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Judaism - YHWH

Judaism - YHWH

Author: Ted Fairchild

Identify Jewish ideas of the divine.

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Judaism - Yahweh

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Hello. Welcome. In this tutorial, we're going to look at some of the Jewish ideas of the divine, some of the sources of the Jewish ideas of the divine. Every religion has concepts and ideas related to the transcendent and the sacred world. Most have a name and often many names for their god or gods, or if not then a guiding principle or principles of some sort.

Today we're going to look at the Jewish conception of a single God. The first conception of a monotheistic God in the Abrahamic tradition. YHWH refers to God for the Jewish people. And Judaic tradition states that it is blasphemous to say or write the name of God in full. It therefore became the tetragrammaton. So YHWH is known as the to tetragrammaton. The exact pronunciation is not known for sure, and neither is the precise origin of the name.

Sometimes you'll hear Yahweh, and Jehovah is a fairly common reference and pronunciation, too. Biblical Hebrew does not use vowels, and so it is called the tetragrammaton, which is Greek for "four letters." It means four letters. And its first use can be dated back to the eighth century before the common era.

In prayer, the name Adonai is used which means "master" or "Lord." And also Hashem, meaning "the name." In Hebrew scriptures, in the book of Exodus there's a story about Moses and the burning bush where he encounters Yahweh. There, he receives directions to lead the Jews out from captivity and exile in Egypt and back to Canaan, the land promised to Abraham, the first Hebrew patriarch.

When Moses asks His name, he hears the response, "Yahweh," perhaps pronounced Yahweh. As we said, the exact pronunciation of the tetragrammaton is not known for sure. Moses then asks what this name means and he is told, "I am that I am."

So in Hebrew Yahweh contains the root verb "to be," with a masculine prefix. And it sometimes is translated as "I will be and I will be what I will be." It's generally understood as a single unified, uncreated creator, the source of all life.

Elohim is the other name that is used in this context, and thousands of times in total throughout the Hebrew Bible. The IM, I-M, is a plural ending which serves to provide different descriptions and characteristics of God.

The Canaanites, as early as the 12th century before the common era, are believed to have made a pact, an agreement with Yahweh, the divine warrior who offered protection to the Canaanites in the land of Canaan if they agreed to worship no other gods but him.

Prior to Abraham's and the Jewish people's covenant with Yahweh, the ancient Canaanite religion included many gods that had been worship throughout the Levant and Mesopotamia. Some the other gods were known as El, Baal, and Anat and were part of a large pantheon of gods, many of whom were influences from neighboring religions in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The name Elohim is thought to be traced back to this god.

These polytheistic traditions were a complement to the Canaanite religion, which is thought to have centered around ancestor worship and family household gods and goddesses. In the modern day, the ancient Levant includes Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Cyprus Huttite province and other parts of Southern Turkey, parts of Northwestern Iraq and the Sinai Peninsula.

And when Moses brought them home to Canaan, he received the Ten Commandments. re-solidifying the call and the covenant with Yahweh.

So now we can review. Yahweh is the pronunciation of the tetragrammaton. YHWH is the tetragrammaton. Its use has been dated back as far as the eighth century before common era, when the polytheistic religions of Canaan made an agreement with single god Yahweh to honor and worship Him and no others. This is generally understood as the emergence of the monotheistic, Abrahamic tradition.

And we looked at Moses and the burning Bush and where he encountered Yahweh and there was a further binding of that covenant. And again when they returned to Canaan, a further binding of the covenant with Yahweh.

Notes on “Judaism - Yahweh"

Source: Image of Moses at The Burning Bush, Public Domain Image of Baal, Public Domain, Image of Levant and Mesopotamia, Creative Commons, Image of Levant, Creative Commons,

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.