[b-hebrew] YHWH Derivation - a dead end

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Thu May 5 02:33:18 EDT 2005

Dear Yigal,

I agree with you that to discuss the origin of YHWH, or to try to derive 
YHWH from the name/designation of another god is a dead end.  We know 
nothing about this, and we even do not have any clues. But there is much 

I have a comment ont Ex. 3:14 though: The two most common English 
glosses for the rendring of HYH is "be" and "become".  This means, for 
example, that the meaning of the word is very different from that of the 
Greek EIMI, which basically signifies a state. When a person speaks of 
himself and uses the YIQTOL form of HYH, the force is hardly that the 
person "is"; just his act of speaking proves that he "is," so any 
further statement is not needed.  But the force is that he *will become* 
something that is lacking at present.  Because of this, all examples of 
YIQTOL HYH, first person singular, save perhaps one or two, have future 
reference (cf. Ex. 3:12), and is translated by future in the Bible 
translations. It is an old tradition to translate Ex. 3:14 with "I am 
what I am". To say that a rendereing in a Bible translation "is wrong" 
is a very strong statement that seldom can be done, because passages can 
legitimately be translated in different ways. But I would say that the 
mentioned rendering of Ex 3:12 is tendentious and strange. Why should 
HYH in this case have a present reference when first person YIQTOLs of 
the root in most other cases are rendered with future?

As for YHWH, the points above suggest that there need not be any 
relationship between YHWH and HYH, even though this seems to be the case 
in Ex. 3:14.  One natural rendering of the verse would be: "I will 
become (or:prove to be) what I will become (or:prove to be)." If this 
was the way the writer understood the words, the clause relates to the 
*acts* of God and not to his existence. It is often shown in the Tanakh 
that YHWH becomes known on the basis of what he does, and when he did 
somewthing great in the past, the people learned to know him in a new 
way. Thus, YHWH is known by his personal name and by his acts.  If this 
is the thought behind the account in Ex. 3:13-15, it means that the 
clause ")ehe a$er )hye" is not an explanation of the meaning or origin 
of YHYH, but it points to another way of identifying God than by using 
his name, namely to identify him by his acts.  So the similarity between 
YHWH and HYH need not be anything but a play of words, which is a tool 
often used by Hebrew writers.

The conclusion is that YHWH is the unique personal name of the God that 
the Bible writers worshipped; it cannot be derived from anything, and 
its meaning cannot be known with certainty.

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

Yigal Levin wrote:

>The one answer that I don't think anyone has brought up is the Bible's own:
>")ehyeh a$er )ehyeh" - "I am that I am" (Ex. 3:14) seems to understand the
>name YHWH as derived from the root HYH. But in any case, this whole thread
>seems to be leading to a dead end. Do we know the etymology of most other
>ANE dieties? Hadad/Adad? Chemosh? Anat? Ashur (yes, that's also a toponym,
>but which came first?)? Marduk? Qws? I could go on and on....
>b-hebrew mailing list
>b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org

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