It is important to note that modern scholarship has interpreted the tetragrammaton as YHWH, which may be a word related to "He who causes to be" (per the NRSV). The pronunciation of this as "Jehovah" has no linguistic basis and is in fact of late medieval origin.

As far as any mystical value of the number four is concerned, I would point out that the nominative plural of deus is di, a form which was probably just as commonly used in Latin. The Greek "logos," used to identify the divine creative principle, was probably of similar theological importance as theos, but has five letters in the Greek.

Literally, 'four-lettered word'. Pronunciation, thanks both to the unwillingness to pronounce such a holy name and the standard Semitic complete lack of weak vowels in the writing system, is up for grabs. Modern interpretations are Yahweh and Jehovah, both probably incorrect.

Also sometimes seen as YHVH, IHWH, JHVJ, IHVH, and a whole slew of other linguistically accurate strings of phonemes.

Either way, it was considered magically powerful during the middle ages.


Instead of re-writing this, I'll just append a little note. The whole problem here is generally called ketib-kere, or "what is written" and "what is read". In other words, the consonants of God's name are clear, and were already clear when the Hebrew Bible was standardised: Yod-He-Waw-He, or YHWH. Variants of the letters can be attributed to different transcriptions and pronunciations.

Now, when the good Masorites were busy adding vocalisations to the Hebrew text, at a time when Hebrew was dead or dying as a living language and there was a need to preserve the pronunciation, they decided, for whatever reason, that the proper name of God should not be available to those not part of the tradition. There are older manuscripts which write the name in older, aramaic script, while the main-text is in the familiar quadratic script. When the Ben Asher Masora was more or less finalized, they took the consonants and added the vocalisation of the word adonai, "My Lord", giving us Yahweh or Yehowah.

The thing is, however it is written, the tetragrammaton is still pronounced adonai when the text is written YHWH. Hopeless? Well, we do have clues as to how the name was originally pronounced, mostly from The Name as a theophoric element in Hebrew personal names from non-Biblical sources. Since these are rather rare, and even then unvocalised, The Name is still the product of guesswork.

Appearing in the Old Testament more frequently than any other name for God, YHVH is thought of within Jewish theology as a proper name, as opposed to the titles Shaddai, He who said "Enough!" (creating the universe and ceasing its creation) or Elohim, Lord. As God's own simple declaration of existence and permanence, the tetragrammaton is derived from the verb to be: past tense: haya, present tense: hoveh, future tense: yihiyeh. However, some Biblical scholars contend that the word YHVH was originally the predicate in the ubiquitous Biblical appelation El YHVH, which would therefore translate as The Lord Causes to Be.

The phenomes which compose the Hebrew language predate by generations the institution of nekudot, the small dots and slashes that specify weak vowel sounds. Torah scrolls are traditionally written without these nekudot and, as such, the correct pronunciation of any word could only be known via an unbroken chain of transmission. In fact, many Biblical words are almost certainly pronounced differently today than they were originally, as the sounds made by some letters of the Hebrew alphabet have changed. (For instance, the silent letter ayin used to be gutteral.) As for the word YHVH, the tradition for its pronunciation has been lost, as a result of the fact that during the second Temple era the tetragrammaton ceased to be spoken, for fear of violating the Biblical injunction against taking God's name in vain.

Today, the word YHVH is replaced when spoken in prayers and ritual Torah readings by the word Adonai, My Master. When spoken in a non-ritual context it is replaced by the word Hashem, The Name. As opposed to Torah scrolls, printed editions of the Torah do include nekudot. For the sake of completeness, these editions place nekudot around YHVH, but these are the nikudot lifted from the word Adonai, or ADNY and the world is still meant to be read as Adonai or Hashem. The practice of this false nekud was originally enstated as a reminder to read YHVH as "Adonai", instead of attempting to pronounce it. However, when the letters Y-H-V-H are vowelated this way they do in fact spell out the word Yahovah, or the English Jehovah.

The four letter word for Deity or The Deity, not necessarily in Hebrew. In 27 different languages the four letter word for God is


E. Cobham Brewer's  1898 The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

Portugese was added, thanks to adamk. Peruvian isn't a language, but Mr. Brewer listed it anyway.

Tet`ra*gram"ma*ton (?), n. [NL., fr. Gr. ; (see Tetra-) + a letter.]

The mystic number four, which was often symbolized to represent the Deity, whose name was expressed by four letters among some ancient nations; as, the Hebrew JeHoVaH, Greek qeo`s, Latin deus, etc.

 

© Webster 1913.

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