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The name of God most often used in the Hebrew Bible is the Tetragrammaton (YHWH יהוה). Owing to the Jewish tradition viewing the divine name as too sacred to be uttered it was replaced vocally in the synagogue ritual by the Hebrew word Adonai ("My Lord"), which was translated as Kyrios ("Lord") in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures. It is frequently anglicized as Yahweh or Jehovah and written in most English editions of the Bible as "the LORD".
Rabbinic Judaism describes seven names which are so holy that, once written, should not be erased: YHWH and six others which can be categorized as titles are El ("God"), Eloah ("God"), Elohim ("Gods"), Shaddai (“Almighty"), Ehyeh ("I Will Be"), and Tzevaot ("[of] Hosts"). Other names are considered mere epithets or titles reflecting different aspects of God, but Khumra sometimes dictates special care such as the writing of "G-d" instead of "God" in English or saying Ṭēt-Vav (טו, lit. "9-6") instead of Yōd-Hē (יה, lit. "10-5" but also "Jah") for the number fifteen in Hebrew.
The documentary hypothesis proposes that the Torah was compiled from various original sources, two of which (the Jahwist and the Elohist) are named for their usual names for God (Yahweh and Elohim respectively).
The seven names of God that, once written, cannot be erased because of their holiness are the Tetragrammaton, El, Elohim, Eloah, Elohai, El Shaddai, and Tzevaot. In addition, the name Jah—because it forms part of the Tetragrammaton—is similarly protected. Rabbi Jose considered "Tzevaot" a common name and Rabbi Ishmael that "Elohim" was. All other names, such as "Merciful", "Gracious" and "Faithful", merely represent attributes that are also common to human beings.
The name of God used most often in the Hebrew Bible is YHWH[n 1] (י ה ו ה), also known as the Tetragrammaton (Greek for "four-letter [word]"). Hebrew is an abjad, so the word's letters Yōd, Hē, Vav, Hē are usually taken for consonants and expanded to Yahweh in English.
In modern Jewish culture, it is accepted as forbidden to pronounce the name with the (consonantal) letters with which it is spelled. In prayers it is pronounced Adonai, and in discussion is usually said as HaShem, meaning "The Name". The exact pronunciation is uncertain because—although there is nothing in the Torah to prohibit the saying of the name and Ruth shows it was being pronounced as late as the 5th century BCE[n 2]—it had ceased to be spoken aloud by at least the 3rd century BCE during Second Temple Judaism and vowel points were not written until the early medieval period. The Masoretic Text uses vowel points of Adonai or Elohim (depending on the context) indicating that these are the words to be pronounced, as shown also by the subtle pronunciation changes when combined with a preposition (see Qere and Ketiv).
The Tetragrammaton first appears in Genesis and occurs 6,828 times in total in the Stuttgart edition of the Masoretic Text. It is thought to be an archaic third-person singular imperfect tense of the verb "to be" (i.e., "[He] was being"). This agrees with the passage in Exodus where God names Himself as "I Will Be What I Will Be" using the first-person singular imperfect tense.
Rabbinical Judaism teaches that the name is forbidden to all except the High Priest, who should only speak it in the Holy of Holies of the Temple in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur. He then pronounces the name "just as it is written". As each blessing was made, the people in the courtyard were to prostrate themselves completely as they heard it spoken aloud. As the Temple has not been rebuilt since its destruction in 70 AD, most modern Jews never pronounce YHWH but instead read Adonai ("My Lord") during prayer and while reading the Torah and as HaShem ("The Name") at other times. Similarly, the Vulgate used Dominus ("The Lord") and most English translations of the Bible write "the Lord" for YHWH and "the Lord God", "the Lord God" or "the Sovereign Lord" for Adonai YHWH instead of transcribing the name. The Septuagint may have originally used the Hebrew letters themselves amid its Greek text but there is no scholarly consensus on this point. All surviving Christian-era manuscripts use Kyrios [Κυριος, "Lord") or very occasionally Theos [Θεος, "God"] to translate the many thousand occurrences of the Name. (However, given the great preponderance of the anarthrous Kyrios solution for translating YHWH in the Septuagint and some disambiguation efforts by Christian-era copyists involving Kyrios (see especially scribal activity in Acts), Theos should probably not be considered historically as a serious early contender substitute for the divine Name.)
El appears in Ugaritic, Phoenician and other 2nd and 1st millennium BCE texts both as generic "god" and as the head of the divine pantheon. In the Hebrew Bible El (Hebrew: אל) appears very occasionally alone (e.g. Genesis 33:20, el elohe yisrael, "El the God of Israel", and Genesis 46:3, ha'el elohe abika, "El the God of thy father"), but usually with some epithet or attribute attached (e.g. El Elyon, "Most High El", El Shaddai, "El of Shaddai", El `Olam "Everlasting El", El Hai, "Living El", El Ro'i "El my Shepherd", and El Gibbor "El of Strength"), in which cases it can be understood as the generic "god". In theophoric names such as Gabriel ("Strength of God"), Michael ("Who is like God?"), Raphael ("God's medicine"), Ariel ("God's lion"), Daniel ("God's Judgment"), Israel ("one who has struggled with God"), Immanuel ("God is with us"), and Ishmael ("God Hears"/"God Listens") it is usually interpreted and translated as "God", but it is not clear whether these "el"s refer to the deity in general or to the god El in particular.
A common name of God in the Hebrew Bible is Elohim (Hebrew: אלהים (help·info)). Despite the -im ending common to many plural nouns in Hebrew, the word Elohim when referring to God is grammatically singular, and takes a singular verb in the Hebrew Bible. The word is identical to the usual plural of el meaning gods or magistrates, and is cognate to the 'lhm found in Ugaritic, where it is used for the pantheon of Canaanite gods, the children of El and conventionally vocalized as "Elohim" although the original Ugaritic vowels are unknown. When the Hebrew Bible uses elohim not in reference to God, it is plural (for example, Exodus 20:2). There are a few other such uses in Hebrew, for example Behemoth. In Modern Hebrew, the singular word ba'alim ("owner") looks plural, but likewise takes a singular verb.
A number of scholars have traced the etymology to the Semitic root *yl, "to be first, powerful", despite some difficulties with this view. Elohim is thus the plural construct "powers". Hebrew grammar allows for this form to mean "He is the Power (singular) over powers (plural)", just as the word Ba'alim means "owner" (see above). "He is lord (singular) even over any of those things that he owns that are lordly (plural)."
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 (CE 284–305). Indeed, Gesenius states in his book Hebrew Grammar 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.
Mark S. Smith has cited the use of plural as possible evidence to suggest an evolution in the formation of early Jewish conceptions of monotheism, wherein references to "the gods" (plural) in earlier accounts of verbal tradition became either interpreted as multiple aspects of a single monotheistic God at the time of writing, or subsumed under a form of monolatry, wherein the god(s) of a certain city would be accepted after the fact as a reference to the God of Israel and the plural deliberately dropped.
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 otherwise.
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 or judges, and even angels (Exodus 21:6, Psalms 8:5) as a simple plural in those instances.
Elohai or Elohei ("My God") is a form of Elohim along with the first-person singular pronoun enclitic. It appears in the names "God of Abraham" (Elohai Avraham); "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (Elohai Avraham, Elohai Yitzchak ve Elohai Yaʿaqov); and "God of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel" (Elohai Sara, Elohai Rivka, Elohai Leah ve Elohai Rakhel).
El Shaddai (Hebrew: אל שדי (help·info), pronounced [ʃaˈdaj]) is one of the names of God in Judaism, with its etymology coming from the influence of the Ugaritic religion on modern Judaism. El Shaddai is conventionally translated as "God Almighty". While the translation of El as "god" in Ugarit/Canaanite language is straightforward, the literal meaning of Shaddai is the subject of debate.
Tzevaot, Tsebaoth or Sabaoth (צבאות, [tsvaot] (listen), lit. "Armies") appears in reference to armies or armed hosts of men in Exodus and Isaiah but is not used as a divine epithet in the Torah, Joshua, or Judges. In the First Book of Samuel, David uses the name YHWH Tzavaot and immediately glosses it as "the God of the armies of Israel". The same name appears in the prophets along with YHWH Elohe Tzevaot, Elohey Tzevaot, and Adonai YHWH Tzevaot. These are usually translated in the King James Version as the "Lord of Hosts" or "Lord God of Hosts". In its later uses, however, it often denotes God in His role as leader of the heavenly hosts.
The Hebrew word Sabaoth was also absorbed in Ancient Greek (σαβαωθ, sabaōth) and Latin (Sabaoth, with no declension). Tertullian and other patristics used it with the meaning of Army of angels of God.
The abbreviated form Jah (//) or Yah (// (listen); יהּ, Yahu) appears in the Psalms and Isaiah. It is a common element in Hebrew theophoric names such as Elijah and also appears in the forms yahu ("Jeremiah"), yeho ("Joshua"), and yo ("John", ultimately from the biblical "Yohanan" and Jonathan, "God gives". It also appears 24 times in the Psalms as a part of Hallelujah ("Praise Jah").
Adonai (אֲדֹנָי, lit. "My Lords") is the plural form of adon ("Lord") along with the first-person singular pronoun enclitic.[n 3] As with Elohim, Adonai's grammatical form is usually explained as a plural of majesty. In the Hebrew Bible, it is nearly always used to refer to God (approximately 450 occurrences). As pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton came to be avoided in the Hellenistic period, Jews may have begun to drop the Tetragrammaton when presented alongside Adonai and subsequently expand it to cover for the Tetragrammaton in the forms of spoken prayer and written scripture. Owing to the expansion of chumra (the idea of "building a fence around the Torah"), Adonai itself has come to be too holy to say for Orthodox Jews, leading to its replacement by HaShem ("The Name").
The singular forms adon and adoni ("my lord") are used in the Hebrew Bible as royal titles, as in the First Book of Samuel, and for distinguished persons. The Phoenicians used it as a title of Tammuz, the origin of the Greek Adonis. It is also used very occasionally in Hebrew texts to refer to God (e.g. Ps 136:3.)
Deuteronomy 10:17 has the proper name Yahweh alongside the superlative constructions "God of gods" elōhê ha-elōhîm and "Lord of lords" adōnê ha-adōnîm (כִּי יְ ה וָ ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם הוּא אֱלֹהֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים וַאֲדֹנֵי הָאֲדֹנִים ; KJV: "For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords").
The final syllable of Adonai uses the vowel kamatz, rather than patach which would be expected from the Hebrew for "my lord(s)". Prof. Yoel Elitzur explains this as a normal transformation when a Hebrew word becomes a name, giving as other examples Nathan, Yitzchak, and Yigal.
Up until the mid-twentieth century, the use of the word Adoshem combining the first two syllables of "Adonai" with the last syllable of "Hashem" was quite common. It took a few centuries for the word to fall into almost complete disuse. Despite being obsolete in most circles, it is used occasionally in conversation in place of Adonai by Jews who do not wish to say Adonai, but need to specify the substitution of that particular word. It is also used when quoting from the liturgy in a non-liturgical context, especially as a substitute in musical pieces where a replacement for "Adonai" must have the same number of syllables. For example, Shlomo Carlebach performed his prayer "Shema Yisrael" with the words Shema Yisrael Adoshem Elokeinu Adoshem Eḥad instead of Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad.
Baal (//),[n 4] properly Baʿal,[n 5] meant "owner" and, by extension, "lord", "master", and "husband" in Hebrew and the other Northwest Semitic languages. In some early contexts and theophoric names, it and Baali (//; "My Lord") were treated as synonyms of Adon and Adonai. After the time of Solomon and particularly after Jezebel's attempt to promote the worship of the Lord of Tyre Melqart, however, the name became particularly associated with the Canaanite storm god Baʿal Haddu and was gradually avoided as a title for Yahweh. Several names that included it were rewritten as bosheth ("shame"). The prophet Hosea in particular reproached the Israelites for continuing to use the term:
Ehyeh asher ehyeh (Hebrew: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה) is the first of three responses given to Moses when he asks for God's name in the Book of Exodus. The King James Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew as "I Am that I Am" and uses it as a proper name for God. The Aramaic Targum Onkelos leaves the phrase untranslated and is so quoted in the Talmud (B. B. 73a.[clarification needed])
The word ehyeh is the first-person singular imperfect form of hayah, "to be", usually translated into English as "I will be". Because Classical Hebrew had an aspectual system rather than grammatical tense, in which the imperfect denotes any actions that are not yet completed, the verb form ehyeh can be translated as "I am/I am being/I will be" (e.g. Exodus 3:12, "Certainly I will be [ehyeh] with thee.").
Although Ehyeh asher ehyeh is generally rendered in English "I am that I am", better renderings might be "I will be what I will be" or "I will be who I will be", or "I shall prove to be whatsoever I shall prove to be" or even "I will be because I will be". Other renderings include: Leeser, "I Will Be that I Will Be"; Rotherham, "I Will Become whatsoever I please", New World Translation (2013 Edition): "I Will Become What I Choose to Become." Greek, Ego eimi ho on (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν), "I am The Being" in the Septuagint, and Philo, and Revelation or, "I am The Existing One"; Lat., ego sum qui sum, "I am Who I am."
Elah (Aramaic: אֱלָה; pl. "elim") is the Aramaic word for God. The origin of the word is uncertain and it may be related to a root word, meaning "reverence". Elah is found in the Tanakh in the books of Ezra, Jeremiah (Jer 10:11, the only verse in the entire book written in Aramaic), and Daniel. Elah is used to describe both pagan gods and the Jews' God. The word 'Elah - إله' is also an Arabic word which means god. The name is etymologically related to Allah الله used by Muslims.
In the Book of Genesis, Hagar is said to use this name for God who spoke to her through his angel. In Hebrew, her phrase "El Roi" is taken as an epithet of God ("God of Seeing") although the King James Version translates it as a statement: "Thou God seest me."
The name Elyon (Hebrew: עליון) occurs in combination with El, YHWH, Elohim and 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, one that the Greeks wrote as Έλιον. It is cognate to the Arabic `Aliyy.
"The Eternal One" is increasingly used, particularly in Reform and Reconstructionist communities seeking to use gender-neutral language. In the Torah, Hashem El Olam ("the Everlasting God") is used at Genesis 21:33 to refer to God.
It is common Jewish practice to restrict the use of the names of God to a liturgical context. In casual conversation some Jews, even when not speaking Hebrew, will call God HaShem (השם), which is Hebrew for "the Name" (cf. Leviticus 24:11 and Deuteronomy 28:58). Likewise, when quoting from the Tanakh or prayers, some pious Jews will replace Adonai with HaShem. For example, when making audio recordings of prayer services, HaShem will generally be substituted for Adonai.
Talmudic authors, ruling on the basis of Gideon's name for an altar ("YHVH-Shalom", according to Judges 6:24), write that "the name of God is 'Peace'" (Pereq ha-Shalom, Shab. 10b); consequently, a Talmudic opinion (Shabbat, 10b) asserts that one would greet another with the word shalom (help·info) in order for the word not to be forgotten in the exile. But one is not permitted to greet another with the word shalom (help·info) in unholy places such as a bathroom, because of the holiness of the name.
Shekhinah (שכינה (help·info)) 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. Some believe that this was the name of a female counterpart of God, but this is unlikely as the name is always mentioned in conjunction with an article (e.g.: "the Shekhina descended and dwelt among them" or "He removed Himself and His Shekhina from their midst"). This kind of usage does not occur in Semitic languages in conjunction with proper names.
The Arabic form of the word "Sakīnah سكينة" is also mentioned in the Quran. This mention is in the middle of the narrative of the choice of Saul to be king and is mentioned as descending with the Ark of the Covenant, here the word is used to mean "security" and is derived from the root sa-ka-na which means dwell:
In Jewish tradition the sacredness of the divine name or titles must be recognized by the professional sofer (scribe) who writes Torah scrolls, or tefillin and mezuzah. Before transcribing any of the divine titles or name he prepares mentally to sanctify them. Once he begins a name he does not stop until it is finished, and he must not be interrupted while writing it, even to greet a king. If an error is made in writing it may not be erased, but a line must be drawn round it to show that it is canceled, and the whole page must be put in a genizah (burial place for scripture) and a new page begun.
One of the most important names is that of the Ein Sof (אין סוף "Endless"), which first came into use after CE 1300. Another name is derived from the names אהיה יהוה אדוני הויה. By spelling these four names out with the names of the Hebrew letters (אלף, הא, ואו, יוד, דלת and נון)[clarification needed] this new forty-five letter long name is produced. Spelling the letters in יהוה (YHWH) by itself gives יוד הא ואו הא. Each letter in Hebrew is given a value, according to gematria, and the value of יוד הא ואו הא is also 45.
The seventy-two-fold name is derived from three verses in Exodus 14:19–21. Each of the verses contains 72 letters. When the verses are read boustrophedonically 72 names, three letter each, are produced (the niqqud of the source verses is disregarded in respect to pronunciation). Some regard this name as the Shemhamphorasch. The Proto-Kabbalistic book Sefer Yetzirah describe how the creation of the world was achieved by manipulation of these 216 sacred letters that form the names of God.
And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God.
From this it is understood[by whom?] that one should not erase or blot out the name of God. The general halachic opinion is that this only applies to the sacred Hebrew names of God, not to other euphemistic references; there is a dispute as to whether the word "God" in English or other languages may be erased or whether Jewish law and/or Jewish custom forbids doing so, directly or as a precautionary "fence" about the law. The words "God" and "Lord" are written by some Jews as "G-d" and "L-rd" as a way of avoiding writing any name of God in full out. The hyphenated version of the English name ("G-d") can be destroyed, so by writing that form, religious Jews prevent documents in their possession with the unhyphenated form from being destroyed later. Alternatively, a euphemistic English reference such as Hashem (literally, "the Name") may be substituted, or an abbreviation thereof, such as B''H (B'ezrat Hashem "by the blessing of the Name").
This issue is most controversial in the context of the motto of the United States, "In God We Trust", which has been minted or printed without hyphenation since its first appearance in 1864. While many Jews[who?] write the name "God" in English, others[who?] will not or will only under special circumstances. By comparison, the nation of Israel struck down efforts to enshrine an allusive reference to God (ב''ה B''H) on its currency in 2002, 2003, and 2009 because the frequency of currency destruction was considered too high. According to Talmudic Tractate Rosh Hashana (18B4), Jews in the times of the Hasmonean Kingdom were "weaned off" the practice of writing the name of Heaven by the Sages, an event that was commemorated as a holiday on the third of Tishrei, a date now dedicated to the Fast of Gedaliah.