The following extract is the entire section “YHWH” of the article “Names of God” in Encyclopaedia Judaica (2nd ed., vol.7, p.675). This extract, from an esteemed 22-volume authority on Judaism, makes some important points: (i) the name YHWH was regularly pronounced with its proper vowels before 586 BCE; (ii) the proper pronunciation of YHWH is “Yahweh”; (iii) the true pronunciation of YHWH has never been lost; (iv) the rendering “Jehovah” in contrast to “Yahweh” arose from a misunderstanding of the reasons behind the insertion of the vowels in YHWH; (v) the prohibition against uttering the name YHWH was the result of a misunderstanding of the Third Commandment.
The personal name of the God of Israel is written in the Hebrew Bible with the four consonants YHWH and is referred to as the “Tetragrammaton.” At least until the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. this name was regularly pronounced with its proper vowels, as is clear from the *Lachish Letters, written shortly before that date. But at least by the third century B.C.E. the pronunciation of the name YHWH was avoided, and Adonai, “the Lord,” was substituted for it, as evidenced by the use of the Greek word Kyrios, “Lord,” for YHWH in the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was begun by Greek-speaking Jews in that century. Where the combined form Adonai YHWH occurs in the Bible, this was read as Adonai Elohim, “Lord God.” In the early Middle Ages, when the consonantal text of the Bible was supplied with vowel points to facilitate its correct traditional reading, the vowel points for ’Adonai with one variation—a sheva with the initial yod of YHWH instead of the ḥataf-pataḥ under the aleph of ’Adonai—were used for YHWH, thus producing the form YeHoWaH. When Christian scholars of Europe first began to study Hebrew, they did not understand what this really meant, and they introduced the hybrid name “Jehovah.” In order to avoid pronouncing even the sacred name ’Adonai for YHWH, the custom was later introduced of saying simply in Hebrew ha-Shem (or Aramaic Shemā’, “the Name”) even in such an expression as “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of YHWH” (Ps.118:26). The avoidance of pronouncing the name YHWH is generally ascribed to a sense of reverence. More precisely, it was caused by a misunderstanding of the Third Commandment (Ex.20:7; Deut. 5:11) as meaning “Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain,” whereas it really means either “You shall not swear falsely by the name of YHWH your God” (JPS) or more likely, “Do not speak the name of YHWH your god, to that which is false,” i.e., do not identify YHWH with any other god.
The true pronunciation of the name YHWH was never lost. Several early Greek writers of the Christian Church testify that the name was pronounced “Yahweh.” This is confirmed, at least for the vowel of the first syllable of the name, by the shorter form Yah, which is sometimes used in poetry (e.g., Ex.15:2) and the ‑yahu or ‑yah that serves as the final syllable in very many Hebrew names. In the opinion of many scholars, YHWH is a verbal form of the root hwh, which is an older variant of the root hyh “to be.” The vowel of the first syllable shows that the verb is used in the form of a future-present causative hiph‘il, and must therefore mean “He causes to be, He brings into existence.” The explanation of the name as given in Exodus 3:14, Eheyeh-Asher-Eheyeh, “I-Am-Who-I-Am,” offers a folk etymology, common in biblical explanation of names, rather than a strictly scientific one. Like many other Hebrew names in the Bible, the name Yahweh is no doubt a shortened form of what was originally a longer name. It has been suggested that the original, full form of the name was something like Yahweh-Asher-Yihweh, “He brings into existence whatever exists”; or Yahweh Ẓeva’ot (1Sam.1:3,11), which really means “He brings the hosts [of heaven—or of Israel?] into existence.” “The Lord of Hosts,” the traditional translation of the latter name, is doubtful.
According to the documentary hypothesis, the literary sources in the Pentateuch known as the Elohist and the Priestly Document never use the name Yahweh for God until it is revealed to Moses (Ex.3:13; 6:2‑3); but the Yahwist source uses it from Genesis 2:4 on and puts the name in Eve’s declaration, “I along with Yahweh have made a man,” thus implying that it was known to the first human generation (Gen.4:1; cf. 4:26). The apparent purpose of Exodus 6:2‑3 is to glorify Moses at the expense of the patriarchal traditions.
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