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Names of God in Judaism


The name of God most often used in the Hebrew Bible is the Tetragrammaton (YHWH יהוה). It is frequently anglicized as Jehovah and Yahweh and written in most English editions of the Bible as "the Lord" owing to the Jewish tradition increasingly viewing the divine name as too sacred to be uttered. It was thus replaced vocally in the synagogue ritual by the Hebrew word Adonai (“My Lords”), which was translated as Kyrios (“Lord”) in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures.[1]

Rabbinic Judaism describes seven names which are so holy that, once written, should not be erased: YHWH and six others which can be categorized as titles are El ("God"), Eloah ("God"), Elohim ("Gods"), Shaddai (“Almighty"), Ehyeh (“I Will Be”), and Tzevaot ("[of] Hosts").[2] Other names are considered mere epithets or titles reflecting different aspects of God,[3] but chumrah sometimes dictates special care such as the writing of "G-d" instead of "God" in English or saying Ṭēt-Vav (טו, lit. "9-6") instead of Yōd-Hē (יה, lit. "10-5" but also "Jah") for the number fifteen in Hebrew.[4]

The seven names of God that, once written, cannot be erased because of their holiness[5] are the Tetragrammaton, El, Elohim, Eloah, Elohai, El Shaddai, and Tzevaot.[6] In addition, the name Jah—because it forms part of the Tetragrammaton—is similarly protected.[6] Rabbi Jose considered "Tzevaot" a common name[7] and Rabbi Ishmael that "Elohim" was.[8] All other names, such as "Merciful", "Gracious" and "Faithful", merely represent attributes that are also common to human beings.[9]

YHWH

In modern Jewish culture, it is accepted as forbidden to pronounce the name the way that it is spelled. In prayers it is pronounced Adonai, and in discussion is usually said as HaShem, meaning “The Name”. The exact pronunciation is uncertain because—although there is nothing in the Torah to prohibit the saying of the name[11] and Ruth shows it was being pronounced as late as the 5th century BCE[12][n 2]—it had ceased to be spoken aloud by at least the 3rd century BCE during Second Temple Judaism[14] and vowel points were not written until the early medieval period. The Masoretic Text uses vowel points of Adonai or Elohim (depending on the context) marking the pronunciation as Yəhōwāh (יְ הֹ וָ ה, [jăhowɔh] (About this soundlisten)); however, scholarly consensus is that this is not the original pronunciation.[15] (For a discussion of subtle pronunciation changes between what is preserved in the Hebrew Scriptures and what is read, see Qere and Ketiv.)

The Tetragrammaton first appears in Genesis[16] and occurs 6828 times in total in the Stuttgart edition of the Masoretic Text. It is thought to be an archaic third-person singular imperfect tense of the verb "to be" (i.e., "[He] was being"). This agrees with the passage in Exodus where God names Himself as "I Will Be What I Will Be"[17] using the first-person singular imperfect tense.

Similarly, the Vulgate used Dominus ("The Lord") and most English translations of the Bible write "the Lord" for YHWH and "the Lord God", "the Lord God" or "the Sovereign Lord" for Adonai YHWH instead of transcribing the name. The Septuagint may have originally used the Hebrew letters themselves amid its Greek text[21][22] but there is no scholarly consensus on this point. All surviving Christian-era manuscripts use Kyrios [Κυριος, "Lord") or very occasionally Theos [Θεος, "God"] to translate the many thousand occurrences of the Name. (However, given the great preponderance of the anarthrous Kyrios solution for translating YHWH in the Septuagint and some disambiguation efforts by Christian-era copyists involving Kyrios (see especially scribal activity in Acts[23]), Theos should probably not be considered historically as a serious early contender substitute for the divine Name.)

El

El appears in Ugaritic, Phoenician and other 2nd and 1st millennium BCE texts both as generic "god" and as the head of the divine pantheon.[24] In the Hebrew Bible El (Hebrew: אל) appears very occasionally alone (e.g. Genesis 33:20, el elohe yisrael, "El the God of Israel",[25] and Genesis 46:3, ha'el elohe abika, "El the God of thy father"),[26] but usually with some epithet or attribute attached (e.g. El Elyon, "Most High El", El Shaddai, "El of Shaddai", El `Olam "Everlasting El", El Hai, "Living El", El Ro'i "El my Shepherd", and El Gibbor "El of Strength"), in which cases it can be understood as the generic "god". In theophoric names such as Gabriel ("Strength of God"), Michael ("Who is like God?"), Raphael ("God's medicine"), Ariel ("God's lion"), Daniel ("God's Judgment"), Israel ("one who has struggled with God"), Immanuel ("God is with us"), and Ishmael ("God Hears"/"God Listens") it is usually interpreted and translated as "God", but it is not clear whether these "el"s refer to the deity in general or to the god El in particular.[27]

Eloah

Same as Below

Elohim

A common name of God in the Hebrew Bible is Elohim (Hebrew: About this soundאלהים (help·info)‎). Despite the -im ending common to many plural nouns in Hebrew, the word Elohim when referring to God is grammatically singular, and takes a singular verb in the Hebrew Bible. The word is identical to the usual plural of el meaning gods or magistrates, and is cognate to the 'lhm found in Ugaritic, where it is used for the pantheon of Canaanite gods, the children of El and conventionally vocalized as "Elohim" although the original Ugaritic vowels are unknown. When the Hebrew Bible uses elohim not in reference to God, it is plural (for example, Exodus 20:2). There are a few other such uses in Hebrew, for example Behemoth. In Modern Hebrew, the singular word ba'alim ("owner") looks plural, but likewise takes a singular verb.

A number of scholars have traced the etymology to the Semitic root *yl, "to be first, powerful", despite some difficulties with this view.[28] Elohim is thus the plural construct "powers". Hebrew grammar allows for this form to mean "He is the Power (singular) over powers (plural)", just as the word Ba'alim means "owner" (see above). "He is lord (singular) even over any of those things that he owns that are lordly (plural)."

The Jewish grammarians call such plurals … plur. virium or virtutum; later grammarians call them plur. excellentiae, magnitudinis, or plur. maiestaticus. This last name may have been suggested by the we used by kings when speaking of themselves (compare 1 Maccabees 10:19 and 11:31); and the plural used by God in Genesis 1:26 and 11:7; Isaiah 6:8 has been incorrectly explained in this way). It is, however, either communicative (including the attendant angels: so at all events in Isaiah 6:8 and Genesis 3:22), or according to others, an indication of the fullness of power and might implied. It is best explained as a plural of self-deliberation. The use of the plural as a form of respectful address is quite foreign to Hebrew.

Mark S. Smith has cited the use of plural as possible evidence to suggest an evolution in the formation of early Jewish conceptions of monotheism, wherein references to "the gods" (plural) in earlier accounts of verbal tradition became either interpreted as multiple aspects of a single monotheistic God at the time of writing, or subsumed under a form of monolatry, wherein the god(s) of a certain city would be accepted after the fact as a reference to the God of Israel and the plural deliberately dropped.[31]

Elohai

Elohai or Elohei ("My God") is a form of Elohim along with the first-person singular pronoun enclitic. It appears in the names "God of Abraham" (Elohai Avraham); "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (Elohai Avraham, Elohai Yitzchak ve Elohai Yaʿaqov); and "God of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel" (Elohai Sara, Elohai Rivka, Elohai Leah ve Elohai Rakhel).

El Shaddai

El Shaddai (Hebrew: About this soundאל שדי (help·info)‎, pronounced [ʃaˈda.i]) is one of the names of God in Judaism, with its etymology coming from the influence of the Ugaritic religion on modern Judaism. El Shaddai is conventionally translated as "God Almighty". While the translation of El as "god" in Ugarit/Canaanite language is straightforward, the literal meaning of Shaddai is the subject of debate.

Tzevaot

Tzevaot, Tsebaoth or Sabaoth (צבאות, [tsvaot] (About this soundlisten), lit. "Armies") appears in reference to armies or armed hosts of men in Exodus[32] and Isaiah[33][34] but is not used as a divine epithet in the Torah, Joshua, or Judges. In the First Book of Samuel, David uses the name YHWH Tzavaot and immediately glosses it as "the God of the armies of Israel".[35] The same name appears in the prophets along with YHWH Elohe Tzevaot, Elohey Tzevaot, and Adonai YHWH Tzevaot. These are usually translated in the King James Version as the "Lord of Hosts" or "Lord God of Hosts". In its later uses, however, it often denotes God in His role as leader of the heavenly hosts.[citation needed]

The jewish word Sabaoth was also absorbed in Ancient Greek (σαβαωθ, sabaoth) and Latin (Sabaoth, with no declination). Tertullian and other patristics used it with the meaning of Army of angels of God.[36]

Jah

The abbreviated form Jah (/dʒɑː/)[37] or Yah (/jɑː/ (About this soundlisten); יהּ, Yahu) appears in the Psalms[38] and Isaiah.[39] It is a common element in Hebrew theophoric names such as Elijah and also appears in the forms yahu ("Jeremiah"), yeho ("Joshua"), and yo ("John", ultimately from the biblical "Yohanan"). It also appears 24 times in the Psalms as a part of Hallelujah ("Praise Jah").[40]

Other names and titles

Adonai

Adonai (אֲדֹנָי, lit. "My Lords") is the plural form of adon ("Lord") along with the first-person singular pronoun enclitic.[n 3] As with Elohim, Adonai's grammatical form is usually explained as a plural of majesty. In the Hebrew Bible, it is nearly always used to refer to God (approximately 450 occurrences). As pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton came to be avoided in the Hellenistic period, Jews may have begun to drop the Tetragrammaton when presented alongside Adonai and subsequently expand it to cover for the Tetragrammaton in the forms of spoken prayer and written scripture. Owing to the expansion of chumra (the idea of "building a fence around the Torah"), Adonai itself has come to be too holy to say for Orthodox Jews, leading to its replacement by HaShem ("The Name").

The final syllable of Adonai uses the vowel kamatz, rather than patach which would be expected from the Hebrew for "my lord(s)". Prof. Yoel Elitzur explains this as a normal transformation when a Hebrew word becomes a name, giving as other examples Nathan, Yitzchak, and Yigal.[45]

Adoshem

Up until the mid-twentieth century, the use of the word Adoshem, combining the first two syllables of "Adonai" with the last syllable of "Hashem"', was quite common. This was discouraged by Rabbi David HaLevi Segal in his commentary to the Shulchan Aruch. His rationale was that it is disrespectful to combine a Name of God with another word. It took a few centuries for the word to fall into almost complete disuse. Despite being obsolete in most circles, it is used occasionally in conversation in place of Adonai by Jews who do not wish to say Adonai but need to specify the substitution of that particular word. It is also used when quoting from the liturgy in a non-liturgical context, especially as a substitute in musical pieces where a replacement for "Adonai" must have the same number of syllables. For example, Shlomo Carlebach performed his prayer "Shema Yisrael" with the words Shema Yisrael Adoshem Elokeinu Adoshem Eḥad instead of Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad.

Baal

Baal (/ˈbeɪəl/),[46][n 4] properly Baʿal,[n 5] meant "owner" and, by extension, "lord",[51] "master", and "husband" in Hebrew and the other Northwest Semitic languages.[52][53] In some early contexts and theophoric names, it and Baali (/ˈbeɪəlaɪ/; "My Lord") were treated as synonyms of Adon and Adonai.[54] After the time of Solomon[55] and particularly after Jezebel's attempt to promote the worship of the Lord of Tyre Melqart,[54] however, the name became particularly associated with the Canaanite storm god Baʿal Haddu and was gradually avoided as a title for Yahweh.[55] Several names that included it were rewritten as bosheth ("shame").[56] The prophet Hosea in particular reproached the Israelites for continuing to use the term:[57]

Ehyeh asher ehyeh

Ehyeh asher ehyeh (Hebrew: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה) is the first of three responses given to Moses when he asks for God's name in the Book of Exodus.[17] The King James Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew as "I Am that I Am" and uses it as a proper name for God. The Aramaic Targum Onkelos leaves the phrase untranslated and is so quoted in the Talmud (B. B. 73a.[clarification needed])

Although Ehyeh asher ehyeh is generally rendered in English "I am that I am", better renderings might be "I will be what I will be" or "I will be who I will be", or "I shall prove to be whatsoever I shall prove to be" or even "I will be because I will be".[61] Other renderings include: Leeser, “I Will Be that I Will Be”; Rotherham, "I Will Become whatsoever I please", New World Translation (2013 Edition): "I Will Become What I Choose to Become."[62][63] Greek, Ego eimi ho on (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν), "I am The Being" in the Septuagint,[64] and Philo,[65][66] and Revelation[67] or, "I am The Existing One"; Lat., ego sum qui sum, "I am Who I am."

Elah

Elah (Aramaic: אֱלָה; pl. "elim") is the Aramaic word for God. The origin of the word is uncertain and it may be related to a root word, meaning "reverence". Elah is found in the Tanakh in the books of Ezra, Jeremiah (Jer 10:11, the only verse in the entire book written in Aramaic),[68] and Daniel. Elah is used to describe both pagan gods and the Jews' God. The word 'Elah - إله' is also an Arabic word which means god. The name is etymologically related to Allah الله used by Muslims.

El Roi, Elyon, Eternal One, HaShem, Shalom, Shekhinah

Shekhinah (About this soundשכינה (help·info)) is the presence or manifestation of God which has descended to "dwell" among humanity. The term never appears in the Hebrew Bible; later rabbis used the word when speaking of God dwelling either in the Tabernacle or amongst the people of Israel. The root of the word means "dwelling". Of the principal names of God, it is the only one that is of the feminine gender in Hebrew grammar. Some believe that this was the name of a female counterpart of God, but this is unlikely as the name is always mentioned in conjunction with an article (e.g.: "the Shekhina descended and dwelt among them" or "He removed Himself and His Shekhina from their midst"). This kind of usage does not occur in Semitic languages in conjunction with proper names.

The Arabic form of the word "Sakīnah سكينة" is also mentioned in the Quran. This mention is in the middle of the narrative of the choice of Saul to be king and is mentioned as descending with the Ark of the Covenant, here the word is used to mean "security" and is derived from the root sa-ka-na which means dwell:


M I Ro


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