As I mentioned in Part One of this series, I embarked on this study because of a Meme that has been making its way around the Internet.
The Meme says, “Did you know? That the letter J is only 600 years old, so how could Jesus who lived 2000 years ago be named Jesus?”
In Part One of this series, I noted that even though this Meme was plain silly, I did encounter people who believed it. So, I took it upon myself to find out the history of the letter ‘J’ and how it ended up in the name Jesus.
This is the link to Part One: https://cherylmasonblogs.com/2020/05/30/the-letter-j-and-the-name-jesus-part-one/
In Part One I provided a brief history of the English language. I also provided a brief history of the Bible and the origin of the letter ‘J’ in the English language and the Bible. I mentioned that the ‘J’ sound was in existence for some time prior to it being a letter in our alphabet. The ‘J’ sound was written as ‘I’. Eventually, ‘J’ broke away from the ‘I’ and got its own sound and ‘I’ became a vowel. All this happened in approximately the fourteenth century.
In Part Two I will be briefly discussing the following:
- The influence of vowels on the Hebrew language and its subsequent influence on the English Bible translations.
- I will also briefly discuss the letter ‘Y’ and the ineffable name of the Hebrew God ─ YHVH. The Hebrew Roots Movement and Messianics insist on calling God ─YHVH and Jesus ─ Yeshua. Due to Part Two being rather lengthy, I will discuss the name Yeshua in Part Three.
Let us begin…
Vowels transformed the Hebrew Scriptures:
Vowels have played an important role in the evolution of language, but they were not always present in the alphabet. Ancient languages, for example, had no vowels. Ancient Hebrew, also known as Biblical Hebrew, had no vowels, they were added later. It was the Greeks who gave us vowels, they also gave us the written form of the English alphabet. In approximately 800 B.C. the Greeks, changed the Phoenician alphabet in the shapes that we recognise today as the English alphabet.
Vowels in the form of dots and dashes were added to the Hebrew Scriptures sometime between the sixth century and the tenth century. A group of Jewish scholars called the Masoretes (meaning the traditionalists) produced The Masoretic Text. The Masoretes translators added the dots and dashes to assist Jewish readers pronounce Hebrew words correctly and to give vocalization to the text.
Without vowels, boat could be written as BT, it could be boat, but it could also be boot, bout, beet or beat. How would we know the difference? Using the wrong vowel can change the meaning of a word completely. And, in fact, this has been the number one accusation laid against the Masoretic Text. Did the Masoretes get every vowel and every word correct?
I will not bore you with too many details, but I will give you just one example from Washington Gladden’s epic work on the Bible. He quotes Jerome, the Early Church Father who left us numerous examples like the Hebrew word zkr-memory in Isaiah Ch. 26:14. ZKR which consists of three consonants could be zeker (memory) Strong’s H2142 or zakar (male person) Strong’s 2145 as in Genesis Ch. 1:27.
Using zkr as an example, Jerome questioned whether Saul’s judgement in 1 Samuel Chapter 15 was correct. Did Saul wipe the memorial/vestige (zeker) of the Amalekites or did he kill all the males (zakar)? Jerome was not the only early church father to raise these types of questions. The early church father’s writings are overly critical of perceived corruptions within the texts from which our Old Testament was copied. Of course, we can all sigh and go tut-tut but Jeremiah the Prophet accused the Scribes (Sopherim) in his day of having a lying pen which deceived the people (Jeremiah Ch. 8:8).
I am deviating here for a minute, see if you can read this little brain teaser. It has vowels but reading the ancient languages without vowels would have been remarkably like reading this meme.Your mind must work overtime to read between the lines and draw out its true meaning.
I have been told by Jewish scholars that just as you were able to read the meme, they also inherently knew what vowels to add to the Masoretic Text. I have no reason to doubt them except that the making of the Masoretic Text was not all smooth sailing.
The Masoretic Text was constructed in Palestine and Babylon between 500 ─ 1000 A.D. About the same time as the Babylonian Talmud. This period not only experienced a reconstruction of the TaNaKh but also a regeneration of the Hebrew language itself. Hebrew was officially a dead language even during the time of Christ. When Hebrew is mentioned during the time of Christ it means Aramaic. Aramaic and before that Greek were the official languages of the Jews.
There were two main groups adding vocalization and meaning to the Masoretic Text. The two groups, Western and Eastern interpreted the text differently. They represented two families, the Ben Asher family, and the Ben Naphtali family. We know from the Talmud that Rabbis were also involved in the Masora, they were called Sopherim (scribes, counters). Thanks to the Dictionary of Rabbis by Jacob Neusner, we can learn about these Rabbis. Like, who they were, when they lived, what they stood for and their contribution to modern day Judaism.
In the end the Ben Asher version became more authoritative and was later sanctioned by Maimonides. It was Ben Asher’s punctuation that has influenced our Old Testament, or at least that is what I think. Personally, I believe it would have been better if we used the unvocalized and unaccentuated Hebrew and worked out the translation ourselves. The benefits to Christians in my opinion would have been fewer denominations and a cleaner more fluid text. After all God had placed on this earth outstanding people like John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, and William Tyndale to translate for us.
The argument in favour of the Masoretic manuscripts until recently has been that the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm that it was transmitted without any alterations. And that was true until the DSS themselves have come under some scrutiny in recent times. It is my opinion there are major differences between The Masoretic Text and the DSS. I was aware of this even before I discovered that some DSS fragments have proven to be fraudulent. I will leave you with this quote and link from The Biblical Archaeology Society. “Nevertheless, there are differences (some quite significant) between the scrolls and the Masoretic text. Furthermore, these differences have made scholars rethink variant readings found in other ancient manuscripts. How should scholars treat these variants with relationship to the Masoretic text?”
Please do not get me wrong, I am eternally grateful to the Jews for sharing with the world their Hebrew Scriptures. I am a person of deep faith, but I also present facts. And, for too long Christians have been dumbed down due to an absence of facts. By faith I believe the Hebrew Scriptures has everything that leads us to Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Therefore, there are no excuses. But I am also intelligent and educated enough to know that throughout the process man has had a big part in the way the text has been transmitted to us. And to say that the Masoretic manuscripts are flawless is nothing short of ridiculous.
Here are some ‘pointers’ (pardon the pun) about the Masoretic Text:
- That it came into existence some 600 years after Christ. Or Christianity was 600 years old when it was being edited. And that the editing continued into the time of The Crusades.
- That it came into existence some 600 years after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. The Jewish dream of returning to the land and rebuilding the Temple would have been relatively strong.
- That the Masoretic Text and the Talmud were being compiled about the same time and in some instances by the same Rabbis.
- That one of the Masoretic Texts and the Talmud were both compiled in Babylon, the other in Palestine.
- That there were different versions of the Masoretic Text, until one was chosen to be the authoritative text. Which puts paid to the theory that its authors inherently knew which vowel went where. And, depending on who you believe the groups were diametrically opposed to each other or worked amiably together.
- That the relationship between the Jews and Christians were at their lowest point.
- That the religion of Islam was being birthed across the globe.
- That the MT was compiled by the Jews and for Jews. It is their history, they are the heroes, it is their book! And there is nothing wrong with that.
- That Christians must fish out and take what is applicable to them as confirmed by Jesus and His Apostles. Jesus never confirmed everything in the Hebrew Scriptures, even aspects of Moses’s Law. Jesus Himself saying … “It has been said of old, but I say to you.” Therefore, for the Christian the words of Jesus are more authoritative.
- That with the Masoretic Text even the simplest vowel placement can significantly alter the meaning of the text.
- That the oldest Hebrew manuscripts (Leningradensia Codex) is composed from the Masoretic Text and was only completed in 1008 ─ 1010 A.D. And that the colophon states it has only one author, Samuel ben Jacob who edited it and pointed it.
- That the earliest New Testament manuscripts pre-date the Masoretic Text by 200 years.
The Meme in question, YHVH and the name Yeshua:
The Meme at the beginning of this article drove me to get a much better appreciation of the history of language. Never did I realize that language was so dynamic. Changing letters, making new sounds, and adding vowels is not some rare phenomenon that occurred only with the letter J and I. Instead, it occurred repeatedly in the history of language in general but also the English language. Language is constantly evolving, and its history is fascinating.
Take the letter ‘Y’ for instance, it is a complex letter. The shape ‘Y’ is present in proto-Canaanite script and is said to be Akkadian in origin. The Romans adopted it around 100 A.D. and it found a home in the English alphabet during the Old English period. It remains unclear to me if the Hebrew script adopted it from the Romans or from the Canaanites. Since one of the Hebrew scripts is incredibly old: the one used by the Samaritans, I would say the Hebrew ‘Y’ is Canaanite in origin. The other Hebrew script is referred to as Modern Hebrew and has its origins in Aramaic. Both scripts ultimately have their roots in Phoenician.
Since the ‘Y’ shape is ancient, it should not come as a surprise that the ancient Israelites adopted it in the name of their God YHVH. There is no shortage of information out there about the meaning of YHVH. I have mainly used Jewish sources to follow this trail of the ineffable name. I must mention here, the NAME comes with its own caveat. In the Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, we read there is a death penalty for those uttering the name (Sanhedrin 56a). With that in mind, I will proceed.
This is what I discovered about the name YHVH:
- That Maimonides states that YHVH is the only name of God that has God doing nothing ─ it is a non-action name.
- That in the Zohar, YHVH is the forty-two letters ─ Shem Hamphorah.
- That in the Bahir the Book of Illumination, YHVH is number forty-five, which corresponds to the six Sefirot that are reflected in Adam Kadmon.
- That the magical pronunciation of YHVH created Adam Kadmon, the archetypal man rather than YHVH creating him.
- That the proper pronunciation of YHVH has been used to create a Golemthat can assist the Jewish people in times of crisis.
- That YHVH appears on some decks of Tarot Cards and is used in occult practices.
- That in the Toledoth Yeshu, Jesus is accused of discovering the magical powers of YHVH and engraving them under the flesh in his thigh. Discovering the secret gave him supernatural powers.
- That just like Jehovah was created from YHVH by adding vowels, the pronunciation of YHVH was created by adding vowels ‘a’ and ‘e’. The Masoretes added Adonai and Elohim and created Yahweh.
- That because the pronunciation of YHVH is so obscure Jews stopped using possibly during the Babylonian Exile but certainly before 200 A.D.
- That YHVH appeared nearly 7000 times in ancient manuscripts but was replaced by Adonai and Ha Shem (The Name) in most instances.
- That the name of God has been lost to the Jews during the various exiles. Since the ‘Name’ was pronounced by the High Priest either once a year or once every seven years, it got lost with lack of use. Rather than mispronounce God’s name, Jews out of respect use Ha Shem (The Name).
- That in Canaan YHVH was always accompanied by his cohort and wife Asherah. In Canaanite culture YHVH was a Canaanite God.
- That the Septuagint translated the ineffable name as Kyrios (LORD).
- That the name YHVH does not appear anywhere in the new Testament.
- That Jesus never addressed the Father as YHVH, neither did the Apostles. Instead Jesus referred to the Father as Father, thus restoring the Fatherhood of God. You do not normally call your earthly father by his name, do you? Instead, you use endearing terms such as father, daddy, or papa, out of respect.
- That the name YHVH does not appear in the over 60,000 manuscripts and early church writings that Christians have in their possession. Some dating back to the fourth century.
- That none of the Early Church Fathers called God, YHVH.
- That the Hebrew Roots Movement and Messianics are in violation of Talmudic Law by calling the Jewish God ─Yahweh.
A word of warning:
I find it strange that for nearly 2000 years Christianity has survived by recognizing God as Father and Jesus as Jesus. If we consider the hundreds of Revivals that have occurred over that period and Yeshua was never heard of in any of them. Also, there are hundreds of You Tube videos about people from every corner of the globe who experienced Jesus supernaturally. There is not one video where He refers to Himself as Yeshua. To Muslims and Hindus alike, He says, “I am Jesus the God of the Christians.”
Sure, Jesus is called different names in different languages, but never in the history of Christianity has there been such a contrived effort to change the name of the Christian God across the globe. Personally, I believe many races have adopted this because of their rejection of Western Civilization. And a genuine belief that God must have Jewish names. Except it is questionable that these names even have any meaning in the Hebrew dialect. Why do we suddenly have to call Jesus new names or names in other languages? Hebrew is not my language neither is it the language of some person living in a village in Papua New Guinea or Africa.
What concerns me even more is that the Jews themselves have abandoned the use of YHVH in favour of Adonai or HaShem. They have lost the original vocalization of the name. If there are doubts concerning YHVH amongst Jews, then gentiles cannot be certain they are addressing God by the correct name. If YHVH remains in doubt how can we be certain of Yeshua? We cannot ─ As I will show you in Part Three, Yeshua is an off shoot of YHVH. As for Ha Shem (The Name), it is what you call God when you do not know His name anymore.
In Part Three I will also explain how problems can arise when trying to understand Ancient Near East names with a modern mindset. Every ANE name had a function, modern names do not necessarily have a function. Finally, I will give you my understanding of Names and Titles from the Biblical perspective.
I will leave you with Exodus 23:13 “And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect; and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.” Christians be careful what names you use when referring to God.
Author: Cheryl Mason.
Please feel free to comment or discuss further, thanks!
Aune, D., 2003. The Westminster Dictionary of New Testament and Early Christian Literature and Rhetoric. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press.
Benner, J., 2015. [online] Ancienthebrew.org. Available at: <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org> [Accessed 22 May 2015].
Biblehub.com. 2015. Bible Hub: Search, Read, Study the Bible in Many Languages. [online] Available at: <http://biblehub.com/> [Accessed 6 March 2015].
Brake, D., 2008. A Visual History of The English Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Cohen, K., 2014. Where English Came From: What Every American Speaker Should Know.
Comfort, P., 2005. Encountering the Manuscripts an Introduction to New Testament Palaeography & Textual Criticism. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Dennis, G., 2016. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism. 2nd ed. Woodbury, Minnesota.: Llewellyn Worldwide, LTD. Kindle Edition.
Diringer, D. and Minns, E., 1948. The Alphabet A Key to The History of Mankind. New York: Philosophical Library.
DOWNEY, A., 2019. MAIMONIDESS YAHWEH. EUGENE: WIPF & STOCK PUBLISHERS.
Drout, M., 2006. History of English.
Edersheim, A., 1886. The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah. Oxford.
Evans, M., 2013. The History of Christian Zionism. Phoenix AZ 85046: Time Worthy Books.
Gladden, W., 2015. Who Wrote the Bible? A Book for The People. (Classic Reprint).
Greenlee, J. and Greenlee, J., 2008. The Text of The New Testament. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers.
Kaplan, A., 1979. The Bahir Translation, Introduction and Commentary. 1st ed. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc.
Kraemer, J., 2008. Maimonides. New York: Doubleday.
MacMullen, R., 1984. Christianising The Roman Empire. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Marcolino, N., 2014. THE JESUS OF THE JEWS: The Most Amazing Discovery of The Name of Jesus As the Nazarene Messiah in The Old Testament (TANAKH). Nivaldo Marcolino de Carvalho.
Moseley, D., 1996. Yeshua A Guide to The Real Jesus And the Original Church. Maryland: Messianic Jewish Publishers.
Mulder, M. and Sysling, H., 2004. MIKRA Text, Translations, Reading & Interpretation of The Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism & Early Christianity. 1st ed. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, pp.39-86; 116-133.
Naveh, J., 1982. Early History of The Alphabet. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University.
Opeoluna Daodu, F., n.d. God’s Name Is Not Yahweh Or Jehovah?
Patai, R., 1979. The Messiah Texts Jewish Legends of Three Thousand Years. 1st ed. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
Patzia, A., 2011. The Making of The New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic.
Plant, I., 2012. Myth in The Ancient World. [Place of publication not identified]: Palgrave Macmillan.
Pranaitis, R., n.d. The Talmud Unmasked the Secret Rabbinical Teaching Concerning Christians.
Rambsel, Y., 1996. Yeshua. Nashville: Word Pub.
Robinson, A., 2007. The Story of Writing. London: Thames & Hudson.
Roger, S., 2012. Jehovah, Yahweh, Jesus Or Yeshua. Texas: All Nations Publications.
Rosen, M., n.d. Alphabetical.
Sacks, D., 2004. Letter Perfect. New York: Broadway Books.
Sáenz-Badillos, A., 2006. A History of The Hebrew Language. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Sawyer, J., 2009. A Concise Dictionary of The Bible and Its Reception. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Schäfer, P., 2007. Jesus In the Talmud. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Scholem, G., 1971. The Messianic Idea in Judaism. New York: Schocken Books Inc.
Shay, S., 2008. The History of English. San Francisco: Wardja Press.
Shelly, R., 1999. The Name of Jesus. Louisiana: Howard Publishing Co., Inc.
Spiers, N., 2014. 1000 Names, Titles and Attributes of Him Who Is Lord of All. Word of Power Ministries USA.
Strong, J. and Strong, J., 1990. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
The Holy Bible, New King James Version, 1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson., Inc.
Waugh, G., 2014. The Lion of Judah The Titles of Jesus. CreateSpace, Charleston, SC, USA.
Wikipedia. n.d. Y. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y> [Accessed 21 July 2015].
Wilkinson, R., 2015. Tetragrammaton. Leiden: BRILL.
Wurthwein, E., 1995. The Text of The Old Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p.17.