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Monday, November 2, 2009

How Was God's Name (YHWH) Pronounced?

How Was God's Name (YHWH) Pronounced?There are various pronunciations of the only personal name of God as found in the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament. These earliest manuscripts (and other sources back to the 8th century B.C.) show only the four consonants of that holy name (YHWH in English characters – Hebrew fonts used in this study are in the WTHebrew font). That is why the name is often called the Tetragrammaton ("four letters"). The most popular pronunciations for that name today by those who speak English are "Jehovah" and "Yahweh."

We can easily understand why many scholars prefer "Yahweh" since it clearly uses the four consonants YHWH. But why do we find so many Bibles using the three-syllable name which has a "J" and "V" ("Jehovah") instead of the two-syllable word with a "Y" and "W" ("Yahweh")?

Perhaps another important personal name found in the Bible will help explain the confusion. The name of Moses' successor when written in full in his own language was "YHWSHW" (remember that the characters in Hebrew words are written from right to left) and was probably pronounced "Yehoshua" (Yeh-hoe-shoo-uh). - see Deut. 3:21, Judges 2:7 in The NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament, Vol.1, Zondervan Publishing, 1979, and also in The Interlinear Bible, Baker Book House, 1982.

"Joshua - ... i. THE NAME. - 1. The English form Joshua is an abbreviation of the Heb. [yehoshua] (only in Dt 3:21, Jg 2:7) or [yehosha] (the usual form, e.g. Ex 17:9, Dt 1:38 etc., 1 Ki 16:34), later abbreviated to [yeshua] (of Joshua himself, Neh 8:17) .... The LXX [Septuagint] give[s] it as IhsouV [yaysoos - "Jesus"], and so it occurs in the NT both as Joshua's own name (Ac 7:45) and that of our Lord (Mt 1:21, 25)." - p. 779, Vol. 2, Hastings' A Dictionary of the Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1988 printing.

So the full name of Joshua was probably written (and pronounced) Yehoshua. However, it was most often abbreviated in writing: Yehosha and Yeshua. Notice how these abbreviations have been made by leaving out an internal syllable (i.e., a syllable other than the original beginning or ending syllable). OT Hebrew already abbreviated all words by leaving out all vowels in writing. When it was read aloud, however, the abbreviated words were pronounced correctly (all vowels being supplied by the reader just as when readers of modern English see "mt.," "st.," "pres.," etc., they still pronounce them as "mountain," "street," "president," etc. ["et cetera"]). Even the earliest NT Greek manuscripts, which normally used all consonants and vowels, sometimes also abbreviated well-known words.

So, in the example of Joshua's full name yehoshua above we would see only the letters YHWSHW in the ancient manuscripts since all words had most vowels left out. (The consonant W, Waw in ancient Hebrew [before 600 A.D. at least], could be pronounced as "w," "oh," or "oo," and the consonant sh is a single letter in Hebrew.  Other times we would see the shortened form of Joshua's name (yehosha) written in the ancient manuscripts as YHWSH. And, finally we can see the most abbreviated form: yeshua was written as YSHW. When these words were read, however, they would have all been pronounced Yehoshua.

This is similar to the methods of the inspired writers of Christian scriptures (and their copyists for centuries thereafter) who abbreviated many words in Greek. For example theos (`God' or `god' in Greek) was most often abbreviated in the earliest manuscripts as THS. (In the Greek TH is also a single letter, Q.) But, whether it was written out in full, THEOS (qeoV or QEOC ), or, more often, seen in shortened form THS (QC -with a single bar drawn above both letters to indicate an abbreviation) it was always pronounced "theos"!

When this name was translated by Hebrew scholars themselves around 200 B. C. into Greek, it was rendered "IhsouV" ("Yesous") which was probably pronounced "Yay-soos" - Joshua 1:12, The Septuagint, Zondervan Publishing. So "Yeh-hoe-shoo-uh" became "Yay-soos" in the transliteration from Hebrew to Greek.

Since the actual name of the successor to Moses (Yehoshua, sometimes abbreviated to "Yeshua") was identical to that of the Messiah, we find that name rendered "Yaysoos" in the original Greek of both the Septuagint and the NT manuscripts. For example, "Joshua" is originally written as "Yaysoos" at Joshua 1:12 (written IhsouV in the Greek - symbol font) and Hebrews 4:8. And "Jesus" is originally written as "Yaysoos" at Matt. 3:16 (also written IhsouV in the Greek).

Then, when Rome became a world leader, the name was again transliterated, this time from the Greek into Latin. The "oo" sound of "ou" in the Greek was represented in Latin by the vowel "u" (which was written as "v"). So "Yaysoos" came to be written as "Iesvs" in Latin. Eventually, in the Middle Ages, the "Y" sound of the Greek "I" came to be written as either "I" or "J" (for the first letter of words, at least), and "Iesvs" became either "Iesvs" or, more ornamentally, "Jesvs." And, finally, the "v" came to be written as "u" and the name came into its final written form (in English) as "Jesus." (In fact, even the first editions of the King James Version still used the initial "I" instead of the equivalent "J" which shows that it was still pronounced "Yay-soos" in the English of 1611:

"In form, J was originally merely a [more ornamental] variation of `I,' arising in the 14th century .... Not until the middle of the 17th century did this usage [the new pronunciation of the new letter `J'] become universal in English books; in the King James Bible of 1611, for example, the words Jesus and judge are invariably Iesus and iudge." - p. 4823, Vol. 13, Universal Standard Encyclopedia (Funk & Wagnalls), 1955.

"In the word `hallelujah' the j retains its early consonantal value of i or y." - p. 571, Vol. 15, The Encyclopedia Americana, 1957.

So even for some years after the KJV began using the new letter "J," the pronunciation of it was still "Y." But eventually (18th century?) we began to have "Jesus" (and other "J" words, including "Jehovah," "Jeremiah," "Jerusalem," "Joshua," etc.) with the modern English pronunciation of those letters: "Jee-suz." Nearly all modern English Bibles have purposely retained the earlier tradition concerning biblical names, and "Jesus" (and "Jeremiah," "Jerusalem," "Joshua," etc.) remains in all modern English Bibles.

I believe there is nothing wrong with retaining this tradition even though it is not the original pronunciation of the name of the Messiah (Yehoshua) nor even the original Greek rendering of it (Yaysoos or possibly Yeesoos). "Jesus" is still an honest transliteration of the original proper name of the Messiah, however, and it is common to all speakers of English. (In like manner, although `Cristobal Colon' may be the original pronunciation, I don't think it's wrong to call the famous explorer `Christopher Columbus' in modern English.)

In the same way the only proper name of God Himself, YHWH, which is used nearly 7000 times in the original writings of the Old Testament is sometimes transliterated as "Jehovah" in English (ASV, Young's, KJIIV, NWT, Byington, and, in some verses only, in NEB, MLB, KJV, and Living Bible) and, more rarely, as "Yahweh" (JB, NJB, and Rotherham). (Of course it is more often improperly rendered "LORD" in most places in most Bibles.)

So which is the proper pronunciation of God's name - "Jehovah" or "Yahweh"? Well, many Bible scholars in more recent times have preferred "Yahweh" as the probable original Hebrew pronunciation. But there is still more to say for "Jehovah" in addition to the fact that it is the older, more traditional, and better-known form.

"In the Elizabethan alphabet the letters 'u' and 'v' were the same letter as were and 'i' and 'j' " -

So "Iehouah" (Yehowah) could also be written "Jehovah."

From Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1995, pp. 30, 31, 100:

How God's Name Was Pronounced

Professor Rainey has presented the usual four arguments given for the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton as "Yahweh," ("How Yahweh Was Pronounced," Queries & Comments, Sept./Oct. 1994) but he has overlooked some important primary data that negates the customary conjecture.

1) Among the magical papyri the name appears as iawouhe (Ya-oh-oo-ay-eh), but it is difficult to know how much this pronunciation had to do with the Tetragrammaton because the prayers and incantations in these papyri mix all kinds of sounds together, some meaningful, some nonsensical, so it is not certain how many of these syllables were thought to belong to the name. At least, however, it has more syllables than two, and the central vowel is not omitted, as is done in Yah-weh.

2) Clement of Alexandria spelled the Tetragrammaton iaoai (Ya-oo-ai), iaoe (Ya-oo-eh), and iao (Ya-oh). In none of these is the central oo or oh vowel omitted.

3) Rabbis often deduced the meaning of a word by taking the word apart and interpreting each part. A modern equivalent would be to determine the meaning of "insect" by the meanings of both "in" and "sect." This might, then, be defined as a religious sect that is in some place. This methodology is called "etymology" and is not always accurate, but it was followed by rabbis, Clement of Alexandria, and some authors of Scripture (Genesis 28:10-22; 21:15-34; 26:17-34). By this logic Clement argued that the Tetragrammaton had the same consonants as the verb "to be," so it meant the one who caused things to be, but he did not pronounce the word according to any form of that verb. His conjecture was homiletically thought-provoking, but not scientifically or historically correct. The verb "to be" would deserve the extensive comparative analysis it has been given only if it could be shown from the Scripture to be related to the Tetragrammaton, but that is not the case. Reams of paper and gallons of ink have been expended over the years justifying a pronunciation Westerners deduced on the basis of Clement's conjecture. It may all be irrelevant to the subject. There are other places and ways to look for the correct pronunciation. These are found in the Scriptures and associated texts. The following are some of the materials to consider:

Among the caves of Qumran was a Greek text that included a few Greek words of Leviticus (4QLXX Lev), one of which was the Tetragrammaton. It was spelled IAW (Ya-oh). This is apparently a two-syllable word, but the second syllable is only a vowel. There is no way that it could be rendered "Yah-weh." This was a transliteration of the Hebrew Ya-ho. It is the same spelling given in the fifth century B.C. Aramaic papyri. From the Aramaic alone, this word could be pronounced either Ya-hoo or Ya-hoh.

Some of the words in the Dead Sea scrolls were pronounced and spelled in the scrolls with an aspirant, ah, which is lacking in the Masoretic text. For example, Masoretic words like hoo and hee are spelled hoo-ah in the scrolls. Arabs pronounce these words the same way that they are spelled in the scrolls, but Arabs do not spell the final aspirant with a consonant. They indicate the aspirant with only vowel pointing, which was not used in early Biblical texts. The word spelled Ya-hoo or Ya-hoh may have been pronounced Yahowah or Yahoowah, but in no case is the vowel oo or oh omitted. The word was sometimes abbreviated as "Ya," but never as "Ya-weh." This can be illustrated further by studying the proper names of the Bible that were based on the Tetragrammaton.

The Hebrew for the name "Jonathan' is Yah-ho-na-than, "Yaho or Yahowah has given." When this name was abbreviated it became "Yo-na-than," preserving the vowel oh. John was spelled "Yaho-cha-nan", "Yaho or Yahowah has been gracious." Elijah's name was Eli-yahoo, "My God is Yahoo or Yahoowah." Ancients often gave their children names that included the name of their deity. For other examples, Ish-baal is "the man of Baal," and Baal-ya-sha means "Baal has saved." In both cases the name "Baal" is probably correctly pronounced in the name of the person involved. The same is true with the Tetragrammaton. Anyone who cares to check the concordances will find that there is no name in the entire Scriptures that includes the Tetragrammaton and also omits the [central] vowel that is left out in the two-syllable pronunciation Rainey upholds [Yahweh].

There is still one other clue to the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton - Hebrew poetry. For example, from the poem of Exodus 15, read aloud verses 1, 3, 6, 11, 17, and 18, [in Hebrew, of course] first pronouncing the Tetragrammaton as "Yahweh" and then read it again, pronouncing the same word as "Yahowah." Notice the rhyme and poetic beat of the two. In this way the reader can judge which one is the more likely pronunciation in antiquity.
The name "Yahowah" is not a ghost word, as Rainey declared. Clement of Alexandria's conjecture that the Tetragrammaton was based on the verb "to be" overlooks the pronunciation of the proper names in the Scripture that include some portion of the Tetragrammaton. Clement did not have access to the scrolls and may never have seen the Aramaic papyri. Nevertheless, he spelled the Tetragrammaton in Greek employing the central vowel that Rainey omitted in his determination that the proper name was Yahweh.

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," but even this spelling may have been pronounced with three syllables, including the final aspirant, because Hebrew had no vowel points in Biblical times. Biblical theologians should start with this data and reach their belief regarding the character of the deity from the descriptions given in the texts, rather than trying to deduce it from some possible etymology of the word. This data and logic do not refute the suggestion that God is the one who "causes to be," but it means that belief cannot be proved on the basis of words conjectured to be part of the name. - George Wesley Buchanan, Professor Emeritus, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, DC.
(Also see 1 Feb. 1999 WT pp. 30-31 and 8 Feb. 1999 Awake! pp. 7-9.)

* * * * * *

There is, then, justification for the use of "Jehovah" (which would be "Yehowah" or "Yahowah" when "de-Latinized" or "de-Anglicized") beyond the obvious ones of tradition and common English usage. It is very similar to the almost universal acceptance of "Jesus" except "Jehovah" is probably much closer to the original ("Yahowah"?) than "Jesus" is to the original "Yehoshua."

It is to be expected that although the full name of God was probably "Yahowah," it was frequently abbreviated in writing to shorter forms by removing one or more of its syllables: e.g., "Yah" or "Yaho." But these abbreviated forms were probably pronounced in full when read aloud. That is, when the Bible writers used the short form "Yaho," the reader would pronounced it "Yahowah." And, of course, when the Bible writers used the abbreviated form "Yah," his readers knew they were to pronounce "Yahowah" in full.

So the name "Yahowah" actually remained basically unchanged through the millennia (certainly more so than the change of Iakobos to James or Yehoshua to Jesus and Joshua).

Surely it is as acceptable (or more so) for speakers of English to use "Jehovah" as the Divine Name as it is for them to use the more abbreviated (and `de-Latinized,' `de-Anglicized') "Yahweh" favored by some.

"Jehovah" is still the most-used, customary English transliteration of God's personal name. It is not only used in more Bible translations (including a few places in the KJV) which actually attempt to use the name of God as found in the original text, but it is used in modern Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias as well.

And, most recently (as this was first written), at the Pentagon Memorial Service of October 11, 2001, attended by President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, former President Clinton, and members of Congress, and families of the victims, the Chief Chaplain of the U.S. Armed Forces in a live worldwide telecast directed the opening prayer to the Creator God, and identified Him by name, Jehovah.

But in either case, it is still an honest transliteration of the original word which God revealed as his very own unique personal name which must be known and used!
From internet: (Nov. 2002) (Link now inoperable; Sept. 2012)


Gérard Gertoux is a Hebrew scholar, specialist of the Tetragram; He has been president of the Association Biblique de Recherche d'Anciens Manuscrits since 1991.

Book Summary:

"Usually, God's name is presented as fundamental in the monotheistic religions, but its pronunciation is controversial. However, the key to unlock this mystery was provided by the famous Maimonides 800 years ago, when he wrote that the Name 'is read as it is written'. The paradox starts and ends here with these intriguing words…

"God's name is fundamental to all monotheistic religions. "May your name be held holy" is the first request for Christians in the Lord's Prayer taught by Jesus (Mt 6:9). "They exult in you, those who love your name" is sung by Jews when they sing the Psalms of David (Ps 5:11). "The hearts of humble ones quiver when the name of God is mentioned" is what Muslims say when they recite certain surahs of the Quran (22:35).

"Paradoxically, religions prefer to translate God's name as Yahweh 'He is', Adonay 'my Lord', Allah 'The God', etc., rather than a transcription of the name, which is more usual. This study, initially published in the form of thesis, was greatly appreciated by many renowned specialists, because the subject had never been approached from the historical angle. This work created renewed interest in this fascinating topic -the disappearance of the Name followed by its slow re-emergence- which is relatively unknown.

"Eight centuries ago, the famous Talmudist, Moses Maimonides, arrived at the right conclusion: There is no mystical mystery, because God's name is simply pronounced as it is written, that is to say: Y-H-W-H = I-eH-U-A in the same way: Y-H-W-D-H = I-eH-U-D-A.

"To succeed in understanding this seemingly, elementary point, it was nevertheless necessary to closely examine the innumerable errors that have accumulated for at least twenty centuries. Linguistic questions of a technical nature, which a non-specialist reader might find somewhat challenging, have been annexed. This means that the text of the main work can be easily read.

"The first gift that you received was your name. The last remembrance that will remain a long time after you, engraved on stone is your name. An unsigned check is worth nothing; your name is therefore really important, is it not? From an emotional viewpoint this is true; when one wants to know someone, the first question is: "What is your name?" Nevertheless, some refuse to apply the obvious to God.

"God has a name. The Bible asserts it and all religions acknowledge it; then why do so few people know it? Usually, theologians retort that, either this name is too sacred to be used, or God wants to hide it, or that it is of no importance. However in the Bible, the only religious personage that systematically refused to use the Name is Satan. When Jesus debated with Satan, the discussion was enlightening as Jesus only used the Name, and Satan only the anonymous title "God" (Mt 4:1-11)#. This antagonism is not new between those who avoid the name of God (Jr 23:27) and those who accept its use (Jr 10:25). Knowing the name of God is essential for salvation according to the Bible (Jl 2:32; Rm 10:13).


In the translation of C Tresmontant (Catholic) one reads the name yhwh. In that of A. Chouraqui (Jewish) IhvH and in that of J. N. Darby (Protestant) *Lord, that is to say ["'Lord' without the article, signifying, as often, 'Jehovah'"] according to the note on Matthew 1:20."


"To begin, writing the name of God is not a problem: it is composed of four letters YHWH called the Tetragram. How is such a name pronounced? Dictionaries and encyclopedias indicate that Yahve (or Yahweh) is an uncertain vocalization, and that Jehovah is a barbarism originating from a wrong reading. As unbelievable as it may seem, this last affirmation is known to be false among scholars. This crude error has been denounced by Hebraists of all confessions, and with the support of the Vatican's Congregation of propaganda, but without result.

"This name YHWH is read without difficulty because it is pronounced as it is written, or according to its letters as the Talmud says. In fact, up until 70 CE, on the day of Yom Kippur the high priests read the blessing in Numbers 6:24-27 pronouncing YHWH according to its letters, that is to say as it was written. Indeed, this name is the easiest one to read in the whole Bible because it is made up of four vowels as Flavius Josephus noted. The question of knowing which vowels accompanied the letters YHWH is absurd, for Masoretic vowels did not appear before the sixth century CE. Before this, Hebrew names were widely vocalized by the three letters Y, W, H, as the manuscripts of Qumrân widely confirm. The letter Y was read I (or E), the letter W: U (or O), and the letter H: A at the end of words. For example, YH was read IA, YHWDH was read IHUDA (Juda). The name YHWH was therefore read IHUA (Ihoua). For the H, which was almost inaudible, to be better heard a mute e could be added, thus the name YHWDH read literally I-H-U-D-A then became I-eH-U-D-A, the exact equivalent of the Hebrew name Yehudah. This slight improvement gives the name YHWH the pronunciation I-eH-U-A (Iehoua), the equivalent of YeHoWaH in Masoretic punctuation. This coincidence is remarkable; even providential for those who believe that God watched over his Name (obviously without the copyists knowing!).

"Did Jesus pronounce the Name? Having vigorously denounced human traditions that annulled divine commandments (Mt 15:3), it appears unlikely that he conformed to the non-biblical custom of not pronouncing the Name. When reading in the synagogue (Lk 4:16-20), a part of the text of Isaiah (Is 61:1), he encountered the Tetragram. Even if the version in question was the Septuagint, this translation contained the Name (not Lord), as noted in all copies dated before 150 CE. According to the Masoretic text, at this time all theophoric names which had a part of the Tetragram integrated at their beginning were pronounced without exception YeHÔ-. Consequently, because the Tetragram is obviously the ultimate theophoric name, its reading had to be Yehô-aH to be consistent with all other theophoric names (YHWH can be read YHW-H). If the disputes are numerous, some appearing even legitimate, as a whole they constitute a body of proof that their objective is to eliminate the Name. …."


Also by Gertoux:

"To sum up the problem, the pronunciation of God's name, that is Jehovah, is easy to find using the theophoric names because without exception, all the theophoric names beginning in YHW- are vocalized YeHÔ- (IÔ- in the Septuagint). Therefore the ultimate theophoric name that is to say YHW-H must be read as YeHÔ-AH. The meaning of God's name is also easy to determine, that is "He will [prove to] be" according to Exodus 3:14, which gives the correct insight [ehyeh in first person use]."
To those who are not Jehovah's Witnesses, please remember that if you are looking for the authoritative information on beliefs, practices and news releases you should look to the source at

Recommended Related Articles from the Watchtower Online Library:

The Divine Name in the Hebrew Scriptures Heb., יהוה (YHWH) (WBTS: Rbi8 pp. 1561-1562)

God's Name - Links to Information ("God's Name" WOL search results)


1. Ayin, 3, (or # in my transliteration above because there is no equivalent English letter) is uncertain, but probably a `glottal stop.'

2. We should be aware that the OT personal names of `Javan' and `Joshaviah,' for example, retain their Latinized, Anglicized traditional pronunciations in all the Bibles I have examined. (This even includes the three that render as `Yahweh': Jerusalem Bible; New Jerusalem Bible; and Rotherham's The Emphasized Bible.)

And yet, `Javan' uses the very same "J" (*) and "v" as found in God's personal name!

And `Joshaviah' also uses the very same "J" and "v" as found in `Jehovah'! If, like `Jesus,' these Biblical personal names retain their latinized and anglicized pronunciation in even the most modern Bibles, why should "Jehovah" not be retained as well? If, on the other hand, `Jehovah' should be changed to `Yahweh' (or `Yahowah'), why do the above Bibles not make the corresponding changes to `Jesus,' `David,' `Javan,' `Joshaviah,' `Jeremiah,' and hundreds of others?

3.This is similar to the abbreviations found in the earliest NT manuscripts as previously mentioned. For example, QC (`th' and `s') was often used as the abbreviation for qeoV (theos). Obviously, though, when these scriptures were read, QC was pronounced in full as qeoV (THEOC - "god or "God" in NT Greek).