Sunday, March 13, 2016

On the Pronunciation of "Jehovah," article in Current Literature 1888

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The Christian "Jehovah" is about three hundred and fifty years old, the Jewish "Jehovah" hardly yet forty years. The Christian "Jehovah" first saw the light of the world in Germany; the birthplace of the Jewish "Jehovah" is within the United States of America. Be not startled, dear reader! We do not in this manner speak of God the Eternal,—far be such blasphemy from us,—but of "Jehovah," or rather of the use of the word "Jehovah," among Jews and Christians. The correct pronunciation of the tetragrammaton YHVH has gradually become unknown and forgotten since about 2,000 years. It is an old tradition that after the death of the High Priest Simon the Just (in the third century B. C), the Kohanim commenced to abstain from enouncing the tetragrammaton in the priestly benediction when officiating in the temple (Yoma 39, b.) Other traditions differ somewhat. They say that, while the tetragrammaton YHVH was continued to be enounced by the Kohanim in the Temple ritual, this enunciation was prohibited outside of the Temple (Mishnah Sotah 7, 6; Tamid 7, 2, and other places.) Rabbi Tarphon, who was himself a Kohen, and who in his younger years was often enough officiating as such in the then still existing Temple, bears testimony that he once listened attentively on a Yom-Kippur, in order to learn how the High Priest would pronounce the Holy Name, and he noticed that he "swallowed the name" — and thereby avoided the clear and distinct utterance of it—while the priestly choirs were chanting (Jer. Yoma 3, 7; Qoheleth Rabbah ad. 3, 11. ) Dtyb 'DC rn "This my name must be kept hidden," says the Talmud repeatedly (Pesa'him 50, a; Kiddushin 71, a; Jer. Yoma 3, 7, etc.), applying one of its peculiar methods of explaining the words of the Torah. And in quite a number of other talmudic and midrashic passages it is distinctly stated that YHVH is to be pronounced as though it were written by the letters Aleph, Daleth, Nun, Yod (Adonai). Of the translators of the Hebrew Bible into the Greek Septuagint, who began the work in the third century, B. C, we know it also for certain that they read "Adonai," instead of the tetragrammaton. We can conclude this from their rendering the Sacred Name YHVH by the Greek word Kyrios (which means "the Lord"), an equivalent for the Hebrew Adon. A prominent Jewish teacher in Mishnaic times, Abba Shaul, went even so far as to say that anyone who enounces the sacred name according to the letters in which it is written, will not participate in the eternal bliss. (Sanhedrin, 10, 1.) But why should we continue to bring more cumulative evidence that the correct pronunciation of YHVH has been avoided and has been forgotten, since perhaps 2,000 years or more? and, moreover, so much is certain that in the very remote past when the Hebrew people still had the knowledge of the proper pronunciation, and when they were not yet accustomed to consider the holy name as ineffable, YHVH was not pronounced "Jehovah." For "Jehovah" is a grammatical impossibility. Whether Jahveh, or Jihveh, or Jaoh, or any other of the supposed correct pronunciations, is the really correct one, and is really the same as the original pronunciation was, this we do not propose to discuss here. The vowel-signs, which in our Hebrew Bibles are added to the letters YHVH, and which are the same as those under "Adonai," have been affixed by the Masorites in the 7th or 8th century.

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They thereby desired to indicate that the word should be read "Adonai." The spelling and punctuation of "Jehovah," to use Masoretic terms, is a Kethibh, the corresponding Qeri is "Adonai." When towards the end of the 15th century some Christian scholars were thirsting after acquiring the mastery of the Hebrew; when Picus de Mirandola studied Hebrew under Elia del Medigo and Leon Abarbanel, and when Johannes Reuchlin sat at the feet of his Hebrew teachers, Jacob Loans and Obadiah Seforno, these Christian learners were certainly told that YHVH is an ineffable sacred name which to pronounce as it is written would be sinful. These pupils and their contemporaries listened to the words of their venerated Jewish teachers with respect, and they read the sacred name as the Jews did. Look through all the various writings of these great Christian scholars, and you will not find in any place therein the tetragrammaton transcribed by "Jehovah," though there were hundreds of occasions for doing so. Their disciples, however, (Oecolampadius, Seb. Munster, and others), and the disciples of Elia Levita and the other Jewish teachers in the first half of the 16th century, had not the feeling of veneration any more for their Jewish teachers and for Jewish tradition. They, or some of them, regarded the decided unwillingness of the Jews to read the ineffable name as it is written as an old Jewish superstition, and the Masoretic vowel-signs they considered to be of equal age, and consequently of equal authority with the letters, and so, since the middle of the 16th century, the transliteration "Jehovah" began to appear in books written by Christians. These Christian authors did not know that by this newfangled transcription and reading of the word they committed an act of ignorance. A Jew in those days would certainly not read or write "Jehovah." The name was too sacred to him, and to enounce it according to its letters he would have considered a great sin. And so it was until the middle of the present century. But since then among the Jews, too, we hear of "Jehovah." From Jewish pulpits the praises of Jehovah are proclaimed; in Jewish sermons "our great Jehovah" is compared with "the great Jupiter," or "the great Pan" of the heathens; in the name of "Jehovah" new synagogues are dedicated; "the Jehovah of our fathers" is invoked to bless the congregation; "Israel's Jehovah is pointed at "with pride" by writers in the Jewish press—and so forth. What does this mean? Blasphemy? Oh no! These innocent people who speak and write of "Jehovah " have not the remotest idea to be blasphemous. They only want to demonstrate how "reformed" they are, how much they have "emancipated" themselves from old "superstitions," and what great scholars they are. The earliest authoritative use of "Jehovah" among Jews which we find is contained in a document that was published in the fall of 1855 in various newspapers in America. The invitation to the Jewish congregations in our land to send their rabbis and delegates to the Convention in Cleveland, held in that year, was sent out "in the name of Jehovah, the one God of Israel, and Israel's holy religion" (see Sinai, Vol. I., page 25). And if this, as we suppose, was the first time that among Jews "Jehovah" was enounced with the silent understanding of its being correct—an earlier case we could not trace—then we may well repeat, though it sounds paradoxical, that the Jewish "Jehovah" is now about thirty-three years old and no more.

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