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830018.  Sat Jul 09, 2011 7:14 am Reply with quote

The name "Jehovah" has its origins in the Hebrew idea that the divine name for God should not be uttered.

The name in question is usually rendered in English as Yahweh, and, if it means anything, probably means something like "the one who is" or "the one who causes to be" -- that is, the Creator. It's called the "tetragrammaton" from the Greek for "four letters" because Hebrew is written with consonants only: YHWH. In other words, the Hebrew word for the Israelites' deity was the original four-letter word, and like our modern four-letter words -- but for different reasons -- soon became taboo.

At some point, Hebrew developed a series of "points", small dots and dashes written above and next to letters, to denote vowel sounds. And this is where the clever bit comes, if you know that the "Y" sound was originally denoted by the letter "J" (consider the phrase "Hallelu-jah!") and that "W" and "V" are pretty much interchangeable. Wherever the divine name YHWH (or JHVH) appeared in the Scriptures, scribes would add points representing the vowel sounds from the Hebrew word "adonai", a word meaning "lord". The idea was that a priest reading aloud would be alerted to say "adonai" to avoid pronouncing the tetragrammaton. Slot the vowel sounds from "adonai" into the tetragrammaton, and you get "JaHoVaH" or "JeHoVaH".

In most modern Bibles, the word "Lord" represents the Hebrew "Adonai", while "LORD" in capital letters represents "Yahweh". "God" is "El" or "Elohim", and "God of Heights" or "Most High God" represents "El Elohim", which probably originally meant "god of high places", as in hills and mountains, presumably originally a different deity.

Some of the stories in the first few books of the Old Testament are confusing, possibly because they are synthesised from different sources. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are completely different accounts of the beginning of the world, with Genesis 1 being an adaptation of an old Babylonian myth, and Genesis 2 presumably the original Hebrew myth.

One theory about this is called the "JEPD hypothesis", which suggests at least four different authors or schools involved in writing much of the OT: J is for "Yahwist", as J passages refer to the deity as "Yahweh"; E is for Elohist; P is for Priestly (responsible for the more ritualistic parts) and D is for Deuteronomist (responsible for most of Deuteronomy).

The clearest example of this at work is the story of Noah, Genesis chapters 6 to 9. If you separate out the passages that talk about Yahweh (or "the LORD") from those that talk about God, you end up with two almost complete and slightly different versions of the same story.

I'm afraid I wrote all this from memory, but if you want a source, I'm sure Peake's Commentary on the Bible must have most of that information, as I'm sure that's where I got it.

Ian Dunn
830028.  Sat Jul 09, 2011 8:09 am Reply with quote


830034.  Sat Jul 09, 2011 8:26 am Reply with quote

830098.  Sat Jul 09, 2011 11:51 am Reply with quote

From some recent stuff on BBC - it was suggested that god's original name was Ael.

He apparently subsumed the other gods in the jewish pantheon, and they became Arch-ang-aels: Raph-ael, Uri-ael, Mich-ael, Gabri-ael, (Phanuel, (Orfiel, Ophaniel) Zarachi-ael (Saraq-ael) Simi-ael)...

And the nation was known as Isr-ael...

Then he had his name changed by deed poll, or something...

(Changed some spellings to emphasise the connection)

PS: Wiki mentions: Archangels are: Uriel, Sariel, Raguel, and Remiel (possibly the Ramiel of the Apocalypse of Baruch, said to preside over true visions), Zadkiel, Jophiel, Haniel and Chamuel.

830104.  Sat Jul 09, 2011 12:41 pm Reply with quote

Well, the Hebrew "El" is the word we normally translate as "God", and the OT itself has no problem deriving the "-el" ending from that word: "Isra-el", for example, is explained to mean "he wrestles with God". The "-el" ending doesn't necessarily denote a god, or any one or anything that ever was a god; one of Mozart's names, Amadeus -- which he sometimes translated into German as Gottlieb -- contains the word for "god" but nobody every seriously thought of him as one, except perhaps figuratively.

The Israelites probably believed in a sort of celestial court, with El as the judge, Satan as the prosecutor (originally not the origin of evil, but the pointer-out of evil) and perhaps Michael as counsel for the defence -- this is clearly the case in the Book of Job, for example.

El Elohim would have likely been the "god of high places", and since the Israelites lived in the hill country, this would have been the natural contender for tribal god. By comparison, the Philistines (and it's no accident that the word is similar to "Palestinian") lived on the coast, particularly in what is now the Gaza Strip, and one of their most important gods was Dagon, a god of fertility and, apparently, of fish.

Yahweh, the word being derived from the Hebrew verb "to be", might perhaps have been the supreme being, the source of all that exists ("he who causes to be"). He was probably a Canaanite deity, adopted by the Israelites at some point. The history gets a bit confused, though, because although we're generally taught that Israel was a nation of twelve tribes, in fact the evidence is that Israel was a loose confederation of tribes and/or nations, and in fact whenever the twelve tribes are listed in the Bible, the list always changed. The Song of Deborah, Judges 5, probably the oldest passage in the Bible, lists only Ephraim, Benjamin, Zebulun, Issachar, Reuben, Gilead, Dan, Asher and Naphtali -- nine. It's possible each of these had its own god, like a modern patron saint, but the Song of Deborah only mentions Yahweh.

Or not. It may well be that the name of the deity was originally either "Yahweh-El", "He reveals himself to be God", or "El-Yahweh", "The god who reveals himself".

Incidentally, the name of the prophet Elijah contains both "El" and "Yahweh", and means "Yahweh is my god".

830105.  Sat Jul 09, 2011 12:45 pm Reply with quote

I also wanted to say that the "-el" in "angel" is a coincidence. "Angel" is from the Greek "messenger" -- that's all it means (cf. "euangelos", "bringing a good message", hence "evangelist"). The Hebrew word is "malakh".

830111.  Sat Jul 09, 2011 1:14 pm Reply with quote

Yeah - I suspected angel was a bit of a stretch...

From what you say above - Yahweh-El could simply be translated as "is god"?

Is it not possible that El means god in the same sense that english uses it - to denote either a god, or the god?

At the end of the day, it's very interesting to use the bible as a source. But it's provenance needs to be kept in mind. It's a partly historical document written by the winner, from the winner's perspective. Methinks the first thing to go would be any internal differences over deities - apart from where the winner wins.

830169.  Sun Jul 10, 2011 2:04 am Reply with quote

Posital wrote:
Is it not possible that El means god in the same sense that english uses it - to denote either a god, or the god?

Yeah, that does seem to have happened. It's likely that El Elohim (the god of high places), El Shaddai (the god of strength) and El Sabaoth (the god of armies) were originally separate deities that became amalgamated (and most Bibles translate these as "most high God" or "God of gods", "God Almighty" and "God of Hosts" respectively). "El" was a generic term for a deity, and in many religions of the area, the father of all the gods was Eli, "God". So you're probably right there.

At the end of the day, it's very interesting to use the bible as a source. But it's provenance needs to be kept in mind. It's a partly historical document written by the winner, from the winner's perspective. Methinks the first thing to go would be any internal differences over deities - apart from where the winner wins.

Not all of the Old Testament was written by the winner, as it documents the division of the kingdom into Israel and Judah, its decline and eventual defeat at the hands of the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians; but all historical documents, and the OT is no exception, are written from a biased point of view.

Where Yahweh, the original subject of this thread, is concerned, the Bible is pretty much the only source we have, as there is only one other place (I forget where) where Yahweh is known to have been mentioned, and that pretty much in passing. That's not automatically because Yahweh was unknown elsewhere (the theory that he was originally a Canaanite deity is not without evidence), but when you go that far back, the evidence we do have is scant and fragmentary.

When you look at religious texts, though, a very important question to ask yourself is: Why did the author write it? The story, for example, of Abraham nearly sacrificing Isaac is sometimes considered to be evidence that early Israelites may have actually practiced human sacrifice, which would explain why Abraham goes ahead without a second thought; the author was probably condemning the practice. The story doesn't have to be literally and historically true to yield useful information.

The story of Job, for example, is very clearly a fictional story, in which the author wrestles with the problem of why, if God is good, do bad things happen to good people. (At the end of the book, the answer is: Dunno.) In that book, Satan's role is not to appear to Job and tell him to disobey God; rather, it is to point out to God that the only reason Job is such a wonderfully righteous person is because he's never had cause to be anything but righteous. That, and the fact that "Satan" means "accuser", allows you to draw conclusions about some of the beliefs of the people it was written for.

Some of the most interesting parts of the Bible are these poems in which the tribes of Israel are listed and either blessed or cursed. You often have, in the middle of some story, usually involving the Patriarchs, somebody suddenly spouting forth some great long speech about so-and-so being valiant and brave and such-and-such being quiet and a bit useless, and the whole thing makes little sense in context. But if you imagine these poems being ancient accounts of important events shoehorned into younger narratives, it sort of starts to make sense. Individual people probably stood for tribes or clans, and what these very ancient texts suggest is that far from being a stable nation of twelve interrelated tribes, Israel was a bunch of squabbling clans fighting over land and occasionally coming together to fight off a common enemy (whether they were actually always as successful as the stories imply is another matter).

The Song of Deborah is an interesting example. Judges 5:15-16 says this:

The princes of Issachar were with Deborah;
yes, Issachar was with Barak,
rushing after him into the valley.
In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.
Why did you stay among the campfires
to hear the whistling for the flocks?
In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.

The author of these lines praises Issachar for joining the fight, and condemns Reuben for dithering. The song goes on to criticize Gilead, Dan and Asher for also staying at home, while Zebulun and Naphtali risked their lives.

The prose narrative that accompanies this song talks only of Barak summoning Zebulun and Naphtali, with no inkling that anyone else was expected to join in. Right here we have a demonstration of how the less attractive parts of a nation's history are being glossed over: in the original story, there is dissent and disharmony, which all but disappears in the later account.

Basically, the Sunday School version of events is of a man who has twelve sons, and these twelve sons' descendants become a mighty and powerful nation. But look beneath the veneer of respectability, and even the Biblical account tells the story of a disparate group of tribes motivated by self-interest more than anything else, eventually being united, probably against their will, an arrangement that doesn't last very long before breaking up and eventually being hammered out of existence by the superpowers of the day.

Which is by way of saying: Don't dismiss the Bible out of hand. It can yield some interesting insights.

830170.  Sun Jul 10, 2011 2:15 am Reply with quote

Posital wrote:
Methinks the first thing to go would be any internal differences over deities

Ooh, and on this precise bit: Yes, obviously, but there's the curious story of Micah's idols, in Judges chs. 17 and 18. A man from Ephraim called Micah makes -- gasp! -- a graven image and employs a Levite as a priest. Some soldiers from Dan, on their way to conquer a city (as you do), pass by and, to cut a long story short, end up stealing the graven image, along with some other household gods, and persuading Micah's priest to work for them.

Now, if Micah represents not a person but a tribe, perhaps we have here an account of one tribe adopting a pantheon from another tribe...?

830180.  Sun Jul 10, 2011 2:59 am Reply with quote

Ooo - thanks for this rewboss, I find this all very interesting.

I can see I've got a bit of reading to do.

Can you suggest any accessible publications out there that go into some detail on this?

* By accessible, I mean 1) that I might be able to understand (ie no extra back-reading); and 2) which I can get on amazon for a tenner... (quite superficial, aren't I :-) )

830194.  Sun Jul 10, 2011 6:07 am Reply with quote

I wish I could, although there must be some. I mentioned Peake's Commentary, which set the standards back in the 1930s; there's also the Oxford Bible Commentary, which Amazon is selling for about 20. The problem is, these are massive single-volume commentaries containing 1000+ pages of very small print. There is a plethora of cheaper commentaries available, but of course most of those are of the "...and this is proof that Mary was a virgin" variety. If you ever do pick up a commentary, check to see what it says about Genesis or the Pentateuch in general: if it burbles on about "source criticism", throws up lots of German names and phrases, or discusses the relative merits and demerits of the "documentary", "supplementary" and "fragmentary" hypotheses, it's more likely to be useful than one that marvels at God's power and glory. Not that you expected any different, of course.

I suppose you could do worse than look through the bibliographies of Wikipedia articles like the one on the documentary hypothesis, which I am interested to note seems to make extensive use of the Oxford commentary.

830242.  Sun Jul 10, 2011 10:03 am Reply with quote

I'm currently reading (= slowly struggling through) McGregor Mathers' The Kabbalah Unveiled, which is his 1912 translation into English of some of the founding books of the Kabbalah.

(It can be found in the Internet Sacred Texts Archive, for those who are interested and masochistic. You'll probably find the introduction more than enough.)

Since a lot of the early Kabbalah was based on finding hidden meanings in words through anagrams, numerical letter equivalencies, and even the shapes of the letters, there are whole chapters discussing names of God. (For instance, how IHVI differs from IHVH and what this means in the grand scheme of things.)

I don't know Hebrew, though I'd like to, but this is what I've gathered so far:

El = "god"
Eloh, Eloah = "goddess" ("god" + feminine ending)
Adonai = "lord, ruler"

Elohim = "goddess" + masculine plural ending. Seems to be an attempt at describing a dual deity, both male and female. Refers to God as the Great Mother.

IH, IHVH, JHVH, Jehovah, Jah (Yah), Tetragrammaton, etc. = Based on a root meaning "is" or "exists". The idea that God simply is, perfect and unchanging.
Ehieh = "I am". Much the same meaning as IHVH.

Elohim is the word used in Genesis when God says "Let us make man in our image" -- the "us" in translation is the giveaway that the original was a plural word. Presumably the assumption behind the creation myth was that both male and female are needed to create life.

A lot of angelic names end with either -el or -iah (-jah); many demonic names also end in -el, but none in -iah. Most of the Biblical "devils" are older or foreign gods that have been demonised, so the -el ending is understandable if it's a very old root.

In modern occultism, the ending -el is supposed to be a reference to divine severity and judgement, while the ending -iah refers to divine mercy and generosity. This isn't supported by the linguistics, and I don't know where the belief came from. Angels with names ending -el are supposed to be pictured with wings, and usually with a sword or scales of justice; those with names ending -iah are supposed to be pictured seated on a throne.

830245.  Sun Jul 10, 2011 10:42 am Reply with quote

I need to correct myself, incidentally, which illustrates the dangers of trying to do things from memory. It's not "El Elohim" which is the "god of heights", but "El Elyon".

Incidentally, "elohim" is sometimes used to refer to judges, as a straightforward plural, which fits in with the idea of a celestial court.

830247.  Sun Jul 10, 2011 10:57 am Reply with quote

This is fascinating stuff - thanks folks. How possible would it be to boil the linguistic material about the derivation of Yahweh down to something manageable in a note for Stephen in a show, while retaining whatever you think is particularly fascinating about it in terms of what people perhaps normally might not know?

830258.  Sun Jul 10, 2011 12:03 pm Reply with quote

Well, I guess the J-related stuff is this:

- The divine name is Yahweh.

- Hebrew is written with consonants, so "YHWH" (the ultimate four-letter word, the "Tetragrammaton"), plus (if necessary) "points" to represent vowel sounds.

- For reasons of religious taboos, people reading the text aloud had to be alerted not to pronounce the divine name, so vowel sounds from "Adonai" = "my lord" were inserted into YHWH, to give Yehowah, i.e. Jehovah.

It's probably necessary to know that J was originally a variant of I when it represented the semivowel [j] -- it there's any skepticism about that, the word "Hallelujah" provides the perfect illustration (it means "Praise Yahweh!").

Is that succinct and interesting enough? I'm a poor judge of that sort of thing.


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