[b-hebrew] YHWH is Aramaic?

Joshua Luna joshua at can-do.net
Thu Jun 29 06:47:28 EDT 2006

Dr. Altman,

Your statement that, "The god of Israel does not have a name" fails on a
number of levels.

1. The God of Israel was historically known as YHWH. Looking at the
pre-exilic inscriptions there are a couple dozen examples of Israel calling
her God by the name YHWH. See for example the Lachish letters, Tel Arad
ostracons, Ketef Hinnom Silver Plaques, Kuntillet `Ajrud, Khirbet Beit Lei
Burial Cave inscriptions, Nahal Yishai cave inscription, Khirbet el-Qom tomb
inscription, and so forth.

In comparison 'adonai and 'elohim are rarely used. e.g. 'elohim, There are
only three examples of 'elohim in G.I. Davies, "Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions"
and both are used in the construct and in connection with the name YHWH.
There is one example from the Lachish letters (number 6, line 12) "YHWH your
God ['lhyk]" and from Khirbet Beit Lei we have "YHWH God ['lhy] of all the
earth ... YHWH the God ['lhy] of Jerusalem" and "[I am] YHWH your God [?
'lhykh]" (Inscription A). The extant inscriptional evidence does not
indicate they knew their God by anything other than YHWH. This appears to be
substantiated by the fact other nations, like the Moabites, referred to the
Israelite God by the name YHWH (see the Moabite Stone).

2.) The Hebrew Bible states that YHWH is Israel's God's name (shem) and that
this is his memorial (zekher) on a number of occasions. Some examples:

Ex 3:15; Ex 15:3; Isa 42:8; Isa 47:4; Isa 48:2; Isa 51:15; Isa 54:5; Jer
10:16; Jer 15:16; Jer 16:21; Jer 31:35; Jer 32:18; Jer 33:2; Jer 46:18; Jer
48:15; Jer 50:34; Jer 51:19; Jer 51:57; Amos 4:13; Amos 5:8; Amos 9:6; Ps

One could add the host of parallels where YHWH and name stand in opposition
and the frequent use of YHWH as the designation for the person of Israel's

3. Your "concrete" evidence is very late to make such broad deductions about
Israelite religion. Specifically the Zoilos inscription shows signs of the
religious dogma of the era more so than anything. It was not uncommon in
Judaism to avoid using the Tetragrammaton and in some circles the belief
that God was nameless (in response to Hellenistic ideas that "The One" named
all things and naming was reserved for higher beings to lower beings, and
thus the most high god could not have a name; see "The Old Rabbinic Doctrine
of God" by Marmorstein for a fuller survey of these influences on Judaism
during the time period).

4. Regardless of any ideas one has about what does, and does not, define a
"monotheism" the Hebrew Bible has no issue contrasting YHWH, the God of
Israel, with the gods (real or not) of the nations. A number of conflicts
between YHWH and his faithful with foreign gods and their people contain
phrases like, "But I come against you in the name of YHWH" (1Sam 17:45;
another example see Elijah and the prophets of Ba`al in 1Ki 18).

In my opinion the mass of inscriptional evidence and the repeated witness of
the Hebrew Bible are decidedly opposed to your suggestion that the God of
Israel was nameless.

Joshua Luna
United States


Message: 27
Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 08:14:19 +0200
From: Rochelle Altman <willaa at netvision.net.il>
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] YHWH is Aramaic?
To: Shoshanna Walker <rosewalk at concentric.net>
Cc: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
Message-ID: < at>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii; format=flowed


The god of Israel does not have a name.  YHVH (or in German notation: YHWH 
-- remember, in German 'W' is pronounced 'V') is a way to refer to god; it 
is specifically not a name. Everybody else had names for their different 
gods -- with a pantheon you need names. The whole point is monotheism -- a 
single god does not need a name.

If you look at the ZOILOS inscription from Tel Dan (2nd century BCE), you 
will see that the invocation (1st line in Greek) to the god under whom the 
vow was made does not have a name -- just "theos". The text is a standard 
Greek formula; however, the vow itself, the last line, is in cursive square 
script and written by Zoilos himself (a vow must be in the hand of the 
person making the vow) and in an abbreviated form of a standard Hebrew oath 
formula.  Both the first word, the Hebrew "truth" statement and the last 
word, what was actually vowed, have been chiseled out. (It's a cancelled 
vow.) It is not in Aramaic. It was turned into Aramaic by editorial fiat -- 
on the two lacunae.

You need concrete evidence that the god of Israel had no name? Well there 
it is.

I'm leaving early tomorrow morning and cannot continue with this thread.

Dr. Rochelle Altman
US and Israel

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