A History of the Name of YHWH   -  PART I

Twelve Tribe Torah Institute


This is the original Mitzvah given to the first major prophet, Moses the Levite: to know that the Name of God is YHWH and to acknowledge that this name is not only Eternal but to be used for all earthly generations who wish to live in Freedom.


EXODUS 3:13-15   Read this paragraph carefully.  It informs us that in order to get ourselves out of slavery we must have a personal relationship with God in addition to a national-cultural relationship.  Moses is telling us that no longer is God a noun, El Shaddai, but from now on YHWH is a verb and we are called upon to be in relationship with Yahweh.  We are not to see God as a noun, not as an object of worship, nor solely an object of transcendent awe and a merciful God of dynamic interaction matched only by the lives of humans on planet earth.


The Torah puts this deep teaching across to the reader by creating a dialogue between God and Moshe.  First God says "My Name is EHYEH" (EHYH with the first letter being an Aleph).  Because EHYEH is a common verb form we are informed in the relational change in consciousness by this statement, EHYH will bring you out of the land of slavery.  Because we humans cannot use the real Name of God, EHYH, and this Name is the one to hide and to reserve for God alone, the Torah next informs us that the Name EHYH wants us to use in this revolutionary new spiritual and religious consciousness is YHWH.   Because this verbal root is not as well known as the EHYH verbal root, and because the Jewish Priests have literally forgotten the pronunciation of the Name YHWH, we must study deeper to get at the pronunciation. 


It is totally beyond my doubt that the Name of YHWH was used by all Israelites up until the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586.   You are referred to the Twelve Tribe Torah PRINT RESOURCES section to see just a select number of verses from the whole Tanach (Jewish Scriptures) and even the Gospels that remind us to continuously use this Holy Name.  The fact of the matter is that Moshe was instructed by Yahweh that "This is My Name forever; this is My remembrance from generation to generation."  This is the new revelation of Moses.  Until that point in Israelite history, God was worshipped with the Name EL SHADDAI (see Exodus 6:2-3).  Moses changed history by changing the Name of God to Yahweh!  Worshipping God the noun will lead us all into a state of slavery.  The Exodus happens when we worship God in an ongoing relationship that includes birth, death, and rebirth.


While the holiness of the Name was palpable during the First Temple, the whole point of Moshe's revelation to humanity was lost.  Even when Jesus came along, he only hinted at this restoration because Mankind was not ready.  Only when we stand together globally at Mount Sinai with the threat of annihilation hanging over our heads, are we able to begin to start understanding the basic deep and eternal teachings of Moshe the first Levitical prophet in Israel.  


So even though all Israelites in the southern kingdom of Judea used the name of YHWH in everyday prayer and in reverential reference to the Creator, the priests conflated the Name with the Temple in Jerusalem, and it was assumed that Jerusalem could not be destroyed as long as YHWH's Name was associated with the Temple.  However, as Jeremiah the prophet came to warn Judeans, this was not to be.  The New Covenant of Moshe now needed to be on the heart, in accordance with the teachings of the Levitical Priests, not just in ritual, in accordance with the Cohanic Priests.  The newly discovered scroll now called Deuteronomy also emphasized the same message.  


It is not a coincidence that the new scroll of Deuteronomy comes into use at this time because the destruction of Israel, the northern kingdom, which happened in 722 BCE struck both fear and wisdom into the hearts of the prophets.   The leaders of Jerusalem dumbed down the traditions of YHWH to accommodate the pagan sects when the commandment was just the opposite, we must elevate the pagan teachings to accord with the eternal moral values first expounded by Moshe Rabeinu.


So the question begs to be asked:  when did the Name of Adonai get substituted for the Name of YHWH?   While it is true that the Name Adonai is ancient and probably preceeded the Name of Yahweh, it is clear that in the First Temple, YHWH was worshipped directly as is clear in the Tanach (Hebrew Scriptures). 


The simple answer is that after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, this happens organically and over hundred of years, triggered by the deep disappointment inherent in the loss of the First Temple, the House of YHWH.  At first both Names are used, YHWH and ADNY, and only when the Second Temple is built is it established that the Holy Name of YHWH will be reserved for the Priests in Jerusalem.  At the same time, the Levites are demoted to being servants of the Cohanic Priests and the people at large use Adonai, the Lord, in their prayers to the Creator. 


The best way to actually see this culture of ambivalence is to inspect the Book of Lamentations.  One note: "Lord" (capital "L" followed by lower case "ord") indicates Adonai in the original Hebrew, while LORD (capital "L" larger font followed by "ORD" capital letters but with smaller font) indicates YHWH in the original Hebrew.  If you can read these words in the original Hebrew then it will be so much easier and more transparent as the two words have no linguistic relationship with each other in the Hebrew. 


If you inspect the first two chapters of Lamentations, YHWH is still the saintly one (1:18), and it is Adonai, the Lord, who has destroyed Jerusalem and caused so much distress (1:15, 2:1, 2:2 etc).   Then in 3:17,18 the roles are reversed and eventually, the names become interchangeable, hinting that transformational point where YHWH and ADNY could be used synonymously.   The Priests will later modify that to read: "we use YHWH in the Temple while you all use ADNY in your communities."   It is amazing to read the Book of Lamentations this way, and this interchange does not occur in this manner in any other scroll of the Torah.


The Name Adonai is found in the earliest writings of the Torah, in the stories of Abraham and certainly in the stories of Moses.  It is difficult if not impossible to ascertain how early the Name ADNY was used but many indications are that it was used in the First Temple era in the following manner, "the Lord YHWH" (in the Hebrew, Adonai YHWH).   This was not unusual, and we find both EL YHWH and YAH YHWH in the Tanach in addition to YHWH Elohim, and YHWH Tsevaoth (more on those combinations later in this essay).


I want to say up front that the religion of Moshe the Levite challenged the religion of the Cohanic Priests and that this tension in the Torah is really not resolved until Jesus reinstitutes the Levitical path.   In fact, the religion of Moses differed from the religion of Abraham and they are not synonymous!  Moses makes this clear by disdaining the commandment of circumcision (see the story of Tsiporah and the story of Joshua).


Before going deeper into the analysis, let us ask the next question: "what is the proper way to pronounce the Name YHWH?"  This is an important question and if left up the decision of the Cohanic Priests, one that will not be disclosed until they can control the religious practices of the Temple once again.  So evidently YHWH appoints Levites to secure the truth and resurrect the hidden faith of the Jewish people.  This is as it should be.  


For those reading this and who do not know much Hebrew, let me make it clear that only the consonants are written in the Torah, not the vowels.  So by looking at the word YHWH, we cannot ascertain with certainty how it was pronounced.  On the surface, a few possibilities arise from playing with the letters and adding vowels.  YeHoWaH is one way that is commonly assumed to be the pronunciation and this in fact has been the Jewish traditional way of looking at this.  The transliteration Jehovah reflects this tradition.  Adonai is seen as a hint towards the vowelization of YHWH.  Semi vowel, o, and a (the i is really a consonant Y which is really a semi-vowel and this is the next point to be made in this study).


Another way of vowelizing YHWH is YaHWeH.  This is the tradition in Israel kept alive and accurate by the testimony of the Samaritan Priests of the northern kingdom, namely Israel which was called Samaria.  By asking Samaritan Priests (myself and) scholars ascertain the tradition in the North.  


So was Yahweh ever used in the South, in Judea?  Probably not.  This we can fairly well ascertain because Judeans loved to integrate parts of the Name of Yehowah in their names.  This tradition goes back to the earliest times as Joshua's full name in Hebrew was Yeho-Shua, YHWH will save.  Yehowah and Yahuwah may have been alternate forms and Yahu is a popular suffix in personal names in Ancient Israel.  YirmeYAHU, means Yehowah will raise up, the name of Jeremiah.  EliYAHU, the full name of Elijah, and there are many more examples of both the Yeho prefix and the Yahu suffix in Israel.  There is no reason to assume that only one way of pronunciation was prevalent when the Name was in the mouths of the people.  It is only a priestly issue to worry about the one and only exclusive proper way of pronouncing YHWH's Name.


This shortening of YeHoWaH into YeHo produced another even shorter version Yo and this is evident in the name Joel, i.e. Yo-El, meaning Yo is God, i.e. Yehowah is God.  Another popularized very short form is YaH as in the short form of the name Elijah, i.e. Eli Yah, i.e. my God is Yah!   However, it is very possible that YaH is also a separate Holy Name that was used very early in Israel and kept alive only by the Levites in the Psalms and by Isaiah, the prophet most closely aligned with the Psalms.  Also note that Yesha-Yahu, Isaiah in Hebrew, means Yahu's salvation, another short form of Yehowah or Yahuwah.


OK, so this explains the different traditions and variations in the pronunciation of Yahweh's Name, but if Yahweh is a verb (note that God is a noun, this was the brilliant revelation of Moshe Rabeinu, that Yahweh is a verb), what does it mean?  Before I offer some possible translations, allow me to preface with the main point here, and that is, in addition to our global, national, clan consciousness, the "WE consciousness," the Torah as revealed to Moshe is to announce the "I consciousness" which we in the West have assumed without the Name of Yahweh and without seeing this Name in Jesus' name, and therefore we have gone off the mark of this profound teaching, the original revelation of Moshe.  These two consciousnesses live together in tension that if in balance leads to harmony and the opposite when out of balance.


The gift of the personal consciousness, the religion of the individual is bound up with the relationship of the individual to YHWH.  In other words, the Priests can only inform us about our group consciousness of the Divine YHWH.  It is only the Levites who can inform us of our individual relationship with YHWH.   YHWH is not the object, the transcendent, the far-removed, or the objectify-able.  I, as an alive being in relationship with the Divine, am talking to YHWH and being communicated to by YHWH all the time.  It is the mediation of the Holy Spirit, YaH, which makes this possible for mere humans.  Love is the essential component in this relationship (You will love YHWH your God with all your heart, and with all your being, and with all your intensity) and (YHWH has love us with no expectation in return).   And as with someone I love, I may create substitute names of endearment such as pumpkin or sweety, so we are encouraged to create names of endearment for YHWH


However, we cannot forget that just like a woman has multiple roles (mother, daughter, sister, wife, real estate agent, activist and so on), so YHWH is complex and relates to us through multiple roles, facets, aspects, faces.  And as a person's relationship will depend on conscious awareness of our needs, our partners' needs, their low and high points, our low and high points, our responsibility and the Divine Promise, we are in a complex relationship with YWHW who is NOT God, or The God, but in the present, in active relationship with each of us simultaneously and together.


So, now that we understand the faith of Ancient Israel as taught by Moshe Rabeinu but highjacked by the Priests and Pharisees throughout the ages, we can attempt to understand the verbal form that YHWH most certainly is.   The pronunciation of YaHWeH is actually easier to understand because the verb form is more recognizable.  As YaR-eH is the future tense of a causative tense of the verb R-H where the dash is an Aleph, it means he will show as compared to YiR-eH, meaning he will see.  Taking the major occurrence of the verbal form HoWeH which is used in modern Hebrew to mean the present tense, it meant that the Hand of God is manifest in your cattle, in this sense in a negative way to make them die.  So YaHWeH is the causative tense of the verb to manifest, that God is the cause of all that manifests.  It can also be read as the continuous causative tense, meaning that God continually causes the world to manifest. 


The pronunciation of YHWH as Yehowah is more popularly know through the rendition Jehovah.  In Germanic languages the J is equivalent to a Y sound.  And the Vav is a Waw in Yemenite Hebrew and was probably the correct pronunciation in Ancient Judean Hebrew.   This is a much more complex form than Yahweh which is more easily deciphered as a verb.  Yehowah seems like a verbal noun, a gerund form of the verb to be HOWEH.  On the other hand, it has a noun like format such as the word Menorah (light holder or giver) coming from the root NeR (light).  If this is correct, and we may never know for sure, Yehowah would mean something like, The One Giving Life, or may "The Existing."   What is most probably is that this was the way the Holy Name, the Four Letter Name of YHWH, was pronounced in the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. 


How can we say this with any degree of confidence?  Especially in light of the certainty that in the North (Israel) the Holy Name was pronounced Yahweh (at least since the latter days of the Second Temple)?  The key is in the strong custom in Ancient Judea to create personal names using the Holy Names.  When El was commonly used as a Name of God, names such as ShemuEL (His Name is EL), GavriEL (Might of EL), NethanEL (Gift of EL), AriEL (Lion of EL), etc. were used.  YaH, the Two Letter Name of YHWH, was used as well in personal names as was YAHU(WAH) or YEHO(WAH).  So in the Bible there are personal names such as NeriYAH (My light is Yah) or NeriYAHU (and they seemed to be interchangeable).  EliYAH (my God is Yah) or EliYAHU.  Also ShemarYAH(u) (Yah has protected), NethanYAH(u) (Gift of Yah), GedalYAH(u) (Yah has caused greatness). 


The YEHO(wah) affix is very common as well.  YEHOshua (Joshua or Yehowah's Salvation) and YEHOnathan (Jonathan or Yehowah's Gift) and YEHOnadav (Jonadab or Yehowah's Freewill Gift) are well know examples of this Israelite and Judaean custom to use the HOLY NAME as part of everyday personal names so that the Mosaic commandment to remember and assure the verbal name of YHWH was upheld in Israel.  


Copyright information:

Translations of the above Tanach verses are all by Rabbi Monty Eliasov.  A History of the Name of YHWH  --  Updated October 30, 2008  --  PART I

  The Twelve Tribe Torah Institute, Inc.   Version 1.06

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