Did Yahu in Hebrew Personal Names Come from Yahweh?

Ancient Hebrew personal names compounded with the sacred name Yahweh (called hereafter PNNCSN) have been long puzzled over because of their variations which do not “resemble” the full name itself (only one doing this—the poetic form Yāh with stress lengthening). Because of these variations, some scholars have questioned not the variations but the form yahweh—assuming it not in fact to be original. Yet, this form is unquestionably correct, as will also be seen below. In the biblical text the forms found there are: 1) yəhô– and – at the beginning; and 2) –́hû and –yāh at the end. But while we have successfully identified the source of all these variations elsewhere, we will here only indicate clearly the source of the final element yahu. While this is not the first variation from the original abbreviated form (the first variation was /yaw/ from an original /yahw/, as will be seen immediately below), it is the first to be pronounced differentlythe /w/ represented by the long vowel /ū/. The forms represent different chronological periods in Israel’s and Judah’s history.

In this short analysis we will separate the historical phases: pre-exilic, exilic, and post-exilic periods and stop prior to the Greco-Roman period, which deserves a separate treatment. Additionally, we will utilize the large corpus of archaeological data from the biblical times themselves to establish the distribution of the ancient forms.

Pre-exilic Period: Yahweh and -yahw-

In the pre-exilic period both the full name YHWH and its abbreviations are found, but to clearly identify both, Hebrew orthography, Neo-Assyrian transcriptions, and the religious contexts of Yahweh all help. Firstly, YHWH (not yāhû) appears clearly (but syncretistically) at Kuntillet Ajrud (9th-8th century B.C.E.). The instances of “YHW” are where the final /h/ seems missing and Sandra Gogle restores it.[1] The Mesha stele (9th century B.C.E), Arad ostraca, and Lachish letters (8th to 6th century) all give clear use of YHWH.[2]

In this period also inscriptions attest to mostly two abbreviated forms of the name Yahweh in PNNCSN—in northern Israel only –yw– at the beginning and end of names (Samaria ostraca); in Judah mostly –yhw– also at the beginning and end (but for a short time also –yw- in the eighth century).[3] Throughout the earlier to the later periods we always find the initial long yhw– consistently with <w> visible, not defective (and hence not vocalic), and by the sixth century in Judah only the ubiquitous long –yhw– is found, clearly indicating yahw. The short form then of yw-/-yw (with <w> also not defective) found mostly in northern Israel appears derived from it, but with the dropping of <h> (yaw). The <h> made no difference in sound, only in an indication of the source—Yahweh. Also, Neo-Assyrian transcriptions show West Semitic consonantal /w/ and vocalic /ū/ both indicated with the vowel <u> (and <ú>) (as in Iḫa-za-qi-ia-a-u ia-ú-da-a-a—Hazaqyahw Yahudaya).[4] Also, the phoneme /h/ was not indicated in the cuneiform spelling at that time (as in the later Greek transcriptions). Thus, the pre-exilic period attests to only YHWH in both secular and religious uses, with no mystery about use in Judah or “ineffability.”

Exilic Period: Elah, an Elusive /yahw/ and yahu- from Yahudah

The same cannot be said in exile. When one peruses the book of Daniel an interesting phenomenon can be discerned—the name Yahweh is never found in the Aramaic portions (Dan 2:18–20), only the terms Elah and Elah of Heaven (like in Ezra and with the Aramaic-speaking Elephantine Jews). In the Hebrew section of Daniel, however, the name Yahweh is found (Dan 9), which is not a Greco-Roman pesher practice (except the Nazarenes?[5]). Yet, in the Aramaic portions we never find Yāhū.

TEXT A (28122)TEXT B (28178)TEXT C (28186)TEXT D (28232)
(592 B.C.E.)
Judah/Judean[KU]R ia-ú-duKUR ia-a-ḫu-duia-ku-du (rev.)KUR ia-a-ḫu-du
LÚ ia-ú-da-a-aLÚ ia-a-ḫu-da-a-a
JehoiachinI ia-ʾ-ú -kīnu(du)[ I ia]-ʾu -kīnu(du)I ia-a-ú -i[…] (obv.)[ I ia-]ʾ-ú -kīnu(du)
I ia-ku-ú -ki-nu (rev.)
Other PNNCSNsa-ma-ku- ia-a-m[a]qa-na- ʾ-a-ma (rev.)qa-na- a-ma
šá-lam- ia-a-ma
TEXT A (28122)TEXT B (28178)TEXT C (28186)TEXT D (28232)
(592 B.C.E.)
Judah/JudeanYāhûdYāhûdYākûd (rev.)Yāhûd
JehoiachinyahwkînyahwkînYahwy[…] (obv.)yahwkîn
Yākûkîn (rev.)
Other PNNCSNsamakyahwQan’awQanaaw
See Ernst F. Weidner, “Jojachin, König von Juda, in babylonischen Keilschrifttexten,” in Mélanges syriens offerts à Monsieur René Dussaud, Bibliothèque archéologique et historique 30 (Paris, 1939), 2:923–35.


At the beginning of the exile it is in the famous Neo-Babylonian cuneiform ration tablets that mention King Jehoiachin that we first certainly find the spelling yāhū in PNNCSN.[6] The key is in Text C’s strange spelling Iia-ku-ú-ki-nu for the king and the name Judah also strangely found as ia-ku-du, with /h/ represented by <k>. This is not the usual way to transcribe either as seen above. We saw in Neo-Assyrian above how Hazakyahw and Yahûdāh were transcribed (without /h/ represented). Judah was now additionally transcribed elsewhere as URUia-a-ḫu-du (/h/ actually represented by /ḫ/).[7] But now, in both names in Text C the <k> ensures our only vocalization of the /h/ is in a pronunciation /hu/, transforming our abbreviated name yhw (now <w> = /ū/—as a mater lexionis). Nevertheless, in Neo-Babylonian two differences that help us confirm the correct form of the king’s name are that the Babylonian scribes now use the letter <ḫ> (as just seen in the Chronicles) to indicate the true aspirated /h/ sound (which didn’t happen in Neo-Assyrian), and they use <ma> to indicate consonantal /w/ (again a new thing). These ensure the vocalizations in the table above, as in Yāhûd (< Yahûdāh) and šalamyahw above. But, it is only in 583 B.C.E. we do find the regular spelling ia(?)-a-ḫu- (now /h/ represented by /ḫ/) for the first time applied to a PNCSN as well, continuing the practice of yahu– started in Text C around 592 B.C.E. in ia-ku-ú-ki-nu.[8] Before this it was seen in the Babylonian Chronicle’s Yahud (URUia-a-ḫu-du) above. This is the ubiquitous form then on. But, yāhū is still only found in PNNCSN not independently.

One may ask, if Yahweh led to –yahw– (and reflected by ia-ʾ-ú-) where then did yāhū- in names originate? These cuneiform texts give the answer, where we see the strange spelling of <k> for /hu/ in ia-ku-ú-ki-nu and in ia-ku-du for Yāhûd, shortened form of Yahûdāh, seen in Ezra 5:1 (the /a/ typically being left off in the Hellenistic period). It was inspired by the spelling of the geographic name spelled in cuneiform sometimes like the abbreviated name as in Text A, [KU]Ria-ú-du, and the king’s name spelled ia-ʾ-ú-kīnu(DU). In other words –yāhûin names came from Yāhûd. The goal was to protect the form of Yahweh from being accidentally spoken in some PNNCSN in foreign tongues, such as Aramaic (as in a possible ia-a-ú-ia-ki-nu = yahwiakin). This was a new religio-linguistic convention that we have called IMASN (Intentional Misrepresentation of the Abbreviated Sacred Name).

Post-Exilic Period: Elah and Yahu, Ubiquitous -yāh = ia-a-ma (= yahw)

In the book of Ezra the same phenomenon found in Dan is attested—Yahweh is only found in Hebrew and Elah and Elah of heaven in Aramaic (Ezra 5:1). This brings us to the Elephantine Jews who did additionally use Yāhû as the name of the deity (but we never find YHWH), but this yāhû in names was assumed to be the Judean deity in Babylonia. However, regarding personal names, most Judeans, knowing the origin, opted for the other shortened abbreviation of Yahweh, not yahw, but stressed final Yāh (and only final) (Exod 15:2), which stressed would then sound exactly like yahw (/aw/ in auto not in cow). This is why on a personal name spelled in a cuneiform document as pi-il-ia-a-ma there was the same name spelled in Aramaic on the endorsement on the outside plyh, which shows ia-a-ma = yh.[9] But, ia-a-ma actually indicates yahw which latter was now avoided.

Consequently, this is the source of the abbreviated form yahu- from the shortened geographic name of Yahud. But, why does this ancient name too seems incomplete? The answer to this question is related to the other form(s) of the abbreviated name Yahweh—yo (yeho)—seen after the fourth century B.C.E. Both phenomena are traceable to the Greco-Roman period and IMASN with the last phonological transformation of personal names at possible the most important time in Israelite/Jewish history.



[1] See Sandra Gogle, A Grammar of Epigraphic Hebrew (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998), 414–415.

[2] See David Noel Freedman and Michael P. O’Connor, “יהוה YHWH,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren (Grand Rapids, 1986), 5:502–03.

[3] See Ran Zadok, The Pre-Hellenistic Israelite Anthroponymy and Prosopography (Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters, 1988), 184.

[4] See Zadok, Pre-Hellenistic, 302.

[5] See New Study on Yahweh from Pre-exilic to Greco-Roman Times. Also see T. Shabbath 13:5.

[6] The spelling ia-a-u in Neo-Assyrian cuneiform was ambiguous (as seen in Iḫa-za-qi-ia-a-u ia-ú-da-a-a) since it indicated yahw and yahu the same, but now there is a distinction made between consonantal /w/ and /ū/ in Neo-Babylonian transcriptions.

[7] See Donald J. Wiseman, Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings (626-556 B.C.) in the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1956), 72.

[8] See Ran Zadok, The Earliest Diaspora: Israelites and Judeans in Pre-Hellenistic Mesopotamia (Tel Aviv, 2002), 28.

[9] See Matthew Stolper, “A Note on Yahwistic Personal Names in the Murašû Texts,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 222 (1976): 27.


יהוה in Isaiah 53:1


Introduction: Mystery and Clarity

The seeming mystery revolving around the use of the name Yahweh throughout Israelite history has brought into existence or better created a host of ideas within the scholarly community and in popular circles.[1] However, while information can be gleaned about this use through an analysis of the biblical texts themselves, even more fruit is borne when such an analysis also incorporates the archaeological data. Happily, advancement in archaeological tools and increased amount of archaeological excavations of several ancient Judean/Israelite communities throughout the centuries have led to quite a bit of data that can be utilized in any analysis of the use of the name Yahweh throughout the biblical periods. The bit of information we present is a result of these data and the several consequent studies that discuss them. We incorporated the study of the name Yahweh within a larger onomastic investigation into so-called “Yahwistic” names (given in the broader category theophoric names), which we call personal names compounded with the sacred name (PNNCSN). The fruits of the study were monumental. However, in this short discussion, we highlight the stages discerned in the development of “ineffability” of the name Yahweh from monarchical times through to the Hellenistic.

The periods captured were from the ninth century B.C.E. to 597 B.C.E. (pre-exilic period), 597 B.C.E. to 539 B.C.E. (exilic period), 539 B.C.E. to 220 C.E. (post-exilic, Second Temple, tannaitic periods). The sources used were the biblical texts alongside the abundant archaeological records. The communities were diverse: the Kingdom of Moab in monarchical times; the southern Kingdom of Judah in monarchical times (pre-exilic); the captives (exilic period) in sixth century B.C.E. Babylonia; Jews from Elephantine, Egypt, in fifth century B.C.E. (post-exilic period); Jews from Idumea at the end of the fourth century (post-exilic period); Samaritans from Mt. Gerizim in the end of the third century B.C.E. (Second Temple period); Jews from Qumran in second century B.C.E. to first century C.E. (Second Temple/tannaitic period); Nazarenes in Judea in first century C.E. (tannaitic period); and Jews from first to second century C.E. (tannaitic period).

Pre-exilic Period: Ubiquitous Use of the Name Yahweh

Using the beginning of the Iron Age (c. 1200 B.C.E.) as a starting point, it is clear that the name Yahweh received regular and ubiquitous use through to later monarchical times, being known even among the nations. Besides the consistently attested uses by Israelites in the sacred biblical texts themselves, we see the queen of Sheba using the name when she says:

“יְהִי יהוה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּרוְּךְ אֲשֶׁר חָפֵץ בְּךָ לְתִתְּךָ עַל־כִּסֵּא יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּאַהֲבַת יהוה אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵל לְעֹלָם וַיְשִׂימְךָ לְמֶלֶךְ לַעֲשֹׂות מִשְׁפָּט וְּצְדָקָה” (May Yahweh your Elohim be blessed who has delighted in you to place you upon the throne of Israel, because Yahweh loved Israel always he has placed you for a king to perform justice and righteousness) (1 Kings 10:9).

In the ninth century, the King of Moab speaks disparagingly when he boasts saying, “w’q mšm ‘[t k]ly yhwh w’sb hm lpny kmš.” (I took from there the vessels of Yahweh and dragged them before Chemosh). In the eighth century there is also the Khirbet el-Qom funerary inscription from an area southwest of Lachish which has a reading, “brk ’wryhw lyhwh.” (Blessed be Uryahw of Yahweh). The sixth century letters on ostraca from Arad testifies to use of the name in quite common greetings, such as in, “brktk lyhwh” (I bless you of Yahweh) and also “yhwh yšʿl lšlmk” (May Yahweh lookout for your welfare). At Lachish we also find the common oath formula, “ḥy yhwh” (by the life of Yahweh).

These examples all seek to emphasize that the pre-exilic period is one that presents no mysterious picture as far as the use of the name Yahweh is concerned, and all environments of use, religious and secular, are found. It would appear from this picture that “ineffability,” as we now understand it, was not yet born.

Exilic Period: Yahweh in Hebrew but Elah and Elah of Heaven in Aramaic

To decipher what could possibly be the religious context of the name Yahweh in the exile, our only available source that could be utilized is the book of Daniel, a work roughly considered Hellenistic, but with varying opinions.[2] Of course, a distinct feature of the book is its divided use of Hebrew and Aramaic in presenting the accounts. Yet, even more noteworthy is the use (or nonuse) of the name Yahweh. The name currently occurs only in the second Hebrew section in chapter 9 and there seven times. However, C. D. Ginsburg noted Dan 1:2 also among the 134 instances listed in the Massorah where ’adonay appears by itself (and distinct therein from ’dny yhwh) and where the variants attest YHWH. He favors the Tetragrammaton as original, commenting they would not “insert the incommunicable name instead of אדני.”[3] Otherwise, in the Aramaic portions of the book of Daniel, we find only ʾElah or ʾElah of heaven being used (exactly as in Ezra), such as Dan 2:18, “וְרַחֲמִין לְמִבְעֵא מִנ־קֳדָם אֱלָהּ שְׁמַיָּאֲ.” (to request mercies from before the Elah of heaven). YHWH does not occur in any Aramaic account. This is significant.

It seems clear that the distinction was intentional and a parallel study of personal names compounded with the sacred name (of which there are now an abundance of material from sources Hebrew, Aramaic, Neo-Assyrian, and Late Babylonian) confirms that the name Yahweh was intentionally avoided in Aramaic beginning in the exile. However, one may argue that the information in Daniel only confirms that this book actually reflects the Hellenistic practice regarding the name. However, we will prove that the Hellenistic practice is still yet different from that which we have just observed.

Post Exilic Period: Does Yahweh = Yahu?

The post-exilic period shows a clear continuation of the pattern observed in the book of Daniel regarding the use of the name—found in Hebrew, but absent in Aramaic. The Hebrew-Aramaic book of Ezra clearly indicates the phenomenon. Ezra is thus divided: Hebrew in sections 1:1–4:7, 6:19–7:11, and 7:27–10:44; Aramaic in sections 4:8–6:18 and 7:12–26. In the first Hebrew section we find, “וַיַּעֲנוְּ בְּהַלֵּל וְּבְהֹודֹת לַיהוה כִּי טֹוב כִּי־לְעֹולָם חַסְדֹּו עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְכָל־הָעָם הֵרִיעוּ תְרוּעָה גְדֹולָה בְהַלֵּל לַיהוה עַל הוְּסַד בֵּית־ יהוה” (And they responded in praise and thanksgiving to Yahweh for he is good, for his lovingkindness is forever upon Israel and all the people shouted a great shout in praise to Yahweh because the House of Yahweh was founded) (Ezra 3:11). However, in the first Aramaic section we do not find Yahweh, but Elah. Thus, Ezra 5:1 reads: “וְהִתְנַבִּי חַגַּי נְבִיאָה וְּזְכַרְיָה בַר־ עִדֹּוא נְבִיאַיָּא עַל־ יְהוְּדָיֵא דִּי בִיהוְּד וְּבִירוְּשְׁלֶם בְּשֻׁם אֱלָהּ יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲלֵיהֹון” (Now, Haggai the prophet and Zechariah son of Iddo the prophet prophesied to the Jews that were in Judah (Yahud) and in Jerusalem in the name of the Elah of Israel unto them). Also, Ezra 5:11, “אֲנַחְנָא הִמֹּו עַבְדֹוהִי דִי־אֱלָהּ שְׁמַיָּא וְאַרְעָא” (. . . We are servants of the Elah of heaven and earth).

Archaeology does not seem to give much of a different image. However, the linguistic distribution is different, as Aramaic now overshadows Hebrew. Yet, both languages are distinguished by script—Paleo Hebrew script for the Hebrew language and a standard Aramaic script for the Aramaic language, which latter influenced the earlier Proto-Jewish scripts for third century B.C.E. and later Early Jewish script for writing later Hebrew (also called Aramaic “square” script). But Greenfield and Naveh observed that in the Persian period there is a pronounced absence of Hebrew epigraphic material, which has along with other data encouraged studies concerning the extent of the use of Hebrew during this period.[4] Of course, Aramaic was the lingua franca throughout the Persian Empire. However, something of an understanding of the use of the name Yahweh from the Persian period can be observed both from independent uses and through the numerous personal names compounded with the sacred name Yahweh from Aramaic and some Hebrew seals, bulla, and coins; business documents from the Murashu archive in Late Babylonian cuneiform with Aramaic endorsements; and Aramaic Egyptian religious and secular papyri from Elephantine.

Now the independent name Yahweh is unattested in archaeology during the period. But at Elephantine, Egypt, we do find use of the well-known name יהו, Yahu, whom the Aramaic-speaking Jews there worshiped, which is of course quite different from the Hebrew יהוה. In a letter of petition to the governor of Judah (Yahud) to rebuild their temple, they speak of, “אלה שמיא יהו” (Yahu the Elah of Heaven).[5] However, through the study of personal names compounded with the abbreviated sacred name it can be identified that the source of this name used by the Jews in Egypt for the Elah of heaven of Daniel and Ezra is not in fact Yahweh, but Yahud, the shortened place name of Yahudah used from the Exilic period and after (as just seen above), where it was actually used for a Jewish town in Babylonia (āl-Yāḫūdu in cuneiform).[6] Yahu arose first in personal names (ia-ḫu-ú- in cuneiform), then was borrowed by the Aramaic-speaking Elephantine Jews for independent use. It is not found in Hebrew or Aramaic biblical material.

Hellenistic/Roman Period: Adonai/Elohim in Hebrew, Elah in Aramaic—Yahweh only in the Temple?

In the Hellenisitic period, we have a completely new phenomenon, which has received considerable attention from contributors: the Hebrew language is no longer the only sanctum for the sacred name Yahweh. In its stead we find the single Hebrew term Adonai now substituted. In all likelihood, this began at the end of the fourth century, or a bit later. Our sources for this period are the Septuagint (LXX) translation containing ideological information, the traditions repeated by the tannaim (early rabbinic scholars) in tannaitic literature (Mishna, etc.), and the scribal practices at Qumran, as well as Samaritan practices on Mt. Gerizim. That the name was already avoided at about 250 B.C.E. (when original LXX was translated) seems clear from the translation of Leviticus 24:16, where the Hebrew text reads, “וְנֹקֵב שֵׁמ־יהוה מֹות יוְּמָת” (The one who blasphemes the name of Yahweh will surely be put to death). The LXX reads, “ὀνομάζων δε τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου θανάτῳ θανατούσθω” (the one who names the name . . .). From the Mishna there is information that the sacred name was only used in the Temple, but outside substituted.[7] Was the Temple now the additional requirement in addition to Hebrew for use of the sacred name in the Hellenistic period? It would seem so. Another early rabbinic account of the name again associates priests and reads, “ומת נמנעו חביריו מלברך בשם.” (When he [Simon the Just] died his companions ceased blessing in the name). Simon the Just was the High Priest and appears to be Simon II who was active before 200 B.C.E..[8] His companions are the regular priests.[9] From these two accounts we can say that according to the tannaitic literature the name was first used before 200 B.C.E. in the Temple by all the priests, but after c. 200 B.C.E. not by regular priests. Did any priest use the name at all up to the destruction of the temple? The last instance of the use of the name was the High Priest on one day of the year, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).[10]

Archaeological data actually corroborates these observations. From Qumran Donald Parry noted from documents CD, 1QS, and 4QMMT that the Essenes who are dated about second century B.C.E. to first century C.E. were “programmatic in avoiding usage of the Tetragrammaton.”[11] André Lemaire has made similar observations.[12] The Essenes clearly adhered to the tradition of non-use of the “ineffable” name. Archaeological excavations on Mt. Gerizim have recently brought some interesting information to light. The Samaritans followed the Jewish custom of using Yahweh, Adonai, and Elah in the two languages accordingly, Hebrew for the first two and Aramaic for the last. But yet, regarding the particulars of how the first two are used we can consider their use in the two different scripts used in the Mt. Gerizim inscriptions—called by Magen, et al, Neo-Hebrew (paleo-Hebrew script) and Proto-Jewish (descendant of the Aramaic script). Magen, et al, observed from two Hebrew inscriptions (no. 150 and 151) written in the Proto-Jewish script, “These two inscriptions reflect a sort of linguistic compromise: on the one hand their language is Hebrew, as is the language of the inscriptions in the Neo-Hebrew script; but unlike the latter, these do not contain the Tetragrammaton but another Hebrew name of the Deity, אדני, because they are not written in the ‘sacred’ Neo-Hebrew script.”[13] The only occurrence of the name Yahweh on Mt. Gerizim is in the paleo-Hebrew (Neo-Hebrew) inscriptions that appear to originate “in the internal part of the precinct the Rampart (el), and were not the usual kind of dedicatory inscription.”[14] In other words it seems only associated with the priests.[15] This remarkably corroborates what was observed among the Judean community of the time.

One more difficult area of use of sacred names is the New Testament. The earliest New Testament disciples have been much puzzled and speculated upon for good reason—they appear so different and more Jewish from the phenomenon called Christianity that is seen even before Constantine’s fourth century C.E.. Even the term Christian (χριστιανός) does not appear in the earliest Bible, Codex Sinaiticus (siglum א), dating to the fourth century. Instead χρηστιανὸς (from χρηστὸς— excellent, good) appears. This fact is not an accident. Justin Martyr (c. 150 C.E.), Tertullian (198 or 204 C.E.), Lactantius (c. 309 C.E.), and even secular sources as Tacitus (c. 116 C.E.) clearly know of χρηστιανὸς (although these former defends χριστιανός) which is understood also to be connected with the common χρηστὸς, which then affects the exalted status of χριστός seen for example in Eusebius’ writings (about 325 C.E.). The point is the earliest possible biblical or external (epigraphic, literary, etc.) sources are necessary to pinpoint important characteristics of the earliest New Testament disciples. Yet, apart from what the group was actually called, χριστός presents anomalies in other areas. It is one of the four curious abbreviations of Χ͞Σ, Ι͞Σ (and Ι͞Η), Κ͞Σ, and Θ͞Σ for the four terms χριστός, ἰησοῦς, κύριος, and θεός, first called nomina sacra (sacred names) in 1907 by Ludwig Traube, and which have been so called by scholars ever since.[16] The full terms are never found in the earliest New Testament manuscripts dating to the late second century C.E. If the full terms were not first used, we must say that either the first copies used these unique abbreviations or that these replaced the original terms. The first seems incredible, but the second also is not far from it. The simply question to ask is, “Did the Nazarenes use these full Greek terms?” Happily, this topic does not exist in a first century vacuum, so we can limit speculation. The early rabbinic scholars also speak of certain sacred names in the books of the Nazarenes, which comments are found in tannaitic material.[17] The tosefta passage T. Shabbath 13:5 reads:

הגיליונים וסיפרי מינין אין מצילין אותן אלא נשרפין הן במקומן הן ואזכרותיהם ר’ יוסי הגלילי אומ’ בחול קורא את האזכרות וגונז ושורף את השאר אמר ר’ טרפון אקפח את בניי שאם יבואו לידי שאני שורפן הן ואזכרותיהן

(The gîlyônîm [evangels] and the Books of the Minim, one does not save them, but they are burned in their place, they and their ʾazkārôth [sacred names]. R. Josê the Galilean said: In the week one cuts out [B. Shabb.116a reads קודר not קורא] the ʾazkārôth, hides them, and burns the rest. R. Tarfon said: May I bury my sons if, as they come into my hand, I would not burn them and their ʾazkārôth.)

The minim here are clearly Nazarenes because of gilyonim, although even this has been (unsuccessfully) challenged, in favor of reading margins for gilyonim.[18] Yet, are the rabbinic scholars referring to nomina sacra? This must be answered in the negative. The only ʾazkārôth identified from the rabbinic writings are יהוה and אלהים.[19] R. Tarfon lived at least first century to early second century C.E.. This places the rabbinic observations at the earliest to the second half of the first century C.E., from which period New Testament manuscript evidence are lacking. The sacred names then must be the Hebrew name Yahweh (and Elohim?) that bore the usual sacred quality among Judaism of the time, necessitating the above suggested handling if encountered. Again, all that our late second century C. E. manuscripts attest to are Θ͞Σ and Κ͞Σ for Yahweh (and Elohim), clearly an anomaly.[20] Yet, other related information can be used in conjunction to speak even more positively regarding the topic.



[1] See relevant literature in David Noel Freedman and Michael P. O’Connor, “יהוה YHWH,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (ed. G. J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 5:500.

[2] See John J. Collins and Peter W. Flint, eds., The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception, 2 Vols. (Boston and Leiden: Brill, 2002). Also, see James A. Montgomery, A Criticial and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1927).

[3] C. D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible (London: Trinity Bible Society, 1897), 28–29.

[4] J. Greenfield and J. Naveh, “Hebrew and Aramaic in the Persian Period,” in The Cambridge History of Judaism (eds. W. D. Davies and L. Finklestein; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 115-129. See recently Frank Polak, “Sociolinguistics and the Judean Speech Community in the Achaemenid Empire,” in Judah and the Judeans in the Persian Period (eds. O. Lipschits and M. Oeming; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 589-628; and I. Kottsieper, “‘And They Did Not Care to Speak Yehudit’: On Linguistic Change in Judah during the Late Persian Era,” in Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth Century B.C.E. (eds. O. Lipschits, G. N. Knoppers and R. Albertz; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007), 95-124.

[5] A. E. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), 113.

[6] See the important work by Laurie E. Pearce and Cornelia Wunsch (Documents of Judean Exiles and West Semites in Babylonia in the Collection of David Sofer, CUSAS vol. 28 [Bethesda, 2014]).

[7] M. Sotah 38b. Also, M. Tamid 7.2.

[8] M. Reisel, The Mysterious Name of Y.H.W.H. The Tetragrammaton in Connection with the Names of Ehyeh ašer Ehyeh, Hu’Ha’ and Šem Hammephoraš (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1957), 75.

[9] See also B. Yoma 49b.

[10] M. Reisel, Mysterious Name, 71. See M. Yoma 3.8 and 4.2.

[11] Donald Parry, “Notes on Divine Name Avoidance in Scriptural Units of the Legal Texts of Qumran,” in Legal Texts and Legal Issues. Proceedings of the Second Meeting of the International Organization for Qumran Studies, Cambridge 1995. Published in Honour of Joseph M. Baumgarten (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 437-449.

[12] André Lemaire, The Birth of Monotheism: The Rise and Disappearance of Yahwism (Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 2007), 128–130.

[13] Y. Magen, H. Misgav, and L. Tsfania, Mount Gerizim Inscriptions: Volume I The Aramaic, Hebrew and Samaritan Inscriptions (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 2004), 23.

[14] Magen, Misgav, and Tsfania, Mount Gerizim, 254.

[15] Magen, Misgav, and Tsfania, Mount Gerizim, 22.

[16] Ludwig Traube, Nomina Sacra: Versuch einer Geschichte der christlichen Kürzung (München: C. H. Beck, 1907). Cf. Larry Hurtado, “The Origin of the Nomina Sacra: A Proposal,” Journal of Biblical Literature 117/4 (1998): 655–673.

[17] The Mishna and related material (tosefta) are called tannaitic material because they are the teachings from the earlier scholars (tannaim) from the 1st to 2nd centuries C.E. The teachings from the 3rd to 5th centuries (Gemara) are from the Amoraim and comprise the Talmud as we know it.

[18] See discussion in Steven T. Katz, “The Rabbinic Response to Christianity,” in The Cambridge History of Judaism Volume Four: The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period (ed. S. T. Katz; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 278.

[19] Arthur Marmorstein, The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God (London: Oxford University Press, 1927), 32–35.

[20] See further important remarks in Peter Nagel, “The Explicit ΚΥΡΙΟΣ and ΘΕΟΣ Citations by Paul: An Attempt at Understanding Paul’s Deity Concepts” (Ph.D. diss., University of Pretoria, 2012), 6–9.