Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
How to Pronounce God's Name
The Divine Name must have at least three syllables. Jewish names indicate that it begins with Yeho-, and the short form Yah indicates that it ends with -aH. If we choose to read matres lectionis we get the pronunciation IHOA or IHUA. The form "Yahveh" doesn't explain the vowel "o". This shows us that the form "Yahveh" cannot even be close to the original form.
by HOIM Staff
The four consonants YHVH (or JHVH/YHWH/JHWH), also called the Tetragrammaton, are preserved from Paleo-Hebrew where the written text only had consonants, and the reader supplied the vowels during reading; as we today would read "blvd." as "boulevard." How the reader should pronounce the words was delivered from generation to generation by word of mouth.
How the Pronunciation Disappeared
During the period between 500 and 1000 CE the vowel points were invented. These markings were added to the consonants with the idea of helping the reader to pronounce the words correctly.
But before these vowel points were invented, there developed a superstition against using the Divine Name. Easton's Bible Dictionary says that the Jews stopped using the Name because of a misinterpretation of Leviticus 24:16, "anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death."
Some think that the Jews stopped using the Name so that none-Jews would not get to know it and misuse it. Others think that they started to consider the Name as too holy to be pronounced. Whatever the case, the original pronunciation was forgotten and all we have left are four consonants -- YHVH.
Attempts to Find the Original Pronunciation
Hieronymus writes that in his time there were some who pronounced God's name as "PIPI", because when some ill-informed readers was confronted with the Tetragrammaton in a Greek text, these Hebrew letters could look like the Greek letters nInI, which are pronounced "PIPI".
Scholars have for a long time tried to find the way back to the correct pronunciation, and there are two pronunciations that are generally accepted, namely YeHoVa(H) and YaHVe(H).
Is it possible to find the right pronunciation? Well, we are at least able to find out which one of Yehovah or lahve is closest to the original pronunciation.
A common explanation of the pronunciation "Yehova" is that the vowels of the name "Yehova" are picked from the the Hebrew word "adonay". The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says: "In the post-biblical period, reverence for the ineffable name 'Yahweh' caused it to be supplanted in synagogue reading (but not in writing) with the noun adonay 'my master,' or Lord. Next, when medieval Jewish scholars began to insert vowels to accompany the consonantal OT text, they added to YHWH the Masoretic vowel points for adonay; and the actual writing became an impossible YaHoWaH..."
The president of the Association Biblique de Recherche d'Anciens Manuscrits in France writes that this is just a fabrication, it has never been documented. The word "Yahowah" has a blasphemous meaning, and has never been used in any Bibles. There are claims about a grammatical pattern where the vowels a-o-a has developed into e-o-a, but this pattern has never existed, and these assertions were proved wrong in 1842 by Paul Drach, a rabbi who converted to Catholicism.
What the Short Form Yah Shows Us
The expression hallelujah (hallelu-Yah) -- which is used in both the Old and the New Testaments -- means "praise Yah". Yah is a contraction of the Divine Name, and is most often used in Jewish poetry. Yah is written with the consonants YH in Hebrew, with the vowel point "a" between these two consonants. The vowel and the consonants are taken from the Tetragrammaton, and this indicates a vowel "a" in it. The result is either Y-aH-V-H or Y-H-V-aH, dependent upon which H is taken from the Tetragrammaton. This fact alone supports both Yahveh and Yehovah.
What Jewish Names Show Us
It is a fact that the Jewish people used to combine names with an abbreviation of God's name when they named their children. These names are called theophoric names, and they are preserved with vowel pointings. We have lots of examples of theophoric names in the Bible.
There are mainly two kinds of theophoric names in the Bible. One kind begins with the three first consonants of the Tetragrammaton, Y-H-V-, and the second kind ends with the short form -yah or -yahu (Yahu is a contraction of the expression Yah hu' which means "Yah himself'. For example, Eliyah means "my God is Yah", and Eliyahu means "my God is Yah himself").
Here are some examples of theophoric names that begin with the first three consonants of the Tetragrammaton: Yehoiakim, Yehonathan, Yehoshaphat, Yehoash, Yehoram, Yehoiada, Yehoiarib, Yehoaddah, Yehoaddan, Yehoahaz, Yehohanan, Yehoiarib, Yehonadab, Yehoshabeath, Yehosheba among others. These names were sometimes shortened to create new names, and this resulted in Yoiakim, Yonathan, etc.
When we compare the names that begin with the three first consonants of the Tetragrammaton (YHV/W), we see that all the names are vocalized YeHo-. In Hebrew, the consonant W may be used to represent the vowel sound o ("o" as in hole), and this is indicated by placing a dot above the consonant W. Usually, the consonantal sound is not pronounced when it represents a vowel (an exception is if this results in two vowels standing beside each other, which is not grammatically correct).
Theophoric names indicate, therefore, that the Tetragrammaton is to be vocalized Ye-H-o-H. Since theophoric names don't indicate a vowel "a" in the first half of the Tetragrammaton, this means that the -aH in the short form Yah has to be in the last part of the Tetragrammaton. When we combine these two pieces of information, it gives us the following result: Ye-H-o-aH. In Hebrew grammar, there is an invariable rule that two vowels can't stand beside each other, so therefore the consonantal sound of W (or V) has to be pronounced. The result is therefore Ye-H-oV-aH.
One thing that is common in all the names that begin with the first consonants of the Divine Name, is that the vowel "o" is included, both in the primary form (for example Jehonathan) and in the shortened form (Jonathan). This shows us that the name couldn't have only two syllables. For example Yahve -- which only has two syllables -- cannot have the vowel "o".
Argument Against the Form YeHoVaH
It is claimed that after the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton was lost, some scribes borrowed the vowels from another word and pointed the Tetragrammaton with these vowels, to remind the reader to read aloud this other word, instead of the Tetragrammaton. After a long time, this practice was forgotten, and some ill-informed readers read the consonants together with these vowels -- something that resulted in the form YeHoVaH. Some people argue that this form therefore cannot be the correct form -- but this argument doesn't hold water.
If they who added the vowels, and the ill-informed readers who read the consonants together with the vowels, didn't know the original pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton -- then they also didn't know how it should NOT be pronounced! If they, by chance, used the correct vowels, this cannot be used as any evidence against the vowels used by theophoric names.
The argument is that the use of Jehovah in old bibles cannot be used to prove that the vowels e-o-a is correct -- and this argument is correct. But one also cannot use this argument as proof that these vowels are wrong!
Are There Other Sources That Accept the Form YeHoVaH?
Professor George Buchanan, a professor emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. has written the following: "In no case is the vowel oo or oh omitted. The word was sometimes abbreviated as 'Ya,' but never as 'Ya-weh'." He also wrote: "When the Tetragrammaton was pronounced in one syllable it was 'Yah' or 'Yo'. When it was pronounced in three syllables it would have been 'Yahowah' or 'Yahoowah'. If it was ever abbreviated to two syllables it would have been 'Yaho'" (Biblical Archaeology Review).
D. D. Williams said: "Evidence indicates, nay almost proves, that Jahweh was not the true pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton...The Name itself was probably JAHOH." Dr. Max Reisel writes that "vocalization of the Tetragrammaton must originally have been YeHuaH or YaHuaH" (The Mysterious Name of Y.H.W.H., page 74).
Professord Gerard Gertoux, a Hebrew scholar, refers in his book to what Maimonides (a Jewish scholar and famous Talmudist) has written, and says: "This name YHWH is read without difficulty because it is pronounced as it is written, or according to its letters as the Talmud says." He displays a long study in pronunciation of names, and draws the conclusion that the divine name is pronounced "I-Eh oU Ah". He even writes: "The name Yahweh (which is a barbarism) has only been created to battle with the true name Jehovah" (The Name of God...Its Story).
Other Relations Concerning the Vocalization of the Divine Name
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus knew well how the divine name was to be pronounced (this can be seen in his work Jewish Antiquities), but he didn't want to reveal it. But he gave away some hints in his work The Jewish War. In volume 5 chapter 5, which is a description of the Temple, he wrote the following: "On his head the high priest wore a linen mitre wreathed with blue and encircled by a crown of gold, which bore in relief the sacred letters -- four vowels."
But there were no vowels in the Hebrew alphabet at this time. What did Josephus mean by this? Some people, influenced by the form Yahweh, don't explain this further, but claim that Josephus presumably thought of the Greek vowels IAUE. But these "sacred letters", that undoubtedly were the Tetragrammaton, were written in Paleo-Hebrew and not Greek -- something Josephus knew. Then what did Josephus mean?
Before the Hebrew vowel pointing was invented, the Jews used some of their consonants as vowels, to indicate vowel sounds. These letter are called "vowel letters", or in Latin matres lectionis ("mothers of reading"). There are four consonants that can indicate a vowel -- 'aleph, waw, yod, and the letter he' if it is the last letter of a word.
(In a Hebrew text that has vowel points there are grammar rules that do not allow a yod that begins a Hebrew word to be used as a vowel letter, but Josephus' teaching that the sacred name "consists of four vowels" may be valid in a Hebrew text that has no vowel points).
This may be an explanation of how the Jewish historian could call the letters YHVH "vowels". The letters Y, H and V were regarded as vowels. So how will the name sound if we switch the letters with the vowels of matres lectionis?
(English pronunciation is written inside parenthesis). Qumran-findings show us that in the first century the letter Y was often used as the vowel sound I (ee as in seek); V was equivalent to 0 (o as in hole) or U (oo as in mood); and H at the end of a word was pronounced A (a as in father). When these letters are used as a vowel, their consonantal sound are usually not pronounced (except if this results in two vowels standing beside each other, something that is not allowed in Hebrew grammar).
Let's try this manner of reading with a name where we already know it's pronunciation. Lets use the name YHVDH, which is written almost the same way as the divine name. If we write the vowels as they are to be pronounced, Y-H-V-D-H turns into I-H-U-D-A. This is in agreement with the pronunciation we already know, "YeHuDaH" (the English "Judah").
When we use this manner of reading with the name YHVH, we can do it the same way. Y-H-V-H turns into I-H-U-A or I-H-O-A. This brings us closer to "Yehova" and further away from "Yahve". (The fact that the divine name is written without a mappiq shows that the last H should be pronounced A).
When we read the vowel letters, we see that YHVH has pretty much the same pronunciation as YHVDH (YeHuDaH), the difference is that the letter D is not in it. If we, as an experiment, removed the D, we would get YeHuaH. But in written Hebrew, there is an invariable rule that two vowels can't stand beside each other, there has to be a consonant between u and a. The consonantal sound of V shall therefore also be pronounced, and we get the pronunciation YeHuVaH.
As we have seen, the Divine Name must have at least three syllables. Jewish names indicate that it begins with Yeho-, and the short form Yah indicates that it ends with -aH. If we choose to read matres lectionis we get the pronunciation IHOA or IHUA. The form "Yahveh" doesn't explain the vowel "o". This shows us that the form "Yahveh" cannot even be close to the original form.
But why is it that some people don't want to use the form "Jehovah" (YEHOVAH), when it undoubtedly is closest to the original pronunciation? Why are some who earlier used the form "Jehovah" (YEHOVAH) now refrain from using it, preferring the form "Jahwe" (YAHVE) instead -- in spite of recent evidence proofing "Jahve" wrong? For example Norwegian Bible Association have for several years used the name "Jehova" in a footnote for Exodus 3;15, but in the recent years they have instead used "Jahve".
Professor C. Perrot at Institut Catholique de Paris wrote the following to professor Gertoux (mentioned earlier): "Your arguments are very pertinent, but it would be hard to come back without yielding to Jehovah's Witnesses." So maybe some avoid using the name because they fear getting associated with the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. But if you really respect the God of the Bible, his Name, and what it represents, you will not allow such a fear to prevent you from using it.
Some Scholarly Comments
M. Gerard Gertoux: Hebrew scholar, specialist of the Tetragram, president of the Association Biblique de Recherche d'Anciens Manuscrits:
"The oldest archaeological testimony favors the pronunciation Jehovah. A short inscription dated to the time of Amenophis III (circa 1400 BCE) has been found at Soleb..."
"The great name YHWH is vocalized 'Yehowah" in Hebrew...In the same way, as there were theophoric names elaborated from the great name, that is names beginning with Yeho- or its shortened form Y(eh)o-,...The Hebrews took care of making either their names begin with Yeho- or Yo-, or to end their names with -yah, theophoric names like: Joshua, Jonathan, Jesus, John, etc. For example, the name YHWHNN (John) is vocalized Yehoha-nan in Hebrew."
"Numerous linguists have postulated that...this name was pronounced Yehowah [Yehovah] in the first century..."
"Non-superstitious Jewish translators always favored the name Jehovah [Yehovah] in their translations of the Bible. On the other hand one can note that there is NO Jewish translation of the Bible with Yahweh [Yahveh]."
Michael John Rood: Messianic Karaite Rabbi, Seek God Association:
"According to postings on various forums, it has been stated that both Emanuel and Nehemiah Gordon believe that the Name of God is closer to Yehowah [Yehovah], which is similar to Jehovah in English. Nehemiah Gordon defends Yehovah after extensive study of the Masoretic Text manuscripts. Nehemiah's view...based on studying the actual manuscripts under Emanuel Tov, is that...the earlier Masoretic manuscripts all have Yehowah or Yehovah pronunciation..."
Paul Drach: De l'harmonie entre l'eglise et la synagogue (Of the Harmony Between the Church and the Synagogue), published in 1842:
"Yehova, which was in agreement with the beginning of all the theophoric names, was the authentic pronunciation..."
The Daily Breeze:
"To determine the correct pronunciation of the Divine Name of God, using the Hebrew Tetragram, Carr used a computer to sift through all the relevant vowel/consonant combinations found in Hebrew scripture. The computer eventually narrowed the list to 'e' 'o' and 'a' or YeHoWaH (Jehovah in English)."
Won W. Lee: Professor at the Calvin College, published in the Religious Studies Review, Volume 29 Number 3, July 2003 page 285:
"The tetragrammaton, YHWH, is therefore read I-eH-U-A (Iehoua), the equivalent of 'YeHoWaH' in Masoretic punctuation. This means that the name is to be pronounced as it is written, or according to its letters."
Paul Kahle: Studia Evangelica, edited by Kurt Aland, F. L. Cross, Jean Danielou, Harald Riesenfeld and W. C. van Unnik, Berlin, 1959, p. 614:
"As a follower of Christ, Peter used God's name, Jehovah. When Peter's speech was put on record the Tetragammaton (YHWH/Jehovah) was here used according to the practice during the first century BCE and the first century CE."
Home Christians.net: Pursuit of Scriptural Truth, The Divine Name of God:
"Jehovah is simply the form that conforms to normal English usage with respect to Hebrew names in the Bible. For example, in Hebrew, the name 'Isaiah' was probably pronounced 'Yeshayahu.' Similarly the English 'Jerusalem' was, in Hebrew, pronounced 'Yerushalaim.' 'Jesus' was pronounced 'Yeshua' or 'Yehohshua.' The names Isaiah, Jerusalem and Jesus, were not the original Hebrew or Greek pronunciations. It is normal and proper for names to take on different pronunciations when they are transferred into another language. In Hebrew, God's name was likely pronounced 'Yehowah' ['Yehovah'], in Spanish it is Jehova (pronounced: 'he-o-va'), in English we say 'Jehovah.'
Nicetas, Bishop of Heraclea: 2nd century, from The Catena On the Pentateuch, published in Latin by Francis Zephyrus, p. 156:
"That mystic name which is called the Tetragrammaton, by which alone they who had access to the Holy of Holies were protected, is pronounced JEHOVAH (Iehovah), which means, Who is, and Who shall be."
Giles C. H. Nullens: The Biblical Background, B.9.2:
"The Jewish scholars known as Masoretes introduced a system of vowels and accents...In this way the Tetragrammaton became Ye-Ho-VaH and later on, in Western languages, Jehovah..."
Scholarly Opinion Against the "Yahveh" Pronunciation
Editors John H. Skilton, Milton C. Fisher and Leslie W. Sloat: The Law and the Prophets:
"The form Yahweh is thus an incorrect hybrid with an early 'w' and a late 'eh'"
"In fact, from the evidence now available, it may be argued that Yahweh is incorrect and Jahoweh might be the true pronunciation" (pp. 215-224).
"YAHWEH is NOT a Hebrew name."
M. Gerard Gertoux: Hebrew scholar, specialist of the Tetragram, president of the Association Biblique de Recherche d'Anciens Manuscrits:
"...there is NO Jewish translation of the Bible with Yahweh."
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT):
"Actually, there is a problem with the pronunciation Yahweh. It is a strange combination of old and late elements."
Anchor Bible Dictionary: VI-1011:
"The pronunciation of yhwh as Yahweh is a scholarly guess."
Laird Harris: "The Pronunciation of the Tetragram", in The Law and the Prophets: Old Testament Studies, prepared in honor of Oswald Thompson Allis, ed. John H. Skilton, 1974, pp. 218-224:
"...the form 'Yahweh' is an incorrect hybrid form..."
Scott Jones, LambLion:
"Concerted effort has been underway for the past several generations to alter the pronunciation of the Divine Name, known as the Tetragrammaton, from Jehovah into the Egyptian slur, Yahweh. In spite of these efforts, there is compelling evidence to stick with the traditional pronunciation of Jehovah."
Two Syllables or Three?
YAHVEH (YAHWEH) = 2 syllables
YEHOVAH (YEHOWAH) = 3 syllables
George W. Buchanan: Some Unfinished Business With the Dead Sea Scrolls, RevQ 13.49-52 (1988), p. 416:
"The original form of the divine name was almost certainly three syllables, and NOT two. The accumulated data points heavily in the direction of a 'three' syllable word."
George W. Buchanan: "How God's Name Was Pronounced," BAR 21.2 (March-April 1995), pp. 31-32:
"When the Tetragrammaton was pronounced...it was pronounced in 'three' syllables and it would have been 'Yehowah' [Yehovah]."
Journal of Biblical Literature, 25, p. 50 and Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 9, p. 161:
"Samaritan poetry employs the Tetragrammaton and then rhymes it with words having the same sound as Yah-oo-ay (three syllables)."
Laird Harris: "The Pronunciation of the Tetragram," in The Law and the Prophets: Old Testament Studies:
"...in the syllable division of the divine name it would have ended up as Jahoweh, a form...remarkably like the...form Jehovah."
Home Christians.net: "The Divine Name of God," Pursuit of Scriptural Truth:
"Many scholars believe...that it is more likely that the Divine name was originally pronounced in a three syllable form, 'Yeh-o-wah' -- 'Jehovah' is the English form of the Divine name."
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