[b-hebrew] 3-syllable or 3-beat? Yhô-: an abreviation OR the full name?

Garth's Hotmail garthgrenache at hotmail.com
Tue Sep 12 04:59:13 EDT 2006

Thanks TruthSeeker for posting this link!

[http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-hebrew/1999-April/002804.html -I have appended the text to this post.]

The summary of the link is:
  "modern scholarship is now admitting that "Yahweh" is not the correct 
  way to pronounce God's name... they are looking... on the path of three syllables, not two."

That is, it is presumed that...
  a.. Y:hô- and -yahû  represent the first two syllables of a three-syllabled YHWH.
and it is thought that...
  a.. a two-syllabled "Yah-weh" does not sound Semitic, 
  b.. a three-syllabled "Yahoweh"/"Yahuweh" might sound better (more rhythmically appropriate) in the song of Moses (Ex 15)

My response:

Have these scholars considered that:
  a.. Perhaps YHWH was never abbreviated, except to "Yah". 
    a.. Perhaps Y:hô- is not an abbreviation, 
      a.. but is the full name Yahwa- 
      b.. which before a consonant underwent phonological changes 
      c.. which are attested in similar situations elsewhere in Hebrew and Semitic.
    b.. Perhaps -yahû  is not an abbreviation either, 
      a.. but is the full name Yahwa, 
      b.. which had lost its final vowel by the time the (-yahw) theophorics became standardized, 
        a.. and was pronounced as "Yahw", and written in Greek as IAÔ, or IAOU... 
        b.. until the Middle Ages when the consonantal Hebrew spelling prompted the restoration of a final vowel.
  b.. And perhaps a word like "Yahwa" (CaCWa) would have be pronounced in 3-beats, rhythmically. 
    a.. Rather than forcing long and short syllables into one syllable per beat (as the Masoretic text indicates for its chanting).. 
    b.. the rhythm would be one consonant released per beat: "Ya-`l-le," "Ya-hw-wa," "ka-ta-ba," "ya-kt-tu-bu" 
    c.. For long vowels or long consonants, an extra beat is needed: "sa-la-a-m," "gi-d-de-l" 
    d.. This is how 'two-syllabled' "Yahya" (he lives) is pronounced in Arabic today: "ya-hy-ya" 
    e.. Perhaps syllables were not so important in Ancient Semitic, 
      a.. Perhaps syllables became increasingly important in each Semitic language. 
      b.. A syllabic analysis occured in each language. 
      c.. Each language applied its own 'rules' about what kind of syllables would be tolerated. 
        a.. This contributed to the divergence between the Semitic languages which we see today.
    f.. Compare these forms of the same Proto-Semitic words for which I've reconstructed a Proto-Semitic form. 

Watch how each language syllabizes what may have once been 'assyllabic' (meaning that 'syllable' was once not important to the spelling). (Brackets mark verbal forms rather than actual words.)


      *sm- (name)
     sm / sm
      *bn- (son)

      *ktub (write!)

      *p- (mouth)

      *lahm- (bread)



Notice how Hebrew and Akkadian syllabize bn and sm by putting a vowel between the two consonants, but the others syllabize the same words by putting vowels before and/or after.

Arabic doesn't seem to tolerate syllables of the form CCVC.  To break up CCVC syllables (e.g. ktub) a second syllable is created by adding a vowel in front of the first consonant to make VC-CVC.  Hebrew and Syriac tolerate CCVC syllables and leave the structure unchanged.  Akkadian can only write syllables like V, CV, VC, or CVC, and the fact that it chose to add a vowel between the first two consonants of CCVC (making CVCVC) suggests that the initial vowel of Arabic Imperatives was not already present.

Notice how a form CVCC, which is tolerated in most Semitic languages, is syllabized in Hebrew to CVCVC.

How many syllables is lahm? Technically it can only have one syllable, because it has only one vowel.  But listen to an Arabic speak say "lahm", and it will sound to us as though they pronounced two syllables: "la-hm".  Ask them to say "badw" (bedouin), and they seem to say "ba-dw".  

Notice that there is only one syllable in "lahm" and "badw" (if one counts syllables -or if syllables count), and yet the pronunciation is in two beats.

Reader, am I making sense?  Is it hard to grasp that the 'syllable' might be more of an abstraction than a reality in the minds of Ancient Semitic speakers?

Consider the English word "rhythmic".  How many syllables does it have?  "rhyth-mic" -2, right?  Two vowels and two syllables.
Now take away one vowel, the '-ic', leaving "rhythm".  2-1 = 1?  Then why do we say, "rhy-thm" in two beats?  

So then, the absence of a vowel, whilst preventing a syllable in the technical sense, doesn't mean that the rhythm is altered.  

Or in other words,
whether YHWH was made up of any of these phonemes:
"yahowa"   "yahuwa"    "yahwe"      "yahwa"     "yhwu"      "yhwa"       "yhowa"
-these would all have the same, 3-beat rhythm, if each consonant is released on a beat, either into another consonant or into a vowel:
"ya-ho-wa" "ya-hu-wa" "ya-hw-we" "ya-hw-wa" "yh-hw-wu" "yh-hw-wa" "yh-ho-wa" 

>From Yahwa to Yahw to -yahû

This thinking makes it very easy to understand how the -yahû endings could come about:

  1.. Starting from (Yahwa)  "ya-hw-wa", the final vowel drops from pronunciation of the Divine Name.
  2.. This results in a one-syllable, two beat "ya-hw" (which is what we find in Greek and Latin spellings)
  3.. A name is made by attaching the Divine Name "Yahw" at the end of (an)other word(s), e.g. natan (he gives) + Yahw -> natanyahw 
  4.. In Hebrew, third-last, short, open syllables are eliminated: ntanyahw (Nethaniahu)
  5.. In Hebrew, syllables shaped CVCC (see above) became modified to the shape CVCVC. "ya-hw" -> "ya-huw", AND,
  In Hebrew, short syllables (CV) are lengthened (CV) in syllable-per-beat chanting: "ya-huw" -> "ya-huw".

So as lehem (lahm), seper (sipr), qodes (quds), etc. came from one-syllable, two-beat originals,

then it is no difficult thing for two-syllable "yahu" to come from one-syllable, two-beat "yahw".

>From Yahwa to Yhô-

One thing that seems difficult for a "3-syllable" theory to explain is why the suffix has "û" and the prefix has "ô".
Observe the problem:
  a.. If one supposes an original "Yahuwa", he must explain how the prefix became yhô- rather than yhû-.
  b.. If one supposes an original "Yahowa", he must explain how the suffix became -yhû rather than -yhô.

It seems to me that the prefix is more ancient than the suffix.  I propose that it dates to a time before the clipping of "Yahwa" to "Yahw".
This seems to be generally overlooked, and may be an important clue. Look in your Bibles for the first Jeho- names, and then for the first -iah(u) names.  The Jeho- form of name appears to me to predate the -iah(u) form of name by centuries or millenia.  If you have contrary evidence, please bring it forth.

I propose that the first Yhô- names were originally "Yahwa-" names:
  1.. Yahwa was attached without modification to the front of another word, 
          e.g. Yahwa + natan "Ya-hw-wa-na-tan" (Yahwanatan)
  2.. The semivowel 'w' was prone in a situation -CwaC- to be conformed to the quality of the 'a':
          "Ya-hw-wa-na-tan" -> "Ya-ha-a-na-tan" (Yahanatan) 
  3.. In Hebrew there was a "Canaanite vowel shift" of long 'a' to 'o':
          "Ya-ha-a-na-tan" -> "Ya-ho-o-na-tan" (Yahonatan) 
  4.. Reduction of short, open syllables before the last two, occured in Hebrew syllabizing:
  5.. Vowel lengthening occurs in chanting:

Does this seem a strange thing?  Strange, but quite possible!
The same thing seems to have happened to the word 'ahôt (sister):
  1.. ProtoSemitic " 'ahwat" (sister) is formed by attaching to the feminine ending "-at" ProtoSemitic " 'ahw" (brother):
          'ahw +  -at-  => " 'a-hw-wa-t- " 
  2.. -CwaC- became -CaC- :
          " 'a-hw-wa-tu"  -> " 'a-ha-a-tu"   ("ahatu"  -Akkadian for 'sister') 
  3.. In Hebrew, long 'a' becomes 'o' (and declension ending -u drops):
          " 'a-ha-a-tu"  -> " 'a-ho-ot "  (" 'ahôt"  -Hebrew for 'sister')
Is there any other plausible explanation for the Hebrew form 'ahôt ?


The theory that the two-syllabled "y-hô-" and "-ya-hû" affixes require a three-syllabled pronunciation of YHWH rests on these assumptions:
  1.. That the affixes could represent only two thirds of the name, the last syllable being (intentionally?) eliminated for the purpose of making an affix.
  2.. That consonants needed vowels between them to contribute to the rhythm of the word. (i.e. 'syllables' were important to the rhythm)
  3.. That the ô and û of the affixes could only have resulted from original vowels, and not from a single semivowel 'w' or a vowel-semivowel combination like 'wa'.
I believe I have demonstrated that these assumptions need not be true.


I welcome all challengers and other YHWH theories to be presented for discussion at:


Come and listen!  Come and join in!

Love from Garth Grenache.

Moderator of YHWHgroup

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: truthseeker3712 
  Subject: [YHWHgroup] An interesting discussion [3-syllable YHWH]


  The message reads:

  In a message dated 4/27/99 9:02:02 PM Pacific Daylight Time, 
  gs02wmr at panther.Gsu.EDU writes:

  I was always taught that there existed no such name as "Yahweh" since that
  is obviously an anglicized version of the ancient Hebrew
  Tetragrammaton(YHWH) and an incorrect transliteration.  >>

  Dear Joseph:

  Modern scholarship is starting to recognize the shallow support (almost 
  non-existent, in fact) for the pronunciation "Yahweh."

  The original form of the divine name was almost certainly three syllables, 
  not two. George W. Buchanan, "Some Unfinished Business With the Dead Sea 
  Scrolls," RevQ 13.49-52 (1988), 416, points out that there was only one group 
  in antiquity to pronounce the divine name similar to the popular form, 
  "Yahweh." And this only because Theodoret (fifth-century CE Antiochene 
  theologian) claimed that the Samaritans pronounced the divine name as Iabe.  
  I would add Epiphanius (c. 315-403 CE) to the list of those who used Iabe. 
  See A. Lukyn Williams, "The Tetragrammaton-Jahweh, Name or Surrogate?" ZAW 54 
  (1936), 264.

  But, "all other examples [from antiquity] maintain the middle vowel" (Ibid., 
  416)  Buchanan also points out that "the name 'Yahweh' does not even sound 
  Semitic," and he produces examples from Exodus 15 with "Yahweh" and "Yahowah" 
  in the same sentences. Those with "Yahowah" sound "smooth and poetic," while 
  those with "Yahweh" "sound rough and unrythmical."  Buchanan concludes: "The 
  accumulated data points heavily in the direction of a three syllable word, 
  whose middle syllable was hô or hû. The first two syllables were Yahû or Yahô 
  that were sometimes abbreviated to Yô. For poetry, liturgy, and some other 
  reasons, the name Yâh was also used. Only from Theodoret's Greek spelling of 
  the Samaritan use of the term is there any basis for the pronunciation 
  'Yahweh' or 'Jahveh.' This is hardly enough to overpower all of the other 
  exhibits" (Ibid., 419).

  Buchanan has elsewhere, and more recently, taken issue with the pronunciation 
  "Yahweh." In "How God's Name Was Pronounced," BAR 21.2 (March-April 1995), 
  31-32, he writes: 

  "Anyone who cares to check the concordances will find that there is no name 
  in the entire Scriptures that includes the Tetragrammaton and also omits the 
  vowel that is left out in the two-syllable pronunciation [=Yahweh] Rainey 
  upholds. . . When the Tetragrammaton was pronounced in one syllable it was 
  'Yah' or 'Yo.' When it was pronounced in three syllables it would have been 
  'Yahowah' or 'Yahoowah.' If it was ever abbreviated to two syllables it would 
  have been 'Yaho,' but even this spelling may have been pronounced with three 
  syllables, including the final aspirant, because Hebrew had no vowel points 
  in Biblical times."

  Laird Harris, "The Pronunciation of the Tetragram," in The Law and the 
  Prophets: Old Testament Studies Prepared in Honor of Oswald Thompson Allis, 
  ed. John H. Skilton (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed 
  Publishing, 1974), 220, believes that the form "Yahweh" is an "incorrect 
  hybrid form with an early w and a late -eh." Harris himself believes (page 
  224) that "the syllable division ya ho wi hu is the most likely," and that if 
  the divine name were a noun form [Harris does not believe the divine name is 
  necessarily etymologically related to haw(y)ah-ibid., 218-222] it "would have 
  ended up as Jahoweh, a form accidentally similar but remarkably like the 
  hybrid form Jehovah!" 

  While I do not necessarily accept Laird's interpretation, it shows that 
  because modern scholarship is now admitting that "Yahweh" is not the correct 
  way to pronounce God's name, particularly for reasons similar to those given 
  by Buchanan, they are looking other directions to solve the problem, and 
  these directions are all on the path of three syllables, not two. 

  Hope this helps!

  Greg Stafford

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