Names of God


The Names of God in the Hebrew Bible


 

Introduction

 

In the vast number of modern English translations that are currently available, an almost universal consensus has been reached on how the different "names" of God should be translated into English. In this article we will investigate the 188 appellations (titles) and epithets (descriptive phrases expressing a characteristic of someone) that are used to name the one God of the Hebrew people in their Holy Scriptures (the Tanakh).


The Tanakh was written mostly in Hebrew, and therefore often called, "The Hebrew Bible." In Christian Bibles it is commonly known as, "The Old Testament."  The word "Tanakh" is from the acronym TNK, formed from the first letters of the three words used to describe the major divisions of the Hebrew Bible namely:                      

a) The Torah (teachings), often known as the Five Books of Moses or

     the Pentateuch.

     These books are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

b) The Nevi'im (prophets), consisting of:       

            i)   The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings,

            ii)  The Latter Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel,

            iii) The Twelve Prophets (Minor Prophets): Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, 

                 Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and 

                 Malachi.

c) The Ketuvim (writings), including: Psalms, Lamentations, Song of Solomon, 

  Job, Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Ruth. 


This text of the Tanakh which is now universally accepted as authoritative, is known as the Masoretic Texts (MT). It is divided into 24 books. The protestant Bible translations divide the same material into 39 books.


Rabbinic Judaism describes seven names of God which are so holy that, once written should never be erased. They are as follows:

1. The Tetragrammaton, from the Greek Τετραγράμματον, meaning, "consisting of four letters." These four Hebrew letters are transliterated into English as YHWH.

2. Six other names that can be categorized as titles. They are:

El, Eloah, Elohim, Shaddai, Ehyeh, and Tsevaot.


Rabbinic Judaism therefore  considers the other "names" found in the Hebrew Bible as mere epithets. This is in contrast to the Christian tradition, where many of these names have become well known titles.


In Chapters 85-87 of Volume 5 in the series Biblical Hebrew for All (Hattingh, Tian. (2022). London. The London Press), 188 titles and epithets that are used to identify the God of Israel are listed and discussed in detail. This essay contains a synopsis of those chapters from the above publication. Brief introductions to a selection of sections are provided. These are intended to serve as prompts for the further reading/studying of the complete list. The list is in the form of a MS Excel file, and can be downloaded by using this link.


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CONTENTS

Chapter 85

85.1 EL.

85.2 Variations of EL.

85.3 EL constructions.

85.4 Proper names containing EL.


Chapter 86

86.1 YHWH

86.2 Combinations with Elohim.

86.3 Other combinations with YHWH.

86.4 Proper names containing YAH(WEH)


Chapter 87

87.1-18 Other names

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Chapter 85


85.1 EL.

The word El appears in Ugaritic, Phoenician and other 2nd and 1st millennium BCE texts both as the generic term "god," and as God, the head of the divine pantheon. In the Hebrew Bible, El very occasionally appears alone (Ex 34:14; Nm 12:13). As it will be shown in this chapter, El usually appears with some epithet or attribute attached. For example: El Shaddai (Ch 85.3.1), El Elyon (Ch 85.3.3), etc. In these instances it is usually interpreted and translated as "God," but it is not always clear whether these uses of El refer to the deity in general or to the God of Israel in particular.       


The word El is a masculine singular noun, occurring 247 times in the Hebrew Bible, and has the basic meaning of "god." However, it has many subordinate applications to express the concept of power and/or might. In prose it is most commonly used with a defining word, usually an adjective or a genitive. Next we will mention a selection of those applications.


The most common application in the Hebrew Bible is to identify the one only true God of Israel. Unaltered, this application appears 163 times in the Hebrew Bible.  

a) El appearing alone, as in Nm 12:13, is an indication that the only true God needs no article or any other predicate to define Himself. In Gen 33:20 and elsewhere, El is portrayed as a divine name. Mal 2:10 calls God El ehad, "God is One."

b) Over and above the basic form, El is also contextually associated with a vast number of qualities, descriptions and positions of God, including many forms of five variations (Ch 85.2), and of seven combinations (Chapter 85.3).


In addition to the above applications, El is employed to indicate the following:

a) Men (and a city) of power and rank (Jon 3:3, Ez 31:11, Ez 32:21, Jb 41:17).

b) Power and strength (Neh 5:5, Dt 28:32, Prv 3:27, Gen 31:29).

c) Mighty things in nature (Ps 36:7, Is 14:13, Ps 80:11).

d) The gods of the nations and/or the supreme God (Dt 32:12, Ps 44:21, 

Ex 34:14).

 

85.2 Variations of EL.

1. Elohim

The name Elohim is the first name for God found in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 1:1). In the very first sentence, God (Elohim) speaks the universe into existence, and thus demonstrating the superlative nature of his power. Elohim appears 2,602 times throughout the Hebrew Bible, but is not found in the Book of Esther.


The construct plural form of Elohim namely Elohey (Gods of…), appears 398 times in the Hebrew Bible. The absolute plural is used to indicate the singular God of Israel, while the construct plural is used to indicate a possessive relationship with God. These instances can be placed within three groups namely:     

a) Indicating certain attributes of God. (God of hosts, God of justice, etc.)

b) Indicating the relationship between God and certain people. (God of Abraham)

c) Indicating the relationship between God and certain places. (God of Shem)


Additional variations include: 2. Elah    3. Eloah    4. Elyon    5. Elah(a)

 

85.3 EL constructions.

In this chapter, the following constructions are discussed in detail:

1. El Shaddai    2. El Gibbor       3. El Eljon     4. El Olam   

5. El Roiy          6. El Qanna'      7. El Hay       8. Other names

 

85.4 Proper names containing EL.

A theophoric name (from the Greek, literally meaning, "bearing/carrying a god"), embeds the name of a god, both invoking and displaying the protection of that deity. There are at least 114 theophoric proper names of people and places in the Hebrew Bible that contain El. In these cases El is usually interpreted and translated as "God", but it is not always clear whether these names refer to the deity in general or to the God of Israel in particular. For example: Israel = Struggled with God; Samuel = God has heard; Daniel = God is my judge.


In addition, in Ch 86.4 below, we will see that there are at least 74 proper names containing the alternative name Yah(weh).

            

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Chapter 86 

86.1 YHWH

YHWH is the so-called Tetragrammaton, from the Greek Τετραγράμματον, meaning "consisting of four letters." It is a Hebrew name of God, which in English is transliterated into four letters namely YHWH, and frequently Anglicized as Yahweh or Jehovah. On the basis of Gen 20:4 and Lv 24:11, YHWH was regarded as a nomen ineffable (a name so great or extreme that it cannot be described in words / a name not to be spoken because of its sacredness / an unutterable name). We therefore do not know how it should be pronounced. Refer to Ch 87.2.3 for a discussion on the origins of Jehovah.


YHWH is the most frequently used name of God in the Hebrew Bible and occurs 6,823 times, of which 1,419 are found in the Torah. It is found 31 times in Job, seven times in Daniel Ch 9, and 39 times in the elohistic Psalms (Ps 42-83). YHWH does not appear in the books of Esther and Song of Songs, prompting some scholars to doubt the status of these books in the Hebrew canon.


The original Hebrew Bible text was an abjad (a text consisting of consonants only). To indicate (mostly long) vowels, consonant letters were inserted into the original text during the classical biblical Hebrew phase (10th century BCE - 5th century CE). The consonant letters yod, waw, hey, and aleph were used. These letters are collectively called matres lectionis (mothers of reading). They are also called  "vocalic place holders," as they hold the place for a vowel. The three letters used in YHWH namely yod, hey and waw, are all three matres lectionis. This prompted Josephus to state that YHWH consists of "four vowels."


A ancient handwritten manuscript text in book form (bound at one side), is called a codex. The Leningrad Codex (1008 CE), (Latin: Codex Leningradensis), is the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible written in Hebrew in our possession today. It is so named because it has been housed at the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg (Leningrad) since 1863. It uses the Masoretic Text and Tiberian vocalization, and is now universally considered to be an authoritative text. This is the codex on which, among others, the Biblia Hebraica editions (1937 onwards) are based on. Globally, these editions have to this day been the standard text used by scholars as well as students.


Six different spellings of YHWH are found in the Leningrad Codex. These different spellings are found in for example: Gen 2:4, Jgs 16:28, 1 Kgs 2:26, Gen 3:14, Gen 15:2, Ez 24:24. YHWH is traditionally translated in English Bibles as “LORD” to distinguish it from Adonai which is traditionally written as "Lord."

 

86.2 Combinations with Elohim.

YHWH is used with Elohim and suffixes, especially in Deuteronomy. The specific number of occurrences stated below refer to those of Elohim as mentioned in Chapter 85.2.3.

Yahweh God (34 times).

Yahweh your (singular) God (234 times in Dt) (325 times in total).

Yahweh your (plural) God (46 times in Dt) (162 times in total).

Yahweh your (?) God (14 times).

Yahweh our God (23 times in Dt) (174 times in total).

Yahweh their God (5 times in Dt) (71 times in total).

Yahweh my God (3 times in Dt) (101 times in total).

Yahweh his God (58 times).

 

86.3 Other combinations with YHWH.

There are 13 other combinations that include YHWH, including some that have become well known in Christian circles recently. For example: Yahweh-tseva'ot  (LORD of Hosts); Yahweh Eljon (LORD most High); Yahweh-nissi (LORD my Banner);

 

86.4 Proper names containing YAH(WEH)

A theophoric name (from the Greek, literally meaning, "bearing/carrying a god"), embeds the name of a god, both invoking and displaying the protection of that deity. There are at least 74 names containing Yah(weh) in the Hebrew Bible. A selection of examples like Jeremiah (the LORD exalts), Zechariah (the Lord remembers), and Micah (who is like the LORD?) are shown in this chapter.

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Chapter 87

 

87.1-18 Other names

A total of 18 additional names are discussed, including Adon, Adonay, Yah, Ancient of Days, Shepherd, Savior, Redeemer, and I AM THAT I AM (KJB, et al).

 

87.5 I am what I am

Ehyeh asher ehyeh is the first of three responses given to Moses when he asks for God's name. The King James Version uses it as a proper name for God. The Aramaic Targum of Onkelos leaves the phrase untranslated. The word ehyeh is the first person singular imperfect form of the verb hayah, meaning, "to be," and ehyeh is then usually translated into English as "I will be." Classical Hebrew had an aspectual system rather than grammatical tenses. For example, the imperfect denotes not only the future perfect tense, but also any actions that are not yet completed. Therefore, the verb form ehyeh can be translated as, "I am" or "I am being" or "I will be," for example in Ex 3:14.

 

Although Ehyeh asher ehyeh is generally rendered in English as "I AM WHO I AM" (NIV, et al), 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." The word asher is a relative pronoun whose meaning depends on the immediate context, so that "that", "who", "which", or "where" are all possible translations.

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