The Name Of God

What is that name? This is very important to know, since this is the name which we are not to take in vain. The king James translation says (Ex. 15: 3; Jer. 33: 2; Amos 5: 8 & 9: 6), ‘The LORD is his name.’ In the Hebrew writing it says the actual name of God, but since we are not to take this name in vain, King James has always translated it with ‘the LORD’, all capitalised with only few exceptions (eg.: Ex. 6: 3). If it is not all capitalized, it refers to a human Lord (eg.: Gen. 18: 3) or even lord (eg.: Gen. 18: 12), which in Hebrew is adon or adonai, my lord.

What is the name of the LORD? Tradition says it is Jahveh, not Jehovah. I think it may have been a double name, Yahveh and Yahu (pronounced like Yahoo), like in Benjamin Netanyahu, which means Benjamin given by God, given by the God named Yahu. (The use of the J or the Y at the beginning is not controversial in Hebrew. It is the letter yod, which has a sound like the y in yard. It has been transliterated as y, as j or as i.) Other examples are Isaiah, Hebrew: Yeshayahu, meaning salvation by God, the God called Yahu, or Jeremiah, Hebrew: Yiremeyahu, God, called Yahu, will raise up. It is well known, that the Jews in the Elephantine community worshipped God by the name Yahu. In Deuteronomy 28: 10 it says, ‘And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD (it says Yhvh in the Hebrew text, which traditionally is rendered Yahveh. The Hebrew text originally had only consonants, no vowels); and they shall be afraid of thee.’ The modern Hebrew and Arabic word for Jew is Yahudi and the name of Judah, the forefather of all Jews, Yahudah or Yahud. Yahu is certainly the closest to these from amongst the names of God that have been proposed in the literature.

Now the word Yahveh is only traditionally passed on from ancient times to today. Only its consonants are preserved in the Bible. The original Hebrew writings only had consonants, no vowels, so the name of God in the scripture was Yhvh. Most of the vowel signs in Hebrew writing are small dots or lines under the preceding consonant. These vowel symbols were only introduced in the Masoretic Hebrew edition of the Tanakh from about 600 AD on (see ‘Introduction’ to Greetings From Paradise). The Masoretes, the scribes who wrote these editions, added the vowel symbols, because many Jews did not speak Hebrew anymore in their everyday lives and therefore might have forgotten the proper pronunciation of some Hebrew words.

The Masoretes also introduced some qere words into the text. These are words which are meant to be read instead of the written words, the ketiv. The original ketiv consonants would be retained in the text, but when read the qere word would have to be pronounced. Therefore the vowel symbols of the qere word would be written under the consonants of the ketiv word.

At this time Jews did not pronounce the name of God anymore, because (Ex. 20: 7), ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.’ Instead they used the word Adonai, which means my Lord. So, since when the word Yhvh occurred in the text the word Adonai was to be spoken, the Masoretes put the vowels of Adonai under the consonants Yhvh. The last i in Adonai is a consonant, the yod. Therefore the vowel signs for this word were a, o, and a again, which would make the name Yahovah from which the word Jehovah is derived.

So the original name of God starts with Yah. But what about the two forms ‘Yahu’ and ‘Yahveh’? These may very well be expressions of joy and sadness: Yahu an exclamation of joy and Yahveh, similar to the German ‘Oh Weh’ (Weh meaning pain, the letter ‘w’ being pronounced in German exactly like the letter ‘v’ in English), an exclamation of lamentation. The Tanakh was written down only in Babylonian captivity, a time full of lamentation and longing for home and dreaming of the promises of a glorified past. None of the other gods of that time have any scriptures in the sense of the Bible. There may have been inscriptions of some myths in honour of those gods, but the writing did not have the same meaning as to us. Nobody in those days would have studied these inscriptions to find out about these gods. People communed with their gods through their sacrifices and their priests. Through the priestly lines traditions about the gods were passed down. The Tanakh was written to preserve the Jewish traditions, since there was the danger of losing them in the foreign environment of captivity. Maybe in this environment the scribes preferred the name of sadness, Yahveh, since they felt this way most of the time.

The evidence that God might have a double name is in Exodus 6: 2 & 3. It is the scene just after Moses had gone to the Pharaoh for the first time to ask to let the people go. The Pharaoh not only had denied this request, but even had made the people work harder. ‘And,’ Ex. 5: 22 & 23, ‘Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, “Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered thy people at all.”’ He complained in quite a challenging manner!

Part of God’s answer is Ex. 6: 2 & 3. King James translated, ‘I am the LORD: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.’ Difficult to understand, isn’t it. When the Hebrew expressions for God are filled in it is even more difficult to understand. The quote then says, ‘I am Yahveh: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of El Almighty, but by my name Yahveh was I not known to them.’ El means God, but usually God is referred to as Elohim, which is the plural of God. This is often understood as a pluralis majestatis, i.e. the way royalty or higher is addressed.

In this form the verses even seem contradictory. God called himself Yahveh and he said that he was not known by that name to those men who worshipped him? Obviously King James recognized this difficulty and wrote for the second Yahveh, JEHOVAH, and not ‘the LORD’, as he usually did, like for example at the beginning of this sentence.

But in Hebrew this sentence is just incorrect! According to the Tanakh, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob spoke about Yahveh very frequently. Wherever it says LORD in the King James translation it says Yahveh in the Hebrew text. When it says God in the translation, it says Elohim in the original.

Even taken by itself, there is a contradiction in this sentence, ‘I am Yahveh: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, …, but by my name Yahveh was I not known to them.’

Could the original of this sentence, the verbally transmitted one before it was written down with the name of God being Yahveh throughout, have been different? Could it have been this? ‘I am Yahu: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of El Almighty, but by my name Yahveh was I not known to them.’ This could mean, ‘I am Yahu, the God of joy and happiness: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of El Almighty, everything they did in my name went really well! But by my name Yahveh, the name of lamentation and misery, was I not known to them.’

So when (Gen. 4: 26) men began to call upon the name of the LORD, did they use the name Yahu as an exclamation of joy? The verse reads, ‘…then began men to call upon the name of the LORD,’ in the King James translation. The word for ‘began’ is chalal. It is not used in the active voice though, it is used in hophal, which is the causative passive voice. It does not say men either. The translation should be, ‘…then he (maybe Enos, maybe his tribe, maybe people in general) was caused to begin to call upon the name of the LORD (it says Yahveh in Hebrew but most likely it originally was the joyful form, Yahu).’ It is not that anybody actively did this. The holy name just came out, it bubbled forth without thinking, without intent, as an expression caused by joy!