[b-hebrew] yhwh pronunciation

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Sun Jul 24 07:53:14 EDT 2005

Dear Yitzhak,

See my comments below.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Yitzhak Sapir" <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Saturday, July 23, 2005 8:18 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] yhwh pronunciation

> 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
>> HA-ZA-QI-A-A-A.
> 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.

I agree that we must differentiate between different stages (old, middle,
new, and late) of the Babylonian language. One example from the Tanakh is
the Aramaic gentilic
noun KSDY (kasdai) in Daniel 2:10 which is known to us as KLDY (kaldai) -
the Caldeans. The Babylonian S was probably origninally pronounced as
something between "s" and "l", and in later writings "l" was used when
earlier writings had "s". Daniel 2:10 uses the old form.

The GA of Gedalyahu and Gemaryahu is based on accepted Babylonian phonetics.
You may look at R. Labat/F-M Labat (1988). "Manuel d´Epigraphie Akkadienne
signes syllabaire idéogrammes"  The GA-sign is no 319 in Labat, and it can
have the values GA, KA, and QA, but not GE.  The IA-sign is no 142, and it
can have the values IU, JI, and JE according to Labat.  However, the sign is
made from two elements, which, standing alone, can represent the vowels I
and A
respectively. The default interpretation of the sign, therefore,  is IA, and
if nothing
is known about the pronunciation, the sign is trascribed as IA.

There is another interesting trait with the name Gemaryahu, which is written
GA-MAR-YA-A-MA, namely, the last syllable MA. The sound "wa" in older
Babylonian was later pronounced and written as "ma, " so GA-MAR-YA-A-MA
could have been written as GA-MAR-YA-A-WA. This means that the first Hebrew
syllable GE was written as GA, and the last Hebrew element  was
written as MA or WA. (Remember also the inscription at Soleb that probably
also ended in W (YHWW). There are several names in the source mentioned
below ending in MA, and one possible interpretation of this is that the
theophoric ending of many names was not only YAH, or YAHU, but rather
YAHUWA/YEHOWAH (the number of syllables and stress may change the vowel, and
therefor I use the alternative YA- and YE-.).  If my suggestion above is
correct, Jeremiah could have been YIRMEYAH, YIRMEYAHU, or YIRMEYAHUWA.

A very fine source regarding the writing of Jewish names by cuneiform signs
is R. Zadok (1979). "The Jews in Babylonia during the Chaldean and
Achaemenid Periods" and (1980) The sources to the mentioned work. Regarding
all the names with theophoric elements starting with IA  Zadok writes (p.
19): "Indeed, all the pertinent Yahwistic names in NB/LB renderings show
that stressed original a has not yet shifted to o." This must be read on the
background that the Babylonians spoke Aramaic at this time, something Zadok
suggests (p. 1). (Zadok`s argument is true provided that the sign should be
read as IA, but it can be read IE as well.). This shift from a to o would of
course influence pronunciation, and how difficult it is to know the vowels
of ancient words
 is also illustrated by the fact that Aramaic and Hebrew use different
vowels in the same places.  For example, third person singular masculine of
the strong verb in Hebrew has a qamets in the first syllable while Aramaic
has a shewa.

> 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:

If the vowel of the first syllable in YHWH represented an a-sound, that can
explain YAH, as you say. On the other hand, YAH is a mono-syllabic word,
while YHWH has several syllables. And if the word had ultima-stress, the
first vowel could be reduced to shewa. I take all the names with
YEHO-elements as making a stronger case for YEHO- being the first two
syllables in YHWH than the YAH-element as representing the first syllable of
YHWH. But of course, we cannot be certain.
> 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
> http://fontes.lstc.edu/~rklein/Documents/Assins.htm
> But the transliteration quoted is from Galil.

Thank you for your fine references from which the list members can benefit.

> 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.

Your reasonings above are clearly possible. Hebrew probably had case endings
in old days, as suggested by the diffeerence in stress between verbs and
nouns. But if such case endings were similar to Akkadian -UM, -AM, and -IM,
they would only influence the pronunciation of YHWH if the last H is a mater
and not a consonant.
> Yitzhak Sapir
> _______________________________________________

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list