Yahweh, modern reconstruction of YHWH, the ancient Hebrew ineffable name for God. Other forms are Jah, Jahve, Jahveh, Jahweh, Jehovah, Yahve, Yahveh, and Yahwe.

For information about Yahweh, see God in Abrahamic religions, which provides useful links.

Yahweh is an English transliteration of יַהְוֶה a 19th century proposed punctuation of יהוה (the Tetragrammaton), which is the distinctive personal name of the God of Israel as it occurs in the consonantal Hebrew Text.

While by convention יַהְוֶה can be found listed in Hebrew Lexicons, as being God's name, no one knows for sure if Yahweh accurately represents the original pronunciation of יהוה.

Traditionally, observant Jews do not voice the name יהוה aloud. It is believed to be too sacred to be uttered and is often referred to as the 'Ineffable Name', the 'Unutterable Name' or the 'Distinctive Name'. They often use circumlocutions when referring to the name of the Deity, e.g., HaShem ("The Name") or Shem HaMeforash (“the ineffable Name”) when reading the Tanakh aloud because the Name of God must not be spoken. Reverence is shown because it is God's Name and it is believed that this pre-empts ever misusing the name. "Adonai" is spoken only in prayer, and YHVH is only written on paper that will not be thrown away or discarded. Adding vowels to the Name of the Lord is an insult to some Jews because the point is that it cannot be spoken because it is God's Name (to be). To avoid spelling the divine name, observant Jews may alter the letters in Hebrew as well as English, e.g., YKVK.

Various proposals exist for the vocalization of יהוה. Current opinion is יַהְוֶה (that is, Yahweh). The Yah part seems fairly certain, as attested by Hebrew theophoric names ending in -ia(h) or -yahu. Early Christian literature written in Greek used spellings like Ιαβε that can be transcribed by 'Yahweh'. Although contention still exists today many scholars accept this proposal.

Pronunciation of the Name

Although the term "Jehovah" was widely known for approximately four centuries, the term originated from a corruption of foreign vowels points which were attached to the Tetragrammaton by scribes. The vowel points were selected from the word "Adonai". J.B. Rotherham, in the Emphasized Bible, said: "From this we may gather that the Jewish scribes are not responsible for this 'hybrid' combination. They intentionally wrote alien vowels – not for combination with the sacred consonants, but for the purpose of cautioning the Jewish reader to enunciate a totally different word, viz., some other familiar name of the Most High

Various proposals exist for what the vowels of יהוה were. Current convention is יַהְוֶה, that is, "Yahweh" (). Evidence is:

  • Some Biblical theophoric names end in -ia(h) or -yahu as shortened forms of YHWH: that points to the first vowel being "a".
  • Various Early Christian Greek transcriptions of the Hebrew Divine Name seem to point to "Yahweh" or similar.
  • Samaritan priests had preserved a liturgical pronunciation of "Yahwe" or "Yahwa" (the last vowel is ambiguous) at least until 1820.

Today many scholars accept this proposal as the most accurate transliteration, based on the pronunciation conserved both by the Church Fathers and by the Samaritans.

Historical overview

During the Babylonian captivity the Hebrew language spoken by the Jews was replaced by the Aramaic language of their Babylonian captors. Aramaic was closely related to Hebrew and, while sharing many vocabulary words in common, contained some words that sounded the same or similar but had other meanings. In Aramaic, the Hebrew word for “blaspheme” used in Leviticus 24:16, “Anyone who blasphemes the name of YHWH must be put to death” began to be interpreted as “pronounce” rather than “blaspheme”. When the Jews began speaking Aramaic, this verse was (mis)understood to mean, “Anyone who pronounces the name of YHWH must be put to death.” Since then, observant Jews have maintained the custom of not pronouncing the name, but use Adonai (“my Lord”) instead. During the first few centuries AD this may have resulted in loss of traditional memory of how to pronounce the name (except among Samaritans).

The Septuagint (Greek translation) and Vulgate (Latin translation) use the word "Lord" (κύριος (kurios) and dominus, respectively).

The Masoretes added vowel points (niqqud) and cantillation marks to the manuscripts to indicate vowel usage and for use in the ritual chanting of readings from the Bible in synagogue services. To יהוה they added the vowels for "Adonai" ("My Lord"), the word to use when the text was read.

Many Jews will not even use "Adonai" except when praying, and substitute other terms, e.g. HaShem ("The Name") or the nonsense word Ado-Shem, out of fear of the potential misuse of the divine name. In written English, "G-d" is a substitute used by a minority of Christians.

Parts of the Talmud, particularly those dealing with Yom Kippur, seem to imply that the Tetragrammaton should be pronounced in several ways, with only one (not explained in the text, and apparently kept by oral tradition by the Kohen Gadol) being the personal name of God.

In late Kabbalistic works the term HWYH - הוי'ה (pronounced Havayeh) is used.

Translators often render YHWH as a word meaning "Lord", e.g. Greek Κυριος, Latin Dominus, and following that, English "the Lord", Polish Pan, Welsh Arglwydd, etc. However, all of the above are inaccurate translations of the Tetragrammaton.

Because the name was no longer pronounced and its own vowels were not written, its own pronunciation was forgotten. When Christians, unaware of the Jewish tradition, started to read the Hebrew Bible, they read יְהֹוָה as written with YHWH's consonants with Adonai's vowels, and thus said or transcribed Iehovah. Today this transcription is generally recognized as mistaken; however many religious groups continue to use the form Jehovah because it is familiar.

Using the Name in the Bible

Exodus 3:15 is used to support the use of the Name YHWH: “This is my Name forever, and this is my memorial to all generations.”. The word “forever” is “olahm” which means “time out of mind, to eternity” Many Scriptures do favour the use of the Name. The biblical law does not prohibit the use of the Name, but it warns against “misuse”, “blaspheming” or in ordinary terms, “taking lightly” the Name of YHWH. The Biblical texts suggest the people of the Bible - including the patriarchs - used the Name of YHWH. A wealth of scriptures support this notion.

Evidence from theophoric names

Yahū" or "Yehū" is a common short form for "Yahweh" in Hebrew theophoric names; as a prefix it sometimes appears as "Yehō-". This has caused two opinions:

  1. In former times (at least from c.1650 AD), that it was abbreviated from the supposed pronunciation "Yehowah", rather than "Yahweh" which contains no 'o'- or 'u'-type vowel sound in the middle.
  2. Recently, that, as "Yahweh" is likely an imperfective verb form, "Yahu" is its corresponding preterite or jussive short form: compare yiŝtahaweh (imperfective), yiŝtáhû (preterit or jussive short form) = "do obeisance".

Those who argue for (1) are the: George Wesley Buchanan in Biblical Archaeology Review; Smith’s 1863 A Dictionary of the Bible; Section # 2.1 The Analytical Hebrew & Chaldee Lexicon (1848) in its article הוה

Smith’s 1863 A Dictionary of the Bible says that "Yahweh" is possible because shortening to "Yahw" would end up as "Yahu" or similar. The Jewish Encyclopedia of 1901-1906 in the Article:Names Of God has a very similar discussion, and also gives the form Jo or Yo (יוֹ) contracted from Jeho or Yeho (יְהוֹ). The Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition (New York: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1910-11, vol. 15, pp. 312, in its article "JEHOVAH", also says that "Jeho-" or "Jo" can be explained from "Yahweh", and that the suffix "-jah" can be explained from "Yahweh" better than from "Yehowah".

Chapter 1 of The Tetragrammaton and the Christian Greek Scriptures, under the heading: The Pronunciation Of Gods Name quotes from Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, page 7: Hebrew Scholars generally favor "Yahweh" as the most likely pronunciation. They point out that the abbreviated form of the name is Yah (Jah in the Latinized form), as at Psalm 89:8 and in the expression Hallelu-Yah (meaning "Praise Yah, you people!") (Ps 104:35; 150:1,6). Also, the forms Yehoh', Yoh, Yah, and Ya'hu, found in the Hebrew spelling of the names of Jehoshaphat, Joshaphat, Shephatiah, and others, can all be derived from Yahweh. ... Still, there is by no means unanimity among scholars on the subject, some favoring yet other pronunciations, such as "Yahuwa", "Yahuah", or "Yehuah".

Using consonants as semi-vowels (v/w)

In ancient Hebrew, the letter ו, known to modern Hebrew speakers as vav, was a semivowel /w/ (as in English, not as in German) rather than a letter v. The letter is referred to as waw in the academic world. Because the ancient pronunciation differs from the modern pronunciation, it is common today to represent יהוה as YHWH rather than YHVH.

In Biblical Hebrew, most vowels are not written and the rest are written only ambiguously, as the vowel letters double as consonants (similar to the Latin use of V to indicate both U and V). See Matres lectionis for details. For similar reasons, an appearance of the Tetragrammaton in ancient Egyptian records of the 13th century BC sheds no light on the original pronunciation. Therefore it is, in general, difficult to deduce how a word is pronounced from its spelling only, and the Tetragrammaton is a particular example: two of its letters can serve as vowels, and two are vocalic place-holders, which are not pronounced.

This difficulty occurs somewhat also in Greek when transcribing Hebrew words, because of Greek's lack of a letter for consonant 'y' and (since loss of the digamma) of a letter for "w", forcing the Hebrew consonants yod and waw to be transcribed into Greek as vowels. Also, non-initial 'h' caused difficulty for Greeks and was liable to be omitted; х (chi) was pronounced as 'k' + 'h' (as in modern Hindi "lakh") and could not be used to spell 'h' as in e.g. Modern Greek Χάρρι = "Harry".

Y or J?

The English practice of transliterating the Biblical Hebrew Yodh as "j" and pronouncing it "dzh" (/dʒ/) started when, in late Latin, the pronunciation of consonantal "i" changed from "y" to "dzh" but continued to be spelled "i", bringing along with it Latin transcriptions and spoken renderings of biblical and other foreign words and names.

A direct rendering of the Hebrew yod would be "y" in English. However, most transliterations of the biblical Hebrew texts represent the Hebrew 'yod' by using the English letter 'J'. This letter, and the accompanying 'J' sound/pronunciation is clearly evident in anglicized versions of Hebrew proper nouns, i.e. names such as Jesus*, Jeremiah, Joshua**, Judah, Job, Jerusalem, Jehoshaphat, and Jehovah. Although it can be argued that the 'Y' form is more correct i.e. more like the Jewish/Hebrew pronunciations, in the English-speaking world, this 'J' form for such Bible names is now the norm and has been so for centuries.

The letters "J""V" and “I” “U” relates back to 1565 wherein a Parisien printer (Gille Beyes) changed 'J' and ‘V’ from indistinct vowels into consonants. In the Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, we find that the J sound as we now know it has only been in the English language since the 1700s, prior to this, the J was a capital I. Some centre column references in the Bible affirm this.

[* **] - In Hebrew, both these names can be pronounced as “Yahshua” according to Solomon Zeitlin The Assemblies of Yahweh use the Hebrew name Yahshua, instead of the Greek, Latinized "Jesus".

Kethib and Qere and Qere perpetuum

The original consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible was provided with vowel marks by the Masoretes to assist reading. In places where the consonants of the text to be read (the Qere) differed from the consonants of the written text (the Kethib), they wrote the Qere in the margin as a note showing what was to be read. In such a case the vowels of the Qere were written on the Kethib. For a few very frequent words the marginal note was omitted: this is called Q're perpetuum.

One of these frequent cases was God's name, that should not be pronounced, but read as "Adonai" ("My Lord [plural of majesty]"), or, if the previous or next word already was "Adonai", or "Adoni" ("My Lord"), as "Elohim" ("God"). This combination produces יְהֹוָה and יֱהֹוִה respectively, non-words that would spell "yehovah" and "yehovih" respectively.

The oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, such as the Aleppo Codex and the Codex Leningradensis mostly write יְהוָה (yehvah), with no pointing on the first H; this points to its Qere being 'Shema', which is Aramaic for "the Name".

Gerard Gertoux wrote that in the Leningrad Codex of 1008-1010, the Masoretes used 7 different vowel pointings [i.e. 7 different Q're's] for YHWH.


Later, Christian Europeans who did not know about the Q're perpetuum custom took these spellings at face value, producing the form "Jehovah" and spelling variants of it. The Catholic Encyclopedia [1913, Vol. VIII, p. 329] states: “Jehovah (Yahweh), the proper name of God in the Old Testament." Had they known about the Q're perpetuum, the term "Jehovah" may have never come in to being. For more information, see the page Jehovah. Alternatively, most scholars recognise Jehovah to be “grammatically impossible” Jewish Encyclopedia, [Vol VII, p. 8].

Frequency of use in scripture

According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon, יְהֹוָה (Qr אֲדֹנָי) occurs 6518 times, and יֱהֹוִה (Qr אֱלֹהִים) occurs 305 times in the Masoretic Text. Since the scribes admit removing it at least 134 different times and inserting Adonai, we may conclude that the four letter Name יהוה appeared about 7,000 times.

It appears 6,823 times in the Jewish Bible, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, and 6,828 times each in the Biblia Hebraica and Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia texts of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The vocalizations of יְהֹוָה and אֲדֹנָי are not identical

The "simple shewa" (the 'e') in Yehovah (that is, the schwa vowel, otherwise written as an upside-down 'e') and the "hatef patah" (short a) in Adonay are not identical. Two reasons have been suggested for this:

  • A spelling "Yahovah" causes a risk that a reader might start reading "Yah", which is a form of the Name, and the first half of the full Name.
  • The two are not really different: both short vowels, shva and hatef-patah, were allophones of the same phoneme used in different situations. Adonai uses the "hatef patah" because of the glottal nature of its first consonant aleph (the glottal stop), but the first consonant of YHWH is yodh, which is not glottal, and so uses the vowel shva.

Evidence from very old scrolls

The discovery of the Qumran scrolls has added support to some parts of this position. These scrolls are unvocalized, showing that the position of those who claim that the vowel marks were already written by the original authors of the text is untenable. Many of these scrolls write (only) the tetragrammaton in paleo-Hebrew script, showing that the Name was treated specially. See this link

As said above, the Aleppo and Leningrad codices do not use the holem (o) in their vocalization, or only in very few instances, so that the (systematic) spelling "Yehovah" is more recent than about 1000 A.D. or from a different tradition.
From the article: "Most scholars acknowledge that the Tetragrammaton was probably pronounced as Yahweh."

Original pronunciation

The main approaches in modern attempts to determine a pronunciation of יהוה have been study of the Hebrew Bible text, study of theophoric names and study of early Christian Greek texts that contain reports about the pronunciation. Evidence from Semitic philology and archeology has been tried, resulting in a "scholarly convention to pronounce יהוה as Yahweh".

The text in the Codex Leningrad B 19A, 1008 A.D, shows יהוה with various different vowel points, indicating that the name was to be read as Yehwah', Yehwih, and a number of times as Yehowah, as in Genesis 3:15

Delitzsch prefers "יַהֲוָה" (yahavah) since he considered the shwa quiescens below ה ungrammatical.

In his 1863 "A Dictionary of the Bible", William Smith prefers the form "יַהֲוֶה" (yahaveh). Many other variations have been proposed.

However, Gesenius' proposal gradually became accepted as the best scholarly reconstructed vocalized Hebrew spelling of the Tetragrammaton.

Early Greek and Latin forms

The writings of the Church Fathers contain several references to God's name in Greek or Latin. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907)] and B.D. Eerdmans:

  • Diodorus Siculus writes Ἰαῶ (Iao);
  • Irenaeus reports that the Gnostics formed a compound Ἰαωθ (Iaoth) with the last syllable of Sabaoth. He also reports that the Valentinian heretics use Ἰαῶ (Iao);
  • Clement of Alexandria writes Ἰαοὺ (Iaou) - see also below;
  • Origen of Alexandria, Iao;
  • Porphyry, Ἰευώ (Ieuo);
  • Epiphanius (d. 404), who was born in Palestine and spent a considerable part of his life there, gives Ia and Iabe (one codex Iaue);
  • Pseudo-Jerome, tetragrammaton legi potest Iaho;
  • Theodoret (d. c. 457) writes Ἰάω (Iao); he also reports that the Samaritans say Ἰαβέ (Iabe), Ἰαβαι (Iabai), while the Jews say Ἀϊά (Aia). (The latter is probably not יהוה but אהיה Ehyeh = "I am" (Exod. iii. 14), which the Jews counted among the names of God.)
  • James of Edessa (cf.), Jehjeh;
  • Jerome speaks of certain ignorant Greek writers who transcribed the Hebrew Divine name יהוה as ΠΙΠΙ.

In Smith’s 1863 "A Dictionary of the Bible", the author displays some of the above forms and concludes:

But even if these writers were entitled to speak with authority, their evidence only tends to show in how many different ways the four letters of the word יהוה could be represented in Greek characters, and throws no light either upon its real pronunciation or its punctuation.
On the other hand however, is the common belief that the true name was never lost, the Encyclopedia Judaica concludes:
"The true pronunciation of the name YHWH was never lost. Several early Greek writers of the Christian church testify that the name was pronounced Yahweh."


Josephus in Jewish Wars, chapter V, verse 235, wrote "τὰ ἱερὰ γράμματα· ταῦτα δ' ἐστὶ φωνήεντα τέσσαρα" ("...[engraved with] the holy letters; and they are four vowels"), presumably because Hebrew yod and waw, even if consonantal, would have to be transcribed into the Greek of the time as vowels.

Clement of Alexandria

Clement of Alexandria writes in Stromata V,6:34-35
"Πάλιν τὸ παραπέτασμα τῆς εἰς τὰ ἅγια τῶν ἁγίων παρόδου, κίονες τέτταρες αὐτόθι, ἁγίας μήνυμα τετράδος διαθηκῶν παλαιῶν, ἀτὰρ καὶ τὸ τετράγραμμον ὄνομα τὸ μυστικόν, ὃ περιέκειντο οἷς μόνοις τὸ ἄδυτον βάσιμον ἦν· λέγεται δὲ Ἰαουε, ὃ μεθερμηνεύεται ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἐσόμενος. Καὶ μὴν καὶ καθʼ Ἕλληνας θεὸς τὸ ὄνομα τετράδα περιέχει γραμμάτων."
The translation of Clement's Stromata in Volume II of the classic Ante-Nicene Fathers series renders this as:
"... Further, the mystic name of four letters which was affixed to those alone to whom the adytum was accessible, is called Jave, which is interpreted, 'Who is and shall be.' The name of God, too [i.e. θεὸς], among the Greeks contains four letters.

Of Clement's Stromata there is only one surviving manuscript, the Codex L (Codex Laurentianus V 3), from the 11th century. Other sources are later copies of that ms. and a few dozen quotations from this work by other authors. For Stromata V,6:34, Codex L has ἰαοὺ. The critical edition by Otto Stählin (1905) gives the forms

"ἰαουέ Didymus Taurinensis de pronunc. divini nominis quatuor literarum (Parmae 1799) p. 32ff, ἰαοὺ L, ἰὰ οὐαὶ Nic., ἰὰ οὐὲ Mon. 9.82 Reg. 1888 Taurin. III 50 (bei Did.), ἰαοῦε Coisl. Seg. 308 Reg. 1825."
and has Ἰαουε in the running text. The Additions and Corrections page gives a reference to an author who rejects the change of ἰαοὺ into Ἰαουε.

Other editors give similar data. A catena (Latin: chain) referred to by A. le Boulluec ("Coisl. 113 fol. 368v") and by Smith’s 1863 "A Dictionary of the Bible" ("a catena to the Pentateuch in a MS. at Turin") is reported to have "ια ουε".

The New Catholic Encyclopedia of 1967 lists the form Ἰαουαι as evidence that YHWH is pronounced "Yahweh".

Magic papyri

Spellings of the Tetragrammaton occur among the many combinations and permutations of names of powerful agents that occur in Egyptian magical writings. One of these forms is the heptagram ιαωουηε

In the magical texts, Iave (Jahveh Sebaoth), and Iαβα, occurs frequently. In an Ethiopic list of magical names of Jesus, purporting to have been taught by him to his disciples, Yawe is found.

Gesenius proposes that YHWH should be punctuated as יַהְוֶה = Yahweh

In the early 19th century Hebrew scholars were still critiquing "Jehovah" [a.k.a. Iehovah and Iehouah] because they believed that the vowel points of יְהֹוָה were not the actual vowel points of God's name. The Hebrew scholar Wilhelm Gesenius [1786-1842] had suggested that the Hebrew punctuation יַהְוֶה, which is transliterated into English as "Yahweh", might more accurately represent the actual pronunciation of God's name than the Biblical Hebrew punctuation "יְהֹוָה", from which the English name Jehovah has been derived.

Wilhelm Gesenius is noted for being one of the greatest Hebrew and biblical scholars His proposal to read YHWH as "יַהְוֶה" (see image to the right) was based in large part on various Greek transcriptions, such as ιαβε, dating from the first centuries AD, but also on the forms of theophoric names.

In his Hebrew Dictionary Gesenius (Gesenius-on-jhwh-german.jpg) supports the pronunciation "Yahweh" because of the Samaritan pronunciation Ιαβε reported by Theodoret, and that the theophoric name prefixes YHW [Yeho] and YH [Yo] can be explained from the form "Yahweh".

Today many scholars accept Gesenius's proposal to read YHWH as יַהְוֶה.
(Here 'accept' does not necessarily mean that they actually believe that it describes the truth, but rather that among the many vocalizations that have been proposed, none is clearly superior. That is, 'Yahweh' is the scholarly convention, rather than the scholarly consensus.)


Various people draw various conclusions from this Greek material.

William Smith writes in his 1863 "A Dictionary of the Bible" about the different Hebrew forms supported by these Greek forms:

... The votes of others are divided between יַהְוֶה (yahveh) or יַהֲוֶה (yahaveh), supposed to be represented by the Ιαβέ of Epiphanius mentioned above, and יַהְוָה (yahvah) or יַהֲוָה (yahavah), which Fürst holds to be the Ιευώ of Porphyry, or the Ιαού of Clemens Alexandrinus.

The editors of New Bible Dictionary (1962 write:

The pronunciation Yahweh is indicated by transliterations of the name into Greek in early Christian literature, in the form Ιαουε (Clement of Alexandria) or Ιαβε (Theodoret; by this time β had the pronunciation of v).

As already mentioned, Gesenius arrived at his form using the evidence of proper names, and following the Samaritan pronunciation Ιαβε reported by Theodoret.

Catholic Encyclopedia teaching about the name Yahweh

In the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1910,in the article Jehovah (Yahweh), under the sub-title:"To take up the ancient writers", the editors wrote:

  • Diodorus Siculus writes Jao (I, 94);
  • Irenaeus of Lyons ("Adv. Haer.", II, xxxv, 3, in P. G., VII, col. 840), Jaoth;
  • the Valentinian heretics (Irenaeus, "Adv. Haer.", I, iv, 1, in P.G., VII, col. 481), Jao;
  • Clement of Alexandria ("Strom.", V, 6, in P.G., IX, col. 60), Jaou;
  • Origen of Alexandria ("in Joh.", II, 1, in P.G., XIV, col. 105), Jao;
  • Porphyry (Eusebius, "Praep. evang", I, ix, in P.G., XXI, col. 72), Jeuo;
  • Epiphanius ("Adv. Haer.", I, iii, 40, in P.G., XLI, col. 685), Ja or Jabe;
  • Pseudo-Jerome ("Breviarium in Pss.", in P.L., XXVI, 828 ), Jaho;
  • the Samaritans (Theodoret, in "Ex. quaest.", xv, in P.G., LXXX, col. 44),Jabe;
  • James of Edessa (cf. Lamy, "La science catholique", 1891, p. 196), Jehjeh;
  • Jerome ("Ep. xxv ad Marcell.", in P. L., XXII, col. 429) speaks of certain ignorant Greek writers who transcribed the Hebrew Divine name II I II I.

The editors of the Catholic Encyclopedia continue:

Usage of YHWH

In ancient Judaism

Several centuries before the Christian era the name of their god YHWH had ceased to be commonly used by the Jews. Some of the later writers in the Old Testament employ the appellative Elohim, God, prevailingly or exclusively.

The oldest complete Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) versions, from around the second century A.D., consistently use Κυριος (= "Lord"), where the Hebrew has YHWH, corresponding to substituting Adonay for YHWH in reading the original; in books written in Greek in this period (e.g. Wisdom, 2 and 3 Maccabees), as in the New Testament, Κυριος takes the place of the name of God. However, older fragments contain the name YHWH. In the P. Ryl. 458 (perhaps the oldest extant Septuagint manuscript) there are blank spaces, leading some scholars to believe that the Tetragrammaton must have been written where these breaks or blank spaces are.

Josephus, who as a priest knew the pronunciation of the name, declares that religion forbids him to divulge it.

Philo calls it ineffable, and says that it is lawful for those only whose ears and tongues are purified by wisdom to hear and utter it in a holy place (that is, for priests in the Temple). In another passage, commenting on Lev. xxiv. 15 seq.: "If any one, I do not say should blaspheme against the Lord of men and gods, but should even dare to utter his name unseasonably, let him expect the penalty of death."

Various motives may have concurred to bring about the suppression of the name:

  1. An instinctive feeling that a proper name for God implicitly recognizes the existence of other gods may have had some influence; reverence and the fear lest the holy name should be profaned among the heathen.
  2. Desire to prevent abuse of the name in magic. If so, the secrecy had the opposite effect; the name of the God of the Jews was one of the great names, in magic, heathen as well as Jewish, and miraculous efficacy was attributed to the mere utterance of it.
  3. Avoiding risk of the Name being used as an angry expletive, as reported in Leviticus 24:11 in the Bible.

In the liturgy of the Temple the name was pronounced in the priestly benediction (Num. vi. 27) after the regular daily sacrifice (in the synagogues a substitute— probably Adonai— was employed); on the Day of Atonement the High Priest uttered the name ten times in his prayers and benediction.

In the last generations before the fall of Jerusalem, however, it was pronounced in a low tone so that the sounds were lost in the chant of the priests.

In later Judaism

After the destruction of the Temple (A.D. 70) the liturgical use of the name ceased, but the tradition was perpetuated in the schools of the rabbis. It was certainly known in Babylonia in the latter part of the 4th century, and not improbably much later. Nor was the knowledge confined to these pious circles; the name continued to be employed by healers, exorcists and magicians, and has been preserved in many places in magical papyri.

The vehemence with which the utterance of the name is denounced in the MishnaHe who pronounces the Name with its own letters has no part in the world to come! —suggests that this misuse of the name was not uncommon among Jews.

In Modern Judaism

The new Jewish Publication Society Tanakh 1985 follows the traditional convention of translating the Divine Name as "the LORD" (in all caps). The Artscroll Tanakh translates the Divine Name as "HaShem" (literally, "The Name").

When the Divine Name is read during prayer, "Adonai" ("My Lord") is substituted. However, when practicing a prayer or referring to one, Orthodox Jews will say "AdoShem" instead of "Adonai". When speaking to another person "HaShem" is used.

Among the Samaritans

The Samaritans, who otherwise shared the scruples of the Jews about the utterance of the name, seem to have used it in judicial oaths to the scandal of the rabbis. (Their priests have preserved a liturgical pronunciation "Yahwe" or "Yahwa" to the present day.)


The New Jerusalem Bible (1966) uses "Yahweh" exclusively.

The Bible In Basic English (1949/1964) uses "Yahweh" eight times, including Exodus 6.2.

The Amplified Bible (1954/1987) uses "Yahweh" in Exodus 6.3.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible (1999/2002) uses "Yahweh" over 50 times,including Exodus 6.2.

The World English Bible (WEB) [a Public Domain work with no copyright] uses "Yahweh" some 6837 times.

Some modern writers, particularly in mythology and anthropology, use 'Yahweh' specifically, rather than 'God', to describe the Biblical God as a way of trying to display Christian and Jewish concepts as being on an even plane with concepts and deities from other religions. This does not necessarily represent a majority view, but the practice has grown in recent years.

Randy Weaver, of the Aryan Nations church, used the word Yahweh to describe God.

Short forms

"Yahū" or "Yehū" is a common short form for "Yahweh" in Hebrew theophoric names; as a prefix it sometimes appears as "Yehō-". In former times that was thought to be abbreviated from the supposed pronunciation "Yehowah". There is nowadays an opinion that, as "Yahweh" is likely an imperfective verb form, "Yahu" is its corresponding preterite or jussive short form: compare yiŝtahaweh (imperfective), yiŝtáhû (preterit or jussive short form) = "do obeisance".

In some places, such Exodus 15:2, the name YHWH is shortened to יָהּ (Yah). This same syllable is found in Hallelu-yah. Here the ה has mappiq, i.e., is consonantal, not a mater lectionis.

It is often assumed that this is also the second element -ya of the Aramaic "Marya": the Peshitta Old Testament translates Adonai with "Mar" (Lord), and YHWH with "Marya".


Putative etymology

Jahveh or Yahweh is apparently an example of a common type of Hebrew proper names which have the form of the 3rd pers. sing. of the verb. e.g. Jabneh (name of a city), Jabin, Jamlek, Jiptah (Jephthah), &c. Most of these really are verbs, the suppressed or implicit subject being 'el, "numen, god", or the name of a god; cf. Jabneh and Jabne-el, Jiptah and Jiptah-el.

The ancient explanations of the name proceed from Exod. iii. 14, 15, where "Yahweh hath sent me" in v 15 corresponds to "Ehyeh hath sent me" in v. 14, thus seeming to connect the name Yahweh with the Hebrew verb hayah, "to become, to be". The Jewish interpreters found in this the promise that God would be with his people (cf. v. 12) in future oppressions as he was in the present distress, or the assertion of his eternity, or eternal constancy; the Alexandrian translation 'Eγω ειμι ο ων. . . ' O ων απεσταλκεν με προς υμας understands it in the more metaphysical sense of God's absolute being. Both interpretations, "He (who) is (always the same);" and , "He (who) is (absolutely the truly existent);" import into the name all that they profess to find in it; the one, the religious faith in God's unchanging fidelity to his people, the other, a philosophical conception of absolute being which is foreign both to the meaning of the Hebrew verb and to the force of the tense employed.

Modern scholars have sometimes found in the name the expression of the aseity of God; sometimes of his reality in contrast to the imaginary gods of the heathen.

Another explanation, which appears first in Jewish authors of the Middle Ages and has found wide acceptance in recent times, derives the name from the causative of the verb: "He (who) causes things to be, gives them being; or calls events into existence, brings them to pass", with many individual modifications of interpretation "creator", "life giver", "fulfiller of promises". A serious objection to this theory in every form is that the verb hayah, "to be" has no causative stem in Hebrew; to express the ideas which these scholars find in the name Yahweh the language employs altogether different verbs.

Another tradition regards the name as coming from three verb forms sharing the same root YWH, the words HYH haya היה: "He was"; HWH howê הוה: "He is"; and YHYH yihiyê יהיה: "He will be". This is supposed to show that God is timeless, as some have translated the name as "The Eternal One". Other interpretations include the name as meaning "I am the One Who Is." This can be seen in the traditional Jewish account of the "burning bush" commanding Moses to tell the sons of Israel that "I AM (אהיה) has sent you." (Exodus 3:13-14) Some suggest: "I AM the One I AM" אהיה אשר אהיה, or "I AM whatever I need to become". This may also fit the interpretation as "He Causes to Become." Many scholars believe that the most proper meaning may be "He Brings Into Existence Whatever Exists" or "He who causes to exist". Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible, which is based on the King James Version, says that the term "Jehovah" means "The Existing One."

Spinoza, in his Theologico-Political Treatise (Chap.2) asserts the derivation of "Jahweh" from "Being". He writes that "Moses conceived the Deity as a Being Who has always existed, does exist, and always will exist, and for this cause he calls Him by the name Jehovah, which in Hebrew signifies these three phases of existence." Following Spinoza, Constantin Brunner translates the Shema (Deut. 2-4) as, "Hear, O Israel, Being is our God, Being is One."

This assumption that Yahweh is derived from the verb "to be", as seems to be implied in Exod. iii. 14 seq., is not, however, free from difficulty. "To be" in the Hebrew of the Old Testament is not hawah, as the derivation would require, but hayah; and we are thus driven to the further assumption that hawah belongs to an earlier stage of the language, or to some older speech of the forefathers of the Israelites.

This hypothesis is not intrinsically improbable (and in Aramaic, a language closely related to Hebrew, "to be" is hawa); in adopting it we admit that, using the name Hebrew in the historical sense, Yahweh is not a Hebrew name. And, inasmuch as nowhere in the Old Testament, outside of Exod. iii., is there the slightest indication that the Israelites connected the name of their God with the idea of "being" in any sense, it may fairly be questioned whether, if the author of Exod. 14 seq., intended to give an etymological interpretation of the name Yahweh, his etymology is any better than many other paronomastic explanations of proper names in the Old Testament, or than, say, the connection of the name Aπολλων (Apollo) with απολουων, απολυων in Plato's Cratylus, or popular derivations from απολλυμι = "I lose (transitive)" or "I destroy".

"I am"

Mishearings and misunderstandings of this explanation has led to a popular idea that "Yahweh" means "I am", resulting in God, and by colloquial extension sometimes anything which is very dominant in its area , being called "the great I AM".

Another possibility according to the Complete Jewish Bible by author David H. Stern, proposes that the Tetragrammaton be pronounced letter for letter in Hebrew and that the name of God should be rendered by spelling out the four letters, "Yud He Vav He", the meaning assumed to be "I am that I am" or "I am Who I am", as revealed to Moses in the Torah (Exodus 3:14).

From a verb meaning "destroy" or similar?

A root hawah is represented in Hebrew by the nouns howah (Ezek., Isa. xlvii. II) and hawwah (Ps., Prov., Job) "disaster, calamity, ruin. The primary meaning is probably "sink down, fall", in which sense (common in Arabic) the verb appears in Job xxxvii. 6 (of snow falling to earth).

A Catholic commentator of the 16th century, Hieronymus ab Oleastro, seems to have been the first to connect the name "Jehova" with "howah" interpreting it as "contritio sive pernicies" (destruction of the Egyptians and Canaanites). Daumer, adopting the same etymology, took it in a more general sense: Yahweh, as well as Shaddai, meant "Destroyer", and fitly expressed the nature of the terrible god who he identified with Moloch.

The derivation of Yahweh from hawah is formally unimpeachable, and is adopted by many recent scholars, who proceed, however, from the primary sense of the root rather than from the specific meaning of the nouns. The name is accordingly interpreted, He (who) falls (baetyl, βαιτυλος, meteorite); or causes (rain or lightning) to fall (storm god); or casts down (his foes, by his thunderbolts). It is obvious that if the derivation be correct, the significance of the name, which in itself denotes only "He falls" or "He fells", must be learned, if at all, from early Semitic conceptions of the nature of Yahweh rather than from etymology.


A more fundamental question is whether the name Yahweh originated among the Israelites or was adopted by them from some other people and speech.

The biblical author of the history of the sacred institutions (P) expressly declares that the name Yahweh was unknown to the patriarchs (Exod. vi. 3), and the much older Israelite historian (E) records the first revelation of the name to Moses (Exod. iii. 13-15), apparently following a tradition according to which the Israelites had not been worshippers of Yahweh before the time of Moses, or, as he conceived it, had not worshipped the god of their fathers under that name.

The revelation of the name to Moses was made at a mountain sacred to Yahweh, (the mountain of God) far to the south of Canaan, in a region where the forefathers of the Israelites had never roamed, and in the territory of other tribes. Long after the settlement in Canaan this region continued to be regarded as the abode of Yahweh (Judg. v. 4; Deut. xxxiii. 2 sqq.; I Kings xix. 8 sqq. &c).

Moses is closely connected with the tribes in the vicinity of the holy mountain. According to one account, he married a daughter of the priest of Midian (Exod. ii. 16 sqq.; iii. 1). It is to this mountain he led the Israelites after their deliverance from Egypt. There his father-in-law met him, and extolling Yahweh as greater than all the gods, offered sacrifices, at which the chief men of the Israelites were his guests. In the holy mountain the religion of Yahweh was revealed through Moses, and the Israelites pledged themselves to serve God according to its prescriptions.

It appears, therefore, that in the tradition followed by the Israelite historians, the tribes within whose pasture lands the mountain of God stood were worshipers of Yahweh before the time of Moses. The surmise that the name Yahweh belongs to their speech, rather than to that of Israel, is a significant possibility.

One of these tribes was Midian, in whose land the mountain of God lay. The Kenites also, with whom another tradition connects Moses, seem to have been worshipers of Yahweh.

It is probable that Yahweh was at one time worshiped by various tribes south of Palestine, and that several places in that wide territory (Horeb, Sinai, Kadesh, &c.) were sacred to him. The oldest and most famous of these, the mountain of God, seems to have lain in Arabia, east of the Red Sea. From some of these peoples and at one of these holy places, a group of Israelite tribes adopted the religion of Yahweh, the God who, by the hand of Moses, had delivered them from Egypt.

The tribes of this region probably belonged to some branch of the Arabian desert Semitic stock, and accordingly, the name Yahweh has been connected with the Arabic hawa, the void (between heaven and earth), "the atmosphere, or with the verb hawa, cognate with Heb; Hawah, "sink, glide down (through space)"; and hawwa "blow (wind)". "He rides through the air, He blows" (Wellhausen), would be a fit name for a god of wind and storm. There is, however, no certain evidence that the Israelites in historical times had any consciousness of the primitive significance of the name.

However, the 'h' in the root h-w-h, h-y-h = "be, become" and in "Yahweh" is the ordinary glottal 'h' (spelled with a He), and the 'h' in the roots ħ-y-w = "live" and ħ-w-ʔ = "air, blow (of wind)" is a pharyngeal 'h' (spelled with a Heth) which is usually transcribed as 'h' with a dot under.


According to one theory, Yahweh, or Yahu, Yaho, is the name of a god worshipped throughout the whole, or a great part, of the area occupied by the Western Semites.

In its earlier form this opinion rested chiefly on certain misinterpreted testimonies in Greek authors about a god 'Iαω and was conclusively refuted by Baudissin; recent adherents of the theory build more largely on the occurrence in various parts of this territory of proper names of persons and places which they explain as compounds of Yahu or Yah.

The explanation is in most cases simply an assumption of the point at issue; some of the names have been misread; others are undoubtedly the names of Jews.

There remain, however, some cases in which it is highly probable that names of non-Israelites are really compounded with Yahweh. The most conspicuous of these is the king of Hamath who in the inscriptions of Sargon (722-705 B.C.) is called Yaubi'di and Ilubi'di (compare Jehoiakim-Eliakim). Azriyau of Jaudi, also, in inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III (745-728 B.C.), who was formerly supposed to be Uzziah of Judah, is probably a king of the country in northern Syria known to us from the Zenjirli inscriptions as Ja'di.

Mesopotamian influence

Friedrich Delitzsch brought into notice three tablets, of the age of the first dynasty of Babylon, in which he read the names of Ya- a'-ve-ilu, Ya-ve-ilu, and Ya-u-um-ilu ("Yahweh is God"), and which he regarded as conclusive proof that Yahweh was known in Babylonia before 2000 B.C.; he was a god of the Semitic invaders in the second wave of migration, who were, according to Winckler and Delitzsch, of North Semitic stock (Canaanites, in the linguistic sense).

We should thus have in the tablets evidence of the worship of Yahweh among the Western Semites at a time long before the rise of Israel. The reading of the names is, however, extremely uncertain, not to say improbable, and the far-reaching inferences drawn from them carry no conviction.

In a tablet attributed to the 14th century B.C. which Sellin found in the course of his excavations at Tell Ta'annuk (the city Taanach of the O.T.) a name occurs which may be read Ahi-Yawi (equivalent to Hebrew Ahijah); if the reading be correct, this would show that Yahweh was worshipped in Central Palestine before the Israelite conquest. Genesis 14:17 describes a meeting between Melchizedek the king/priest of Salem and Abaraham. Both these pre-conquest figures are described as worshipping the same Most High God later identified as Yahweh.

The reading is, however, only one of several possibilities. The fact that the full form Yahweh appears, whereas in Hebrew proper names only the shorter Yahu and Yah occur, weighs somewhat against the interpretation, as it does against Delitzsch's reading of his tablets.

It would not be at all surprising if, in the great movements of populations and shifting of ascendancy which lie beyond our historical horizon, the worship of Yahweh should have been established in regions remote from those which it occupied in historical times; but nothing which we now know warrants the opinion that his worship was ever general among the Western Semites.

Many attempts have been made to trace the West Semitic Yahu back to Babylonia. Thus Delitzsch formerly derived the name from an Akkadian god, I or Ia; or from the Semitic nominative ending, Yau; but this deity has since disappeared from the pantheon of Assyriologists. Bottero speculates that the West Semitic Yah/Ia, in fact is a version of the Babylonian God Ea (Enki), a view given support by the earliest finding of this name at Ebla during the reign of Ebrum, at which time the city was under Mesopotamian hegemony of Sargon of Akkad.

Witnesses to the Name

There are many witnesses which approve of the correct Name being Yahweh; both Jewish and Christian authorities, such as the Jewish Encyclopedia. Bible translators James Mofatt and Dr J. M. Power Smith as well as Bible Encyclopedias, lexicons and grammars, declare the Tetragrammaton should have been transliterated “Yahweh”. Other sources include the Seventh Day Adventist Commentary Vol. 1, p511, under Exodus 3:15; Herbert Armstrong, the New Morality, pp. 128 – 129; David Neufeld, Review and Herald, December 15, 1971, page11; A New Translation of the Bible, pp 20 – 21 (Harper and Row © 1954) and J.D Douglas; New Bible Dictionary, (Wm B Eerdman’s Pub Co. © (1962), p9 as concluded: “Strictly speaking Yahweh is the only ‘Name’ of God”.

The Name in the Septuagint

Septuagint study does give some credence to the possibility that the Divine Name appeared in its texts. Dr Sidney Jellicoe in the Septuagint and Modern Study wrote: “The Divine Name was within the ancient (palao Hebrew) scripts…[YHW]…LXX texts held [the] Divine Name”. Jellicoe also agrees that the absence of “Adonai” from the text suggests that the insertion of the term “Kurious” was a later practice. In the Septuagint “Kurious”, or in English “Lord”, is used to substitute the Name YHWH. Jellicoe also suggests that the name Yahweh appeared in the text, but Christians removed it. In this book, Jellicoe draws together evidence from a great deal of scholars (B. J. Roberts, Baudissin, Kahle and C.H Roberts) and various segments of the Septuagint to draw these conclusions. There is therefore a strong possibility that the Sacred Name was once integrated within the Greek text, but eventually disappeared.

Meyer suggests as one possibility that “as modern Hebrew letters were introduced, the next step was to follow modern Jews and insert “Kurious”, Lord. This would prove this innovation was of a late date.” .

Bible scholars and translators as Eusebius and Jerome (translator of the Latin Vulgate) used the Hexapla. Both attest to the importance of the sacred Name and that the most reliable manuscripts contained the Tetragrammaton in Hebrew letters.

Dr F. F. Bruce in the The Books and the Parchments illustrates that the religious language of the Greeks is in effect, pagan. Bruce demonstrates that the words commonly used today in Christianity are pagan Greek words and substitutes; this includes words such as “Christ”,”Lord” and “God” (The English “Jesus” is not the same as “Iesous” in Greek). For this reason, a few groups such as the Assemblies of Yahweh and the Jehovah's Witnesses have maintained that they are restoring the purity of worship - by using the sacred Names and Hebrew titles. On the other hand, Christianity still generally regards the sacred Name as a minor issue while observant Jews believe it is respectful not to speak the Name at all .

Relevance in the New Testament

Bible translations such as the Rotherham Emphasized Bible, the Anchor Bible, and the Jerusalem Bible have retained the Name Yahweh in the Old Testament, while traditional translations such as the King James Version and the American Standard Version have retained the Name Jehovah.

Although no Greek manuscript of the New Testament contains any form of the divine name, the Sacred Scriptures Bethel Edition inserts the name Yahweh in the New Testament, while the New World Translation inserts the name Jehovah in the New Testament.

The vast majority of New Testament translations render the Greek kyrios as "lord" and theos as "God." Since the Divine Name does not appear in the Greek manuscripts, virtually all translations refrain from inserting it into the English.

Other Uses

  • "Yahweh" is the name of a song on U2's eleventh studio album.
  • In the movie Bruce Almighty, "Yahweh" is the name of the fictional prayer-email system the title character creates, a play on the web site Yahoo!.

See also


External links

Search another word or see yahwehon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature