In the Name of the Lord

Moses at the burning bushIn the Authorized Version of the Bible (popularly known as the King James Version) in Exodus 6:2-3 God introduces himself to Moses:

2 And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord:
3 And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them.

However, in the Revised Standard Version those verses are translated as follows: Exodus 6:2-3

2 And God said to Moses, “I am the Lord.
3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them.

Then in the World English Bible we see: Exodus 6:2-3

2 God spoke to Moses, and said to him, “I am Yahweh.
3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name Yahweh I was not known to them.

What’s going on here? What in God’s name is God’s name?

The name of the Hebrew god in the Hebrew language is יהוה , which is referred to as the Tetragrammaton meaning four letters. This is usually transliterated into modern English in recent times as YHWH. This has been translated in various ways as “to be”, “to exist”, or sometimes more freely as “I am what I am” or “I am what I will be”.

Notice that there are no vowels in YHWH. Apparently most vowels weren’t written in ancient Hebrew but were indicated in some other way. It’s all above my pay grade.

William Tyndale was the first person to translate the Bible into English using the original Hebrew and Greek texts and when he transliterated YHWH and interpolated vowels into the name, he used the Latin alphabet, which had neither a “Y” nor a “W” so he used “J” and “V”. Technically Latin had no “J” either, as the letter “I” acted as both vowel and consonant but at some point in the Middle Ages some monks started using “J” for consonantal “I” and the practice stuck. And don’t get me started on the confusion amongst “U”, “V”, and “W”.

For the vowel sounds Tyndall used the vowels from Adonai (Lord), so he ended up with “Jehovah”, and that usage was repeated in other translations including the King James Version for many years.

Modern scholars are convinced that “Yahweh” is the more accurate rendering of the Tetragrammaton, and that’s how you’ll usually see it today. Although even back in the 1960s when Isaac Asimov wrote Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, which is still one of my primary references, he was still using “V” for the “W” and coming up with Yahveh.

By the way, in my recent post where I showed how the Hebrew religion had evolved back in biblical times, I mentioned that once the Jews decided that Yahweh was the only god, as opposed to the foremost among many gods, it became blasphemous to utter his name. I found what appears to be a documentary dramatizing how they dealt with that back in those days. Here’s a clip:

Leave a Reply