The Pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton [יהוה]

The pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton [YHWH] has been hotly debated for the last two centuries. Many linguists, scholars, and theologians have tackled this topic with less than unanimous agreement on the pronunciation. For the most part, these great men have promoted pronunciations that were based upon, what they deemed, Theophoric names present in the Bible, upon the historical evidence of earlier scholars and theologians who were witnesses living closer in time to the ancient Israelite peoples of Canaan, or upon perceived scribal errors contained in the Masoretic Text─ even upon claims of revealed knowledge. None had, till now, attempted a purely grammatical approach to the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. There are several factors which can be used to deduce the true pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. There is textual evidence in the Bible which can be used to gain insights into the true pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. There is the fact that the verb root of the Tetragrammaton is an Aramaic verb and not a Hebrew verb. The use of the Tetragrammaton is restricted to the Hebrew portions and does not appear in any of the Aramaic portions of scripture. The use of the Lamed prefix in the book of Daniel is exclusively for the verb HaWaH הוה and can show the actual conjugation of the verb root of the Tetragrammaton as a Pa’al 3rdmasculine singular of HaWaH (הוה). Finally, there are inscriptions of the Tetragrammaton which can demonstrate the most ancient spelling of the Divine Name of the Israelites.

The Tetragrammaton is the name used in reference to the four letters used to write the name of God in the Hebrew text of the Bible. In the Hebrew Text, these letters were written as (יהוה), which would be rendered YHWH in English letters. This name was utilized some 6,823 times in the Hebrew text of the Bible (Brown-Driver-Briggs 217). The Tetragrammaton was pronounced by the Hebrew people in all areas of religious devotion, social contracts, greetings, and possibly curses, from the High Priest to the humble servant. The pronunciation began to decline after the ban was ordered by Antiochus IV Epiphanes around 168 BCE (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 18b). Finally, this pronunciation ceased due to the permanent ban by Abba Saul c. 150 CE (Nehemia Gordon, pg. 4). As a result of this ban, the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton is presumed to be lost.

The true pronunciation has always been considered of prime importance. As early as the fourth century CE, this Tetragrammaton was being pondered by the Greek Church. In his commentary on Exodus, Theodoret of Cyrus purported that the correct pronunciation was forbidden among the Jews who subsequently “pronounced it as IAO, but the Samaritans pronounced the name as IABE” (Theodoret, Questions on Exodus, XV). This has given rise to many interpretations surrounding the Tetragrammaton‘s pronunciation: the two most prevalent follows.

The Anglicized Jehovah is considered to be an 1100 CE invention based upon earlier texts of magical incantations (The Harvard Theological Review 318). This pronunciation was used in many Latin publications between 1200 and 1300 CE (Sir Godfrey Driver paragraph 7). In 1516, Peter Galatin, suggested the Tetragrammaton was often pronounced by Pope Leo X, to whom he was a penitentiary. According to Galatin, the Pope approved the pronunciation as JeHoVaH (De Arcanus Catholicae Veritatis, folio XLII). This was then promoted by Gilbert Genebrard (c. 1537-97 CE), a French Benedictine exegete and also the professor of Hebrew at the College Royal in Paris (Lang 207). By 1530, the Tetragrammaton passed into the English Bible translations as Iehouah, which was first used by William Tyndale (Tyndale, 1530, Tyndale Bible, Gen. 15:2). Today, this version of the Tetragrammaton is being hailed as the true and correct pronunciation by many Karaites, howbeit, corrected to be more Hebrew sounding- for instance Yehowah/Yehovah(Melech ben Ya’aqov, 2010). The influence of Karaites, such as Nehemia Gordon, has also led to the proclamation of Yehovah as the true pronunciation among the Christian movements (Johnson, 2010).

One of the most famous pronunciations of the Tetragrammaton is Yahweh. This name was promoted at large by Wilhelm Gesenius (Gesenius 337). Gesenius is regarded as one of the most influential Hebrew scholars of the 19th century; he published this opinion in his Lexicon which was widely used in Universities at the time and even late into the 20thcentury. Oddly, in his entry for YHWH (יהוה), he explained that he based his Yahwehpronunciation on the works of early commentators such as Theodoret rather than any sound rules of grammar. Nevertheless, this pronunciation was soon preferred and adopted by university elites worldwide. The fact of the matter is the Yahweh pronunciation, which is so prominent among the academic elites, was but a guess which requires a re-examination from a more reliable source: namely, the Masoretic Text itself.

One of the greatest hurdles which one must confront is whether or not the Tetragrammaton is a verb or a noun. This is not so easy to solve. On the one hand, the Tetragrammaton is derived from a Pa’al 1st and 3rd imperfect conjugation (Exodus 3, 14-15). On the other hand, the Tetragrammaton was used in construct forms and appeared with inseparable prepositions and very much resembles a noun. There are places where the YHWH is preceded by the emphatic 1st personal pronoun, Anoki, which seems a bit strange, because, if the Tetragrammaton were a verb, it would mean “I am He Is/Shall Be”. However, the usage of the emphatic personal pronoun along with a 3rd imperfect verb is also found in the early Semitic languages, such as Ugaritic, for monarchs. Looking at some of the constructions, such as Anoki YHWH eloheikha “I am He Is/Shall Be Your Deity” (Exodus 20, 2), the Tetragrammaton seems easily understandable as I am He Who Shall Be Your Deity. However, there are places where the emphatic personal pronoun Anoki was used with verbs, mainly participles, for instance in Exodus 34, 10, Anoki Kareith berith “I am cutting a covenant;” this pronoun was never used with a 3rd imperfect form, but with participles and 1st perfect forms.

To this day, the oldest known vocalized Aramaic text is found in the Masoretic Text of the Bible. Research of the Aramaic portions of the Masoretic Text has shown that the proper inflection for the 3rd imperfect conjugation of HWH was recorded in the books of Ezra and Daniel; YeHeWeA/H [יֶהֱוֵא] was how the 3rd imperfect was conjugated by the Masorete scribes in the pointing of this verb in the books of Ezra and Daniel (see Daniel 2,20 and 4, 22; Ezra 4, 12). In addition, further research on the Masoretic Text has demonstrated that when a name was formed upon a 3rd imperfect verb conjugation, the only change (from a verb to a noun) was in the final syllable. The final syllable, especially in the Lamed-He verbs, received a Qamets as opposed to the Seghol-He which was common for the final syllable in Lamed-He verbs, for example, the verb yishweh was changed to Yishwah in 1 Chronicles 7, 30 and the verb yishpeh was changed to Yishpah in 1 Chronicles 8, 16. Even in the Lamed-Guttural verbs, the normal Pathah was changed to a Qamets when forming a noun from the 3rd imperfect as was the case for the verb yiftach (with Pathah) in Deuteronomy 28, 12 which was changed to Yiftach (with Qamets) when it was used as a noun in Judges 11, 3. This demonstrates that if the Tetragrammaton were a noun, as opposed to a verb, then the final syllable would of necessity have a Qamets which is the norm for every other noun form based upon the 3rd imperfect in the Masoretic Text. Yet this conclusion is not tenable for the simple reason the YHWH retained the H in every instance in which it was in the construct. According to Hebrew grammar, any noun ending with a Qamets He would end with a Pathah Taw in the construct. On the other hand, any noun which ended with a Seghol He would end in a Tzere He in the construct. Obviously, this excludes any possibility that YHWH in the construct had an original Qamets He ending. Now the question arises, “What about the other vowels in the Tetragrammaton if it were a noun built upon the 3rd imperfect?”

If it is to be assumed that the Tetragrammaton was a noun based upon the 3rd imperfect form, then the next question should be, “How should the preceding syllables be inflected?” As explained above, if the Tetragrammaton was a noun, then the only changes should be in the final syllable as was demonstrated by other nouns derived from an imperfect 3rd. The syllabification of Hebrew nouns, as used by the Masoretic Tradition, is as follows: A) Short vowels prefer an open accented or a closed unaccented syllable, B) Long vowels, changeable or unchangeable, prefer closed accented, or open pre-tonic syllables, C) Hateph vowels prefer the pro-pre-tonic syllables containing the gutturals, D) Vocal Shewaprefers the pro-pre-tonic syllables containing consonants other than gutturals.

There is, however, another matter to consider; the presence of the gutturals Alef (א), He(ה), Chet (ח), Ayin (ע), and Resh (ר), as one of the stem radicals (the letters of the root), forces a change in the inflection that a syllable should take and also the vowels which should be used in the syllable containing the guttural. The rule to Pe-Gutturals states that Pa’al imperfect verbs which end in a Holem, begin with a Pathah or Qamets, while Pe-Gutturals which end in a Pathah begin with a Seghol (Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, Kennedy, page 146; Gesenius Hebrew Grammar, section 62-65); the verb ya’amod יַעֲמֹד follows this rule, but this isn’t the case for HaWaH. According to Gesenius and Kennedy, all Pe-Aspirants/LamedHe verbs will also begin with Seghol. This is why, even though Gesenius suggested the YaHWeH pronunciation (due to the Greek witnesses), he admitted that the actual conjugation of HWH, in the imperfect 3rd, was YeHeWeH [יֶהֱוֶה] (Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon page 247). An over-simplification of these rules are: 1) Gutturals prefer an “a” class vowel before and after, 2) Pa’al Imperfect Dynamic verbs prefer an “a” class vowel in the imperfect preformative prefix instead of the normal Hireq of the imperfect preformative prefix (yi), 3) Pa’al Imperfect verbs prefer a Seghol in the imperfect preformative prefix instead of the normal Hireq of the imperfect preformative prefix (yi), 4) The Hebrew verbs HYH (היה) and CHYH (חיה) were exceptions to these rules where the (yi) prefix was retained in the imperfect and the Pe-Guttural initial stem radical retained the silent Shewa.

Based on these rules, the 3rd imperfect verb HWH (הוה) becomes YeHeWeH (יֶהֱוֶה) when conjugated. This was demonstrated to be the case in the Aramaic conjugation of the 3rd imperfect of HWH (הוה) found in Daniel and Ezra. If, as explained above, the only difference between the 3rd imperfect verb and nouns which are built upon them was the change in the final syllable, then the Tetragrammaton should be inflected as a noun built upon the 3rd imperfect of HWH (הוה)- which should be YeHeWaH (יֶהֱוָה) as all the evidence of the Masoretic pointing demonstrated. The conjugation of the Hebrew HWH (הוה), then, as a verb in the 3rd imperfect is YeHeWeH (יֶהֱוֶה), while the inflection as a noun should be YeHeWaH (יֶהֱוָה). However, the use of YHWH in the construct demonstrated that since the final He was retained, the final syllable of YHWH must have retained the Seghol He.

It has been suggested by some etymologists, that the Tetragrammaton may have the vowels which are found in names such as [יְרֹהָם] Yeroham (1 Samuel 1,1). Yeroham was built upon the noun form of a pu’al conjugation: yeruham (יְרֻחַם). The evident changes in the pu’al derived noun was the Holem and Qamets as opposed to the QibbutsPathah in the verb. This inflection should seem very strange for the Tetragrammaton because this conjugation is passive and would give the meaning of YeHoWaH as (He Was Made to Be); this would demand that the deity of Israel had a beginning.

The vowels of YHWH, which were utilized in the Bible, were specifically used to represent that the Tetragrammaton was to be pronounced as either Adonai or Elohim. When YHWH stood alone, the vowels of Adonai were transposed upon the Tetragrammaton. When, however, the Tetragrammaton preceded or followed Adonai, the vowels of Elohim were transposed upon the Tetragrammaton. This is proven by the different vowels which are found upon the Tetragrammaton, as well as the usage of these vowels in relation to how near YHWH was to Adonai. In the Bible, the following vowels were used in connection with YHWH: יְהֹוָה (Y’howah) used a total of 29 times, יֱהוִה (Yehwih) used a total of 304 times; יֱהֹוִה (Yehowih) used only once in Judges 16:28; יְהֹוִה (Y’howih) used a total of 23 times, יְהוִה (Y’hwih) used a total of 207 times, and יְהוָה (Y’hwah) used a total of 6, 268 times

In a search performed of the Bible, for words which had a He-Waw-Hireq combination, it was found that- in the entire Bible- the only word which used the He-Waw-Hireq (הוִ) was the Tetragrammaton YHWH. In every instance, the Tetragrammaton was either preceded by or followed by Adonai. There was one instance which proved extremely interesting; in Psalm 68, 21, the Tetragrammaton had not only the conjunction but an inseparable preposition and is written weleiHWiH (וְלֵיוִה). This is interesting because, in this instance, the Tetragrammaton preceded Adonai. Naturally, this should mean that YHWH should carry the vowels of Elohim. The presence of the inseparable preposition L’(לְ) with the Tzere demonstrated that this was the case. In Hebrew grammar, there is a special rule for prefixing inseparable prepositions to Elohim; instead of the normal vocal Shewa, which the prepositions normally take, when they are prefixed to Elohim, the preposition takes a Tzere and the Aleph is quiescent. The similar is the case when prefixing a preposition to Adonai only, in that case, the preposition normally takes a Pathah as opposed to the vocal Shewa. When, however, the inseparable prepositions M (מְ), SH (שְׁ), and the article H (הָ) are used, the Aleph of Adonai is not quiescent, but is audible-that is, the aleph is pronounced. This was demonstrated in every case that a preposition is prefixed to YHWH when the Tetragrammaton stands alone; the preposition always takes a Pathah with the Yodh having no pointing which indicated the quiescent nature of the Aleph- except in those places where the M (מְ), SH (שְׁ), and the H (הָ) were used (Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar § 102) . In those cases, the Yodh of YHWH took a vocal Shewa which indicated the vocal nature of the Aleph in Adonai. Places in the Bible where this was demonstrated are: Genesis 47, 18 where it read MeiAdonai (מֵֽאֲדֹנִ֔י) and Genesis 18, 14 where it read MeiYeHWaH (מֵיְהוָ֖ה); Psalm 144, 15 where it read SheYaHWaH (שֶׁיֲהוָ֥ה); and Psalm 136, 3 where the article was used and it read HaAdonim (הָאֲדֹנִ֑ים).

Another rule for inseparable prepositions, as well as the conjunction Waw, concerns the prefixing of these propositions to a word which had a vocal Shewa as the first radical, for instance, Yehudah. When, in these cases, an inseparable preposition was prefixed to these words, the prefix took a Hireq and the Yodh was assimilated to the Hireq. This means that the vocal Shewa was never pronounced. When a preposition was prefixed to Yehudah, for instance, L’ (לְ), it became LiHudah and not LiYehudah. This was never the case with YHWH; in every instance, the preposition took a Pathah. This provides proof positive that the vowels used by the Masoretic Text on YHWH were the vowels of Adonai and Elohim transposed upon the YHWH and that these vowels do not, in any way, represent any possible pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton as it appears in the Masoretic Text. This shows that the Masoretes were simply abiding by the rabbinical ordinance in an attempt to prevent the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton by anyone reading the Bible.

What this really demonstrated was that the vowels of YHWH, as is presently found in the Masoretic Text, cannot represent the Tetragrammaton as a noun which would conform to the Hebrew rules of noun syllabification. The reason that the Tetragrammaton appeared in construct forms and with prepositions, and etc. is because the Tetragrammaton represented the words Adonai and Elohim. In those places where YHWH was used in the construct, for instance, YHWH TsevaothYHWH always took a Qamets in the final syllable; this clarified, to the reader, that YHWH was to be pronounced as Adonai and so the reader would read Adonei Tseva’oth (אֲדֹנֵי צְבָאֹות). A great example of this is found in 1 Samuel 1,3 where the phrase was prefixed with a preposition; true to the Masoretic Text tradition of the use of inseparable prefixes with YHWH, there is a Pathah on the proposition which identified the YHWH was indeed to be read as Adonai. The result was that, in this place, the phrase was to be read as Ladonei Tsevaoth (לַאדֹנֵי צְבָאֹות); the Pathahnaturally caused the Aleph to become quiescent. Based upon this information, it is entirely plausible that the phrase originally could have been YeHeWeH Elohei Tsevaoth (יֶהֱוֵה אֱלֹהֵי צְבָאֹות) as it was found in places such as Psalm 89, 9. This must be the case as explained above concerning YHWH in the construct. According to Hebrew grammar, nouns ending in Seghol He ה ֶ have a singular construct form with a Tzere He ה ֵ. An example of this is found in Genesis 1:10. There we have the word miqweh [מִקְוֶה] used in the construct as miqweh ha-arets [מִקְוֵה הָאָרֶץ]- the latter having the expected Tzere He. Since YHWH was used in construct forms without the change of the He to Taw it is reasonable to conclude that YHWH originally ended with a Seghol He and not a Qamets He- in which case it would always result in a YHWT Tseva’oth or YHWT Elohim, etc.

The Tetragrammaton first appears in the Biblical text in Genesis 2:4; from this point, the Tetragrammaton was given various vowels─all of which seem, at first glance, to be random. As explained above, the various vowel patterns, as they are currently found in the Westminster Leningrad Codex and the number of occurrences, are: יֱהֹוִה (1), יֱהוִה (2), יְהֹוִה (29), יְהֹוָה (39), יְהוִה (266), and יְהוָה (5,253) totaling 5,590 occurrences of the Tetragrammaton with 5 vowels and 6 vowel patterns (Leningrad Codex). The only answer for the variation of these vowel patterns is that the vowels, as listed in the Hebrew Text, are not the original vowels for the Tetragrammaton. According to the Rabbis, though the Tetragrammaton was written as YHWH (יהוה), it was to be read as Adonai אדני (Babylonian Talmud, Chapter 3, page 50). It has already been demonstrated that the Tetragrammaton is indeed supplied with the vowels of Adonai in those places it stands alone or is not is a close position to another Adonai in the text. In those places where the Tetragrammaton followed Adonai in the text or was in close proximity to Adonai, it was supplied with the vowels of Elohim (אלהים). In all cases, the Holem was the constant, as this vowel appears in both Adonai and Elohim in the second syllable. It could reasonably be argued that the Tetragrammaton does not contain the vowels of Adonai or Elohim, because the first vowel is, in the majority of cases, a vocal Shewa. This is easily overcome by the fact that in Adonai and Elohim the first letter is an Alef (א). According to convention, the gutturals in the propretonic position take a hatef vowel and the non-guttural letters in the propretonic position take a vocal Shewa (Pratico, Pelt, 2001).

The meaning of the Tetragrammaton is explained in the Hebrew text as EHYeH asher EHYeH אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (Bible, Exodus 3,14). This is not the name of God, but the meaning of His name. In the next clause, He commands Moses to tell the Israelites “EHYeH אֶהְיֶה sent me” (ibid.). That EHYeH is the 1st imperfect singular of the verb HaYaH הָיָה , there is no doubt. The real problem to the pronunciation comes with the following verse. In this place, the 1st imperfect verb אֶהְיֶה is changed to יהוה (ibid. 3,15). This is beyond doubt an imperfect verb. The initial Yodh, then, is the prefix for the imperfect 3rd. The final Seghol He is a vowel letter and is not part of the root. What is left is HW הו , which clearly identifies the root as HaWaH הָוָה . HaWaH is the Aramaic verb and is used in much the same way as the HaYaH is used in Hebrew. That HaWaH is not essentially Hebrew is made clear by the limited occurrences in the Hebrew text. In the Pa’al 3rd imperfect, this verb is used exclusively for the Tetragrammaton of the Israelite’s deity, the only exception being Ecclesiastes 11,3. On the other hand, this verb is never used for the deity of Israel in any of the Aramaic portions of the Bible.

The inseparable prepositions, which are attached to the Tetragrammaton, are a tell-tale sign that the vowels upon the Tetragrammaton are not the original vowels; they indicate very precisely the opposite. In all cases in which the Tetragrammaton carries an inseparable preposition, the vowel patterns are for the pronunciation of either Adonai or Elohim. If YeHoWaH were the true pronunciation, which would be based upon only one vowel pattern found for the Tetragammaton, the prepositions would always take a Hireq─ in every case; the Hireq is used with these prepositions when preceding a Yodh with a vocal Shewa. The Leningrad Codex demonstrates that this was never the case, such as the following example found in Deuteronomy 29,28: הַ֨נִּסְתָּרֹ֔ת לַיהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ hanistaroth laYHWaH eloheinu. This makes it clear that the scribes trans-positioned the vowels of Adonai onto the Tetragrammaton. In this passage the Lamed was prefix with the Patach; this would only happen if the Tetragrammaton was to be pronounced as Adonai─ which was the rule when the Tetragrammaton was in close proximity to Elohim. If it were to be pronounced with a vocal Shewa, then the Lamed prefix would take a Hireq. However, it was to be pronounced as patach before a Hateph patach (the vowel which is upon the Aleph in Adonai), so the Lamed naturally takes the patach. A great example of how the Lamedprefixed to Adonai takes a patach vowel is Genesis 18, 30 which reads: וַ֠יֹּאמֶר אַל־ןָ֞א יִ֤חַר לַֽאדֹנָי֙ wayomer al-na yihar lAdonai.

Another example is found in Deuteronomy 33,7 of the Leningrad Codex how a Lamedprefix upon a word containing a vocal Shewa in the Yodh of the first syllable. In this case, it is Yehudah. The verse reads: וְזֹ֣את לִֽיהוּדָה֮ wezoth lihudah ; here the Lamed has a Hireq while the Yodh quiesces. This would be the same case for the Tetragrammaton if it had a vocal Shewa upon the Yodh in the first syllable. However, the Lamed prefixing the Tetragrammaton in the Text never carries a Hireq, which shows the Yodh was never pronounced, with vocal Shewa or otherwise.

The next example is Psalm 68,20 וְלֵיהוִ֥ה אֲדֹנָ֑י weleYHWiH Adonai. In this verse, the Lamed prefix of the Tetragrammaton takes a Tzere, which is the case when the Tetragrammaton was to be pronounced as Elohim. It is so in this case because the Tetragrammaton is in close proximity to Adonai in the Text. Normally, the Lamed prefix would take a Seghol when it precedes a Hateph Seghol (the vowel which is used on the Aleph of Elohim), however, there is a special rule when Lamed is prefixed to Elohim─ in this case, it would always take a Tzere and not a Seghol. It should be noticed, in addition, that the vowels of the Tetragrammaton have the vowels of Elohim. When Elohim was prefixed with Lamed, as the Tetragrammaton is, then Elohim would be vocalized with Lamed TzereHolem, and Hireq which is evidenced by Genesis 17,7 לִהְיֹ֤ות לְךָ֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים  lihyoth lekha leilohim. 
All these examples clearly show how the scribes interpolated the vowels of Adonai and Elohim upon the Tetragrammaton in the Hebrew Text. There were five vowels used in 6 vowel patterns by the scribes; none were meant to be the true vowels of the Tetragrammaton but were interpolated vowels. Anytime the vowel pattern demonstrated a Qamets in the final syllable it was to be pronounced Adonai; while anytime it demonstrated a Hireq in the final syllable it was to be pronounced Elohim. It was for this reason that using any vocalization of the Tetragrammaton based upon the current vowel patterns found in the Masoretic Text is incorrect. These vocalizations are false patterns which were used only to aid the reader as to which way the Tetragrammaton was to be pronounced.

Based upon the meaning given to the Tetragrammaton by God in Exodus 3:14, the Tetragrammaton is a verb. Knowing the root of the Tetragrammaton, it is clear to see that there is no difference in meaning or function from HaYaH. Both are verbs in the imperfect conjugation. In acknowledgment of this, the conjugation of HaWaH in the 3rd imperfect should naturally be valid. When a guttural closes an unstressed syllable, the preceding vowel will be Seghol in place of the Hireq, and the vowel after the guttural would take a Hateph in the place where a non-guttural would take a Shewa. Since the vowel preceding the guttural would be Seghol, in place of Hireq, then the Hateph must be Hateph Seghol. Hence you would have YeHeWeH יֶהֱוֶה instead of YiHWeH יִהְוֶה. (Muraoka, 2011, pg. 79). In the case of HaYaH היה and CHaYaH חיה , these verbs have an irregular pattern as compared to other I-Guttural verbs, therefore, the Hireq is retained (Bickell, 1877, page 92 section 123).

There is also the word of Gesenius- who influenced so many with his proposition of YaHWeH. He writes in his lexicon, under the entry for the Hebrew הָוָה, as well as that of the Aramaic/Chaldee HaWaH הֲוָה, that the imperfect form would be YeHeWeH יֶהֱוֶה (Gesenius, 1846, pg. 219). Yet he rejects the sound rules of grammar for a pronunciation which is never attested in any of the Semitic languages in which HaWaH is employed and where YHWH was not held as a divine Tetragrammaton (Beitzel, 1980, pg. 18).

Aside from the lexicographers and grammarians of Biblical Hebrew, there is the Biblical text itself, which is a witness delivered to us by the Masoretic scribes. When the Aramaic portions of the Bible were being recorded, the lack of another copular verb other than HaWaH presented a problem for them. The scribes knew there was a ban upon the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton─evidently the Pe’al 3rd imperfect of HaWaH (הֲוָה) ─which grammatically would conjugate as YeHeWeiA  יֶהֱוֵא in the Aramaic. This pronunciation is almost indistinguishable from the Hebrew conjugation YeHeWeH יֶהֱוֶה . The spelling variation itself poses no real difference in meaning as the final TzereAlef in Aramaic is a vowel letter much like the Seghol-He in the Hebrew. In the only place in the Hebrew text where the Pa’al 3rd imperfect of HaWaH is employed, the verb is apocopated from YeHeWeH יֶהֱוֶה and spelled YeHuA יְהוּא (Gesenius, 1865, pg. 219).

The solution the Masoretic scribes settled upon was to invent a new Pe’al 3rd imperfect prefix for the verb HaWaH הֲוָה . In the place of the pre-formative Yodh, which is normally employed in the 3rd imperfect, the scribes substituted a Lamed Seghol; the normal YeHeWeiA  יֶהֱוֵא then becomes LeHeWeiA לֶהֱוֵא (Bible, Daniel 4:45). This Lamed prefix is an invention specifically for the HaWaH verb in the 3rd imperfect (Gesenius, 1865, pg. 219; Greenspahn, 2007, pgs. 79, 119). Though the Lamed prefix is attested in Rabbinic Aramaic, as well as later dialects such as Syriac and Mandaic, in Biblical Aramaic, it was exclusive for the verb HaWaH (Greenspahn, 2007, pg. 119).
The Masoretic scribes knew that the verb HaWaH, as used in Daniel, would need to be pronounced because, in these places, the verb did not represent the Tetragrammaton. The verb would have been vocalized by many readers of the Aramaic portion which would cause them to violate the ban by default. As a solution, they needed to change only the prefix which gave the verb a different inflection, thereby, preventing anyone from violating the ban on the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. In the Hebrew portions, it was sufficient to use the Aramaic YHWH in place of the Hebrew YHYH, as HWH is not a Hebrew verb and is rarely seen in the Hebrew text. However, the verb HYH does not exist in the Biblical Aramaic, so the scribes were forced to invent the Lamed prefix.


In Soleb, Egypt, there is a temple which was constructed by Amenhotep III around 1400-1360 BCE. In this temple, he had names of enemies inscribed upon the base of the temple’s pillars. On one of these pillars- on the northern side- was an inscription which read tꜣ. shꜣ su. YHwꜣ- literally, the land [tꜣ] of the nomads [shꜣsu] of [YHwꜣ]. The final compliment in the inscription is considered a toponym. It is of interest to note that the YHwꜣ in the inscription was spelled with the phonetic signs YHW.jpg which indicated the phonetic signs for Y [ YY ], H [ H], and the biliteral phonetic sign wꜣ which represented two phonetic sound- W [ W ] and the glottal stop [ A], which is known as the Semitic Alef [א]. This, in fact, represented the Aramaic conjugation of the name YHWH- יֶהֱוֵא. This is significant in the fact that Hebrew, as a distinct dialect of Cana’anite, did not begin to emerge until the time of the early kings of Israel- between 1200 and 500 BCE. Abraham migrated to Cana’an from Mesopotamia- the land of the Arameans; Jacob spent more than 20 years with his uncle Laban, the Aramean before returning to Cana’an; all of his children- except Benjamin- were born in Aramaea. For this reason, during the ceremony of the first fruits, the Israelites were commanded to recite, “My father was a perishing Aramean, so he went to Egypt with a few men and there he became a great many” (Deuteronomy 26:5). The inscription of Amenhotep III represented a time when the Israelites were still Arameans and spoke Aramaic. This inscription predated the Mesha Stele by about 500 years.

In conclusion, the great Hebrew scholars Gesenius, Muraoka, Bickell and their associates demonstrated the rules which govern the conjugation of HaWaH as YeHeWeH. The great lexicographers have followed suit (Davies, 1879, pg. 160; Harkavy, 1914, pg. 119; Lee, 1840, pg. 151; Riggs, 1858, pg. 129). The Aramaic text of Daniel was unequivocal that the conjugation of the verb HaWaH is YeHeWeA/H (יֶהֱוֵא/ה) the Hebrew equivalent being YeHeWeH (יֶהֱוֶה). The earliest inscription of the Tetragrammaton also demonstrated the Aramaic spelling. The grammatical rules are the only solution to what the possibilities are in regard to the true pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. It has been clearly demonstrated that the current vowels upon the Tetragrammaton are not the proper vowels for it, but are transposed form Adonai and Elohim. Further, it has been explained how Biblical names which were built upon a 3rd imperfect Pa’al changed inflection only in the last syllable, this is especially clear of the Lamed–He verbs. It has been further established that YHWH must have been originally vocalized with a final Seghol He- otherwise the final He would need be a final Taw in the construct. According to the vocalizations provided by the Masoretes, there are two possibilities for the Tetragrammaton; one possibility is the Tetragrammaton is a noun, the other possibility is that it is a verb. As a noun, following the pattern of nouns found in the Masoretic Text, the Tetragrammaton would be YeHeWeH (יֶהֱוֶה); as a verb, it will be conjugated according to the pattern found in the Aramaic portions of Ezra and Daniel as YeHeWeA/H (יֶהֱוֵא/ה). The former must be the logical choice as the YHWH construct forms are not tenable with a Qamets He ending, but are with a Seghol He ending.  In light of this research, it is the opinion of the author that the pronunciation of YHWH has never been lost, only discouraged and prohibited.

The Pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton [ההגייה שׁל שׁם בן ארבע אותיות] at


Works Cited

Bickell, Curtis. Outlines of Hebrew Grammar. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhause, 1877

Beitzel, Barry J. “Exodus 3:14 and the Divine Tetragrammaton: A Case of Biblical Paranomasia”. Trinity Journal, 1 NS, 1980, 5-20, page 18.

Ben Ya’aqov, Melech. “The Tetragrammaton of Elohim (God): Yehowah or Yehovah?”, Karaite Insights,

Brown-Driver-Briggs. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., September, 2005.

Cook, Holmstedt. Ancient Hebrew A Student Grammar. Wilmore, Kentucky: Cook-Holmestedt, November, 15, 2007.

Davidson, Samuel. A Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament. Leipzig: Williams & Norgate, 1885.

Davies, Benjamin. A Compendious and Complete Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament. Andober: Waren F. Draper, 1879.

Driver, Sir Godfrey. Introduction to the Old Testament of the New English Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Galatin, Peter. De Arcanus Catholicae Veritatis (Concerning Secrets of the Universal Truth). 1518.

Gesenius, Wilhelm. Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament. London: Bagster and Sons, 1846.

Gordon, Nehemia. “The Ban on the Divine Tetragrammaton”, The Karaite Korner,

Greenspahn, Frederick E. An Introduction to Aramaic. Atlanta: The Society of Biblical Literature, 2007.

Harkavy, Alexander. Students’ Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary to the Old Testament. New York: The Hebrew Publishing Company, 1914.

Johnson, Keith. His Hallowed Tetragrammaton Revealed Again. Biblical Foundations Press, November, 1, 2009.

Jouon, Muraoka. A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Gregorian & Biblical Press, 2011.

Lang, Bernhard. The Hebrew God A Portrait of an Ancient Deity. London: Yale University Press, 2002.

Lee, Samuel. A Lexicon, Hebrew, Chaldee, and English. London: Duncan and Malcolm, 1840.

Leningrad Codex, Firkovich B19A, Russian National Library, 1008 CE.

Pratico, Van Pelt. Basics of Biblical Hebrew. Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 2007.

Riggs, Elias. A Manual of the Chaldee Language. New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Co., 1858.

Rodkinson, Michael L. Babylonian Talmud. Boston: The Talmud Society, 1918.

Theodoret of Cyrus. The Questions on the Octateuch. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007.

The Harvard Theological Review, 1995, vol. 88, No. 3, page 318.

All photographs. The Aleppo Codex,

A New Hebrew Course, Bowman page 433

Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon page 219

Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon page 219

Palestinian Aramaic, Stevenson page 49

The Verbal System of the Aramaic of Daniel, Tsaree Li page 126

The Verbal System of the Aramaic of Daniel, Tsaree Li page 127