NAMES OF GOD.
Like other Hebrew proper names, the name of God is more than a mere distinguishing title. It represents the Hebrew conception of the divine nature or character and of the relation of God to His people. It represents the Deity as He is known to His worshipers, and stands for all those attributes which He bears in relation to them and which are revealed to them through His activity on their behalf. A new manifestation of His interest or care may give rise to a new name. So, also, an old name may acquire new content and significance through new and varied experience of these sacred relations.
It can readily be understood, therefore, how the divine name is often spoken of as equivalent to the divine presence or power or glory. In Ex. xxiii. 20-23 it is promised that
Of the names of God in the Old Testament, that which occurs most frequently (6,823 times) is the so-called Tetragrammaton,
This name, according to the narrative in Ex. iii. (E), was made known to Moses in a vision at Horeb. In another, parallel narrative (Ex. vi. 2, 3, P) it is stated that the name was not known to the Patriarchs. It is used by one of the documentary sources of Genesis (J), but scarcely if at all by the others. Its use is avoided by some later writers also. It does not occur in Ecclesiastes, and in Daniel is found only in ch. ix. The writer of Chronicles shows a preference for the form Elohim, and in Ps. xlii.-lxxxiii. Elohim occurs much more frequently than
If the explanation of the form above given be the true one, the original pronunciation must have been Yahweh () or Yahaweh (). From this the contracted form Jah or Yah () is most readily explained, and also the forms Jeho or Yeho ( = ), and Jo or Yo (, contracted from ), which the word assumes in combination in the first part of compound proper names, and Yahu or Yah () in the second part of such names. The fact may also be mentioned that in Samaritan poetry rimes with words similar in ending to Yahweh, and Theodoret ("Quæst. 15 in Exodum") states that the Samaritans pronounced the name 'Iαβέ. Epiphanius ascribes the same pronunciation to an early Christian sect. Clement of Alexandria, still more exactly, pronounces 'Iαουέ or 'Iαουαί, and Origen, 'Iα. Aquila wrote the name in archaic Hebrew letters. In the Jewish-Egyptian magic-papyri it appears as Ιαωουηε. At least as early as the third century
Various conjectures have been made in recent times respecting a possible foreign origin of this name. Some derive it from the Kenites, with whom Moses sojourned, Sinai, the ancient dwelling-place of
The most common of the originally appellative names of God is Elohim (), plural in form though commonly construed with a singular verb or adjective. This is, most probably, to be explained as the plural of majesty or excellence, expressing high dignity or greatness: comp. the similar use of plurals of "ba'al" (master) and "adon" (lord). In Ethiopic, Amlak ("lords") is the common name for God. The singular, Eloah (), is comparatively rare, occurring only in poetry and late prose (in Job, 41 times). The same divine name is found in Arabic (ilah) and in Aramaic (elah). The singular is used in six places for heathen deities (II Chron. xxxii. 15; Dan. xi. 37, 38; etc.); and the plural also, a few times, either for gods or images (Ex. ix. 1, xii. 12, xx. 3; etc.) or for one god (Ex. xxxii. 1; Gen. xxxi. 30, 32; etc.). In the great majority of cases both are used as names of the one God of Israel.
The root-meaning of the word is unknown. The most probable theory is that it may be connected with the old Arabic verb "alih" (to be perplexed, afraid; to seek refuge because of fear). Eloah, Elohim, would, therefore, be "He who is the object of fear or reverence," or "He with whom one who is afraid takes refuge" (comp. the name "fear of Isaac" in Gen. xxxi. 42, 53; see also Isa. viii. 13; Ps. lxxvi. 12). The predominance of this name in the later writings, as compared with the more distinctively Hebrew national name
The word El () appears in Assyrian (ilu) and Phenician, as well as in Hebrew, as an ordinary name of God. It is found also in the South-Arabian dialects, and in Aramaic, Arabic, and Ethiopic, as also in Hebrew, as an element in proper names. It is used in both the singular and plural, both for other gods and for the God of Israel. As a name of God, however, it is used chiefly in poetry and prophetic discourse, rarely in prose, and then usually with some epithet attached, as "a jealous God." Other examples of its use with some attribute or epithet are: El 'Elyon ("most high God"), El Shaddai ("God Almighty"), El 'Olam ("everlasting God"), El Ḥai ("living God"), El Ro'i ("God of seeing"), El Elohe Israel ("God, the God of Israel"), El Gibbor ("Hero God").
The commonly accepted derivation of this name from the Hebrew root , "to be strong," is extremely doubtful. A similar root has been explained from the Arabic as meaning "to be in front," "to be foremost," "to lead," "to rule," which would give the meaning "leader," "lord." But the fact that the e in El was originally short, as seen in such proper names as Elkanah, Elihu (), and in the Assyrian "ilu," is strong evidence against this derivation. As in the case of Elohim, it is necessary to admit that the original meaning is not certainly known.Shaddai and 'Elyon.
The word Shaddai (), which occurs along with El, is also used independently as a name of God,chiefly in the Book of Job. It is commonly rendered "the Almighty" (in LXX., sometimes παντοκράτωρ). The Hebrew root "shadad," from which it has been supposed to be derived, means, however, "to overpower," "to treat with violence," "to lay waste." This would give Shaddai the meaning "devastator," or "destroyer," which can hardly be right. It is possible, however, that the original significance was that of "overmastering" or "overpowering strength," and that this meaning persists in the divine name. Another interesting suggestion is that it may be connected with the Assyrian "shadu" (mountain), an epithet sometimes attached to the names of Assyrian deities. It is conjectured also that the pointing of may be due to an improbable rabbinical explanation of the word as ("He who is sufficient"), and that the word originally may have been without the doubling of the middle letter. According to Ex. vi. 2, 3, this is the name by which God was known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The name 'Elyon () occurs with El, with
Adonai () occurs as a name of God apart from its use by the Masorites as a substituted reading for
Other titles applied to the God of Israel, but which can scarcely be called names, are the following: Abir ("Strong One" of Jacob or Israel; Gen. xlix. 24; Isa. i. 24; etc.); Ḳedosh Yisrael ("Holy One of Israel"; Isa. i.4, xxxi. 1; etc.); Ẓur ("Rock") and Ẓur Yisrael ("Rock of Israel"; II Sam. xxiii. 3; Isa. xxx. 29; Deut. xxxii. 4, 18, 30); Eben Yisrael ("Stone of Israel"; Gen. xlix. 24 [text doubtful]).Ẓeba'ot.
- Gray, Hebrew Proper Names, London, 1896;
- Driver, The Book of Genesis, excursus i., pp. 402-409, London, 1904;
- Spurrell, Hebrew Text of Genesis, Appendix ii.;
- Driver, on the Tetragrammaton, in Studia Biblica, vol. i., Oxford, 1885;
- Kuenen, Religion of Israel (English transl.), i. 41-42;
- Monteflore, Religion of Hebrews, pp. 50-53, London, 1893.
The Rabbis as well as the cabalists steadfastly maintained their belief in monotheism. Hence they recognized only one proper name for the Deity, considering the other names as appellations or titles signifying divinity, perfection, and power, or as characterizing His acts as observed and appreciated by mankind in the various stages of their development. The cabalists illustrate this by the instance of one who looks at the sun through various-colored glasses, which change the impressions produced upon the observer, but do not affect the sun.The Name.
The restriction upon communicating the Name proper probably originated in Oriental etiquette; in the East even a teacher was not called by name. For naming his master Elisha, Gehazi was punished with leprosy (II Kings viii. 5; Sanh. 100a). After the death of the high priest Simeon the Righteous, forty years prior to the destruction of the Temple, the priests ceased to pronounce the Name (Yoma39b). From that time the pronunciation of the Name was prohibited. "Whoever pronounces the Name forfeits his portion in the future world" (Sanh. xi. 1). Hananiah ben Ṭeradion was punished for teaching his disciples the pronunciation of the Name ('Ab. Zarah 17b). It appears that a majority of the priests in the last days of the Temple were unworthy to pronounce the Name, and a combination of the letters or of the equivalents of the letters constituting the Name was employed by the priests in the Temple. Thus the Twelve-Lettered Name was substituted, which, a baraita says, was at first taught to every priest; but with the increase of the number of licentious priests the Name was revealed only to the pious ones, who "swallowed" its pronunciation while the other priests were chanting. Another combination, the Forty-two-Lettered Name, Rab says, was taught only to whomever was known to be of good character and disposition, temperate, and in the prime of life (Ḳid. 71a; comp. Rashi to 'Ab. Zarah 17b). Maimonides, in his "Moreh," thinks that these names were perhaps composed of several other divine names.Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.
The Incommunicable Name was pronounced "Adonai," and where Adonai and
The name Yah () is composed of the first letters of
Elohim denotes multiplied power, that is, the Almighty, and describes God as the Creator of nature. R. Jacob Asheri, the author of the "Ṭurim," in his annotations to the Pentateuch, says the numerical value of the letters in ("Elohim") equals the value (86) of those in ("nature"). Elohim represents the force of "din" (fixed laws), while
The sacredness of the divine names must be recognized by the professional scribe who writes the Scriptures, or the chapters for the phylacteries and the mezuzah. Before transcribing any of the divine names he prepares mentally to sanctify them. Once he begins a name he does not stop until it is finished, and he must not be interrupted while writing it, even to greet a king. If an error is made in writing it, it may not be erased, but a line must be drawn round it to show that it is canceled, and the whole page must be put in a genizah and a new page begun.The Seven Names.
The number of divine names that require the scribe's special care is seven: El, Elohim, Adonai,
The Talmud says Shalom ("Peace"; Judges vi. 23) is the name of God, consequently one is not permitted to greet another with the word "shalom" in unholy places (Shab. 10b). The name Shelomoh (from shalom) refers to the God of Peace, and the Rabbis assert that the Song of Solomon is a dramatization of the love of God: "Shalom" to His people Israel = "Shulamite." "King of kings" in Dan. ii. 37 refers to God. "'Attiḳ Yamin" (ib. vii. 9) refers to the Ancient One of the universe (see Yalḳ., Chron. 1076). The pronoun "Ani" (I) is a name of God (Suk. iv. 5). The first verse in Ezekiel ("we-Ani") refers to God (Tos. Suk. 45a). Hillel's epigram "If I [am] here everything is here" (Suk. 53a) is interpreted as referring to God. The divine names are called in the Talmud "Azkarot," or "Adkarata" in the Aramaic form. Divine names that occur in the handwriting of minim should be excised and buried in the genizah (Shab. 116a; Cant. R. ii. 4). God is named also Ha-Geburah ("The Majesty"; Shab.87a), but generally Ha-Maḳom. ("The Omnipresence"),accompanied with Baruk-hu ("Praised be He"). For other appellations see list below.
It became the custom at an early period to use the name of God in personal greetings, as "The Lord be with thee," or "The Lord bless thee" (Ruth ii. 4; Ber. ix. 1; comp. Mak. 23a). The Greek inquisition in Judea prohibited the utterance of God's name, but when the Hasmoneans became victorious they decreed that the Name should be mentioned even in notes and documents. The formula began: "On . . . in the year of the high priest Johanan, the servant of the Most High God." The sages, however, opposed this innovation, as they thought the Name would be defiled when the notes were canceled and thrown away as useless. Consequently on the third day of Tishri following, the record says, the Rabbis forbade the mention of God's name in documents (Meg. Ta'anit; R. H. 18b).Cabalistic Use.
The cabalists, in their system of cosmology, explained the significance of the names and added other divine names. The most important name is that of the En Sof ("Infinite" or "Endless"), who is above the Sefirot. The Forty-two-Lettered Name contains the combined names of (spelled in letters = 42 letters), which is the name of Aẓilut ("Animation"). The cabalists added the Forty-five-Lettered Name as being the equivalent in value of
The first and third verses are to be read forward and the second verse backward, one letter of each word respectively in the above order from right to left. Rashi, also, in his comment to Suk. 45a, mentions this scheme (see Zohar, Beshallaḥ, 52a, and Appendix, 270a, ed. Wilna). A combination of the Seventy-two-Lettered Name appeared on the Urim and Thummim, consisting of the names of the Twelve Tribes (50 letters), of the Patriarchs (13 letters), and of the "Shibṭe Yisrael" (the tribes of Israel; 9 letters). When the Urim and Thummim were consulted in regard to any matter this divine name lit up the letters, which were brought into relief according to R. Johanan, or into such a combination, according to Resh Laḳish, as to make the answer intelligible (Yoma 73b). Ibn Ezra figures the Seventy-two-Lettered Name as the equivalent in value of the name
The divine names of God, the Haggadah says, were used to perform miracles by those who knew their combinations. King David, on making excavations for the Temple, and finding that the deep was moving upward, asked for permission to stop its rising, which threatened to destroy the world, by inscribing the name of God on a potsherd and throwing it into the deep. His minister Ahithophel, who was well versed in the Law, permitted it (Mak. 11a). The manipulation of the sacred letters forming the divine names was the means used to create the world ("Sefer Yeẓirah," ix.). By a similar method some of the Talmudists are credited with having created living animals (Sanh. 65b, 67b); in later times others succeeded by the same means in creating the golem (see Golem).Divine Names in Print.
Awe at the sacredness of the names of God and eagerness to manifest respect and reverence for them made the scribes pause before copying them. The text of the Scriptures was of course left unchanged; but in the Targumim the name
The following names and transcriptions of the names of God are found in rabbinical writings (the names mentioned in the Bible also are not given):
|By transposition of letters (see |
- Maimonides, Yad, Yesode ha-Torah, vi.;
- idem, Moreh, i. 60-62;
- Shulḥan Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 276;
- Maḥzor Vitry, pp. 692-694;
- Ibn Ezra, Sefer ha-Shem, Fürth, 1834;
- Yesod Moreh, § 11 and notes, Prague, 1833;
- Eleazar Fleckeles, Mel'eket ha-Ḳodesh, Prague, 1812;
- Zunz, S. P. p. 145.