[b-hebrew] YHWH & Elohim

tladatsi at charter.net tladatsi at charter.net
Sat Aug 6 18:20:17 EDT 2005

Here is a thought on the origin and pronunciation of YHWH.  
The two most common words associated with the God of Israel 
are YHWH (6519 times) and Elohim (2606 times although not 
all of these are references to God).  Far less common are 
YH (49 times), Eloah (57 times, mostly in Daniel 1-6), and 
El (245 times but some of these are not a reference to 
God).  Further, when the name YH does occur, it only occurs 
in poetry or song (e.g., Song of the Sea and the Psalms, 
Isaiah etc.), never in prose.   Only in the Elephantine 
Letters is the God of Israel referred to as YHW, and then 
in Aramaic.

In contrast, YH, YHW, and El are very common elements of 
theophoric names, despite their infrequent or nonexistent 
use as stand-alone names for God in the text of the OT.  
Even more interesting, YHWH and Elohim never occur in 
theophoric names, at least I found none.   There is a 
complete inversion of frequency of divine names, those 
found frequently as elements in theophoric names occur 
rarely alone, if at all, in the text and those found 
frequently in the text do not occur at all as theophoric 

A possible explanation is that YHWH and Elohim (and Eloah?) 
are literary names, i.e., devices for the written word 
only.  In everyday speech, people may have used Yah, Yahu 
or El to refer to God.  The OT writers may have found these 
names too vulgar and/or insufficiently grand for the God of 
Israel.  They are very short names.  It may also have 
played a role in distinguishing the God of Israel from 
other competing gods.  Certainly it is well documented that 
other peoples used the name el for their gods.  It may been 
seen as important to more carefully distinguish (in both 
senses of the English word) Israel?s God from those of her 

The logic of lengthening a short name to a longer name is 
pretty obvious.  It is both visually more impressive and 
sounds better.  However, the actual grammatical and 
linguistic logic is not clear to me.  Eloah to Elohim is 
straight forward but El to Eloah and YH to YHW or YHWH is 
not clear to me.  Any way, it was a thought.

Jack Tladatsi

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