Our next study in Tanak Foundations will be a study of the personal name of God or Tetragrammaton (four-lettered name of God). We are going to begin with the proper pronunciation of this four-lettered name (YHVH) based on current scholarship and the discovery of the name in over 1000 Hebrew manuscripts with full vowels. This will get us off to a good start in this teaching, leaving no doubt as to what the proper pronunciation is. The reasons why this is important will be brought out later in the teaching.
We will be using various sources in this series, but primarily Nehemiah Gordon’s videos on the name of God on YouTube. Mr. Gordon has also written several books on the subject. One is called “The Hebrew Yeshua vs. the Greek Jesus” and another one is called “Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence.” Another book called “A Prayer to Our Father: The Hebrew Origins of the Lord’s Prayer” also touches on it and it is co-authored by Keith Johnson. Mr. Johnson also has a book called, “His Hallowed Name Revealed Again” and is a good source.
Nehemiah Gordon is a Karaite Jewish scholar and a graduate of Hebrew University. He has a Master’s Degree in Biblical Studies and a Bachelor’s degree in Archaeology. He has worked as a translator on the Dead Sea Scrolls and a researcher deciphering ancient Hebrew manuscripts. He is a prominent individual in the Karaite Jewish community and is active in the Hebrew origins of Christianity and interfaith dialogue. He is also a speaker in churches and synagogues all over the world and leads tours to Israel. Keith Johnson has a Maters of Divinity degree and was the former chaplain for the Minnesota Vikings and a United Methodist pastor. We are going to look at the evidence found so far and make a decision based on that evidence. We are not going to “gerrymander” the evidence to say what we want it to say like they do in politics.
The rabbis have many traditions, and one of them is that Jews are forbidden to speak the name of God. They will say “Adonai” or “Hashem.” Then the people grow up thinking that way. It is the same way in the Messianic Community because they follow Jewish tradition for the sake of following Jewish tradition. They don’t know any better at first. The rabbis also teach that it may be forbidden now to speak the name, but when Messiah comes it will be permissible. Well, the Messiah has come and so we are going to pronounce it. This prohibition on speaking the name cannot be found in the Torah, but it is a late tradition. In fact, there are verses that show that people greeted each other pronouncing the name (Ruth 2.4) and a blessing was done saying the name (Nun 6.22-27). A Rabbi was burned at the stake by the Romans in the Second Century for speaking the name. His name was Haninah Ben Teradion. Emperor Hadrian did not want the Jews speaking the name or following and teaching Torah.
The plan was to get everyone to say “God” so that they could pull a “bait and switch” and say everyone is following the same “God.” Like today, everyone says “God” or “Lord” and think that is the name of God. However, any title can apply to any “god” of today. But, when you use the personal name of God (Yehovah), then everyone knows who you are referring to. The word “Lord” can apply to any God (example “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison is about a Hindu god), but Yehovah can only apply to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So, Jewish tradition said that people were forbidden to say YHVH for internal reasons. By 250 AD or so it was well understood that you did not say the name. However, not everyone agreed with that or complied with it. A document from the 1500’s says a rabbi was rebuked for speaking the name. The assumption is Jews don’t know the name, but in reality they do. The Jewish sources have it but they won’t speak it, but it is there.
The name is pronounced “Yehovah” with the accent on the third syllable (“His Hallowed Name Revealed Again” page 151). This name appears in the Tanak 6,827 times, so it appears more than all the titles of God combined (Elohim, Adonai, El Shaddai, etc). So, we can see right off it is an important name. Even the Gospels and Epistles reveal it was important. The prohibition of later times is often “projected backwards” to the time of Yeshua when there was no prohibition.
There is a term called “Theophonic Names.” This is where a name has the name of God in it. For instance, Yehoshaphat (Yehovah is judge), Yehoram (Yehovah on high), Yehoahaz (Possession of Yehovah) are theophonic names. This has the name of God at the beginning. There are also theophonic names with it at the end, like Yeshayahu (Isaiah meaning “Yehovah saves”). It is similar to Yehoshua (Joshua) only switched around. The name “Yeshua” is a shortened form of “Yehoshua.” Names with Yehovah in them will have “Yeho” at the beginning and
Yahu” at the end.
There are exceptions. Judah is “Yehovah Odah.” Most languages have what is called “Dissimilation.” It is the opposite of “Assimilation.” Dissimilation is when you have two similar sounds, and it creates a difference to avoid having two sounds. So, Yeho-odah becomes Yehudah. The name Yeshua is an example of this (Yehoshua). In the Second Temple period the “”Hey” (H sound) was not pronounced very hard, so Yehoshua became “Yoshua” and Hebrew doesn’t like “o” and “oo” clusters. So, Yoshua by dissimilation becomes “YeSHUA” with a shortened “e” sound. Yehu is another one. His full name never appears (Yehohu) so it becomes “Yohu” but Hebrew doesn’t like the “o” or “oo” clusters, so it becomes Yehu. In English we basically have the same thing. Do not is “don’t” and can not becomes “can’t” and so on.
What most of us don’t realize until you study a language at a university is that dictionaries are descriptive, not proscriptive. In other words, they describe what scholars find. It wasn’t like somebody was writing a biblical book and so they said, “I am looking for a word that means such and such and so I am going to a dictionary.” There were no dictionaries or lexicons anciently. They wrote what they wrote. Later, people will go to look at a word in its context and don’t always get it right. When we look at a concordance or lexicon we can’t assume the definition found there is correct. Their definition is the end process of interpreting the verse. Here is a problem. We will go to these sources not realizing that and we think we have the definition and the meaning of a verse. That is backwards and the opposite way to do it.
What the author of a concordance or lexicon was supposed to do was to go to the verse, figure out what the word means, and compare it with the same word in other verses (and there may be other meanings), then give a definition in a lexicon. Concordances pull definitions out of nowhere, the same with lexicons. The reason there is a question on how to pronounce the name of God is because Jewish tradition going back 1800 years had a prohibition to speak that name. The name was preserved, but it was preserved “underground.” When someone did speak it in the 1500’s they were condemned.
The name Yeshua is a shortened form of the name Yehoshua (Joshua). Because Joshua the son of Nun and Yehoshua the son of Yehozadak is called “Yeshua” there has never been a question on how it was pronounced. There are verses in the Tanak with the name Yeshua (Jeshua in English) in it such as: 1 Chr 24.11; 2 Chr 31.15; Ezra 2.6; Ezra 3.2; Neh 7.11; Ezra 2.40; Neh 7.43; Ezra 8.33; Neh 3.19; Neh 10.9; Neh 8.7, 9.4-5; Neh 12.8; Neh 8.17 and Neh 12.24. You can see right there in English how to say it. When people say that Yeshua should be pronounced “Yahshua” or “Yahushua” don’t know what they are talking about. They are inventing a name. Anyone in the First Century knew how to say his name, and it was Yeshua. We have already given you a list of Scriptures where Yeshua (“Jeshua” in English Bibles) is written. So, the name Yehoshua becomes Yeshua in the First Temple period.
So now we come to the Greek period and Hellenistic Jews in Galilee said “Yesua” because there is no “sh” sound in Greek. In Greek, names end in “ou” or “us.” So, Yesua becomes “Yesous” or “Yesus.” This name has nothing to do with Zeus. They have found ossuaries with the name “Yeshua” on the side and “Yesus” on the other. There is no “J” sound in Greek either. When it was written with a “J” nobody said “Jesus” but “Yesus.” But, over time, people who didn’t know Greek or Latin said “Jesus” like it is said today. It is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yehoshua.
When the English bible came along they were copying the German, and in the German today the “J” is pronounced with a “Y” sound, so “Jehovah” was “Yehovah.” Some people teach that the name “Jesus” is related the Greek god “Zeus” but it has nothing to do with the name Zeus. They aren’t even spelled the same in Greek. Only in the made up language found in the Sacred Name movement is “Jesus” related to “Zeus.”
In Part 2 we will begin to take an extended look into the name Yehovah (YHVH).