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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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The quadriliteral name of God, , which is thus referred to in Josephus, in the Church Fathers, in the magic papyri, and in the Palestinian Talmud (Yoma 40a, below), whence it has passed into the modern languages. Other designations for this name, such as "Ha-Shem," "Shem ha-Meforash," and "Shem ha-Meyuḥad," have frequently been discussed by recent scholars (see bibliography in Blau, "Altjüdisches Zauberwesen," p. 128, note 1, and, on the terms, pp. 123-128). The term "Tetragrammaton" apparently arose in contradistinction to the divine names containing respectively twelve and forty-two letters and formed likewise from the letters Y, H, W, H(ib. pp. 137-146); for only thus is the designation intelligible, since see See ADONAI likewise has four letters in Hebrew.

Statistics of Occurrences.

The Tetragrammaton is the ancient Israelitish name for God. According to actual count, it occurs 5,410 times in the Bible, being divided among the books as follows: Genesis 153 times, Exodus 364, Leviticus 285, Numbers 387, Deuteronomy 230 (total in Torah 1,419); Joshua 170, Judges 158, Samuel 423, Kings 467, Isaiah 367, Jeremiah 555, Ezekiel 211, Minor Prophets 345 (total in Prophets 2,696); Psalms 645, Proverbs 87, Job 31, Ruth 16, Lamentations 32, Daniel 7, Ezra-Nehemiah 31, Chronicles 446 (total in Hagiographa 1,295).

In connection with the Tetragrammaton is pointed with the vowels of "Elohim" (which beyond doubt was not pronounced in this combination); it occurs 310 times after , and five times before it (Dalman, "Der Gottesname," etc., p. 91), 227 of these occurrences being in Ezekiel alone. The designation "Yhwh Ẓeba'ot," translated "Lord of Hosts," occurs 260 times, and with the addition of "God" four times more. This designation is met with as follows: Isaiah 65 times, Jeremiah 77, Minor Prophets 103 (Zechariah 52; Malachi 24), Samuel 11, Kings 4; but it does not occur, on the other hand, in the Pentateuch, in Joshua, in Judges, or in the Hagiographa. Adding these 264 occurrences and the 315 just noted to the 5,410 instances of the simple Tetragrammaton, the word "Yhwh" is found to occur 5,989 times in the Bible. There is no instance of it, however, in Canticles, Ecclesiastes, or Esther; and in Daniel it occurs 7 times (in ch. )—a fact which in itself shows the late date of these books, whose authors lived at a period when the use of the Tetragrammaton was already avoided, its utterance having become restricted both in the reading of the Bible and still more in colloquial speech. For it was substituted ADONAI; and the fact that this name is found 315 times in combination with "Yhwh" and 134 times alone shows that the custom of reading the Tetragrammaton as if written "Adonai" began at a time when the text of the Biblical books was not yet scrupulously protected from minor additions. This assumption explains most of the occurrences of "Adonai" before "Yhwh"; e., the former word indicated the pronunciation of the latter. At the time of the Chronicler this pronunciation was so generally accepted that he never wrote the name "Adonai." About 300 B.C., therefore, the word "Yhwh" was not pronounced in its original form. For several reasons Jacob ("Im Namen Gottes," p. 167) assigns the "disuse of the word 'Yhwh' and the substitution of 'Adonai' to the later decades of the Babylonian exile."

Reason for Disuse.

The avoidance of the original name of God both in speech and, to a certain extent, in the Bible was due, according to Geiger ("Urschrift," p. 262), to a reverence which shrank from the utterance of the Sublime Name; and it may well be that such a reluctance first arose in a foreign, and hence in an "unclean" land, very possibly, therefore, in Babylonia. According to Dalman (c. pp. 66 et seq.), the Rabbis forbade the utterance of the Tetragrammaton, to guard against desecration of the Sacred Name; but such an ordinance could not have been effectual unless it had met with popular approval. The reasons assigned by Lagarde ("Psalterium Hicronymi," p. 155) and Halévy ("Recherches Bibliques," 1:65 et seq.) are untenable, and are refuted by Jacob (c. pp. 172, 174), who believes that the Divine Name was not pronounced lest it should be desecrated by the heathen. The true name of God was uttered only during worship in the Temple, in which the people were alone; and in the course of the services on the Day of Atonement the high priest pronounced the Sacred Name ten times (Tosef., Yoma, 2:2; Yoma 39b). This was done as late as the last years of the Temple (Yer. Yoma 40a, 67). If such was the purpose, the means were ineffectual, since the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton was known not only in Jewish, but also in non-Jewish circles centuries after the destruction of the Temple, as is clear from the interdictions against uttering it (Sanh. 10:1; Tosef., Sanh. 12:9; Sifre Zuṭa, in Yalḳ., Gen. 711; 'Ab. Zarah 18a; Midr. Teh. to Psalms 91, end). Raba, a Babylonian amora who flourished about 350, wished to make the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton known publicly (Ḳid. 71b); and a contemporary Palestinian scholar states that the Samaritans uttered it in taking oaths (Yer. Sanh. 28b). The members of the Babylonian academy probably knew the pronunciation as late as 1000 C. E. (Blau, c. pp. 132 et seq., 138 et seq.). The physicians, who were half magicians, made special efforts to learn this name, which was believed to possess marvelous powers (of healing, etc.; Yer. Yoma 40a, below).

Church Fathers and Magic Papyri.

The cures, or the exorcisms, of demons in the name of Jesus which are mentioned in the New Testament and the Talmud (EXORCISM) imply that Jesus was regarded as a god and that his name was considered as efficacious as the Tetragrammaton itself, for which it was even substituted. It was in connection with magic that the Tetragrammaton was introduced into the magic papyri and, in all probability, into the writings of the Church Fathers, these two sources containing the following forms, written in Greek letters: (1) "Iaoouee," "Iaoue," "Iabe,"; (2) "Iao," "Iaho," "Iae"; (3) "Aia"; (4) "Ia." It is evident that (1) represents , (2) , (3) , and (4) . The three forms quoted under (1) are merely three ways of writing the same word, though "Iabe" is designated as the Samaritan pronunciation. There are external and internal grounds for this assumption; for the very agreement of the Jewish, Christian, heathen, and Gnostic statements proves that they undoubtedly give the actual pronunciation (Stade's "Zeitschrift," 3:298; Dalman, c. p. 41; Deissmann, "Bibelstudien," pp. 1-20; Blau, c. p. 133). The "mystic quadriliteral name" (Clement, "Stromata," ed. Dindorf, 3:25,27) was well known to the Gnostics, as is shown by the fact that the third of the eight eons of one of their systems of creation was called "the unpronounced," the fourth "the invisible," and the seventh "the unnamed," terms which are merely designations of the Tetragrammaton (Blau, c. p. 127). Even the Palestinian Jews had inscribed the letters of the Name on amulets (Shab. 115b; Blau, c. pp. 93-96); and, in view of the frequency with which the appellations of foreign deities were employed in magic, it was but natural that heathen magicians should show an especial preference for this "great and holy name," knowing its pronunciation as they knew the names of their own deities.

Meaning and Etymology.

It thus becomes possible to determine with a fair degree of certainty the historical pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, the results agreeing with the statement of Exodus 3:14, in which Yhwh terms Himself "I will be," a phrase which is immediately preceded by the fuller term "I will be that I will be," or, as in the English versions, "I am" and "I am that I am." The name is accordingly derived from the root (= ), and is regarded as an imperfect. This passage is decisive for the pronunciation "Yahweh"; for the etymology was undoubtedly based on the known word. The oldest exegetes, such as Onḳelos, and the Targumim of Jerusalem and pseudo-Jonathan regard "Ehyeh" and "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh" as the name of the Divinity, and accept the etymology of "hayah" = "to be" (comp. Samuel b. Meïr, commentary on Exodus 3:14). Modern critics, some of whom, after the lapse of centuries, correct the Hebrew texts without regard to the entire change of point of view and mode of thought, are dissatisfied with this etymology; and their various hypotheses have resulted in offering the following definitions: (1) he who calls into being, or he who gives promises; (2) the creator of life; (3) he who makes events, or history; (4) the falling one, the feller, e., the stormgod who hurls the lightning; (5) he who sends down the rain (W. R. Smith, "The Old Testament," p. 123); (6) the hurler; (7) the destroyer; (8) the breather, the weather-god (Wellhausen). All these meanings are obtained by doing violence to the Hebrew text (Herzog-Hauck, "Real-Encyc." 8:536 et seq.).

Assyro-Babylonian Cuneiform Inscriptions.

Attempts have also been made to explain the Divine Name as Hittite, Persian, Egyptian, and even as Greek; but these assumptions are now absolutely set aside, since the name is at all events Semitic. The question remains, however, whether it is Israelitish or was borrowed. Friedrich Delitzsch, in discussing this question, asserts that the Semitic tribes from whom the family of Hammurabi came, and who entered Babylon 2500 B.C., knew and worshiped the god Ya've, Ya'u (e., Yhwh, Yahu; "Babel und Bibel," 5th ed., 1:78 et seq.); and Zimmern (in Schrader, "K. A. T." 3d ed., pp. 465-468) reaches the conclusion that "Yahu" or "Yhwh" is found in Babylonian only as the nameof a foreign deity, a view with which Delitzsch agrees in his third and final lecture on "Babel und Bibel" (pp. 39, 60, Stuttgart, 1905). Assyriologists are still divided on this point, however; and no definite conclusions have as yet been reached (comp. the voluminous literature on "Babel und Bibel").

Abbreviated Tetragrammaton.

"Yah,"an abbreviated form of the Tetragrammaton, occurs 23 times: 18 times in the Psalms, twice in Exodus, and three times in Isaiah. This form is identical with the final syllable in the word "Hallelujah," which occurs 24 times in the last book of the Psalms (comp. also "be-Yah," Isaiah 26:4 and Psalms 68:5). It is transcribed by the Greek "Ia," as "Ehyeh" is represented by "Aia," thus showing that "Yah" was the first syllable of . The form corresponding to the Greek "Iao" does not occur alone in Hebrew, but only as an element in such proper names as Jesaiah ("Yesha'yahu"), Zedekiah ("Ẓidḳiyahu"), and Jehonathan. According to Delitzsch ("Wo Lag das Paradies?" 1881), this form was the original one, and was expanded into ; but since names of divinities are slow in disappearing, it would be strange if the primitive form had not been retained once in the Bible. The elder Delitzsch thought that "Yahu" was used independently as a name of God (Herzog-Plitt, "Real-Encyc." 6:503); but, according to Kittel, "This could have been the case only in the vernacular, since no trace of it is found in the literary language" (Herzog-Hauck, "Real-Encyc." 8:26,533). All the critics have failed to perceive that the name "Yao" was derived from the same source as "Yaoue," namely, from Gnosticism and magic, in which Jews, Christians, and heathen met. "Yahu" was in fact used in magic, as is clear from the "Sefer Yeẓirah," which shows many traces of Gnosticism; in the cosmology of this work the permutation of the letters furnishes the instruments of the Creation.

Other Names of God.

With the Tetragrammaton must be included the names of God formed of twelve, forty-two, and seventy-two letters respectively, which are important factors in Jewish mysticism (Ḳid. 71a et passim). They have, according to tradition, a magical effect; for mysticism and magic are everywhere allied. These great names are closely akin to the long series of vowels in the magic papyri, and are obtained by anagrammatic combinations of the effective elements of the Tetragrammaton. The simplest way of determining these three names is to form a magic triangle, whose base is a single Tetragrammaton, and its apex the Tetragrammaton repeated thrice. The four upper lines (12+ 11+ 10+ 9) give the names with forty-two letters; and the entire figure represents the Divine Name of seventy-two letters (Blau, c. pp. 144 et seq.). According to the book of BAHIR (ed. Amsterdam, 1651, fol. 7a), the Sacred Name of twelve letters was a triple (Dalman, c. p. 39; Blau, c. p. 144).

In the earliest manuscripts of the Septuagint the Tetragrammaton was given in Hebrew letters, which in Greek circles were supposed to be Greek and were read πιπι (Field, "Origenis Hexaplorum Quæ Supersunt," 1:90, Oxford, 1875; Herzog-Hauck, c. 8:530; Blau, c. p. 131). also Adonai; Aquila; GNOSTICISM; JEHOVAH; NAMES OF GOD; SHEM HA-MEFORASH.

  • Hamburger, R. B. T. 1:48-56,538;
  • Hastings, Dict. Bible, 2:199;
  • Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc. 8:529-541;
  • Baudissin, Studien zur Semitischen Religionsgeschichte, 1:181-254, Leipsic, 1876;
  • S. R. Driver, Recent Theories on the 0rigin and Nature of the Tetragrammaton, in Studia Biblica, 1:1-20, Oxford, 1885;
  • Dalman, Der Gattesname Adonaj und Seine, Geschichte, Berlin, 1889;
  • Deissmann, Bibelstudien, Marburg, 1895;
  • Blau, Das Altjüdische Zauberwesen, Strasburg, 1898;
  • M. Jastrow, Jr., in Stade's Zeitschrift, 1896, pp. 1 et seq. (on the proper names combined with Yhwh);
  • Schrader, K. A. T. 3d ed., pp. 465-468, Berlin, 1902-3;
  • Jacob, Im Namen Gottes, Berlin, 1903. For further material, especially earlier works, see Herzog-Hauck, c.
L. B.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Tetragrammaton'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​t/tetragrammaton.html. 1901.
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