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

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Tue Oct 16 12:14:03 EDT 2007

Dear James,

I shock myself by agreeing with Isaac here. Proper names (personal and 
places as well) are better left untranslated, although obviously those who 
have to read the text in translation should be told ther meaning, since the 
text very often puns, drashes or otherwise makes use of the meanings of 
names, in ways that would be missed by someone who was unaware of those 

In the case of the Tetragrammaton, there have been so many thories about its 
origin and "real" meaning, that only an extremely self-confident person 
would really think that he finally has the true answer. Using an assumed 
meaning in stead of the Name, would lead an uninformed reader to the false 
conclusion that this is its real, accepted meaning. If you are the leader of 
a religious sect who claims that God revealed the meaning of His name to 
you, you can tell your followers whatever you want. But if you are 
participating in scholarly discourse, a little modesty would be appreciated.

Besides all that, there is a 2500 year tradition to deal with. At some time 
during the early Second Temple period, many Jews decided that God's true 
name was two sacred to vocalize, and began using "Adonai" ("My Lord") 
instead. In fact, Mishnaic tradition claims that the Name was only uttered 
by the high preist once a year, on Yom Kippur. This was accepeted by the 
translators of the Septuagint, who used "Kurios", and thus made its way into 
mainstream Christianity as well. Jews have also traditionally avoided 
writing the full four letters, except in ritual texts, and many printed 
Bibles and prayer books use such abbreviations as YY. Today, many observant 
Jews even avoid saying "Adonai" except when actually praying or reading the 
Bible as part of the liturgy, and use "Hashem" ("the Name") instead.

I'm not sure when it became common to use "YHWH", "Yahweh" and the like in 
academic writing, but my feeling is that it began as a sort of reaction or 
deliberate challenge to religiously-based scholarship's insistance on 
"Lord". I do understand the scholarly advantage to "reading it like it's 
written", but those who do (myself included, sometimes) shout realize that 
quite a few people are actually offended, or at least uncomfortable, when 
they hear the tetragrammaton vocalized or see it spelled out.

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Isaac Fried" <if at math.bu.edu>
To: "biblical hebrew" <jcr.bhebrew at gmail.com>
Cc: "b-hebrew" <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Tuesday, October 16, 2007 2:07 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Translation theory and the tetragrammaton - YHWH

> James,
> Religious beliefs apart, reading ancient names grammatically could be
> a grave mistake. It is unrealistic that YICXAQ is He-will-laugh and YA
> (AKOB is He-will-follow-in-the-footsteps. I also think that the ABI-
> of ABI-MELEK is not the-father-of. It is certainly incongruous in the
> girl names ABI-GAYIL [see 1 Samuel 25:3], and ABI-$AG [see 1 Kings
> 1:3]. Similarly, the BAT- in  BAT-$EB(A [see 2 Samuel 11:3] and BAT-$U
> (A [see 1 chronicles 3:5] need not be the-daughter-of. In fact, the
> latter is the daughter of Ammiel.
> Isaac Fried, Boston University
> On Oct 16, 2007, at 6:15 AM, biblical hebrew wrote:
>> 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.
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