What is God’s holy name?

7ca5ff4862e0d357a3c29437fe134f9bQ: After reading your answer to last week’s question (re: different bible translations), I was wondering – what IS the holy name for God? Why isn’t it spoken?

A: Glad to hear someone was reading my answer so closely! In most bibles, when you flip through the Old Testament, you will see God being referenced as The “LORD” (all caps). Instead of being the word for “Lord,” the original text actually has God’s holy name. This name was so important to the Jewish people that the high priest was the only one to speak it, and even then it was only spoken once a year! For this reason Jews today do not speak the name, and many Christians also follow this practice. Some Jews also refuse to write “God,” instead writing, “G-d.”

Ancient Hebrew, as written in Scripture, does not contain any vowels. Scribes later went through the text and added vowels—really little accent marks that let you know how to pronounce certain words. When they came to God’s name, they chose not to add vowels, or to add vowels for a different word. God’s holy name in the Hebrew is YHWH. Scholars believe the actual vowels would be an A after the Y and an E after the W. However, if vowels were included in the text they were for the word “Lord.” So, when Jews come across the tetragrammaton (the “four letters”) they will say “Adonai” (“Lord”); or “Hashem” (“the name”).

Interestingly, early scholarship was mistaken when it came to the vowels, iincorrectly using the vowels for “Adonai.” Biblical scholarship is also commonly done in German, leading to a J instead of a Y and a V instead of a W. This led to the mistaken transliteration of “Jehovah.”

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