[b-hebrew] Variants of YHWH in the BHS Text

Bearpecs at aol.com Bearpecs at aol.com
Fri Sep 26 15:41:05 EDT 2003


I've long lost track of who said what, but somewhere along the line someone 
wrote:
> I am aware that many sources do not believe that 
> this  "it is written" form of God's Hebrew name,
> [e.g. Yehovah]
> was meant to be pronounced. 

That is not correct.  Belief has nothing to do with it.  And the 'name' you 
write is NOT one that Jews (I don't know which other "sources" are intended) 
avoid pronouncing.

If there is such a thing as "an 'it is written' form of God's Hebrew name", 
that would be Y.H.W.H.  [I have placed the periods between the letters only to 
avoid actually writing that four-letter name itself because it is customary 
for Jews to avoid writing that name unnecessarily.]  Jews do not have a 
contiguous tradition of how to pronounce that name.  It has nothing to do with 
"belief".  We truly don't know how it was actually pronounced.  Until the middle 
ages, texts of the Hebrew Bible contained only the consonantal text, without 
vowels.

There are a number of words in the Hebrew Bible which were in practice not 
pronounced as you might expect them to be based on the text.  The Massoretes 
noted in the margins of the text what the correct reading was (based on a 
contiguous tradition). This is called "qeri" [read], and the consonantal text is 
called the "ketiv" ["wriiten"]   For example, in Deut 29:22, the word written 
WCBYYM, is pronounced utxboyim, as if it were written WCBWYM.  There are also 
several words which are so commonly pronounced differently from what one might 
expect that the Massoretes did not bother noting them.  For example, the word 
written HW) (which would normally be pronounced hu, meaning "he") is often 
pronounced hi, meaning "she".   This is called a perpetual qeri.  Another example of 
perpetual qeri is the four-letter name of God written as above, but 
pronounced "A-donai", meaning "my Lord" (my hyphen is there only to avoid actually 
writing that referential name.)

When the Massoretes added vowels to the consonantal text, in cases of qeri 
and ketiv they added the letters of the ketiv to the consonantal text of the 
qeri.  Thus, in the example above, they added the vowels of utzboyim (WCBWYM) to 
the text of WCBYYM.  There was never any idea of pronouncing the word with the 
consonants of WCBYYM and the vowels of WCBWYM.  There is no such word.  The 
vowels do, however, remind the reader that they are to pronounce the text as 
utzboyim, i.e. as if it were written WCBWYM instead of WCBYYM.  Belief has 
nothing to do with it.

Thus, we do not know how the four-letter name was pronounced, but we do not 
that it was NOT pronounced Yehova, Yehowa, or Jehovah.  

(Notice that I am perfectly comfortable writing those words.  The scholarly 
reconstruction of the pronunciation of the four letter name, with vowels, "a" 
"shewa" and "e", however is one I avoid writing because it might very well be 
the correct pronunciation.  If there is ever a scholarly proof that that 
reconstruction is incorrect I could stop refraining from it.)



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