Is God’s Name Jehovah?

Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Sacred Name groups lit up the Internet last week when Religion News Service claimed, “The original Hebrew name of God re-discovered in 1,000 Bible manuscripts.” At first glance, it sounds like the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has perhaps been vindicated after all for inserting the name Jehovah into their New World Translation:

On January 21, 2018, Bible Scholar Nehemia Gordon and his team of researchers discovered the 1,000th Hebrew Bible manuscript containing the original name of God in Hebrew with vowels.

For two hundred years, scholars have believed based on Greek sources and conjecture that the Hebrew name of God was originally pronounced “Yahweh.” In late 2016, Gordon found never-translated traditional Jewish sources that explicitly identified the vowels of God’s name in Hebrew as “Yehovah.” This is similar to the English Jehovah, but with a “Y” and the emphasis on the final syllable.

This article, however, is more hype than reality. Nehemia Gordon is the leading light in a “revival” of a sect called Karaite Judaism. The Karaites originated in the late eighth century AD. They adhered, as do today’s proponents, to the written text of the Old Testament only, refusing both the Talmud and rabbinic traditions. They considered themselves purists, restoring true Judaism. They regarded use of anything other than the Old Testament as Pharisaism. Some of the Hebrew Roots Movement have been drawn to Gordon because he seems a bit friendly toward Jesus, yet he outright rejects the idea that Jesus is the Messiah.

But what are we to make of the article’s claim of manuscript evidence for this Yehovah pronunciation of God’s name?

Somewhere during the ninth and tenth centuries, a group called the Masoretes arbitrarily put vowels into the Old Testament text in an attempt to standardize pronunciations. The particular Hebrew Manuscript used was the text of ben Ashur. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was the oldest Old Testament text we had, and every translation team of the newer Bible versions used it. Again, the vowels are arbitrary, put into the text to standardize pronunciation. Wikipedia notes something important:

It has been suggested that the ben Asher family and the majority of the Masoretes were Karaites.

The vowels were added by the Karaites.

The ben Ashur text – or most of it – is held by Israel. Some of it is lost. It is called the Keter (Crown) and is also referred to as The Aleppo Codex:

The Aleppo Codex (Hebrew: כֶּתֶר אֲרָם צוֹבָא‎ Keter Aram Tzova or Crown of Aleppo) is a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. The codex was written in the city of Tiberias, in what is currently northern Israel, in the 10th century C.E.

So, what we essentially have is a late Jewish restorationist movement (and you thought we only had that in “Christendom”), adding vowels to the Hebrew text and then claiming a newly discovered confirmation of the pronunciation of God’s name!

So, while the headlines may appear to be a breaking story of newly discovered information, it is not new, and the story is contrived. Realistically, how newsworthy would a headline be, reading “One-thousandth Copy of Tenth Century Hebrew Bible with Vowels Arbitrarily Added Has Been Discovered by the Sect That Added the Vowels”?

Like most Watchtower Society “proofs,” it provides no proof at all — just much ado about nothing.Ω

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Is God’s Name Jehovah? — 7 Comments

  1. Thanks for your diligent research in this matter. I’m sure JWs are still proclaiming this “much a do about nothing” info as they go door to door.

  2. To clarify, the vowels were not “added” to the Biblical text. There is an ongoing debate as to when they were written down. However, there is solid evidence that the vowels were fixed by the 1st century AD, whether orally or in writing. There are references to the Rabbis’ desire to change the vowels, but their ultimate inability to do so, for example in the incident with Rabbi Joshua and Rabban Gamaliel II (c. 90 AD), see Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 2:8-9.

    Our earliest manuscript (so far) with the full vowels “Yehovah” was the personal Bible of the most famous anti-Karaite rabbi in history, Sa’adiah Gaon, dated 894 AD! Similarly, experts identify Samuel Ben Jacob, the scribe of the Leningrad Codex, as a Rabbinical Jew, not a Karaite. So this is a matter of Jewish textual consensus, not denominational opinion.

    Concerning the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they ironically insist that they do not know the true pronunciation of the Name. To quote “Well, first of all, let’s establish why we use the pronunciation Jehovah in English. Is it because it’s the closest pronunciation to the original? No. We use the name Jehovah because it’s widely recognized in English.”

  3. Nehemia Gordon we appreciate your comments but note a few things. Although you state, “there is solid evidence that the vowels were fixed by the 1st century AD” we have no seen and you have not provided evidence to support the claim. To be sure the spoken word would have included all that is necessary to understand the language however we have no recordings of the spoken word or ways to that we are aware of to verify the vowels sounds from that period.

    Josh McDowell and Nicholas Alsop give a fairly good and accurate overview of the issues involved in “History of the Tetragrammaton”. We also double checked the Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965 page 398) which points out that “The Hebrew alphabet is entirely consonantal.” And to summarize the rest, the pronunciation (all of it) depends on the Masoretic text (800 – 900 BC). To make the language vocal the Masoretes inserted letters and punctuation. There is no doubt that this was done long after the completion of the Talmud. The very first mention of all this is not until Saaddyah Gaon 892- 942. To this you provide confirmation in your response when you write, “Our earliest manuscript (so far) with the full vowels “Yehovah” was the personal Bible of the most famous anti-Karaite rabbi in history, Sa’adiah Gaon, dated 894 AD!” which falls within the ninth and tenth centuries we had mentioned.

    Although the information in your link to JW Broadcasting—June 2015 is not new we had not included it in the short piece on this issue. On page 23 of their 1969 edition of The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures they write:

    “While inclining to view the pronunciation ‘Yah-weh” as the more correct way, we have retained the form ‘Jehovah’ because of people’s familiarity with it since the 14th century. Moreover, it preserves , equally with other forms, the four letters of the Tetragrammaton JHVH.”

    Again, thank you for your comments.

  4. I will stick with Jehovah since that’s the name the Bible uses.
    “That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth.” (Psalm 83:18)

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