Friday, May 6, 2011

The Mispronunciation of Yahweh as Jehovah

The claim was made in a previous post (see “The Meaning of the Name Yahweh or Jehovah”) that Jehovah is the incorrect pronunciation of the Hebrew word יהוה, which the scholarly consensus reckons should be pronounced as Yahweh (see “The Reconstruction of the Pronunciation of the Divine Name Yahweh”).

The word Jehovah, despite its presence traditionally in many English translations of the Bible, is actually a nonsense word from the perspective of the Hebrew language. There is no such word as Jehovah in Hebrew. Jehovah is in reality a nonsense word because it is made up of the consonants of one word and the vowels of another.

The confusion stems from the Jewish tradition of qere and ketiv. The Aramaic word ketiv (written as כְּתִיב in Aramaic) denotes the uncorrected consonants of a problematic word that appears in the Masoretic text. כְּתִיב means it is written. The Aramiac word qere (written as קְרֵי in Aramaic) denotes the correct reading according to Masoretic manuscript tradition. קְרֵי means to be read. The qere is indicated in later Hebrew manuscripts and Hebrew Bibles by the sign ק in the margin. The consonants of the qere are written above the ק. They are to be viewed from the Masoretic perspective as constituting the consonants of the correct reading. The vowels of the qere are not written in the margin; but importantly are written in the body of the text together with the ketiv.

A good example of the way in which the qere and ketiv works is Lev 9:22. This verse has the form יָדַו in the body of the verse, and the qere form ידיו in the margin. The ketiv Thus, the qere is signaling that a yod has dropped out of the text during transmission. The qere together with the vowels written in the text gives the more regular form יָדַיו.

However, not all of the qere are written in the margin of the text. A large number of the more frequent instances of qere are treated as assumed knowledge. These qere are called perpetual qere.

And this brings us back to the divine name יהוה and the word Jehovah, because the most famous example of a perpetual qere is the divine name יהוה. As all Jews familiar with the Hebrew Bible know, the perpetual qere of יהוה is the word אֲדֹנָי (pronounced adonai), which means Lord or Master. The Masoretes, following Jewish practice, considered the divine name יהוה too sacred to pronounce safely, so they substituted אֲדֹנָי for יהוה when reading this word in the Scriptures.

Unaware of the existence of qere and ketiv in the Masoretic tradition, early translators of the Hebrew Bible read the ketiv of יהוה and the vowels of its qere as going together to form one word. When the consonants of יהוה (y + h + w + h) are combined with the vowels of אֲדֹנָי (shewa + khólem + qámets, which sounds like: e + o + a) , the word יְ | הֹ | וָה (yehowah) is the result. The name Jehovah, therefore, is simply the transliteration into Latin of the word that results from the confusion of the ketiv with the vowels of the qere of the divine name יהוה. The name Jehovah is not a real Hebrew word, and Jehovah is not an accurate pronunciation of the divine name יהוה.


Brian said...

I have been trying to understand why YHWH is only given 2 syllables. I get the idea behind the 3 vowels that make up Jehovah. Why do we only have 2 syllables for Yahweh?

Steven Coxhead said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for your comment. Please see my post “The Reconstruction of the Pronunciation of the Divine Name Yahweh” for an explanation relating to your question.