The most important name of God in Judaism is the
Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God. This name is first mentioned in the book of Genesis and is usually
translated as ’the Lord’. Because Jews have for a long
period of time considered it blasphemy to pronounce, the correct
pronunciation of this name has been forgotten—the original Hebrew texts only included consonants. Modern scholars conjecture
that it was pronounced "Yahweh".
An early depiction of
the Tetragrammaton - circa 600 B.C.E.
Portion of writing on
silver scroll with the "Priestly Benediction" (Numbers 6:24-26)
The Hebrew letters are named Yod-Heh-Waw-Heh: יהוה;
note that Hebrew is written from right to left, rather than left to right as in English. In English it is written as YHWH,
YHVH, or JHVH depending on the transliteration convention that is used. The Tetragrammaton was written
in contrasting Paleo-Hebrew characters in some of the oldest surviving square Aramaic Hebrew texts, and it is speculated that
it was, even at that period, read as Adonai, "My Lord", when encountered.
According to Jewish tradition,
in appearance, YHWH is the third person singular imperfect of the verb "to be", meaning, therefore, "God is,"
or "God will be" or, perhaps, "God lives". This explanation agrees with the meaning of the name given in Exodus
3:14, where God is represented as speaking, and hence as using the first person — "I am".
The meaning would, therefore, be "He who is self-existing, self-sufficient,"
or, more concretely, "He who lives," the abstract conception of pure existence being foreign to classical Hebrew thought.
It stems from the Hebrew conception of monotheism that God exists by himself, the uncreated Creator who doesn’t
depend on anything or anyone else; therefore I am who I am.
Portion of column 19 of the Psalms
Scroll (Tehilim) from Qumran Cave 11.
The Tetragrammaton in paleo-Hebrew can be clearly seen five
times in this portion. The idea of ’life’ has been traditionally connected with the name YHWH from medieval
times. God is presented as a living God, as contrasted with the lifeless Gods of the heathen: God
is presented as the source and author of life (compare 1 Kings 18; Isaiah 41:26–29, 44:6–20; Jeremiah 10:10, 14;
Genesis 2:7; and so forth)
The name YHWH is often reconstructed as Yahweh or
often times Jehovah in the English language. The name Yahweh is likely to be the origin of the Yao of
Gnosticism. A few also think it might be cognate to Yaw of Ugaritic texts. If the Hehs in the Tetragrammaton
are seen as sacred augmentation similar to those in Abraham (from Abram) and Sarah (from Sarai), then the association
becomes clearer. Though the final Heh in Yahweh was not pronounced in classical Hebrew, the medial Heh would
have almost certainly been pronounced.
The Tetragrammaton in Phoenician (1100 BC to AD
300), Aramaic (10th Century BC to 0) and modern Hebrew scripts.
The prohibition of blasphemy, for which capital punishment is prescribed
in Jewish law, refers only to the Tetragrammaton (Soferim iv., end; comp. Sanh. 66a).
Pronouncing the tetragrammaton
All modern denominations of Judaism teach that the four letter
name of God, YHWH, is forbidden to be uttered except by the High Priest, in the Temple.
Since the Temple in Jerusalem no longer exists, this name is never
said in religious rituals by Jews. Orthodox and Conservative Jews never pronounce it for any reason. Some non-Orthodox (but
religious) Jews are willing to pronounce it, but for educational purposes only, and never in casual conversation or in prayer.
Instead of pronouncing YHWH during prayer, Jews say Adonai.
English translations of the Bible generally
render YHWH as "Jehovah" in several locations, while replacing the name altogether as "the LORD" (in small capitals),
and Adonai as "Lord" (in normal case). In a few cases, where "Lord YHWH" appears, the combination is written as "Lord
Jewish law requires that secondary rules be placed around the primary
law, to reduce the chance that the main law will be broken. As such, it is common Jewish practice to restrict the use of the
word Adonai to prayer only. In conversation, many Jewish people will call God "HaShem", which is Hebrew
for "the Name" (this appears in Leviticus 24:11). Many Jews extend this prohibition to some of the other names listed below,
and will add additional sounds to alter the pronunciation of a name when using it outside of a liturgical context, such as
kel or elokim. Many Jews also write "G-d" instead of "God". While this last substitution is by no means
required by religious law (only the Hebrew name, not the English, is holy), it is done to remind the reader of the holiness
attached to God’s name.
(N.B.: Some Orthodox rabbis, e.g., Shlomo Ganzfried,
have held that none of the proper names of God should be erased, blotted out, or discarded, even in translation.)
(Hebrew: השם) means The Name. Another similar term is Had’var (Hebrew: הדבר),
meaning "the thing that cannot be described" or simply "the Word." While other names of God in Judaism are generally
restricted to use in a liturgical context, Hashem is used in more casual circumstances. It does not occur in the Bible,
and was first used by the Rishonim (Medieval Rabbinic authorities). Hashem is used by Orthodox Jews so as to
avoid saying Adonai outside of a ritual context. This extends to, for example, an audio recording of Jewish prayers.
An Orthodox Jew wouldn’t make the recording when actually praying; they would make it in a recording studio, so they
cannot say Adonai.
Other names of God
Jews also call God Adonai, Hebrew for "Lord" (Hebrew: אֲדֹנָי).
Formally, this is plural ("my Lords"), but the plural is usually construed as a respectful, and not a syntactic plural. (The
singular form is Adoni ("my lord"). This was used by the Phoenicians for the pagan God Tammuz and is the origin of
the Greek name Adonis. Jews only use the singular to refer to a distinguished person.)
and other names of God may be written in the plural form to point out that this one God embodies all of the
many Gods that were worshipped by the ancestors of the Israelites and concurrently by the surrounding peoples.
pronouncing YHWH is considered sinful, Jews use Adonai instead in prayers, and colloquially would use Hashem
(The Name). When the Masoretes added vowel pointings to the text of the Hebrew Bible in the first century CE, they gave the
word YHWH the vowels of Adonai, to remind the reader to say Adonai instead.
The name Ehyeh (Hebrew: אֶהְיֶה)
denotes God’s potency in the immediate future, and is part of YHWH. The phrase "ehyeh-asher-ehyeh" (Exodus 3:14)
is interpreted by some authorities as "I will be because I will be," using the second part as a gloss and referring to God’s
promise, "Certainly I will be [ehyeh] with thee" (Exodus 3:12). Other authorities claim that the whole phrase forms one name.
The Targum Onkelos leaves the phrase untranslated and is so quoted in the Talmud (B. B. 73a). The "I am that
I am" of the Authorized Version is based on this view.
I am that I am (Hebrew: אהיהאשראהיה, pronounced ’’Ehyeh asher ehyeh’)
is the sole response used in (Exodus 3:14) when Moses asked for God’s name. It is one of the most famous verses
in the Hebrew Bible. Hayah means "existed" or "was" in Hebrew; ehyeh is the first-person singular imperfect form. Ehyeh
asher ehyeh is generally interpreted to mean "I will be what I will be", I shall be what I shall be or I am that I am
(King James Bible and others). The Tetragrammaton itself may derive from the same verbal root.
The word El appears in other northwest Semitic languages
such as Phoenician and Aramaic. In Akkadian, ilu is the ordinary word for God. It is also found also in Old
South Arabian and in Ethiopic, and, as in Hebrew, it is often used as an element in proper names. In northwest Semitic texts
it often appears to be used of one single God, perhaps the head of the pantheon, sometimes specifically said to be
El (Hebrew: אל) is used in both the singular and plural, both for other Gods
and for the God of Israel. As a name of God, however, it is used chiefly in poetry and prophetic discourse,
rarely in prose, and then usually with some epithet attached, as "a jealousGod."
Other examples of its use with some attribute or epithet are:
El `Elyon ("Most High God")
El Shaddai ("God Almighty")
El `Olam ("Everlasting God")
El Hai ("Living God")
El Ro’i ("God of Seeing")
El Elohe Israel ("God, the God of Israel")
El Gibbor ("God of Strength")
In addition, names such as Gabriel ("Strength of God"),
Michael ("He Who is Like God"), Raphael ("God´s medicine") and Daniel ("God is My
Judge") use God’s name in a similar fashion.
"The Hebrew followed suit, preaching monotheism and recognizing - based on Sumerian scientific knowledge - the universality of God, ingeniously
solved the problem of duality and of the multitude of the Anunnaki deities involved in the events on Earth by concocting
a singular-but-plural deity, not an El (the Hebrew equivalent of Ilu) but Elohim - a creator who is plural (literally "Gods") and yet One.... The Hebrew were aware that the deity who could
speak to Abraham and Moses and the celestial Lord whom the Sumerians called Nibiru were not one and the same scientifically,
although all were part of a universal, everlasting, and omnipotent God - Elohim - in whose grand design for
the universe the path for each planet is its predetermined "destiny," and what the Anunnaki had done on Earth was likewise a predetermined mission. Thus was the handiwork of a universal God manifest in
Heaven and on Earth."
A common name of God in the Hebrew Bible is Elohim
(Hebrew: אלהים); as opposed to other names mentioned in this article, this name also
describes Gods of other religions.
Despite the -im ending common to many plural nouns in Hebrew, the
word Elohim, when referring to God is grammatically singular, and regularly takes a singular verb in the Hebrew
Bible. It is argued that the word elohim had an origin in a plural grammatical form. When the Hebrew Bible uses elohim
not in reference to God, it usually takes plural forms of the verb (for example, Exodus 20:3). There are a few other
such uses in Hebrew, for example Behemoth.
Other scholars interpret the -im ending as an expression of majesty
(pluralis majestatis) or excellence (pluralis excellentiae), expressing high dignity or greatness:
compare with the similar use of plurals of ba`al (master) and adon (lord). For these reasons many Christians cite the apparent
plurality of elohim as evidence for the basic Christian doctrine of the Trinity. This was a traditional position
but modern Christian theologians now largely accept that this is an exegetical fallacy.
Theologians who dispute this
claim, cite the hypothesis that plurals of majesty came about in more modern times. Richard Toporoski, a classics scholar,
asserts that plurals of majesty first appeared in the reign of Diocletian (284-305 CE)1. Indeed, Gesenius states in
his book Hebrew Grammar 2 the following:
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.
The plural form ending in -im can also be understood as
denoting abstraction, as in the Hebrew words chayyim: "life" or betulim: "virginity". If understood this way Elohim
means "divinity" or "deity". The word chayyim is similarly syntactically singular when used as a name but syntactically plural
The Hebrew form Eloah (אלוה, which looks as though it might be a singular
form of Elohim) is comparatively rare, occurring only in poetry and late prose (in the Book of Job, 41 times). What is probably
the same divine name is found in Arabic (Ilah as singular "a God", as opposed to Allah meaning "The God"
or "God") and in Aramaic (Elaha).
This unusual singular form is used in six places for heathen deities
(examples: 2 Chronicles 32:15; Daniel 11:37, 38;). The normal Elohim form is also used in the plural a few times,
either for Gods or images (Exodus 9:1, 12:12, 20:3; and so forth) or for one God (Exodus 32:1; Genesis 31:30,
32; and elsewhere). In the great majority of cases both are used as names of the one God of Israel.
of the word is unknown. One theory is that it may be connected with the old Arabic verb alih (to be perplexed, afraid;
to seek refuge because of fear). Eloah, Elohim, would, therefore, be "He who is the object of fear or reverence,"
or "He with whom one who is afraid takes refuge".
In many of the passages in which Elohim occurs in
the Bible it refers to non-Israelite deities, or in some instances to powerful men (Genesis 3:5), to judges (Exodus 21:6),
or to Israel (Psalms 81:9, 82:6).
The name `Elyon occurs in combination with El, YHWH
or Elohim, and also alone. It appears chiefly in poetic and later Biblical passages. The modern Hebrew adjective "`Elyon"
means "supreme" (as in "Supreme Court") or "Most High". El Elyon has been traditionally translated into English as
’God Most High’. The Phoenicians used what appears to be a similar name for God, Έλιον.
It is cognate to the Arabic `Aliyy.
Shaddai, El Shaddai
- (Hebrew: שַׁדַּי)
The name Shaddai, which occurs both independently and in
combination with El, is used as a name of God chiefly in the Book of Job. According to Exodus 6:2, 3, this is
the name by which God was known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the Septuagint and other early translation it was
translated with words meaning ’Almighty’.
The root word "shadad" (שדד) means "to
overpower" or "to destroy". This would give Shaddai the meaning of "destroyer" as one of the aspects of God.
Compare to "Shiva," the destroyer in the Hindu trinity, "creator, preserver, destroyer".
Another theory is that
’Shaddai’ is a derivation of a Semitic stem that appears in the Akkadian shadû, ’mountain’,
and shaddā`û or shaddû`a, ’mountain-dweller’. This theory was popularized by W. F. Albright
but was somewhat weakened when it was noticed that the doubling of the medial d is first documented only in the Neo-Assyrian
period. However, the doubling in Hebrew might possibly be secondary. In this theory God is seen as inhabiting a mythical
holy mountain: a concept not unknown in ancient near eastern mythology (see El), and also evident in the Syriac Christian
writings of Ephrem the Syrian, who places Eden on an inaccessible mountaintop.
An alternative view proposed
by Albright is that the name is connected to shadayim which means breasts in Hebrew. It may thus be connected to the notion
of God’s fertility and blessings of the human race. In several instances it is connected with fruitfulness:
“May God Almighty [El Shaddai] bless you and
make you fruitful and increase your numbers . . .” (Gen. 28:3).
“I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]: be fruitful
and increase in number” (Gen. 35:11).
“By the Almighty [El Shaddai] who will bless you with
blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts [shadayim] and of the womb [racham]
” (Gen. 49:25).
It is also given a Midrashic interpretation as an acronym standing
for ’Guardian of the Doors of Israel’ (Hebrew: שׁוֹמֶרדְלָתוֹתיִשְׂרָאֶל), which is commonly found as carvings or writings
upon the Mezuzah, a vessel which houses a scroll of parchment with Biblical text written on it, that is situated upon all
the doorframes in a home or establishment.
Shaddai was also a late Bronze age, Amorite city on the banks of
the Euphrates river, in northern Syria. The site of its ruin-mound is called Tell eth-Thadyen: "Thadyen" being
the modern Arabic rendering of the original West Semitic "Shaddai." It has been conjectured that El Shaddai
was therefore the "God of Shaddai" and associated in tradition with Abraham, and the inclusion of the Abraham stories
into the Hebrew Bible may have brought the northern name with them. (See Documentary hypothesis.)
The Talmud says "the name of God is ’Peace’"
(Pereḳ ha-Shalom, Shab. 10b), (Judges 6:23); consequently, one is not permitted to greet another with the word shalom
in unholy places such as a bathroom (Talmud, Shabbat, 10b). The name Sh’lomo literaly His peace (from shalom, Solomon,
שלומו) refers to the God of Peace.
Shekhinah 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.
The name Yah is composed of the first letters of YHWH. The
Rastafarian Jah is derived from this.
Jah (IPA: dʒɑ) is the name commonly used for God
in the religious Rastafari movement.
Rastafari consider Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia to have been
the religious symbol for Jah incarnate. Referring to him by the title of Jah Rastafari, some consider him to have been
the personification of Jah, but this is only one interpretation or metaphor for Rasta belief. Each and every Rasta
is encouraged to seek truth for themselves, and no central dogma is imposed.
Another way some Rastafarians use to
express the idea of Jah is the phrase "I and I" (such as "I and I survive" used in a song by the Bad Brains, usually written
"I&I") to represent each and every person who recognizes themselves to be part of a trinitarian unity "Haile Selassie
I / Jah / I".
Jah is often thought to be a shortened form of the name Yahweh or Jehovah. Thus, the term Hallelujah
would mean "Praise Jah." In the West Indies, the recent popularity of Christian Reggae has led to the use of the name Jah
in Christian circles, especially among younger believers.
In the original text of the Hebrew Bible, "Jah" occurs 26
times alone and 24 times in the term "Hallelujah".
It is transliterated "Jah" in a single instance (Psalm 68:4) in
the King James Version of the Bible, and An American Translation has "Yah" at the same place. The Jehovah's Witnesses' New
World Translation of the Holy Scriptures transcribes all names of God as Jehovah, while Rotherham's Emphasised
Bible includes 49 uses of Jah.
Jah is also an alternative spelling of the name of the Egyptian deity Iah.
Some believe there could be a connection between this name and the Semitic name Jah.
The names YHWH and Elohim frequently occur with the word tzevaot
or sabaoth ("hosts" or "armies", Hebrew: צבאות) as,
YHWH Elohe Tzevaot ("YHWH God of Hosts")
Elohe Tzevaot ("God of Hosts")
Adonai YHWH Tzevaot ("Lord YHWH of Hosts")
or, most frequently, YHWH Tzevaot ("YHVH of Hosts")
This name is traditionally transliterated in Latin as Sabaoth,
a form that will be more familiar to many English readers, as it was used in the King James Version of the Bible.
compound divine name occurs chiefly in the prophetic literature and does not appear at all in the Pentateuch, Joshua or Judges.
The original meaning of tzevaot may be found in 1 Samuel 17:45, where it is interpreted as denoting "the God
of the armies of Israel". The word, apart from this special use, always means armies or hosts of men, as, for example, in
Exodus 6:26, 7:4, 12:41, while the singular is used to designate the heavenly host.
The Latin spelling Sabaoth
combined with the large, golden vine motif over the door on the Herodian Temple (built by the Jewish Herod the Great) led
to identification by Romans with the God Sabazius.
The name Sabaoth is also associated with a demi-God
in the gnostic scriptures of the Nag Hammadi Text- he is the son of Yaltabaoth
Lesser used names of God
Abir — "Strong One"
Avinu Malkeinu — "Our Father, our King"
Boreh — "the Creator"
Ehiyeh sh’Ehiyeh — "I Am That I Am": a modern Hebrew
version of "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh"
Elohei Avraham, Elohei Yitzchak ve Elohei Ya`aqov — "God
of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob"
El ha-Gibbor — "God the hero" or "God the strong
Emet — "Truth"
E’in Sof — "endless, infinite", Kabbalistic name of
Ro’eh Yisrael — "Shepherd of Israel"
Ha-Kaddosh, Baruch Hu — "The Holy One, Blessed be He"
Kaddosh Israel — "Holy One of Israel"
Melech ha-Melachim — "The King of Kings"
Makom — literally "the place", meaning "The Omnipresent";
Magen Avraham — "Shield of Abraham"
YHWH-Yireh (Yahweh-Yireh) — "The Lord will provide" (Genesis
YHWH-Rapha" — "The Lord that healeth" (Exodus 15:26)
YHWH-Niss"i (Yahweh-Nissi) — "The Lord our Banner" (Exodus
YHWH-Shalom — "The Lord our Peace" (Judges 6:24)
YHWH-Ra-ah — "The Lord my Shepherd" (Psalms 23:1)
YHWH-Tsidkenu — "The Lord our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6)
YHWH-Shammah — "The Lord is present" (Ezekiel 48:35)