Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Name of God, Pt. 3: Ineffable?


This is another good article by Micha'el on the name of G-d. Enjoy!

Blessings in Messiah

The Name of God, Pt. 3: Ineffable?

When I was growing up, I was told that the Name of God is ineffable--that is, unpronounceable--due to being written without any vowels. Of course, what the person telling me this didn't say (and probably didn't know) was that much of written Hebrew lacks vowels. That is to say, the vowels are inferred by the reader. The result is much the same as the way some people today write English in shorthand; for example:

My name is Michael, and I live in Atlanta.

My nm s Mchl, nd I lv n 'Tlnth.

More difficult to read, certainly, but hardly unpronounceable--though there might arise a debate about whether "Mchl" should be pronounced Michael, Machil, Mochul, etc. One might also debate whether the "y" in "my" is meant as a vowel (as indeed it is) or a consonant, so that the first word of the sentence could be rendered my, may, mya, etc.

The Masorites added vowel-marks to the text of the Tanakh in order to provide guides for those less familiar with the Biblical text than a native-born Hebrew speaker who grew up hearing the text read aloud, for which we owe them a tremendous thank-you. (However, it should be noted that because the vowel-marks are a late addition, as indeed are the spaces between the letters, we have to be careful in how we lean upon them.)

In any case, this shows that the lack of vowels would not make it impossible to correctly pronounce a word. Moreover, many Hebrew letters can be either a consonant or a vowel, and this is the case with all of the letters of the Name YHVH.

yod = either a y or an i
heh = a small breath, just like the name of the letter
vav = either a v (consonant) or a u or o (vowel)

We can be certain that the popular English pronunciation Jehovah is not correct. First of all, the yod is never pronounced like an English j. Secondly, this pronunciation came about because of the custom of substituting Adonai (Master, or Lord) for YHVH when reading the text aloud--the Masoretic scribes inserted the vowel-marks for Adonai (a-o-e) into the letters of YHVH, which resulted in an amalgamation of the two (YaHoVeH). Thirdly, Yahoveh in Hebrew would be broken into Yah and hoveh; the latter word means "a ruin" and "disaster" (Strong's #1943)--in other words, it's like saying "Yah is a ruin and disaster"!

The two most likely and popular pronunciations are Yahweh and Yahveh, the main point of contention being whether the vav should be pronounced as a consonant and a vowel. Proponents of the former view lean on Josephus, who stated that the Name written on the High Priest's turban was comprised of "four vowels" (Wars. 5:5:7, ref. Exo. 28:36-37). The early Church fathers seem to have preferred this reading:

It was in connection with magic that the Tetragrammaton was introduced into the magic papyri and, in all probability, into the writings of the Church Fathers, these two sources containing the following forms, written in Greek letters: (1) "Iaoouee," "Iaoue," "Iabe,"; (2) "Iao," "Iaho," "Iae"; (3) "Aia"; (4) "Ia." It is evident that (1) represents , (2) , (3) , and (4) . The three forms quoted under (1) are merely three ways of writing the same word, though "Iabe" is designated as the Samaritan pronunciation. (The Jewish Encyclopedia, Tetragrammaton)

The Samaritan pronunciation, mentioned above, favors the pronunciation as Yahveh, as a b-sound may be easily derived from an original v-sound. It has the advantage of having come from an area geographically and linguistically close to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the bulk of the early testimony and scholarly study is on the side of Yahweh. I myself am not 100% sure, though I tend to use Yahveh right now, with the slightest of skips, not quite a breath, on the first heh, making it Yah'veh. (A good friend has told me that his uncle, who is a native Aramaic speaker, also pronounces the first heh, saying, "The heh is the breath of life; it should be pronounced!")

This study has, of course, been extremely brief. Those readers interested in a more in-depth study will find a longer article and a link to an e-book here. I don't agree with all of its conclusions, but the chapters dealing with the pronunciation of the Name were of immense interest and help to me.

A final caveat, which has already been said, but bears repeating: We have to walk a tightrope here. We want God's Name to be known and used in proper reverence, but we never want it to become common. Nor do we want it to be a stumbling block for anyone. For this reason, Beth HaMashiach uses the traditional circumlocution ADONAI in prayer and liturgy, and even omits the vowels from L-rd and G-d, lest a Jewish visitor think we are being too light with the Name.

But at the same time, let us remember to bless the Name of YHVH.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Names of God, Pt. 2: The Reverence of God's Name


The 2nd part of Michaels article on the name of G-d.

The Names of God, Pt. 2: The Reverence of God's Name
If the Scriptures command us to "publish the name of YHVH," how then did the custom of avoiding it come about? It was not through some priestly conspiracy, as I've seen some suggest, but out of a deep sense of reverence.

First, let's step back from the speaking of God's Name to the writing of it. Why is it many observant Jews even refrain from writing "Lord" and "God," but render them "L-rd" and "G-d" instead? (I've even seen a few Messianics take this to an extreme, writing "M-ss--h" instead of Messiah.)

The answer is found in Deu. 12:2-4:

Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. Ye shall not do so unto YHVH your God.

To understand why a Jew will not write the Name, or even a title, of God, you have to look at this passage like a rabbi. Remember that the rabbis both seek to keep the most literal interpretation of a command possible as well as observe its drash. For example, when an Orthodox Jew wears teffilin (phylacteries) in prayer, it's to keep the command to wear God's Word on his hand and between his eyes literally (Deu. 6:8). Therefore, when they see a command to destroy the names of the pagan gods, but not to do the same to the Name of YHVH, the observant Jew likewise takes that command very literally. If you write YHVH--or indeed, any Name or title belonging to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--on a piece of paper, and then either erase the Name or allow the paper to be destroyed, to the Jew you are destroying the Name of God.

What then of speaking the Name of God? Forbidding this practice came out of two separate issues. The first is the command that he who blasphemes (slanders) the Name of YHVH must be put to death (Lev. 24:16). Again, think like a rabbi: The noblest pursuit in their minds is to put a fence around the Torah--that is, to erect commands beyond what the Torah commands so that one will not accidentally sin. For example, to create a specified "Sabbath's day journey" that one isn't supposed to walk beyond (about half a mile). If one were forced to walk just a little more than the prescribed journey, one wouldn't have sinned against the Sabbath by working. The same principle applies here: The simplest way to avoid accidentally blaspheming the Name is to avoid using it altogether.

The second issue is that the pagans in the first century (and the neo-pagans of today) used the names of their gods in magical rites, and the Jews didn't want them to use YHVH's Name the same way. This is why, for example, the book of Esther only contains the Name in four hidden acrostics, and then only in the original Hebrew: It was a safeguard against the Persians, among whom the book was published (likely in their own language) learning and misusing God's Name.

This resulted in an increasing sacredness in the use of the Name of YHVH. First, it was restricted from common use, with one substituting Adonai (Lord), Avinu (Our Father) and other circumlocutions instead. By about two centuries before Yeshua's birth, this practice had been enshrined in what some call the ineffable (Unspeakable) Name doctrine. The use of the Name became restricted to the priests, and then to the Cohen HaGadol (the High Priest), and then only on Yom Kippur. Edersheim notes that where once the practice was to say the Name aloud on Yom Kippur, when it became known that the Name was being used for magic, the Cohen HaGadol began muttering it under his breath, until the very pronunciation was lost from the common mind.

In my previous entry, I showed that the Bible does actually command us to make YHVH's Name known. This of course means more than just the syllables--it means His reputation, His honor, who He is--but it includes the syllables. But now I'm going to issue a caution: Yeshua and His Apostles were very careful about using YHVH's Name. Yeshua most commonly referred to Him as "My Father," and the NT uses Kurios (Lord) and Theos (God) rather than transliterating YHVH into Greek. Therefore, we too should exercise the greatest of caution in actually speaking God's Name, doing so only in worship, prayer, instruction, or another reverent context.

We want God's Name to be known, not for it to become common.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Names of God, Pt. 1: Can We Speak God's Name?


Michael wrote this excellent article on the name of G-d.

The Names of God, Pt. 1: Can We Speak God's Name?
This is a piece I've meant to do for a while, and it seems apropos to do it now as a follow-up to talking about the names we use for ourselves.

By now, readers may have noticed my tendency to use the KJV, but to usually replace "Jesus" with "Yeshua" and sometimes replace "the LORD" with "YHVH." The reason I prefer Yeshua to Jesus is very simple: First, it emphasizes His Jewishness. Second, "Yeshua" means "Salvation" in Hebrew, and the longer form, "Y'hoshua," means "Yah is Salvation." "Jesus" doesn't carry that meaning--or any meaning, for that matter--in any language, and I want to preserve the importance of the Messiah's Name. Thirdly, while there is nothing wrong, per se, with saying "Jesus"--God knows your heart, and He knows whose Name you're praying in--it's not a particularly good transliteration of our Master's Name either, having gone from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to German before reaching it's English form.

What about the proper Name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as He revealed it to Moshe, Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh (hereafter rendered as YHVH)? Should it be used, and if so, how should it be pronounced?

The Jewish tradition is to never pronounce the Tetragramaton--or rather, that only the High Priest may say it, and only then on Yom Kippur. I'll go into the origin of that tradition another time. For now, suffice to say that when a person reading from the Tanakh came to the Name, he would substitute "ADONAI" (Heb. for "Lord"), which is where our own custom of writing "the LORD" in place of God's Name in our English translations comes from. Some translations of the Tanakh, recognizing the link between YHVH and God's declaration to Moshe, "I AM that I AM" ("Ehyeh asher Ehyeh"), use "the Eternal" instead.

Interestingly, over time ADONAI became too holy to be used in anything but direct reading from the Scripture, and HaShem (the Name) was substituted instead. One wonders what will have to be substituted when HaShem becomes too holy. My siddur (Jewish prayer book) uses a double-yod in place of God's Name rather than write YHVH, Adonai, or HaShem.

But is there any Biblical basis for eschewing the Name of God? None at all. YHVH appears 6519 times in the Tanakh--many of them direct quotes from human beings. For example, shortly after the fall, Havah (Eve) says upon the birth of her son Cain, "I have gotten a man from YHVH" (Gen. 4:1). Moshe continually told Israel, "This is what YHVH has commanded . . ." David used YHVH's Name reapeatedly in his Psalms, which were meant to be sung aloud.

No, clearly Scripture permits saying God's proper Name, YHVH, provided that we do so with reverence. It is something greatly to be lamented, then, that both the Jewish and Christian communities have eschewed using it almost to the point of destroying it from history altogether.

I don't think that there's anything wrong with saying "God" and "the Lord" (any more than there was anything wrong with the Apostles writing "Theos" and "Kurios" in the NT) out of a sense of reverence. (For that matter, while I do not join in the custom, I have no problem with those who omit the vowels of L-rd and G-d for the sake of reverence.) My concern is that those terms have become so generalized today that one can never tell if someone means "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" when they say "God," or if they mean Allah, the Brahman, a deist god, or what. Many Christians sidestep this potential confusion or inaccuracy by saying "Jesus," but that risks confusing the Trinity. I would that we knew for certain how to pronounce YHVH and would do so--with all reverence and awe--even if there were no other reason.

Moreover, I think Scripture encourages, if not commands us, to make God's Name known:

Deuteronomy 32:3-4
Because I will publish the name of YHVH: ascribe ye greatness unto our God.

2 Samuel 22:50
Therefore I will give thanks unto thee, O YHVH, among the heathen, and I will sing praises unto thy name.

Psalm 34:3
O magnify YHVH with me, and let us exalt his name together.

Over the next few articles, I'm going to discuss how the practice of never saying YHVH came about, whether we know the pronounciation today, and how we should avoid misusig it. Until then,