The English phonetization of the Hebrew word for God. This word is called the tetragrammaton in Greek. There are no letters for vowel sounds in Hebrew, and at some point the ancient Jews interpreted the commandment to "not take the Lord's name in vain" to mean not to speak the name basically at all (to this day, Orthodox Jews will write G-d instead of God and ' instead of Adonai {Lord in Hebrew}). Thus, no one is really sure how the name was pronounced. It could be "Yahoo-wahoo".

A ("THE") Hebrew word for ("THE") God (see Hebrew words for God for some history of this and other words). It's (probably) pronounced "yahveh" (or "yahweh"), or "Jehovah" in English. The Bible vocalises it in this form. However, it is never said out loud (a custom which predates Monty Python by over 3 millenia). This is the "literal name" of God.

The explanation of the word is given by God to Moses at the burning bush. Moses has just been told to go back to the people of Israel, and tell them he's met God, etc., etc. But all the ID he got (apart from the miracle of the burning bush, but as a trained Egyptian magician he knew that any god could do that) was a (disembodied) voice claiming to be the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Quite rightly, he says the people of Israel will want to know who this god is, so he asks God. By way of reply, God tells him "I am what I am", adding Moses can say "I am" (AHWH, after some Semitic manipulations) sent him. And YHWH is simply the form "he is", similarly manipulated.

It is entirely possible that this story is a late formation to explain the word YHWH. But the story sounds entirely plausible (many other Semitic gods of the period have equally silly names).

Abbrivated "yud yud" in Hebrew texts. Not to be read aloud without having one's head covered out of respect for adonai. See also: Hebrew words for god. As used in:

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam borei p'ri hagafen.

Blessed art Thou O Eternal our God, ruler of the Universe, who creates the products of the vine!

This is the kiddish over sedar wine.

All of the material here is historical fact. I present it not as a religious piece but as simple information. Please note that Hebrew is spelled right to left.

  1. The Absolute Name as originally given to Moses on Sinai (Exodus 3:14) is AHYH ASR AHYH: "I Will Be Who I Will Be."
  2. "I Am That I Am" is a mistranslation. This is a Christian interpretation applied 1000 years after the fact.
  3. Saying "I Will Be" made people very nervous. So "I Will Be" (AHYH) was changed into "He Will Be": YHWH This Name is known as the Tetragrammaton: "The 4 Letter Name." In English you most often see this Name as "Yahweh." The certain original pronunciation has been lost. Over 30 different pronunciations are known to the Kabbalists.
  4. The Tetragrammaton, spelled vertically, is the pictogram of a human being: .  This is a visual representation of what it symbolically means to be created in the image of God.
  5. Over the years this discomfort with the Divine Name continued. Soon, people would not pronounce YHWH at all. Whenever they saw YHWH in the Bible, they would either say "The Name" (Ha Shem) or "The Lord" (Adonai).
  6. Originally, Hebrew did not have vowels. Eventually the Hebrews felt it was wise to insert little dots (called vowel points) around the letters to remind the reader of the exact pronunciation.
  7. When they came to YHWH in the text, they added the vowel points for Adonai to remind the reader that the Divine Name was not to be pronounced.
  8. In the Middle Ages, around 1500, translators misunderstood that the vowel points were for "Adonai", not "Yahweh".  Thus, they combined the letters of YHWH with the vowels of Adonai. The result was "Jehovah". This is, quite simply, a mistranslation.  Like changing "Betty" into "Botta" by keeping the same consonants but using the wrong vowels.
  9. In our modern Bibles, then, whenever YHWH is found, we usually "translate" it as LORD or Jehovah. Both are wrong, though Jehovah is certainly preferable to LORD.
  10. "God" is a noun. It is a type of Being. "God" is not a name. "Human" is what you are....but you also have a name.
  11. Thus, when catechisms & preachers say "What is God's name? God is God's name" they are also simply wrong.
  12. As you can see, the farther we go in time, the more confusion & ignorance we acquire. At this point, very few of the ordained clergy understands any of this. Of those who know it, only a small percentage actually cares.
  13. Yet the 3rd Commandment STILL SAYS, "Thou shall not take the Name of YHWH your God in vain, for YHWH will not leave him unpunished who takes His Name in vain."

A little elaboration on Ground Zero's excellent write up. Above, Ground Zero explains that Hebrew texts had the letters YHWH, the word Adonai, and Jehovah. All this can be a bit ambiguous without some explanation.

Ancient Hebrew texts were written on parchment. Parchment was very expensive, so to conserve space the writing was jammed all together, allowing no space between words. Scrolls would be a jumble of letters from top to bottom. To conserve even more space the writers left out vowels.

The point of these texts were to be read, and more to the point, read aloud to teach. Those who could read would decipher the list of consonants into words, with one exception: the Hebrew word for God. Yahweh could be written as YWHW, but could never be spoken. People of the Jewish faith hold the name of God in very high esteem. So as not to disrespect the Almighty, when Hebrew men would read they say "Adonai," the Hebrew word for Lord, rather than the Hebrew word for God.

As time went on, Jewish scholars forgot what some of the words in the texts were. This is easy to imagine since they were missing vowels and the words were all jammed together. To fix this the Jews started inserting the vowels real small between the appropriate letters. When they came to YHWH they wrote in the vowels for Adonai as a reminder to not say Yahweh. What was written was YeHoWaH.

Since the Latin language has no Y (it is a J) or W (it is a V), the writting came out Jehovah. You probably recognize Jehovah as Jehovah's Witnesses. This is precisely how their denomination began. The founder decided to find the name of God and mistakenly discovered Jehovah*. That's how that came about.

For more information on this whole business, please visit, or you can ask a Leader of the Jewish faith, or a well-versed leader of the Christian faith.

* 2002.11.15@23:18 wertperch says re YHWH: "The founder decided to find the name of God and mistakenly discovered Jehovah." - wrong. As an ex-JW I can tell you that the Name appears in the King James Bible, at a verse I will dig out shortly. You're right about the rest though.
2002.11.15@23:20 wertperch says re YHWH: Psalms 83:18

Sorry wertperch for my error, I apologize. Being Roman Catholic I don't have a King James Bible. I can only guess that the translation of the Bible carried Jehovah with it. The original Hebrew does not use such a word.

The form YHWH refers to “the Breath”. The word hawah äåä (also spelt hawa' äåà) itself means “to breathe; to be (in the sense of existence): - be, become, have”: also “to fall” (Brown's Lexicon describes hawah as meaning "falling out" and by extension "to bring about; come to pass"). The personal pronoun hu' äåà translated as "he, it" in Scripture is related to this word and refers to a living thing or person. The pronoun hu' äåà was applied to God in reference to His uniqueness (Yesha`yahu 43:10, Tehilah 102:27). The word hawah itself is the sound of breathing; hence "to breathe out". This was extended to mean "to fall", similar to how breath falls out of a person's mouth when he exhales. This is the character of the Spirit of God, the Breath of life. He is the “Breath”, the One Who exists. A more literal meaning would be “He who breathes/becomes” in the sense of creating (Bereshiyth 2:7). Thus Yahweh is the Sovereign One over His creation. He not only exists, but is actively involved with His creation. He brings abouth whatever happens in the universe, and He is and will become everything we need Him to be. This name was often combined with verbs in the names of people and places to describe His character and attributes. Examples of this are YHWH-Yireh (YHWH will behold, Bereshiyth 22:14) and Y'hoshua (Joshua, YHWH is salvation). Also, the meaning of “falling” has to do with Yahweh being the Master of all the elements of the universe. He causes the snow to fall (heweh) upon the earth (Iyov 37:6), and He causes rain, lightning and fire to fall from heaven. He is the Master of the universe that He created. Also, the phrase “Yahweh of hosts (Heb. Tz'va’oth)” presents Yahweh as the Ruler of armies, both earthly and heavenly.

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