[b-hebrew] Re: YHVH Derivation

Dr. Joel M. Hoffman joel at exc.com
Wed May 4 12:26:08 EDT 2005

>          Is there any etymological connection between the Tetragrammaton
>and the idea of "breathing" or "breath"?  The Siddur says, "The breathing of
>all life praises thy Name," and I'm wondering if this might be more than
>merely a platitude.  Could there be an actual connection between YHVH and

The only connection between YHWH (note - not YHVW) and breathing is
interpretive, not historical.

Van der Toorn's article in DDD on "Yahweh" goes through several
unlikely possibilities, noting the stunning amount of literature
devoted to the topic.

But the bottom line is that YHWH seems not to have an etymology.

Noting that (unlike Elohim, El, etc.), YHWH does not appear before
Israelite writing, I believe (based on this and considerable
additional evidence) that the Israelites invtented the term,
specifically out of the matres lectiones that they also invented.
(This is why it didn't have a pronunciation; it was purely a writing

Sadly, my theory doesn't account for any connection between the verb
"to be" (HYH) and YHWH, relegating any similarities to coincidence,
but it does account for:

1.  The lack of historical etymology to the word.

2.  The fact that it contains only matres lectiones.

3.  The fact that the traditional pronuncation for the word has
    nothing to do with the sound of the letters.

4.  The fact that until very late, the letters of YHWH themselves, and
    not the sounds, seemed to be primary.  (Some copies of the LXX
    contain the Hebrew letters, and some DSS use the ancient letters
    for YHWH among modern letters for the rest of the text.) 

It also accords well with the fact that the Israelites seem to have
used their matres lectiones for other important tasks, including
adding a Hey to the names of their Patriarch (AVRM --> AVRHM),
Matriarch (SHY --> SRH) and deity (ELYM --> ELHYM).

-Joel Hoffman

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