Bible Review 7:6, December 1991


The ineffable name of Israel’s God

By Choon-Leong Seow

Bible Review

hwhy, the most common name for ancient Israel’s God, occurs 6,823 times in the Hebrew Bible. That’s not counting the variant forms of it that appear as an element in hundreds of personal names.

hwhy was the distinctive name of Israel’s God; no other deity was known by this name. Yet, important as it is in the history of Israelite religion, there is neither unanimity nor clarity in the translation of the name. Scholars have variously rendered it as “LORD” (all letters in the upper case), “YHWH,” “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.” In personal names, what scholars call the “Yahwistic theophoric element” appears in the initial position as Yeho- (Jeho-) or Yo- (Jo-), as in the two forms for “Jonathan,” Yehonatan and Yonatan. In the final position it appears as -yahu (-iah) or -yah (-iah), as in the alternate spellings for “Azariah,” Azaryahu and Azaryah.

Can we find a path through the philological and theological maze that the ineffable name of Israel’s God has become to readers of the Bible?

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