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  Wikipedia: Yahweh

Wikipedia: Yahweh
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Yahweh and Jehovah (also transliterated Yehowah) are the most common ways to transliterate the personal name of God in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament). This proper name for God is rendered as LORD or GOD (in small capitals to distinguish it from Adonai, another word translated as "Lord") in most modern translations of the Bible. Most scholars believe "Yahweh" to be most near the original pronunciation, but "Jehovah" is still more commonly used today. "Jehovah" probably originates with the American Standard Version due to the form of transliteration of the Hebrew word.

See also: The name of God in Judaism

Not just a title of God in scripture

Though God is given numerous titles in the Bible (such as "God", "Giver of plenty", "Sovereign Lord", "Creator", "Father", "the Almighty" and "the Most High"), many people believe God's personality and attributes are fully summed up and expressed in His personal name.

Jehovah is probably the most commonly known, though inaccurate, English pronunciation of the divine name; "Yahweh" (also inaccurate) is also used by some scholars. The oldest Hebrew manuscripts present the name in the form of four consonants, commonly called the Tetragrammaton (from Greek tetra-, meaning "four," and gram'ma, "letter"). These four letters (יהוה) may be transliterated into English as YHWH or JHVH.

Like much of Christianity, Judaism forbids to "take the name of God in vain" by using it. However in Judaism, this restriction is much broader and amounts to a taboo on pronouncing the ineffable name. When reading Torah (or some other religious text) aloud, Adonai is read instead of "Jahovah"; the name itself is nicked "shem ha-meforash" - "the interpreted name" ("ha-shem", "the name", is one of God's other names in Judaism). Before writing down texts that include it, a Torah script writer has to make a special ceremony of purification. As Rabbinical sources tell us, even in ancient times the name was pronounced only once a year - on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and only by the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem. The tradition of High priesthood ended, however, in 70 A.D., as the Temple was burned.

Yahweh's Possible Origin

In the Bible, Yahweh is first introduced by name to Moses in a theophany on Mount Sinai. Before Moses' time the exact name "Yahweh" is not attested (see Exodus 20:2).

During the 1980s, Kamal Salibi, who later took up the position of Director of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies in Amman, Jordan (Refer link below), revived a number of nineteenth century propositions that suggested the Old Testament was in fact set in western Arabia, as opposed to the then accepted location of Palestine. During his investigations, which employ state of the art decoding methods on the original Hebrew consonantal text - as opposed to the usual, less arduous, practice of employing vocalised translations made by Jewish Masoretes as a base -, he not only found that Biblical locations existed in western Arabia, but that they were logically situated with respect to biblical events. This discovery, which explained why nothing convincing had ever been found to link Palestinian locations with biblical records, spurred him on to decode an untold wealth of information relating to the Old Testament. Refer The Bible Came from Arabia (1985), Secrets of the Bible People (1988) and his later work The Historicity of Biblical Israel: Studies in 1 & 2 Samuel (1998).

In Exodus, it states that the Israelites, while under the guidance of Moses, had many gods, many of which they represented by gold and silver idols. It was not until Moses and the Israelites had their encounter with a dynamic, smoke covered and potentially retributional, mountain, that they adopted its local god as their own God, Yahweh. He was too good to be true - a god with a thunderous voice, of trumpets and fiery tantrums that proved him far more powerful than all of their other gods put together. But most importantly, a thunderous cloud covered the mountain - a feature that Moses' god had possessed throughout Exodus.

As Salibi points out in Secrets of the Bible People, it doesn't take much imagination to realise that Yahweh's mountain home was in fact a volcano, summit engulfed in smoke. Later we find Yahweh as a 'devouring fire' on top of the mountain, and some weeks later, after Moses had returned from his second stint on the mountain, he warns his people that whoever touches the mountain it shall stone to death, be it beast or man. Three days later we find the mountain quaking. There were thunder and lightning. The mountain was all in smoke. Yahweh had descended on it in fire, and smoke rose as the smoke of a furnace. A better description of a volcano is hard to imagine.

For the conventional biblical scholar, the major shortcoming of these passages is that Palestine, the conventional setting for all of these events is, and was not, a volcanic area! Salibi, on the other hand, is handed Mount Elohim ['mountain of the gods'; which the bible mentions in relation to Moses, and is located in volcanically active area of Yemen] on a plate, as the home of Yahweh. A river having essentially the name of Sinai still exists in the vicinity, not far from a ridge (possibly biblical Mt. Sinai) where the Israelites watched the 'fireworks'.

When the Israelites headed back into what is now western Arabia, such an omnipotent god - the undisputed creator of the entire world - was too good to leave behind. Moses therefore 'persuaded' him to leave his volcanic home and join them, which he did, deposing the original pantheon of Israelite gods [making them the first monotheists in recorded history] and travelled with them in unheard-of luxury, as described in Exodus 25-31. To this day, Jews, Christians and Muslims still worship Yahweh, even though He has been an invisible God since being divorced from His once mighty volcano.

[Note that Salibi's Arabian theory of biblical historicity, of which the above comprises a minute amount, has not been disputed by scholars of any of the abovementioned religions in any material way whatsoever. The total of their objections, since Salibi first published his findings in 1985, are that: as Salibi's theory departs from the accepted Jewish translations of the original Hebrew - which had been a dead language for a thousand years before their translation - they don't like it! Therefore, it is inconceivable to them that it could have the slightest merit. Equally, it should be realised that Salibi's theory is simply that, and eligible to be disproved at any time. At present though, it is the only theory to unite the bible as written, to its writers, their lives, and their environment.]

Puzzle of pronunciation

This raises a question: as the name was never pronounced aloud for about two millennia now, what is the correct pronunciation? In the Jewish Bible, vowel marks (nikkud) suggest a spelling "Jahovah" (this was picked up by translators in the Middle Ages, who have introduced this form into English usage). However, the nikkud system was invented only around the middle of the first millennium A.D. - almost 500 years after the name was pronounced for the last time! Moreover, the vowel marks of "Jahovah" are those of the word "Adonai" - implying, that they replace the original vowels, which were made a secret (or left forgotten) in order to prevent blasphemy, even by accident.

In addition, in recent years there has been a large debate over the meaning of this name. It seems related to the Hebrew root H-Y/V-Y/H (Yod י, He ה, and Waw ו are interchangeable in some cases), which is used to describe various aspects of being. Therefore, many scholars have decided that it means something like "I am the One Who Is". Appropriate reference points in the Old Testament to start an investigation into this name include: Genesis 2:4, Exodus 3:15 (others?). Nevertheless, the most accurate meaning of God's name seems to be "He causes to become" (based upon the causal ה), that is, everything that He wishes to happen is because of his will and becomes a reality (Isaiah 55:10,11), there is nothing God cannot accomplish nor do, except lying (Titus 1:2).

From the point of view of history of religion, the God of the Tanakh whether referred to as Yahweh or Jehovah or by some other name, is the same God worshipped by Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and is sometimes thus referred to as the Judeo-Christian God. However it is important to understand that there are major differences between the religions, so far as theology is concerned. Thus, for example, Christendom followers believe in the Holy Trinity, while Jewish theologians find that this sort of materialization (and division) of the deity is incompatible with the Jewish religion.

It is most interesting that the name also occurs at 21 places in the Rigveda as an epithet for the fire-god Agni. This fact may be a consequence of the early connections between the Veda worshiping Hindu Mitanni and the early Hebrews.

Note: In Hebrew YHWH reads like this: יהוה. It consists of the letters Yod י He ה Waw ו He ה. Hebrew reads from right to left, most newer web browsers such as Mozilla and Microsoft Internet Explorer of version 4 and above would display these four letters correctly in bi-directional manner, but some older web browsers may display the text in the wrong direction. The letters J and Y are interchangeable in the transliteration of the Hebrew letter Yod. For the transliteration of Waw, the letters V and W are interchangeable.

See also:

Compare Further Reading

  • Mendenhall, George E. The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973. ISBN 0-8018-1654-8. A study of the origins of the worship of Yahweh in earliest traditions of Israel from linguistic and archaeological evidence.
  • Mendenhall, George E. Ancient Israel's Faith and History: An Introduction to the Bible in Context, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. ISBN 0-664-22313-3. Another, less technical, study of the earlier and later traditions of Israel's religious community from linguistic and archaeological evidence.

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