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Meaning and etymology of the name YHWH




YHWH (Yahweh, Jahweh) YHWH


YHWH is the second creation Name of God. God's Name changes from Elohim to YHWH Elohim in Genesis 2:4 and the reason for this change is examined in our article on the Chaotic Set Theory.

As told by Joel M. Hoffman Ph.D. in his delightful and riveting book In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language - read our review - the Hebrews were the first to incorporate vowels in their written text, and by doing this the previously esoteric art of writing and reading became available to the masses. The seemingly casual command to 'write' something on doors or foreheads included the invention of a writing system that could be learned by everybody. A very big deal, and resulting in the most powerful tool of data preservation up to this common age. Hebrew theology is by far the most influential ever, and this is in part due to the Hebrew invention of vowel notation. This power (this theology) contrasted others by use of the vowel notation, using symbols that were already used and until then only represented consonants: the letters waw (waw), yod (yod) and he (heh), and to give an example: the word dwd is either the word dod, meaning beloved (and the waw is a vowel), or it is the word dud, meaning jar (and the waw is again a vowel), or it is the word dawid, which is the name David (and the waw is a consonant).

These letters became markers for both the Hebrew identity and the Hebrew religion, including the various names for God. One of these names is the famous Tetragrammaton YHWH (YHWH) which actually exists only of vowels, and is utterly exceptional in many ways, including the fact that it can not be pronounced.
The word el (El) was the name of the prominent Canaanite god, whose name was either derived of or became the common word for god in general. The plural of this word is elim; gods. With the addition of the letter he, creating the word Elohim, the Hebrews not only stated essential monotheism (by naming a single God after the plural word "gods") but also marked their God as theirs: Elohim is the singular pantheon of the vowel-people.
Something similar occured when the name of patriarch Abram (Abram) was expanded with the heh into Abraham Abraham, and the name of matriarch Sarai (Sarai) was expanded with the heh to Sarah (Sarah).
The meaning of the name YHWH is not very clear, and therefor subject to much debate. The key scene in this respect seems to be Exodus 3:13-15, where God names Himself first: I AM WHO I AM (I Am Who I Am), then I AM (I Am), and finally YHWH (YHWH) and states that this is his name forever and a memorial name to all generations. It has been long supposed that YHWH is derived from the verb that is used to make I Am, namely haya (haya) to be, to become, to happen, or rather from an older form and rare synonym of haya, namely hawa, hawa, hence y-hawa or yahweh, the proper imperfect of the verb, thus rendering the name either Being or He Is. (But note that the Hebrew language is far more dynamic than our modern languages. The verb to be indicates an action that intimately reveals the nature of the one who is doing the acting. For more more on this, see our article To be is to do.)

HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament rocognizes two separate verbs hawa:
hawa (hawa (484) is the aforementioned older form of haya (haya), to be or become.
hawa (hawa) means to fall, with derivatives calamity, wickedness, evil desire, disaster. Perhaps this curious double meaning is in some ways comparable to our word happen, as the words happening and happenstance are often used as euphemisms for typically unfortunate events.

HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament goes even further as it states, "...there is a problem with the pronunciation Yahweh. It is a strange combination of old and late elements.[] In view of these problems it may be best simply to say that YWHW does not come from the verb hawa at all. [W]e may well hold that YHWH [...] is an old word of unknown origin which sounded something like what the verb hawa sounded in Moses' day. However, if the word were spelled with four letters in Moses' day, we would have expected it to have had more than two syllables, for at that period all the letters were sounded."

In other words, the name YHWH looks like a hybrid of times, as if it can not be localized but spans centuries of evolving grammar. Then it also looks very much as if it was derived of a verb that means to be, but which is spelled differently than the regular verb to be, and similarly to a verb that means something very bad. Perhaps all this confusion, or rather, this wide pallet of negotiations is what this Name most essentially conveys: existence in its broadest sense, yet unlike any regular human perspective; a blessing to the wise, but the undoing of the wicked.

On the other hand, perhaps the name YHWH means Tom, Dick or Harry in a language that has slipped out of the collective human consciousness and we are left with the echo's of a revelation that was as sincere and confidential as the word abba: daddy.

BDB Theological Dictionary lists the following interpretations of the name YHWH, proposed by a score of venerated theologians:

"Many recent scholars explain YHWH as Hiph. of hawa:
The one bringing into being;
Life-giver;
Giver of existence, creator;
He who brings to pass;
Performer of his promises;
He who causes to fall (rain or lightning);


"But most take it as Qal of hawa:
The one who is;
The absolute and unchangeable one;
The existing, ever-living;
the one ever coming into manifestation
He will be;
He will approve himself (give evidence of being, assert his being)
.



 



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