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

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Thu Dec 4 09:15:40 EST 2008


On Wed, Dec 3, 2008 at 2:27 PM, Gabe Eisenstein <gabe at cascadeaccess.com>wrote:

> 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.
> One possibility that has not been addressed here is that the name YHWH was
known to Adam while yet in the Garden of Eden. This is the way the text as
written indicates, rather than as artificially divided to satisfy the
demands of the Documentary Hypothesis. After the confusion of languages at
Babel, either some of the languages maintained the name while others didn't,
or some of the peoples rebelled against God and one way to show that was
deliberately to forget the name.

> 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.)
> This is connected with the fact that no one living today knows how Biblical
Hebrew was pronounced during Biblical times. The only systematized
indication of vowels we have in Hebrew date from a tradition a millennium
later, which can be documented as sometimes wrong, and not the same as
earlier transliterations. One possibility that has some evidence to support
it but not enough to be proof, is that Biblical Hebrew was a consonant/vowel
language, each consonant was followed by a vowel, with some materes
lexionis, which would make the original pronunciation possibly something
like "Yahuwahe" or "Yahuhe". Another possibility where consonants can close
syllables could be "Yahuwah". Any pronunciation we give is speculation:
educated guesses, for sure, but still speculation.

> Gabe Eisenstein

Karl W. Randolph.

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