YHWH - Jehovah or Yahweh
Almighty God was referred to by a number of names and titles in the Old Testament. Jews traditionally say there were seven names. One of these names was YHWH. The letters YHWH are named in Hebrew Yod-Heh-Waw-Heh. The Jewish Encyclopaedia states:
"Of the names of God in the Old Testament, that which occurs most frequently (6,823 times) is the so-called Tetragrammaton, Yhwh ( ), the distinctive personal name of the God of Israel. This name is commonly represented in modern translations by the form "Jehovah," which, however, is a philological impossibility." jewishencyclopedia.com (as of 25/09/2005)
Prior to the time of Jesus, mainline Judaism came to believe that YHWH, the divine name of God, was too sacred to be uttered, and the ineffable name stopped being uttered aloud. Because written Hebrew contained consonants but no vowels, it is now unknown exactly how YHWH was pronounced by ancient Jews. However, there is consensus by scholars that God's name was rendered as Yahuweh or Yahweh.
"There is almost universal consensus among scholars today that the sacred Tetragrammaton (YHWH) is to be vocalized and pronounced Yahweh. Probably the name means literally "He is."" New International Version: The Making of a Contemporary Translation CHAPTER 9: YHWH Sabaoth: "The Lord Almighty" Kenneth L. Barker
Jews recognise the divine name in modern times as Yahweh. The Jewish Encyclopedia published between 1901 and 1906 by Funk and Wagnalls includes the divine name as Yahweh when translated into English.
Nazarene Judaism is a source of information on the pronunciation of YHWH because they see importance in the use of the name and continued to utter the name after mainstream Judaism had ceased saying the word out loud. The following quote is from an article written by a Nazarene and explains that there is significant evidence that Yahweh is the correct. Nazarenes and the Name of YHWH by James Trimm states;
"It is clear when examining the many sources that the pronunciation of YHWH can be recovered as YAHUWEH sometimes abbreviated as YAHWEH, YAHU or YAH. This is attested to by the Yahwitic names of the Masoretic text, the Peshitta Aramaic and the Marashu texts. The true pronunciation of YHWH is also preserved in ancient transliterations of the name written in Egyptian Hieroglyphics, cuneiform and Greek, all of which had written vowels. The restoration of the use of the name of Yahuweh with its correct pronunciation is as prophetically significant as the restoration of the ancient sect of the Nazarenes. Such a restoration of the name of Yahweh to his people is promised in scripture: For then will I turn to the people a pure language, That they may call upon the name of YHWH (Zeph. 3:9)"
The first half of the Tetragrammaton is commonly used as an abbreviation for God's name and is included in the a number of Biblical names. The shorten form of YHWH is Yah. The New World Translation Reference Bible states;
""As Jah." BHSftn(Heb.), ki Yah; M(Heb.), beYah´, "by Jah." Yah is the first half of the Tetragrammaton, YHWH. It occurs 49 times in M distinguished by a point (mappik) in its second letter and once, in Ca 8:6, without the mappik. TLXXSyVg, "Jehovah." See Ex 15:2 ftn, "Jah"; App 1A." New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures Footnote to Psalm 68:4
This is attested to by a number of English Biblical references. The word Hallelujah means 'Praise Yah" and shows that YH was pronounced as yah. The names Elijah, Isaiah and Jeremiah all end with Yah. On the other hand, Jehosaphat begins with the incorrect "Jeho" in place of Yah. This carries the same inaccuracy as Jehovah. The inaccuracy is due to Masorite additions from the nineth century C.E. The correct way to transliterate this name is Yahosaphat and is a combination of the word Yah, with the Hebrew 'shaphat', which means 'judge'.
The first letter was Y as the letter J did not exist in the Hebrew language. The Encyclopedia Americana contains the following on the J:
"The form of J was unknown in any alphabet until the 14th century. Either symbol (J,I) used initially generally had the consonantal sound of Y as in year. Gradually, the two symbols (J,l) were differentiated, the J usually acquiring consonantal force and thus becoming regarded as a consonant, and the I becoming a vowel. It was not until 1630 that the differentiation became general in England."
The pronunciation of the name of God has been preserved in a number of other languages that do contain vowels. The Murashu texts were found at Nippur and date back to 464 B.C. These were written in Aramaic cuneiform script on clay tablets.
The version of the Old Testament used by Aramaic speaking Assyrians, Syrians and Chaldeans was the Peshitta text. In the fourth century CE vowels were added to the Aramaic text. When they added vowels to names that begin with part of the divine name the result was to start with Yah, such as in Yahosaphat.
Egyptian hieroglyphics contain written vowels. In Budge's An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary page fifteen shows that the shortened form of YHWH was transliterated as "IA" or "YA", also supporting that God's name begins with the sound Yah.
Assyrian cuneiform script has been found which had the divine name spelt with written vowels. A.H.Sayce published Halley's Bible Handbook in 1898. On page sixty two it discusses three clay cuneiform tablets dating from the time of Hammurabi which contain the phrase Jahweh.
Josephus also can be used to support the idea that the sacred name was pronounced Yahweh. In Jewish Wars, chapter V, Josephus wrote;
"... in which was engraven the sacred name: it consists of four vowels."
Yahweh or Yahuweh contains four 'vowels', being pronounced as ee-ah-oo-eh, whereas Jehovah only contains three.
The Septuagint is an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and the Divine name appears in some copies, such as Papyrus Fouad 266. The Greek transliteration of the divine name was IAO, Iaoue or Iabe. This supports Yahweh, as it was pronounced ee-ah-oo-eh. In the second century Clement of Alexandria wrote: "The mystic name which is called the Tetragrammaton, by which alone they who had access to the Holy of Holies were protected, is pronounced Iaoue, which means 'who is, and who shall be.'" In Latin it was similarly written as Iabe.
History of the word Jehovah
It is interesting to understand how the word Jehovah was derived, as the history of the word shows why the word is incorrect. In an unfortunate stroke of the pen the Watchtower Society chose to adopt the rendition of YHWH that has least resemblance to the original name and incorporates the very reason the exact pronunciation is unknown.
Ancient Hebrew did not contain vowels and so the pronunciation of words was handed down. In order to preserve the pronunciation of the Hebrew language, the Masoretes created a system for introducing vowels into the Hebrew language during the ninth century A.D. However, when it came to YHWH, rather than putting the correct vowel signs, they put vowel signs for Adonai (Lord) or Elohim (God), in order to remind the reader to use the word Lord or God instead of the name of God. Adonai (Lord) was predominantly used, however, in passages where Adonai and YHWH appeared together, Elohim was used instead, to avoid repetition of the word Lord.
As proposed by the 19th-century Hebrew scholar Gesenius, it is generally accepted that mixing the vowels for Lord and God with the consonants YHWH that led to the manufacture of the hybrid word Jehovah. Hence, it was the effort to avoid pronouncing God's name that led to the manufacture of the hybrid word Jehovah.
"The form Jehovah is of late medieval origin; it is a combination of the consonants of the Divine Name and the vowels attached to it by the Masoretes but belonging to an entirely different word. The sound of Y is represented by J and the sound of W by V, as in Latin. The word "Jehovah" does not accurately represent any form of the Name ever used in Hebrew." Revised Standard Version pp.6-7
"Yahweh-the personal name of the God of the Israelites . . . The Masoretes, Jewish biblical scholars of the Middle Ages, replaced the vowel signs that had appeared above or beneath the consonants of YHWH with the vowel signs of Adonai or of Elohim. Thus, the artificial name Jehovah (YeHoWaH) came into being. Although Christian scholars after the Rendssance and Reformation periods used the term Jehovah for YHWH, in the 19th and 20th centuries biblical scholars again began to use the form Yahweh. Early Christian writers, Such as Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd century, had used the form Yahweh, thus this pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton was never really lost. Greek transcriptions also indicated that Yhwh Should be pronounced Yahweh." Encyclopedia Britannica (Micropedia, vol. 10)
In the Hebrew Bible the Jews wrote the consonants of the Tetragrammaton as YHWH, but out of reverence for the sacred name of God (or out of fear of violating Exod. 20:7; Lev. 24:16), they vocalized and pronounced it as Adonai or occasionally as Elohim. It is unfortunate, then, that the name was transliterated into German and ultimately into English as Jehovah (which is the way the name is represented in the American Standard Version of 1901), for this conflate form represents the vowels of Adonai superimposed on the consonants of Yahweh, and it was never intended by the Jews to be read as Yehowah (or Jehovah).
The Jewish Encyclopaedia explains the word Jehovah in a similar way. jewishencyclopedia.com (25/9/2005)
"A mispronunciation (introduced by Christian theologians, but almost entirely disregarded by the Jews) of the Hebrew "Yhwh," the (ineffable) name of God (the Tetragrammaton or "Shem ha-Meforash"). This pronunciation is grammatically impossible; it arose through pronouncing the vowels of the "?ere" (marginal reading of the Masorites: = "Adonay") with the consonants of the "ketib" (text-reading: = "Yhwh")"
The first time the Tetragrammaton appeared in an English Bible was on the title page of William Tyndale's Bible translation of 1525, where it was written as Iehouah. This was an interlace of YHVH and Adonai. The King James Version also originally used Iehouah, influenced by the Ben Chayim codex. The King James Bible changed the spelling to Jehovah for the 1762-1769 edition.
Combining YHWH with Adonai is referred to as interlacing, fusing or superimposing. It could hardly be considered accurate or respectful. The illogical fusion of the sacred Name with the vowel points of another name is shown in the preface to The J.B. Rotherham Emphasized Bible:
"To give the name JHVH the vowels of the word for Lord [Heb. Adonai], is about as hybrid a combination as it would be to spell the name Germany with the vowels in the name Portugal - viz., Gormuna. The monstrous combination Jehovah is not older than about 1520 A.D."
The Watchtower argues that Jehovah is acceptable as it is a translation.
""Yahweh" is obviously a transliteration, whereas "Jehovah" is a translation, and Bible names generally have been translated rather than transliterated." Awake! 1973 March 22 p.27
As already seen, this is not accurate as Jehovah is also a transliteration, but of two separate words. By combining the consonants from YHWH with the vowels from Adonai or possibly Elohim the word Jehovah incorporates the very reason the original pronunciation was lost.
Advocates of the word Jehovah argue that it does not matter whether the word is accurate or not, what is important is that God is distinguished by a personal name.
Watchtower publication The Divine Name states:
"Even though the modern pronunciation Jehovah might not be exactly the way it was pronounced originally, this in no way detracts from the importance of the name. While many translators favor the pronunciation Yahweh, the New World Translation and also a number of other translations continue the use of the form Jehovah because of people's familiarity with it for centuries." The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever p.10
When translating between languages the pronunciation of names change and so it may not be essential that in English the divine name is pronounced as God originally spoke it to Moses. However, it is ironic that the word Jehovah mixes God's name with the very superstition that caused it to stop being used in the first place. Every time the word Jehovah is pronounced it is a reminder of this very superstition
Watchtower postulates that the pronunciation is not important, since Jehovah would have preserved the pronunciation if it was important.
"Thus it is evident that the original pronunciation of God's name is no longer known. Nor is it really important. If it were, then God Himself would have made sure that it was preserved for us to use. The important thing is to use God's name according to its conventional pronunciation in our own language." The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever p.7
This is precarious reasoning. Since the pronunciation was not preserved, and there is no strong evidence that the Divine name ever appeared in the New Testament, such reasoning follows that the Divine name is simply not important for Christians.
Jehovah's Witnesses claim Hebrew was the first language as given to Adam and Eve and that it will possibly be the language spoken in the New System. (g71 2/22 p.10) The Watchtower Society prides itself on possessing the pure language, on being the only religion to teach truth.
"Through the Theocratic organization of his anointed witnesses he has been clearing up the Bible truth more and more and thus purifying their speech. So now they talk and live in harmony with the language of the approaching new world. And here, in this year of 1950, his providence brings forth this New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures as a further purification of the speech of his people. He has graciously provided it as a further powerful means for turning to the peoples a "pure language"." Watchtower 1950 September 15 p.320
One might assume then that the Watchtower would prefer to use the accurate version of God's name, rather than the superstitious rendition. The word Jehovah is not an accurate form of the divine name. It can be argued that it is the common pronunciation in English and it is not important to use the name in its correct version. It is strange though that the version chosen actually incorporates the very reason that the divine name stopped being used in the first place.
Written 2007. Latest update Aug 2017.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2020