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Friday, July 24, 2009

Say Y(a)HW(e)H/J(e)H(o)V(a)H, or Stay D(a)MN(e)D

Last night I was alarmed when my daughter mentioned that her classmate told them we all should not pray to Jesus but only to Jehovah, because it is THE right name of God.

My knee-jerk reaction was to whistle and growl, My goodness!  They’re teaching them Grade 1 kids to be bigots, hidebounds, uptight, uppity, judgmental…!

I don’t fear much for my kids because I guess I and my wife could help them steer clear of a sectarian mindset in their formative years.  I fear for my daughter’s friend, however, who at a tender age is being taught presumably by her parents or preacher to major over minors and to be smug about their being misinformed. This kind of conditioning impressionable minds makes well-frogs out of potential princes/princesses.

I wish this child’s parents and preacher consult the works of real scholars about this issue and so temper their dogmatism. To set the matter straight for those who wish to be dogmatic about the “right name of God,” let me quote someone who knows well his Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek:

Open up Genesis, read for a while, and notice that God goes by two different names: God and LORD, ‘God’ is how we translate the Hebrew word elohim (which means ‘god’ or ‘gods’). ‘LORD’ is how we translate YHWH.  And YHWH is the Old Testament’s actual name for Israel’s God. Strictly speaking, YHWH is unstranslatable.  It means something like ‘I cause to be’ or ‘I am who I am.’  When Moses has his fateful encounter with the burning bush (Exodus 3), he asks God his name and is told ‘I am who I am.’

In the Bible, people took names very seriously. A name didn’t just ‘sound nice.’ It had meaning.  It revealed something about its possessor.  When God told Moses that he was ‘I am who I am,’ the answer was in fact evasive.  It was as if God was saying, ‘I am not just another god or person with a name – the important thing is, I AM!’  God actually tells Moses to say to the people, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’

Whatever its meaning, YHWH was the name of Israel’s God. So did it not have vowels? No, it didn’t.  No Hebrew words did – no vowels, just consonants.  As centuries passed, Hebrew scholars went back to the sacred writings and added ‘vowel points,’ since there was a danger of later generations forgetting how words were pronounced.  But vowel points were never added to YHWH.  There was a fear of tampering with the divine name.  Scholars guess – though they aren’t sure – that YHWH would have been, roughly, Yahweh. (A trivia tidbit: the Jews refer to the word YHWH as the tetragrammaton, meaning ‘four letters.’)

The Jerusalem Bible is one of the few Bible versions that actually uses the name Yahweh.  Every other English translation uses LORD. Why? Whatever YHWH means, it does not mean ‘Lord.’  But LORD has been used for centuries.  It began with the Jews themselves.  When they translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek, they did not try to find a Greek equivalent for YHWH.  They used the Greek word kyrios, meaning (surprise!) ‘lord.’  Sometimes this caused problems, because the Hebrew word Adonai actually does mean ‘lord,’ and there are places in the Old Testament that have Adonai YHWH, which comes out as ‘lord Lord.’

Well, thank goodness for SMALL CAPS. In English Bibles, you will see ‘Lord’ and ‘LORD.’  They aren’t the same.  ‘Lord’ translates Adonai, and ‘lord’ translates YHWH.  ‘Lord,’ by the way, is not God’s name.  It is a title.  It’s a way of saying that God is your master, your ruler.

Centuries ago, the Jews began to feel uncomfortable with the name YHWH. Yes, it was the name God had revealed to them.  But they had become so reverent that, frankly, they ceased to use the name.  It was ‘too holy’ to even say.  When they read the Hebrews scriptures aloud, they would substitute Adonai for YHWH.  That is why, in the Greek version, they used a word meaning ‘lord’ instead of YHWH itself.

Now, where is Jehovah in all this?  Believe it or not, ‘Jehovah’ is a very clumsy rendition of YHWH, or Yahweh. It goes back to the Middle Ages, a time when the letter J had the Y sound, and V the sound of a W. (In other words, if you were living in medieval Europe, you would have pronounced Jehovah like Yehowah – which isn’t all that far from Yahweh, particularly when you consider that we aren’t certain just how YHWH was pronounced).  Beginning in the 1500s, many European Bibles (though not English ones) began to use Jehovah in the Old Testament.

The only contemporary version of the Bible that uses the name Jehovah is the New World Version.  It will probably not surprise you to learn that this is the version used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

J. Stephen Lang, What the Good Book Didn’t Say: Popular Myths and Misconceptions About the Bible (New York: Citadel Press, 2003), 207-209.

So folks, "saying Y(a)HW(e)H or staying D(a)MN(e)D" is a fallacy, a False Dilemma.  "Jehovah is the ONLY name of God" is a pious lie (or a lie of the pious few).

And always remember Zhuang Zhu's words:
You cannot speak of ocean to a well-frog -- the creature of a narrow sphere; You cannot speak of ice to a summer insect -- the creature of a season.


Melvin Banggollay said...

it is really sad to say that people have different way of calling God. Nevertheless, whatever we may call or address him as long as the name purports to be Him, the All Mighty, does not make any difference. what matters most is our personal conviction and faith. Though many proclaimed that their sect is the only chosen one to lead us to salvation, still, we have just one religion among those who believed in CHRIST and this is CHRISTIANITY. Those who believed in Allah, it is Islam. In fact, paganism is also a form of religion among those who believed in the unseen spirit. In many Cordillerans specially among the indigenous peoples, they have their traditional way of appeasing the spirits and anitos. Some called ngilin and paniyaw but the most supreme of them all is named Kabunian. I just guess, this is the way how God appeared to them. If you look into their incantations they do not curse as they are prayers asking for protection of the "Kajudwa" or soul, guidance, good health, good harvest and never to let anyone suffer pains or vengeance in any manner. My grandmother was a quack doctor doing some rituals to heal illness believed to be inflicted by bad spirits around called " liyawen" or by cursing incantations by living people commonly called "isiw or gamod". I often heared her saying "Kabunian" during every "pusik" or offertory prayers. But what surprise me when she was baptized, as if she forgot everything on how to do the rituals of healing. I believed this is the power of the divine providence.

Thanks a lot for sharing this enlightening article about religion for it indeed deepened my understanding about some of the conflicting points on how God is being called.

Junley said...

I am reminded, as always whenever I encounter such arguments: "in the beginning was the word . . . "
You know what's in my mind, Manong Popoy

scott saboy said...

and of this: "...where no words break" (appropriated for this topic, of course hehe; apologies to apo G. Abad)