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Judaism- Yahweh

Judaism- Yahweh


This lesson will offer an introduction to Jewish ideas of the divine.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this tutorial on the name of God. In Judaism, the divine name-- or the tetragrammaton-- comes in the form of four Hebrew letters, YHWH. And in ancient Hebrew the vowels were not written. So the original pronunciation of this name has been lost. Of course, it would have only been pronounced in the temple by the priests during special festivals in the temple.

The spelling that we're more familiar with is Yahweh, and the pronunciation of that name derives from the early Christian church. What is the meaning of this divine name? Is it a proper name? Perhaps. Or perhaps it's from the verb for "to be".

In Exodus 3:14 god says to Moses, "I am that I am", and perhaps this is the origins for this divine name. Well, what's so different about this Jewish God? What's so different about Yahweh versus other ancient Near Eastern gods, say the Mesopotamian and Canaanite gods?

Well this God claims universality, claims to be in fact the only God. This is a position which actually evolves in the Hebrew scriptures. So not all of the Hebrew scriptures seem to say that Yahweh is the only God, but others do. So we can see a kind of evolution towards universality.

Also, this God is tied to ethics. So this God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. This God is concerned with poor people and the people who are weak. The theme comes up again and again in the Hebrew scriptures that God cares about the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. That is, people who are weak and defenseless, people who are not represented in society.

Next, this God demands exclusive worship. So you're not allowed to sort of tinker around with a large pantheon. You have to devote your worship to this one God alone. And this is really a new concept, because all of the other religions in the area at the time, you would have had one god for the harvest, another god for wine, and so forth. But this God is the only God who demands your sole allegiance.

Next we can see in the Hebrew scriptures an ever expanding circle of influence, that this one God who's the god of the Jews will one day also be the god of the nations, that the nations will come streaming to Israel to worship in Zion. Why do Jews not write the word God oftentimes? So they'll right G underscore d. Why do they write it that way? Or why do they not say the word "God"?

Christians are probably familiar with not taking the name of God in vain, but it's normally taken to mean that you shouldn't use the name of God in a frivolous way or use it in a curse. But for Jews, it's prohibited to speak the name of God at all. So this divine name will never be pronounced. And instead of that, in Jewish services they might say, Adenai, which means "the Lord" or hashem, which means "the name" instead of saying the word God. So not pronouncing the name is a mark of respect for the deity.

Thanks for listening to this tutorial on the divine name in Judaism. We said that Yahweh in Judaism is the monotheistic God who delivered the Jews from bondage in Egypt and gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. We said that Yahweh was conceived to be different from the other ancient Near Eastern gods including the Canaanite and Mesopotamian gods. This God demanded sole allegiance and was viewed as a universal God and an ethical god. This got cared about the poor and the weak.

We also said that the tetragrammaton, which means "four letters" is the correct Hebrew name for the God of the Bible and that the word Yahweh is a Latin derivative of the Greek tetragrammaton. Jews never pronounce this divine name and instead prefer to use the term Adenai or hashem as a way of respecting God. Another possible variant is the word Elohim. So by not pronouncing the divine name, Jews Show their respect for God.

Terms to Know

Etymologically "four letters" (from Greek); the correct Hebrew name for the God of the Bible.


The Latin transliteration (YHWH) of the Greek Tetragrammaton.