Friday, September 08, 2006

The Ineffable Tetragrammaton*

The four-letter name of the Israelite Deity, called the "Tetragrammaton," was, to all appearances, once pronounced freely. Over the centuries, however, it has become shielded by many degrees of what scholars creatively call "Tetragrammaton avoidance." When the Bible was translate into Greek around the beginning of the common era, the translators substituted the word κυριοs, "Lord," for the Divine Name. By the time the biblical text was fully vocalized, the Tetragrammaton had been replaced by the Hebrew word for "Lord," adonay, in liturgical readings. To indicate the correct reading of the Divine name, the Tetragrammaton was written with the vowels of adonay (yielding the erroneous transliteration "Jehovah"). More recently, Jews began to avoid even adonay in non-liturgical contexts, substituting euphemisms such as hashem ("the Name"). The Tetragrammaton is also avoided in writing. An early substitute consisted of two yods (the first and third letters of the Tetragrammaton). That, however, was too close to the original for comfort, so today, the letter hay, representing "Hashem," is a more prevalent choice. The very pious will avoid even hay, since it is one of the letters of the Tetragrammaton, preferring dalet, the letter preceding hay in the Hebrew alphabet. Sometimes, even non-Hebrew names of God are regarded as too sacred to be written. Many Jews substitute "G-d" for "God;" DH has even seen "Hash-m."

At this point, no one really knows how the Tetragrammaton was originally pronounced, although scholars have their (highly speculative) theories. There is, however, a conventional pronunciation used in academic circles, based on what one might call an educated guess. This places scholars with traditional Jewish leanings in an awkward position. There are times when using a proper name for the Deity is warranted, and departing from the convention to use circumlocutions or alternative euphemisms can be extremely distracting. One Jewish scholar of my acquaintance pronounces the Tetragrammaton on the grounds that he is certain that the conventional pronunciation is incorrect. Another occasionally uses "Hashem" at the risk of sounding unscholarly; a third is reputed to have said, "I'll just call him Jimmy."

I have yet to come up with a personal solution, and this has, on occasion, resulted in considerable awkwardness. Once, I was asked about a book with the Tetragrammaton in the title, and I stood there, dumbly, as though I couldn't remember it. Recently, I became so frustrated at my inability to communicate that I abandoned my principles and pronounced the Divine Name. Later, I reassured myself, noting that I hadn't articulated the medial hay, and in any case, I didn't see how the final vowel could possibly be a long /e/, and even if was, it would have been pronounced as short /i/ when the Name was actually used, etc.

All of this, of course, entirely misses the point. "Tetragrammaton avoidance" is supposed to be about regarding the Deity with a certain degree of reverence -- something that biblical scholars and aspiring scholars rarely do. Most of us are religious in some sense, but at some point, tearing the Bible to shreds and attempting to reconstruct the vowels of the Tetragrammaton does take its toll. The sense of mysterium tremendum so essential to religion inevitably begins to dissipate. Then, when we need it -- say, on the Jewish Days of Awe -- it is ever so difficult to recapture.

* DH thinks that this would be a good name for a rock band.


Tim said...

Of course the Holy One told Moses that the name was "Will Be", so perhaps friends just say "Will" ;-)

elf said...

I like that! (Of course, it presumes that the prefixed form is functioning as the future tense.)

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I pronounce it as a voiceless palatal fricative with lip-rounding. :-)


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what the problem with the long /e/ is. The collapse of the tripthong /ayu/ in Proto-Hebrew would have yielded long /e/. The short /e/ of the prefix conjugation for III-weak roots in the Masoretic text is the result of a later shift of final long /e/ to short /e/ under the stress. The scholarly convention assumes that this second development post-dated Israel's formative period. It's widespread use, as opposed to a more Masoretic form, smacks of the specter of German Protestantism.

elf said...

Steg said:

I pronounce it as a voiceless palatal fricative with lip-rounding.

Do people ever try to do the Heimlich Maneuver on you when you do that? I probably would.

anonymous said:

The collapse of the tripthong /ayu/ in Proto-Hebrew would have yielded long /e/.

That's what it is! You just explained a couple of final hay matres that I was puzzling over.

It's widespread use, as opposed to a more Masoretic form, smacks of the specter of German Protestantism.

Hmm, I think I know who you are.

Anonymous said...

a third is reputed to have said, "I'll just call him Jimmy."

When I was at the University of Chicago for undergrad, one of the Occ Civ professors decided to refer to the Trinity as "Rover" for convenience...

elf said...

Rover? Am I missing something, or is that just silliness (like "Jimmy")?

Evangelist Edi Nachman said...

In the Mishna it stands written: Because of the minim it was ordained that a man should greet his brother with the name. Although i am not a Jew i think this mishnaic ordinance is very wise. I prnounce the name Yahwah or Yahuwah, in accordnace with the way the Holy Spirit showed me during, I think pesach to pentecost 2000.
Listen to the mishna and begin to speak to your brother as Boaz to his harvesters "Yahwah imakem" or at the least when you praise Yahwah in the Psalms call him like King David did. It is really a great blessing to be able to call G-d by the name he told us to use. And the blessedness, protection and peace which come from the use of the strong tower is most refreshing.

Anonymous said...


Open above link to see Hebrew tetragrammaton symbol then view upside down

ﷲ (Arabic)
الله (Arabic)

The 99 Holy Names and Attributes of Allah Almighty:

Al-Ilaah (The Deity)
Ar-Rabb (The Lord)
Al-Waahid (The One)
Al-Ahad (The Singular)
As-Samad (The Self-Sufficient)
Al-Hakeem (The All-wise)
Al-Haleem (The Most Forebearing)
Ar-Rahmaan (The Most Beneficent)
Ar-Raheem (The Most Merciful)
Al-Barr (The Generous)
Al-Kareem (The Kind )
Al-Jawwaad (The Bestower of Good )
Ar-Ra`oof (The Kind )
Al-Wahhaab (The Bestower)
Al-Hameed (The One who is Praised)
Al-Afuww (The Forgiving)
Al-Ghafoor (The Forgiving)
Al-Ghaffaar (The All Forgiving)
At-Tawwaab (The Oft-returning)
Al-Quddoos (The Holly)
As-Salaam (The Peace)
Al-Alee (The High)
al-A`laa (The Highest)
Al-Muta’aal (The Exalted)
Al-Mannaan (The Bestower)
Al-Jabbaar (The Compeller)
Al-Mutakabbir (The Suprime)
Al-Khaaliq (The Creator)
Al-Baari’ (The Originator)
Al-Musawwir (The Shaper)
Al-Mu’min (The giver of Security)
Al-Muhaymin (The Everwaching)
Al-Qadeer (All Powerful,The Able)
Al-Lateef (The Most Subtle,The Kind)
Al-Haseeb (The Reckoner)
Ar-Raqeeb (The All-wacher)
Al-Hafeedh (The Guardian)
Al-Muheet (The Encompassing)
Al-Qahhaar (The Subduer)
Al-Qaahir (The Irresistible)
Al-Muqeet (The Powerful)
Al-Wakeel (The Disposer of Affairs, The One Who is Relied Upon)
Al-Wudood (The Loving)
Al-Fattaah (The Judge, The Opener)
Al-Malik (The King )
Al-Maalik (The Master & Owner )
Alladhee Lahu Al-Mulk
(The One to whome belongs the Dominion)
Ar-Razzaaq (The Provider)
Al-Hakam (The Judge)
Al-Adl (The Just)
Jaami`un Naas (The Gatherer of Mankind)
Al-Hayy (The Living)
Al-Qayyum (The Sustainer)
An-Nur (The Light)
Al-Qaabid (The Taker)
Al-Baasit (The Extender)
Ash-Shaheed (The Witness)
Al-Mubdi` (The Starter)
Al-Mu’eed (The Recaller,The One Who Repeats Creation)
Al-Fa`aalul Limaa Yureed
(The One Who Does What He Wills)
Al-Ghanee (The Self Sufficient, The Rich)
Al-Mughnee (The Sufficient)
Al-Mubeen (The Clear)
Ash-Shaakir (The Recognizer & Rewarder of Good)
Ash-Shakoor (The Appreciative)
Al-Qareeb (The Close)
Al-Mujeeb (The Answerer)
Al-Kaafee (The Sufficient)
Al-Awwal (The First)
Al-Aakhir (The Last)
Adh-Dhaahir (The Manifest)
Al-Baatin (The Inward)
Al-Waasi'` (The Vast)
Al-Haadee (The Director)
Ar-Rasheed (The Guide)
Al-Haqq (The Truth)
Al-Atheem (The Most Magnificent)
Al-Majeed (The Most Glorious)
Al-Kabeer (The Most Great)
As-Samee’ (The All Hearing)
Al-Baseer (The All Seeing)
Al-‘Aleem (The All Knowing)
Al-Khabeer (The All Aware)
Al-Azeez (The Mighty)
Al-Muqtadir (The Omnipotent)
Al-Qawiyy (The Most Powerful)
Al-Mateen (The Most Strong)
Al-‘Afuw (The Oft-Pardoning)
Al-Ghafoor (The Oft-Forgiving)
Al-Ghaffaar (The Most Forgiving)
Badee’us Samaa Wati Wal-Ard ("The Originating Creator" of the Heavens & The Earth)
Al-Kaafi (The Sufficient)
Al-Waasi’ (The Vast, Extending, A Bounding, Far Reaching, All Sufficient)
Al-Jameel (The Beautiful)
Ar-Rafeeq (The Gentle)
Al-Hayee (The Shy)
As-Sitteer (The Coverer)
Al-Qaabid (The Constrictor)
Al-Baasit (The Munificent)
Al-M’utee (The Giver)
Al-Maani` (The Preventer)


Terrorist School Teacher Arrested, as reported first onCNN

NEW YORK- A public school teacher was arrested today at John F. Kennedy
International Airport as he attempted to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule and a calculator.

At a morning press conference, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said he believes the man is member of the notorious Al-gebra movement. He did not identify the man, who has been charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of mathinstruction.

"Al-gebra is a problem for us," Gonzalez said. "They desire solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in search of absolute value. They use secret code names like 'x' and 'y' and refer to themselves as 'unknowns', but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country. As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, "There are 3 sides to every triangle."

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God
had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have
given us more fingers and toes."
(MUHAMMAD IN THE BIBLE),,31200-galloway_060806,00.html

Gail said...

Let's all do as He said, and make His name known throughout all the earth! What's His name? YHWH! How do you pronounce it? Ask Him...He knows how He wants His name said, and He will tell you, if you really want to know because you love Him. He will answer.

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