The Tetragrammaton (Psalms 96:10, Hebrew Masoretic Text)
2016-02-07 @ 15:30 CST
In our common English Bible versions, in the “Old Testament” (and in translations of the Jewish Tanakh), we see very frequently “the LORD” (normally as “small caps”) as opposed to “the Lord”. “The Lord” most frequently represents the Hebrew Adonay (אדני), and sometimes Adon (אדן) or ha-Adon (האדן). But when we see “the LORD”, and also “GOD” as representing Elohim (אלהים), almost always the original Hebrew word actually is the famous “Tetragrammaton”: Yehawweh (יהוה). The Hebrew Masoretic reading tradition instructs the reader to substitute Adonay or Elohim for Yehawweh, and to avoid trying to pronounce the latter – and our common English versions reflect this instruction faithfully.
Yet the same reading tradition makes it possible to know, and to reconstruct correctly, the original pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. Its pronunciation was never lost – only kept hidden. Of course the original meaning was never lost either, as it is clearly translated in both Testaments (“the Eternal” is an effective one-phrase rendering).
I am jumping ahead of myself here in giving the pronunciation Yehawweh, because while the famous academic consensus, Yahweh, is valid biblical Hebrew, it is not correct biblical Hebrew – for reasons I shall explain. What I mean is while the ancient Hebrews could have used Yahweh, because it follows the rules of their language, the evidence is they actually did not use Yahweh – but used Yehawweh instead.
My first clue in unraveling the mystery came thanks to the work of the late Suzanne Haik-Vantoura (hereafter SHV), The Music of the Bible Revealed. The Hebrew Masoretic Text contains not only consonants, but vowel-points and melodic accents, which together preserve its “reading tradition”. “Letting the Bible interpret the Bible”, SHV not only deciphered the original melodic meaning of the accents, but inferred that the melodies they preserved were as old as the words and were created by the same authors. This means we must pay close attention to how (יהוה) is accented, for the accents – particularly in Psalms 96:10 – imply a specific number of syllables and what kinds of vowels should be used as well. Originally, (יהוה) had three syllables, not two, and also had a vowel pattern related to those of Adonay and Elohim which substitute for it (short-long-long). This rules out the academic inference Yahweh, and it also rules out any and all other inferences which refuse to take the Masoretic “reading tradition” as ancient and authoritative.
My second clue came thanks to an out-of-print book, 201 Hebrew Verbs (Barron’s Educational Services, Inc.), by the now-deceased Prof. Abraham S. Halkin. In his table of conjugations for the root *hayah, we find the following:
*Hayah in Modern Hebrew (c/o Abraham S. Halkin)
In two stems of the verb root, the masculine 3rd person singular gives us exactly the vowel pattern we need to be consistent with the accents. Which one should we choose: yehawweh (Pi`el stem) or yehuwweh (Pu`al stem)?
*Hayah – Pi`el and Pu`al forms (c/o Abraham S. Halkin)
Pu`al is reflexive, and would make (יהוה) a created being. But (יהוה) is the uncreated Creator – so the intensive Pi`el is what we should accept. But I wondered if Prof. Halkin read rather too much into both verb stems. Surely it is the context, not the verb stem itself, which makes (יהוה) out to be the Eternal Creator God. Besides, it is freely acknowledged that the real root of (יהוה) is the older form *hawah. The conjugation of the Pi`el stem, were *hayah the actual root, would be notably different. It would have the letter yod, not the letter waw or vav, in the middle of any resulting verb form.
I learned this last fact much later from a book published by the same company, 501 Hebrew Roots by Shmuel Bolosky. The Pi`el stem of *hayah appears in Mishnaic Hebrew, and its masculine 3rd person singular would be yehayyeh, as given below. Prof. Bolosky notes its meaning as “bring into existence, produce”, which sheds light on why Prof. Halkin took yehawweh to mean “form, constitute”. But again, given the biblical context, surely God’s eternity is stated directly by the word, and only by context His capacity as Creator. Or is there something more than the verbal context that may be considered?
Yehayyeh – Mishnaic Hebrew (c/o Shmuel Bolosky)
First, let us take (יהוה) as it appears in Psalm 96:10 – where the accentuation required is completely beyond dispute – and re-point it so that the word may be pronounced according to its original Pi`el stem:
*Yehawweh – Pi`el Stem With Accents (Based on Psalms 96:10)
Some years ago, after I got this far in my research, I gave a presentation in London on SHV’s work. Before I spoke, Jill Purce, a specialist in the art form called “overtone chant”, demonstrated various applications of the art, including the series of vowels which alone give the entire ascending harmonic series in its results. Jill linked this series of vowels to Yahweh, which of course is the academic consensus. I explained to her, and to the rest of my audience, that Yahweh doesn’t have all the vowels required for what she did – but that Yehawweh does. In effect, Yehawweh is a transcription into Hebrew of a specific way of producing the harmonic series.
Another Jewish author and mathematician, Stan Tenan, showed me years ago a thesis: what scientists call the “Big Bang” may be described mathematically as an impulse generating the entire harmonic series (and, I presume long after the fact, the interactions of these waves). After hearing Jill’s presentation, I remembered what Stan told and showed me.
On the basis of all of the above, I submit that Yehawweh is the most “onomatopoeic” word known to man. Its sound represents the creation of all things by an Eternal Creator God, and thus who and what God fundamentally is.
But let us turn the question inside out. This multiple “coincidence” between sound, meaning, and location in Hebrew grammar, so far as I can see, could only happen if the root system of Hebrew – indeed, I suspect, of the whole Semitic language family – originally was constructed with the sound transcribed by Yehawweh as its ultimate basis. This means that Yehawweh – which, incidentally, would have been spelled Yehawwey (יהוי) in old Hebrew – is older, far older, than Hebrew itself. According to the Bible – by implication at least – it likely was the first or second word Adam heard from another. “Who are You?” was perhaps his first question to that Other. “(I am) Yehawweh” is the obvious answer. That name would have indicated to Adam its meaning by its very sound, whether or not Adam then had the capacity to understand its full implications.
The name Yehawweh, then, is itself positive evidence of His existence, eternal power, and Godhead. It points to who and what He is: the Eternal Creator God. His signature is written in mathematical and acoustical law, as it were. Yet so much more important to Him is the meaning of His name than the phonetics of His name that He hid the latter in plain sight from us in the Hebrew Masoretic Text – even while making sure the meaning of His name was never lost from view. – (יוחנן רכב)