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Meaning and pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton 

Several reasons for the name not being a verb:

-         Why use Aramaic root for the most basic Hebrew term, the name?

-         Vowelization of a common verb cannot be declared secret.

-         It does not make sense to use euphemisms for a common verb in translations. Greeks would have loved the name of God denoting his pure existence, yet the name is untranslated.

-         Commonness of the verb defies a major commandment of not pronouncing the name in vain.

-         The verb is not conformant with the attested pronunciation Iao.

-         FT of ayn”waw verbs replace waw with shuruk, generally unattested in YHWH pronunciations. Iaou could be interpreted as iod-schwa-hey-shuruk only laboriously.

-         3ms FT form of lamed”hey verbs tend to lack final hey, unlike in YHWH.

-         Hiphil of hwh verb (yahwe) would likely be pronounced iaaoe with the alpha, one for the vowel a, and another for hey; cf. the LXX transliteration of Balaam with a for ayn.

-         The verb theory does not satisfactorily explain theophoric names.

-         If the name is a verb, we should expect 2nd person form when one addresses God, such as in prayers. (James Read) Only 3rd person form, however, is attested.


An important argument in favor of interpreting the name as 3ms FT verb is 1s FT form of the same verb as the name in Ex3:14.

Several reasons for not reading ehye asher ehye in Ex3:14 as the name:

-         Moses asked for the name in order to tell it to Israelites. The text nowhere implies that he told them the name. Possibly, that is because he was not told the name.

-         Ex3:14 employs hih root, rather than hwh word base used for the name elsewhere.

-         If Ex3:14 contains the name, it could only be “I will be who I will be,” a theologically odd notion that God is not currently present. The translation “I am who I am” hinges on the wrong theory that Hebrew lacks tenses, and is not warranted by the context.

-         The verb ehye is in paal form, while the traditional pronunciation of YHWH assumes the hiphil form.

-         If the name is a verb, and exists both in “I am” and “He is” forms, then the last phrase of Ex3:14 should have been “He is sent me to you,” since Moses speaks of God in the 3rd person, not “I am”.

-         YHWH is vowelized oddly for a verb. If EHIH (ehye) were the name, we would also expect garbled vowelization. EHIH, however, is vowelized correctly as a verb.

-         The same word, ehye, is translated “I will be” when refers to God elsewhere.

-         Hebrew does not use constructs similar to “verb asher verb” for names.


Ex3:14 could be translated, “God said to Moses, ‘Be it as it will.’ He said, ‘Thus you will say to children of Israel, ‘I will live, he sent me to you.’’” Instead of telling the name, God offered Moses to take an oath on his life before the people.

Alternatively, the last phrase could be read, “I will stay, he sent me to you.” (cf. Dan1:21). This reading makes some sense, because Moses was fugitive, yet came back to Egypt.


Ex33:19 has similar constructs to Ex3:14, ‘waw-1PT verb et-asher 1FT verb”.

Moses asks in Ex33:16 about himself and the people. The answer in Ex33:19 also refers to both: show the goodness to Moses, and forgive the people.

Both parts of the answer are palliative refusal: Moses cannot be shown the glory (Ex33:20), but only the goodness; people cannot be forgiven en masse, but some of them will be forgiven (those to whom God will show mercy).

The similar Ex3:14 is also a palliative refusal: Moses cannot be told the name, but an euphemism, “God of your ancestors.” God introduced himself by this appellation to Moses (Ex3:6), and when Moses asked for the name, God refused to divulge any additional information, but reiterated the appellation.

The same sense of ‘verb asher verb’ construct, palliative refusal, is present in Modern Hebrew and in Russian.

The indirect form of refusal was chosen for a good reason: the author avoided a notion that God refused Moses.


Iao (iota-alpha-omega) is the best-attested pronunciation, related by Diodorus and Varro, thus in Greek and Latin. Clement in Iaou used omicron-upsilon in place of omega, an approximate equivalent. Theodoret and Ireneus mention Iao among other pronunciations.

Iao makes sense of the common assertion of the purported allusion of the image of ass, Ia or Iao in Egyptian, to God. Though opinions on pronouncing the Egyptian words vary, Ia/ Iao makes sense as consistent with donkey’s sound.

The Masoretic vocalization of YHWH, Ieaoa (iod-schwa-hey-waw/holam-kamatz-silent hey), is generally denounced as disguised. Since the vocalization is not congruent with YHWH being a verb – or even any other word, schwa is not necessarily vocal. Schwa sound—if any—would be assimilated into hey sound. The Masoretic vocalization is thus Iaoa or Iaua which is congruent with Iao+h.

Hebrew codices frequently vowelized YeHoWaH instead of YeHWaH, seemingly scribal errors. No grammatical reasoning supports holam after the hey, and scribes certainly did not anticipate Christian tradition of writing the name as Yehowah. A conjecture is that holam related to waw. The scribes could not place holam at waw, because waw was already vowelized with kamatz. The name YeHOaH, thus, would be spelt I(e)aoa.

Another possibility is that Yehowah follows an attempt to syllabify to preserve the consonants. The Masoretes introduced schwa in cvccVc words for similar purpose: since accented syllables pull the adjacent consonants, they create consonantal clusters which blur the sounds. Thus, to avoid ni.zcAr -> ni.’car, the Masoretes syllabified the word as niz.cAr. Similarly, Ya.hweh tended to be pronounced Ya.’weh, and to preserve distinct pronunciation, since hey does not take schwa, hey was vocalized with hatef-kamatz, pronounced o. Even if with hatef-patah, European speakers might think of the “a” sound as a reduction of “o,” and to preserve what they thought was a correct pronunciation, substituted Yahoweh for Yahaweh.

Revelation 1:8, the text arguably of Jewish sectarian origin, attributes to God the saying, “I am alpha and omega,” which was perhaps, “Ani alpha we-omega” in Hebrew, forming Iao.

If the name is a verb, some consonant is likely to be heard. In the name Yehu, hey falls between vowels, and is lost in transliterations. In YHWH, if it is a verb, hey and waw are consonantal radicals and support each other. Jacob of Edessa transliterated the name in paal form as Iehjeh – with consonant.

It is significant that Iao relates the name with vowels only. Ancient Egyptian priests also reportedly chanted only vowels for a divine name. Josephus in War5:235 describes the high priest’s “crown, in which was engraven the sacred name [of God]: it consists of four vowels.”

A contradiction arises: hey can be a vowel (mater lectionis) only as word-final, but in YHWH mid-word hey is a vowel. The contradiction can be resolved by suggesting that YHWH is not a word or a name, but initialism. Spelling YHW as stand-alone vowels would in fact result in Iao. Samaritans, indeed, spelt YHWH.

Iao could reflect the original form of the name YHW, preserved in theophoric names, or be a shortened pronunciation of Iaoa-YHWH.


Only vowels are semantically significant in pronominal suffixes. Suffix vowels are consistent between nouns and past tense verbs. The consonants are inessential: tav is used for 1- and 2-person verbs. Thus, pronominal suffixes i, a, u (o) correspond to I, thou, he (verb suffixes) or mine, thine, his (noun suffixes).

Pronominal suffixes did not derive from pronouns, but formed them. Taking the word “an” as “essence,” ani is “my essence,” anta (with verb suffix consonant) – “thy essence,” anahnu – “our essence.” Thus, suffix vowels are early and important.

The duality suffix -ai (later -aim) makes sense as ‘thou, I’ (two people close by). Suffix –ai likely evolved into –e (-ei), lost its reference to two, and became referring to plurality. The abstract plurality suffix –ot (variant –on, such as in Hebron) has semantically significant o, which likely evolved from –au. The hypothetical suffix –au makes sense as “thou, he” referring to more distant, abstract people and objects. Hebrew language, thus, has precedents of combining pronominal vowels into meaningful constructs (plural suffixes).

The same vowels, in their common order, are present in YHW. The sense of “I, thou, he” for Iao is more plausible than “mine, thine, his”; plural suffixes likewise allude to number and remoteness rather than to possession (“thou, I” is an analogy of two objects, duality; “thine, mine” is irrelevant for duality). Also, pronominal suffixes of verbs are likely earlier than of nouns because the subject of action usually exists, while reference to an object does not necessarily include the owner. Moreover, possessive suffixes in verbs follow the conjugative suffixes, which makes sense if the conjugative appeared the first.

The final hey in YHWH is likely the suffix of result or abstraction, as in catav – ctivah (to write – writing, writ). Less plausibly, hey represents 3p suffix meaning, they, makin “I, thou, he, they”: shuruk (waw) would be a better choice. Still more remote possibility is that final hey was added to convert the short form of what scribes thought is a verb into the full form.

YHWH as “I, thou, he”+hey naturally means the society. Milgrom interpreted Levitical rites as societal ethics, and implied that the priests were concerned with morality of the society rather than with the divine. Whether the society is the ultimate divinity is a philosophical question, but “society” as the name or, rather, a designator of God seems to be plausible on linguistic grounds.

YHW might have a second meaning as “mine, thine, his” – our God.

On the other plane, vowels are a sufficiently important development to embed them in divine name. They were not used in the ordinary writing for centuries after the name was written, but perhaps matres lectionis were considered sacred.

Still on another plane, association with hwh root, existence, was likely significant.


Shortening of the divine portion of theophoric names is unlikely: why not shorten the other part? Why all theophoric names without exception are shortened? (Jack Kilmon) Why other names are not generally shortened?

Theophoric names reflect ancient variant spelling of YHWH. Using old terms to form names is common.

YHWH is a formal, grammatically correct spelling, while YaH/ YaHO/ YaHU are old and colloquial transcriptions of Iao-YHW. The original 3s suffix is shuruk, only later transformed hu-au-o, thus YHW could be either Iau-YahU or Iao-YahO. Final o/u in the divine portions of theophoric names cannot plausibly derive from the verb iah.we.

YW is a form of YHW prefix, shortened similarly to yaho-yo (iota-omega) in transliterations. Weak consonant hey in semi-stressed syllable after open vowel (Yho.nathan) was blurred and eventually lost.

YH is a form of YHW suffix, shortened similarly to yahu - ya in transliterations. Suffix -yahu lost hey just like the prefix did, and then lost final unaccented vowel. This shortening explains the absence of mappiq in YH in personal names: hey is for the vowel sound a.

In YH as the form of the name, hey with mappiq stands for hey, not for vowel a. Since YH normally appears in emphatic environment, mostly psalms, the loss of unstressed final vowel u in YHW is understandable. Less likely, mappiq also reflects an understanding that, since 3s suffix could be represented by either waw or hey, YHW as 1-2-3-person initialism could be written as YHH.

YH is also Ethiopian pronunciation of the name and the Egyptian name for the moon and of the lunar deity. There is a slight possibility of YH being the original, and YHW – its expansion. Final waw could be added as pronominal suffix, for ‘his YH,’ or, perhaps, ‘YH [is] he.’

That waw is a mater lectionis in the theophoric names, confirms that it is also a vowel in YHWH (Karl Randolph) which thus cannot be a verb.

The LXX transliterations suggest that theophoric portions lacked consonants: [Isaia], not Yeshayahu as in the modern pronunciation. Theophoric portions consisted only of vowels: Iaoa, Iau – Io.


Yehudah (a Jew) is YHW+dh. Hey in dh substitutes for Aramaic aleph; da was Aramaic demonstrative pronoun. Yehudah, thus, would mean, “This [is] [people of] YHW.”


Look at some other transliterations of the name.


Theodoret’s spelling Iabe is transliteration, not a record of actual pronunciation. He transliterated letters, not sounds: (Y->I)(H->A)(W->B)(final H->E).

If Theodoret recorded pronunciation, he could not transcribe very weak waw with strong beta, even if beta was shifting to bilabial sound veta; such shift is uncertain before the ninth century.

In the verbs ih.we and iah.we, waw appears after schwa (stop) in open stressed syllable. Schwa supports waw, and prevents it from dropping out, but does not make waw consonantal. In open stressed syllables, waw tends to ou sound (cp. William as [U]i.lliam and [V]ill.iam), and thus is generally transliterated.

Stand-alone w, however, sounds v, as in the English WTO-[VTO], and Theodoret could transliterate it with beta.

Theodoret could transliterate waw with beta if waw was fricativized by then. However, accent shift in wayiqtol shows that even very late waw was still w rather than v. The accent in wayiqtol could only be explained by the diphthong pulling stress ([Ua.Iqtol]).

Theodoret’s assertion that Iabe is specifically Samaritan pronunciation is contradicted by Epiphanius who mentioned Iabe without the Samaritan qualification, unless the Christians he referred to were Samaritans. Iabe is spelling, not regional pronunciation.

Iabe Zebut in magical texts employs upsilon for Hebrew kamatz-aleph-holam in Zebaoth. That sequence was pronounced as ao, and could be transliterated as alpha-omega, as indeed Hexapla does for Ps45:8,12. Upsilon in Zebut likely represents silent aleph, unaware of kamatz and holam vowels. Zebut, thus, renders the written form Zbath rather than spoken Zebaoth. Similarly, Iabe is likely to render the written, not the spoken form of YHWH.

This treatment of Iabe is supported by B.Sanh101a: “Abba Saul said: Also he who pronounces the divine name as it is spelt [is blaspheming].” Incorrect pronunciation of the name is no blasphemy; only the correct pronunciation is. Thus, rabbis recognized that Samaritans were correct in spelling the name instead of pronouncing it as a verb.


Theodoret’s another transliteration, Aia, hardly reflects the pronunciation of EHYH, the supposed name from Ex3:14: both vowels rendered alpha sound like eta. It is unlikely that Aramaic propensity of preserving a where Hebrew has o (and, possibly, e) affected the pronunciation.

Aia could be spelling of EHYH: (aleph->silent)(hey->alpha)(iod-iota)(final hey->alpha).

Less plausibly, Aia could reflect Hebraization of what was thought Aramaic verb YHWH into word base HIH.


Ioa (iota-omega-alpha) of Severi of Antioch and of Codex Coislinianus seem misspelling of Iao.


Jerome’s Iaho could be similar to Iao if we accept that Latin h was very light, and in any case, Jerome reconstructed the name from the Hebrew text, not recorded actual pronunciation.


Origen’s Iae (iota-alpha-eta) could be an educated guess about pronunciation of what he thought was a verb iahwe, or transliteration of Yah.


Porphyry’s Ieuo (iota-epsilon-upsilon-omega) seems to have e for schwa and u for hey.


Clement’s Iaou is a variant of Iao; omicron-upsilon replaces omega. Iaouai might be Iaou with suffix of duality -ai, modeled upon Elokai. Iaoue could derive from Iaouai; ai->e like the suffix of duality -ai becoming plural suffix -e (ei to close open stressed syllable in continuous speech; cf. Ashkenazic do[i]vor). Less likely seems Peter Kirk’s suggestion that Iaoue could be I.a.ou.e; that could be iahwe or spelling of YHWH with e for final hey. Iaoue transliteration is mentioned by commentator, but not actually found.


Iaouee in Egyptian Greek magic papyri is similar to Iao (with omega) + ee for final hey, and is consistent with iahwe. Iaoouee (iota-alpha-omega-omicron-upsilon-eta-epsilon) is also close to iahwe. These references are unverified. The pronunciations could reflect Iao elongated by chanting.


If Ireneus’ Iaot is a constructus, then the initial form is Iaoa, spelling of YHWH. Iaot  as constructus contradicts the theory of the name being the verb, since verbs do not have constructus form.

Less likely, Iaot could be abstract plural of Iao, modeled upon Elokai. Choice of suffix –ot could be influenced by final hey of YHWH or, less plausibly, modeled upon Zvaot.