17), besides God’s answer is also about the meaning and not about the spelling. (Translators generally modified the question of Exodus 3:13 according to Judges 13:17, however in Hebrew there is a small difference between “Your name, what is?” [Exodus 3:13] about the meaning, and “Your name, who is?” [Judges 13:17] about the spelling).

A13 – Did the Jews stop pronouncing the Name because of the prohibition of rabbis ?

The biblical account of the events which occurred before and after the destruction of the First Temple helps us to understand the process of the progressive disappearance of the Name. Indeed, some years before 600 BCE, Pharaoh Necho defeated King Josiah then established Eliakim (God will raise up) as vassal and perhaps as provocation, changed his name to Jehoiakim (Yehô will raise up). This proves that Necho knew the great name of the God of the Hebrews (2K 23:34). Some years later, in a similar way and in the same context, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar would establish as vassal King Mattaniah (gift of Yah) and change his name to Zedekiah (rightness of Yah). This proves that he also knew the divine name, but only the more familiar form Yah, and not the form of the great name (2K 24:17). It is easy to understand the chain of events after the destruction of the Temple. For the Hebrew people it was a terrible humiliation to be defeated by pagans. Likely at this time they took good care in the use of the holy name in order not to profane it (Ezk 36:20,21; Mal 1:6) and they surely remembered previous warnings on the subject (Is 52:5; Am 6:10). It is noteworthy that after the return from exile even the prophets avoided using the Name with non-Jews. For example, Daniel  used the Tetragram (Dn 1:2 9:2-20) but he used several substitutes with non-Jews: God in the heavens (Dn 2:28), Revealer of secrets (Dn 2:29), God of heaven (Dn 2:37,44), the Most High (Dn 4:17,24,32), the heavens (Dn 4:26). In the same way Ezra (-498?-398?) and Nehemiah used the Tetragram with the Jews (Ezr 3:10,11 8:28,29; Ne 4:14 8:9) but they used several substitutes with non-Jews: God (Ezr 5:17), the great God (Ezr 5:8), God of the heavens (Ezr 5:12; Ne 2:4,20), God of the heavens and the earth (Ezr 5:11). Furthermore, these non-Jews no longer used the Tetragram in their answers to the prophets. Cyrus  was probably the last (just after 539 BCE) who used the name Jehovah (Ezr 1:2). In the book of Esther there is no Tetragram, but the last book (Malachi) written for the Jews, contains it.

This prohibition appeared only after the middle of the second century CE and it was given by rabbi Abba Shaül, but long time before this date (circa third century BCE) the Tetragram was not used anymore due to a mystical reverence toward the Name. Furthermore the Jews considered the use of the Tetragram reserved to the Temple and outside of it they preferred sometimes using the two substitutes Yah and Yahu in Hebrew or Ia and Iaô in Greek (numerous archaeological and historical witnesses during the period 500 BCE to 500 CE.)

A14- Are the two names Yah and Yahu, which are found at the end of some Hebrew proper names, abbreviations of the Tetragram ?

There is no obvious link between the short name YH and the great name YHWH. The vocalization Yah of the short name YH does not prove anything regarding the vocalization of the great name. For example, Betty and Liz are short forms of Elisabeth, but the link between the short forms and the full form is far from obvious. However, there are only four combinations for all the theophoric names.

Nathan He has given 2 Sa 7:2
Nathan -Yah He has given – Yah 1 Ch 25:2
Nathan -Yahû He has given – Yah himself Jer 36:14
Yehô- Nathan Yehow[ah]    – has given 1 Sa 14:6
Yô- Nathan Y(eh)ow[ah] – has given 1 Sa 14:1

The (short) name Yah is considered as a name as a whole in the Bible (Ps 68:4), furthermore it appeared in the same time that the (great) Name (Ex 15:2,3) and it was mainly used in the songs (Ps 150:1). Contrary to the Tetragram the name Yah has always been used as the word Alleluia proves it (Rev 19:1-6). The other name Yahû (which is not found in the Bible) is not an abbreviation of the Tetragram but a hypocoristic made from the name Yah. As a matter of fact the name Yahû means “Yah himself” (Yah hû’). On the other hand Yô- in the beginning of some names is an abbreviation of Y(eh)ô- which is itself an abbreviation of the full name Yehow-(ah). One can notice that in the Bible there is no name beginning by Yah- or Yahû- and none ending by -yô or -yehô.

There is a confusion between the short name YH and the great name YHWH. The reading in Ya- is favored by a confusion between the two names of God: the full name YeHoWaH (Ps 83:18) and the short name YaH (Ps 68:4). The Jews reserved a different treatment for these two names because they always agreed to pronounce the short name, contrary to the great name, which was replaced around the third century BCE by its substitute Adonay (Lord). Thus, the short name Yah is found in the Christian Greek Writings in the expression Alleluia (Rev. 19:1-6), which means “Praise Yah.” Moreover, in the Qumran writings, the Tetragram was sometimes written in paleo-Hebrew inside the Hebrew text, which was not the case for the name Yah. It is also of note that this name Yah was especially used in songs (Ex 15:2) and in psalms.

  • The short name YH is vocalized Yah (Hallelu-Yah in Hebrew and Allelou-ia in Greek).
  • The pet name YHW alone (not found in the Bible, but found in Elephantine for example) is vocalized Yahû in Hebrew and Iaô (ΙΑΩ) in Greek (found in a first-century-BCE copy of the Septuagint). This name Yahû means in Hebrew “Yah He” (Yah Hû’). The name Yahû is different from the name Jehu (Yehû in Hebrew and Ieou in the Septuagint) which means Yehow[ah-h]û’ that is to say “Yehow[ah] He” and not Yah-hû’ that is “Yah He” (in which case the Septuagint would have kept the form Iaou instead of Ieou).

The cuneiform transcriptions in Akkadian are syllabic transcriptions which have only a single sign to represent the following sounds: ya, ye, yi, yu, wa, we, wi, wu. In fact, there is only a single specific sign to specify the sound ia, and none for the sound h. So, the name Yehudah can be transcribed, at best, only by Ia-u-da or Ia-hu-da; etc. The logical consequence of this is that, if the Tetragram was pronounced Yehowah in Hebrew, the Akkadian transcription of this name could be, at best, that Ia-u-a or Ia-hu-a. We notice moreover that the name Yehu¹ was transcribed Ia-u-a (and Ia-u) in Shalmaneser III’s texts, dated 9th century BCE because of the lack of vowel e in Akkadian. Therefore the name Ia-u-a could be read as Iu-u-a (or even Ie-u-a) see:

In addition to the initial part Yehô- which was abbreviated to Yô-, the final part -yah also had a diminutive -yahu, this last term means in Hebrew “Yah himself.” This term appeared for two reasons. First, the Hebrew term hu’means “himself” (implied God) began to play a big role in worship. For example, to distance himself from the other gods and to mark his durability, God often expressed himself by using the Hebraic expression ’ani hu’, that is “myself” or more exactly “I, himself” or “It is I.” (Dt 32:39; Is 52:6; etc.) Although human beings can use this expression in speaking of themselves (1Ch 21:17), generally when one used “He” or “Himself” it was in relation to God. (2 Kings 2:14)

The Hebrews did not delay in integrating this divine name into their own names, as into the following names Abihu’ (my father [is] He), Elihu’ (my god [is] He), or Yehu’ (Ye[huah is] He). Later, the final letter of these names being mute, it was not written any more. For example, the name Elihu’ is very often written Elihu. The names Abiyah (my father [is] Yah), and Eliyah (my god [is] Yah) existing also, there was a mixture of Yah and Hu’ to obtain names like Abiyahu’ (my father [is] Yah Himself), or Eliyahu’ (my god [is] Yah Himself).

This association provoked the appearance of a new divine name, which one does not find in the Bible, except at the end of some theophoric names: the name Yah hu’, abbreviated as Yahu. The assonance of this expression with the Tetragram doubtless favored the emergence of this abbreviation. Moreover, one finds this name alone (YHW), written next to the Tetragram (YHWH), in Kuntillet Ajrud’s writings, dated from the ninth century before our era. Some specialists object that the ending in U could be a residue of an archaic nominative. However, this would be a unique occurrence. Furthermore, this explanation is all the less convincing as it does not apply to the name Elihu.

  • The great name YHWH is vocalized Yehowah in Hebrew and Iôa in the beginning of numerous Greek names. In the same way, as there were theophoric names elaborated from the great name, that is names beginning with Yehô- or its shortened form Y(eh)ô-, there were also theophoric names elaborated from Yah. However, a major remark is necessary in the Bible, Greek or Hebraic. The Hebrews took care of making either their names begin with Yehô- or Yô-, or to end their names with -yah, but never the opposite, without exception. So, in the Bible, it is impossible to find, among hundred of existing theophoric names, a single name beginning with Yah-. So, those who vocalize YHWH in Yahweh are obliged to admit that the Tetragram, the theophoric name by excellence, does not belong to its family of theophoric names, what is the height of irony. This nonsense is clearly apparent when one opens a dictionary, where the name Yahve is completely isolated from the other theophoric names like: Joshua, Jonathan, Jesus, John, etc. For example, the name YHWHNN (John) is vocalized Yehôha-nan in Hebrew and Iôa-nan in Greek (not Iaô-nan). For example, Severi of Antioch (465-538) wrote in his comments on John chapter eight that the Hebrew name of God is IOA (ΙΩΑ). Furthermore, this name IOA (ΙΩΑ) is found in the sixth-century Codex Coislinianus.

It is possible to verify that, without exception, the theophoric names beginning in YHW- are vocalized YeHÔ- (IÔ- in the Septuagint), and those ending in -YHW are vocalized -YaHÛ (IA or IOU in the Septuagint). In addition, the vowel a very often follows the sequence YeHÔ-, that is to say the “normal” sequence is YeHÔ-()a. This sequence is so universal in the theophoric names that some names have been “theophorized” by assonance in the following names of the Septuagint: Iôa-tam (Jg 9:7, 57; 2K 15:5, 32), Iôa-kéim (1Ch 4:22), Iôa-s (1Ch 23:10,11), Iôa-sar (1Ch 2:18), Iôa-kal (Jr 37:3), etc. To sum up, the name Yehu’ results from a contraction of YeHoWaH Hu’ to YeHoW-[aH]-u’ that is YeHoWu’ or YeHU’. On the other hand, YaHu results from the contraction of the two names YaH-Hu’.

A15 – Did the name Yehowah come from an older form Yahowah or Yahwoh ?

The form Yahowah is impossible because it may be read in Hebrew as “Yah [is] howah”. Now the Hebrew word HoWah (found in Isaiah 47:11 or Ezekiel 7:26) means “disaster” ( “ruin”, “adversity”, etc.). However, there is also a homonym of the word HoWaH which means “coming to be”. So, in order to avoid an eventual blasphemous misinterpretation, the expression YeHoWaH HoWaH (in Exodus 9:3) meaning “Yehowah coming to be” was modified into YeHoWaH HOYaH. The name YeHoWaH read as YeHoWaH may be undestood as “Ye [is] disaster” (and also as “Ye [is] coming to be”), but Ye is not a short name for God like Yehô, Yô or Yah, therefore, the expression “Ye [is] disaster” means nothing in Hebrew, that this is not the case with the name Ya which is the short name of God (Hallelu-Ya means “Praise Yah”), which involves a potential risk of blasphemous misinterpretation which the reading Yahowah.

Furthermore there is no evidence of the hypothetic change Yahô- into Yehô-, because the first vowel a probably dropped out during the third century BCE, that is to say the epoch when the Septuagint were made. That is why the LXX has kept the older forms: Nathaniou, Salomon, Samuel, Sodoma, etc., but it never kept a form in Iaô- with the theophoric names (but only in Iô-).

The fall of the first vowel does not apply to the great name YHWH. If theophoric names were still pronounced Yaho- (in Hebrew) at the beginning of the 3-rd century before our era, translators of the Septuagint should have preserved these names as Iaô- because they generally kept the first vowel of proper nouns (Zakaria, Nathania, Qahath, instead of Zekaria, Nethania, Qehath, etc.). Now, among thousands of theophoric names in the Greek Bible, there are none which remained in Iaô- (or even in Ia- only). This should have happened frequently if these names began with Yahow- (or Yaw-). For example, all the “theophoric” names of the god Nabu (beginning in Nebu- in Hebrew) are written Nabou- in the Septuagint. So the beginning in Iô- of theophoric names gives evidence of the vocalization Y(eh)o- and not Y(ah)o-.

So, to suppose that all the Hebrew theophoric names presently vocalized Yehô- would have resulted from an “archaic” form Yahû- is indefensible from the point of view of linguistic laws. On the other hand, the fusion of the group u-a into a simple u is often seen especially inside a word.

Name Meaning Hebrew form Reference
Ge’û’el majesty of God Ga’(a)w(ah)-’el Nb 13:15
Mitswot commandments Mitsw(ah)-ôt Nb 15:22
Yisra’el He will contend, God Yisra(h)’el Gn 32:28
’Elohim Gods/ God ’Elo(a)h-im 2K 1:12

Thus, the name Ga’aw(ah)’el became Ga’ow’el that is Ga’û’el then Ge’û’el. More generally there were contractions in the theophoric names. For example, Yehowah-nathan became Yehow(ah)nathan that is Yehônathan, sometimes there was a double contraction like Yehowah-’el which became Y(eh)ow(ah)’el that is Yô’el, in the same way that the name Ga’(a)w(ah)’el became Ga’û’el (then Ge’û’el), or Mitsw(ah)ot became Mitswot. Even the name Zeru(‘a)babel meaning “seed of Babel” in Hebrew became Zerubabel.

At present, the oldest likely theophoric name is Yôhanan (ywhnn), written in paleo-Hebrew and dated 11-th century BCE. However, the influence of the name Yahû is so powerful that the name Yôhanan is rather read Yawhanan. Furthermore, there is a trend to vocalize as Ya- all the former names, this being favored by the belief that all Semitic names followed a general evolution Ya>Yi>Ye, according to a relatively well verified linguistic law (Barth-Ginsberg’s law). However, this law is often applied back to front, that is Ye< Yi< Ya, which is manifestly false. For example, the name Yisra’él should have been spelt Ia-aš-ra-il in this time; but at Ebla, in documents dated from the end of the third millennium before our era, the name Iš-ra-il, was found, the exact equivalent of Yisraél. In fact, some studies proved that some verbal forms and names could become vocalized Yi- rather than Ya- at Ebla. In addition, in the Mari’s texts, dated from the same period, specialists arrived at the same conclusion regarding the vocalization Yi- rather than Ya- in numerous cases. For example, the name I-krub (He blessed) is very often written Ia-krub. Thus, among the oldest known texts, this law (Ya >Yi >Ye) has numerous exceptions.

Numerous linguists have postulated that, even though this name was pronounced Yehowah in the first century, it would have actually resulted from an “archaic” Yahowah or Yahwoh with a classic fall (because of the stress) of the initial vowel, that is the first syllable Ya- became Ye-. Now, if this change is well attested for numerous names (although the influence of the Aramaic language on Hebrew can also explain this modification), there is not a trace of this phenomenon for the divine name. For example, the modern names Zekaryah, Nethanyah, Sedôm, etc., had to have been pronounced Zakaryah, Nathanyah, Saduma, etc., in “ancient times”, because the Septuagint kept the former forms with their initial vowel (Zakaria, Nathania, Sodoma, etc.). Thus it kept numerous traces of this process which took place in 3-rd century BCE (see: S.A. Kaufman – The History of Aramaic vowel reduction. in: Arameans, Aramaic and the Aramaic literary Tradition. Ramat-Gan 1983 Ed. Bar-Ilan University Press pp.47-55. A. Dupont-Sommer – La tablette cunéiforme araméenne de Warka.  in: Revue d’Assyriologie XXXIX (1944) pp.60-61). If, according to the hypothesis of the previously mentioned linguists, the theophoric names were still pronounced Yaho- (in Hebrew) at the beginning of 3-rd century BCE, the translators of the LXX should have kept these names as Iaô-. Now, among thousands of theophoric names in the Greek (or Hebrew) Bible, there are none which remained as Iaô- or even in Ia- only. Linguistic laws do not explain why the Septuagint did not keep any trace of this term Iaô-, which should have nevertheless been very widespread if the Name had been Yahwoh.

A second explanation is then proposed: there was a transformation of the name Iaô for theological reasons (i.e., the protection of God’s name). This second assertion, which is based on a well admitted fact, is still refutable. Indeed, if the Tetragram was pronounced Yahwoh (the form Yahowah is absurd, because in Hebrew it means “Yah [is] howah”, that is disaster), the complete name (which is already surprising) would have been integrated at the beginning of theophoric names, and all these names into Yaho- would have became Iô- (noted form in the LXX except rare exceptions such as Ié-zikar, Ié-zébouth [2 K 12:21]; Iè-soué [1Ch 7:27]; -iarib [1Ch 24:7]). This transformation is illogical, because when finales with -yahû were modified, one notices that the final choice was shared among -ia and -iou; Now the transformation Iaô- into Iô- would have been unanimous (which is already difficult to believe, because even when the Christian copyists exchanged the divine name by the title “Lord” some preferred the title “God”) and in disagreement with the previous choice of -ia for the end of theophoric names (this theological choice of ia- was the most logical because it kept the short form (Yah) of the divine name). Not only does the vocalization of these names remains very hypothetical, but even their meanings, or their etymologies, reflect more closely the convictions of current experts, rather than actual proof. This remains true in spite of philosophical justifications that are sometimes put forward.

The most reasonable explanation is so to consider that the Greek term Iô- simply results from a Hebrew

A16 – Is the oldest potential witness for the Tetragram found at Soleb (which is written yhw3 in hieroglyphs) pronounced Yahwe ?

The oldest archeological testimony favors the pronunciation Jehovah. A short inscription dated of the time of Amenophis III (circa 1400 BCE has been found at Soleb. This writing is easy to decipher. Indeed, one can transcribe this sentence written in hieroglyphs by: “t3 š3-sw-w y-h-w3-w”. This expression is vocalized in the conventional system by “ta’ sha’suw yehua’w”, which one can translate by: “land of the bedouins those of yehua’”.

These inscriptions contain enough short writings to withstand cross examination. Furthermore, this BedouinsShasu usually indicates for the Egyptians some Bedouins living with their bundles, in the region in the North of the Sinai. Some specialists prefer to identify Yehua with an unknown place-name. Anyway, this distinction is impossible to prove, as in the cases of biblical place-names like: “land of Judah” (Dt 34:2); “land of Rameses” (Gn 47:11); or with the Egyptian place-names of Thutmosis III’s list “[land of] Jacob-El”; “[land of] Josep-El”.

However, one notices bad will in the vocalization of this name Yhw3, because the totality of dictionaries indicate either yhw’, what is illegible, or Yahweh, what is not in agreement with the conventional vocalization, but never Yehua’. Some specialists object that one badly knows the vowels of Egyptian words, what is true. However, for foreign words, which is the case here, Egyptians used a sort of standard alphabet with matres lectionis, that is of semic consonants which serve as vowels. In this system one has the equivalencies: 3 = a, w = u, ÿ = i, and that is exactly why the reading by the conventional system gives acceptable results. For example, in Merneptah’s stele dated 13-th century before our era, the name Israel is transcribed in hieroglyphs Yÿsri3l, which one can read: Yisrial (conventional system), what is not too bad. Nevertheless, some specialists who refuse the classic system, read this name Yasarial because ofits old age. Nevertheless, almost a millennium before, at Ebla, one read this name Išrail, what contradicts the reading Yasarial. So, in the current state of our knowledge, the conventional system of reading of hieroglyphs is the best alternative, and in this system the name (or place-name) Yhw3 is read “technically” Yehua’.

A17- Did Jesus never pronounce the divine name or did he rather use the title “Lord” (Adonay) ?

When he read the text of Isaiah in a loud voice (Luc 4:16-20) he met this Name (In the translation of C Tresmontant (Catholic) one reads the name yhwh. In that of A. Chouraqui (Jewish) IhvH and in that of J.N. Darby (Protestant) *Lord, that is to say Jehovah according to the note on Matthew 1:20, [broken link] ). As he vigorously opposed against human traditions it is very unlikely that he accepted this one. Furthermore, there was no prohibition about the use of the Name at this epoch and the vocalization was still known because it has been used in the Temple until 70 CE for the blessing of the Yom-Kippur.

A17- Did Jesus never pronounce the divine name or did he rather use the title “Lord” (Adonay) ?

When he read the text of Isaiah in a loud voice (Luc 4:16-20) he met this Name (In the translation of C Tresmontant (Catholic) one reads the name yhwh. In that of A. Chouraqui (Jewish) IhvH and in that of J.N. Darby (Protestant) *Lord, that is to say Jehovah according to the note on Matthew 1:20, (broken link: As he vigorously opposed against human traditions it is very unlikely that he accepted this one. Furthermore, there was no prohibition about the use of the Name at this epoch and the vocalization was still known because it has been used in the Temple until 70 CE for the blessing of the Yom-Kippur.

A18- Did early Christians pronounce the divine name ?

The trial of Stephen is a good example to prove that early Christians pronounced the Name. First of all Stephen was accused of blasphemous sayings and thus was brought before the Sanhedrin (Ac 6:11,12). Stephen was considered to be a blasphemer, because he was accused of apostasy (Ac 6:14), which charge he attempted to refute. His argumentation should have exonerated him, but in his defense he quoted the episode of the burning bush (Ex 3:1-15) with the revelation of the Name (Ac 7:30-33) which led him to use the divine name three times (Ac 7:31,33,49). On the other hand, refusing to name God could have convinced the audience that Stephen implicitly recognized that he spoke blasphemous sayings. The fact of using the divine name was not reprehensible in itself, because prohibition on its use would appear only by the middle of the second century, but to use it when on trial for blasphemy before the final verdict meant execution by stoning (Sanhedrin 7:5), which indeed occurred (Ac 7:58). A few Judeo-Christians were executed in this ‘legal’ way (Ac 26:10). There were not simply vigilante killings because of two reasons, first, it was an official (and not a popular) trial, secondly, Saul, who was a legal expert, approved of Stephen’s execution (Ac 22:20). Some Bible scholars propose the idea that it was the last sentence about Jesus, which condemned Stephen. This is impossible for two reasons. The first is that the proceedings were dealing with blasphemy against the Name and not the charge of apostasy which would have only entailed a prison sentence (Ac 8:3; 22:4) and exclusion from the synagogue (Jn 12:42), not capital punishment. Secondly, the prohibition on the use of the name of Jesus did exist (Ac 4:18; 5:28), but the penalty in that case was flogging (Ac 5:40) not death. This penalty was often applied (Mt 10:17; Ac 22:19) on Christians of Jewish origin but not on Christians of heathen origin.

The crime of blasphemy is clearly codified in the Law of Moses and the culprit was to be stoned to death outside the camp (Lv 24:14-16). For example, this procedure was unjustly applied to execute Naboth (1K 21:13,14). The chief priests tried to apply this charge against Jesus, but several elements made their plan fail. First of all the false witnesses did not agree among themselves (Mt 26:59,60), and secondly the charge of blasphemous sayings was a matter of interpretation.

In order for that charge to be valid the accused person must have cursed God’s name, with two conditions, that is to blaspheme God and to use his name, or more rarely to directly blaspheme God’s name. Apostasy being considered as blasphemous sayings, could entail the death penalty (Jn 10:33) if the accused person also used God’s name before the final verdict of the court (Sanhedrin56a, 7:5). In this particular case, Jesus did not so use the divine Name and he demonstrated that the charge of blasphemous sayings was untrue (Jn 10:31-39). In the time of Jesus there existed blasphemous sayings and blasphemy against God (Mt 12:31). If blasphemous sayings (generally apostasy) were proved, the accused person was excluded and cursed by the community. It was this threat which hung over the Jews who became Christian (Jn 9:22; 12:42). They did not risk death, but rather exclusion or excommunication (Ac 8:1). However, to satisfy the Jewish religious leaders, the civil authorities did put some Christians of Jewish origin to death (Jn 16:2) on vague charges of sedition (Ac 12:1-3; 19:40; 24:5) or disturbing public order (Ac 16:20; 17:6).

While the trial of Jesus is the most famous, certain elements appear contradictory as to the motive for his condemnation and the procedure followed by the authorities. To understand these difficulties we must remember that the Jewish Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin, was a body officially recognized by the occupying power and endowed with competence in judicial and administrative matters and in legal exegesis, existing as a single institution under the presidency of the High Priest (After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Sanhedrin ceased to exist in its previous form). The Sanhedrin in the time of Jesus was restricted to the eleven toparchies of Judaea proper. It consequently had no judicial authority at all over Jesus whilst he remained in Galilee. He came directly under its jurisdiction only in Judaea (Lk 23:7). In a sense, of course, the Sanhedrin exercised such moral jurisdiction over all the Jewish communities throughout the world (Ac 9:2: 22:5: 26:12), and in that sense over Galilee too. The Sanhedrin judged civil and religious crimes, but it had authority only over Jewish citizens and being under the Roman authority, the execution of its judgments had to be overseen by these authorities (Ac 22:30). For example, the Talmud of Jerusalem (Sanhedrin18a) tells us that 40 years before the destruction of the Temple, that is in 30 CE, the Romans had deprived the Jews of capital punishment. With the trial of Jesus taking place in 33 CE, the Jews could indeed tell Pilate that they could not put Jesus to death (Jn 18:31). However, this limitation concerned only civil crimes, because the Romans did not want to take charge of religious crimes (Ac 18:14-16; 23:29; 25:19). Moreover, Pilate pointed out that he had full authority to judge civil crimes (Jn 19:10) yet, he did not want to judge a religious crime (Jn 18:31) even though this crime was punishable by death (Jn 19:7). With reference to Judaea, Josephus states explicitly that the emperor delegated to Coponius, Judaea’s first Roman prefect (from 6 to 9 CE), the power to rule on his behalf, and exercise his authority, including the right to inflict capital punishment (The Jewish WarII:117). In Jewish law the only religious crimes which were punishable by death, at this time, were profanation of the Temple (Nb 4:15) and blasphemy against God’s name (Lv 24:16), which explains why the chief priests tried at first to condemn Jesus on these grounds (Mc 14:55). For example, in a extract from a letter to Agrippa I(-10 to 44), Philo asserted that entry into the Holy of Holies by a Jew, even a priest, or even the High Priest when not expressly ordered, constituted a crime punishable by ‘death without appeal’. Literary and epigraphic evidence indicate that a non-Jew, even if a Roman citizen, was to be put to death if apprehended in the inner Temple court (The Jewish War VI:126).

The chief priests who wanted to eliminate Jesus (Mt 26:4) tried to put him to death (Mt 26:59) by using the only charge which allowed for capital punishment (Jn 19:7), the charge of blasphemy (Mt 26:65). Since there had obviously been no direct blasphemy against God, in order for that charge to work it was also necessary that Jesus use the divine name before the final verdict, which he did not do, using substitutes such as Power (Mt 26:64), Above (Jn 19:11), God (Mk 15:34). So, the charge remained potential -“He is liable to death” but could not become actual -“he is condemned to death”, because, although the high priest ripped his outer garments, he asked «What is your opinion?» (Mt 26:65-66). Furthermore the high priest alone ripped his garments proving that the other members of the Sanhedrin did not fully agree. Having failed, the chief priests then changed the charge of blasphemy (religious crime), into a crime of lese-majesty (civil crime), but for this, the approval of Roman authorities was necessary (Lk 23:1,2). This charge of crimen laesae majestiswas perfectly understood by Pilate, but he did not retain it (Lk 23:13,14). The law called lex Julia majestis promulgated in 48 BCE recognized as a crime any activity against the sovereign power of Rome. Finally, Pilate accepted unwillingly to execute Jesus but simply to restore law and order and to protect his career (Lk 23:22-24). It was mainly for this last reason that Christians of pagan origin would be put to death. Roman historian Tacitus, wrote that to silence rumors about the fire of Rome in 64 CE, Nero put to death Christians who were already the object of popular hatred (The Annals XV, XLIV). Pliny the Younger, the governor of Bithynia around 111 CE, expressed his perplexity over the absence of any legal motive for the execution of Christians (Letters of Pliny X:96,3-5; 97,1).

The Romans easily accepted new religions with the express condition (at the risk of death) that they be licit i.e. authorized by the State according to the ancient law called lex superstitio illicita. At the beginning of our era, since Christians were mainly of Jewish origin, the Romans did not easily distinguish between the two groups. The Jewish religion being a licit religion, the Judeo-Christian should have been able to use the divine name without risk of being pursued for blasphemy by the Roman authorities. Whereas it was legal for a Roman to become Jewish, the law on superstitions was nevertheless invoked to condemn Judeo-Christians (Ac 16:21).

This charge seems paradoxical, because it was possible only if a new god had been introduced, but certain philosophers believed this was the case in hearing talk about Jesus (Ac 17:18). A second possibility is that, as in the first century, since the Romans knew that the Jews worshiped a god who was not named, the use of a name unknown to them, would have led to belief in the introduction of a new religion (Ac 18:13). For that reason, Paul carefully avoided using the Tetragram, in his defense, but preferred substitutes such as God, Lord of the heaven and earth, the Divine Being (Ac 17:21-31). The proconsul Gallio considered that a quarrel on names (Ac 18:15) did not come from the law on superstitions, but from the Jewish law alone. Theoretically, the law on superstitions could apply to the Jews or to the Judeo-Christians only if they mentioned the divine name, a god unknown to the Romans. However even in that case, the penalty was not necessarily death but expulsion. For example, historian Valerius Maximus relates that around 139 BCE Praetor Cornelius Hispalus sent back Jews who had tried to convert Romans to the worship of Jova Sabaoth (Sabazi Jovi). However, under pressure from the crowd which hated Christians, historian Suetonius wrote «that punishments were inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition» (The Lives of Caesars -Nero, XVI, 2).

The procedure followed in the trial of Paul was still the same. The Jews, around 58 CE, wanted to eliminate Paul (Ac 22:22) who was then brought before the Sanhedrin (Ac 22:30). However, knowing perfectly well what had happened to Stephen (Ac 22:20) and knowing that in any case the crowd would molest him (Ac 21:31,35) after his judgment, Paul skillfully transformed a likely charge of sedition, profanation of the Temple (Ac 21:28) and apostasy (Ac 21:21) into a charge concerning different faiths (Ac 23:6), which definitively held up his trial. (A few years before, around 50 CE, a Roman soldier who heedlessly tore up a Torah scroll was put to death for profanation of the Temple by Procurator Cumanus (The Jewish War II:231)). It would seem that Paul in a previous trial had not acted as skillfully, since he was indeed stoned and left for dead outside the city (Ac 14:19). There is no record in the Scriptures of James’ death. The secular historian Josephus, however, says that during the interval between the death of Governor Festus, about 62 CE, and the arrival of his successor Albinus, the high priest Ananus (Ananias), «conveyed the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus (Ga 1:19) who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned» (Jewish Antiquities XX: 200). The stoning of James, a Christian of Jewish origin, appears to be the last to be recorded.

A19- Does the New Testament give us a new teaching because it shows that God has changed his name YHWH to “Lord” for Christians ?

Most of the early Christians were (until 70 CE) Jews and this change has never be explicitly explained in the Bible. The early Christians used and copied the Septuagint and it is interesting to note that among all the copies which have been found (less than 10) dated before 150 CE, none has the name “Lord” (Kyrios in Greek). Before 150 CE only one piece of the Gospel has been found (with no dispute, it is the P52 dated of 125 CE) and it is an exception because there is no nomina sacra in it (holy names, this process consisted to change a name, mainly the Tetragram, by its abbreviation). The rabbi Tarphon related, between 90 and 130, the problem of the destruction of heretic (christian) writings with the Tetragram. The substitution of the Tetragram was not uniform because numerous copyists preferred the word “God” (Theos in Greek) instead of “Lord”. Lastly, the apostle John, who was a Jew, still used the name Yah, in 96 CE, when he wrote his book of the Revelation in which he used the Hebrew expression Allelu-ia that is “Praise Yah” (Rev 19:1-6), not “Praise the Lord”, that is Allelu-Adonay.

Usually, Adonay was used as the main substitute (but not as the permanent substitute) in the Palestinian liturgy (Sotah 40b; 7,6) and sometimes Elohim (Damascus Document XV,1). For example, in the oldest text of Isaiah (from 150 to 100 BCE) found at Qumrân (1Qa), sixteen times ‘Adonay’ took of the Tetragram. In daily life many occasional substitute (the Heavens, Father, the Almighty, the blessed One, Power, the Name, etc.) were used as seen in the Talmud or in the New Testament. The only exception seems to have been in greetings, since the Talmud (Berakot 63a; 9,9) noted that the divine name was to be used in this case, however this was likely the name Yah (Berakot 9,1). During the period which preceded the destruction of the Temple, the Talmud (Sotah 7,6; Tamid 33b) makes it clear that occasional substitutes of the Names were used in Palestinian liturgy. These substitutes were numerous, as one can notice in the literature of this time (2M 1:24,25; 15:3; Si 23:4; 50:14-19). some of them, used as proper names, are exceptionally found in the Septuagint or in the New Testament like : God (Theos), Iaô (Fouad 266), Sabaôth (1S 1:3; Rm 9:29; Jm 5:4), etc.

A20- Is “Lord” (Kyrios) the name of God in the Greek Scriptures ?

The papyrus P52 is dated 125 CE, and contains the verse of John 18:31-33. Owing to the shape of this piece of sheet (red part) it is possible to reconstruct the whole codex to which it belonged (around 130 pages of 18 lines per page with an average of 33 characters per line, and 29/30 on the verso).


(John 18:31-33)

[Above was originally entered using inaccessible font that does not map accurately to Roman. Shorter passage below has been recovered as best as I can, although I do not know Greek — Stan Jones, author of Lifespurpose website.]

In the papyrus P90 dated 150 CE which contains the verses of John 18:36-19:7, the name of Jesus is this time shortened into JS according to the process of nomina sacra, like the word Kurios (Lord) which is written KS. So, when the sacred name was absent the word ‘Lord’ had to be written without abbreviation. For example, in this codex the verse of John 12:38 have appeared:


(John 12:38)

However this part of the gospel of John quoted a verse from the book of Isaiah and in all the Septuagints of this period (before 150 CE) there are none with the name Kurios (Lord) instead of the Tetragram. For example:



(Isaiah 53:1 [LXX])

There are only two ways to explain this modification, where the Tetragram was exchanged by the word ‘Lord’. Either the Christians changed this name after 150 CE(more exactly between 70 and 135) because they did not understand it anymore, or they changed it before 150 CE (more exactly before the previous period) for theological reasons but without there being any archaeological witnesses. The first explanation seems more logical because if the Christians (Judeo-Christians) had changed this name during the first century (before 70 CE) this teaching would have been seen in the NT especially among a Jewish environment, what is never the case. For example, Jesus should have said «I have made you known to them under your new name ‘Lord’» but as a Jew he said nothing new on this very important matter (John 17:6, 26). It should be remembered that the book of John (who was a Jew) was written around 98 CE and he kept the short name Yah rather than Lord in his book of Revelation (Rv 19:1-6) when he wrote the Hebrew word Allelu-ia instead of Allelu-adonai. Even in 129 CE, Aquila who was a Christian converted to Judaism kept in his translation of the Septuagint the Tetragram embedded in a Greek text. It is interesting to note that Rabbi Tarphon (Shabbat 116a), between 90 and 130 CE, related the problem of the destruction of heretical (Christian) texts that contained the Tetragram.

Dan Jaffé, a Jewish scholar (Ph.D at Bar-Ilan University, teaching at the present time at the Institut d’études et de culture juives of Aix-en-Provence), published a new study entitled le judaïsme et l’avénement du christianisme (Cerf, 2005). In his chapter about the books of minim he explained that the Hebrew name guilyonim came from the Greek word euaggelion “Gospel”. The Gospel was used by the Christians from Jewish origin, called Judeo-Christians. Professor Jaffé published several new old Jewish manuscripts (Tosefta Sabbath XIII,5; Sifre Nasso 16; Sabbath XVI,1,15c in the Talmud of Jerusalem; Korah 1 in the Midrash Tanhuma; Sabbath 116a in the Babylonian Talmud) which were not censored by catholic authorities. It clearly appears according to these manuscripts that the name of God was written in the Gospel.

Thus, between 70 and 135 CE, the Christian copyists (most of them were heathens who had become Christians, furthermore they were strongly influenced by some antic Trinitarian philosophies, see simplified the ‘strange’ writing YHWH [KURIOU] into a ‘sacred name’, consequently the expression KURIOS YHWH [O THEOS] became o , and KURIOU IESOU XRISTOU became in the same way . In time, many other sacred names appeared. However, Symmachus still used the Tetragram written in Paleo-Hebrew in his Greek translation (165 CE), and according to Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History VI:17), he was an Ebionite, that is a Judeo-Christian, who also wrote a comment on the book of Matthew.

The replacement of YHWH may explain the inexplicable number of errors leading to confusion between the terms ‘Lord’ and ‘God’ in the Gospel. As we have seen, the expression Kurios YHWH posed a difficult problem for the translators of the Septuagint. This expression is much rarer in the Gospels; on the other hand, the title ‘Lord’ (Kurios) is frequently applied to Jesus, which could lead to confusion with the other ‘Lord’, the translation of YHWH. So, some copyists, to avoid this confusion, preferred to translate YHWH by ‘God’ (Theos) or simply to omit this name, as noted in the following passages: Lk 1:68; Ac 2:17; 6:7; 7:37; 10:33; 12:24; 13:5,44,48; 15:40; 19:20; 20:28; Rm 14:4; Col 3:13,16; 2 Tm 2:14; Jm 3:9; Jude 5; Rv 18:8. The list of variants is considerable for these few verses. Why did translators stumbled over the reading or understanding of such simple and well known words as ‘God’ and ‘Lord’? Some specialists admit that several times ‘Lord’ or ‘God’ took the place of YHWH. These replacements were done early, since after the second century of our era no more traces of the writing and pronunciation of the Name are found, except among a few Christian scholars. Paradoxically, a Christian reader might even believe that the God of the Bible was called Sabaôth, because this name is found in the expression Lord Sabaôth (Κυριων Σαβαόθ) in Romans 9:29 and in James 5:4.

Finally those who would like to keep the Jewish tradition, which appeared only from the third century BCE, by replacing the divine name with YHWH (not pronounced) should act in the same way with the name of Jesus replacing it with JS as was done during the three first centuries of Christianity!

A21- Did the Jews use the name Jehovah in their Bible translations ?

The Jews at present use the term Adonay, Lord, Eternal, and so forth,in their translations of the Bible; on the other hand, some museums in Israel use the name Yahve (or Yahweh ), but religious authorities favor the name Additionally non-superstitious Jewish translators always favored the name Jehovah in their translations of the Bible. On the other hand one can noted there is no Jewish translation of the Bible with Yahweh.

Immanuel Tremellius Latin 1579 Jehova
Baruch Spinoza Latin 1670 Jehova*
Samuel Cahen French 1836 Iehovah
Alexander Harkavy English 1936 Jehovah**
Joseph Magil (see below) English 1910 Jehovah
Rabbi L. Goldschmidt (see below) German 1925 Yehovah

*(Bible partly translated) Ex 6:2;3; Ex 15:11; 18:11; Is 58:14; Jr 9:24; 22:16; Ezk 20:26

**Gn 22:14 Ex 6:3; 17:15; Jg 6:24; Ps 83:18; Is 12:2

Deuteronomy 6:4

Left : Joseph Magil – Magil’s Linear School Bible (1910 reprint) 1899 New York, Ed. J. Magil’s Publishing Co.
Right : Rabbi Lazarus Goldschmidt – Die heiligen Bücher des alten Bundes übertragen durch Vol. 1 (The Holy Books of the Old Covenant, translated by Berlin, Ed. Rosenthal & Co. 1925)

A22- Do the Jews have some good reasons not to use the Name?

They agree themselves there is no biblical prohibition, furthermore the Talmud gives valuables information because they know that before the second century CE the high priest used this Name inside the Temple and before the priesthood of Simon the Just (before 200 BCE) Jews were able to use this Name with no restriction. It is written in the Encyclopædia Judaica (second edition, Keler 1973, volume 7 page 679) «If the divine name YHWH is avoided to be pronounced it is (…) because of a wrong comprehension of the third commandment (Ex.20:7; Deut.5:11) as it meant “you must not take up the name of YHWH in vain”, when it meant “you do not swear falsely by the name of YHWH your God”», furthermore the Rabbi A. Cohen in his book Le Talmud (Payot edition 1991, pages 69,70) wrote that «this habit appeared progressively but in the past the use of the Tetragram was absolutely not prohibited. However, in the former times of the rabbinical period it was only pronounced inside the Temple», the Rabbi A. Marmorstein adds in his book The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God that this interdiction was partially observed from the third century BCE until the third century CE.

A23- Did early Muslims use and pronounce the supreme name?

Severi of Antioch (465-538) who lived in Syria, used the form IÔA (Ιωα) in a chain of commentaries on the Gospel of John chapter eight (Jn 8:58), explaining that it was the Hebrew name of God. Commenting one of the work of Severi of Antioch, the famous scholar James of Edessa (633-708) specified near 675 in his commentary, that the copyists of the Septuagint (at his time) was shared between two attitudes to write the divine name Adonay, either to keep it in the text under the form Π Ι Π Ι(1) (corresponding to the Hebrew name YHYH as he mentioned), or to translate it by Kurios and to write it in the margin of the manuscript. Therefore, these famous scholars of Syriac tongue knew the name of God.

1note, these are the Greek letters “P I P I”, which look most like the Hebrew letters, but sound completely different.

In the Arabic Bible of Yefet ben ‘Eli (920-1010), which appeared around 960CE, the Tetragram was (seldom) punctuated Yahwah in the Arabic text (Yahuwah in some other editions). According to the book entitled The Karaite Tradition of Arabic Bible Translation of Meira Polliack, the name יוי ע (2) was used by Yefet ben ‘Eli.

2“ywy ay” in Gertoux’s document, tagged as “Hebraica” font; what he meant was unclear.

Psalm 92:8,9 in Yefet ben ‘Eli’s Bible

In the work entitled Codices hebraicis litteris exarati quo tempore scripti fueriut exhibentes written by Colette Sirat, the Babylonian manuscript 9 of a Codex dated 953/4 (page 82 plate 27) has the Tetragram punctuated in the Tyberian system יֲהוָה. This exceptional punctuation comes from the qere ’aDoNaY (אֲדנָי) which can also be found in some old manuscripts punctuated in the Babylonian system as the manuscript B15_1 of Cambridge. However all the other manuscripts of the 12th century and before, are only punctuated with the Aramaic qere SheMa’ (שְׁמָא) which can be found (that is the vowels e, a), for example, in the B.H.S. (Despite the tetragrammaton is punctuated YeHWaH (יְהוָה) it is always vocalized Adonay by the Jews). It is possible, seeing the country (Irak) and the time (10th century), that this seldom Babylonian vocalization YaHoWaH could influenced in time the vocalization Yahuwah of the modern Arabic versions (Fares Chidiaq & William Watts -The Holy Bible London, 1857 (Yahuwah in Ex 6:3, 6, 8, etc.) The Dominican Fathers -The Dominican Bible Iraq, 1875 (Yahuwah footnote of Ex 3:14 and Yahwah in footnote of Ex 6:3)]. In a surprising way, several Imans of this time as Abu-l-Qâsim-al-Junayd (?-910), Fahr ad-Din Râzî (1149-1209), etc., mentioned in their writings that the supreme name of God was Yâ Huwa (O He), not Allah (Ibn ‘Ata’ Allâh – Traité sur le nom ALLÂH (traduit par Maurice Glotton) Paris, Les Deux Océans 1981 pp.145-147). A follower of al-Junayd, the Soufi Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallâj (857-922) asserted : “Here are the words of which sense seemed ambiguous. Know that temples hold by His Yâ-Huwah and that bodies are being moved by His Yâ-Sîn. Now Hû and Sîn are two roads which end into the knowledge of the original point.” (L. Massignon – Akhbar al-Hallâj Paris 1975 Ed. Vrin p. 113 de la traduction française, p. 26 du texte arabe). Yâ-Sîn is a reference to the Sura 36 and Yâ-huwah wrote y‘hwh in Arabic, makes reference to the Hebrew Tetragram. Al-Hallâj was rejected as madman by his teacher, al-Junayd, and died crucified in Bagdad as a heretic.

The below manuscript, found at Muraba’at and dated 10th century CE (P. Benoit, J.T. Milik, R. de Vaux – Les grottes de Murabbaât Oxford 1961 Ed. Clarendon Press pp. 286-290) has probably been written by a mystic Muslim (that is a Soufi) and this text seems to be linked with some events involving the famous Soufi Al-Hallâj.

Yâh Huwa

The use of the _expression yah yah yah huwa huwa huwa(literally, “Oh Oh Oh, He He He!”) is a magic way of pronouncing the divine name. At the present time, the whirling dervishes (Soufi Muslims) use to sing many times the _expression yah hu’, yah hu’, yah hu’ in order to get ecstasy (R.A. Nicholson -Studies in Islamic Mysticism 1921 Cambridge p. 96/ I. Goldziher -Die Richtungen der Islamischen Koranauslegung 1952 Leiden pp.260-2)

A24- Is the doubt about its pronunciation the main reason which prevents the use of the Name and Is the use of the Tetragram really important, or is it just a question of taste?

The pronunciation of the name Jesus is widely accepted in spite of its genuine pronunciation Yeshua’. On the other hand the beginning of the name Yehow-ah is in agreement with all the other theophoric names (Yehô-natan, Yehô-zabad, Yehô-hanan, etc.). In actual fact the main reason which prevents the pronunciation of the Name is above all affective, that is to say that one who does not love another person also does not use his name. For example, when Jesus spoke with Satan (Mt 4:1-11) he systematically used the Name (In the translation of C Tresmontant (Catholic) one reads the name “yhwh”. In that of A. Chouraqui (Jewish) “IhvH” and in that of J.N. Darby (Protestant) “*Lord”, [that is to say, Jehovah, according to the note on Matthew 1:20,] ), but Satan only used the anonymous title “God”. In his bookProverbs of the Jewish Wisdom, Victor Malka explains that, according to the Jewish popular wisdom only the names of those who are not loved are forgotten, therefore the name of God cannot be forgotten. In addition, «only the very name of the wicked ones will rot» (Prov 10:7).

In the Bible, refusing to mention the name of a god means refusing to worship this god (Ex 23:13) and that is why Satan incited the Israelites, by means of the prophets of Baal, not to use the Name (Jer 23:27). In actual fact refusing to use the Name means refusing to be saved (Rom 10:13 quoting Joel 2:32).

See also: Questions and Answers from The Name of God YeHoWaH. Its Story by Gérard Gertoux or purchase his book.


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