YHWH: The Biblical Tetragrammaton


The tetragrammaton (from Greek Τετραγράμματον, meaning “[consisting of] four letters”) is the four Hebrew letters יהוה‎, commonly transliterated into Latin letters as YHWH. It is one of the names of GOD used in the Bible. The name may be derived from a verb that means “to be”, “to exist”, “to cause to become”, or “to come to pass”.

The Books of the Torah and the rest of the Bible (with the exception of Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs) contain the Hebrew word יהוה‎. Religiously observant Jews and those who follow conservative Jewish traditions do not pronounce יהוה‎, nor do they read aloud transliterated forms such as YAHWEH; instead the word is substituted with a different term, whether used to address or to refer to the GOD of Israel. Common substitutions for Hebrew forms are hakadosh baruch hu (“The Holy One, Blessed Be He”), ADONAI (“The LORD”), or HaShem (“The Name”).

The four letters

The letters, properly read from right to left (in Biblical Hebrew), are:

Hebrew Letter name Pronunciation
י Yod [j]
ה He [h]
ו Waw [w], or placeholder for “O”/”U” vowel (see mater lectionis)
ה He [h] (or often a silent letter at the end of a word)


YHWH and Hebrew script

Tetragrammaton scripts from Paleo Hebrew to Hebrew

The letters YHWH are consonantal semi-vowels. In unpointed Biblical Hebrew, most vowels are not written and the rest are written only ambiguously, as certain consonants can double as vowel markers (similar to the Latin use of V to indicate both U and V). These are referred to as matres lectionis (“mothers of reading”). For similar reasons, an appearance of the Tetragrammaton in ancient Egyptian records of the 13th century BCE sheds no light on the original pronunciation. Therefore, it is, in general, difficult to deduce how a word is pronounced only from its spelling, and the tetragrammaton is a particular example: two of its letters can serve as vowels, and two are vocalic place-holders, which are not pronounced. Thus the first-century Jewish historian and philosopher Josephus said that the sacred name of God consists of “four vowels”.

The original consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible was, several centuries later, provided with vowel marks by the Masoretes to assist reading. In places that the consonants of the text to be read (the qere) differed from the consonants of the written text (the ketiv), they wrote the qere in the margin as a note showing what was to be read. In such a case the vowels of the qere were written on the ketiv. For a few frequent words, the marginal note was omitted: these are called qere perpetuum.

One of the frequent cases was the tetragrammaton, which according to later Jewish practices should not be pronounced but read as “ADONAI” (“My LORD”), or, if the previous or next word already was ADONAI, as “ELOHIM” (“GOD”). The combination produces יְהֹוָה and יֱהֹוִה respectively, non-words that would spell “Yehovah” and “Yehovih” respectively.

The oldest complete or nearly complete manuscripts of the Masoretic Text with Tiberian vocalisation, such as the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, both of the 10th or 11th century, mostly write יְהוָה‎ (yhwah), with no pointing on the first h. It could be because the o diacritic point plays no useful role in distinguishing between Adonai and Elohim and so is redundant, or it could point to the qere being Shᵉma, which is Aramaic for “the Name”.


The vocalisations of יְהֹוָה (Yehovah) and אֲדֹנָי (Adonai) are not identical. The shva in YHWH (the vowel “ְ “ under the first letter) and the hataf patakh in ‘DNY (the vowel “ֲ “ under its first letter) appear different. The vocalisation can be attributed to Biblical Hebrew phonology, where the hataf patakh is grammatically identical to a shva, always replacing every shva naḥ under a guttural letter. Since the first letter of אֲדֹנָי is a guttural letter while the first letter of יְהֹוָה is not, the hataf patakh under the (guttural) aleph reverts to a regular shva under the (non-guttural) Yod.

The table below considers the vowel points for יְהֹוָה (Yehovah) and אֲדֹנָי (Adonai), respectively:

Hebrew word No. 3068
Hebrew word No. 136
י Yod Y א Aleph glottal stop
ְ Simple Shewa e ֲ Hataf Patah A
ה Heh H ד Daleth D
ֹ Holem O ֹ Holem O
ו Waw W נ Nun N
ָ Kametz A ָ Kametz A
ה Heh H י Yod Y

In the table directly above, the “simple shewa” in Yehovah and the hatef patah in Adonai are not the same vowel. The difference being, the “simple shewa” is an “a” sound as in “alone”; whereas the hatef patah is more subtle as the “a” in “father”. The same information is displayed in the table above and to the right, where “YHWH intended to be pronounced as Adonai” and “Adonai, with its slightly different vowel points” shown to have different vowel points.


The Hebrew scholar Wilhelm Gesenius [1786–1842] suggested that the Hebrew punctuation יַהְוֶה, which is transliterated into English as “Yahweh“, might more accurately represent the pronunciation of the tetragrammaton than the Biblical Hebrew punctuation “יְהֹוָה“, from which the English name “Jehovah” has been derived. His proposal to read YHWH as “יַהְוֶה‎” (see image to the left) was based in large part on various Greek transcriptions, such as ιαβε, dating from the first centuries CE but also on the forms of theophoric names. In his Hebrew Dictionary, Gesenius supports “Yahweh” (which would have been pronounced [jahwe], with the final letter being silent) because of the Samaritan pronunciation Ιαβε reported by Theodoret, and that the theophoric name prefixes YHW [jeho] and YH [jo] can be explained from the form “Yahweh”. Gesenius’ proposal to read YHWH as יַהְוֶה‎ is accepted as the best scholarly reconstructed vocalised Hebrew spelling of the tetragrammaton.

Theophoric names

Yeho or “Yehō-” is the prefix form of “YHWH” used in Hebrew theophoric names; the suffix form “Yahū” or “-Yehū” is just as common, which has caused two opinions:

  1. In former times (at least from c.1650 CE), the prefix pronunciation “Yehō-” was sometimes connected with the full pronunciation “Yehova”, derived from combining the Masoretic vowel points for “Adonai” with the consonantal tetragrammaton YHWH.
  2. Recently, as “Yahweh” is likely an imperfective verb form, “Yahu” is its corresponding preterite or jussive short form: compare yiŝtahaweh (imperfective), yiŝtáhû (preterit or jussive short form) = “do obeisance”.[14]

The first argument 1 is believed by George Wesley Buchanan in Biblical Archaeology Review; Smith’s 1863 A Dictionary of the Bible; Section # 2.1 The Analytical Hebrew & Chaldee Lexicon (1848) in its article הוה.

The second argument is supported on grammatical grounds because shortening to “Yahw” would end up as “Yahu” or something similar, and forms like Yo (יוֹ‎) contracted from Yeho (יְהוֹ‎) and the suffix “-yah”, as well as “Yeho-” or “Yo” can most readily be explained as derivatives of “Yahweh” rather than from “Yehovah”.

Textual evidence

Mesha Stele

he oldest known inscription of the tetragrammaton dates to 840 BCE, on the Mesha Stele. It bears the earliest certain extra-biblical reference to the Israelite God Yahweh. The most recent discovery of a tetragrammaton inscription, dating to the 6th century BCE, was found written in Hebrew on two silver scrolls recovered from Jerusalem.

Scholarly texts of the Hebrew Bible

In the Hebrew Bible, the tetragrammaton occurs 6828 times,[1]:142 as can be seen in the Biblia Hebraica and Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. In addition, on the margins there are notes (masorah) indicating that in 134 places the soferim (Jewish scribes) altered the original Hebrew text from YHWH to Adonai and 8 places to Elohim, which would add 142 occurrences to the initial number above. The occurrence of the divine name in Zechariah 9:4 in the 8HevXII b (LXXVTS10b) fragment confirms these alterations. According to Brown–Driver–Briggs, יְהֹוָה (Qr אֲדֹנָי) occurs 6,518 times, and יֱהֹוִה (Qr אֱלֹהִים) occurs 305 times in the Masoretic Text. It first appears in Hebrew in the Book of Genesis 2:4. The only books it does not appear in are Ecclesiastes, the Book of Esther, and Song of Songs.

In the Book of Esther the Tetragrammaton does not appear, but it is present in four complex acrostics in Hebrew: the initial or last letters of four consecutive words, either forwards or backwards comprise YHWH. These letters were distinguished in at least three ancient Hebrew manuscripts in red. Another acrostic containing the Tetragrammaton also composed the first four words of Psalm 96:11.

Short form Jah occurs 50 times: 43 times in the Psalms, one in Exodus 15:2; 17:16; Isaiah 12:2; 26:4, and twice in Isaiah 38:11. In the Song of Songs 8:6 as a component expressions šalehebeteja, “the flame of Jah”. Jah appears in the abbreviated form Yah in the Greek word Ἀλληλουϊά (hallelujah) in Revelation 19:1–6.

God’s name is also found in the Bible as a component in theophoric Hebrew names. Some may have had at the beginning of the form: jô- or jehô- (29 names), and the other at the end: jāhû- or jāh- (127 names). One name is a form of jehô as the second syllable (Elioenaj, hebr. ʼelj(eh)oʻenaj). Onomastic Studies indicate that theophoric names containing the Tetragrammaton were very popular during the monarchy (8th–7th centuries BCE). The popular names with the prefix jô-/jehô- diminished, while the suffix jāhû-/jāh- increased. The Septuagint typically translates YHWH as kyrios “Lord”.

Below are the number of occurrences of the Tetragrammaton in various books in the Masoretic Text.

Dead Sea Scrolls

In the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Hebrew and Aramaic texts the tetragrammaton and some other names of God in Judaism (such as El or Elohim) were sometimes written in paleo-Hebrew script, showing that they were treated specially. Most of God’s names were pronounced until about the 2nd century BC. Then, as a tradition of non-pronunciation of the names developed, alternatives for the tetragrammaton appeared, such as Adonai, Kurios and Theos. The 4Q120, a Greek fragment of Leviticus (26:2–16) discovered in the Dead Sea scrolls (Qumran) has ιαω (“Iao”), the Greek form of the Hebrew trigrammaton YHW. The historian John the Lydian (6th century) wrote: “The Roman Varo [116–27 BCE] defining him [that is the Jewish god] says that he is called Iao in the Chaldean mysteries” (De Mensibus IV 53). Van Cooten mentions that Iao is one of the “specifically Jewish designations for God” and “the Aramaic papyri from the Jews at Elephantine show that ‘Iao’ is an original Jewish term”.

The preserved manuscripts from Qumran show the inconsistent practice of writing the tetragrammaton, mainly in biblical quotations: in some manuscripts is written in paleo-Hebrew script, square scripts or replaced with four dots or dashes (tetrapuncta).

The members of the Qumran community were aware of the existence of the tetragrammaton, but this was not tantamount to granting consent for its existing use and speaking. This is evidenced not only by special treatment of the tetragrammaton in the text, but by the recommendation recorded in the ‘Rule of Association’ (VI, 27): “Who will remember the most glorious name, which is above all […]”.

The table below presents all the manuscripts in which the tetragrammaton is written in paleo-Hebrew script, in square scripts, and all the manuscripts in which the copyists have used tetrapuncta.

Copyists used the ‘tetrapuncta’ apparently to warn against pronouncing the name of God. In the manuscript number 4Q248 is in the form of bars.

Magical papyri

The spellings of the tetragrammaton occur among the many combinations and permutations of names of powerful agents that occur in Jewish magical papyri found in Egypt. One of these forms is the heptagram ιαωουηε. In the Jewish magical papyri, Iave and Iαβα Yaba occurs frequently.

Yawe is found in an Ethiopian Christian list of magical names of Jesus, purporting to have been taught by him to his disciples.

Septuagint and other Greek translations

The oldest complete Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) versions consistently use Κυριος (“Lord“), or Θεος (“God“), where the Hebrew has YHWH, corresponding to substituting Adonai for YHWH in reading the original. The use of Κυριος for translating YHWH was not common in LXX mss before that time. In books written in Greek in this period (e.g., Wisdom, 2 and 3 Maccabees), as in the New Testament, Κυριος takes the place of the name of God. However, the oldest fragments had the tetragrammaton in Hebrew or Paleo-Hebrew characters, with the exception of P. Ryl. 458 (perhaps the oldest extant Septuagint manuscript) where there are blank spaces, leading some scholars such as Colin Henderson Roberts to believe that it contained letters. According to Paul E. Kahle, the tetragrammaton must have been written in the manuscript where these breaks or blank spaces appear. Another one of these oldest fragments of manuscripts cannot be used in discussions because, in addition to its small text and its fragmentary condition, it does not include any Hebrew Bible verses where the Tetragrammaton appears.

Throughout the Septuagint as now known, the word Κύριος (Kyrios) without the definite article is used to represent the Divine Name, but it is uncertain whether this was the Septuagint’s original rendering. Origen (Commentary on Psalms 2.2) and Jerome (Prologus Galeatus) said that in their time the best manuscripts gave not the word Κύριος but the tetragrammaton itself written in an older form of the Hebrew characters. No Jewish manuscript of the Septuagint has been found with Κύριος representing the tetragrammaton, and it has been argued, not altogether convincingly, that the use of the word Κύριος shows that the Septuagint as now known is of Christian character, and even that the composition of the New Testament preceded the change to Κύριος in the Septuagint. The use of Κύριος throughout to represent the tetragrammaton has been called “a distinguishing mark for any Christian LXX manuscript”.

In some earlier copies of the Septuagint, the tetragrammaton in either Hebrew or paleo-Hebrew letters is used. The tetragrammaton occurs in the following texts:

  • Papyrus Rylands 458 – contains fragments of Deuteronomy. Has blank spaces where the copyist probably had to write the tetragrammaton. It has been dated to 2nd century BCE.
  • Papyrus Fouad 266b (848) – contains fragments of Deuteronomy, chapters 10 to 33, dated to 1st century BCE.[61] Apparently the first copyist left a blank space and marked with a dot, and the other inscribed letters, but not all scholars agree to this view.
  • Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3522 – contains chapter 42 of the Book of Job and the tetragrammaton written in paleo-Hebrew letters. It has been dated to the 1st century BCE.
  • 8HevXII gr – dated to the 1st century CE, includes three fragments published separately.
  • Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 5101 – contains fragments of the Book of Psalms. It has been dated between year 50 and 150 CE
  • 4QpapLXXLevb – contains fragments of the Book of Leviticus, chapters 1 to 5. In two verses: 3:12; 4:27 the tetragrammaton appears in the form ΙΑΩ. This manuscript is dated to the 1st century BCE.
  • Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 656 – containing fragments of the Book of Genesis, chapters 14 to 27. A second copyist wrote Kyrios. It is dated to the late 2nd or early 3rd century CE.
  • Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1007 – this manuscript in vitela form contains Genesis 2 and 3. The Divine Name is written with a double yodh. It has been assigned palaeographically to the 3rd century.
  • Papyrus Berlin 17213 – containing fragments of the Book of Genesis, chapter 19. Contains a blank space for the name of God apparently, although Emanuel Tov thinks that it is a free space ending paragraph. It has been dated to 3rd century CE.
  • Taylor-Schechter 16.320 – tetragrammaton in Hebrew, 550 – 649 CE.
  • Codex Marchalianus – has the Divine Name on marginal notes in Greek letters ΠΙΠΙ, and is the only another mss. with ΙΑΩ. It is a 6th-century Greek manuscript.
  • Taylor-Schechter 12.182 – a Hexapla manuscript with tetragrammaton in Greek letters ΠΙΠΙ. It is from 7th-century.
  • Ambrosiano O 39 sup. – the latest Greek manuscript containing the name of God is Origen’s Hexapla, transmitting among other translations the text of the Septuagint. This codex comes from the late 9th century, and is stored in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.

In some earlier Greek copies of the Bible translated in the 2nd century CE by Symmachus and Aquila of Sinope, the tetragrammaton occurs. The following manuscripts contain the Divine Name:

  • Papyrus Vindobonensis Greek 39777, the P.Vindob.G.39777 – dated to late 3rd century or beginning 4th century.
  • AqTaylor, this is a Septuagint manuscript dated after the middle of the 5th century, but not later than the beginning of the 6th century.
  • AqBurkitt – a palimpsest manuscript of the Septuagint dated late 5th century or early 6th century.

Sidney Jellicoe concluded that “Kahle is right in holding that LXX [Septuagint] texts, written by Jews for Jews, retained the Divine Name in Hebrew Letters (paleo-Hebrew or Aramaic) or in the Greek-letters imitative form ΠΙΠΙ, and that its replacement by Κύριος was a Christian innovation”. Jellicoe draws together evidence from a great many scholars (B. J. Roberts, Baudissin, Kahle and C. H. Roberts) and various segments of the Septuagint to draw the conclusions that the absence of “Adonai” from the text suggests that the insertion of the term Kyrios was a later practice; in the Septuagint Kyrios is used to substitute YHWH; and the tetragrammaton appeared in the original text, but Christian copyists removed it.

Eusebius and Jerome (translator of the Vulgate) used the Hexapla. Both attest to the importance of the sacred Name and that some manuscripts of Septuagint contained the tetragrammaton in Hebrew letters. This is further affirmed by The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, which states “Recently discovered texts doubt the idea that the translators of the LXX (Septuagint) have rendered the tetragrammaton JHWH with KYRIOS. The most ancient mss (manuscripts) of the LXX today available have the tetragrammaton written in Hebrew letters in the Greek text. This was a custom preserved by the later Hebrew translator of the Old Testament in the first centuries (after Christ)”

New Testament

No Greek manuscript of the New Testament uses the tetragrammaton.[66]:77 In all its quotations of Old Testament texts that have the tetragrammaton in Hebrew the New Testament uses the Greek word Κύριος (Kyrios). However, within the New Testament the name that the tetragrammaton represents underlies the names of some of the people mentioned (such as Zachary and Elijah), and the name appears in the abbreviated form Yah in the Greek word Ἀλληλουϊά (Alleluia) in Revelation 19:1–6.

In 1977, Professor George Howard in the pages of the Journal of Biblical Literature published a thesis of the presence of the Tetragrammaton in the biblical quotations cited by the writers of the New Testament. Gives two sets of evidence:

  1. In some pre-Christian manuscripts of the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible was left Tetragrammaton (Papyrus Fouad 266; fragments of the scroll 8HevXII gr, (LXXVTS 10a, LXXVTS 10b, Se2grXII) containing the Twelve Prophets found in Nahal Hever, 4QLXXLevb) and other Jewish translations of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, represented by translations of Aquila, Theodotion and Symmachus;
  1. Nomina sacra (ΚΣ and ΘΣ) occurring in the early copies of the LXX in place of the Tetragrammaton, apparently created by the Christians of pagan origin. They knew Hebrew and it was difficult to them to save the Tetragrammaton. So they decided to use the shortened ΚΣ (κυριος – Lord) and ΘΣ (θεος – God), conformable them in this way to the original spelling of the Tetragrammaton. It is not known whether and how this practice was influenced by the later trinitarian debates.

Patristic writings

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) and B.D. Eerdmans::330

  • Diodorus Siculus (1st century BCE) writes Ἰαῶ (Iao);
  • Irenaeus (d. c. 202) reports that the Gnostics formed a compound Ἰαωθ (Iaoth) with the last syllable of Sabaoth. He also reports that the Valentinian heretics use Ἰαῶ (Iao);
  • Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 215) writes Ἰαοὺ (Iaou)—see also below;
  • Origen (d. c. 254), Ἰαώ (Iao);
  • Porphyry (d. c. 305) according to Eusebius (died 339), Ἰευώ (Ieuo);
  • Epiphanius (died 404), who was born in Palestine and spent a considerable part of his life there, gives Ἰά (Ia) and Ἰάβε (Iabe) and explains Ἰάβε as meaning He who was and is and always exists.
  • (Pseudo-)Jerome (4th/5th century), (tetragrammaton) can be read Iaho;
  • Theodoret (d. c. 457) writes Ἰαώ (Iao); he also reports that the Samaritans say Ἰαβέ or Ἰαβαί (both pronounced at that time /ja’vε/), while the Jews say Ἀϊά (Aia). (The latter is probably not יהוה but אהיה Ehyeh = “I am ” or “I will be”, Exod. 3:14 which the Jews counted among the names of God.)
  • Jacob of Edessa (died 708), Jehjeh;
  • Jerome (died 420) speaks of certain Greek writers who misunderstood the Hebrew letters יהוה (read right-to-left) as the Greek letters ΠΙΠΙ (read left-to-right), thus changing YHWH to pipi.


The Peshitta (Syriac translation), probably in the second century, uses the word “Lord” (ܡܳܪܝܳܐ, pronounced moryo) for the Tetragrammaton.


The Vulgate (Latin translation) made from the Hebrew in the 4th century AD, uses the word Dominus (“Lord”), a translation of the Hebrew word Adonai, for the tetragrammaton.

The Vulgate translation, though made not from the Septuagint but from the Hebrew text, did not depart from the practice used in the Septuagint. Thus, for most of its history, Christianity’s translations of the Scriptures have used equivalents of Adonai to represent the tetragrammaton. Only at about the beginning of the 16th century did Christian translations of the Bible appear with transliterations of the tetragrammaton.

Usage in religious traditions


Especially due to the existence of the Mesha Stele, the Jahwist tradition found in Exod. 3:15, and ancient Hebrew and Greek texts, biblical scholars widely hold that the tetragrammaton and other names of GOD were spoken by the ancient Israelites and their neighbours.

Some time after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, the spoken use of GOD’s name as it was written ceased among the people, even though knowledge of the pronunciation was perpetuated in rabbinic schools. Philo calls it ineffable, and says that it is lawful for those only whose ears and tongues are purified by wisdom to hear and utter it in a holy place (that is, for priests in the Temple). In another passage, commenting on Lev. xxiv. 15 seq.: “If any one, I do not say should blaspheme against the Lord of men and gods, but should even dare to utter his name unseasonably, let him expect the penalty of death.”

Rabbinic sources suggest that the name of GOD was pronounced only once a year, by the high priest, on the Day of Atonement. Others, including Maimonides, claim that the name was pronounced daily in the liturgy of the Temple in the priestly benediction of worshippers (Num. vi. 27), after the daily sacrifice; in the synagogues, though, a substitute (probably “Adonai”) was used. According to the Talmud, in the last generations before the fall of Jerusalem, the name was pronounced in a low tone so that the sounds were lost in the chant of the priests. Since the destruction of Second Temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the tetragrammaton has no longer been pronounced in the liturgy. However the pronunciation was still known in Babylonia in the latter part of the 4th century.

Verbal prohibitions

The vehemence with which the utterance of the name is denounced in the Mishnah suggests that use of Yahweh was unacceptable in rabbinical Judaism. “He who pronounces the Name with its own letters has no part in the world to come!” Such is the prohibition of pronouncing the Name as written that it is sometimes called the “Ineffable”, “Unutterable”, or “Distinctive Name”.

Halakha prescribes that whereas the Name written “yodh he waw he”, it is only to be pronounced “ADONAI”; and the latter name too is regarded as a holy name, and is only to be pronounced in prayer. Thus when someone wants to refer in third person to either the written or spoken Name, the term HaShem “the Name” is used; and this handle itself can also be used in prayer. The Masoretes added vowel points (niqqud) and cantillation marks to the manuscripts to indicate vowel usage and for use in ritual chanting of readings from the Bible in Jewish prayer in synagogues. To יהוה they added the vowels for “ADONAI” (“My LORD”), the word to use when the text was read. While “HaShem” is the most common way to reference “the Name”, the terms “HaMaqom” (lit. “The Place”, i.e. “The Omnipresent”) and “Raḥmana” (Aramaic, “Merciful”) are used in the mishna and gemara, still used in the phrases “HaMaqom y’naḥem ethḥem” (“may The Omnipresent console you”), the traditional phrase used in sitting Shiva and “Raḥmana l’tzlan” (“may the Merciful save us” i.e. “GOD forbid”).

Written prohibitions

The written tetragrammaton, as well as six other names of GOD, must be treated with special sanctity. They cannot be disposed of regularly, lest they be desecrated, but are usually put in long term storage or buried in Jewish cemeteries in order to retire them from use. Similarly, it is prohibited to write the tetragrammaton (or these other names) unnecessarily. To guard the sanctity of the Name sometimes a letter is substituted by a different letter in writing (e.g. יקוק), or the letters are separated by one or more hyphens.

Some Jews are stringent and extend the above safeguard by also not writing out other names of GOD in other languages, for example writing “GOD” in English as “G-d”. However this is beyond the letter of the law.


Kabbalistic tradition holds that the correct pronunciation is known to a select few people in each generation, it is not generally known what this pronunciation is. In late kabbalistic works the tetragrammaton is sometimes referred to as the name of Havayahהוי’ה, meaning “the Name of Being/Existence”. This name also helps when one needs to refer specifically to the written Name; similarly, “Shem Adonoot”, meaning “the Name of Lordship” can be used to refer to the spoken name “Adonai” specifically.

Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, says that the tree of the tetragrammaton “unfolds” in accordance with the intrinsic nature of its letters, “in the same order in which they appear in the Name, in the mystery of ten and the mystery of four.” Namely, the upper cusp of the Yod is Arich Anpin and the main body of Yod is and Abba; the first Hei is Imma; the Vav is Ze`ir Anpin and the second Hei is Nukvah. It unfolds in this aforementioned order and “in the mystery of the four expansions” that are constituted by the following various spellings of the letters:

ע”ב/`AV : יו”ד ה”י וי”ו ה”י, so called “`AV” according to its gematria value ע”ב=70+2=72.

ס”ג/SaG: יו”ד ה”י וא”ו ה”י, gematria 63.

מ”ה/MaH: יו”ד ה”א וא”ו ה”א, gematria 45.

ב”ן/BaN: יו”ד ה”ה ו”ו ה”ה, gematria 52.

Luzzatto summarises, “In sum, all that exists is founded on the mystery of this Name and upon the mystery of these letters of which it consists. This means that all the different orders and laws are all drawn after and come under the order of these four letters. This is not one particular pathway but rather the general path, which includes everything that exists in the Sefirot in all their details and which brings everything under its order.”

Another parallel is drawn between the four letters of the tetragrammaton and the Four Worlds: the י is associated with Atziluth, the first ה with Beri’ah, the ו with Yetzirah, and final ה with Assiah.

There are some who believe that the tetractys and its mysteries influenced the early kabbalists. A Hebrew tetractys in a similar way has the letters of the tetragrammaton (the four lettered name of God in Hebrew scripture) inscribed on the ten positions of the tetractys, from right to left. It has been argued that the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, with its ten spheres of emanation, is in some way connected to the tetractys, but its form is not that of a triangle. The occult writer Dion Fortune says:

“The point is assigned to Kether;
the line to Chokmah;
the two-dimensional plane to Binah;
consequently the three-dimensional solid naturally falls to Chesed.”

(The first three-dimensional solid is the tetrahedron.)

The relationship between geometrical shapes and the first four Sephirot is analogous to the geometrical correlations in tetractys, shown above under Pythagorean Symbol, and unveils the relevance of the Tree of Life with the tetractys.


The Samaritans shared the taboo of the Jews about the utterance of the name, and there is no evidence that its pronunciation was common Samaritan practice. However Sanhedrin 10:1 includes the comment of Rabbi Mana II, “for example those Kutim who take an oath” would also have no share in the world to come, which suggests that Mana thought some Samaritans used the name in making oaths. (Their priests have preserved a liturgical pronunciation “Yahwe” or “Yahwa” to the present day.) As with Jews, the use of Shema (שמא “the Name”) remains the everyday usage of the name among Samaritans, akin to Hebrew “the Name” (Hebrew השם “HaShem”).


It is assumed that early Jewish Christians inherited from Jews the practice of reading “Lord” where the tetragrammaton appeared in the Hebrew text, or where a tetragrammaton may have been marked in a Greek text. Gentile Christians, primarily non-Hebrew speaking and using Greek texts, may have read “Lord” as it occurred in the Greek text of the New Testament and their copies of the Greek Old Testament. This practice continued into the Latin Vulgate where “Lord” represented the tetragrammaton in the Latin text. In Petrus Alphonsi’s Tetragrammaton-Trinity diagram, the name is written as “Jeve”. At the Reformation, the Luther Bible used “Jehova” in the German text of Luther’s Old Testament.

Christian translations

As mentioned above, the Septuagint (Greek translation), the Vulgate (Latin translation), and the Peshitta (Syriac translation) use the word “LORD” (κύριος, kyrios, dominus, and ܡܳܪܝܳܐ, moryo respectively).

Use of the Septuagint by Christians in polemics with Jews led to its abandonment by the latter, making it a specifically Christian text. From it Christians made translations into Coptic, Arabic, Slavonic and other languages used in Oriental Orthodoxy and the Eastern Orthodox Church, whose liturgies and doctrinal declarations are largely a cento of texts from the Septuagint, which they consider to be inspired at least as much as the Masoretic Text. Within the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Greek text remains the norm for texts in all languages, with particular reference to the wording used in prayers.[107][108]

The Septuagint, with its use of Κύριος to represent the tetragrammaton, was the basis also for Christian translations associated with the West, in particular the Vetus Itala, which survives in some parts of the liturgy of the Latin Church, and the Gothic Bible.

Christian translations of the Bible into English commonly use “LORD” in place of the tetragrammaton in most passages, often in small capitals (or in all caps), so as to distinguish it from other words translated as “Lord”.

  • In the Emphatic Diaglott (1864) a translation of the New Testament by Benjamin Wilson, the name Jehovah appears eighteen times.
  • The Bible In Basic English (1949/1964) uses “Yahweh” eight times, including Exodus 6:2–3.
  • The Jerusalem Bible (1966) uses “Yahweh” in 6,823 places in the Old Testament.
  • The New English Bible (NT 1961, OT 1970) generally uses the word “LORD” but uses “JEHOVAH” several times. For examples of both forms, see Exodus Chapter 3 and footnote to verse 15.
  • The New International Version (1973/1978/1983/2011) generally uses “the LORD,” though in Exodus 3:14, the tetragrammaton is thrice translated “I AM.” In the Old Testament, when immediately preceded by אֲדֹנָי (Adonai), the two words are translated “the Sovereign LORD.”
  • The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) uses “Yahweh” in 6,823 places in the Old Testament.
  • The Amplified Bible (1954/1987). At Exodus 6:3 the AB says “but by My name the Lord [Yahweh—the redemptive name of God] I did not make Myself known to them.”
  • The Living Bible (1971). “Jehovah” or “Lord”.
  • The Young’s Literal Translation (1862/1898) (Version) – “Jehovah” since Genesis 2:4
  • The Holman Christian Standard Bible (1999/2002) uses “Yahweh” over 50 times, including Exodus 6:2.
  • The World English Bible (WEB) (1997) [a Public Domain work with no copyright] uses “Yahweh” some 6837 times.
  • The New Living Translation (1996/2004) uses “Yahweh” ten times, including Exodus 6:2–3. The Preface of the New Living Translation: Second Edition says that in a few cases they have used the name Yahweh (for example 3:15; 6:2–3).
  • Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible (1902) retains “Yahweh” throughout the Old Testament.
  • The Anchor Bible (in progress) retains “Yahweh” throughout the Old Testament.
  • The King James Version (1611) – Jehovah appears seven times, i.e. four times as “JEHOVAH“, Exodus 6:3; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 12:2; 26:4, and three times as a part of Hebrew place-names Genesis 22:14; Exodus 17:15; Judges 6:24.
    • Note: Elsewhere in the KJV, “LORD” is generally used. But in verses such as Genesis 15:2; 28:13; Psalm 71:5; Amos 1:8; 9:5, where this practice would result in “Lord LORD” (Hebrew: Adonay JHVH) or “LORD Lord” (JHVH Adonay) the KJV translates the Hebrew text as ‘Lord GOD‘ or “LORD God”. In the New Testament, when quoting Psalm 110:1, the all-caps LORD for the Tetragrammaton appears four times, where the ordinary word “Lord” also appears: Matthew 22:44, Mark 12:36, Luke 20:42 and Acts 2:34.
  • The American Standard Version (1901) uses “Jehovah” in 6,823 places in the Old Testament.
  • The New World Translation (1961/1984/2013), published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, uses “Jehovah” in 7,216 places in both the Old Testament and New Testament; 6,979 times 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 Sacred Scriptures Bethel Edition (1981) used by adherents of the Church of God (Seventh Day) inserts the name Yahweh in the Old and New Testament.
  • The Divine Name King James Bible (2011) uses “Jehovah” in 6,973 places and “Jah” in 50 places in the Old Testament. In addition, Jehovah appears in parentheses in 128 places in the New Testament wherever the New Testament quotes an Old Testament verse as a gloss (cross reference), totalling to 7,151 places in all.
  • The Lexham English Bible (2012) uses “Yahweh” throughout the Old Testament.
  • Green’s Literal Translation (1985) uses “Jehovah” in 6,866 places in the Old Testament.
  • The Recovery Version (1999) uses “Jehovah” in 6,841 places in the Old Testament.
  • The Darby Bible (1890) by John Nelson Darby renders the Tetragrammaton as Jehovah 6,810 times.
  • The Bible in Living English (1972) by Steven T. Byington, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, renders the Tetragrammaton as “Jehovah” throughout the Old Testament over 6,800 times.
  • The Names of God Bible (2011,2014) by Ann Spangler uses “Yahweh” throughout the Old Testament.

Eastern Orthodoxy

The Eastern Orthodox Church considers the Septuagint text, which uses Κύριος (LORD), to be the authoritative text of the Old Testament, and in its liturgical books and prayers it uses Κύριος in place of the tetragrammaton in texts derived from the Bible.


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