Gerard Gertoux










                God's name, which one finds about 7000 times in the Bible under the form YHWH, possesses the unique and remarkable circumstance of not having been vocalized by nearly all translators. With this name being unpronounceable under its written form YHWH, some overconfidant (or overzealous?) translators refused to confirm this paradox and preferred to vocalize it with an approximated form. Obviously, in every case the proposed vocalizations were very rigorously criticized. A review of the past twenty centuries will allow us to appreciate the reasonings which favored or opposed the vocalization of God's name, and to understand the origin of the controversy and the paradox of a name which can be written without being able to read it aloud.



Before our common era


                The first translation of the Bible, called the Septuagint, was made by Jews at the beginning of third century before our era. However, out of superstitious respect these translators preferred to keep the Tetragram YHWH written in Hebrew within the Greek text. There was however one exception, a Jewish translator who preferred to insert it under the vocalized form Iaô (Iaw), which became well-known at this time because the historians Varro and Diodorus Siculus quoted it in their books (History I:94:2; Antiquitates Rerum Divinarum). In spite of these precise testimonies, the form of Iaô found limited use, and was very often slandered. A paradox of magnitudes. The great prophet Jeremiah explained that the objective of the false prophets was to cause people to forget the Name (Jr 23:27), an attempt nevertheless dedicated to be defeated (Ps 44:21); because God reserves his Name for his servants (Is 52:6) and naturally for those who appreciate it (Ml 3:16). Abraham, who is the father of those that have faith, took pleasure to proclaim this Name according to Genesis 12:8, and initiated a respectable biblical custom. Furthermore, according to the prophet Joel, it is even obligatory to proclaim this Name in order to be saved during the great and formidable day of God (Jl 3:4; 5). According to Exodus 23:13, refusal to pronounce a god's name is a refusal to worship the god in question, so to refuse to pronounce the True God's name means a refusal to worship him (Jos 23:7). In spite of these exactitudes, the translators of the Septuagint self-justified their choice not to vocalize the Name, even going so far as modifying the verses of Leviticus 24:15, transforming them into : «(…) a man who will curse God will bring the offence, but in order to have named the name of the Lord, he would have to die absolutely, the entire assembly of Israel should stone him with stones; the alien resident as the native, in order to have named the name of the Lord, he would have to die absolutely». Paradoxically as noted by Philo, a Jewish philosopher of the first century, to name God was worse than to curse him! (De Vita Mosis II:203-206). The Talmud points out that they had started to remove these names (Yah, Yahu) that had been stamped on jars in order to protect their holiness. (Arakin 6a; Shabbat 61b). Out of respect, the Name was to be avoided in conversation, as proven by these remarks from Jewish books written in the second century bce: «Do not accustom into the habit of naming the Holy One» and «someone who is continually swearing and uttering the Name will not be exempt from sin (Si 23:9,10). It was held that the privilege of pronouncing the Name was strictly reserved for use inside the Temple (Si 50:20), and that it should not be communicated to foreigners (Ws 14:21).



From first to fifth century


                Flavius Josephus, who understood the priesthood of this time very well, made it clear that at the time the Romans attacked the Temple the Jews called upon the fear-inspiring name of God (The Jewish War V:438). He wrote he had no right to reveal this name to his reader (Jewish Antiquities II:275), however he did give information of primary importance on the very pronunciation he wanted to conceal. However, in his work The Jewish War V:235 he stated: «The high priest had his head dressed with a tiara of fine linen embroidered with a purple border, and surrounded by another crown in gold which had in relief the sacred letters; these ones are four vowels» This description is excellent; moreover, it completes the one found in Exodus 28:36-39. However, as we know, there are no vowels in Hebrew but only consonants. Regrettably, instead of explaining this apparent abnormality, certain commentators (influenced by the form Yahweh) mislead the readers of Josephus by indicating in a note that this reading was IAUE. Now, it is obvious that the ‘sacred letters’ indicated the Tetragram written in paleo-Hebrew, not Greek. Furthermore, in Hebrew these consonants Y, W, H, do serve as vowels; they are in fact called ‘mothers of reading’ (matres lectionis). The writings of Qumrân show that in the first century Y used as vowel served only to indicate the sounds I and É, W served only for the sounds Ô and U, and a final H served for the sound A. These equivalences may be verified in thousands of words. Additionally, the H was used as a vowel only at the end of words, never within them. So, to read the name YHWH as four vowels would be IHUA that is IEUA, because between two vowels the H is heard as a slight E. Eusebius quoted a writer of great antiquity (before 1200 BCE?) called Sanchuniathon who spoke about the Jews in chapter four of his work entitled Phoenician History. Philo of Byblos translated this work into Greek, at the beginning of our era, and Porphyry was familiar with it. Sanchuniathon maintained that he got his information from Ieroubal the priest of IÉÜÔ (Ieuw), that is Jerubbaal found in Judges 7:1. According to Judges 7:1, Jerubbaal was the name of Judge Gideon who was a priest of Jehovah (Jg 6:26; 8:27), probably written IÉÜÔA (Ieuwa) in Greek.


                Irenaeus of Lyons believed that the word IAÔ (Iaw in Greek, [Iah] in Latin) meant ‘Lord’ in primitive Hebrew (Against Heresies II:24:2) and he esteemed that the use of this Hebrew word IAÔ to denote the Name of the unknown Father, was intended to impress gullible minds in worship of mysteries (Against Heresies I:21:3). Furthermore, the Greek concept of an anonymous god, mainly supported by Plato, being mixed in with the Hebrew concept of the God with a personal name engendered absolutely contradictory assertions. So, Clement of Alexandria wrote in his book (Stromateon V:34:5) that the Tetragram was pronounced Iaoue while writing, and then later, that God was without form and nameless (StromateonV:81:6). In the same way, Philo a Jewish philosopher of the first century had good biblical knowledge and knew that the Tetragram was the divine name pronounced inside the temple, since he related: «there was a gold plaque shaped in a ring and bearing four engraved characters of a name which had the right to hear and to pronounce in the holy place those ones whose ears and tongue have been purified by wisdom, and nobody else and absolutely nowhere else» (De Vita Mosis II:114-132). However in the same work, paradoxically, he explains, commenting on Exodus 3:14 from the LXX translation that God has no name of his own! (De Vita Mosis I:75).


                The Christian translators (of heathen origin) not understanding Hebrew exchanged the Tetragram with Lord; Marcion in 140 C.E. even modified the expression «Let your Name be sanctified» into «Let your spirit be sanctified». On the other hand, some Christians (of Jewish origin) such as Symmachus kept the Tetragram written in Hebrew inside the Greek text (in 165). Eusebius clarified that Symmachus was an Ebionite, that is a Judeo-Christian, and that he had drafted a comment on Matthew's book (Ecclesiastical History VI:17). However, the Judeo-Christians were completely rejected after 135 of our era by the "Christians" as Jewish heretics.


                The whole of translations being made according to the Septuagint, many readers ignored the problem of the vocalization of the Name. However Jerome, who realized the first Latin translation directly from the Hebrew text, noted in his commentary on Psalm 8:2: «The name of the Lord in Hebrew has four letters, Yod He Waw He, which is the proper name of God which some people through ignorance, write P I P I (instead of h w h y) in Greek and which can be pronounced Yaho». Augustine of Hippo wrote around 400 that «Varro was rightly writing that the Jews worship the god Jupiter»! (De consensu evangelistarum I:22), his remark proves that he probably confused the name of Jupiter (Ioue) with the Hebrew name of God Iaô, or perhaps Ioua.



From sixth to eleventh century


                Some oriental Christians, due to their knowledge of the Hebraic language, prevented a complete disappearance of the name. Thus, Severi of Antioch, used the form IÔA (Iwa) in a series of comments in chapter eight of John's gospel (Jn 8:58), pointing out that it was God's name in Hebrew, a name that one finds also in the front pages of a codex of 6th century (Coislinianus) to assign the Invisible or the Unspeakable. It is interesting to note that Matthew's gospel in Hebrew was found in a work dated from 6th to the 9th (Nestor's book) and attributed to the priest Nestorius, in which God's name appears under the Hebraic shape "The Name" (Hashem) instead of the usual "Lord". In commenting on a work of Severi of Antioch, the famous scholar James of Edesse made clear around 675 in a technical comment, that the copyists of the Septuagint (of his time) were divided over whether to write the divine name Adonay, to keep it within the Greek text in the form P I P I (corresponding in fact to the Hebrew name YHYH as he mentioned), or to translate it as Kurios and write it in the margin of the manuscript.


                These quotations are exeptional however, because even the famous translator Albinus Alcuini, specified that although God's name was written Jod He Vau Heth, it was read Lord, because this name was ineffable. Things began to change when translators again made translations directly from Hebrew and not from a translation. The first was doubtless the famous Karaite Yefet ben Eli who translated the Bible into Arabic. In copies of this translation (made around 960), one finds at times the Tetragram vocalized Yahwah (or Yahuwah), a normal transcription of the Hebrew shape Yehwah of this time (or Yahowah whom one finds in some codices within Babylonian punctuation); because in Arabic there are only three sounds: â, î and û. The shape Yahuwah was apparently understood Yah Huwa "Oh He" in Arabic, because it seems so in a manuscript dated 10-th century. Some famous imams, such as Abu-l-Qâsim-al-Junayd who died in 910, now known as Fahr ad-Din Râzî, while knowing that God had 99 beautiful names explained that the supreme name (ism-al-a‘zam) of God was Huwa not Allah. A follower of al-Junayd, the Soufi Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallâj (857-922), asserted : «Here are the words of which sense seemed ambiguous. Know that temples hold by His Yâ-Huwah and that bodies are being moved by His Yâ-Sîn. Now and Sîn are two roads which end into the knowledge of the original point»[2]. Yâ-Sîn is a reference to the Sura 36 and Yâ-huwah wrote y‘hwh in Arabic, makes reference to the Hebrew Tetragram. Al-Hallâj was rejected as madman by his teacher, al-Junayd, and died executed in Bagdad as a heretic.



In the twelweth century


                The works of two Jewish scholars marked a decisive bend in the vocalization of God's name. In order to contend with influences of Philosophy, Gnosticism, mystical, and even astrological beliefs which became increasingly influential {mainly due to the third century work, entitled Sepher Yetsirah (Book of Forming) which speculated on the letters of the divine names}, Maimonides, a Jewish scholar and famous talmudist, put forward a whole new definition of Judaism. His reasoning centered on the Name of God, the Tetragram, which was explained in his book entitled The Guide of the Perplexed, written in 1190. There he exposed the following powerful reasoning: the God of the philosophers did not require worship only polite acknowledgement of his existence, since it would be impossible to establish relations with a nameless God (Elohim). Then he proved that the Tetragram YHWH is the personal name of God, that is to say the name distinctly read (Shem hamephorash), which is different from all the other names such as: Adonay, Shadday, Elohim (which are only divine titles having an etymology), because the Tetragram has no etymology. Maimonides knew well the problem of the pronunciation, since Jewish tradition stated that it had been lost. On the other hand, he also knew that some Jews believed in the almost magical influence of the letters or the precise pronunciation of divine names, but he warned his readers against such practices as being pure invention or foolishness. The remarkable aspect of his argumentation lies in the fact that he managed to avoid controversy on such a sensitive subject. He asserted that in fact it was only true worship which had been lost, and not the authentic pronunciation of the Tetragram, since this was still possible according to its letters. To support this basic idea (true worship is more important than correct pronunciation), he quoted Sotah 38a to prove that the name is the essence of God and that is the reason it should not be misused, then he quoted Zechariah 14:9 to prove the oneness of this name, also Sifre Numbers 6:23-27 to show that the priests were obliged to bless by this name only. Then, to prove that the pronunciation of the Name did not pose any problem in the past, and that it had no magical aspect, he quoted Qiddushin 71a, which said that this name was passed on by certain rabbis to their sons. Also, according to Yoma 39b, this pronunciation was widely used before the priesthood of Simon the Just, which proved the insignificance of a magical concept, because at this time the Name was used for its spiritual not supernatural aspect. Maimonides insisted on the fact that what was necessary to find was the spirituality connected to this Name, and not the exact pronunciation. In order to demonstrate this important idea of understanding the sense and not the sound conveyed by this name, he quoted a relevant example. Exodus 6:3 indicates that before Moses the Name was not known. Naturally this refers to the exact meaning of the Name, and not its pronunciation, because it would be unreasonable to believe that a correct pronunciation would have suddenly been able to incite the Israelites to action, unless the pronunciation had magical power, a supposition disproved by subsequent events.


                It is interesting to observe that Judah Halevi, another Jewish scholar, put forward almost the same arguments in his book The Kuzari published some years before, in 1140. He wrote that the main difference between the God of Abraham and the God of Aristotle was the Tetragram. He proved also that this name was the personal name of God and that it meant “He will be with you”. To show once again that it was the meaning of this name which was important and not the pronunciation, he quoted Exodus 5:2 where Pharaoh asked to know the Name: not the pronunciation which he used, but the authority of this Name. He pointed out that the letters of the Tetragram have the remarkable property of being matres lectionis, that is the vowels associated with other consonants, much as the spirit is associated with the body and makes it live (Kuzari IV:1-16). Judah Halevi specified in his work that the yod (Y) served as vowel I, the waw (W) served as O, and that the he (H) and the aleph (’) served as A. According to these rudimentary indications, the name YHWH could be read I-H-O-A "according to its letters " (H is never used as vowel inside words; in that exceptional case the letter aleph is preferred). A French erudite, Antoine Fabre d'Olivet, explained that the best pronunciation of the divine Name according to its letters was Ihôah, and when he began to translate the Bible (Genesis, chapters I to X), he systematically used the name Ihôah.


                The expression “pronounced according to its letters” which Maimonides used is strictly exact, only in Hebrew (vowel letters as pointed out by Judah Halevi). Joachim of Flora gave a Greek transliteration of the Tetragram I-E-U-E in his work entitled Expositio in Apocalypsim, that he finished in 1195. He also used the expression «Adonay IEUE tetragramaton nomen» in another book entitled Liber Figurarum. The vocalization of the Tetragram was improved by Pope Innocent III in one of his sermons written around 1200. Indeed, he noticed that the Hebrew letters of the Tetragram Ioth, Eth, Vau (that is Y, H, W) were used as vowels, and that the name IESUS had exactly the same vowels I, E and U as the divine name. He also drew a parallel between the name written IEVE, pronounced Adonai, and the name written IHS but pronounced IESUS. These remarks on the Name concerned only a circle very restricted by medieval intellectuals.


                Furthermore, the pope Innocent III (1160-1216) did not make known in the Catholic world that God's name was Ieue and not Lord, the Hebrew scholar Judah Hallevi (1075-1141) did not denounce the Jewish superstition to replace the name Ihôa by the substitute Adonay, the Soufi al-Hallâj (857-922) did not reveal in the Moslem world that Yâhuwa was the proper noun of Allah, etc.



From thirteen to fifteenth century


                From thirteenth century, knowledge of the Hebrew language would progress considerably, involving notably the role of matres lectionis. For example, the famous scholar Roger Bacon wrote in his Hebraic grammar that in Hebrew there are six vowels “aleph, he, vav, heth, iod, ain” close to the usual Masoretic vowel-points. (The French erudite Fabre d'Olivet also explained in his Hebrew grammar the following equivalence: aleph = â, he = è, heth = é, waw = ô/ u, yod = î, aïn = wo).


                Raymond Martini, a Spanish  monk,excellent Hebrew scholar, and a very good connoisseur of Talmud, impressed by the arguments of Maimonides, was involved in controversy with the Jews in his book Pugio fidei in 1278, on the fact that God's name could be pronounced and he used the shape Yohoua. However, in 1292, his pupil Arnauldus of Villenueva, keen on Cabal, returned to the dumb (speechless) form of IHVH. On the other hand, Porchetus de Salvaticis, an admirer of Raymond Martini, enriched his arguments and used several times the form Yohouah in his book Victoria Porcheti adversus impios Hebraeos in 1303. However, the convert Abner of Burgos, used (between 1330 and 1340) the form Yehabe in his book Mostrador de Justicia. Another convert, Pablo of Burgos preferred the dumb shape YHBH (in 1390).


                The first scholar who gave exactly and clearly the reasons of his choices of vocalization was cardinal Nicholas of Cusa. In 1428 he dedicated moreover his first sermon on John 1:1 in which he explained, based on rabbi Moyses's works, the various names of God (Adonai, Jah, Sabaoth, Schaddai, etc.) and the meaning of the Tetragram, which he vocalized Iehoua. In this sermon, he began to develop the idea that Jesus was the ‘speakable’ element (the Word) of the ‘unspeakable (ineffable)’ God. He explained in another sermon, written around 1440, that the name of Jesus means ‘savior’ which is pronounced Ihesua in Hebrew, and this name ‘Savior’ is also the Word of God. He indicated that the unspeakable name is Ihehoua in Hebrew. In two other sermons, written in 1441, he pursued the connection between the unspeakable Greek Tetragram, spelt Iot, He, Vau, He, and the ‘speakable’ name of Ihesus which he often wrote Ihûs. Then in a sermon written in 1445, he explained in detail the grammatical reasons permitting a link between these two names. God's name is the Greek Tetragram which is spelt in Hebrew Ioth, He, Vau, He; these four letters serve as vowels, corresponding to I, E, O, A in Greek, because in this language there is no specific vowel for the sound OU (the letter U in Greek is pronounced as the French Ü). So, in Greek, the transcription IEOUA would be more exact and would better reflect the OU sound of the Hebrew name I-e-ou-a, becoming in Latin Iehova or Ihehova, because the letter H is inaudible and the vowel U also serves as a consonant (V). He noted finally that the Hebraic form IESUA of the name ‘Jesus’ is distinguished from the divine name only by a holy letter “s” (shin in Hebrew) which is interpreted as the ‘elocution’ or the Word of God, also the salvation of God. He would continue this parallel, between God's name (Ieoua) and the name of Jesus (Iesoua) in yet another sermon. However towards the end of his life he wrote several important works (De Possest in 1460, Non Aliud in 1462, etc.), to explain the purely symbolic character of God's name which had all names and so none in particular. Contrary to his books, his sermons were not widely diffused.


                In 1474, Marsilio Ficino proposed the name Hiehouahi in his book De Liber Christiana Religione XXX. Johannes Wessel Gansfort, the spiritual father of Luther, preferred, around 1480, to vocalize God's name Iohauah in his work Oriatione III:3:11-12. However, once more, the influence of the Christian Cabal engendered a big mess in the vocalization of God's name, under the excuse of making improvements!


                For example, by 1488, Paulus de Heredia suggested in his Epistle of Secrets vocalizing the Tetragram in Yehauue, because its presumed Hebraic meaning was according to him: "He will make be " or " He will generate " (future piel of the verb to be). John Reuchlin proposed in 1494 in his De Verbo Mirifico, to move closer to the Latin Tetragram IHVH towards the name of Jesus which he presumed written IHSVH (the link with the Greek name Iesue which he supported supposes so a vocalization Ieue of God's name). John Pico della Mirandola in his Disputianum Adversus Astrologos (in 1496) fustigated the heathens which used the name Jupiter to have plagiarized God's name (Jove father). Friend of Mirandole, Agostino Justiniani, clarified in 1516 in his translation of the Psalms that the Tetragram was pronounced as Jova (or Ioua).



In the sixteenth century


                At the beginning of the sixteenth century this situation had become extremely vague. The translator Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples indicated in 1509, in his comments on the Psalm LXXII, that the Hebrew Tetragram was pronounced as it was written, that is in Latin I-He-U-He or Ihevhe (while noticing that the Hebrew name of Jesus was Ihesvha and concluding it should have been Ihesvhe). When he published in 1514 Nicholas of Cusa's sermons, he used instead the shape Iehova, according to the original manuscripts. In 1516, in Justiniani's Bible, one could read the shape Ioua, etc.


                In order to clear up the variants of pronunciation of the Tetragram, Pietro Galatino dedicated a good part of his work entitled De Arcanis Catholice Ueritatis (Concerning Secrets of the universal truth), published in 1518, to explaining the (Hebraic) reasons for this pronunciation. First, he quoted profusely from the book of Maimonides The Guide of the Perplexed, especially chapters 60-64 of the first part, as a reminder that the Tetragram is the proper name of God and that it can be pronounced according to its letters. However, he demonstrated that the pronunciation Ioua, accepted in his time, was inaccurate and he gave the reasons why. He explained for example that the proper name Iuda, written hdwy (YWDH), was an abbreviation of the name Iehuda written hdwhy (YHWDH). All Hebrew proper names beginning in YHW- [why] are moreover always vocalized Ieh-. Consequently, if the Tetragram was really pronounced Ioua it would have been written in Hebrew hWy (YWH), which was never the case. So, because the Tetragram is written hwhy (YHWH), one should hear the letter H inside the Name. He concluded that, because this name is pronounced according to its letters, the best transcription was the form I-eh-ou-a (Iehoua), rather than the form I-ou-a used for example by Agostino Justiniani, a friend of Pico della Mirandola, in his polyglot translation of Psalms published in 1516. If Galatino had transcribed the Masoretic form directly, he would have obtained Yehouah and not Iehoua.


                In 1526, Luther wrote in a sermon on Jeremiah 23:1-8: «This name Iehouah, Lord, belongs exclusively to the true God». He will write in 1543, with characteristic frankness: «That they [the Jews] now allege the name Iehouah to be unpronounceable, they do not know what they are talking about (...) if it can be written with pen and ink, why should it not be spoken, which is much better than being written with pen and ink? Why do they not also call it unwriteable, unreadable or unthinkable? All things considered, there is something foul». However, when he published in 1534 his complete translation of the Bible based on the original languages, he did not use God's name, that he knew well, but preferred to use the substitute HERR (Lord). Another example of this vacillating attitude is John Calvin. In most of his books and sermons, he regularly encouraged his readers not to use God's name! For example in 1555 in his comment on Deuteronomy 5:11 he condemned the use of God's name. However, a few years before, in 1535, he prefaced Olivetan's Bible which used the name Iehouah, and a few years later in 1563 when he published his comments on the five books of Moses, he systematically used the form Iehoua including in the biblical text and denounced in his comment on Exodus 6:3 the Jewish superstition which lead to replacing Iehouæ with Adonaï. The excellent Hebrew scholar Sebastian Münster used the name Iehova in his Hebraic grammar (in 1526), a name which he introduced moreover into his Latin translation of the Bible in 1534. Tyndale was the first to introduce it in several places into his English translation in 1530. Servetus in his Trinitatis Erroribus (in 1531) strongly defended the shape Iehouah against the shape Yehauue "He will make to be", because the name Iehouah is close to the Hebrew theophoric name Iesua (Jesus). Cardinal Giacoma de vio Cajetan used it constantly in his comments on the Pentateuch in 1531. The translator Pierre Robert Olivétan introduced it in some places of his French translation in 1535, clarifying in foreword (Apology of the translator) that this vocalization Iehouah expressed the sound of the letter H better than Ioua. François Vatable used it in his translation in 1545. The first who systematically used the name Iehouah was certainly the German scholar Martin Bucer in his Latin translation of Psalms in 1547, then Robert Estienne used it in all the Bible in 1557, as did also the Spanish translator Casiodoro de Reina in 1569.


                The shape Iehouah was widely used, however there were some exceptions. The Italian translator Antonio Brucioli preferred the shape Ieova in 1541, the French translator Sébastien Casteillon preferred the shape Ioua in 1555, clarifying in a comment on Matthew 1:21 that if the Latin name of Jesus was Josue, this theophoric name could be improved into Iosua involving the vocalization Ioua, effectively close to Ioue (Jupiter). He restored the argument by clarifying that if the heathen had used by chance God's name then with stronger reason Christians had reason to do so. The translator Benito Arias Montano being afraid of favoring a name of heathen origin preferred to use systematically the name IA in his translation of Psalms in 1574. The name Iehouah seemed to have won in part and to be necessarily characterized in the Bible; however a large-scale attack against this vocalization was going to begin towards the end of the sixteenth century.


                The first antagonist was Archbishop Gilbert Genebrard, who, in his book written in 1568 to defend the Trinity, dedicated several pages to the name in an effort to refute S. Casteillon, P. Galatin, S. Pagnin, and others. First of all, he rejected Chateillon’s Ioua using Saint Augustine’s explanation, via Varro, that the Jews had worshiped Ioue (Jupiter!), and therefore the use of Ioua was a return to paganism. In the foreword to his commentary on Psalms he went so far as to state that the name Ioua was barbarian, fictitious and irreligious. Concerning the writings of Clement of Alexandria (‘Iaou’), Jerome (‘Iaho’) and Theodoret (‘Iabe’), he considered these as mere variations of Ioue, and that these testimonies appeared unreliable because, at the time they were written, the Jews had not pronounced the Name for several centuries. Lastly, he claimed that P. Galatin (as well as S. Pagnin), who had used the form ‘Iehoua,’ had not accounted for the theological meaning ‘He is’ when searching for the right pronunciation. Indeed, since the translation of the Septuagint it was known that the definition of the divine Name was essentially ‘He is’. Genebrard tried to confirm this definition due to his knowledge of the Hebrew language. So, since in Exodus 3:14 God calls himself ‘I am’, (in Hebrew Ehie), one should say, when speaking about God, ‘He is’, that is in Hebrew Iihie. Grammatically, the form Iihie was likely derived from a more archaic form Iehue, suggested in 1550 by Luigi Lippomano. Genebrard then pointed out that Abbot Joachim of Flora used this more exact form (‘Ieue’) in his book on the Apocalypse. Genebrard’s explanation, although unable to convince, impressed many because of its intellectual approach, and, during the century that followed Bible commentators often noted this form Iehue (or Iiheue) when using the more accepted Iehoua. However, in spite of the masterly presentation, it remained theoretic because of lack of early proof (later, to mitigate this discrepancy, Protestant theologians re-examined the historical evidence of the first centuries). Genebrard's major contribution was to introduce the theological meaning of the Name into the search for its pronunciation, a process that provoked a profusion of new pronunciations due to the ever increasing knowledge of the Hebrew language and its history. Furthermore, Cardinal Robert Bellarmin asserted in 1578, that the form Iehoua was erroneous, because it had the vowels e, o, a, of the qere Adonay (a, o, a becoming e, o, a for grammatical reasons!)



From seventeenth to nineteenth century


                Jan Drusius published in 1603 a long article dedicated to the pronunciation of the Name. His main arguments were that the Masoretic punctuation of the Tetragram could not be used as a basis for pronouncing the Name because it was a qere; so the form Iehovih, resulting from the qere elohim, would be nonsense. He thus concluded that Iehovah was also a barbarism. He repeated the same arguments as Genebrard against Ioua, and then reminded his audience that according to the best grammarians of his time the expression ‘He is’ should be pronounced Ieheve. This form is found in Johannes Merceri's Thesaurus and that of Santes Pagnino under the Hebrew form YeHeWeH (West Aramaic Peal imperfect) meaning ‘He will be’ which is now pronounced YiHWeH. He then theorized, using a few examples that the form Ieheve (or Iihveh) resulted from an archaic Iahave (or Iahveh), and in conclusion noted that this form Iahave was identical to the Samaritan pronunciation Iave given by Theodoret. Louis Cappel dedicated almost one hundred pages to the pronunciation of the Name in one of his articles published in 1650. As well as resuming many of Drusius’ arguments, he explained a few new ideas. He maintained that the first syllable was certainly Iah-, because many names had lost their initial vowel, for example Nabô which had become Nebô, but he noted that the most ancient witnesses (hence the most reliable) usually used Iaô. He preferred Iahuoh to Iahave or Iahue. However the form Iahue eventually took over for two important reasons; first of all, it retained the first syllable Ia- as determined by the most ancient sources (it was also similar to the versions provided by Epiphanius, Theodoret and Clement of Alexandria), and, above all, it was close to a grammatical form beginning with Ya-, meaning ‘He will cause to be’ or ‘He will make exist’, first suggested by Johannes Leclerc around 1700. This form would be a hypothetical imperfect hiphil, vocalized YaHaYeH resulting from an archaic [?] YaHaWeH. The cabalistic approach was in fact more “scientific” (!), because it was based on the probable imperfect piel form YeHaWeH meaning ‘He will make to be’ or ‘He will cause to become’). This very complicated explanation intended to justify the form Yahweh disconcerted some translators who had used the “simplistic” Iehoua


                Some nostalgic translators returned to a form "according to its letters", so the German translator Johann Babor used: Ihoua (in 1805), the French translator Antoine Fabre d'Olivet: Ihoah (in 1823), the Latin translator Augustine Crampon: Jova (in 1856), etc., however the "scientific" shape Yahweh began to appear in force in the Bible towards the end of nineteenth century and competed with the "religious" shape Iehoua. For example, the agnostic translator Eugène Ledrain, insisted (in 1879) to use the shape Yahweh, because this name was in agreement with the meaning "He causes to be" or " He causes to become", a name which he systematically used in his translation finished in 1899. Other translators breached the barrier and used the name Yahweh as those of: Emphasized Bible (1878), Rodwell (1881), Addis Documents of the Hexateuch (1893), Banks J.S (1895), Rotherdam (1897), Leidse Vertaling (1899), etc.

                In front of this growing mess, the religious leaders decided to produce a qualitative translation directly from the masoretic text which would benefit most from all of the projections acquired in the study of languages. The first to initiate the banns (proclamations?) was the French Jewish translator who, by leaning on the works of the famous German grammarian Gesenius, chose systematically to return the Tetragram by Iehovah (1856). Then the Russian orthodox translator also systematically chose to render the Tetragram by Jehovah (1867), as did then the American Protestant translators (1901), and finally the French Catholic translators who did the same choice (1904). This choice is surprising for two reasons, first of all it was unanimous in spite of serious religious differences and then it was decided in a very controversial context where Yahweh seemed to prevail.



In the twelfth century


                One could have been led to believe that with the unanimous weight of religious authorities the name Jehovah was going to be necessary, but such was not the case. To the contrary, religious authorities, and once more unanimously, utterly denied their first choice. It seems, by observing the histories of the various choices, that scientific arguments were not the only ones in play. Indeed, one can determine that the first translators who introduced the name Jehovah into the Bible were either Walden's sympathizers, such as François Vatable or Pierre Robert Olivétan, or they were anti-Trinitarian proponents, such as Michel Servetus or Sébastien Casteillon. The first who attacked violently the name Jehovah were Catholic theologians as the archbishop Gilbert Génébrard or the cardinal Robert Bellarmin. When Walden's movement was completely absorbed by the Protestant reform, Catholic authorities started again in their tasking this name Jehovah, which was this time violently attacked by Protestant theologians, as Jan Drusius or Louis Cappel. Finally, when the Watch Tower magazine of the Jehovah's Witnesses since 1879, gradually drew attention to the use of this name, numerous translators wished to distance themselves from this movement. The descent became even more important when these students of the Bible took the Jehovah's Witnesses' name in 1931.


                In the end of the twentieth century the majority of translators have abandoned the form of Jehovah in their translations, it is a thorn to note that the shape Yahweh, which was used to eliminate it, is today considered absurd by the grammarians because all the arguments which served to support it are false. Indeed, the Greek witnesses in Iaô correspond to the Trigram YHW and not to the Tetragram YHWH as widely showed by the Elephantine letters. The dropping of the first vowel (a becoming e) can not be invoked, because this change took place in the third century before our era, and the Septuagint, which kept track of this phenomenon, did not preserve any theophoric names (without exception) beginning with Ia-. Finally, the causative shape of the verb to be, "He causes to be" or "He causes to become ", invented to justify a verbal shape beginning with Yah-, has never existed and will never exist. Furthermore, this form is trebly absurd, as the translators Pirot and Clamer point out. First of all, the metaphysical notion of a God "who is" or "who cause to be" is too much abstracted with regard to the time when it is supposed to appear (time of Moses), and corresponds better with the philosophic thinking of the Greeks. On the other hand, the notion of a God who "will be" with his people is a very concrete idea which Talmud often developed, and is in agreement with the biblical context. Secondly, the notion of a god who "causes to be" would have to be expressed, of necessity, by the shape yehaweh (future piel in Hebrew). Finally, in Exodus 3:14, as mentioned in a note in the Jerusalem Bible, the grammatical shape used without a shadow of a doubt is a future shape qal (which one can translate by "I shall be", therefore "He will be ").

                It is amusing to note that the form of Yahweh, which was supported by some of the most brilliant theologians, the most competent grammarians, the most eminent biblicists, the most prestigious dictionaries, is known finally to be false. The king Solomon, who is presented as having received God's wisdom, nonetheless never quoted the Tetragram in his famous book called Ecclesiastes, but mysteriously used a rare grammatical shape yhw’ for yhwh (Qo 11:3), which appears only once in all the Bible. The height of the irony, biblicists translate this shape into: "it will be" (Bible of the King James, Darby, etc.) which is so the elementary meaning of the Tetragram. The translators of the Septuagint themselves translated this shape into "He will be" (estai). Furthermore the Hebrew vocalization of this word, kept by the Masoretes is: "Yehou[a]", which constitutes the natural vocalization of the Tetragram. It could be possible indeed in this situation that as Job 5:13 expresses wittily: "God is the one catching the wise in their own cunning".










Bibliographical Note


[1] Gerard Gertoux, Un Nome eccellente,


[2] L. Massignon - Akhbar al-Hallâj, Paris 1975,  Éd. Vrin p. 113 de la traduction française, p. 26 du texte arabe.