I am currently working on a religious drama and outsmarted myself. I come to you for help.

Growing up Jewish, I did not hear the term Yahweh until I was 14 in Western Civilization. "Well, you know, right? It's, you know, God." And my reply, "I have no idea what you're talking about, and seriously, there isn't even a w in Hebrew so try again." Nor in Ancient Greek! Although, some would say the Hebrew letter vav can behave like a w.

Next, my Torah portion included Exodus 3:14 (and I gotta tell you, reading off an animal skin scroll is cool!). It says Eh-yeh asher Eh-yeh. Even among Jews, there is some controversy because of limitations within Hebrew of future tense. However, "I shall be what I shall be" is without fault as an English translation of the Hebrew. Certainly the Christian Bible "I am who [what] I am" is a very different statement. The Torah has been meticulously transcribed letter by letter for 2600 years

So I asked a (Conservative) rabbi. We agreed the line from Exodus 3:14 contained neither a Yah nor a weh. "So, Rabbi, where does this word come from?" She says, "Well it really has nothing to do with Exodus 3:14. Here read this." And I read, "Barukh atah Adonai--"

"You can stop there," she says. "The third word does not state 'Adonai.' Why do you say that?" And my response is "Because that [what I read] is how we spell our Lord's name on paper--probably to prevent us from being insulting." And she says "And what does it actually read?" My Hebrew is not so great but I manage "Yeh-vah?" She says, "That's the best I can do."

Although I might benefit from seeing a Protestant minister, I wound up with a visit at a nearby Catholic Church. Although we came to no further conclusion on the matter, we agreed that Yeshua was an awfully nice Hebrew name.

I've read quite a bit over the years on the subject. Most of the commentary is either too mystical or too one-sided to be useful to my project or me.

Specifically, how did "Yahweh" become a word of such prominence in Western literature and lexicon?

I've redacted the latter part of my question, and thank you for your information thus far.

For clarification, I'll add: YHVH, or whatever you want to call it, is little more than a placeholder in modern Hebrew prayers; it is simply not said, and has been further redacted to YY. I've seen it a million times, but I just say Lord ("Adonai"). The idea that the placeholder held any real significance was lost on me until much later in life. I do not know what was spoken in biblical times, but that doesn't matter. The discussion of Jehovah below is helpful, but as long as I'm still open for business ...

Edit: I recently asked an Orthodox rabbi. Orthodox Judaism tends to be more mystical, if you will (Chabad.org). The response: "It is actually one of many names for the Divine. ... It was not used in general prayers during the times of the Temple [Kings]. ... It is unknown what was spoken during the time of Moses."

  • Stu, you might want to check this Wiki article also: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_that_I_Am
    – Tim Ward
    Feb 18, 2016 at 20:50
  • humans will never know again, as the pronounciation marks were omitted so that none may know the true name and abuse its' power
    – Munenushi
    Sep 22, 2023 at 10:38

6 Answers 6


Here is a basic answer:

In Exodus 3:14, אֶֽהְיֶה (eh-yeh, a form of the Hebrew verb "to be") is used as part of what today would be considered a folk etymology of the most sacred Hebrew name of God, called the "Tetragrammaton": יהוה as it appears in the original unpointed (no vowels) Hebrew manuscripts. Eh-yeh is not itself the commonly used name for God in the Hebrew Bible. It is used in Exodus 3:14 only to give meaning to the Tetragrammaton, which is the common, but very sacred, name for the God of the ancient Hebrews. The force and basic meaning of the etymology in Exodus 3:14 is that God is called יהוה from the verb "to be": God is the one who is or who, in more modern philosophical terms, is the ultimate reality and the self-existing (uncreated) being.

In the Hebrew Bible, this name is usually pointed (given vowels) as: יְהֹוָה or Yĕhovah in English pronunciation. It is translated as "Jehovah" in some English Bibles.

However, that pronunciation is not based on how it was originally pronounced at the time the Hebrew Bible was written. As the Rabbi pointed out to you, when יְהֹוָה appears in the Hebrew Bible, Jews regularly read it as "Adonai" instead. The Hebrew for Adonai is אֲדֹנָי. And that is where the vowel pointings commonly used for יְהֹוָה in today's Hebrew Bibles come from (with a slight variation due to how various Hebrew letter combinations take vowels).

In other words, the word that is traditionally transliterated into English as "Jehovah" (or as "LORD" in small caps in the KJV and other traditional English bibles) is actually a combination of the consonants from the Tetragrammaton יהוה and the vowels from the Hebrew word "Adonai," which means "Lord."

You see, the Tetragrammaton was, and still is today, considered too sacred to be pronounced by most religious Jews. So when they encounter it in the Bible, they say "Adonai" instead. And the vowels, which were added later, reflect that substitution of "Adonai" for the Tetragrammaton when reading.

Because of this tradition of not pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, which stretches back over two thousand years, we do not know for sure how it was originally pronounced. "Yahweh" is what most scholars now think was the original pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton—which is why that pronunciation is commonly used in scholarly circles and among some groups of Christians.

  • The Orthodox rabbi I contacted disagrees that "Yahweh" was the pronounciation during the time of the Kings. However, I appreciate your response. Thank you. As far as Exodus 3:14 the first letter "aleph" versus Yud (Y) used throughout the Torah seems pretty obvious--as I mentioned, it appears to be a separate issue.
    – Stu W
    Feb 23, 2016 at 20:34
  • @StuW I don't claim to know what the actual pronunciation was during the time of the Kings. But as I said, "Yahweh" is what most (Christian?) scholars think was the original pronunciation, based on various archaeological finds. It's quite possible that they're quite wrong. Feb 23, 2016 at 20:41
  • I'm not aware that אֶֽהְיֶה (eh-yeh) is used as a name for God outside of Exodus 3:14, but I could have missed something. יהוה is the one that appears pervasively in the Hebrew text. Have you encountered Eh-yeh being used as a name for God among religious Jews? If so, that's news to me! Feb 23, 2016 at 20:44
  • 1
    @StuW That follow-up question would probably work better on Biblical Hermeneutics. Feb 23, 2016 at 20:49
  • 1
    It may be convenient to add here that, until the sixteenth Century, the "official" version of the Hebrew Bible as far as Christians were concerned was the LXX, or the Septuagint. And the translators of the Septuagint (Alexandrian Jews in the Third Century BC) translate that phrase as "ἐγώ εἰμί ὁ ὤν", with a present tense εἰμί and a present participle ὤν. I'd venture the future tense is probably influence from Jewish scholarship, which they apparently favor?
    – Wtrmute
    Nov 15, 2017 at 2:46

So this is a bit of a stretch for this to be EL&U, but I don't know where else it really belongs.

The First thing to consider is that YHWH/Yahweh/Jehovah occurs multiple times before Exodus 3:14.

So speaking in purely literary terms this is not the revelation of God's name, it is an explanation/expounding of it's meaning.

If you parse the transliteration "Eh-yeh asher Eh-yeh" you can see the obvious relationship between "yeh" and "YH".

The implication can be described like this: Jehovah is composed of the abbreviated forms of the imperfect, the participle, and the perfect of the Hebrew verb "to be" ( ye=yehi; ho=howeh; wa=hawah ). According to this explanation, the meaning of Jehovah would be "he who will be, is, and has been".

This view has has consistent among English scholars since early translations.

So if the primary question is about the prevalence in English translations of Yahweh/Jehovah instead of Eh-yeh: Yahweh/Jehovah is not a reference TO Exodus 3:14, rather "Eh-yeh asher Eh-yeh" is a reference to YHWH (which was already familiar to Moses readers & followers at least from it's 153 occurrences in Genesis if not from existing cultural usage.)

The difference between Yeh and Yah is related to the lack of vowel pointing in the oldest examples of written Hebrew. Copyists at later dates inserted vowel usage that was modern at their time to make up for the missing vowels.

So if the question is about the prevalence in English translations of YHWH instead of Adonai, the literal answer is that YHWH came first, and Adonai reflects later editing (for cultural reasons not lingusitic ones).

For it was substituted Adonai; and the fact that this name is found 315 times in combination with "Yhwh" and 134 times alone shows that the custom of reading the Tetragrammaton as if written "Adonai" began at a time when the text of the Biblical books was not yet scrupulously protected from minor additions. This assumption explains most of the occurrences of "Adonai" before "Yhwh"; i.e., the former word indicated the pronunciation of the latter. At the time of the Chronicler this pronunciation was so generally accepted that he never wrote the name "Adonai." About 300 B.C., therefore, the word "Yhwh" was not pronounced in its original form. For several reasons Jacob ("Im Namen Gottes," p. 167) assigns the "disuse of the word 'Yhwh' and the substitution of 'Adonai' to the later decades of the Babylonian exile."

{personal opinion segment} If anything Yahweh/Jehovah has fallen into surprising disuse, considering the number of occurrences of the Tetragrammaton that are known from old manuscripts. Many translations up through the early 1900's used the name multiple times, but a more recent practice has been to remove it in a way that seems strongly reminiscent of a superstition that appeared in Jewish culture after the majority (if not all) of the "Old Testament" was written.

To call YHWH [a word that appears 6823 times] "little more than a placeholder" for Adonai one that appears 448 times, reflects a modern perception that is markedly different from what "linguistic archeology" (and straight forward written history) reveal about historical usage.

  • Thanks. But that doesn't answer my question. Also, YHVH is shorthand, pronounced "Adonai" for Lord. Transliteration of YHVH is "Yehvah."
    – Stu W
    Feb 18, 2016 at 20:02
  • 3
    Check the recent update.... YHVH isn't shorthand. Hebrew writing originally had no vowels (as we consider them). Adonai is a later "shorthand" to replace the vocalization of YHVH. Is the question about the V <> W specifically?
    – H.R.Rambler
    Feb 18, 2016 at 20:06
  • 1
    We've both done some clarification edits.... but I'm honestly not sure what question I didn't answer, my response is entirely geared to match "Discrepancy between Yahweh (Christian Bibles) and Eh-yeh (Torah)" which seemed to be your primary question at the time of posting.
    – H.R.Rambler
    Feb 18, 2016 at 20:25
  • The V to W shift doesn't trouble me. Such a thing can change over 2600 years The shorthand for Adonai has changed as well and is YY. Adonai is still Lord, and I still have no idea where the Christians came up with "I am what I am."
    – Stu W
    Feb 18, 2016 at 20:28
  • 2
    @h.r.rambler your very good answer does answer the question that is asked, but OP is refusing it because it does not answer a second question (I am what I am) , and a third one is included as well (why no christian sect tried to..). It's not even about English, it's religion and history. Also multiple questions in a post is cause to close it... There's so many things wrongs with the thread If it wasn't for the effort you put in answering, I'd vote to close the question.
    – P. Obertelli
    Feb 18, 2016 at 20:45

Not sure how much I can contribute here, but... From what I've heard and seen, there's quite a lot of controversy over the meaning, origin, and usage of YHWH (or YHVH, YaHWeH, JeHoVaH, etc.). If I recall correctly, some pronunciation differences in the Christian Church are based upon transliteration and pronunciation between more modern languages, like German.

As for H.R Rambler's comment regarding the occurrence of YHWH, simply because it is used before it's introduction in the chronology of the passages doesn't mean that it was not first introduced to man at that point in time, as the writing of the books occurred after this point.

I know my church generally accounts the usage of YHWH and "adonai" replacing God's name as the implementation of a fence-law by the Pharisees to prevent using God's name in vain by accident. Thus, the usage of the word for lord when the Hebrew said YHWH in the Septuagint, and the same in the new testament quotations of the old testament.


YHVH is never Yahweh! Yah is the short form of Yehovah in Songs of Songs 8:6. It is the only word mentioned in this book about God. (there is no vowel there, so we do not know, whether it was YAH or YEH!)

So, YEH or YAH were words for God, which you find in names like EliYah.

The meaning of Elijah's name is: God is YEHOVAH.

The "o" you may find e.g. in the Codex Leningradensis in Gen. 3:14.

HOVAH comes from the Hebrew verb HAYAH.

No Jew ever says Yahweh, since nobody every used God's name that way. So, the Christians have dominated the Jewish Culture by using Yahweh, without ever consulting them. In Wikipedia Yahweh is an ancient mystical God, which Moses may have picked up among the Midianites in Saudi Arabia (they say). And if you want to pass a test about Yahweh, you have to say, that Yahweh was a midianite "devil" or Demiurg. This way, the Jews were the sort of people, who worhsipped this Yahweh, and this is the reason, the Jews are percecuted, since most Christians believe, Jews believe in the devil! (Rev. 2:9/3:9)

The name of Jesus has been first written in Greek in the Septuaginth. The first High Priest in the second temple period was ἰησοῦς in Ezra 3:9 etc.

So, ἰησοῦς was the name, Joseph and Mary gave to Jesus.

The name of Jesus means: Ye(h) = YEHOVAH and "shus" means saviour and healer.

So, the name IESU(S) in Greek is exactly, what the High Prist was in the Old Testament.

This IESUS has been written in Greek New Testaments until today! It is ἰησοῦς.

You may write it as IESOUS. The I was changed to a J in the Reformation time to JESUS.

So, YEHOVAH was also changed to JEHOVAH. I changed all God's names in my new Bible: www.buchererpianos.ch/Die_Bibel.html.

So, we know the history of YEHOVAH. YEH means the short name of God and HOVAH has to do with the HAVAH in Hebrew, which means "to be". So, since the prensent tense of "havah" from Hebrew means "to be", like in John 8:58/Ex. 3:14 (ego eimi), We know the the name of God, which is YAH or YEH (the vowel is not pronounce like I write it, but it is a "ə". So, the name of God (ELOHIM) is: Yəhovah.) https://www.londonschool.com/blog/phonetic-alphabet.

Christof Bucherer, M.Div.


ויאמר עוד אלהים אל־משה כה־תאמר אל־בני ישראל יהוה** אלהי אבתיכם אלהי אברהם אלהי יצחק ואלהי יעקב שלחני אליכם זה־שמי לעלם וזה זכרי לדר דר׃ Exodus 3:15. "Dominus, Domini or Lord" says ultimately, that his name is "YHVH," usually pronounced as Yahweh of Yahveh. [Jeremiah 32:27 NKJV] 27 "Behold, I [am] the LORD "YHVH", the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me? Since he is the God of all flesh (mankind . . . not just the Jews) it seems we should know this name. The Hebrew text above also notes that this name "YHVH" is to be remembered by all generations.


The discrepancy is not actually between Christian and Jewish translations but it is already inherent to the Torah.

אֶֽהְיֶה and יהוה actually only share the two consonants יה . The letters וה do not appear.

God does not say I am YHWH. The given answer rather sounds as a refusal of an answer to the question. God may have refused to accept a name that may be put besides or in opposition to deities of other people.

We must take into account that in the time of Mose, several people only worshipped one god whereas others worshipped another single god, each possibly assuming that the god of the others may exist besides their god. This can even be observed in the conflict between the cult of ba'al and YHWH that arose much later.

The "name" in the answer may be understood as a revelation that only this One God Is and exists.

I want to add this possibility of interpretation at the side of the aforementioned contributions.

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