“Jehovah”: A Christian Misunderstanding

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In any attempt to understand the Bible, there is no substitute for a knowledge of ancient Jewish custom and practice. For example, the term “Jehovah,” which is found in many Christian translations of the Bible, originated due to Christian lack of awareness of Jewish custom.

Revised: 19-Nov-2012

In any attempt to understand the Bible, there is no substitute for a knowledge of ancient Jewish custom and practice. For example, the name “Jehovah,” which is found in many Christian translations of the Bible, originated due to Christian lack of awareness of Jewish custom.

Pronunciation

In Hebrew Scripture the personal name of God is written with four Hebrew letters—yod, heh, vav, heh (YHWH)[1] —and therefore called the tetragrammaton. The name YHWH appears 6,829 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.

By linguistic comparisons with other ancient Semitic languages, scholars can be almost certain that the divine name was originally pronounced YaHWeH. The pronunciation of the first syllable of the tetragrammaton is confirmed by the abbreviated form of God’s name יָהּ (yah, transcribed “Jah” in the King James Version), which is sometimes used in biblical poetry (e.g., Ps. 68:4). It is also confirmed by the יָה (yah) that is attached as a suffix to many Hebrew names such as אֵלִיָּה (eliyah, Elijah) and עֹבַדְיָה (ovadyah, Obadiah).

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  • [1] At the time the Hebrew Bible was being composed, the ו (vav) , the third letter of the tetragrammaton, was pronounced as a “w” rather than a “v” as in modern Hebrew.

Comments 6

  1. Could you provide source material for the claim that “Vav” was pronounced as a “w” at any time before Arabic influence Hebrew among Jews in Arab lands? Do you have any evidence for that the “vav” was pronounced as a “w” “when the Hebrew bible was being composed.”? Additionally what source information is available to prove that the Masoretes (as if there was only one source used to copy all future vowel pointing which to my understanding there were several initial attempts and copies produced) conspiratorially vowel pointed Adonai and Elohim over YHVH? As all info above seems to be conjecture based upon previous held bias to the YHWH pronunciation. The statement “scholars can be almost certain” arrogantly leaves out all the scholars who disagree with the alleged “w” pronunciation of the “v”.

    1. JP Staff Writer

      For the pronunciation of the letter ו (“vav” or “waw”) in ancient Israel, JP defers to the experts.

      As for the pointing of the Tetragrammaton with the vowels for אדני in the Masoretic text (MT), there was absolutely nothing “conspiratorial” about it. The pointing of the text, which the Masoretes developed, represents the tradition (masora) of how the text was to be vocalized during public worship. Sometimes the text was vocalized differently from what the letters would suggest. The written text was considered to be too holy to be altered, but the traditional vocalization was considered to be holy, too. The genius of the Masoretes was to find a way for the two traditions to coexist by means of pointing the sacred text according to the traditional vocalization.

      A simple example of this coexistence is the pointing of the name ירושלם in the MT as יְרוּשָׁלִַם. The written text preserves an older form of the name, “Yerushalem,” while the vocalization represents the newer pronunciation “Yerushalayim.”

      Something similar is happening with the Masoretic pointing of the Tetragrammaton with the vowels for “adonay.” The vowels represent how the text should be read out loud in public. Since the divine name was not pronounced outside the Temple, the Masoretes indicated how the text was to be vocalized without altering the written text.

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  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin
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    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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