Did the Hebrews Pronounce the Divine Name?

by Ronald Day, A Restoration Light Publication January 21, 1999

 

 "God said moreover to Moses, "You shall tell the children of Israel this, 'Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, and this is my memorial to all generations. " --Exodus 3:15, World English Version.

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 It has been argued by some that the various people who are recorded as speaking the divine name in the Hebrew Scriptures actually did not pronounce the name of God, but rather substituted el, elohim, adonai, or some other generic title when they spoke. Not one scripture supports this claim. However, we do know that the Jews did later adopt this custom of substituting titles for the divine name, believing that the divine name was too sacred to be pronounced. Jews in general still follow this tradition to this day.

 The argument is put forth that the divine name was not pronounced because it contains no vowels. In truth, however, no written Hebrew name has vowels; indeed, not one word in the original Hebrew has any written vowels. Thus such an argument would make all of the words and names in Hebrew unpronounceable, which, of course, is ridiculous.

 Someone has stated that we have the pronunciation of the other words since the Masoretes gave us the pronunciations and they are preserved in the Masoretic text. Actually, no, we don't know for sure how those Hebrew names were pronounced. The vowel points as provided by the Masoretes are known to be incorrect in many ways. If they were correct, we would know for sure how to pronounce the divine name, since they have provided vowel points for that name.

Most scholars tell us that those vowel points are wrong. Additionally, many scholars believe the Masoretes also gave false pronunciations for many other Hebrew names, such as Jehoaddin, Jehoahaz, Jehoash, Jehohanan, Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim, Jehoshaphat, etc., in order to keep the divine name from being pronounced in the beginning of names.

 The Qumran scroll of Isaiah adds the Hebrew letters "waw" and "yod" to words as pronunciation helps to indicate vowels, but this is generic, since it does not indicate what vowel sounds are to be inserted. http://www.ao.net/~fmoeller/qumdir.htm The Qumran scroll of Isaiah gives 4 different spellings for Hezekiah: http://www.ao.net/~fmoeller/qum-28.htm#28:29  The vowel points added in the Masoretic text are very questionable; otherwise you would have to say that the divine name should be pronounced Yehowah or Yehovah.

 To further complicate the matter, even the original pronunciation of many of the consonants are disputed among Hebrew scholars. For instance, was the 6th letter pronounced like our "v" or our "w", or somewhere in between? Was the tenth letter pronounced like our "y" or like our "j", or somewhere in between? Thus it is clear that we do not know for sure how many of the names of the Old Testament were originally pronounced.

 Do we have any proof that the Hebrews in Old Testament times did pronounce the divine name? Josephus stated, in speaking of God's appearance to Moses: "Whereupon God declared to him his holy name, which had never been discovered to me before; concerning which it is not lawful for me to say any more." (*Antiquities of Jews*, Book II, chap. XII, par. 4)  Thus he, in effect, says: I used to be permitted to pronounce the divine, but not any more.

 Surely God spoke his own name to Moses when he said:

{3:15} God said moreover to Moses, "You shall tell the children of Israel this, 'Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, and this is my memorial to all generations. {3:16} Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and tell them, 'Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, "I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt; {3:17} and I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, to a land flowing with milk and honey."' {3:18} They will listen to your voice, and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt, and you shall tell him, 'Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Now please let us go three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to Yahweh, our God.' -- Exodus 3:15-19, Word English Version

 How could the divine name be a memorial to all generations if it is not to be pronounced?

And surely Moses pronounced the divine name in his reply:

{4:1} Moses answered, "But, behold, they will not believe me, nor listen to my voice; for they will say, 'Yahweh has not appeared to you.'" -- Exodus 4:1, World English Version

And surely God used his own name when he later told Moses: {4:22} You shall tell Pharaoh, 'Thus says Yahweh, Israel is my son, my firstborn, -- Exodus 4:22, World English Version

 Now when Moses told Aaron all these words, and Aaron related these words to the elders, do you think they changed the words of Yahweh to say Adonai instead of Yahweh? -- Exodus 4:27-31. And when they went before Pharaoh:

{5:1} Afterward Moses and Aaron came, and said to Pharaoh, "This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says, 'Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.'" -- Exodus 5:1, World English Version.

We cannot accept that Moses misrepresented the matter. He did not write anywhere that he never pronounced the name of God at all; nor does he say that instead he substituted Adonai or Elohim. Lacking any proof otherwise, we conclude that Moses recorded the matter as it occurred, that is, that Moses and others actually did speak the divine name.

 And then what about Pharaoh?

{5:2} Pharaoh said, "Who is Yahweh, that I should listen to his voice to let Israel go? I don't know Yahweh, and moreover I will not let Israel go." -- Exodus 5:2, World English Version.

Does the Bible lie in this regard? Did Pharaoh actually say: Who is Elohim? Or something else?

And one could go through all the Hebrew Scriptures in this way. The idea that the speakers represented in the Hebrew Scriptures never pronounced the divine name would make the writers of these scriptures liars, to say the least.

Ronald R. Day

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