In a recent question about the names of God, two answers from different people wrote that the letters of the Tetragrammaton by themselves give the meaning of:
The Hebrew letters mean “Behold the hand, Behold the nail”. YHWH is our salvation.
Yud. (A hand)
Waw. (A nail)
Another now deleted answer says that the Hebrew word for 'ten' has these symbolic letter meanings:
The first character is the `ayin, ע, and symbolically means to see, eye, discern, or divine providence.
The second character is the Shin, ש, and symbolically means the tree of life, burning bush, God’s spirit, etc.
The third character is the Resh, ר, and symbolically means a humble or penitent man like he is bending over in prayer.
Now at first glance this seems to me to be pseudo-linguistic nonsense. Spoken language precedes written language, and the meanings of words aren't derived from their sounds or letters. These "meanings" also seem pretty speculative. They don't have the historical evidence that gematria has, and most aren't based on the historic origins of these letters (except for Yod and Ayin):
- Waw/vav came from a glyph for 'mace'
- Resh comes from a glyph for 'head' (and the word ראש still has that meaning!)
- Shin apparently came from a glyph for 'tooth'
But even if the rest of these letters did have the symbolic meanings claimed about them, so what? It's just not how language works! Words have their own meanings, often distinct from the parts that make them up. We all know that 'awful' doesn't mean 'full of awe' in modern English, even if that was its historic origin.
So where has this approach to Hebrew come from?
- Do any branches of Judaism support this approach?
- What is its historic origin?
- And lastly, is there a name for this theory?