Some Christians today like to transliterate the Tetragrammaton into their modern language translations, and to pronounce the name when reading aloud (their best reconstruction of the name I mean, usually "Yahweh".) Other Christians oppose this, saying that it goes against centuries and even millenia of Jewish and Christian practice.

So I'd like to know what was the earliest translation of the Hebrew scriptures which attempted to transliterate the Tetragrammaton?

Answers should not be limited to English translations, but they should only give translations which frequently use a transliteration. For example, see Wikipedia for translations which use "Jehovah". The KJV's seven uses of "Jehovah" is not the kind of translation I'm asking about; Young's Literal Translation (published 1862) with 6831 uses of "Jehovah" is.

(Aparently the formal definition of "transliteration" is strictly a one to one mapping, with "transcription" refers to trying to write the sounds ignoring silent or double letters etc. In my experience "transcription" is colloquially called "transliteration". But it probably doesn't make a difference for the Tetragrammaton.)

  • Be sure to specify whether you are looking for a translation (finding an equivalent in a target language for a word in the source language: 'the Lord') vs. transLITeration (inscribing a word in the source into a target language as close as you can into the other language by using the equivalent letters if this is possible, but disregarding the meaning it had in the original language: e.g. 'yhvh'). Jul 30, 2018 at 23:33
  • @Sola I think it's quite clear that I'm asking about transliterations of the Tetragrammaton. Though the Septuagint mimicking letter shapes regardless of sound is a further complication.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 30, 2018 at 23:59
  • I see. Good luck with your question. Jul 31, 2018 at 10:15

1 Answer 1


It would appear that the Septuagint may be the first translation of the ancient Hebrew scriptures to have retained YHWH. Although retaining the Hebrew form of this word is not a transliteration, please bear with me as I explain what happened.

In the time of Ptolomaic rule over Judea (320 to 198 B.C.) many Greek people came in to Judea, their culture influencing the people. This hellenization resulted in a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. It began to be written around 285 B.C. and was finished during the 100s B.C. The Septuagint became the scriptures for Greek speaking Jews of the first century A.D. and the apostle Paul used it when quoting from the Hebrew scriptures, though he never kept the Hebrew YHWH, but wrote Greek for ‘Lord’. This is significant when Paul quoted Hebrew text referring to Yahweh but applied it to Jesus Christ. This was a transliteration. Was it the earliest, the first?

From this link below the claim is made that,

“In the earliest manuscripts of the Septuagint the Tetragrammaton was given in Hebrew letters, which in Greek circles were supposed to be Greek and were read πιπι (Field, "Origenis Hexaplorum Quæ Supersunt," i. 90, Oxford, 1875; Herzog-Hauck, l.c. viii. 530; Blau, l.c. p. 131).” http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14346-tetragrammaton

I have no knowledge of whether those earliest manuscripts of the Septuagint were actually Greek and were read πιπι, or not. However, if they were, then that would be a transliteration.

According to the link below, there are ancient Greek manuscripts, such as the Septuagint, proto-masoretic, kaige, translation by Aquila of Sinope, Symmachus the Ebionite, Theodotion and the Hexapla [written by Origen in the first half of the third century A.D.] that contain the Hebrew YHWH or that have it in paleo-Hebrew script. Those would not be transliterations.

However, it is important to note that that particular manuscript fragment in the entry below is a REVISION of the Septuagint, so that the Septuagint original will pre-date it. It adds that there is a book on this written by Emanuel Tov in 1990: Discoveries in the Judean Desert: VIII. The Greek Minor Prophets Scroll from Nahal Hever (8HevXIIgr). Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0-198263272 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_Minor_Prophets_Scroll_from_Nahal_Hever

Now, your question asks about earliest transliterations of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, yet I have written about retaining the Hebrew, not transliterations of it (apart from the possibility of a transliteration into Greek in the link http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14346-tetragrammaton

This is where my final link is of significance.

The Septuagint represents the first major effort at translating a significant religious text from one language into another. It is interesting to note that many of the New Testament quotes from the Hebrew Bible are taken from the Septuagint. As faithful as the Septuagint translators strived to be in accurately rendering the Hebrew text into Greek, some translational differences arose. In comparing the New Testament quotations of the Hebrew Bible, it is clear that the Septuagint was often used. This is the result of the fact that by the late 1st century B.C., and especially the 1st century A.D. – the Septuagint had “replaced” the Hebrew Bible as the Scriptures most people used. Since most people spoke and read Greek as their primary language, and the Greek authorities strongly encouraged the use of Greek, the Septuagint became much more common than the Hebrew Old Testament. The fact that the Apostles and New Testament authors felt comfortable, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, in using the Septuagint should give us assurance that a translation of the original languages of the Bible is still the authoritative Word of God.


Please note how the apostle Paul transliterated his quotations from the Hebrew scriptures where the Tetragrammaton occurred, into the Greek word for ‘Lord’.

Obviously, if another answer gives evidence of the Tetragrammaton being transliterated in manuscripts predating Paul’s writings (all completed before A.D. 70), then my answer will need to be corrected.

  • 1
    "Please note how the apostle Paul transliterated his quotations from the Hebrew scriptures where the Tetragrammaton occurred, into the Greek word for ‘Lord’." I don't understand in what sense you can call this a transliteration.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 30, 2018 at 21:34
  • @ curiousdannii - Translation is one thing, transliteration is another thing, and pronunciation is yet another thing. The Hebrew letters YHWH may be translated into, say, Greek language, going from the original language to another. Then, if that Greek translation is written down as another word (either in the Greek or in another language) it becomes a transliteration. My answer deals with that and not with pronunciation. Hope that helps!
    – Anne
    Jul 31, 2018 at 8:26
  • @curiousdannii - Transliteration is required when there is no exact equivalent word in a language which the original text is being translated into. The purpose of transliterating a word is to deal with the problem of there being no attached meaning in the new language. An example is the Hebrew word 'debir' (which Solomon built). When the Septuagint turned that into Greek, it used 'dabir' but as there is no such Greek word, nor is that similar to anything in Greek, it is a transliteration and not a translation. No equivalent Greek word suffices for the Hebrew 'debir'. Again, I hope this helps.
    – Anne
    Aug 7, 2018 at 7:19
  • 1
    I know what transliteration is. I don't see how turning יהוה into κύριος could in any sense be called a transliteration. But that seems to be what you were claiming Paul did.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 7, 2018 at 7:24
  • 1
    A transliteration has to have some semblance of the same sounds. Adonai is Hebrew not Greek, but neither it nor Kurious, nor Theos, are in any way transliterations of YHWH.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 7, 2018 at 7:51

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