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How to pronounce it

How the pronunciation disappeared

The four consonants YHWH (or JHWH / YHVH / JHVH), also called the tetragrammaton (modern Hebrew: , Paleo-Hebrew: ), are preserved from Paleo-Hebrew where the written text only had consonants, and the reader supplied the vowels during reading; as we today would read "blvd." as "boulevard". How the reader should pronounce the words was delivered from generations to generations by word of mouth.

During the period between 500 and 1000 CE the vowel points were invented. These markings were added to the consonants, and should help the reader to pronounce the words correctly.

But before these vowel points were invented, there was developed a superstition against using the divine name. Easton's Bible Dictionary says that the Jews stopped using the name because of a misinterpretation of Lev. 24:16, "anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death".

Some thinks that the Jews stopped using the name so that none-Jews not would get to know it and misuse it. Others think that they started to consider the name as too holy to be pronounced. Anyway, the original pronunciation was forgotten and all we have left are four consonants - YHWH.

Attempts to find the original pronunciation

Hieronymus writes that in his time there were some who pronounced God's name as "PIPI", because when some ignorant readers were confronted with the tetragrammaton in a Greek text, these Hebrew letters could look like the Greek letters ΠΙΠΙ, which are pronounced "PIPI".

Scholars have for a long time tried to find the way back to the correct pronunciation, and there are two pronunciations that are generally accepted, namely YeHoWa(H) and YaHWe(H).

Is it possible to find the right pronunciation? Well, we are at least able to find out which one of Jehovah or Jahwe that is closest to the original pronunciation.

A common explanation of the pronunciation "Yehowa" is that the vowels of the name "Yehowa" are picked from the the Hebrew word "adonay". Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says: "In the post-biblical period, reverence for the ineffable name "Yahweh" caused it to be supplanted in synagogue reading (but not in writing) with the noun adonay "my master," or Lord. Next, when medieval Jewish scholars began to insert vowels to accompany the consonantal OT text, they added to YHWH the Masoretic vowel points for adonay ; and the actual writing became an impossible YaHoWaH ..."

The president of the Association Biblique de Recherche d'Anciens Manuscrits in France writes that this is just a fabrication, it has never been documented. The word "Yahowah" has a blasphemous meaning, and has never been used in any Bibles. There are claims about a grammatical pattern where the vowels a-o-a has developed into e-o-a, but this pattern has never existed, and these assertions were proved wrong in 1842 by Paul Drach, a rabbi who was converted to Catholicism.
Read more about why the word Yahowah is blasphemous (pop-up window)

What the short form Yah shows us

The expression hallelujah (hallelu-Yah) which is used in both the Old and the New Testament, means "praise Yah". Yah is a contraction of the divine name, and is most often used in Jewish poetry. Yah is written with the consonants YH in Hebrew, with the vowel point "a" between these two consonants. The vowel and the consonants are taken from the tetragrammaton, and this indicates a vowel "a" in it. The result is either
Y-aH-W-H or Y-H-W-aH, depending of which H that is taken from the tetragrammaton. This fact alone supports both Yahweh and Yehowah.

What Jewish names shows us

It is a fact that the Jewish people used to combine names with an abbreviation of God's name when they named their children. These names are called teophoric names, and they are preserved with vowel pointings. We have lots of examples of teophoric names in the Bible.

There are mainly two kinds of teophoric names in the Bible. One kind begin with the three first consonants of the tetragrammaton, Y-H-W-, and the second kind end with the short form -yah or -yahu (Yahu is a contraction of the expression Yah hu' which means "Yah himself". F. ex. Eliyah means "my God is Yah", and Eliyahu means "my God is Yah himself").

Here are some examples of teophoric names that begin with the three first consonants of the tetragrammaton: Yehoiakim, Yehonathan, Yehoshaphat, Yehoash, Yehoram, Yehoiada, Yehoiarib, among others. These names were sometimes shortened to create new names, and this resulted in Yoiakim, Yonathan, etc. Click here for more examples (pop-up window).

When we compare the names that begin with the three first consonants of the tetragrammaton (YHW), we see that all the names are vocalized YeHo-. In Hebrew, the consonant W may be used to represent the vowel sound ō ("o" as in hole), and this is indicated by placing a dot above the consonant W. Usually, the consonantal sound is not pronounced when it represents a vowel (an exception is if this results in two vowels standing beside each other, which is not grammatically correct).

Teophoric names indicates therefore that the tetragrammaton is to be vocalized Ye-H-o-H. Since teophoric names doesn't indicate a vowel "a" in the first half of the tetragrammaton, this means that the -aH in the short form Yah has to be in the last part of the tetragrammaton. When we combine these two pieces of information, it gives ut the following result: Ye-H-o-aH. In Hebrew grammar, there is an invariable rule that two vowels can't stand beside each other, so therefore the consonantal sound of W has to be pronounced. The result is therefore Ye-H-oW-aH.

One thing that is common in all the names that begin with the first consonants of the divine name, is that the vowel "o" is included, both in the primary form (for example Jehonathan) and in the shortened form (Jonathan). This shows us that the name couldn't have only two syllables. For example Jahwe which only has two syllables cannot have the vowel "o".

Argument against the form YeHoWaH

It is claimed that after the pronunciation of the tetragrammaton was lost, some scribes borrowed the vowels from another word and pointed the tetragrammaton with these vowels, to remind the reader about reading aloud this other word, instead of the tetragrammaton. After a long time, this practice was forgotten, and some ignorant readers read the consonants together with these vowels; something that resulted in the form YeHoWaH. Some people argue that this form therefore cannot be the correct form - but this argument doesn't hold its ground.

If they who added the vowels, and the ignorant readers who read the consonants together with the vowels, didn't knew the original pronunciation of the tetragrammaton - then they neither didn't knew how it not should be pronounced. If they by chance used the correct vowels, this cannot be used as any evidence against the vowels used by teophoric names.

The argument is that the use of Jehovah in old bibles cannot be used to prove that the vowels e-o-a is correct - and this argument is correct. But one cannot either use this argument as proof for these vowels to be wrong.

Are there other sources that accept the form YeHoWaH?

Professor George Buchanan, a professor emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. has written the following: "In no case is the vowel oo or oh omitted. The word was sometimes abbreviated as 'Ya,' but never as 'Ya-weh'." He also wrote: "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'." (Biblical Archaeology Review)

D. D. Williams said: "Evidence indicates, nay almost proves, that Jahwéh was not the true pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton ... The Name itself was probably JAHÔH." Dr. Max Reisel writes that "vocalization of the Tetragrammaton must originally have been YeHūàH or YaHūàH" (The Mysterious Name of Y.H.W.H., page 74).

Professord Gérard Gertoux, a Hebrew scholar, refers in his book to what Maimonides (a Jewish scholar and famous talmudist) has written, and says: "This name YHWH is read without difficulty because it is pronounced as it is written, or according to its letters as the Talmud says." He displays a long study in pronunciation of names, and draws the conclusion that the divine name is pronounced "I_Eh_oU_Ah". He even writes: "The name Yahweh (which is a barbarism) has only been created to battle with the true name Jehovah." (The Name of God ... its story)

Other relations concerning the vocalization of the Divine Name
(advanced appendix)

The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus knew well how the divine name was to be pronounced (this can be seen in his work "Jewish antiquities"), but he didn't want to reveal it. But he gave away some hints in his work The Jewish War. In volume 5 chapter 5, which is a description of the temple, he wrote the following: "On his head the high priest wore a linen mitre wreathed with blue and encircled by a crown of gold, which bore in relief the sacred letters - four vowels."

But there were no vowels in the Hebrew alphabet at this time. What did Josephus mean by this? Some people, influenced by the form Yahweh, doesn't explain this further, but claims that Josephus presumably thought of the Greek vowels IAUE. But these "sacret letters", that undoubtedly were the tetragrammaton, was written in Paleo-Hebrew and not Greek - something Josephus knew. Then what did Josephus mean?

Before the Hebrew vowel pointing was invented, the Jews used some of their consonants as vowels, to indicate vowel sounds. These letter are called "vowel letters", or in Latin matres lectionis ("mothers of reading"). There are four consonants that can indicate a vowel - 'aleph, waw, yod, and the letter he' if it is the last letter of a word.

(In a Hebrew text that has vowel points there are grammar rules that do not allow a yod that begins a Hebrew word to be used as a vowel letter, but Josephus's teaching that the sacred name "consists of four vowels" may be valid in a Hebrew text that has no vowel points.)

This may be an explanation of how the Jewish historian could call the letters YHWH "vowels". The letters Y, H and W were regarded as vowels. So how will the name sound if we switch the letters with the vowels of matres lectionis?

(English pronunciation is written inside parenthesis) Qumran-findings show us that in the first century the letter Y was often used as the vowel sound Ī (ee as in seek); W was equivalent to Ō (o as in hole) or Ū (oo as in mood); and H at the end of a word was pronounced Ā (a as in father). When these letters are used as a vowel, their consonantal sound are usually not pronounced (except if this results in two vowels standing beside each other, something that is not allowed in Hebrew grammar).

Matres lectionis - vowel letters

Letter Name

Equivalent vowel

Example

Pronounced
'Aleph mainly ā

   

Pārān
He' mainly ā
(at the end of a word)

   
   

Lē'ā
Jēhū
Waw ō or ū

   
   

Jō'ēl
Bārūkh
Yod ī, ē or æ

   

Dāwīd


Let's try this manner of reading with a name where we already know it's pronunciation. Lets use the name YHWDH, which is written almost the same way as the divine name. If we write the vowels as they are to be pronounced, Y-H-W-D-H turns into I-H-Ū-D-Ā. This is in agreement with the pronunciation we already know, "Y
ēHūDāH" (the English "Judah").

When we use this manner of reading with the name YHWH, we can do it the same way. Y-H-W-H turns into I-H-Ū-Ā or I-H-Ō-Ā. This brings us closer to "Yehowa" and further away from "Yahwe". (The fact that the divine name is written without a mappiq shows that the last H should be pronounced Ā.)

When we read the vowel letters, we see that YHWH has pretty much the same pronunciation as YHWDH (YēHūDāH), the difference is that the letter D is not in it. If we, as an experiment, removed the D, we would get YēHūāH. But in written Hebrew, there is an invariable rule that two vowels can't stand beside each other, there has to be a consonant between u and a. The consonantal sound of W shall therefore also be pronounced, and we get the pronunciation YēHūWāH.

Summary:
As we have seen, the Divine Name must have at least three syllables. Jewish names indicate that it begins with Yeho-, and the short form Yah indicates that it ends with -aH. If we choose to read matres lectionis we get the pronunciation IHŌĀ or IHŪĀ. The form "Yahweh" doesn't explain the vowel "o". This shows us that the form "Yahweh" cannot even be close to the original form. 


But why is it that some people don't want to use the form "Jehovah", when it undoubtedly is closest to the original pronunciation? Why are some who earlier have used the form "Jehovah" now refraining from using it, preferring the form "Jahwe" instead - in spite of recent evidence proofing "Jahwe" wrong. For example Norwegian Bible Association have for several years used the name "Jehova" in a footnote for Exodus 3:15, but in the recent years they have instead used "Jahve".

Professor C. Perrot at Institut Catholique de Paris wrote the following to professor Gertoux (mentioned earlier): "Your arguments are very pertinent, but it would be hard to come back without yielding to Jehovah's Witnesses."

So maybe some avoid using the name because they fear getting associated with the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. But if you really respect the God of the Bible, his Name, and what it represents, you will not allow such a fear to prevent you from using it.

> Read further about what archaeology says about the pronunciation.