[b-hebrew] Also asking a question - Re: YHWH is Aramaic?

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Fri Jun 30 03:46:28 EDT 2006

Dear Uri,

Because people of our day, including speakers of modern Hebrew, do not have
the same presupposition pool as the writer of Exodus and his audience, we
cannot know for sure the meaning of Exodus 3:14. Your thoughts below are
possible and your reasoning legitimate; nontheless, I will take another

First, I see no compelling reason to conclude that )HYH )$R )HYH in Exodus
3:14 is an explanation of the lexical meaning or etymology of YHWH. So
whether YHWH is Aramaic or Hebrew is not so important.
Second, the word $M (3:13) can refer to more than to the letters (and the
pronunciation of these letters) of a proper name. A study of the use of $M
and of the connotations of this word in the Tanakh may throw more light on
Exodus chapter 3.

In 3:11 we find the normal way of expressing "I am," namely by the use of a
nominal clause (MY )NKY). (Note also the nominal clause in 3:13 "what is his 
In 3:12 we find the first person singular form )HYH. What is its force? It
is not an ontological expression, something which hardly was a part of the
old Hebrew presupposition pool at all. God does not mean to say that in the 
he will exist. But )HYH is connected with the word )WT. This suggests
that )HYH in this verse is semi-fientive. By peforming particular actions in
the future it will be shown (a sign) that God supports Moses. The 
phrase of the NIV rendering of this verse, "I will be with you" suggests 
that the translators viewed
)HYH as including action. A more explicit rendering would be "I will prove 
to be with you".

Having distinguished between the present stative force of "am" expressed by 
nominal clause, and the semi-fientive future force expressed by )HYH, we 
a good background for a discussion of 3:14.

The question in 3:13 "What is his name?" requires an answer that shows the
pronunciation of the proper name of God, since the identification "the God 
your fathers" may be inadequate. In my view, a direct answer to that 
is given in 3:15, namely, that this name is YHWH. This name is also 
with "the God of your fathers" in that verse.

What then is the meaning of 3:14? I see no reason to believe that this verse 
the meaning or etymology of YHWH, The connection between )HYH and YHWH
needs not be more than a word play (If YHWH is a verb, the grammatical 
is different from )HYH, and the WAW differs from the YOD:). I see 
in )HYH )$R )HYH in 3:14
an expansion of )HYH in 3:12. The word  )HYH in 3:12 shows that God will act 
and support Moses
when he leads the people out of Egypt; the clause in 3:14 shows that not 
only in this
case is YHWH a God of action, but in all cases is he a God of purpose, and 
his purpose is
connected with his proper name. In other words, the people could identify 
and learn to know
their God by pronouncing and using his personal name, and they could 
identify and know
him by considering his grand actions which were connected with his name.

I therefore suggest the following rendering for )HYH )$R )HYH: "I will prove 
to be
what I will prove to be." I agree with those who view the renderings "I am 
who I am." as meaningless.
I also agree with those who find little meaning in, "I will be whom I will 
be," although
a semi-fientive interpretation of "will be" can be meaningful. But I view my 
above as meaningful, becaus it says: "I am a God of purpose, and you can 
know me
by looking at my acts."

The basic obstacle for an understanding of Exodus 3:14,15 is the view that 
there is a lexical (or etymological)
connection between YHWH and )HYH; in my view this is a sidetrack.

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Uri Hurwitz" <uhurwitz at yahoo.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Thursday, June 29, 2006 10:24 PM
Subject: [b-hebrew] Also asking a question - Re: YHWH is Aramaic?

>    Dear Rolf Furuli,    you wrote correctly"::...the translator must use
>  the context to choose the tense in the target language. In some cases,
>   such as in this case, the context is rather decisive...."
>     It appears in the context of Exod. 3:14 that the author of this
>   verse simply didn't know the meaning of YHWH. Obviously
>  the name had been an object of some curiosity, and an answer
>  was sought. But the meaning of this word had been lost,
>  especially since it became truncated. Further, the  Aramaic
>    form of the verb which had been brought over with some
>   Aramaic speaking anscestors was no longer used by the
>  author and his audience.  Such very different scholars as Cross
>   and de Moor consider YHWH a hypocoristicon.
>    The writer of these verses shifted the verb to the Hebrew
>  usage, HYH. That much was clear to him. But since the meaning
>   was no longer understood, the  answer  given was the elusive
>   Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh which is really meaningless . This phrase has
>  no meaning whether one wishes to understand Ehyeh as "I am"
>   or "I shall be" .
>    Thus in this specific case, it seems to me, one can translate it
>  either way.If it were a free translation, the best answer to the
>   questions "What is his name?" and "What shall I tell them?"
>  in verse 13 would be: "I don't know" in verse 14. Likewise the free
>   translation, further, would be "the God whose name I do not know sent
> me'.
>    Uri Hurwitz

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