[b-hebrew] yhwh pronunciation

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Wed Jul 20 09:47:50 EDT 2005

Dear Peter,

See my comments below.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Peter Kirk" <peterkirk at qaya.org>
To: "Rolf Furuli" <furuli at online.no>
Cc: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2005 3:08 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] yhwh pronunciation

> On 19/07/2005 23:03, Rolf Furuli wrote:
>>The form YHW is found in the Aramaic Elephantine Papyri from the fifth
>>century B.C.E. Wowels are lacking, so we do not know whether it was
>>peronounced as YEHU, YAHU, YEHO, YAHO, or even with other vowels. ...
> Or indeed this form could have been pronounced YAHWE, as these letters
> predated the wide use of matres lectionis, and most interpreters
> understand the final he of YHWH (however it is pronounced) as a mater
> lectionis.

I cannot imagine that any Hebrew linguist would suggest that the YHW in the
Elephantine papyri was pronounced YAHWE.  In that case we would expect a
final H. And please remember, there is absolutely no evidence for the
pronunciation YAHWE in ancient Hebrew or Aramaic sources. So I simply do not
understand why this form keeps coming up over and over again when its basis 
is pure speculation.

>>A little less than 150 names in the OT ends in YAH, and a few begins with
>>YAH. But those beginning with YAH never have "o" or "u" as the next vowel
>>(e.g. YAHO-; YAHU-). But there are several names that begins with YEHO-.
>>This means that an argument in favor of shewa being the first vowel of
>>YHWH is much stronger than the argument in favor of "a". ...
> Not at all. There is a general phonological rule by which an original
> qamats in this position is reduced to sheva, and a patah is impossible in
> this position.

Your words are both right and wrong. The Masoretes used the rule you 
mention, and it
may have been very old, because the Masoretic vowel tradition seems to go
back to the B.C.E.  There is good  evidence that the tetragrammaton existed
before the matres were invented, and this means that all the four letters 
were used as consonants
 and not as vowels.

The two independent forms of the divine name found in the Tanakh are YH and 
YHWH. My point was that the form YH in proper nouns as a rule comes at the 
end of the name. In the few instances were these letters are the first 
element of the name ( I count 14 such names with a Yah-element that can 
refer to the abbreviated divine name), there is no vowel following the H. 
So the particular name is formed on the basis of the abbreviated divine name 
YH and not on the basis of the full name YHWH. To argue that the "a" vowel 
(actually qamets and not patah) of this YAH-element suggests that the full 
name YHWH was pronounced YAHWE betrays a lack of phonological knowledge. One 
cannot on the basis of a mono-syllabic word argue whether a word with four 
consonants has two or three syllables and what the vowels of these syllables 
are.  So the form YAH tells us absolutely nothing about the pronunciation of 

Then back to your reference to the Masoretic rule of the reduction of qamets 
to shewa. I have looked at the names starting with yod in the DSS, and they 
suggest that this rule was valid at that time. Further, they show two 
variants in names beginning with YH and which the Masoretes vocalized with a 
shewa following the yod. Below are a few examples:

4Q331f1i:7 - Yohanan (yod, waw, het, nun, nun)
4Q348f1:9 - Yehohanan (yod, he, waw, heth, nun, nun)

4Q523f1_2:2 - Yehonatan (yod, he, waw, nun, taw, nun)

4Q1751:21 Ye$ua (yod, shin, waw, ayin)
CD 5:4 - Yehosh(u)a (yod, he, waw, shin, ayin)

Neither shewa not patah are written as matres in the DSS (save one or two 
examples), but the "o" following the he is clear from three of the examples 
(those with "o" following yod represent a reduction of an unaccented 
syllable). The presence of the "o" after he suggests that the form of the 
divine name used in these proper nouns was not YAH (which has no vowel 
following the H), but a fuller form, or the full form of the divine name. 
And further, the presence of "o" after he suggests that the Masoretes were 
correct when they vocalized the divine YH element in proper nouns YEHO, 
with a shewa following the yod and a holem following the he.

The crucial point here is that the divine element is YEHO. One can argue 
that the shewa after yod in names such as Yehonatan is the result of a vowel 
reduction because the first syllable does not precede the stressed syllable. 
This is a good argument, although I will state the case a little 
differently: When an open word-initial syllable is separated from the 
stressed syllable by one or more syllables, shewa is used in the 
word-initial syllable (laryngeals are exceptions). This will explain the 
shewa in the YE-syllable in the word Jehonatan, but it will also explain the 
initial YE in the name Yeho$ua.  In the BHS I find 227 examples of Yeho$ua, 
always with "o" as a mater in the second syllable, and I find no examples 
without this mater.

The name Yeho$ua is interesting in our context because it has four 
consonants just as YHWH, and because the the first syllable of the divine 
element has shewa and the second syllable has holem. This shows that the 
short vowel shewa would be found in such a word with three syllables and not 
only in longer words.  So again, we cannot know the old pronunciation of 
YHWH, but the clues we have suggest that the first two syllables were YEHO.

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

> Peter Kirk
> peter at qaya.org (personal)
> peterkirk at qaya.org (work)
> http://www.qaya.org/

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