The consensus among scholars is that the historical vocalization of the Tetragrammaton at the time of the redaction of the Torah (6th century BCE) is most likely Yahweh. The historical vocalization was lost because in Second Temple Judaism, during the 3rd to 2nd centuries BCE, the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton came to be avoided, being substituted with Adonai (“my Lord”). The Hebrew vowel points of Adonai were added to the Tetragrammaton by the Masoretes, and the resulting form was transliterated around the 12th century CE as Yehowah. The derived forms Iehouah and Jehovah first appeared in the 16th century.
The vocalization of the Tetragrammaton Jehovah was first introduced by William Tyndale in his translation of Exodus 6:3, and appears in some other early English translations including the Geneva Bible and the King James Version. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states that in order to pronounce the Tetragrammaton “it is necessary to introduce vowels that alter the written and spoken forms of the name (i.e. “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”).” Jehovah appears in the Old Testament of some widely used translations including the American Standard Version (1901) and Young’s Literal Translation (1862, 1899); the New World Translation (1961, 2013) uses Jehovah in both the Old and New Testaments. Jehovah does not appear in most mainstream English translations, some of which use Yahweh but most continue to use “Lord” or “LORD” to represent the Tetragrammaton.
Most scholars believe the name Jehovah (also transliterated as Yehowah) to be a hybrid form derived by combining the Hebrew letters יהוה (YHWH, later rendered in the Latin alphabet as JHVH) with the vowels of Adonai. Some hold that there is evidence that a form of the Tetragrammaton similar to Jehovah may have been in use in Semitic and Greek phonetic texts and artifacts from Late Antiquity. Others say that it is the pronunciation Yahweh that is testified in both Christian and pagan texts of the early Christian era.
Some Karaite Jews, as proponents of the rendering Jehovah, state that although the original pronunciation of יהוה has been obscured by disuse of the spoken name according to oral Rabbinic law, well-established English transliterations of other Hebrew personal names are accepted in normal usage, such as Joshua, Jeremiah, Isaiah or Jesus, for which the original pronunciations may be unknown. They also point out that “the English form Jehovah is quite simply an Anglicized form of Yehovah,” and preserves the four Hebrew consonants “YHVH” (with the introduction of the “J” sound in English). Some argue that Jehovah is preferable to Yahweh, based on their conclusion that the Tetragrammaton was likely tri-syllabic originally, and that modern forms should therefore also have three syllables.
In an article he wrote in the Journal of Biblical Literature, Biblical scholar Francis B. Dennio said: “Jehovah misrepresents Yahweh no more than Jeremiah misrepresents Yirmeyahu. The settled connotations of Isaiah and Jeremiah forbid questioning their right.” Dennio argued that the form Jehovah is not a barbarism, but is the best English form available, being that it has for centuries gathered the necessary connotations and associations for valid use in English.
According to a Jewish tradition developed during the 3rd to 2nd centuries BCE, the Tetragrammaton is written but not pronounced. When read, substitute terms replace the divine name where יְהֹוָה (Yəhōwā) appears in the text. It is widely assumed, as proposed by the 19th-century Hebrew scholar Wilhelm Gesenius, that the vowels of the substitutes of the name—Adonai (Lord) and Elohim (God)—were inserted by the Masoretes to indicate that these substitutes were to be used.[a] When יהוה precedes or follows Adonai, the Masoretes placed the vowel points of Elohim into the Tetragrammaton, producing a different vocalization of the Tetragrammaton יֱהֹוִה (Yĕhōvī), which was read as Elohim. Based on this reasoning, the form יְהֹוָה (Jehovah) has been characterized by some as a “hybrid form”, and even “a philological impossibility”.
Early modern translators disregarded the practice of reading Adonai (or its equivalents in Greek and Latin, Κύριος and Dominus)[b] in place of the Tetragrammaton and instead combined the four Hebrew letters of the Tetragrammaton with the vowel points that, except in synagogue scrolls, accompanied them, resulting in the form Jehovah. This form, which first took effect in works dated 1278 and 1303, was adopted in Tyndale’s and some other Protestant translations of the Bible. In the 1560 Geneva Bible, the Tetragrammaton is translated as Jehovah six times, four as the proper name, and two as place-names. In the 1611 King James Version, Jehovah occurred seven times. In the 1885 English Revised Version, the form Jehovah occurs twelve times. In the 1901 American Standard Version the form “Je-ho’vah” became the regular English rendering of the Hebrew יהוה, all throughout, in preference to the previously dominant “the LORD“, which is generally used in the King James Version.[c] It is also used in Christian hymns such as the 1771 hymn, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”.
The most widespread theory is that the Hebrew term יְהֹוָה has the vowel points
of אֲדֹנָי (adonai). Using the vowels of adonai, the composite hataf patah ( ֲ ) under the guttural alef (א) becomes a sheva ( ְ ) under the yod (י), the holam ( ֹ ) is placed over the first he (ה), and the qamats ( ָ ) is placed under the vav (ו), giving יְהֹוָה (Jehovah). When the two names, יהוה and אדני, occur together, the former is pointed with a hataf segol ( ֱ ) under the yod (י) and a hiriq ( ִ ) under the second he (ה), giving יֱהֹוִה, to indicate that it is to be read as elohim in order to avoid adonai being repeated.
Taking the spellings at face value may have been as a result of not knowing about the Q’re perpetuum, resulting in the transliteration Yehowah and derived variants. Emil G. Hirsch was among the modern scholars that recognized “Jehovah” to be “grammatically impossible”.
יְהֹוָה appears 6,518 times in the traditional Masoretic Text, in addition to 305 instances of יֱהֹוִה (Jehovih). The pronunciation Jehovah is believed to have arisen through the introduction of vowels of the qere—the marginal notation used by the Masoretes. In places where the consonants of the text to be read (the qere) differed from the consonants of the written text (the kethib), they wrote the qere in the margin to indicate that the kethib was read using the vowels of the qere. For a few very frequent words the marginal note was omitted, referred to as q’re perpetuum. One of these frequent cases was God’s name, which was not to be pronounced in fear of profaning the “ineffable name”. Instead, wherever יהוה (YHWH) appears in the kethib of the biblical and liturgical books, it was to be read as אֲדֹנָי (adonai, “My Lord [plural of majesty]”), or as אֱלֹהִים (elohim, “God”) if adonai appears next to it. This combination produces יְהֹוָה (yehova) and יֱהֹוִה (yehovi) respectively. יהוה is also written ה’, or even ד’, and read ha-Shem (“the name”).
Scholars are not in total agreement as to why יְהֹוָה does not have precisely the same vowel points as adonai. The use of the composite hataf segol ( ֱ ) in cases where the name is to be read elohim, has led to the opinion that the composite hataf patah ( ֲ ) ought to have been used to indicate the reading adonai. It has been argued conversely that the disuse of the patah is consistent with the Babylonian system, in which the composite is uncommon.
Vowel points of יְהֹוָה and אֲדֹנָי
The table below shows the vowel points of Yehovah and Adonai, indicating the simple sheva in Yehovah in contrast to the hataf patah in Adonai. As indicated to the right, the vowel points used when the Tetragrammaton is intended to be pronounced as Adonai are slightly different to those used in Adonai itself.
|ְ||Simple sheva||E||ֲ||Hataf patah||A|
The difference between the vowel points of ‘ǎdônây and YHWH is explained by the rules of Hebrew morphology and phonetics. Sheva and hataf-patah were allophones of the same phoneme used in different situations: hataf-patah on glottal consonants including aleph (such as the first letter in Adonai), and simple sheva on other consonants (such as the Y in YHWH).
Introduction into English
The earliest available Latin text to use a vocalization similar to Jehovah dates from the 13th century. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon suggested that the pronunciation Jehovah was unknown until 1520 when it was introduced by Galatinus, who defended its use.: 218
In English it appeared in William Tyndale‘s translation of the Pentateuch (“The Five Books of Moses”) published in 1530 in Germany, where Tyndale had studied since 1524, possibly in one or more of the universities at Wittenberg, Worms and Marburg, where Hebrew was taught. The spelling used by Tyndale was “Iehouah”; at that time, “I” was not distinguished from J, and U was not distinguished from V. The original 1611 printing of the Authorized King James Version used “Iehouah”. Tyndale wrote about the divine name: “IEHOUAH [Jehovah], is God’s name; neither is any creature so called; and it is as much to say as, One that is of himself, and dependeth of nothing. Moreover, as oft as thou seest LORD in great letters (except there be any error in the printing), it is in Hebrew Iehouah, Thou that art; or, He that is.”: 408 The name is also found in a 1651 edition of Ramón Martí‘s Pugio fidei.
The name Jehovah (initially as Iehouah) appeared in all early Protestant Bibles in English, except Coverdale‘s translation in 1535. The Roman Catholic Douay–Rheims Bible used “the Lord”, corresponding to the Latin Vulgate‘s use of Dominus (Latin for Adonai, “Lord”) to represent the Tetragrammaton. The Authorized King James Version, which used “Jehovah” in a few places, most frequently gave “the LORD” as the equivalent of the Tetragrammaton. The form Iehouah appeared in John Rogers’ Matthew Bible in 1537, the Great Bible of 1539, the Geneva Bible of 1560, Bishop’s Bible of 1568 and the King James Version of 1611. More recently, Jehovah has been used in the Revised Version of 1885, the American Standard Version in 1901, and the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1961.
At Exodus 6:3–6, where the King James Version has Jehovah, the Revised Standard Version (1952), the New American Standard Bible (1971), the New International Version (1978), the New King James Version (1982), the New Revised Standard Version (1989), the New Century Version (1991), and the Contemporary English Version (1995) give “LORD” or “Lord” as their rendering of the Tetragrammaton, while the New Jerusalem Bible (1985), the Amplified Bible (1987), the New Living Translation (1996, revised 2007), and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (2004) use the form Yahweh.
Hebrew vowel points
“Jehovist” scholars, largely earlier than the 20th century, who believe /dʒəˈhoʊvə/ to be the original pronunciation of the divine name, argue that the Hebraic vowel-points and accents were known to writers of the scriptures in antiquity and that both Scripture and history argue in favor of their ab origine status to the Hebrew language. Some members of Karaite Judaism, such as Nehemia Gordon, hold this view. The antiquity of the vowel points and of the rendering Jehovah was defended by various scholars, including Michaelis, Drach, Stier, William Fulke (1583), Johannes Buxtorf, his son Johannes Buxtorf II, and John Owen (17th century); Peter Whitfield and John Gill (18th century),: 1767 John Moncrieff (19th century), Johann Friedrich von Meyer (1832) Thomas D. Ross has given an account of the controversy on this matter in England down to 1833. G. A. Riplinger, John Hinton, Thomas M. Strouse, are more recent defenders of the authenticity of the vowel points.
18th-century theologian John Gill puts forward the arguments of 17th-century Johannes Buxtorf II and others in his writing, A Dissertation Concerning the Antiquity of the Hebrew Language, Letters, Vowel-Points and Accents. He argued for an extreme antiquity of their use,: 499–560 rejecting the idea that the vowel points were invented by the Masoretes. Gill presented writings, including passages of scripture, that he interpreted as supportive of his “Jehovist” viewpoint that the Old Testament must have included vowel-points and accents.: 549–560 He claimed that the use of Hebrew vowel points of יְהֹוָה, and therefore of the name Jehovah /jəˈhoʊvə/, is documented from before 200 BCE, and even back to Adam, citing Jewish tradition that Hebrew was the first language. He argued that throughout this history the Masoretes did not invent the vowel points and accents, but that they were delivered to Moses by God at Sinai, citing: 538–542 Karaite authorities: 540 Mordechai ben Nisan Kukizov (1699) and his associates, who stated that “all our wise men with one mouth affirm and profess that the whole law was pointed and accented, as it came out of the hands of Moses, the man of God.” The argument between Karaite and Rabbinic Judaism on whether it was lawful to pronounce the name represented by the Tetragrammaton: 538–542 is claimed to show that some copies have always been pointed (voweled) and that some copies were not pointed with the vowels because of “oral law“, for control of interpretation by some Judeo sects, including non-pointed copies in synagogues.: 548–560 Gill claimed that the pronunciation /jəˈhoʊvə/ can be traced back to early historical sources which indicate that vowel points and/or accents were used in their time.: 462 Sources Gill claimed supported his view include:
- The Book of Cosri and commentator Rabbi Judab Muscatus, which claim that the vowel points were taught to Adam by God.: 461–462
- Saadiah Gaon (927 AD): 501
- Jerome (380 AD): 512–516
- Origen (250 AD): 522
- The Zohar (120 AD): 531
- Jesus Christ (31 AD), based on Gill’s interpretation of Matthew 5:18: 535–536
- Hillel the Elder and Shammai division (30 BC): 536–537
- Karaites (120 BCE): 538–542
- Demetrius Phalereus, librarian for Ptolemy II Philadelphus king of Egypt (277 BCE): 544
Gill quoted Elia Levita, who said, “There is no syllable without a point, and there is no word without an accent,” as showing that the vowel points and the accents found in printed Hebrew Bibles have a dependence on each other, and so Gill attributed the same antiquity to the accents as to the vowel points.: 499 Gill acknowledged that Levita, “first asserted the vowel points were invented by “the men of Tiberias“, but made reference to his condition that “if anyone could convince him that his opinion was contrary to the book of Zohar, he should be content to have it rejected.” Gill then alludes to the book of Zohar, stating that rabbis declared it older than the Masoretes, and that it attests to the vowel-points and accents.: 531
William Fulke, John Gill, John Owen, and others held that Jesus Christ referred to a Hebrew vowel point or accent at Matthew 5:18, indicated in the King James Version by the word tittle.
Proponents of later origin
Despite Jehovist claims that vowel signs are necessary for reading and understanding Hebrew, modern Hebrew (apart from young children’s books, some formal poetry and Hebrew primers for new immigrants), is written without vowel points. The Torah scrolls do not include vowel points, and ancient Hebrew was written without vowel signs.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1946 and dated from 400 BC to 70 AD, include texts from the Torah or Pentateuch and from other parts of the Hebrew Bible, and have provided documentary evidence that, in spite of claims to the contrary, the original Hebrew texts were in fact written without vowel points. Menahem Mansoor’s The Dead Sea Scrolls: A College Textbook and a Study Guide claims the vowel points found in printed Hebrew Bibles were devised in the 9th and 10th centuries.
Gill’s view that the Hebrew vowel points were in use at the time of Ezra or even since the origin of the Hebrew language is stated in an early 19th-century study in opposition to “the opinion of most learned men in modern times”, according to whom the vowel points had been “invented since the time of Christ”. The study presented the following considerations:
- The argument that vowel points are necessary for learning to read Hebrew is refuted by the fact that the Samaritan text of the Bible is read without them and that several other Semitic languages, kindred to Hebrew, are written without any indications of the vowels.
- The books used in synagogue worship have always been without vowel points, which, unlike the letters, have thus never been treated as sacred.
- The Qere Kethib marginal notes give variant readings only of the letters, never of the points, an indication either that these were added later or that, if they already existed, they were seen as not so important.
- The Kabbalists drew their mysteries only from the letters and completely disregarded the points, if there were any.
- In several cases, ancient translations from the Hebrew Bible (Septuagint, Targum, Aquila of Sinope, Symmachus, Theodotion, Jerome) read the letters with vowels different from those indicated by the points, an indication that the texts from which they were translating were without points. The same holds for Origen‘s transliteration of the Hebrew text into Greek letters. Jerome expressly speaks of a word in Habakkuk 3:5, which in the present Masoretic Text has three consonant letters and two vowel points, as being of three letters and no vowel whatever.
- Neither the Jerusalem Talmud nor the Babylonian Talmud (in all their recounting of Rabbinical disputes about the meaning of words), nor Philo nor Josephus, nor any Christian writer for several centuries after Christ make any reference to vowel points.
Early modern arguments
- work with no copyright] uses “Jehovah” 6837 times.
Bible translations with the divine name in the New Testament:
- In the Emphatic Diaglott (1864) a Greek-English Interlinear translation of the New Testament by Benjamin Wilson, the name Jehovah appears eighteen times.
- The Five Pauline Epistles, A New Translation (1900) by William Gunion Rutherford uses the name Jehovah six times in the Book of Romans.
Bible translations with the divine name in both the Old Testament and the New Testament: render the Tetragrammaton as Jehovah either exclusively or in selected verses:
- In the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (1961, 1984, 2013) published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Jehovah appears 7,199 times in the 1961 edition, 7,210 times in the 1984 revision and 7,216 times in the 2013 revision, comprising 6,979 instances in the Old Testament, and 237 in the New Testament—including 70 of the 78 times where the New Testament quotes an Old Testament passage containing the Tetragrammaton, where the Tetragrammaton does not appear in any extant Greek manuscript.
- The Original Aramaic Bible in Plain English (2010) by David Bauscher, a self-published English translation of the New Testament, from the Aramaic of The Peshitta New Testament with a translation of the ancient Aramaic Peshitta version of Psalms & Proverbs, contains the word “JEHOVAH” approximately 239 times in the New Testament, where the Peshitta itself does not. In addition, “Jehovah” also appears 695 times in the Psalms and 87 times in Proverbs, totaling 1,021 instances.
- The Divine Name King James Bible (2011) – Uses JEHOVAH 6,973 times throughout the OT, and LORD with Jehovah in parentheses 128 times in the NT.