[b-hebrew] yhwh pronunciation

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Sat Jul 23 15:18:48 EDT 2005

Rolf Furuli wrote:

> The problem with the timbre of the first vowel in YHWH can be
> illustrated by the syllables of cuneiform documents.  There are 
> around 40 transcriptions of Jewish names with the theophoric 
> element YHW in New Babylonian and Late Babylonian documents.  
> Some of these names have  been taken as evidence in favor of YAH 
> as the first element of the divine name.  However, the sign which 
> represents IA can also represent IE, IU, and JI.  Yehonatan is 
> written dIA-HU-U-NA-TA-NU or dIE-HU-U-NA-TA-NU  and 
> Yehoiakin is written dIA-KU-U-KI-NU or dIE-KU-U-KI-NU.  Even if the
> first vowel is an "a" sound, that does not necessarily argue in favor 
> of a patah as the first vowel of YHWH,  For example, the names 
> Gedalyahu and Gemaryahu both has the sign representing GA as 
> their first syllable, and these names have no theophoric elements 
> at the beginning.  The same is true with Hezekiya which is written 

I have no knowledge of Babylonian and all of what I read is in 
translations to Hebrew and English.  So what I ask is, based on the
above, is your reconstruction of possible sounds based on comparing
the sound to the MT, ie, "GA" to "Gedalyahu" and "Gemaryahu", or
is it based on accepted Babylonian phonetics?  All transcriptions
that I looked at, seem to use "ya" for the first syllable of the name,
whether it begins the name or comes as the second theophoric
element, and whether or not the MT counterpart is "ya" or "y:".  
Also, it appears to me that one should view separately the 
Neo-Babylonian and Late Babylonian transliterations so that
differences in pronounciation that became pronounced over time
will not be overlooked.  

Personally, it appears to me that the Divine Name was originally
pronounced with a qamats like sound at the beginning.  This would
explain the independent MT name "Yah", the theophoric MT ending 
-yahu, the Greek transcriptions iabe, iaouee, etc, and the various 
Babylonian transcriptions, of which I also came upon the following:

1) The name Hizqiyahu seems almost always quoted as 
Ha-za-qi-ya-hu (ha-za-qi-a-u or ha-za-qi-ya-a-u (hazaq'iyahu) in the 
article referenced above).
2) Yehu - ia-u'-a (Galil, Israel and Assyria, 2001, p. 116), Calah Bulls of 
Shalmaneser III 841 BCE .  This appears to me to be a theophoric
name [similar to also attested "b(l)"] and the one whose pronounciation
is closest to the original pronounciation of the Tetragrammaton.
3) Joash - iu-'a-su (Galil, ibid, p. 125), Tell Rimah Stela of Adad-Nirari 
III  797 BCE

The last two may be seen on the link at
But the transliteration quoted is from Galil.

It also appears to me that the second element was "ho" (heh with
holam) or "hu" (heh with qubuts).  This would explain the theophoric
MT element y:ho-, the theophoric MT element yo-, the theophoric
MT element -yahu, all of the above Babylonian transliterations, and
many Greek transliterations.

Lastly, I think the final waw was a constant and not simply a holam
marker, as it appears prior to the heh in most First Temple period
spellings.  In fact, the only place I saw "yhw" used as a singular
name (not compound element in theophoric names) is in Kuntillet
Ajrud.  There sometimes both spellings are used in the same
inscription and it seems that yhwh is used for compound phrases
"yhwh $mrn" and "yhwh htmn" and "yhw" in all other cases.

Perhaps following the above transliteration of "yehu" one might 
reconstruct "yahowa" or "yahuwa" or perhaps the final vowel was
based originally on the case ending in which the name was used.

Yitzhak Sapir

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