Monday, May 9, 2011

The Reconstruction of the Pronunciation of the Divine Name Yahweh

The scholarly consensus is that the divine name יהוה was originally pronounced as Yahweh. But what evidence is there to support the pronunciation of יהוה as Yahweh?

God’s self-indentification in Exod 3:14 as אהיה אשר אהיה strongly suggests that the divine name יהוה is related to the Hebrew verb היה (be), the older form of which had vav (i.e., waw) rather than yod as the second root letter, i.e., הוה. The third person masculine singular form of היה is יִהְיֶה. This suggests that יהוה may originally have had a pointing something like יִהְוֶה, which is a word of two syllables.

Taking יִהְוֶה as the starting point, there is quite a deal of evidence in the Hebrew Bible that the first syllable of יהוה should be similar to יָהּ. Overall there are three broad pieces of evidence for this.

Firstly, יָהּ occurs as the name for God in the Hebrew Bible in poetry, especially in the psalms (see Exod 15:2; 17:16; Isa 12:2; 26:4; 38:11; Ps 68:5, 19; 77:12; 89:9; 94:7, 12; 102:19; 115:18; 118:5, 14, 17–19; 122:4; 130:3; 135:4; 150:6. Hebrew poetry is known to be more conservative in terms of vocabulary, i.e., older lexical items tend to be preserved in poetry compared to prose. It should also be noted that the mappiq (or dot) in the ה indicates that the ה is taken to be a consonant rather than simply as a vowel letter.

Secondly the name יָהּ is preserved in the set phrase haleluyah (Ps 104:35; 105:45; 106:1, 48; 111:1; 112:1; 113:1; 115:17–18; 116:19; 117:2; 135:1, 3, 21; 146:1, 10; 147:1, 20; 148:1, 14; 149:1, 9; 150:1, 6). Appropriately the final word in the Psalter is הַלְלוּ–יָהּ. This set phrase is simply a masculine plural Piel imperative form of the verb הלל which takes the poetic name of God יָהּ as a direct object.

Thirdly, the name יָהּ is preserved in the names of individuals such as Elijah (אֵלִיָּ֫הוּ), Uzziah (עֻזִיָּה), Josiah (יֹאשִׁיָּ֫הוּ), Jeremiah (יִרְמְיָ֫הוּ), Zechariah (זְכַרְיָה), etc.

Thus, there is strong evidence that the first syllable of the divine name יהוה should sound like יָהּ. Modifying our starting point with this information gives the form יַהְוֶה, i.e., Yahweh. The qámets of יָהּ has reduced to pátakh in יַהְוֶה because the first syallable is closed and unstressed.

The main linguistic argument against the reconstruction יַהְוֶה is is that the instances of יָהּ cited above all occur either as an independent syllable or as a final syllable, and not as a first syllable. The only attested form of יָהּ that occurs as a prefix form is actually יְהוֹ, which has been preserved in names such as Joshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ), Jehoshaphat (יְהוֹשָׁפָט) and Jehoiakim (יְהוֹיָקִים). But standing against this is the transliteration of יהוה into Greek by Epiphanius (c. 315–403) and Theodoret (c. 393–c. 457) as ’Ιαβέ. If this transliteration is accurate, then Yahweh stands as being the most probable original pronunciation of the word יהוה.

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