How do you know what vowels are in YHWH?

qWhy do you add the vowels “a” and “e” to the sacred Name YHWH, we are commonly asked? The fact is that we are not adding anything. Including an “a” and “e” with the four consonants, i.e. “Yahweh,” makes His Name pronounceable for the English alphabet that we use. Try pronouncing any word that is all consonants and you’ll see how important vowels are. For example: mgzn (magazine) or dct (educate).

aIn the Hebrew, the Yod, Hay, Waw, and Hay of the four-lettered Tetragrammaton are pronounced ee-ah-oo-eh. These letters represent vowel-consonants, the only Hebrew letters besides the aleph that can perform as either vowel or consonant. (See “How the Hebrew Language Grew,” by Edward Horowitz.)

Because these letters of Yahweh’s Name serve as both vowels and consonants, we can know which English vowels come closest in sound to the Hebrew letters. Furthermore, the Hebrew Masorete scribes put vowel points in and around the Hebrew letters to preserve their proper pronounciation.

These facts obliterate the argument that we cannot pronounce ancient Hebrew. After all, if we cannot pronounce the Hebrew “because it has no vowels,” then the entire Hebrew Old Testament is unpronounceable. What’s more, the Hebrews themselves would have been unable to pronounce their language!

The ancient Hebrews simply grew accustomed to pronouncing their words with the vowels implicitly supplied. It was not unlike modern teaching techniques in which pupils learn how to read by sight recognition of letter groups rather than phonetically sounding those letters out.

Yahweh or Yahvah / Yahveh?

q I heard that the name should be Yahveh or Yahvah like the V in Jehovah (Yehovah).

a   The v is a consonant that some have used for the sound of the Hebrew waw in Yahweh’s Name (Yahveh). The problem is, the waw in His Name was considered a vowel anciently. In fact, all the letters of the Tetragrammaton are called vowels by Josephus (Wars of the Jews, 5.5.556) as well as by Hebrew grammars.Bagster’s Helps to Bible Study also says these are vowel-letters in the sacred Name, “as having been originally used to represent vowels, and they still frequently serve as vowels in combination with the points.”Bagsters says the waw represents the letters o or u.

Another authority says, “The sound of waw a long time ago wasn’t ‘vav’ at all but ‘w’ and ‘w’ is weak. The Yemenite Jews of Arabia who retain an ancient, correct, and pure pronunciation of Hebrew still pronounce the waw as ‘w,’ as does Arabic, the close sister language of Hebrew,” How the Hebrew Language Grew, Edward Horowitz, pp. 29-30.

A response to a query about the proper pronunciation of waw/ vav, EKS Publishing responded, “In modern Hebrew it is pronounced VAV. Since our materials are geared for a predominantly Jewish audience, we give this pronunciation in our wall charts and most other publications. However, in Biblical times the letter was pronounced WAW. Because our book, A Simple Approach to O.T. Hebrew, is written for a Christian audience, we have given this Biblical Hebrew pronunciation for WAW and for a few other letters.”

Since the turn of the century the Jews returning to Palestine have hailed mostly from Eastern Europe. It is evident that the heavy influence of Ashkenazic or Germanic (German influenced) pronunciation of the vav instead of the Sephardic or biblical waw has become dominant in present-day Judaism and is referred to as “Modern-Sephardic.” However, the Temple or Biblical Hebrew uses WAW as the ancient and more correct pronunciation.

The English name “Jehovah” or “Yehovah” was invented by Roman Catholics sometime in the Middle Ages, based on a misunderstanding of Masoretic Hebrew texts. It is a hybrid word consisting of the Tetragrammaton YHWH (“J” used to be pronounced as “Y”) and the vowels for the word “Adonai.” Though “Jehovah” is used a few times in the 1611 King James Version (e.g.,Gen 22:14; Exod 6:3; Isa 12:2; Ps 83:18) and is found in many older Christian hymns, it is not the authentic biblical pronunciation of the sacred Name (For a discussion of the “Jehovah or Yahweh” question see “God, Names of” inEncyclopædia Judaica, vol. 7, col. 680, or George F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era: The Age of the Tannaim (3 vols., Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1927-30), vol. 1, p. 219 and note 1, p. 427. Most modern Bible translations have notes on this issue in their introductions, agreeing that the true Name of the Heavenly Father is Yahweh.

For an explanation on the ending of the name “eh or “ah” >>

Yahwah?

q   The name is Yahwah, because of a few reasons. {1} The Concordance Hebrew #1961 & #1933 are the 2 root words for יהוה. Hayah for #1961, and Hawah for #1933, thus we conclude to the phonetic sounding of YAHWAH. {2} We say hallelu yah, not hallelu yeh, if the first ה is pronounced “ah” thus the yah sounding, then the second ה is pronounced ah {not an eh sounding} thus the wah sounding. Thus we use the phonetic sounding of יהוה as YAHWAH.

a  Although Yahwah is a close variation, the mistake is establishing a pronunciation by using Strong’s 1933 as well as 1961, although 1933 is related in meaning (existence) it is however a different word. The Hebrew of 1961, hay-yod-hay, is not the same as the 1933 cognate, hay-wa-hay. The first is pronounced hayah, the second hawah. The error is in fusing these two different words to make Yahwah without any linguistic basis or evidence to do so.Another argument for the “ah” ending is that if the sound of the first hay is “ah,” the second hay must be the same sound. The same letter often takes on a different sound when appearing twice in the same word. For example, the “a” in always is not the same sound at the beginning of the word as it is at the end. Just because words are related in their roots is no justification for manufacturing a word or name by combining variations and should be disregarded as poor scholarship. The Berlitz Hebrew Self-Teacher on page 73 reveals: “There are, however, four letters which can be used as vowels. h and a may have the vowel sound of ah or eh, w that of oo or oh, and y of ee or eh.”

The Greek shows that the last syllable is pronounced with a short “e” sound: ee-ah-oo-eh. The name Yahweh is shown on various Greek transcriptions, such as ιαβε, dating from the first centuries CE.

‘Yahweh’ is Aramaic and that ‘Yahueh’ is Hebrew. Is that true?

q    I have heard that ‘Yahweh’ is Aramaic and that ‘Yahueh’ is Hebrew. Is that true?

aIn actuality, “Yahweh” with a “w” is Hebrew, while the “u” in the name Yahueh is Greek. The Tetragrammaton YHWH, found 6,823 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, is rendered Iaoue in the Greek Septuagint. This is an attempt to transliterate the four Hebrew letters, including the waw, which is the transliterated “w” in the Tetragrammaton. Not having a “w” in its alphabet, the Greek uses the closest letter to it: the upsilon, or “u.”

In a letter to Biblical Archaeology Review (Sept.-Oct 1994), Dr. Anson R. Rainy, professor of Ancient and Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Linguistics at Tel Aviv University, wrote this about the pronunciation of Yahweh in the Greek alphabet, “I mentioned the evidence from Greek transcriptions in religious papyri found in Egypt. The best of these is Iaouee.”

He goes on to explain the correct Hebrew rendition of the name: “Yahweh is from the verbal root *hwy*, ‘to be.’ This root usually shows up in Hebrew as *hyy*.  It is a verbal root developed from the third person pronoun, *huwa/*hiya.”

From the book, How the Hebrew Language Grew by Edward Horowitz, we find, “The Yemenite Jews of Arabia who retain an ancient, correct and pure pronunciation of Hebrew still pronounce the (waw) as ‘w’ – as does Arabic, the close sister language of Hebrew.”

Pronunciation varies little between the “u” and the “w” name forms. It is the written form, however, that causes confusion, and nearly all credible scholars and references use “Yahweh.”

Yahuah or Yahweh?

q   I have some friends who follow the Hebrew Bible and its teachings and have told me the Creator’s Name is Yahuah (Yah-who-ah) are they wrong?

 

a

The proponents of this name believe the key to the proper pronunciation of YHWH can be found in the name Judah i.e. Yehudah YHWDH. Since His people are called by His name (2 Chronicles 7:14), then it must be hidden in the name Judah right? Not so fast… Numbers 6:27 says: “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” Lets analyze this verse in the Masoretic text. In Hebrew it says: “בְּנֵ֣י bene יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל Yisrael” This means the “sons of Israel.” The sons of Israel encompass all the children of Jacob (tribes of Israel) not just Judah. This isn’t some special directive and secret code explaining the name Judah’s vowels hold the key to the true pronunciation.

But for arguments sake let’s remove the dalet from Yehudah יְהוּדָה and see what happens. If you know Hebrew Grammar you will instantly notice a problem here: יְהוָּה The vowel shureq is now coupled with a qamets, this is a violation. A Hebrew consonant always has to have a vowel with it, not two vowels in a row. Lets say you decided to put the qamets vowel under the final heh, now you just changed the pronunciation to Yehuha because at the ending of a Hebrew word, the consonant is always read before the vowel.

If the problematic Hebrew grammar wasn’t enough, we also see another glaring issue. There is a shewa under the yod which gives the Yeh sound, not the “Yah” sound. So not only must we remove the dalet, we then need to interject a different vowel in the first syllable that doesn’t exist? There is no indication at all in the Hebrew word origin that there is a contraction of the tetragrammaton like we see in the name Joshua for instance. Yehudah simply means “praised.” For those who have a basic understanding of Hebrew it is evident that the hoops we need to jump through to fabricate this name makes it nonsensical.

We received a comment from a proponent of this form that if the sound of the first heh is “ah,” (which we just proved isn’t in the Hebrew) then the second heh must also have the same sound. So since we are making things up, let’s say there was an “a” vowel before the heh, does this prove anything? No, there are many vowel combinations in Hebrew, the idea that if the first syllable has an ah sound, then the second syllable must also have an ah sound shows a striking ignorance of the language. The yod can take any number of vowel combinations and it does all through the Hebrew.  The Hebrew Grammar book “The Berlitz Hebrew Self-Teacher” on page 73 reveals: “There are, however, four letters which can be used as vowels. h and a may have the vowel sound of ah or eh, w that of oo or oh, and y of ee or eh.” To just assume the second heh is pronounced the same as the first heh is frankly ridiculous.

In Hebrew the “ah” ending is feminine in its conjunctive form like Ishah אִשָּׁ֔ה (women) opposed to Ish אִישׁ (man). The Hebrew word Yapheh which sounds similar to the name Yahweh is used to describe David (1 Samuel 17:42) יָפֶה (beautiful) in the masculine form. The feminine form of this Hebrew word is Yaphah יָפָ֖ה like we see in reference to Tamar in 2 Samuel 13:1. It is very unlikely the name of the creator of the universe would have a feminine form of the name like you see in Yahuah or Yehovah.

Typically, those who employ the hard “who” sound tend to over-emphasize the sound of the “U” as well—Yah-WHO-ah (or -eh). The letter in question, the waw and third letter of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, is represented by the W. In Biblical Hebrew the yod, heh, and waw are all weak letters and the waw had a soft pronunciation anciently. Much of this confusion is interjecting modern Hebrew pronunciation into the Hebrew which was spoken in first Temple times. We can see this soft form in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Three parts of the Tetragrammaton YAHW is written in Greek in plate 378, fragment 15 for Leviticus 3:12. Later in biblical translations this was changed to Kyrios or lord but in the Masoretic text this remains YHWH with the Kativ vowels for Adonai. The Greek letters Iota, Alpha and Omega translate to Yahw (Yao). The Greek Omega (o equivelent) has the sound of “w” like in the word raw. The translator here could have used the upsilon, which anciently had the “u” sound like the word ruse or the German brüder but instead used the softer “o” sound like in the word “tone.” 

The American Heritage Dictionary says that the W came to be pronounced as a V in later Latin (proof that “Yahveh” is historically impossible). Then this source says under the letter U, “The letter U originated in the early Middle Ages as a cursive version of V.” The w (waw) in Biblical Hebrew is a weak letter, almost a guttural, and is nearly swallowed, the opposite of over-emphasis given by some to the u (oo) sound. Who pronounces “answer” as “ans-OO-er”? In the book How the Hebrew Language Grew, Edward Horowitz, pg. 29 explains how many English words with the equivalent letter ‘w’ is silent and follows the same pattern as the Hebrew “waw.” Examples include, “answer, sword, law, two, write, etc.”  “…the sound of w a long time ago wasn’t “vav” at all but “w” and “w” is weak…The Yemenite Jews of Arabia who retain an ancient, correct, and pure pronunciation of Hebrew still pronounce the w as “w” –as does Arabic, the close sister language of Hebrew,” pp. 29-30. Hebrew words like yawm > yom [יוֹם] “day” or even the Hebrew word for peace shalom שׁלום shows this soft inflection.

We asked Stephen Fassberg PhD of the Hebrew University and one of the world’s leading Dead Sea Scrolls scholars what the “waw” sounded like anciently, he responded: “There is no doubt whatsoever that vav was pronounced “w” in the Hebrew of the First Temple period and in Semitic languages.”

An interesting note is the syllabification of the name in either two or three syllables. The three syllable forms Ya-hu-ah or Ye-ho-vah cannot be breathed. It is possible the name Yah-weh can be breathed in its two syllable form, as you inhale “Yah” and exhale “Weh.” You cannot do this with the three syllable Yah(who)ah. In Psalm 150:6 scripture says: “Let every thing that hath breath praise Yahweh. HalleluYah.” Psalm 150:6 still retains the short form Yah in the Masoretic text vowel pointed with the mapiq to Yah (indicating the heh is aspirated) showing the importance of the name in relation to breath. The Jewish prayer book the Siddur says, “Nishmat kol chai tivarekh et-shimcha, YHWH elohenu” — The Breath of all life praises your Name, YHWH our Elohim,”

The Greek shows that the last syllable is pronounced with a short “e” sound: ee-ah-oo-eh like Theodoret’s Iabe. There is Iaoue from Clement of Alexandria. An interesting extra-biblical find is the Nag Hammadi Apocryphon of John (written in Greek by Gnostic Christians). Since it was known to the church father Irenaeus, it is estimated to have been written 120-180 CE. In the text we find the name “Yawe” occurring alongside Eloim and also Yaw.

The Encyclopedia Judaica notes that the true pronunciation of Yahweh’s Name was never lost, being pronounced “Yahweh. There is a reason the name was “never lost” and the Jewish Encyclopedia clarifies this regarding the Samaritans, who were chastised by the Jews for using the true pronunciation Yahweh in the Jerusalem Talmud. “These details indicate that the long-sanctioned dread of uttering the Shem ha-Meforash (the explicit name) was by no means without exceptions, and that the correct pronunciation was not unknown. Abba Saul (2d cent.) condemned the profanation of the Tetragrammaton by classing those “that speak the Name according to its letters” (יהוה) with those who have no part in the future world (Sanh. x. 1); and according to ‘Ab. Zarah 17b, one of the martyrs of Hadrian’s time, Hananiah b. Teradion, was burned at the stake because he so uttered the Name. A Palestinian amora of the third century (Mana the Elder) exemplified the apothegm of Abba Saul (Yer. Sanh. 28b, above) by the statement, “as, for instance, the Samaritans who swear”; he meant thereby that in their oaths the Samaritans pronounce the Tetragrammaton exactly as it is written. According to Theodoret, the Greek Church father, who flourished in the fifth century, they gave it the sound of Ἰαβέ (see Löw, “Gesammelte Schriften,” i. 193). See reference

Note: The Samaritans in most instances pronounce bet, vet, waw, pe and fe as a “b”. We often see as an alternative transcription in Greek sources. There was no Greek equivalent of [w], so they used a vowel combination to represent this. “Iaoue” (presumably Ἰαουέ) phonetically Yahweh if the w bears the sound of English: [jɑ-wɛ’].

Yahweh cuneiform Akkadian DelitzschThe Masoretes used an orthographic device known as Kativ Kere in the text to hide the true vowels of the name Yahweh. Ketiv means read and Kere means written. They inserted the vowels for Adonai, Elohim and variants in the Tetragrammaton so every time they would see those associative vowels they would either read Elohim or Adonai. Amazingly, you can prove the vowel combinations of Yahweh by simple deduction. If Yahweh is the true name you would not expect to see the “Yah” and “Weh” vowels in any form by the Masoretes and this is exactly what you see notice:

יְהוָה – Yehwah (Genesis 2:4)
יְהֹוָה – Yehowah (Genesis 3:14)
יֱהֹוִה – Yehowih (Judges 16:28)
יֱהוִה – Yehwih (Genesis 15:2)
יְהֹוִה – Yehowih (1Kings 2:26)
יְהוִה – Yehwih (Ezekiel 24:24)

With all this criteria examined there is only one name that has been preserved in history with manuscript documentation from various sources, that meets the rules of Hebrew Grammar and also the vowel deduction of Kativ Kere and that name is Yahweh.

The name Yahweh is not made-up by scholars as we hear from time to time. (See image from Friedrich Delitzsch book Babel and Bible Page 71) These tablets are from the time of Hammurabi (1750 BCE) in Cuneiform which does contain vowels. Keep in mind this is 3300 years before the Aleppo Codex and verifies the Samaritan pronunciation Yahweh and the Nag Hammadi, as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls Plate 378 Fragment 15.