[b-hebrew] Linguistic, historical, cultural origins of yahweh

Gabe Eisenstein gabe at cascadeaccess.com
Wed Dec 3 17:27:28 EST 2008

A few points about the name YHWH:

1. As I recall there are older instances of deity names Yah and Yahva 
from places as far away as India (Yahva in Rig Veda), Egypt (moon god 
Yah in papyrus of Ani) and Hatti/Syria (-yahu names in Sam'al). 
Therefore I think it unlikely that the name should be viewed as an 
original invention of "southern" or Shasu tribes. By the time that the 
precursor populations of the Israelite kingdoms achieved 
self-identification in contrast to Edomites, Philistines and Canaanites, 
they had chosen Yah(u or weh) in contrast to Chemosh, Baal, etc. But no  
one seems to know the prehistory to that.

2. Guy Zed asked whether the use of the name in the "J" sources can be 
used to trace its development. Here I want to say, first, that the name 
is also present in "E" texts, as identified by most experts, including 
Friedman and, I believe, Noth. What one finds in "E" texts is a very 
SPARING use of the name, only in a few crucial instances.
This suggests something to me that I've never seen discussed elsewhere: 
the possibility that the "E" writer represents the earliest case of the 
reticence to speak the name, which became dominant several centuries 
later. Martin Buber said that the name may at one time have been a 
war-cry. This might have been the real origin of the idea that the name 
can be used only on special occasions.
I also want to add that in my study of the Documentary Hypothesis I have 
become convinced that "E" preceded "J". (I guess 9th-8th centuries for 
"E" and 8th-7th for "J". Reasons available on request.)

3. Regarding the pronunciation of the name, I want to float a guess for 
your assessment: based on the text that derives YHWH from "ehyeh asher 
ehyeh", isn't it reasonable to assume a kind of rhyme between ehyeh, 
yihyeh and yahueh? What I mean to stress might be indicated by using an 
apostrophe to mark the aspiration in the middle -- so I would write 
yih'yeh to show that there are, so to speak, two and a half syllables 
there rather than two; and similarly I would write yah'ueh to show an 
aspiration before the u/w sound. (Maybe this is already assumed, but 
when I hear English speakers pronounce "yahweh" they just have two 
syllables, with no indication of the "u" sound or aspiration. Then it 
becomes puzzling as to why the contraction would be yahu.)

Gabe Eisenstein

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