YHWH vs. Yahweh

GregStffrd at aol.com GregStffrd at aol.com
Wed Apr 28 10:22:15 EDT 1999

In a message dated 4/27/99 9:02:02 PM Pacific Daylight Time, 
gs02wmr at panther.Gsu.EDU writes:

 I was always taught that there existed no such name as "Yahweh" since that
 is obviously an anglicized version of the ancient Hebrew
 Tetragrammaton(YHWH) and an incorrect transliteration.  >>

Dear Joseph:

Modern scholarship is starting to recognize the shallow support (almost 
non-existent, in fact) for the pronunciation "Yahweh."

The original form of the divine name was almost certainly three syllables, 
not two. George W. Buchanan, "Some Unfinished Business With the Dead Sea 
Scrolls," RevQ 13.49-52 (1988), 416, points out that there was only one group 
in antiquity to pronounce the divine name similar to the popular form, 
"Yahweh." And this only because Theodoret (fifth-century CE Antiochene 
theologian) claimed that the Samaritans pronounced the divine name as Iabe.  
I would add Epiphanius (c. 315-403 CE) to the list of those who used Iabe. 
See A. Lukyn Williams, "The Tetragrammaton-Jahweh, Name or Surrogate?" ZAW 54 
(1936), 264.

But, "all other examples [from antiquity] maintain the middle vowel" (Ibid., 
416)  Buchanan also points out that "the name 'Yahweh' does not even sound 
Semitic," and he produces examples from Exodus 15 with "Yahweh" and "Yahowah" 
in the same sentences. Those with "Yahowah" sound "smooth and poetic," while 
those with "Yahweh" "sound rough and unrythmical."  Buchanan concludes: "The 
accumulated data points heavily in the direction of a three syllable word, 
whose middle syllable was hô or hû. The first two syllables were Yahû or Yahô 
that were sometimes abbreviated to Yô. For poetry, liturgy, and some other 
reasons, the name Yâh was also used. Only from Theodoret's Greek spelling of 
the Samaritan use of the term is there any basis for the pronunciation 
'Yahweh' or 'Jahveh.' This is hardly enough to overpower all of the other 
exhibits" (Ibid., 419).

Buchanan has elsewhere, and more recently, taken issue with the pronunciation 
"Yahweh." In "How God's Name Was Pronounced," BAR 21.2 (March-April 1995), 
31-32, he writes: 

"Anyone who cares to check the concordances will find that there is no name 
in the entire Scriptures that includes the Tetragrammaton and also omits the 
vowel that is left out in the two-syllable pronunciation [=Yahweh] Rainey 
upholds. . . When the Tetragrammaton was pronounced in one syllable it was 
'Yah' or 'Yo.' When it was pronounced in three syllables it would have been 
'Yahowah' or 'Yahoowah.' If it was ever abbreviated to two syllables it would 
have been 'Yaho,' but even this spelling may have been pronounced with three 
syllables, including the final aspirant, because Hebrew had no vowel points 
in Biblical times."

Laird Harris, "The Pronunciation of the Tetragram," in The Law and the 
Prophets: Old Testament Studies Prepared in Honor of Oswald Thompson Allis, 
ed. John H. Skilton (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed 
Publishing, 1974), 220, believes that the form "Yahweh" is an "incorrect 
hybrid form with an early w and a late -eh." Harris himself believes (page 
224) that "the syllable division ya ho wi hu is the most likely," and that if 
the divine name were a noun form [Harris does not believe the divine name is 
necessarily etymologically related to haw(y)ah-ibid., 218-222] it "would have 
ended up as Jahoweh, a form accidentally similar but remarkably like the 
hybrid form Jehovah!" 

While I do not necessarily accept Laird's interpretation, it shows that 
because modern scholarship is now admitting that "Yahweh" is not the correct 
way to pronounce God's name, particularly for reasons similar to those given 
by Buchanan, they are looking other directions to solve the problem, and 
these directions are all on the path of three syllables, not two. 

Hope this helps!

Greg Stafford

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