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The Tetragrammaton (Greek: τετραγράμματον word with four letters) is the Hebrew name for God, which is spelled (in Hebrew); yod י heh ה vav ו heh ה or יהוה (YHVH), it is the distinctive personal name of the God of Israel.

Of all the names of God in the Old Testament, that which occurs most frequently is the Tetragrammaton, appearing 6,823 times according to the . According to Biblica Hebraica and Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia, the original texts of the Hebrew Scriptures, written in both Hebrew and Aramaic, contain the Tetragrammaton 6,828 times. It is evident that the Tetragrammaton was used very extensively in original language, ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts. This indicates a much more personal reference to the special identity of the Almighty (as opposed to impersonal titles such as "God" or "Lord"), on the part of the Bible writers. Many Bible scholars view this as evidence that the Bible writers (and indeed, likely the ancient Hebrew and Israelite people) viewed the Name represented by the Tetragrammaton as very important, and commonly used it in their everyday speech and prayers. And, for those that believe the Bible was inspired by God, it shows how he felt about his own personal name.

In Judaism, the Tetragrammaton is the ineffable name of God, and is not pronounced. Other written forms such as ד׳ or ה׳ are read as "ha-Shem" (The Name), for this reason.

One theory regarding the Tetragammaton is that the Jewish taboo on its pronunciation was so strong that the original pronunciation may have been lost somewhere in the first millennium. Since then, many scholars (particularly Christians) have sought to reconstruct its original pronunciation. For example, circa 1518 Christian theologians1 introduced the pronunciation "Yehovah" , which is generally held to be grammatically implausible based on the written form יֱהוִֹה that was used to indicate to the reader of the Bible in Hebrew to pronounce it "Elohim" (אֱלהִׄם).



According to one Jewish tradition, the Tetragrammaton is related to the causative form, the imperfect state, of the Hebrew verb ha·wah [הוה] (become); meaning "He will cause to become" usually understood as "He causes to become". Compare the many Hebrew and Arabic personal names which are 3rd person singular imperfective verb forms starting with "y", e.g. Hebrew "Yôsêph" = Arabic "Yazîd" = "He [who] adds"; Arabic "Yahyâ" = "He [who] lives".

Another tradition regards the name as coming from three different words all having the same root YVH. The letters YHWH comes from the word HYA [היה]: He was; Howey [הוה]: He is; and W'Y'hiye [יהיה]: He will be. This is supposed to show that God is timeless. Other interpretations includes the name as meaning "I am the One Who Is." This can be seen in the traditional Jewish account of the "burning bush" commanding Moses to tell the sons of Israel that "I AM has sent you." (Exodus 3:13-14) Some suggest: "I AM the One I AM." This may also fit the interpretation as "He Causes to Become." Many scholars believe that the most proper meaning may be "He Brings Into Existence Whatever Exists".

Using consonants as semi-vowels

In Biblical Hebrew many of the vowels are not written or written ambiguously, and the vowel letters double as consonants (similar to the Latin use of V to indicate both U and V). See Matres lectionis for details. Therefore it is in general difficult to deduce how a word is pronounced from its spelling only, and the Tetragrammaton is a particularly bad example: all its letters are vowels. Thus, Josephus in Jewish Wars, chapter V, wrote, "... in which was engraven the sacred name: it consists of four vowels." For similar reasons, an appearance of the Tetragrammaton in ancient Egyptian records of the 13th Century BCE sheds no light on the original pronunciation. 2.

Josephus's teaching that the sacred name "consists of four vowels" may be valid in a Hebrew text that has no vowel points, but in a Hebrew Text that has vowel points [e.g. a Masoretic Text], there are Biblical Hebrew grammar rules that do not allow an "initial yod" in a Hebrew word to be used as a vowel letter! The "Yod" in YHWH is an "initial yod".

Using the Vowels of YHWH

Josephus wrote that the sacred name consisted of four vowels. Many sacred name ministries who believe that YHWH consists of four vowels, pronounce these four vowels as “ee-ah-oo-eh” and believe that that indicates that God’s name was either “Yahweh” or “Yahuweh”. In an amazing coincidence, it can be demonstrated that the Greek name “ιαουε” can be pronounced “ee-ah-oo-eh”, using the same Greek pronunciation rules that James Strong used. 3

Gerard Gertoux also believes that YHWH consists of four vowels, and that it must be vocalized either “Yeho-ah” or “Yehou-ah” [e.g. Yehua”]. 4

Vowel marks

To make the reading of Hebrew easier, marks or points above and below the letters were added to the text by the Masoretes, to function as vowels. See Niqqud for details. Several manuscripts from the 7th century and on contain vowel marks over the Tetragrammaton. Unfortunately, these do not shed much light on the pronunciation. For example the Leningrad codex contains no less than 6 different variations on the vowel marks of the Tetragrammaton.

An added problem comes from the fact that the vowel marks on the Tetragrammaton may have served purpose different than to indicate the pronunciation. When the term is read out loud by Jews, the Tetragrammaton is substituted with the word "Adonai" (my Lord) or "Hashem" (the name). Since someone reading the text aloud might inadvertently pronounce the name, the vowels of "Adonai" are normally printed with the Tetragrammaton, to remind the reader to make the change, so the text contains YHVH interlaced with the vowels of Adonai. This is the case in modern editions of the Hebrew bible, and also explains a number of medieval codices. In other words, these marks do not and were never intended to explain how to pronounce the Tetragrammaton.

In particular, this is a convincing explanation of the vowel marks on the Tetragrammaton in the Ben Chayim codex of 1525 (see its importance below). An interesting point is that the aleph in Adonai has a hataf-patah (pronounce a) while the yod in the tetragrammaton has a shva (pronounce e). This can be partially explained by rules of Hebrew grammar, which forbid hataf-patah under Yod. 5 See photos [1] [2] .

In English

The first English transcription of the Tetragrammaton appeared on the title page of William Tyndale's translation of 1525 as "IEHOUAH." Subsequent translations in English, including Miles Coverdale's (1535), the Great Bible (1539), The Geneva Bible (1560), the Bishop's Bible (1568) and the Authorized Version of 1611 also used IEHOUAH in several places, while most occurrences of the Tetragrammaton were rendered as THE LORD. Some argue that this practice reflects the Jewish tradition that it is blasphemy to utter the name of God. Many modern Christian translations of the Bible continue to use THE LORD (in small caps); two notable exceptions are the American Standard Version (1901) which used Jehovah throughout the text, and The Jerusalem Bible (1966) which used Yahweh similarly.

It is likely that Tyndale's IEHOUAH comes from an interlace of YHVH and the vowels of Adonai as explained above, but it is difficult to substantiate this claim since we do not know which codex he used for his translation. The King James Version's IEHOUAH was definitely influenced by the Ben Chayim codex, which was the source used for the translation. The spelling Jehovah appeared first during the 1762-1769 editing of the King James Bible. Hence there is a certain basis to the claim that the transcription Jehovah is nothing but a misunderstanding by Christian translators of Jewish reading traditions. As of 2004, this is still the most common spelling of the Tetragrammaton in English.

In contrast, there are various arguments why Jehovah actually is the original pronunciation. For example, other transcribed names in the Bible containing portions of the name such as: Jeho-ram and Jeho-shaphat give linguistic support of this transcription. This point of view is occasionally associated with believers in the "King James Version Only" point of view. Recently Gerhard Gertoux advanced the pronunciation Yehowah and has gained a certain following.

Transcription In Other Languages

Table of different language transcriptions of the tetragrammaton. (If the native language uses non-European characters or pictographic symbols, the table shows the common English/European translation of the target language script):
















































































u Yehova










u Jehova

Reconstructed pronunciation

The variation Yahweh appeared in the early and mid 19th century. It is sometimes referred to as a "Scholarly Reconstruction" and is based in large part on various Greek transcriptions (ιαουε—iaoue and ιαουαι—iaouai and ιαβε—iabe) dating from the first centuries BCE and AD. Particularly cited is Clement of Alexandria's spelling of the Tetragrammaton in his Stromata — see the iaoue page for details. Some scholars suggested that the Josephus quote above supports this pronunciation. Arguments based on possible interpretations, and on analogies with other Hebrew words, such as hallelujah, have also been introduced to support it.

Despite the work at reconstruction, it is still impossible to say with certainty how the name was originally pronounced, and discussion continues among scholars. See some links below.

Scholarly Sources in which "יַהְוֶה" is found

The vowelized Hebrew spelling of the Tetragrammaton shown below: "יַהְוֶה" started to appear in scholarly sources in the 19th century, or possibly earlier: "יַהְוֶה" was not the only vowelized Hebrew spelling of the Tetragrammaton that appeared in scholarly sources in the 19th century, but gradually it became accepted as the best reconstruction of the vowelized Hebrew spelling of the Tetragrammaton. Smith's " A Dictionary of the Bible" 3 [published in 1863] notes that Wilhelm Gesenius, who is noted for being one of the greatest Hebrew and biblical scholars, 4 punctuated YHWH as "יַהְוֶה". Wilhelm Gesenius wrote a Hebrew Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament which was first translated into English in 1824. 5. In 1863, Smith's "A Dictionary of the Bible" does not consider "יַהְוֶה" to be the best vowelised Hebrew spelling of the Tetragrammaton, of which it is aware of. The Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament by Francis Brown and S.R. Driver and C.A. Briggs shows "יַהְוֶה" under the heading "יהוה" "יַהְוֶה" is found in the online Jewish Encyclopedia of 1901-1906, under the article: "NAMES OF GOD" and under the article sub heading: "YHWH".6 The Jewish Encylopedia recognizes that "יַהְוֶה" is spelled "Yahweh" in English, but "יַהְוֶה" is only one of two vowelized Hebrew spellings, that they believe might have been the original pronunciation of YHWH.

  • Smith's "A Dictionary of the Bible"
  • Wilhelm Gesenius is noted for being one of the greatest Hebrew and biblical scholars.
  • Wilhelm Gesenius' Hebrew Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament was first translated into English in 1824,
  • The online Jewish Encyclopedia of 1901-1906

Jewish use of the word

In Judaism, pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton is a taboo; it is widely considered forbidden to utter it and the pronunciation of the name is generally avoided. As noted above, "Adonai" is used as a substitute in prayers or readings from the Hebrew Bible.

According to Rabbinic tradition, the name was pronounced by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, the only day when the Holy of Holies of the Temple would be entered. With the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, this use also vanished, also explaining the "loss" of the correct pronunciation.

The name Adonai (The Lord) has come to be so connected with the Tetragrammaton that even this word has restrictions among pious Jews. It is only used in prayer and Bible readings, or instructions of those subjects. When many religious Jews refer to the name of God in conversation or in a non-textual context such as in a book, newspaper or letter, they call the name Hashem which means simply "The Name".

Thus, except for a small number of Kabbalists and Karaite Jews, no one claims to know with absolute certainty just how it was pronounced — the only generally accepted fact is that the last Heh in YHWH is silent. In the end, it is impossible to state definitively how it was pronounced.

Alternative names

In an analogue to the euphemism Hashem for God, the euphemism Hashem Hameforash (literally, the explicit name) is sometimes used to refer to the Tetragrammaton. Another name, four-letter word has lost its popularity for obvious reasons. Some people refer to the Tetragrammaton as Hebrew word #3068 [3] after the numbering in James Strong's concordance. See also The name of God in Judaism.

Popular culture

In the motion picture Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the lead character must cross a room of lettered tiles. To step on the wrong letter would trigger a deadly trap. An ancient Latin manuscript provides a clue to safe passage: he must walk in a sequence that will spell out "the name of God." He remembers not a moment too soon that "in the Latin alphabet, 'Jehovah' begins with an 'I.'"

In the film Equilibrium, a dystopic view of the future in which the government mandates that all individuals take psychiatric medications to suppress feeling, the agency responsible for policing the state is known as the Tetragrammaton.

In Pi, a group of kabbalistic Jews looking for the true name of God enlist the help of a mathematician to analyze the Torah.

See also

Other pages of the name of God:


  • iaoue — the story of one Greek transliteration of the Tetragrammaton.


  1. Galatin, Peter - De Arcanis Catholicæ Veritatis, 1518, folio xliii
  2. See pages 128 and 236 of the book "Who Were the Early Israelites?" by archeologist William G. Dever, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003.
  3. “ιαουε” is pronounced ee-ah-oo-eh
  4. Gerard Gertoux explains to JW BERT why JHW-H must be vocalized Yeho-ah or Yehou-ah.
  5. Grammar rules forbid placing a hataf-patah (also referred to as a chateph-patach) under a Yod.

External links

  • Catholic Encyclopedia
  • Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies
  • Easton's Bible Dictionary
  • Nazarenes and the Name of YHWH , an article by James Trimm

Articles about the Jehovah vs. Yahweh debate

  • A 23 pages article by Carl Franklin supporting the Jehovah side
  • God's Name—Its Meaning and Pronunciation - a link to the official web site of Jehovah's Witnesses. While not endorsing any particular pronunciation, this article acknowledges the "currency and familiarity" of the common Jehovah. See also The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever from the same site.
  • the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1901-1906 supporting the Yahweh side.
  • A short article tracing the morphology of the title 'Jesus Christ.'
  • A brief overview of the Name YHVH and how neither 'Yahweh' nor 'Jehovah' is the correct transliteration.
  • The Name of God Y.EH.OW.AH Which is Pronounced as It is Written I_Eh_oU_Ah: Its Story. By Gérard Gertoux

Last updated: 02-11-2005 01:48:13
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55