[b-hebrew] yhwh pronunciation

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Wed Jul 20 18:31:27 EDT 2005

On 20/07/2005 14:47, Rolf Furuli wrote:

> ...
>>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
>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. ...

Rolf, can I ask you a simple question. Is word final he used regularly 
as a mater lectionis in the Elephantine papyri? Was it always written 
for a word final E vowel? I don't know the answer to this question. But 
if a final he was generally omitted for a final E vowel, the normal way 
of writing Yahwe would have been YHW, exactly as found. Of course this 
form would be ambiguous between an ending in -we, -o and -u, at least if 
waw was at least sometimes used as a mater lectionis by that time.


>>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. ...

And our evidence for the pronunciation of names starting Yeho- is 
largely from the Masoretic pronunciation. Some of these names of course 
exist in Greek, Latin etc from pre-Masoretic times, but the Greek forms 
generally start IW- i.e. iota-omega, which shows complete loss of the 
initial short vowel and so doesn't help us to reconstruct it.

>... 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.

Now this is interesting. Do you have evidence for the Tetragrammaton 
form, YHWH including a final he, from earlier than the Elephantine 
letters, so pre-exilic? What evidence? And does it actuall predate the 
first recorded use of matres lectionis?

>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. ...

What names are you referring to? I know of no names starting yod-he with 
no following holam.

>... To argue that the "a" vowel 
>(actually qamets and not patah) ...

If a Hebrew word starts with yod-qamets-he with no vowel following the 
he, by a regular rule the qamets is not an "a" vowel but is pronounced 
as an "o". But I know of no names or other words which fit this pattern. 
Of course if you are in fact referring not to a "YAH-element" but to the 
independent word YAH, the vowel is indeed qamets.

>... of this YAH-element suggests that the full 
>name YHWH was pronounced YAHWE betrays a lack of phonological knowledge. ...

Indeed, which is one reason why I did not argue this.

>The name Yeho$ua is interesting in our context because it has four 
>consonants just as YHWH, ...

This depends what you mean by "consonants". Yeho$ua` as normally spelled 
has not four but five or six letters, of which four are pronounced 
consonants and the other one or two are matres lectionis. YHWH has four 
letters, but I hold that one of these is a mater lectionis, and the word 
consists only of three consonants. I note that the English pronunciation 
Jehovah is similar, consisting of four nominal consonants but in fact 
only three pronounced consonants - because final h is silent in English 
as normally in Hebrew.

>... 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. ...

Agreed, but I never disputed this.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

No virus found in this outgoing message.
Checked by AVG Anti-Virus.
Version: 7.0.323 / Virus Database: 267.9.2/52 - Release Date: 19/07/2005

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list