[b-hebrew] Questions about YHWH (long)

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Mon Jul 18 04:44:22 EDT 2005

Dear Chris, Jack et al.

Different questions regarding the tetragrammaton have been discussed on this
list through the years, but it appears that the data presented in some of
these posts have not been noticed and checked by several list members. So
allow me a few comments.

A basic weakness in discussions of the tetragrammaton is that the question
regarding when it stopped to be used is not qualified.  We should not ask
when it stopped to be used, but rather when different groups stopped using
it.  Because of a lack of precision in the way of posing the question,
extrapolation is often
seen in the arguments: If one group did not use it i B.C.E., this is taken
as proof that it was not used by any group in B.C.E. Another basic weakness
is the lack of distinction between the normal *use* of a word and its use as
a *substitute*.  For
example, )DNY is sometimes used in the Tanakh with reference to God, but I
would claim that the evidence suggests that this is a legitimate way of
referring to God and not a substitute for YHWH.

A few fragments of the LXX (and LXX-like) texts from B.C.E, have been found,
and in these fragments the tetragrammaton occurs, either in old Hebrew
characters, in Aramaic characters, or as the transcription IAW. Thus, all
the evidence we have show  that the name of God was included in the LXX from
it was translated and as
late as 50 C.E. (this is the date one fragment).  However, in
LXX-manuscripts from the second century C.E. we find the nomina sacra KS
(for KUROS), and in some cases QS (for QEOS) where the Hebrew text has YHWH.
No one would say that KS with a bar above was used by the translators of the
LXX, but it represents a later change of the text. We can therefore conclude
that some time between 50 and 150 C.E. that text of the LXX was changed as
far as the name of God is concerned, and abbreviations for other "holy"
things were introduced as well.

The Qumran society did not use the tetragrammaton.  We know this because of
the text of "The Rule of the Community VI,27-VII,2 and because we find a
substitution for the tetragrammaton in many manuscripts. Note that the
substitute is )L and not )DNY. However,
some of the DSS were written/copied at Qumran and others were imported.  In
several of the imported manuscripts the tetragrammaton (in normal script)
was used, and this would suggest that other groups continued to use the name
of God.  So, the Qumran community is the only B.C.E. group which we know did
not use the tetragrammaton. But let us not make the common error of
extrapolating this to other groups.

The "Morning bathers" and the Pharisees used the name when the Qumran
community did not (Tosefta Berakhot 6 (7), 20), and while )DNY was used by
some, this was criticised by others (See L. Finkelstein (1969). "New Light
on the Prophets").
Josephus in his "Antiquities" II, 12:4, which he wrote around 93,94 C.E.,
says regarding the divine name which was revealed to Moses, "concerning
which it is not lawful for me to say any more". Pesahim 50a is the first
instance of which I am aware where it is directly said that )DNY was used
instead of the tetragrammaton: "Said the Holy One, Blessed be he: not as I
am written, am I read: I am written Yod He, but I am read aleph daleth". So,
the evidence suggests that most groups of Jews did not use the name of God
in the second half of the first century C.E. Before this, some groups may
have used it and others not; but data are lacking.

As for the use/non-use of the name by Jesus and his followers, we can say
that we have no clear evidence  that Jesus and his disciples did not use the
name of God. When the Tanakh
was quoted by Jesus and his disciples, both when they used a Hebrew and a
Greek text, the name in some form was found there. And why should they, who
condemned the traditions of men, use a substitute for the name of God (if
that was common at this time), instead of reading the text as it was
written?  Note that the occurrence of KURIOS and occasionally QEOS in the NT
where we expext the tetragrammaton is not a strong argument in favor of
Jesus and the disiples using )DNY as a substitute. We know that just as in
the case of the LXX, the text of the NT was changed between 50 and 150 C.E.
as far as the name of God is concerned.  In the NT manuscripts from the
second century we find the same nomina sacra (KS; QS) as we see in LXX
manuscripts. These abbreviations could hardly be original, so the question
is what the autographs contained.  We know that the KS and QS in the LXX
were used as substitutes for YHWH (or IAW), so the same may have been the
case with the NT, but the autographs are lacking (See G. Howard in "The
Tetragrammaton in the New Testament" in "The Anchor Bible Dictionary")

While substitutes were used for the name of God in second century
both of the NT and the LXX, and this is attributed to the Christians, Talmud
Shabbath 13 (14:5) shows that the MINIM continued to use the tetragrammaton.
The MINIM probably included Christian groups (See L. H. Schiffman (1985).
"Who is a Jew? Rabbinic and Halakhic Perspectives on the Jewish Christian
Schism," p. 62).

We may also note that the Greek translations of Aquila (c. 130 C.E.),
Theodotion and Symmachus (second century) have the tetragrammaton as PIPI,
translations which were incorporated in Origen`s Hexapla. And further, the
text and marginal notes in old Hexapla and Syro-Hexapla manuscripts suggest
that manuscripts with the tetragrammaton both in Old Hebrew and Aramaic
script were used by the translators. Even a good argument for the name of
God occurring in the original Peshitta can be made on this basis.  On the
basis of the arguments above, we see that the picture is very complex
regarding which groups used and did not use the name of God at different

The original question was about the pointing of YHWH by the Masoretes. None
of the sources at my disposition betray any knowledge of why the Masoretes
used particular vowels; whether $M with the Aramaic ending aleph or )DNY was
used as a pattern. However, it seems clear that the purpose of the pointing
was to indicate that the readers should read )DNY (or )LHYM when the
word )DNY already was in the text). We cannot know the pronunciation of YHWH
in the first and second temple periods, but there is absolutely no *Hebrew*
evidence that the word consisted of only two syllables and the the
pronunciation was Yahweh.  On the basis of all the names with theophoric
elements in the Tanakh, beginning with "YEHO-" it  is more likely that
YHWH contained three syllables, and that the first two syllables were
"YEHU/YAHU or YEHO/YAHO. This puts the old argument that the form "Jehovah"
is an artificial Masoretic invention, thus being wrong,  in a bad light.
I am not arguing in favor of the original pronunciation being
"Yehowa" - we simply do not know.  But my argument is that the first two
of YHWH is much closer to YEHOWA than to YAHWE.

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Heard, Christopher" <Christopher.Heard at pepperdine.edu>
To: "b-hebrew" <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Monday, July 18, 2005 4:25 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Questions about YHWH

> On Jul 17, 2005, at 11:46 AM, Yaacov Yeretz wrote:
>> And if I'm right: Could anybody tell me, when the
>> pronunciation of the
>> Tetragrammaton became banned?
> Okay, I'm a little reluctant to chime in on this because I am away
> from home and pretty much working strictly from memory on this.
> However, I offer the following observations:
> (1) The tendency of the Septuagint and other Greek translations to
> supply κυριος for יהוה - does that suggest a reticence to
> actually pronounce the Tetragrammaton at the time those translation
> were made? If so, this would take us back to the beginning of the
> fourth century BCE. Or do our surviving LXX MSS represent a later
> development in this regard?
> (2) As I recall--though again, I am embarrassed to say it because I
> am not in a position, physically/geographically, to check sources on
> this--some of the Dead Sea Scrolls have the Tetragrammaton written in
> a Paleo-Hebraic script while all the rest of the text around it is
> written in an Aramaic square script. I have a JPEG of one such
> instance on my hard drive, but I don't have proper documentation on
> disk of which MS that is (and I don't know if I can send attachments
> with b-hebrew messages in any case). This would at suggest that no
> later than the first or second century BCE (depending on which texts
> show this orthographic variation), the Tetragrammaton was being
> treated as something special and apart from ordinary language. The
> use of the paleo script may (speculation alert!) have been a "flag"
> to mark the qere perpetuum, maybe ... (speculation alert!).
> Please take all this for "thinking out loud," not actual proposals
> (at least for now).
> Chris
> --
> R. Christopher Heard
> Assistant Professor of Religion
> Pepperdine University
> Malibu, California 90263-4352
> http://faculty.pepperdine.edu/cheard
> http://www.iTanakh.org
> http://www.semioticsandexegesis.info

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