The Tetragrammaton ('Four Letters')

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The Names of God
The God of the Hebrew Bible has many names, one of which is never pronounced.
By Lavinia and Dan Cohn-Sherbok

YHWH In Hebrew
On Cover Pages of Old Bibles

Ancient Bible Manuscript
(Courtesy of the British Museum)

The Tetragrammaton in Phoenician (1100 BC to AD 300),
Aramaic (10th century BC to 1 BC)
and modern Hebrew scripts.

Moabite Stone
From 19th century B.C.E.

Click on image for another information source.

Lachish Ostracon
From late 7th century B.C.E.

W. F. Albright


The Los Lunas Decalogue inscription uses the Tetragrammaton in 3 places. They are carved on the rock surface in old Hebrew letters. And they are probably one of the world's oldest surviving writing samples of the Tetragrammaton!

Click on above image for more information and to view larger image.

There is another short stone inscription on the south pinacle of the mesa. It may have served as an altar. The picture was taken by David Moore on a field trip to Hidden Mountain in 1993. The first line contains the Tetragrammaton in paleo-Hebrew letters. The letters are similar in style to those on the Decalogue inscription stone but appear to be more eroded.

Dead Sea Scroll

The so called "tetragammaton" on Central Synagogue in Buenos Aires adorning the upper level.

Bourges Cathedral, France

Currch in Digne, Southern France

Church in La Celle Dunoise, France

Fourviere Catholic Basilica, Lyons, France

Stasbourg Cathedral, France

Church in Sao Paulo, Brazil

The Name Yahweh from The Bible in Sefardi Hand, 1385 (copy) Original in the British Library, London


Pilate refused to revise the epitaph he had composed. This may have more significance than is apparent in our English translations. The Hebrew epitaph is shown below (remember Hebrew is read from right to left):

Ha Yahdai m vMalach HaNazarei Yahshua

Yahshua HaNazarei v Malach HaYahdaim = Yahshua the Nazarei and King of the Yahdaim (Jews).
Notice in the English translation the acrostic made up of the first letter of each word spells out Yahweh (YHWH)!

Encyclopedia Theosophical Glossary

YHWH - Consonants Or Vowels?


The Jewish Encyclopedia 1901, p. 118:

The quadriliteral name of G-d, yod/hay/vav/hay, which is thus referred to in Josephus, in the Church Fathers, in the magic papyri, and in the Palestinian Talmud {Yoma 40a below}, whence it has passed into the modern languages. Other designations for this name, such as "HaShem," "Shem ha-Meforash," and "Shem ha-Meyuhad," have frequently been discussed by recent scholars {see bibliography in Blau, "Altjudisches Zauberwesen," p. 128, note 1, and, on the terms, pp. 123-128}.

The term "Tetragrammaton" apparently arose in contradistinction to the divine names containing respectively twelve and forty-two letters and formed likewise from the letters Y,H,W,H {ib. pp. 137-146}; for only thus is the designation intelligible, since Adonai likewise has four letters in Hebrew.

The Tetragrammaton is the ancient Israelitish name for G-d. According to actual count, it occurs 5,410 times in the Bible, being divided among the books as follows: Genesis 158 times, Exodus 364, Leviticus 285, Numbers 387, Deuteronomy 230 {total in Torah 1,419}; Joshua 170, Judges 158, Samuel 423, Kings 467, Isaiah 367, Jeremiah 555, Ezekiel 211, Minor Prophets 345 {total in Prophets 2,696}; Psalms 645, Proverbs 87, Job 31, Ruth 16, Lamentations 32, Daniel 7, Ezra-Nehemiah 31, Chronicles 446 {total in Hagiographa 1,295}.

In connection with aleph/daled/nun/yod [Adonai-my transliteration] the Tetragrammaton is pointed with the vowels of "Elohim" {which beyond doubt was not pronounced in this combination}; it occurs 310 times after aleph/daled/nun/yod [Adonai] , and five times before it {Dalman, "Der Gottesname," etc., p. 91}, 227 of these occurrences being in Ezekiel alone. The designation "YHWH Zeba'ot," translated "L-rd of Hosts," occurs 260 times, and with the addition of "G-d" four times more. This designation is met with as follows: Isaiah 65 times, Jeremiah 77, Minor Prophets 103 {Zechariah 52; Malachi 24}, Samuel 11, Kings 4; but it does not occur, on the other hand, in the Pentateuch, in Joshua, in Judges, or in the Hagiographa.

Adding these 264 occurrences and the 315 just noted to the 5,410 instances of the simple Tetragrammaton, the word "YHWH" is found to occur 5,989 times in the Bible. There is no instance of it, however, in Canticles, Ecclesiastes, or Esther; and in Daniel it occurs 7 times {in ch. ix.}--a fact which in itself shows the late date of these books, whose authors lived at a period when the use of the Tetragrammaton was already avoided, its utterance having become restricted both in the reading of the Bible and still more in colloquial speech. For it was substituted Adonai; and the fact that this name is found 315 times alone shows that the custom of reading the Tetragrammaton as if written "Adonai" began as a time when the text of the Biblical books was not yet scrupulously protected from minor additions. This assumption explains most of the occurrences of "Adonai" before "YHWH"; i.e., the former word indicated the pronunciation of the latter. At the time of the Chronicler this pronunciation was so generally accepted that he never wrote the name "Adonai."

About 300 B.C., therefore, the word "YHWH" was not pronounced in its original form. For several reasons Jacob {"Im Namen Gottes," p. 167} assigns the "disuse of the word 'YHWH' and the substitution of 'Adonai' to the later decades of the Babylonian exile." The avoidance of the original name of G-d both in speech and , to a certain extent, in the Bible was due, according to Geiger {"Urschrift," p. 262}, to a reverence which shrank from the utterance of the Sublime Name; and it may well be that such a reluctance first arose in a foreign, and hence in an "unclean" land, very possible, therefore, in Babylonia.

According to Dalman {l.c. pp. 66 et seq.}, the Rabbis forbade the utterance of the Tetragrammaton, to guard against desecration of the Sacred Name; but such an ordinance could not have been effectual unless it had met with popular approval. The reasons assigned by Lagarde {"Psalterium Hieronymi," p. 155} and Halevy {"Recherches Bibliques," i. 65 et seq.} are untenable, and are refuted by Jacob {l.e. pp. 172, 174}, who believes that the Divine Name was not pronounced lest it should be desecrated by the heathen. The true name of G-d was uttered only during worship in the Temple, in which the people were alone; and in the course of the services on the Day of Atonement the high priest pronounced the Sacred Name ten times {Tosefl, Yoma, ii. 2; Yoma 39b}. This was done as late as the last years of the Temple {Yer. Yoma 40a, 67}. If such was the purpose, the means were ineffectual, since the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton was known not only in Jewish, but also in non-Jewish circles centuries after the destruction of the Temple, as is clear from the interdictions against uttering it {Sanh. x. 1; Tosef., Sanh. xii. 9; Sifre Zuta, in Yalk., Gen. 711; 'Ab. Zarah 18a; Midr. Teh. to Ps. xci., end}.

Raba, a Babylonian amora who flourished about 350, wished to make the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton known publicly {Kid. 71b}; and a contemporary Palestinian scholar states that the Samaritans uttered it in taking oaths {Yer. Sanh. 28b}. The members of the Babylonian academy probably knew the pronunciation as late as 1000 C.E. {Blau, l.c. pp. 132 et seq., 138 et seq.}. The physicians, who were half magicians, made special efforts to learn this name, which was believed to possess marvelous powers {of healing, etc.; Yer. Yoma 40a, below}. The cures, or the exorcisms, of demons in the name of Jesus which are mentioned in the New Testament and the Talmud {see Exorcism} imply that Jesus was regarded as a god and that his name was considered as efficacious as the Tetragrammaton itself, for which it was even substituted.

It was in connection with magic that the Tetragrammaton was introduced into the magic papyri and, in all probability, into the writings of the Church Fathers, these two sources containing the following forms, written in Greek letters: (1) "Iaoouee," "iaoue," "Iabe"; (2) "Iao," "Iaho," "Iae"; (3) "Aia"; (4) "Ia." It is evident that (1) represents yod/hay/vav/hay, (2) yod/hay/vav, (3) aleph/hay/yod/hay, and (4) yod/hay. The three forms quoted under (1) are merely three ways of writing the same word, though "Iabe" is designated as the Samaritan pronunciation. There are external and internal grounds for this assumption; for the very agreement of the Jewish, Christian, heathen, and Gnostic statements proves that they undoubtedly give the actual pronunciation {Stade's "Zeitschrift," iii. 298; Dalman, l.c. p. 41; Deissmann, "Bibelstudien," pp. 1-20; Blau, l.c. p. 133} The "mystic quadriliteral name" {Clement, "Stromata," ed. Dindorf, iii. 25, 27} was well known to the Gnostics, as is shown by the fact that the third of the eight eons of one of their systems of creation was called "the unpronounced," the fourth "the invisible," and the seventh "the unnamed," terms which are merely designations of the Tetragrammaton {Blau, l.c. p. 127}.

Even the Palestinian Jews had inscribed the letters of the Name on amulets {Shab. 115b; Blau, l.c. pp. 93-96}; and, in view of the frequency with which the appellations of foreign deities were employed in magic, it was but natural that heathen magicians should show an especial preference for this "great and holy name," knowing its pronunciation as they knew the names of their own deities. It thus becomes possible to determine with a fair degree of certainty the historical pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, the results agreeing with the statement of Ex. iii. 14, in which YHWH terms Himself aleph/hay/yod/hay, "I will be," a phrase which is immediately preceded by the fuller term "I will be that I will be," or, as in the English versions, "I am" and "I am that I am."

The name yod/hay/vav/hay is accordingly derived from the root hay/vav/hay{= hay/yod/hay}, and is regarded as an imperfect. This passage is decisive for the pronunciation "Yahweh"; for the etymology was undoubtedly based on the known word. The oldest exegetes, such as Onkelos, and the Targumim of Jerusalem and pseudo-Jonathan regard "Ehyeh" and "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh" as the name of the Divinity, and accept the etymology of "hayah" = "to be" {comp. Samuel b. Meir, commentary on Ex. iii.14}.

Modern critics, some of whom, after the lapse of centuries, correct the Hebrew texts without regard to the entire change of point of view and mode of thought, are dissatisfied with this etymology; and their various hypotheses have resulted in offering the following definitions: (1) he who calls into being, or he who gives promises; (2) the creator of life; (3) he who makes events, or history; (4) the falling one, the feller, i.e., the storm-g-d who hurls the lightning; (5) he who sends down the rain {W. R. Smith, "The Old Testament," p. 123}; (6) the hurler; (7) the destroyer; (8) the breather, the weather-g-d {Wellhausen}. All these meanings are obtained by doing violence to the Hebrew text {Herzog-Hauck, "Real-Encyc." viii. 536 et seq.}.

Attempts have also been made to explain the Divine Name yod/hay/vav/hay as Hittite, Persian, Egyptian, and even as Greek; but these assumptions are not absolutely set aside, since the name is at all events Semitic. The question remains, however, whether it is Israelitish or was borrowed. Friedrich Delitzsch, in discussing this question, asserts that the Semitic tribes from whom the family of Hammurabi came, and who entered Babylon 2500 B.C., knew and worshiped the g-d Ya've, Ya'u {i.e., YHWH, Yahu; "Babel and Bibel," 5th ed., i. 78 et seq.}; and Zimmern {in 468} reaches the conclusion that "Yahu" or "YHWH" is found in Babylonian only as the name of a foreign deity, a view with which Delitzsch agrees in his third and final lecture on "Babel und Bibel" {pp. 39, 60, Stuttgart, 1905}.

Assyriologists are still divided on this point, however; and no definite conclusions have as yet been reached {comp. the voluminous literature on "Babel und Bibel"}. "Yah," an abbreviated form of the Tetragrammaton, occurs 23 times: 18 times in the Psalms, twice in Exodus, and three times in Isaiah. This form is identical with the final syllable in the word "Hallelujah," which occurs 24 times in the last book of the Psalms {comp. also "be-Yah." Ia. xxvi.4 and Ps. lxviii.5}. It is transcribed by the Greek "Ia," as "Ehyeh" is represented by "aia," thus showing that "Yah" was the first syllable of yod/hay/vav/hay.

The form corresponding to the Greek "Iao" does not occur alone in Hebrew, but only as an element in such proper names as Jesaiah {"Yesha'yahu"}, Zedekiah {"Zidkiyahu"}, and Jehonathan. According to Delitzsch {"Wo Lag das Paradies?" 1881}, this form was the original one, and was expanded into YHVH; but since names of divinities are slow in disappearing, it would be strange if the primitive form had not been retained once in the Bible. The elder Delitzsch thought that "Yahu" was used independently as a name of G-d {Herzog-Plitt, "Real-Encyc." vi. 503}; but, according to Kittel, "this could have been the case only in the vernacular, since no trace of it is found in the literary language" {Herzog-Hauck, "Real-Encyc." viii. 26, 533}.

All the critics have failed to perceive that the name "Yao" was derived from the same source as "yaoue," namely, from Gnosticism and magic, in which Jews, Christians, and heathen met. "Yahu" was in fact used in magic, as is clear from the "Sefer Yezirah," which shows many traces of Gnosticism; in the cosmology of this work the permutation of the letters yod/hay/vav furnishes the instruments of the Creation.

With the Tetragrammaton must be included the names of G-d formed of twelve, forty-two, and seventy-two letters respectively, which are important factors in Jewish mysticism {Kid. 71a et passim}. They have, according to tradition, a magical effect; for mysticism and magic are everywhere allied. These great names are closely akin to the long series of vowels in the magic papyri, and are obtained by anagrammatic combinations of the effective elements of the Tetragrammaton. The simplest way of determining these three names is to form a magic triangle, whose base is a single Tetragrammaton, and its apex the Tetragrammaton repeated thrice.

The four upper lines {12 + 11 + 10 + 9} give the names with forty-two letters; and the entire figure represents the Divine Name of seventy-two letters {Bau,l.c. pp. 144 et seq.}. According to the book of Bahir {ed. Amsterdam, 1651, fol. 7a}, the Sacred Name of twelve letters was a triple YHVH {Dalman, l.c. p. 39; Blau, l.c. p. 144}.

In the earliest manuscripts of the Septuagint the Tetragrammaton was given in Hebrew letters, which in Greek circles were suppose to be Greek and were read ----{don't have the Greek font for these letters} {Field, "Origenis Hexaplorum Quae Supersunt," i. 90, Oxford, 1875; Herzog-Hauck, l.c. viii. 530; Blau, l.e. p. 131}. See Also Adonai; Aquila; Gnosticism; Jehovah; Names of G-d; Shem Ha-Meforash.

YHWH - The Father's Covenant Name
Tape 1 "The Name of the Father"
Tape 8 "YHWH-Nissi: The Lord Is my Banner"
Tape 2 "YHWH-Jireh: The Lord Will See and Provide"
Tape 9 "YHWH-Zebaoth: The Lord of Hosts"
Tape 3 "YHWH-Rapha: The Lord Who Heals You"
Tape 10 "YHWH-Qanna: The Lord is Jealous"
Tape 4 "YHWH-Ro'iy: The Who Shepherds Me"
Tape 11 "YHWH-Mekaddishkem: The Lord Who Makes You Holy"
Tape 5 "YHWH-Shammah: The Lord Is There"
Tape 12 "YHWH-Tsidqenuw: The Lord Our Righteousness"
Tape 6 "YHWH-Shalom: The Lord Is Peace"
Tape 13 "YHWH-Elyown: The Lord Most High"
Tape 7 "YHWH 'iysh Milchaamaah: The Lord Is a Man of War"
Tape 14 "The Amen"




The Name Yahweh