[b-hebrew] Translation theory and the tetragrammaton - YHWH

biblical hebrew jcr.bhebrew at gmail.com
Tue Oct 16 06:15:13 EDT 2007

Hi all,

In the past we have much discussed the meaning and possible pronunciations
of Yhwh but little has been said, to the best of my knowledge, about how
best to render it in English. Jehovah's Witnesses, with whom my first
serious contact with the bible was, promote the notion that in the original
Hebrew text the name was meaningful and so should be rendered in its English
equivalent 'Jehovah'. They promote the interpretation that Yhwh is a third
person imperfect causative of the root HWH with literal meaning 'he causes
to become' and there are good reasons to support this theory.

However, I find the notions that Yhwh means 'he causes to become' and that
Yhwh should be translated as 'Jehovah' to preserve faithfulness to the
hebrew text slightly incompatible in one aspect. As with all names in
English, while their ancient meanings can be taught, their meaning is lost
as they become labels for the person that bears them in the minds of the
people who use them. In order for an English rendition to render constant
reminder of its literal significance it would need to be a meaningful word
in the English language.

Like most causative Hebrew verb forms merely appending 'he causes to...' to
the qatal translation does little to render Yhwh into colloquial English and
most causatives benefit from taking a new more expressive meaning rather
than appending a literal 'he causes to ...' The sense of 'to cause to
become' in colloquial English can be rendered as 'to create'. However, the
next logical step of rendering Yhwh as 'he creates' doesn't make for good
naming practice in colloquial English.

And so what I came up with was 'Creator' to form translations of the sort
'And Creator said to Moses', 'And Creator's messenger came to Abraham' and
'Creator, Abraham's, Isaac's and Jacob's God'.

Any thoughts?

James Christian Read - BSc Computer Science
http://www.lamie.org/hebrew       Thesis 1 - Aleppo codex machine translation
http://www.lamie.org/lad-sim.doc  Thesis 2 - language acquisition simulation

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