Ponder Scripture Newsletter
By Larry and June Acheson
What Do 1,000 Hebrew Manuscripts With “YEHOVAH” Prove?
By Larry and June Acheson
n January 2018, a friend sent us a link to a posting on Nehemia Gordon’s “Nehemia’s Wall” web site because he wanted to know our opinion about Nehemia’s jubilant claim that he and his team, through diligent research, have now found over 1,000 Hebrew manuscripts in which the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) is vowel-pointed so as to be pronounced “Yehovah.” This, they claim, “ends the controversy” over how the Creator’s name is pronounced because surely 1,000 manuscripts can’t be wrong: The scribes who so diligently copied those manuscripts left us with the “true pronunciation.” Or so they claim.
We know there are many gullible believers out there who will fall for the above reasoning. A few, however, may be a little skeptical and if you are just a tiny bit skeptical of Nehemia’s conclusion based on his team’s “research,” then this is something for you to consider before reaching your conclusion.
In keeping with my friend’s request, June and I visited “Nehemia’s Wall” and listened to Nehemia Gordon’s audio recording in which he not only ecstatically supplied his report, but he also included brief telephone interviews with various team members contributing to the 1,000+ manuscript tally. Within four minutes of the 48-minute presentation, we knew his conclusion was bogus, but if you are unfamiliar with what is known as the “Ineffable Name Doctrine,” you will not likely catch the foundation of sand on which his proverbial house of cards falls with a whimper. The “Ineffable Name Doctrine” is a rabbinical Jewish prohibition against speaking the Almighty’s name because, as the teaching goes, “It’s too holy to pronounce.” In fact, from the Jerusalem Talmud (compiled circa 4th century CE) we learn that Jews by at least the 2nd century believed that anyone speaking the Creator’s name “according to its letters” will not be in the world to come. In other words, to put it in layman’s terms, if you correctly vocalize the Creator’s name, you’re going to hell. This is an unscriptural teaching that is easily disproven, not only by the fact that no such teaching is found in Scripture, but also by the sheer fact that the Creator’s name appears at least 6,823 times in what is known as the Old Testament. In fact, in such places as Isaiah 52:6, He says, “My people shall know My name.” King David, a man after the Almighty’s own heart, implored his constituents to call on the Creator’s name in such places as I Chronicles 16:8. You might ask why King David would admonish his people to call on the Creator by Name IF there was such a thing as an “Ineffable Name Doctrine” in place during his reign. That would be a great question, if anyone would ever think to ask it. We’ll answer it anyway: The answer is, there was no such thing as an “Ineffable Name Doctrine” during King David’s lifetime; it is a Jewish tradition that came about much later. How much later? That’s debatable, but suffice it to say it is a teaching that’s completely foreign to Scripture.
Okay, back to Nehemia Gordon’s “1,000 Hebrew Manuscripts with Yehovah” report. What invalidates it? Well, at around the three-minute mark of his audio session he establishes the approximate dating of the Hebrew manuscripts that he and his team so painstakingly scoured: 895 CE. That’s the dating of the oldest manuscript they came across. Now on the surface 895 CE may seem pretty old, which is why a lot of believers out there who don’t know any better will share in Nehemia’s jubilant claim. However, the “Ineffable Name Doctrine” that we mentioned above was already in place by 895 CE. Not only was that doctrine “in place,” though, it was entrenched in the hearts of all rabbinical Jews.
We also need to establish that the Jewish system called “vowel-pointing” wasn’t invented until around the 7th century CE. You can look this up for yourself. We found this information in The New Bible Dictionary , Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, IL, article “Texts and Versions.” We need to also point out that the “Ineffable Name Doctrine” was already in full force by the time vowel points were devised. For those of you who do not understand the importance of vowel points, please let me summarize it by stating that the Hebrew language doesn’t really have any vowels per se; the speaker has to more or less know both language and context well enough to know how to pronounce each consonantal word. For example, if I say, “Jhn rd th trn t wrk,” many individuals would automatically know to supply vowels to form the understanding that John rode the train to work. However, in the Hebrew Bible there are enough instances in which the reader needs help to know which specific Hebrew word is intended and how to pronounce it. It was in response to this need that Jewish scholars devised a system of vowel-points. When these vowel-points were formulated, the rabbinical scribes (called “Masoretes”) simultaneously and on purpose determined to “mis-vowel-point” the Creator’s name. This is something that Judaism admits to having done, so it’s no secret and it shouldn’t even be a controversy, in spite of what some folks may want you to believe.
So now it’s time to connect the dots. By the time vowel points were invented, the Ineffable Name doctrine was already indelibly etched in the minds and hearts of rabbinical Judaism to the point that they intentionally mis-vowel-pointed the Creator’s name so as to prevent their young students from inadvertently blurting out the correct pronunciation. After all, they didn’t want their offspring to miss out on being in “the world to come.” Since we know that Judaism deliberately mis-vowel-pointed the Tetragrammaton when copying Hebrew manuscripts, why would we seek out those same manuscripts in an attempt to validate the correct pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton? That would be akin to using the Queen James Bible version to validate a belief that ancient believers supported the gay lifestyle. Just as the gay translators’ agenda was to remove any negative references to homosexual relationships, in the same way, the rabbinical scribes’ agenda was to remove any semblance of how to properly vocalize the Creator’s name. The scribes admitted to inserting a deliberate lie (i.e., mis-vowel-pointing the Tetragrammaton). Why would anyone want to check to see the number of manuscripts in which this lie was perpetrated and then claim, “This proves how His Name is to be pronounced”? The only thing rabbinical Judaism proved is how His name is not to be pronounced. To that we say, “Thank you for letting us know.”
Long before vowel-points were invented, a far superior means of knowing how to vocalize יהוה was recorded for those who are earnestly seeking the answer to this question. What is this superior method? It’s called “transliteration into other languages.” Greeks in the 4th and 5th centuries CE wrote that the Name is pronounced “IABE.” One Greek author wrote that Samaritans render the Name as “Iabe,” which we would render as “Yah-bay” in English. However, we know that the “b” sound was slightly off-kilter because the Hebrew letter “waw” (ו) doesn’t carry a “b” sound. Scholars agree that the most ancient rendering of the Hebrew “waw” was a “w” sound. Thus, it appears that the Greek author who overheard the Samaritans didn’t quite hear the “w” sound, possibly due to dialectal differences. Nevertheless, regardless of how correctly the Greek author overheard the Samaritan believers, one thing is clear: The Samaritans came close enough to correctly vocalizing the Name that rabbinical Judaism specifically singled them out as not having a future in “the world to come.” Don’t get me wrong: We’re not claiming to know the precise vocalization, but we are claiming to know how it’s not pronounced, and all available evidence supports believing that it’s not pronounced “Yehovah.” If I were seeking to validate the pronunciation Yehovah, the last place I would turn would be rabbinical Judaism – those who teach that you’re going to hell if you utter it! What would you expect them to say? Would they answer, “Well, I realize I’m not going to be in the world to come for telling you this, but the correct vocalization is Yehovah”? Seriously? When it comes to Hebrew manuscripts containing the vowel-pointed Tetragrammaton, it doesn’t matter to us if someone claims to have found 1,000 or 1,000,000 manuscripts. Either way, how can we trust the vowel-pointings by those who forthrightly teach that the Creator’s name is too sacred to pronounce?As stated above, June and I do not claim to know with 100% certainty the precise pronunciation of יהוה; we have long maintained that this is a topic that each individual should research for himself or herself. Nevertheless, as is the case with folks such as Nehemia Gordon, certain ones will smugly promote their view as being “more correct,” and that is why June and I composed our study “Pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton” back in 2010. If you would like a more in-depth explanation of why we believe as we do, we invite you to read it.
 Notice what is recorded in the Jerusalem Talmud:
R. Joshua b. Levi said, “Even if one has said, ‘When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a leprous disease on the skin of his body’ (Lev. 13:2), and then has spat—he has no portion in the world to come.”
Abba Saul says, “Also: he who pronounces the divine Name as it is spelled out.”
R. Mana said, “For example, the Cutheans, who take an oath thereby.”
R. Jacob bar Aha said, “It is written YH[WH] and pronounced AD[onai].”
-- Excerpt taken from The Talmud of the Land of Israel, Vol. 31 (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10:1, XI:A-C), translated by Jacob Neusner, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1984, p. 325. Note: The Cutheans were non-Jews brought to Israel by the Assyrian king from Cutah and other lands, and who were re-settled in the cities of Samaria (see II Kings 17). They are called “Cutheans,” since most of them were brought from the city of Cutah; they are also called “Samaritans,” a term which refers to their new homeland.
This is the name of our Creator, Yahweh, sometimes called the Tetragrammaton. It is given here in (A) the Phoenician script, (B) the Ivrit Kadum (Paleo-Hebrew) script, and (C) the Modern Hebrew script (a stylization of Aramaic).
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